A taking stock and looking forward

Hi there. My name is Warren Bluhm. By day I am editor and one of a handful of reporters for a small family of community newspapers. When away from that task, I have written and published four books of fiction and six collections of short essays from my blog, and I have published nine editions of vintage works — some familiar, some not so much — that deserve to be remembered and preserved. I’m not done yet, either.

I produced 80 episodes of a podcast called Uncle Warren’s Attic, 150 episodes of a podcast called Ikthuscast, and 13 episodes of a podcast called Uncle Warren’s 78 Revolutions Per Minute. My first foray into podcasting was a serialized reading of my first novel, The Imaginary Bomb. I bought a new microphone with plans to podcast again, but years have passed since I did so.

I like old stuff, stuff that’s even older than the great stuff that was new when I was a kid, like the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man comic books and the original Star Trek. I have boxes and boxes of 78 rpm records, shelves and shelves of LPs and books, and other relics of olden times. If you made me list my all-time favorite recordings, “Frenesi” by Artie Shaw, “Sing Sing Sing” by Benny Goodman, and “Powerhouse” by Raymond Scott would be on the list.

I like independence and independent stuff. Ikthuscast was packed with songs created by Christian musicians who eschewed the gatekeepers and release their work on independent platforms. I publish my work independently rather than slog my way through the traditional process that can take years before a book sees the light of day, if ever.

This is a time I tend to take stock every year, the anniversary of my first day as a full-time adult, the day after college graduation, when I assumed total responsibility for feeding myself, lo, these 47 years ago (actually it was May 19, 1975, FWIW).

After all that time, some days I’m tired, if I’m honest. Most days, though, I remember how much fun it has been to do what I do, and I appreciate my companions along the way, especially the big-hearted woman who shares a house, two golden retrievers and a cat with me. I hope and pray our remaining time is full of love and peace and adventure.

I think about peace and wonder why some folks are hell-bent on killing people and blowing up things. My mother’s favorite president, Dwight Eisenhower, said a number of wise things in his farewell address, the wisest being, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” The extent to which we have let down that guard is discouraging, to be sure.

Still, I can’t help but believe, against all odds, that it’s going to be all right in the end. Our history is a slow but steady march toward unfurling fists and reaching out our hands in friendship, a meandering walk away from resolving our differences with weapons and toward nonviolent solutions, a growing abhorrence of war and embracing peace. Too many war mongers hold onto their sabers and rattle them into the night as they cling to power, but their numbers are dwindling.

Maybe I’m overly optimistic because it’s a sunny spring day and the world outside my window is dominated at last by the color green, after too many cold months of brown and white. Maybe I’m overly content because there’s a 10-month-old puppy at my feet, convalescing from her spay surgery of two days ago and healing nicely so far. But I’m optimistic and content, so you’ll just have to deal.

Where do we go from here? What happens next? We always have some idea, but there are always surprises. That’s what keeps life interesting.

Not just stolen moments

“Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”

— Clarissa Pincola Estes, quoted in DO Quit Your Day Job by Christina F. York

At the end of a tedious day full of tedium, three-hour meetings, a frustrating puppy class, and a lame 45-minutes-lost-forever TV drama, I reach into what’s left of my consciousness just before sleep.

“Create!” I shout silently to my consciousness. “Tell a story, craft a poem, pen some lyrics, scratch out some words of wisdom from the deepest spot you can scratch. Dazzle the world with your wordsmithery.”

The best I can manage, in this stolen moment between waking and dreaming, is to tap my finger on the quote I copied from a book this morning, and say, “What better way to illustrate the point than to live this day in this way?”

Tomorrow, I will make a point to do the art first before surrendering to the routine. 

Genius needs no formula

We who aim to write stories study formulas — we dissect a story and consider ways we can recreate the effect by emulating the way great writers do — the Hero’s Journey, the Three-Act Structure, four acts, five acts, whatever.

But what if sometimes a writer just writes and writes and writes and gets so involved with the story that she forgets about the formula?

I have a hunch that those are the times when true genius shines through, and it’s only when the students start their studying that the writer realize how it all fit together as if she intended it from the start.

“Oh yeah, I meant to do that,” the writer might say, or in a more honest moment, “I was just swept away. I have no idea what I was thinking as it came out.”

Working toward a post-Soviet world

One of my daily stops in this journey is Kent McManigal’s Hooligan Libertarian” Blog. He has a way of cutting through the smoke and mirrors and pointing out exactly what The Powers That Be are attempting to do to us.

The other day he recommended a book by Gregory V. Diehl called Everyone Is an Entrepreneur: Selling Economic Self-Determination in a Post-Soviet World. At first I saw the title and subtitle as conflicted: Yes, I believe everyone is an entrepreneur, although most of us sell our services to only one customer at a time in what we call a “day job.”

