Quoting Pat Conroy

I’ve been reading more Pat Conroy. I continue to be impressed with his ability to tell the story and to talk about his life and the lives of others entwined with his. Mostly, I treasure and envy his awesome craft of writing, his vocabulary, and how smooth it flows as I read. I have no right to judge the writing of anyone, much less a man with such a gift.

What I feel as I read his words is not so much judging (as in “love it”). It is about me and my experiences, feelings, and thoughts about a man who was born less than one year before I was; who grew up when I did, but under very different circumstances, and who seems to have lived a life that I oddly, but resonantly, relate to in many twisted and indirect ways. Autobiographical fiction; strangely, I get it.

Except for graphics, the following quotes taken from his writings are my notes. Any error is mine. This was me stopping the flow of my reading to write down Pat’s words. Cuz, picture it, me saying “wow” while reading and then grabbing my notebook.

I have been using Public Library e-books lately, so I cannot highlight as with paper books or on my Kindle app. Yet, writing them down in my notebook may be better for increased mental indelibility and the likelihood of my sharing.

I grouped these by category and added my comments. I realize that context is lost by such grab-and-go’s, but I like them. The photos and memes are not my work, except to click “copy as.”

About writing, reading, and writers

“Fear is the major cargo that American writers must stow away when the writing life calls them into its carefully chosen ranks.” (Agree. I do. I must.)

“…nothing is more natural in his (Tolstoy) world than the mysterious and necessary attraction of men and women…their attraction for each other and impending marriage seems part of the design of the Universe, as right as the stars that make up the belt of Orion.” (Pat read War and Peace three times.)

“Teach me how to die.” (This is one of those phrases when I think, “I wonder what he meant?” Context!)

“I want to always be writing the book I was born to write.” (Exactly.)

“But I’m speaking of all the yesterdays that will not come again.” (Old guys say cool shit like that.)

“…that I get to live in the Old New York Book Shop on the night of a book party.” (This was Pat’s idea of heaven after he died. That book store is no longer there, but it was a big deal to him. Do you have a place like that? A memory so profound and pleasurable that it would do for a permanent state in an afterlife?)

“Nothing is more difficult to overcome than a childhood of privilege….” (Or abusive parents.)

“My childhood taught me everything I needed to know about the dangers of love….” (I intend to use this when I write more on the paradox of love.)

“We got some things right.” (About writing, the publishing writing world, and himself.)

Regarding Norman Berg, Pat’s friend and book rep., “He was a hard man who dismissed fools without conscience or regret…. He was an easy man to dismiss, and a hard one to love.”

“Know everything. Feel everything. That’s your job as a writer.” (Said Norman Berg to Pat, quoted by Pat.)

“The tribe is contentious, the breed dangerous.” (Regards writers and why he claimed to have few friends among them. Pat Conroy had many friends, and many of them were writers. I don’t really know enough writers to have an opinion, but the ones I know, while seemingly neither contentious or dangerous; most are unapologetically opinionated. Norm Berg’s job description?)

“The world of writers was a snake hole, a circle of hell – a rat’s nest and a whirlpool and a dilemma – not just a world.” (Pat was opinionated. I wonder how he felt about French writers? See is time in Paris, below.)

Pat’s youth and college days

“Two pillars of authority, patriarchal influences shaped my childhood. Dad and the Catholic Church. Punishment of anarchy. Contempt for anyone different.” (Mine, too.)

“There was an amazingly limitless capacity for ruthlessness at the heart of the family of man.” (Regards all of life, but learned from the plebe system. This is from The Lords of Discipline.)

“What will this make of me? A man, or a monster?” (Regards surviving his freshman year in college)

“A prize that exacted an awesome tithe of spirit from those who loved it.” (The Lords of Discipline)

“It was sublimation and surrender to the efficacy of denial.” (Pat had something specific in mind, but I can apply this to so many times in my life.)

“The history we are born into always seems natural when we are young, but it seems misshapen and grotesque as the winter years come upon us.” (I have had similar thoughts, but my experiences were a little less profound.)

New words for me

Three of many words I learned and liked reading Conroy: décolletage, oleaginous, and unctuous. (I am smiling and could go on and on and…)

His time in Paris

“Parisians and polar icecaps have a lot in common except that polar icecaps are warmer to strangers.”

“France is the only country in the world where friendliness is one of the seven deadly sins.”

(To be fair, Pat loved his time in France and cherished the memories. But why deny the French acting so “frenchly”?)

