The sad keepers of the bile machine

Imagine, if you will, a job where your daily task is to mock, ridicule and otherwise find fault with a group of humans you despise. Imagine the corrosion to the soul that must result.

I refer, of course, to the people whose full-time job is to produce press releases and “official statements” for politicians.

I think of these people several times a day as I clear my work e-mail. Almost without fail, between visits to the inbox, some political flak has issued a press release condemning the latest acts or pronouncements of a political opponent. The other pol’s actions or pronouncements are shocking to the core and an insult to all good Americans.

Most of the time, it’s just annoying and the subject line makes it obvious that it’s safe to delete without opening. Still, you have to feel for these lackeys. To spend the day conceiving and hurling bile must take its toll.

In the Attic: I Picked You

Oh, man. There I was driving down Highway 41 with tears streaming, listening to the old Seekers song on the radio and hearing the lyrics in my heart for the first time.

There is always someone
For each of us, they say
And you’ll be my someone
Forever and a day
I could search the whole world over
Until my life is through
But I know I’ll never find another you …

But if I should lose your love, dear
I don’t know what I’d do
For I know I’ll never find another you

When you’re going to visit the woman who has shared your life for the past 26 years in her hospital bed in a cancer ward miles from home, the last thing you need — or maybe the first thing — is lyrics like that. I was kind of embarrassed and relieved that people don’t generally look at other drivers and think, “Huh, I wonder why that white-haired bearded guy is blubbering.”

Red has been fighting to get out of that bed for about a month now with the help of the greatest team of doctors and nurses and support staff I have ever met at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. Some days are heartbreaking, and some days are full of hope, as you might imagine. 

One of my alter egos is w.p. bluhm, the imaginary singer-songwriter who has assembled 20 albums over the years but hasn’t been active much over the last two decades. A remarkable series of events in 2009 resulted in w.p.’s last spurt of creativity, when I wrote a dozen songs in two or three months, including a love song for our new puppy, “Don’t Cry, Willow.”

When I started putting together the album that became w.p.’s 20th, Ten Thousand Days, I realized I had new songs about a variety of topics — including a puppy love song — but I had not written a love song about my life’s partner. 

Well, I thought about Red, and our pastor had just preached about some study that when it comes to finding a mate, men are looking for respect and women are looking to be “chosen.” I wasn’t sure if I agreed with that concept, but the song pretty much wrote itself:

I can’t your white knight to the rescue, my dear,
But then again, you never needed one.
I can’t be Prince Charming to sweep you away,
But we both know just what we’ve begun.
You see through my flaws, but you see with fresh eyes;
You’re rock solid steady, yet you always surprise.
I picked you of all the women in this world
‘Cuz you stand beside me, and you stand up to me.
I picked you of all the women in this world;
Most surprising of all, you picked me.

I couldn’t see being with someone like you —
You’re common-sense earth tones, and I’m pie in the sky —
But now I can’t imagine a life without you
Or why I would even try.
You see through my flaws, but you see with fresh eyes;
You’re rock solid steady, yet you always surprise.
I picked you of all the women in this world
‘Cuz you stand up for me, and you stand up to me.
I picked you of all the women in this world;
Most surprising of all, you picked me.

You came into my arms from out of nowhere;
I don’t recall searching — I just found you there.
You see through my flaws, but you see with fresh eyes;
You’re rock solid steady, yet you always surprise.
I picked you of all the women in this world
‘Cuz you stand beside me, and you stand up to me.
I picked you of all the women in this world;
Most surprising of all, most surprising of all,
Oh, most amazing of all: You. picked. me!

This is more of a demo than the arrangement I hear in my head, but it’s the only version I have for now. As for the sentiment, it is more true than ever: I know I’ll never find another Red.

The transporter chair

I sat down in my chair, and suddenly I was in a small town in Massachusetts, where a woman was being humiliated for the crime of adultery. It was evident that she was guilty, because her husband had been away for some years and yet here she was, carrying a newborn baby.

I leaned back and took a breath, and it was centuries in the future, when a man named Hari Seldon was revered for using mathematics to predict and shape the fate of civilizations.

