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A great review / essay about my book – Some Sort of Normal

A Journey into the Dark:

Review of Some Sort of Normal (Richard M. Grove)

by Brian Way

In Kafka’s iconic short story, “The Metamorphosis” (referenced in Some Sort of Normal, Ch. 32 and elsewhere), Gregor Samsa awakes one morning to discover that, while his physical body has been transformed into a “gigantic insect,” psychologically, he continues to exhibit emotional and intellectual capacities. In other words, he remains human. Even though he appears to be a bug, he remains human. He ruminates on his traumatic condition and reflects on the dreariness of his previous life as a travelling salesman and on the drabness of his room and the weather outside, and he feels hurt in being shunned by his family, yet he still feels “tenderness and love” and duty toward them. In the end, suicidally, he wills himself to death to give them freedom—at which time, ironically, his undeserving family begins to herd his beloved sister, Grete, onto the same fatally “buggy” path. Gregor’s situation is pathetically echoed in the condition of Mark Beetleman, the protagonist of Richard M. Grove’s Some Sort of Normal; as Gregor has been forced into his terminal carapace by his family’s (and society’s) parasitic greed, Mark has arrived in his isolated (s)hell by enacting, and re-enacting, his own latent desires. Mark confesses to being an incestuous pedophile, of having had sex with his adolescent daughter repeatedly over a several-year-span; now that he has been exposed, in his own words, he is “living a nightmare … [he] can’t shake” (Normal Ch. 1)

To exacerbate his situation, at least in his mind, Beetleman is living his “nightmare” alone. Except for conversations with his often-silent therapist Dr. Waleed; with an acerbic confidante named Frank; with his extremely narcissistic self; and with us, the reader. Mark finds himself cut-off from everyone about whom he really cares—his wife, his daughters, his brothers, his friends. His life has become a serial soirée of wives and lovers whose names he cannot recall. Some Sort of Normal is Mark Beetleman’s attempt to come to terms with his condition, with his feelings, with the meaning of what he has done and who he is. The novella is his soliloquy in search of identity, his “book of bosh,” his “wheelbarrow full of horseshit” (Normal Ch. 7).

Several canonical pieces of literature, from Light in August to Death in Venice, from The Color Purple to Lolita, from God Help the Child to The End of Alice, have broached the topic of incest and pedophilia and Some Sort of Normal joins that club, bluntly and ferociously. Grove’s novel tackles this topic in its own unique way by abandoning linear narrative. Here chapter after chapter appear like random snapshots, pages of a disoriented, fragmented photograph album, all presented with a range of literary styles: traditional third- and first-person narrative, epistolary forms (letters and e-mails), diary and journal entries, and poetry, all effectively layered as a biographical palimpsest to capture Mark Beetleman’s fractured life. In these, Mark revisits the actions and ideas that have led him to remorse, doubt and desolation, including an account of his ascent toward the original carnal act and his descent toward isolation and suicide after his behavior is exposed. In exploring such dark recesses of the human spectrum, Some Sort of Normal unfolds as a complex and fascinating fiction, a compelling read that sheds light into areas rare to the reader’s eye.

Moral philosophers, from Socrates and Plato to Mill and Kant, have contextualized ethical principles—if one knows what is right, one will do what is good; Kant’s categorical imperative affirms the existence of certain fixed moral laws and posits the rational idea that humans will shape their actions in alliance to those codes. But what if you know what is right and still do what is wrong? One begins to rationalize—what is right; what is wrong; according to whom? Mark grapples with the ethical issues inherent in his action as he sees them, and spins the wheel of blame from self to daughter to circumstance to society to differing historical norms and even to the periodic vacillation of cultural morays. At times he seems honestly pleading his case; other times, he is the unreliable narrator caught in his own web of lies, maybe? He weaves in broken pieces a “beetle-man’s” quixotic vision of the issues at hand.