 

In our reading life, we must look both ways.
In writing, mind the damn gaps.

Advertisements

Poetry – Kaleidoscopic Transitions 1

We think it good, we think it bad,
we think it happy, we think it sad.
Transitions gap our evolving life.
Changes are scary,
transformations are mad.

Everything changes.

Born into kaleidoscope
with passion we creep,
from stumbling blocks
to stepping stones
we eventually leap,
crossing mortared passages
through well-tuned segues
our unplanned journey
continually changes.

First babes, then as children,
we transform into teens,
with hormones and zits
and other strange things.
To walk and to talk,
of this life we wonder,
what it all means
we continue to ponder.

Everything changes.

Back to the womb
we desire to go.
As we learn of the changes
we continue to grow,
but kaleidoscope says
the answer is no.

Thru constant transitions
always more progress.
Life brings us new lessons
and dappled confessions;
how excited we get
as we look for more color.

We twist the scope faster
by leaving the nest,
then we see it in others
that desire for best,
we discover ourselves
as never before, we are
with all the transitions
still frozen by fear
of uncertainty we abhor.

Everything changes.

What is our purpose?
Why are we here?
Why do these changes
bring us such fear?
Back to the past
or into the future;
Where do we go?
What must we know?
Need we keep changing
as we continue to grow?

Everything changes while
the gaudy scope turns.
We fear the next spin
and where it might end.
Continue we must
with this prismatical game,
long into life
and well after birth.

Because everything always changes. It’s never the same.

Bill Reynolds 9/25/2017

Up from the colors, stare into the gaps.
Look both ways at life’s many changes.

Mother’s Happiness

I know little of what my parents thought about any deep subject such as a philosophy of life or their world view. I managed no more than hints or rare tidbits. Regarding my father, I remember too much of the bad and little of the good. The opposite is true of my mother.

I remember more in Mom’s case, and most of it good. The few bad memories were usually not her doing. Mom may have had her share of bad days, but I can’t remember one that was her fault.

My clearest memories are the pleasant ones about our overall relationship. We were close. Not in the best of friends sense you may hear some parents brag about. Mom was my parent – not my friend.

As a teenager or young adult, I would have railed against being called a “momma’s boy.” I now look back on our relationship with pride.

My mother protected me, mostly from Dad, but also from a few other things. Oddly, not from bullies. If I developed an early skill in dealing with them, it was avoidance. Later in life, my approach was more direct. Conversely, she liked telling people how she often broke blood vessels in her hands spanking me. I don’t recall any of that.

She and I argued our share. I was a momma’s boy – not a good or obedient boy. There were times when I was disappointed in her for not coming to my aid. Looking back, I now realize how right she was.

When she did help me, she did it her way. She helped me in a manner that permitted me the dignity of learning difficult lessons the hard way – which was apparently my preference. When she felt like I needed to learn a painful lesson, she gave me the space I needed. I now realize how difficult that must have been for her. My mother’s love for me, and mine for her were never in question.

When Dad’s health was declining and she felt like she needed to help him, she postponed action on the lump in her breast. After his death, she moved on to her own health care. Everything she did during the period of that treatment, she did with the occasional assistance of her sister. My sister and I lived too far away to be of much help.

While Mom was a long-term breast cancer survivor, the invasive disease brought on her death only after she decided to end most of the treatment.

But years before that, the spot on her lung had been removed and she was recuperating in the hospital the day my flight from Texas arrived in Pennsylvania. Walking down the hospital hallway, the sounds and smells were unique. I would know where I was had I been awakened blind.

As I walked down the hall following the directions I’d been given, I knew I would take the next right into another hall, then right again into her room. I anticipated walking in and finding her groggy and sore from the surgery. I envisioned her smiling up at me, weak and tired. I turned the corner.

The window at the end of that hall looked down on the hospital’s parking lot. Its sill of hard tile was about a foot deep. My recovering mother could easily sit there and gaze down to the parking lot, watching for me.

When she heard my voice, she turned her head and saw me walking toward her. The day after surgery, my 70-something mother jumped off the sill and started running toward me. Mom drove her five-foot-tall frame hard against me, wrapped her arms firmly around me, and then pulled my face down and kissed me.

After I suggested that she get back into bed, we walked to her room and she slid back onto the sheets and pillow. Mom was excited and chatty. She was always happy to see me. But on that day, her response was overwhelming. The doctors and nurses kept Mom alive. All I had to do was walk down the hall at the right time. I became the star of her show. I will always remember how happy she was to see me that day. I’m glad I could help.