But “a Post-Soviet World”? If anything, I believe the world is getting more Soviet every day, with autocrats trying to control every aspect of our lives, resulting in near-runaway inflation, empty shelves in our once-burgeoning retail stores, suppression of dissent from official party lines, and Orwellian agencies like the “Department of Homeland Security” or the newly minted “Disinformation Governance Board.”

Because it was McManigal recommending the book, however, I dug a little deeper and learned that the subtitle is literal: Diehl moved to Armenia not long after the Soviet Union collapsed, and the book details his effort to explain the principles of economic self-determination to people who had grown up under totalitarianism.

It seems we could learn from the Armenians’ experience as they worked to lift themselves away from Soviet control and explore the possibilities of being the boss of you. And so I also recommend this book, even though I haven’t read more than the first few paragraphs of the preface, and, of course, I recommend McManigal’s blog to anyone who wants a daily dose of freedom.

We are all creatives

Everyone is a creator. Everyone creates, every day.

Maybe you create burgers based on a template the company gave you. Maybe you dig ditches or build houses or create the wiring for that house. Maybe you create reports filled with numbers or facts. Or maybe you’re creative in the traditional sense, you know, you paint, you write, you sculpt, you compose music.

The point is we all create. It’s what we do. It is written that we are made in the image of our Creator, so of course we are creators ourselves.

For many years I fancied myself as a musician. I wrote songs. I created 20 albums just for fun and then stopped. I only realized recently that I didn’t “fancy myself as” a musician. I WAS a musician. I created music; that’s what musicians do. It doesn’t matter if it’s Carnegie Hall quality music; a musician is someone who makes music. When I decide to make music again, I will be a musician again.

To be a creator, all you had to do was be born. We are endowed at birth with the ability — and perhaps the craving — to create. We are makers; we make stuff, whether it’s poems or songs or tractors.

I read about the imposter syndrome the other day, about how even the greatest among us are secretly wondering when everyone will figure out they’re just making it up as they go and they’re not really the great person we think they are. Self-doubt seems to be part of any endeavor, but the plain fact is we become a maker through the act of making, the urge to make is built into our souls, and we make every day.

Whether it’s “good enough” is irrelevant. The act of creation proves you a creator, so stop saying you “fancy yourself as” a creator and realize that you are, in fact, what you fancy yourself to be. You have been, even before you set your mind and started doing.

The Roger Mifflin Collection: The Story of My Heart

(The Story of My Heart by Richard Jefferies is scheduled to be published today, but as of the weekend we were having unexpected production delays. But it should be available any minute now, and so I leave this launch blurb in place.)

I don’t really know what to make of this book.

In the early going I am charmed by Richard Jefferies’ poetic descriptions of his jaunts through verdant fields. As we continue I appreciate his efforts to describe philosophical concepts he admits having trouble wrapping his own brain around — things like the nature of the soul-life, how the human body could last much longer if we didn’t mistreat it so, and his belief in a higher intelligence but not the higher intelligence most people mean by that phrase. I find it odd that he describes the book as “An Autobiography” yet shares precious few details about his life.

Writing in the 1880s, Jefferies predicts a time when 90% of our time is “idle,” so it feels almost like a message to us here in his future, when we spend so much of our time looking at entertainment on screens and otherwise filling our comparatively immense leisure time. He died at age 38 while envisioning that people could live for centuries. 

He reminds me of the writer of Ecclesiastes, who suggests everything is meaningless while clearly reaching for meaning, not believing in a guiding intelligence to the universe while celebrating the natural and the supernatural.

In the end, and as I work my way through the list that Roger Mifflin posted in his Haunted Bookshop, the list that protagonist Aubrey Gilbert finds when he enters —

If your mind needs phosphorus, try “Trivia,” by Logan Pearsall Smith.

If your mind needs a whiff of strong air, blue and cleansing, from hilltops and primrose valleys, try “The Story of My Heart,” by Richard Jefferies.

If your mind needs a tonic of iron and wine, and a thorough rough-and-tumbling, try Samuel Butler’s “Notebooks” or “The Man Who Was Thursday,” by Chesterton.

If you need “all manner of Irish,” and a relapse into irresponsible freakishness, try “The Demi-Gods,” by James Stephens. It is a better book than one deserves or expects.

It’s a good thing to turn your mind upside down now and then, like an hourglass, to let the particles run the other way.

— I come to the conclusion that his comment about the value of turning your brain upside down like an hourglass applies to all of the books on the list, including this one, because all of them in one way or another come at the reader from unexpected directions, and I find myself sifting through the hourglass-sand long after finishing.

All of the books Mifflin cites in Christopher Morley’s 1919 novel are, obviously, at least a century old, but all of them remain vibrant and challenging and worth preserving. And that above all is the reason for “The Roger Mifflin Collection.”

I am proud to present the sixth volume in that collection, Richard Jefferies’ The Story of My Heart, even if — and probably because — I am still working through what I think of it.

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