Sometimes, as reader, one is nearly seduced by Mark’s arguments, nearly buys into his salesman’s lingo of prepubescent sexualization or adolescent desire, nearly forgives him his trespasses. Other times, not so much. By the final chapter, one thinks of Dickens as much as Kafka; like some kind of Scrooge discovering Christmas morning, Mark wakes from a hopeless and frightening dream and, in the end, forces himself into the realization that he is not a cockroach like Gregor Samsa. He simply chooses the froth of a Cappuccino over the acidic taste of the barrel of a gun. Now, for that choice to be credible, like those Dickensian heroes before him, he needs only to discover a benevolent heart.

The front cover of Some Sort of Normal shows a picnic table beneath the waters of a flood—whether the waters are rising or receding is unknown in much the same way, one supposes, as the state of “normal” is ultimately indeterminable. In “The Garden of Paradise” by Hans Christian Andersen, a fairy tale referenced by the therapist Waleed (Ch. 23), a prince travels on a lengthy and dangerous quest to find eternal life in the original Garden of Eden. Once there, “on the very first evening” he succumbs to his human folly and weakness, relenting to his desire, kissing the princess and losing his salvation; Eden sinks into the earth forever beyond his grasp. Death then forces him from the spot “to wander about the world for a while” with the uncertain hope that he will find, far away in the future, a “happier life in the world beyond the stars.” And so it is in the end for Mark Beetleman—like that picnic table in the flood, his is a flawed, imperfect life and ‘some sort of normal’ is the best he can have and, probably, the best he deserves. He is a bug after all, but he is human too.

Brian T. W. Way

English scholar, writer, poet

 

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A Poem For Nico

Welcome Nico

 

My Dear Nico:

 

My grandson, only hours old

in terms of terra firma, this

your human existence. Welcome

to this earthly plane.

Is it your pennants or your reward

that you landed here though

through thought and deed

that is for you to determine.

It was wise of you to pick

two loving mothers

that will dote over you,

love you like no one else

possibly could but maybe not

fulfil your every whim.

 

Nana Kim and I are still in Cuba

but already love you nonetheless

despite the salt wind distance of flailing

palm fronds and pushing waves

into frothing white caps .

One day I hope we will walk

these sandy wind swept shores

of Cuba with you and snooze

under swaying palm filtered sun.

For now you will have to be content

to be cooed at by mothers’ love,

gawked at by the many others

that swoon in your presence.

 

We look forward to meeting you soon.

 

Grandpa Tai

 

 

Chapter 26 – Therapy Excerpt – Thanksgiving

Therapy Excerpt – Thanksgiving

Mark sat week after week in the infamous green, wingback chair; comfortable but not so comfortable that one would be inclined to be totally relaxed. Dr. Waleed sat in an identical chair facing almost directly across from Mark. “I have told you about my mother and father, about Frank, my brothers, my wives but you have never asked about my old girlfriend Jan.” Mark rubbed the arms of the chair back and forth before he continued.

 

“Jan was just about the only gal that I was interested in for more than just sex. I had a strange conversation with her before we drifted apart. I don’t know if she was fishin’ for an ‘I Love You’ or what, but she looked me square in the eye and said, ‘Mark, have you actually ever really been in love before?’ I was a bit taken aback because we had never talked about love before and I am not sure that I wanted to. What is the point of talking about love? You are or you aren’t I figure but at any rate she pushed me for an answer.” Mark paused for a moment to let Dr. Waleed finish writing a note.

 

“Do you want to hear about this? I told her that my first wife, Rose, and I loved each other but we never actually said those three words. It started out as a bit of a game. Kind of like who’s going to hang up first when you’re dating and swooning over spending every minute with the person. She didn’t want to say it until I said it and I didn’t want to say it until she said it first because I knew she was playing this silent game of who speaks of love first. I think that I loved her. I wrote I L O V E Y O U ! ! one letter per square on the toilet paper one time and rolled it back onto the roll just to see if what her reaction would be. She never said anything. To this day I don’t know if she just wiped her beav with it and didn’t notice or what. How could she not notice bright red letters, big letters, one on each square? I wasn’t going to ask if she saw the letters or not so to this day I’ve got no idea. Maybe all she saw was E YOU.