Happy Mother’s Day to moms everywhere.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.

Father Daughter Collaboration Poem

This poem is a collaboration poem written by my daughter, Julie, and me. We both worked on it. In fact, she initially wrote the first part, as a poem to me. It is not renga because it meets none of the normal forms. It is simply two people writing a poem to each other and collaborating, so style and form are free. One could look on it as a duet, or father – daughter billets-doux (love, or sweet letters). Ardor means enthusiasm or passion. My portion is italicized.

Dewey and Dad
by Julie Barber and Bill Reynolds

You are my father, tried and true
And you my daughter through and through.

You know my heart, my feet and hands too.
Some even say I look like you.
From birth and to your life throughout,
I’ve been there for you, without a doubt.

There was a time when things were harder.
I hope I’ve grown and become much smarter.
If we could go back, I’d want you my daughter.
Together we’ve grown older with ardor.

My father, wiser by the day…. Always profound things to say.
Sharing our life keeps misery at bay.

I look to you when the answers are grey.
You say, “let nothing get in our way.”
You heart and your talent come into play,
Find peace therein, as you work away.

Go out and write and use your talents
It will give your life more sense and balance.
Your words are like clay, your pen is your pallet,
Your life is your muse, your mind is your mallet.

Get off your ass and do it already
The world is uncertain, and time is unsteady.
It’s your life to live, you should live it as heady,
Be happy my child, ‘tis all worth it, you’re ready.

The fact you’re so far away makes me sad
But I’m more than proud and grateful you’re my dad.

She’s Julie, but I call her Dewey

Forever you’ll be my daughter to me,
A lifetime of love, we certainly have.

My daughter, our love surpasses all distance
No oceans divide us, our minds unite us.

As we see one to the other, it will always be,
You rank above others swimming the sea.

Mind the gaps, family, love, friends, and the important things in life.
Look both ways, and all around.

The Summer of ’59

Facing the Dark Side

When I was in the sixth grade at my Catholic school, I dreaded being promoted to seventh grade. Sister Mary Scary taught seventh grade. That nasty creature who floated around Saint John’s wearing Rome’s version of a burqa, but used a white frame to emphasize a face that was perpetually angry, who posed as a Catholic nun but was really the Wicked Witch of the West. That daughter of Satan himself, would have complete control of my life from eight to three every weekday, plus an extra hour at church every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, when I would be forced to sit, kneel, or stand to watch men and boys dressed in feminine garb prance, kneel, sing, pray, and read in a dead language of which I understood nary ten words.

Saint John's Church and School

Saint John’s Church and School

Mom and Dad were delighted in June of 1958, when I handed them my report card with that depressing word emblazoned on the back cover: “Promoted!” To me, it said, “sentenced to nine months of suffering in Purgatory at the hands of evil.”

I worried all summer. My friend, Jimmy, who was a grade ahead of me reported the horrible carnage that he and others had endured at the hands of Lucifer’s daughter. Whatever the version of depression a 12-year-old boy could encounter, I’m sure I had it. Never, have I wanted a summer to pass more slowly.

My parents always supported authority over me. The nun, teacher, priest, cop, drunk adult, irate neighbor, or neighborhood tattle tale was always right. Ok, occasionally, they really were right. But from my point of view, my parents should have supported me – their son who they claimed to love. I could not discuss my fears about the nun with my parents.

My siblings had the “we survived, but you probably won’t” attitude and said as much. However, my older brother, Danny, did have some advice for me. “Be an altar boy. They like altar boys,” he said. That made sense to me. I would play their game to survive.

Survival

I worried enough about Sister Scary that I managed to get through seventh grade with minimal physical damage and mental distress. I passed academically, and I was home free. This time I was even more pleased than Mom and Dad that I was not held back. I had not shed one tear. I was doing well. My eighth-grade teacher was to be Sister Mary Wonderful, who was also the school Principal. Life was good again.

Toward the end of seventh grade, I was finally approached to join the exalted and glorious ranks of the chosen ones. I was asked if I wanted to be an Altar Boy. All my friends were becoming Altar Boys, and I wanted to be one, too. My brother, Danny, had been one, and it was what good Catholic boys did.

