The affair of the fedora

The fedora had sat untouched at that jaunty angle for months. Did it miss my head? Was it forlorn and feeling forgotten? Would it ever move again?

All of these thoughts would be rushing through its head, if it only had a head. But fedoras being fedoras, it needed someone else’s head to be complete.

I picked it up and settled it on my head.

Sure enough, it whispered, “You complete me.”

“I hear the voice of a fedora,” I said. “Yes, I have passed through the zippy door into insanity.”

Here, in this silly space, I am comforted to learn that insanity doesn’t make me dangerous — only detached from reality. As such, I am a perfect citizen, compliant and oblivious.

“Are you insane?!” an old friend cried. Why, yes, yes, I am. Just ask my fedora.

The insane, in fact, have conquered the world. That makes more sense than any other conspiracy theory.

J Alfred in the foyer

WB’s note: There’s something odd about the WordPress editor that makes it laborious to add indentations and spaces between words, which in turn makes it hard to reproduce a poem that has uneven indents. So here are pictures of the pages. The main thing you should know is that only one blank line is intended between “gaudy masterpiece” and “page after page.” Thank you and please enjoy.

P.S. This is what I wrote on Page 70 (and 71).

A point of perseverance

This is Day 358 of my “blog every day for 92 days” personal challenge. Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, next Saturday I’ll complete a full year of daily blogging for the first time in my decade and a half since discovering how easy it is to have a blog.

Will I quit shortly afterward, like I quit shortly after accomplishing a full 12 months of monthly Myke Phoenix adventures in 2014? Will the urgency fade, like the half-dozen novels I announced and have (so far) left unfinished? Or have I finally established a habit that will last until I drop the pen and the keyboard forever?

I imagine that all depends on me. I don’t have millions of readers to encourage me to show up every day, but even if I did, it’s still up to me to show up every day.

I do have other, probably greater, priorities. The deck needs restaining, I have bacon to bring home, and I really do love the novel that is slowly crawling out of the muck of my brain. Surely I should be devoting my writing time to that adventure?

Yes, but the daily ritual keeps the flame burning even when that flicker is the only creative burst of the day.

“You only fail if you stop writing.” That Ray Bradbury quote is affixed at the top of my computer monitor.

The novel, the poems, even the news stories and op-ed columns, come and go in spurts. The blog is the only constant, my proof that I can show up every day to keep writing.

So now it’s a point of — not pride — a point of perseverance, my little rallying cry to keep going, keep doing, do the best you can for as long as you can.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

What the Menards flier taught me

It’s easy to overlook them as you scan for deals, but Menards — a Wisconsin hardware and home improvement center — puts little quotes of encouragement and inspiration of the bottom of the page in their sales fliers.

“Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” — Denis Waitley

It might be fun to be the person tasked with finding these nuggets every week.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” — Amelia Earhart

Even if you’re not planning to build a retaining wall or load up on hydraulic fluid, the quotes are a reason to flip through the insert.

“If you really love something, just go ahead and do it.” — Joshua Williams

“Towering genius disdains a beaten path.” — Abraham Lincoln

And sometimes you’ll see something you just realized would be handy: I could use a 20-foot extension cord …

“Nothing is a waste of time, if you use the experience wisely.” — Auguste Rodin

“Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh, either.” — Golda Meir

“I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start.” — J.B. Priestley

The quotes can be a breath of fresh air to take the sour out of a morning.

“Most people are motivated by unconscious motives most of the time.” — Richard J. Mayer

… or they can turn your mind in a different direction. (What ARE my unconscious motives?)

“Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” — Golda Meir

You could do worse than taking an extra minute to browse through the Menards flier — and that little detail is the key to its success as an advertising tool.

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice.” — Steve Jobs

And just because it may be an advertising tool doesn’t mean it’s not a great little service.

“It’s always too early to quit.” — Norman Vincent Peale

In addition to offering dozens of items for sale, the fliers do a little bit to lift spirits — and there’s never anything wrong with that.

“Happiness is not doing fun things. Happiness is doing meaningful things” — Maxime Legacé

Beauty conquers fear

Each life is a gift from a higher power; may we accept this gift with gratitude and recognize the same miracle in others. May our gifts to others add only good and beautiful and love to their lives —

or a smile: May we greet hate and foolishness with humor and grace, because the ugly things in life wither in the face of a smile or a laugh.