 

“Even on our wedding night all I could say was ‘love yah’ and all she said was ‘right back at yah.’ It’s kind of like how I was raised. I don’t ever remember my mom or my dad saying ‘I love you,’ or even ‘love yah’ for that matter. They never said it to me or my brothers for that matter. I can hear my mom saying – ‘You don’t need to say such things with words. I say “I love you” every time I wash your underwear and cook your dinner. You think I do that because I hate you? Don’t be a bone head.’ I can remember her waving her spoon at me. ‘You don’t need smooshy words, you need actions.’

 

“I know I loved Ruthie, my third wife. She was a nice girl in a lot of ways even if she turned into a nagging bitch but I never told her either. That might be part of why she fucked all those guys behind my back, just to hear someone say, ‘I love you’.

 

“I was at my girlfriend, Jan’s parent’s place for a Thanksgiving dinner about a year ago. I never smelled anything like it before. The aroma of roast turkey, mashed potatoes and yams greeted Jan and me as we walked into the warm house. Like I’ve told you, Thanksgiving has never been my favorite time of the year but this was kind of special. Holidays in general have always been filled with some level of consternation almost all of my life except for when I was little and didn’t pay much attention to the fighting. I just can’t fathom the mythical harmony that apparently revolved around some dining room tables and post-dinner antics. Telling stories, laughing over spilled milk, playing charades until you had a side-splitting stitch was not part of my family experience. At the very most, my family would watch a football or hockey game with a case of beer, or three. The men would get drunk and argue until they fell asleep. The women would take one car and drive us kids home. The men would show up in the middle of the night, chauffeured by the least drunk of them all.

 

“Even though I was not all that eager to go, Jan, wanted me to finally meet the rest of her family. Jan and I had been seeing each other steady for five, almost six months and I had managed to avoid spending what she would call, family time, with her parents, brother and sister. We arrived early and no one else had shown up yet. Jan is so nice. She put her arm around me and gently dragged me into the kitchen to meet her mom. After an awkwardly stiff hug, a short but polite exchange, it was suggested that I hang out in the family room for a while. ‘I’m going to be with mom, helping in the kitchen.’

 

“Well that’s about the end of the story really. I mulled around the posh but friendly family room. I sat and bounced up and down testing out a large cushioned armchair. I had never sat in such a nice chair before. The house was pretty nice. I just kind of perused all of the original paintings. Some of them were pretty nice. It wasn’t till I was looking at all of the books that filled an expansive built-in wall cabinet that surrounded a large bay window that I knew Jan and I were not going to be together very much longer. She came from highbrow stock and I came from common people. It’s like she grew up drinking champagne and I grew up drinking cheap beer or wine out of a box.

 

“I stopped and studied the photographs that paraded the fireplace mantel. It was crazy, I was flooded with memories, though very different from the history beaming from the smiling faces that stared back at me through the silver and black lacquered frames. I realized right then that I had no pictures of my daughters even taped to my fridge. Smiling faces of my estranged daughters only make me depressed. The few family pictures that my family might have are concealed deep in dusty disorder at the bottom of a cupboard somewhere in my aunt’s, not so family, family room.”

 

Mark sat quiet for a moment and then repeated his words. “…not so family, family room.” Silence. “It is kind of strange to have a family room that is not all that friendly. I never really thought of it before but my family memories were more aptly linked to unscrewing the top from the third bottle of cheap wine, glugged by my father into mother’s chipped, coffee-stained mug. I started to think that maybe Jan and I wouldn’t even last another date. Unlike her group-hug-holiday-snapshots, memories in front of a glistening bronze turkey poised for carving, mine were of my father passing me a smoldering joint and telling me to take it into the other room to mommy.”

