“We feel lost and we feel found…”

Some songs just stick with me, sometimes. I don’t know why that is.

It seems like songs — well, some songs — are more like places. They occupy a physical place in my mind. They’re snapshots of the geography of my dreams. And I find myself returning to them again and again — a place where I’m safe, protected.

The word haven means “a place of shelter and safety; refuge; asylum.” It comes from the words for port and harbor — it means a place you can go, to escape the stormy seas.

At any rate, here’s “Sleep” from Amanaska

Happy Tunesday everyone…

Big Pop

1921934_10152260027078637_1007993859_nToday’s my grandfather’s birthday. He would have been 106 years old. I don’t have a lot of memories of him. We moved away when I was very young and I only saw him a handful of times after that. But the memories I do have are special.

I wrote this a few years back. For what it’s worth, you can see the bowl of grapes in the photo…

“Big Pop”

A plastic bowl of grapes.
The dusty, almost-black globes
polished by our fingertips.
The tart snap of the skin between my teeth.
He teaches me to spit out the seeds,
the stones bitter on the tip of my tongue.

Wrestling old Smoky to the ground,
he bites the dog’s ears, both of them growling.

I watch, I laugh,
wondering if he will get fleas.

The rigid line of his dentures,
sticking them out at us when no one was looking.
Laughing, terrified by the sudden appearance
of that slick pink plastic, the crown of his teeth.

The walking sticks, later the canes
by the door.
The carved one, the snake’s head
poised to strike.

Wrestling him to the shag carpet
in my aunt’s apartment.
Two year old champion, I pin him down
and I strike.

My mother flares with anger: “Don’t you hit my daddy.”

Photographs posed,
the stiff movement of home movies.

Memories, stories told around the family, heirlooms.

Mythology now.

So little I can claim for my own.

His voice, surprisingly high.
Rusty, wavering and punctuated
by strange, inarticulate sounds
like a crow in flight.

Surprising myself with tears,
when I introduced my wife to him.

She in black, long hair pulled back.
He already under his stone, so long.

 

This is important.

Micronauts by Bill MantloIf you read comics back in the late 70′s and through the 80′s, then you might very well have read a comic or two by Bill Mantlo.

For me, the standout is his work on the Micronauts title. In lesser hands, that book would have never been much more than a crass and cynical marriage between Comics and Marketing/Merchandising.

In Bill’s hands, however, an entire world took shape.

Thirty-five years later, I still have that world inside me. Thanks to Bill.

My old Micronauts toys are posed on shelves in my office. And those comics Bill wrote are there along with them.

Bill did the same for ROM: Spaceknight — a flop of a toy but a longstanding fan favorite that made a significant contribution to the Marvel Comics Universe.

And I’m told that I am missing out by not having read Bill’s run on The Incredible Hulk.

Bill was important. He is important.

I’ve been nerding out nonstop since I saw the recent trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy. I know nothing about the characters, I’ve never read the comics. But I’m mildly obsessed with Rocket Raccoon and I can’t wait to see the movie.

FanTAStic.

Come to find out, Bill Mantlo also created Rocket Raccoon.

In 1992, Bill was struck by a hit-and-run driver. He was comatose for a period of time and suffered irreparable brain damage. Since then he has lived in a healthcare facility in reduced circumstances, struggling with his disabilities and depression. He is no longer able to write.

Bill created heroes for the rest of us. We need to return the favor.

You can make a donation that will provide direct and immediate assistance to his care. Bill’s brother and legal guardian Mike Mantlo has a Paypal account set up to take donations for Bill’s care.

I’ve made my donation. I plan on giving more, as I am able. I’m asking you to do the same.

Rocket Raccoon - Guardians of the GalaxyEven if you’ve never heard of him, even if you’ve never read a comic in your life or have no interest in a doublestuff kickass laser-blaster toting spce raccoon, please consider helping out with the cost of Bill’s ongoing care.

What happened to Bill could happen to anyone. It could happen to any one of us. It could happen to me.

If you like my work, then please consider helping one of the people who had an influence on it.

Thanks for listening…

—————————–

As he gradually lost his ability to write, Bill managed to capture some of his final words. You can read them here. They are heartbreaking.