Altar Boys

Altar Boys

I accepted the offer from the Father O’Burts, logically assuming my parents would approve. I started learning the Latin prayers and talking to other boys about the process and the job. I was happy about it. My plan for eighth grade was to be one of the chosen. I even signed up for the school basketball team. I didn’t play well, but I was the tallest boy in my school. I began to look forward to my final year at Saint John’s.

Not So Fast

Then, as the skies darkened again, I had the familiar bad feeling. As September and the start of school approached, there was a shockingly frightful rumor. Sister Wonderful was being transferred, and Sister Mary Scary, the evil antagonist of my short life, was being promoted to school principal and would be moving up to teach eighth grade.

Oh, dear God, No! I was supposed to be done with her. But as every dependable source, including the church bulletin, soon validated, ‘twas da troot. The second coming of the Inquisition had been promoted to Principal of Saint John’s elementary school, and would teach 8th grade to my class. I knew that I could not survive another year. My only solace was knowing that, except for a few favored girls, the rest of my classmates were as upset as I was. The Altar Boy gig became critical.

Say What?

So then, still expecting them to be pleased with the news, I decided to tell my parents that I was to be an Altar Boy. I expected them to be proud, if not overjoyed.

I was happy when I walked into the kitchen and sat down for dinner. She was at the sink behind me. “Mom, guess what? Fadder O’Burts as’t me ta be an altar boy. And I’ma gunna do it, too.”

I turned to look at Mom, smiling and all full-of-myself, at first. Then, severe shock set in when she turned and said, “No yer not!”

Dad looked up and added, “Like Hell, y’are! Yeh kin get dat idea outa yer thick skull right now.”

Dazed, I needed something quick – a prayer, to get sick, perhaps a deadly disease, anything. Desperation was overcoming me.

I was unaware that when Danny had been an Altar Boy, it was not a good experience. The logical consequence, of course, was that I was not permitted to follow, and my parents did not give one inch. Nor did they tell me why I was being denied my only hope to survive nine more months of the Black-veiled Horror. Today, I am glad that I was not part of that Altar Boy thing, but at the time, it was the worst possible news.

Option Two

Quickly, I changed the subject. “Mom, Coughlin is 7th through 12th grade. Can I go there for 8th grade? I’ll be starting there fer 9th grade and high school the next year, anyway.”

She didn’t even look at me. “Now, Billy-boy. Why’d ya do dat? Jist graduate St. John’s then go to high school like your brother and sister did. After I see ya graduate Saint John’s, the Lord can take me. It’ll never happen again.”

“I will graduate from Coughlin High, Mom. And probably college too. So, the Lord can wait.”

With that, the food in Dad’s mouth came spewing out. He was choking and coughing and wheezing and trying not to die while laughing at my confidence. My wonderful summer was ending in embarrassment and darkness. I became angry and depressed again.

Blues Brothers

Blues Brothers

As It Happened

I was right. Eighth grade was worse than seventh for exactly the reasons that I had predicted. Even our basketball team suffered from the curse of the cruel Head Demon. Sister Mary Scary controlled every aspect of student lives – thus influencing their spiritual growth or decline. She and I were in constant struggle to have all of Hell on our side. That nun and I never had one good day. Eventually, we developed a healthy fear of each other as my size and strength worked to discourage many of her thoughts. Sister Scary promoted me to high school and out of Saint John’s. To this day, I’m certain that neither of us wished to deal with the other any longer than necessary. I was neither the first, nor that last, to be moved along to become someone else’s problem.

Age and experience change how we see our world.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.

NaNo Rebel – One Week Done

Telling my story

Telling my story

In the first five days of NaNoWriMo, I’ve written 11,000 words toward the goal of 50,000 before midnight of November 30th. Since my personal goal was 2K words a day, I’m ahead. I have picked up on several things about my writing.

  • I am not isolated. My wife comes and talks to me routinely, and I go talk to her. I have vacuumed the house, gone to meetings, and done shopping. I answer phone calls (not doing surveys or talking to telemarketers, and I voted early), and I go for walks.
  • I have time available to write. Being retired, I could write all day and night. But I can take time for a football game, and maybe some NCIS or Blue Bloods. I read about what I am supposed to be doing: writing memoir. I talk to people, often about things having nothing to do with writing.
  • I think my weakest writing skill is the art, the creative parts, the telling of the story. I blame my experience with technical writing for part of that. But for this memoir, I continue to work on my skills to show and tell from my POV at the time. Can I be both protagonist and antagonist?
  • If I read a sentence that I wrote last week, I will change it. It will be better, but the challenge is to write, not to re-write and edit. This slows me down, but it looks like I can semi-comfortably write a maximum of about 3-thousand words a day. I did 2,800 twice last week.
  • I made an outline, a spreadsheet, and a memory list. The list has turned out to be the most valuable. I never look at the outline or spreadsheet. My only problem with the memory list is that I write in chronological order and the list random.