 

Mark contemplated his past for a moment, “My Thanksgiving memories were not of family bliss, jokes told around the dining room table, ‘pass the gravy’ and ‘more pumpkin pie anyone?’ My Thanksgiving memories were of shattered plates slipped from trembling, inebriated fingers, stacks of unwashed dishes and squabbles over who was going out for fish and chips and another box of wine from Joe’s wine shop beside the tattoo parlor. My memories were not framed in silver, tastefully placed on a mahogany mantel. Mine were framed in shame, guilt and fear, tucked away in the dark recesses of avoidance, glazed in anger.

 

“It’s strange Dr. Waleed but the longer I stayed at Jan’s parents’ place the weirder I felt. I pondered the photos, one after another and picked one up to bring it closer. By then I was just sad. It was of a kindly, wrinkled old lady, smiling through the dappled shadows of a white sunhat. She had gentle wide eyes, an arm full of tulips pressed to her chest. For me it was unfathomable that this was a real person and not an image clipped from a magazine.

 

“Just as I was looking at this nice photograph, Jan walked in the room and said, ‘That’s my Nanna. She’s the one that died about 10 weeks ago. I am sad that you didn’t get to meet her. She was such a darling. I miss her so much. I used to stay overnight at her house when I was a little girl.’ Jan took the photograph from me, smiled and placed it back precisely where it had come from.

 

“It made me sad to think that I had no photographs of the only grandmother that I knew. There may be some in a family photo album somewhere. I have no memories of what she looks like. I called my grandmother, ‘G’. G for grandma. She was kind but distant. She was firm, rather than friendly. She was my only grandmother.”

 

Mark stopped for a moment, shuffled in his chair as if uncomfortable, “I got ticked off at Jan when she offered me a glass of wine. I said, ‘Why would you offer me a glass of wine when you know that I don’t drink anymore?’, even though it wasn’t totally true but she didn’t know that I was still sneaking a drink time and again? And then she offered me a soda and for me to go in the kitchen with her if I wanted to peel potatoes or I could just turn on the TV and see if there was a game on. She reminded me that her dad would not get home from golf with Denis and Deb for an hour. I guess I was just feeling weird or something because I made some comment about me watching a stupid game and I didn’t play golf or something stupid like that.

 

“I just reached for the remote control, grabbed a cushion and stretched out on the long sofa bewildered by the mysteries of family bliss. I laid there for a while without the TV on wondering how different my life would have been if I had grown up in such a family with a sofa, uncluttered, untattered and the peace of mind to relax uninterrupted. What would my life be like if I was the one coming home from golf with a dad who cared? What would my life be like if I was the one to have a smiling, doting grandmother and a mother cooking a turkey?

 

Mark’s mind wondered into oblivion for a moment, “I stayed there alone thinking. I knew that in the long run, one can only blame your past so much for the pain of the present. I guess I was not willing to look at the past, the present or the future with Jan. I kind of screwed up and let her go.”

Some Sort of Normal, Chapter 25 – Coffee with Frank – Leonard Cohen and Donald Trump in the Same Sentence?

Chapter 25 – Coffee with Frank – Leonard Cohen and Donald Trump in the Same Sentence?

Mark and Frank sit in their favorite café for their weekly Saturday ritual coffee. Frank flails his newspaper in the air in front of him as he complains about the high price of gas. “For Pete sake I paid $2.26 a gallon yesterday and the price at the pumps is up almost twenty cents over night. Why do we have to pay more for our gas than the rest of the country? The paper says our USA national average is $2.10 a gallon. It’s just not fair. The price for everything is going up every time you turn around and they blame it all on the price of transportation. High gas prices means more expensive everything.”