I have been greeting alarmist headlines on the TV with an exaggerated “OH MY GAWD,” laughing at the fear mongers. Red may eventually be driven crazy by this, but it’s my effort to remind myself that life and hope and a good sense of humor still exist, still endure, sure as light follows dark and peace comes in the morning.

Resolve to add joy, beauty, humor, peace, good … Encourage the best of us, not the fearful cowering.

Meet the fear with hope, meet it with a stubborn intention to smooth the path for the next traveler along the road, a stubborn refusal to be ruffled by the potholes and cracks in the pavement.

Enough of what ails us! See what beauty surrounds us, see how much there is to love in this life that is over too soon, like a roller coaster ride returns to the starting point and we have to get out of the car and head back to the line.

Oh my gawd, what a wonderful world when we turn from fear and embrace the miracles.

Etymology and hitting the fan

My dad did not use “those” words, as a rule, and so it was with some embarrassment that he told the joke.

I had purchased a 45 rpm record at a 10% cut-out sale called “When It Hit the Fan” (because I liked the label, I think – I was a kid) and I didn’t understand the context. So he told me the joke.

A man takes a room on the second floor of a rowdy saloon, and during the night he had an urge for going but didn’t want to walk downstairs through the crowded bar to the outhouse. He saw a hole in the floor and thought, “Ah! I’ll use this handy portal.”

Not long afterward he noticed it had become very quiet downstairs. Curious, he went down and the place had cleared out. “What happened?” he said, and the bartender poked his head up from behind the bar with a harried look on his face.

“Where were you,” he asked, “when the $#!+ hit the fan?”

I realized this morning my dad had passed along a valuable piece of history, the origin of a common vulgar phrase, and so I pass it forward to you to preserve this important knowledge.

All heaven and earth in a book

Today I release the first three paperback editions of the Roger Mifflin Collection: The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, Men in War by Andreas Latzko, and Trivia by Logan Pearsall Smith, three forgotten classics that deserve to be remembered.

The Haunted Bookshop is, for lack of a better genre, a mostly-cozy mystery about a book that keeps disappearing and reappearing, a young man who meets a young woman, and the most amazing bookshop owner in modern-ish literature, Roger Mifflin.

Mifflin is an endless source of great books. In a previous novel, Mifflin had hitched a wagon full of books to a trusty horse and roamed the countryside introducing the people he met to their perfect book. In this sequel, he has set up a storefront in Brooklyn, where he continues the life mission he set out in his first book:

“When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humor and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean. Jiminy! If I were the baker or the butcher or the broom hustler, people would run to the gate when I came by – just waiting for my stuff. And here I go with everlasting salvation – yes, ma’am, salvation for their little, stunted minds – and it’s hard to make ’em see it. That’s what makes it worth while – I’m doing something that nobody else from Nazareth, Maine, to Walla Walla, Washington, has ever thought of. It’s a new field, but by the bones of Whitman it’s worth while. That’s what this country needs – more books!”

When our young man first enters the shop, he finds a note tacked to a bulletin board:

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 hour-glass, to let the particles run the other way.
One who loves the English tongue can have a lot of fun with a Latin dictionary.

Men in War cover

That note became the catalyst for The Roger Mifflin Collection, new editions of the books that the little red-haired man recommends during the course of the adventure:

  1. The Haunted Bookshop, of course, because it’s the origin story.
  2. Men in War, a book about the horrors of combat “so damned true that the government suppressed it.”
  3. Trivia, a delightful little book of aphorisms that, truth be told, inspired four of the last five books under my name.

The next round, coming within a month or so:

  1. The Man Who Was Thursday (see above)
  2. The Demi-Gods (see above)
  3. War Poems by Siegfried Sassoon, which Mifflin pairs with Latzko in his epic rant against the Great War:

“Sometimes I thought Truth had vanished from the earth,” he cried bitterly. “Like everything else, it was rationed by the governments. I taught myself to disbelieve half of what I read in the papers. I saw the world clawing itself to shreds in blind rage. I saw hardly any one brave enough to face the brutalizing absurdity as it really was, and describe it … Perhaps half a dozen of them have told the truth. Have you read Sassoon? Or Latzko’s Men in War, which was so damned true that the government suppressed it? Humph! Putting Truth on rations!”

I released the first three books in hardcover and was met with a great ho-hum. I’m hoping by releasing them to a wider market will find some of these great (yes, great) books a new audience, not just because Roger says they’re worth your while, but because I’ve taken his advice and seen for myself, and I say so, too.

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