img_0833-1

  • Here are examples from my list:
    1. Working to pull out coal stove and put in gas hot water heater and gas stove for cooking.
    2. Looking up at Dad realizing I was looking at a drunk man who didn’t care. I had eerie feeling that he resented me. I was not seeing my father.
    3. Helen Hxxxxn (Whitey) BB gun. Tomatoes.
    4. Peggy Rxxb and the Rxxb family.
    5. Carol Mxxar and Joe Mxxxxen
    6. Dog named Rusty and my treatment of the dog
    7. Age 5 birthday party
    8. Danny
    9. Raised by both bio parents…first in fam….Linda was second, but hers divorced (he left) right after Linda graduated high school
    10. Mom’s relationship with my half-bro, Danny, and my view of it.
Write. Just write you must.

Write. Just write you must.

I will be writing this memoir for a long time to come. I’ll win the Nano challenge and complete this memoir, but not anywhere near at the same time.

I miss writing this blog, but I choose not to do both.

If you ever consider writing memoir, I suggest it. For me, it’s not about the book, it’s about me. I still have a lot to write and things to decide. Do I want to write about something or make it available for others to read? Those dark “things” about me? I work at keeping the words and stories on my intended spiritual track, but in my mind, everything relates – particularly during my formative years.

The following excerpts from my memoir are from two more dramatic events, both relate to a nun who taught me. Context is that I had just learned that the same nun who taught 7th grade will be teaching 8th next year, then we jump to what I was worried about.

Blues Brothers movie, my fav part

Blues Brothers movie, my fav part

….“Mom, Coughlin is 7 to 12th. Can I go to 8th grade there? I’ll go next year anyway.”

“Now, Billy-boy. Why wud ya? Jist graduate St. John’s. After I see ya graduate, God can take me. It’ll never happen again.”

“I’ll graduate Coughlin, Mom.”

8th grade was worse than 7th. Even Father Burns was afraid of Sister Mary Siena, and for good reason. She was the tyrant of the school.

Gerry Dxxxxe sat behind me. As I was turned around explaining something of extreme importance to Gerry I heard, “Mister Rxxxxs, what is the answer?”

“The answer to what, Sister?”

“Young man, you better know the answer to the question I just asked the class.”

After I suggested that she asked one of them, the anger-crazed dark shadow in black habit grabbed her instrument of torture and death. As she stormed down the aisle heading at me, in her hand was the yard long wooden pointer. It was round, about the circumference of my thumb. She yelled for me to standup and turn around.

As it turns out, blows to the flesh behind the knees with such a pointer are not soon forgotten….

At times, how I saw it.

At times, how I saw it.

Life is interesting,
look both ways and mind the gaps.

Guest Blogger (Frat Friday)

My guest blogger today is my ten year old grandson, Christian. He recently won a writing award at school and I thought he and I could collaborate on today’s Frat Friday. Christian wrote this.

What happens when you are one inch tall?

This morning, I woke up and I was one inch tall. I looked down and said, “That’s a far drop to the floor.” So, I jumped and landed on my night stand. Then I climbed down the wire that was connected to my lamp. I got on the floor. “Finally,” I gasped. I slid through the little crack under the door. But, I forgot about something.

Slightly open door, light shining through crack

Slightly open door, light shining through crack

I eventually managed to get out of my room. Then, I saw something. It was asleep. It was fuzzy, and it had big white teeth like a shark.

Christian's story1

It was my cat. I was terrified that I would end up in the creature’s slimy stomach.

Christian's story4So I snuck like a Ninja, undetected by the dozing, fat, fuzzy feline. Then, my stomach rumbled because I was hungry. Cats have very sensitive hearing. She woke up and chased me. I quickly climbed some drawers to the stove.

Then, the fuzzy and dangerous varmint turned on the stove. And I had a nice game of ‘The Floor is Lava.’

Christian's story3

Finally, I got off the stove and jumped into the cereal box. The cat fled and dozed off again. I sat down and ate cereal in the box. Being one inch tall can be dangerous, but it can also be quite a fun adventure.