 

As Mark goes to sit down he grabs at Frank’s paper that is still swirling in the air. “I just placed an order for our coffees. Sarah will bring them mover when they’re ready. Frank, you think that the price of gas is high now you should wait until Trump is sworn in and starts messing with the economy, then you will see high gas prices. I was reading a blog this morning that was comparing Trump with Hitler and that fuel prices skyrocketed when Hitler took power and then the German economy tanked. Oh man, don’t get me started.” Mark was already well into a diatribe that he wanted to avoid.

 

Mark grabs at Frank’s newspaper again and misses. “Frank, I’m not sure I am going to survive this current news cycle. It seems to me it’s so full of shit. Trump the devil incarnate elected president of the free world, versus the old man iconic of the music world, Cohen, the saint of Pop and Rock dies at 82. They are battling it out for attention in the media. I am already tired of hearing ‘So Long Marianne’ and I am sure tired of hearing what a misogynistic prick Trump is. Cohen was just as much of a womanizer as Trump but you don’t hear the media harping on that. You wouldn’t want to tarnish Saint Cohen’s reputation now that he is dead. I bet the sales of Cohen’s newest album ‘You Wanted it Darker’ are going through the roof. Why is it that everyone wants a piece of a dead guy? In Canada they worship him as a cultural icon even though they know in his early days he was as much of a womanizer as Trump.”

 

Frank swished his paper at Mark and says, “It sounds like you have quite a big bee in your bonnet, which side of the bed did you wake up on?”

 

Mark interrupted Frank with a quick reply. “Let me tell you what side of the bed I woke up on. I woke up on the, give Trump a chance, side of the bed. I know that Trump is probably a total misogynistic, redneck, s.o.b. the way the media paints him but surly he isn’t all bad. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t vote for him but I also didn’t vote for Hilary Clinton either. The entire country acts as if there are only two viable candidates running for president. I voted Libertarian again. Not because I thought that there was a chance in hell that Gary Johnson would be president but because we need an alternate voice shouting from the damn rafters to make sure the government doesn’t run rough-shot over the people. Fabulous, thank God our coffees are coming.”

 

Mark pushed their things out of the for the server and slapped his paper on the table and raised his voice, “The media is crazy. Do they really think they’re going to hang Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski and Donald Trump with the same rope. The media is crazy. It is like they are on a witch hunt. Next thing you know they are going to hang Lassie for sniffin’s some bitch’s ass end.”

 

Frank shakes his newspaper at Mark, “Oh man, Mark, you don’t have a bee in your bonnet you have a bee up your butt. You are starting to sound like Trump spouting half-truths that don’t make any sense. First of all I don’t know Cohen’s sexual proclivities or his past and neither do you but even if he was a womanizer it doesn’t mean that he was a misogynistic blow hard like Trump. You can tell that Trump is a woman hater just by how he talks about women in public. Cohen’s poems and songs were not at all about disrespect of women. You are just trying to paint them both with the same broad brush you have painted yourself with.”

 

Frank slowly leans forward. In a low harsh voice he reminds Mark about his not so distant past and his non-existent relationship with his oldest daughter, Rachel. “I hate to bring it up again Mark but you can’t compare Cohen’s womanizing past with Trump without looking in the mirror first.” Frank leans even closer to Mark. In an almost whispers he says, “You can’t do what you have done in your life and not have been, and I think you still are, a misogynistic prick. No doubt you have some good qualities and that is why I still hang around with you. believe it or not I think you are redeemable. You are a good person in many ways but you still objectify women and you still haven’t publicly apologized for your past deeds. Until you do you should keep your Trump and Cohen judgments to yourself.

 

“Every time you talk about Trump and Cohen and call them “Misogynistic” I can’t help but think about you bragging to me about you fucking this one or that one in your van and how many different sets of footprints you have on your van ceiling. At least Cohen went into monastery and became a monk for years. I bet he became a better person. You can bet there was a lot of reformation going on in those years.” Frank laughed out loud, “Maybe you should follow his example. Maybe you and Trump should join a monastery together you silly dweeb.