I sighed and looked another way, and it was 1928 and boys who ran about town like lightning were visiting a Civil War veteran who, as it happens, was also an honest-to-gosh working time machine.

Of all the lessons my parents taught me with words or actions, I am most grateful for the times when they picked up books and explored other times and places and minds. By following their example, I have expanded my horizons in infinite directions.

7 things I’ve learned along the way 

Seven things I’ve learned along the way to posting 1,000 consecutive daily blog posts, of which, in case you were not counting, this is the 1,000th:

1. I can do it, one day at a time.

2. A person tends to repeat herself from time to time over 1,000 days, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

3. The universe in general doesn’t give a flying flamingo about you — but some people do, and they make all the difference. Thank you for that.

4. Theodore Sturgeon said 90% of everything is crap, but if you look carefully, you’ll find much more than 10% of what you’ve done was worth the effort — and so, perhaps, 90% of Sturgeon’s assertion is crap.

5. A person who sets out to do something, a little bit at a time, can exceed his own expectations many times over. After all, my intention was to post every day for three months, 92 days in all. Nine hundred and eight days after that, here we are.

6. There is a force that hates success. Is it Satan? The Dip? The Resistance? I lean toward calling it Satan, because such evil lurks there. As the last 10-20 days loomed, the distractions that kept me from sitting down to write, from writing, from even thinking about writing, became close to overwhelming. Even as I write this 1,000th piece, I have not yet finished numbers 997, 998, or 999, and so I continue to stagger toward the finish line. (Yes, yesterday’s post was the actual 1,000th daily post, but I presented it 999th — kind of like the second Star Trek pilot was presented third, or the first Firefly pilot was aired last.)

But know this:

7. I am just a more or less ordinary human being, with aches and pains and big dreams and big shortcomings — so, if I can accomplish something, one day at a time, SO CAN YOU.

Two anniversaries and a milestone

One of Facebook’s nicer features is Memories, which reminds you of things you posted on this day in the past. On Monday, April 24, it reminded me that I published The Adventures of Myke Phoenix on April 24, 2008. I hadn’t remembered the date.

Around 1988-1990 I came up with the idea for Myke, kind of a mashup of the original Captain Marvel and Superman and most other superheroes, with the idea of writing not a comic book but a monthly text adventure, a modern-day Doc Savage or the Shadow. I didn’t feel like I had the time to write a 50,000-word novel every month with the day job in the background, so I aspired to write 10,000-word novelettes.

I actually completed four of them, and flirted with the idea of self-publishing the series, but that was an expensive proposition in 1990, and I didn’t have a way to fund an expensive proposition, and those facts discouraged me from moving forward with it. With the advent of print-on-demand, by 2008 one could self-publish a book virtually for free, and so I went for it, pulling the stories out of wherever I had stored them and slapping a marginally adequate cover on the package.

I still wanted to try writing a monthly series, and I actually wrote 12 more Myke adventures from about November 2013 to October 2014, but once I completed the major arc of those stories the fire went out. They’re all collected as Myke Phoenix: The Complete Novelettes. If I ever come back to Myke, it will be to write novellas or novels, in order to prevent the assertion “Complete Novelettes” from becoming obsolete.

While April 24 celebrates a book more than two decades in the making, April 25 marks the third anniversary of my book that went from idea to the printer in one day: How to Play a Blue Guitar. 

On that day in 2020, I sat down to look over the strange mix of blog posts, short stories and poems that I was thinking about compiling into a book. I had 24 pieces so far.

I read them through and all of a sudden they felt like a cohesive whole. On impulse I hit the “Compile” button on my Scrivener folder, and a couple of hours later How to Play a Blue Guitar was uploaded to the Kindle store and Kobo and ready to be discovered. 

The paperback followed not long after. I designed it like a record album, with the 24 titles listed on the back and none of the usual cross-promotion of other Warren Bluhm books in the front and/or back. I even dropped a line from old albums on the back cover: “Stereo records can be played on today’s mono record players with excellent results.”