If you want to know more about Bill, his legacy, and the accident that took it all from him (and took him from us), read this article by Bill Coffin. It too, is heartbreaking.

Bill Mantlo

Random Thoughts!

Black WidowI have to admit that I’m a bit excited to see the new Captain America movie. I enjoyed the first one and also really enjoyed The Avengers. I like Chris Evans as an actor (his performance in the underrated Push stands out in my memory). Also, it’ll be nice to see Scarlett Johansson get a bigger role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I’m loving the rumors about the retro-70′s conspiracy feel to the story. Also she looks fantastic with retro-70′s straight hair. And twin pistols. And a catsuit.

Ahem.

Paul Williams is a very cool guy. I’d forgotten how much of his music was bubbling under my childhood memories — particularly The Muppet Movie and Bugsy Malone soundtracks. And his duet with Chris Hardwick on a recent episode of The Nerdist was utterly charming and surprisingly moving.

Sometime soon I’ll take the time to enumerate exactly why I feel the “Hannibal Lecter” novels by Thomas Harris novels go from brilliant (Red Dragon) to awful (Hannibal) — likewise, the movie adaptations which are — apart from a few standout performances from Brian Cox and Scott Glenn — utterly dismal.

 

But until then . . . suffice it to say that, so far, the first season of Hannibal has done much to rescue the characters that I think were so poorly served in the latter books and (all of the) movies (yes, even Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs).

I can’t recommend it, because it really strays over into the distasteful and outright disgusting a bit more than you’d expect on television, even these days. But apart from the oddly jarring, eye-rolling bad line or two of dialogue, the show is much better written, shot, and acted than most television I’ve seen lately — particularly in the horror/suspense category.

jb3hfkThat being said, American Horror story is utter bullshit. I tried Season One last year but gave up after three episodes because it was bullshit. I tried Season two as well because the idea of a show that changes story lines each season was intriguing and reminded me of my favorite old anthology shows like The Twilight Zone. But Season Two also turned out to be bullshit and I gave up after three episodes. I don’t expect to even bother with Season Three once it hits Netflix. Because I have no doubt that it too will be bullshit.

I don’t badmouth things very often. So take that for what it’s worth. And I’d apologize for the vulgarity but, well, when confronted with such bullshititude words fail me.

76perkins_headI have yet to bring myself to try Bates Motel. I’ve just been hurt too many times before. And the fact that they brought it into the modern era irritates me. I don’t think anything will erase Tony Perkins from my mind.

(“Well, a boy’s best friend is his mother.”)

It was only out of a sense obligation that I decided to finish off Dexter once the last few seasons hit Netflix. Having never read any of the books, I’m on the fence as to how I feel about the character. I don’t particularly care for the literary inversion in which a truly despicable evil character is made into the hero (again, one of my major criticisms with how the character of Hannibal Lecter evolved over the course of the books and films). Despite their best efforts to make Dexter sympathetic or, at least, honorable, I can’t bring myself to root for him.

But Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, and Desmond Harrington have become the reasons I watch the show now. Their solid work as actors and the gradually-revealed depth of their characters is why I want to see how it ends.

382005_10151149047722353_1271073771_n

I suspect a similar reason might be behind why all of my “beta-testers” didn’t seem to have a lot to say about The Red Boy (yes, it’s still in “coming soon” status) apart from that it was too sad or hopeless (neither of which I agree with, but I can’t fault them for their reaction).

One person hated it so much that they refused to finish it. Again, I see that as a valid response to a book but I have to keep reminding myself that, on the other side of the scale, another reader seemed to really love it. So that’s okay.

It wasn’t an easy story to write and I suspect that the generally negative reaction is probably why I’ve had so much trouble getting the final manuscript ready for publication.

Also, I’m recording the audiobook as well, which is proving to be a challenge. I’m out of practice at reading my own work and my time has been taken up with lots of extra work and a general sense of the blues that has, truth be told, dipped more than once into outright depression.