 

 

Poem – November 09, 2017, Morning Comes with Its Slanting Light

November 09, 2017, Morning Comes
with Its Slanting Light

 

We had our first frost of the season last night.

It dropped from a glorious +12oc to -11

within hours. It was the start of our journey past

the rising full moon, to black-armed

naked trees, rustling leaves in tall grey grass.

We are now past the first snowfall and have arrived

at the moment of now, waiting, watching

the drifting dull of winter that keeps on coming.

We hear the chattering ice-lined waves that never stop,

never stop on our journey to the now of forever

even in the slanting light of morning.

 

Thank you James Deahl for the title for this poem

from your line – Morning comes, its slanting light –

from your poem – The Jack Pine,

from your fine book – Red Haws to Light the Field

from Guernica Editions

Devour: Art & Lit Canada

As if I was not busy enough I have started a new art and lit mag – Devour: Art & Lit Canada. This is the letter that I just sent out to the public.

I hope you find it and enjoy. Let me know.

all the best

Tai

Hidden Brook Press brings you, Devour: Art & Lit Canada, issue #001. It can be downloaded or streamed for FREE on your PC, your Tablet or your Android Phone. Simply click on the link below. There are no sign up fees, passwords, or codes needed. Simply click and read. You can save Devour on your device if you wish. You can enlarge the mag to full screen and enlarge the text to suit your viewing needs. You can also install an app on your pc, tablet or phone so you have one click viewing.

There is no worry about viruses. Devour is delivered to you in a virus free modified PDF platform.

Send us a review of Devour: Art & Lit Canada.

Click here to open Devour:

https://issuu.com/richardgrove1/docs/devour_-_art_and_lit_canada_-_issue_9116ff1150f68e?utm_source=conversion_success&utm_campaign=Transactional&utm_medium=email

What Is Coming:

Once you are viewing Devour all you have to do is click the ‘Follow’ button and you will be notified of future issues so you will be the first to view.

Stay tuned for contest info in the next issue.

We will be starting a ‘Reader Review’ section in the future. Send us a review of your favorite Canadian book with a jpg of the cover.

We hope you enjoy Devour: Art & Lit Canada and pass the link worldwide to your lit list.

All the best and happy reading.

Richard M. Grove / Tai

Devour Art and Lit Canada - issue 001

 

Another chapter from my Unpublished novel – Some Sort of Normal

Chapter 22 – Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich

 

Mark replied to Dr. Waleed’s welcoming question of how are you. “I’m good, I had an ok week I guess. I got to see Frank a couple of times for a coffee but other than that nothing earth-shaking happened. I got a letter from my cousin Bobby that kind of fucked with my head for a day or two. I saved reading it for a couple of days until this past weekend. I was kind of afraid of what it might say, so I put it off. I took it with me for a walk when I went down along the Gary boardwalk. You probably know it, west along the lake towards Chicago. I like to get away from the smell of Gary industry.
“Everyone seems to smile with the bounce of joy in their steps when they are down there. It was a beautiful sunny day on Saturday so I packed a sandwich and drink and went for a walk. There were tons of people meandering with their kids, and boats in the distance listed only slightly in the gentle offshore breeze. It was kind of fun watching the greedy gulls bolt down french-fries tossed by laughing kids.
“I picked a bench that faced the sun, facing the lake. It was so cool sitting down there looking past the boardwalk to the soft-sand beach eating my peanut butter and banana sandwich – I like the bread toasted and it’s gotta be white.” An almost smile involuntarily twitched across Mark’s face thinking about his favorite childhood food. Sometimes mashed potatoes with lots of butter were his favorite, but they had to be smooth with plenty of milk like Billie’s mother used to make – and they had to be hot.
“Well anyway, I swept the last crumbs to the pigeons cooing at my feet and read the letter. You want me to read you the letter? I got it right here.” Mark pulled the letter from his shirt pocket and started to read.