Neither The Adventures of Myke Phoenix nor How to Play a Blue Guitar has made me a wealthy man, but they allow me to say “I’m an author, I write books,” if I ever get the inclination. I still lead with “newspaper editor” or “journalist” when people ask me what I do. I wonder what reaction I’d get if I started saying, “I wrote the Myke Phoenix superhero series and I’m working on a new series about an interplanetary, inter-dimensional time traveler named Jeep Thompson.” Who cares if the answer is, “Never heard of them”? It sounds like something else.

Speaking of milestones, tune in tomorrow.

W.B.’s Book Report: The Wizard of Oz

We’re not in Kansas anymore.

People come and go so quickly here!

These things must be done delicately …

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!

How about a little fire, Scarecrow?

Are you hinting my apples aren’t what they ought to be?

Put ’em up … PUT ’EM UUP!

Shucks, folks, I’m speechless.

I am the great and powerful …

… And without thinking, I banged out 10 quotes that you can use the next time someone posts that meme “Give me a quote that people will instantly know what movie it came from.”

In his introduction to The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum said he hoped to create “a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out,” and his story of the little girl from Kansas who finds a magical land far from home has become just that. A handful of the phrases above — not in Kansas anymore, the man behind the curtain, for example — crop up in everyday conversation from time to time.

Of course, his legacy is greatly enhanced by the 1939 movie — there’s no reference to Oz being “Over the Rainbow” in the original book, of course, and the screenplay adds and subtracts a lot from the book. In either incarnation it’s a wonderful story about how we often find we already possess what we’re looking for — the scarecrow who wants a brain solves several puzzles along the journey; the tin man who wants a heart is one of the most compassionate travelers of all; and the cowardly lion who seeks courage acts courageous over and over again.

And who can resist a story where the great and powerful ruler of the land turns out to be a humbug?

I have owned all 14 of Baum’s Oz books since the 1970s, but I can’t remember ever reading more than two or three of them. With one of my Audible credits, I bought an audiobook of all 14 not long ago, so I’m planning to rectify that during upcoming commutes. We need a little fantasy in our lives, and Mr. Baum was all too willing to help us along that way.

The madness on pages 210-211

So one morning, before I began writing on page 210, I proved to myself that my 240-page journal actually is 240 pages long, by numbering pages 211 to 240 once and for all. And I found myself with only 30 pages to fill before I complete a 20th journal. (Note to self: Almost time to buy a new journal.) 

I started a number of journals over the years; I started the first journal I ever finished in October 2011, and it took me until June 2015 to get to the last page. Truth be told, writing every day in the journal did not become a habit until mid-April 2015, when my words started sprawling across the pages almost unbidden and I found it was something I needed to do.

Here we are now, after almost eight years of journal-journal-journaling through 20 previously blank books of scribbles and ideas and rants and all. 

(And for some reason, the next thing I wrote was the following.)

I’m feeling a little crazy this morning, my pen wandering free over the pages — wait, did I just use something free to illustrate something crazy? Is freedom is a crazy concept? Are we nuts when we want to be free? No! No! I refuse to believe it!

Is there a meaning and a purpose to all of this, and what if there’s not? What if we’re all just making it up as we go along, and life is merely one long meandering stream of consciousness? You’d like that, wouldn’t you? It gets us off the hook for all the madness we’re responsible for. What a laugh. What a joke. What a jolt.

“He doesn’t mean it, folks; he’s just doing a mental exercise letting his brain fly wherever it wants.”

Who was that, expressing himself between quotation marks? That, my friends, is the self-editor/self-censor who reaches into my free-journaling brain and says, “OMG, what will people think if they see me writing something like that?” instead of just letting loose. Good grief, do I hate that. Off I go on a flight of fancy or some ridiculous notion and this bonehead brain of mine breaks in and says, “Uh oh, tut tut tut, mustn’t fly too high or explore dark thoughts, love, oh no, stay safe, don’t cross any lines that someone may misunderstand, none of that now, dear, no no no — YES. Just YES. Enough of the no.

(When the self-censor strikes, sometimes we need to resist. Sometimes our darkest thoughts lead us into the light. In this case, the light was this: We are conditioned to believe that freedom is a crazy concept, but we are born free; we need to be free in order to be healthy.)