Last year was hard, this year has been hard so far. Sometimes all I feel like I’m doing is treading water, hoping to feel some firmer ground under my feet.

antsAnd finally, one last random thought…

Since second-hand smoke has become a target for eradication in our society, can we please move on to banishing the Tyranny of the Scented Candle? I’d also like to request a ban all perfumes, colognes, and scented hair and skin products from the workplace. Some days, it’s literally nauseating to sit through a meeting.

On Black Friday

There is something deeply distasteful about the annual Black Friday rituals. Lining up hours (even days) in advance, sacrificing comfort, sacrificing time with family or friends, risking possible injury in the mad press of the crowds, competing against the rest of the mob for discounts on already-overpriced baubles and gadgets.

There is violence. There are injuries and even death.

Moloch

And yet people still participate in the ritual, every year.

Others look down their noses and tsk-tsk over the madness of crowds. We’re so superior and above it all, above the vulgarity of the proles.

And above that, there are the plutocrats — a word taken from a god whose name literally means “The Rich One” — they watch their balance sheets and stock prices as the tithes of the faithful roll in.

What lives above them, I wonder?

I am not being metaphorical. When I speak of “ritual” and “sacrifice” I mean it. I believe this is literally true.

Because all of this is a ritual, an annual cult festival with all the trappings of religious observance performed to the glory of (and in the service to) some very dark gods.

MammonGods of Retail and Consumption. Mammon and Baal.

From us they demand, and receive, their sacrifice: Our time and money… even our blood.

Just another sacrifice.

We get their blessing in return, of course. Of course we do.

We get the discount, the deal, the bargain.

But is it worth it? Is it?

Because, to those gods I mentioned earlier, it absolutely is.

This day…

“Thanks” by W.S. Merwin

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions.

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

“They said I’d gone south…”

Haven’t done one of these in a while, but I’m a big fan of composer Clint Mansell’s soundtracks. When the Stoker soundtrack came out, I put it into regular rotation on Spotify.

An added bonus was discovering the music of Emily Wells. A haunting, wavering voice paired with lyrics that form and scatter like birds at dusk.

Here’s “Becomes the Color”

lost keys

As the plane breaks the cloud cover over Key West, I look out the window and see the ocean for the first time in I’ve-lost-count-how-many-years.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I hate the sea.

But I have to admit, despite myself, it is an impressive sight. The water below is a mottled green and gray.

LowerKeysAerial

It is like looking down on the planet Venus, a poisonous cocktail of green and gray. Blue threads run through the surface, little rivers tracing out a maze of capillaries across the face of the waters.

Small white tears appear on the surface of the water. I mistake them for birds as first, but we are too far up and too far away. They are the points of collision between waves as they rush together, obliterating each other in a spasm of foam.

Here and there, small islands appear like strange floating worlds all unto themselves.

For a moment, just a moment, I entertain the thought of leaving everything behind and living on one of those for the rest of my days.

But there are deeper things beneath the surface, darker shapes that appear in strange, organic configurations like bacterium in a petri dish. I wonder if these are other islands that have been reclaimed by the sea, the minor arcana of forgotten Atlantean worlds. Or perhaps they are nothing more than blooms of algae or seaweed.

They are fascinatingly organic, fractal — menacing, even. They appear to drift on their own, to undulate and move beneath the mottled surface of the sea.

There are darker shapes as well, deeper shadows that swallow everything — blotting out the islands and the shapes below the surface.

These are massive . . . slowly invading and overtaking the gentler shades of gray and green like tumorous clouds.

I realize that’s exactly what they are: Clouds — or, rather, the shadows of the clouds overhead. They are not below the surface but above it, above me — caught in between the sea and sky.

In an instant, a spray of colorful boats of every shape and size appear scattered across the face of the sea like a child’s toys lying forgotten at the end of the day.

The boats give way to other structures, derricks and piers. And then comes the shoreline encrusted with terra-cotta and beige homes that, even from the sky, I immediately recognize from my dreams.

The plane banks as we approach, showing me the sky one last time before we slam home on the runway with a rattling jolt that would worry me, if I weren’t so preoccupied with this strange, familiar feeling that I’ve seen all of this before.

Nervous, relieved laughter and the chime of cell phones flutter around me, while I sift through my dreams for lost memories of the keys.