 

 

Dear Cuz:

I decided to write a letter and lick a stamp because you have not returned any of my emails, maybe for as long as a year or more.
I was going to use the word ‘slighted’, slighted that you have ignored me but somehow that word has a bit too heavy of a connotation. I like the precision of language but am not sure that one single word will substitute. My computer thesaurus gave me; ignored, neglected, snubbed, disregarded, omitted, spurned – nope – none of them will do on their own because none of them have the concept of caring built into them. Along with feeling slighted, I have a fear of intruding in your life if you truly don’t want to talk to me, though I feel disregarded the way one disregards a telemarketer.  Most of what I am feeling has to do with my caring for you as a cousin and hoping, trusting that you are well. We have not had an in depth conversation about life and happiness for a long, long time. We used to sit for hours and talk. I miss that, but now I am hearing some nasty rumors floating around the family about you and need to clear them up.
I missed you at the family reunion again this year, though some were glad that you had the good sense to stay away.  It was held at Uncle Len’s condo, so some of us went swimming. It has been about four years that you haven’t come.  Some in the family are actually feeling slighted by your absence, but they might not know about the rumor about you and Rachel. For me it’s about missing you and hanging out with you like we used to. I miss riding my bike over to your place and then heading to the pond to catch frogs.  I miss those days man. Being cousins is more than just sharing a last name, it’s not even about blood and being family. It’s about trust and being able to talk about anything even if you did something bad.
I guess you probably know that our cousin Drake passed on last year. I miss him loads; our cousin Nancy the year before that, both from cancer.  My sadness goes deeper than just missing a person. It might sound like a cliché but it’s not about the bond of DNA.  I don’t mean this letter to be melodramatic, but I feel like I am losing another cousin. We all have people slip through our lives like Jello off a hot tray.  Zip, they are gone, and most often it doesn’t matter, but the bond of the ones you love is important no matter what they have done.
Another Thanksgiving dinner has been had without you and another Christmas is around the corner.  I hope we can get to see each other again before then, before Easter, before next summer, before one of us joins Drake and Nancy. I know we are older now and not about to go frog hunting, but we could get together and just hang out and talk.
I trust you are well. I hope you are happy. I hope to see you again soon despite anything that you might have done.
I hate to think that I have to come and hunt you down, Cuz.  Write me or email me soon.
I love you, Bob.

 

Mark gently, almost in slow motion, folded the letter, slipped it back into the envelope and sat silently with his hands on his lap. Mark felt like the silence in the room was going to choke him.
“So what am I supposed to do now? Write him back, or just ignore him?  Bobby is a great guy and all, but we’ve grown apart since our frog-hunting days. It isn’t just him that I’ve grown apart from. I don’t see or talk to anyone since they shunned me for what I did with my daughter. Even before that I started to stay away. I was so tired of everyone thinking of me as the poor orphan boy that lost his parents.  ‘Poor Mark’, lost one parent to drink and the other to a stroke.’ I heard them talking behind my back like I was different after my parents died.
“The fact is that when my parents were still alive I liked family gatherings, but that was before they all found out about me and my daughter. I used to like family parties. I even liked helping my mom in the kitchen making pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving feasts. I liked visiting Gram’s house with twenty-five or thirty people all showing up with fresh buns and butter, squash, yams, cakes and pies. I liked squeezing in beside cousins, aunts and uncles, plates on our laps, bumping elbows but it only happened once or twice. I kinda liked the fact that the women would be in the kitchen doing women stuff.  I liked the tradition of the men hooting and hollering, gathered around the TV watching the Orange Bowl even if they were half cut and I liked rabble-rousing with my cousins in the basement.  I liked everything, even if my dad drank too much and my uncles argued about hunting and gun control and too many trucks on the highway.
“I remember one year we swiped the blankets from all of the beds to make forts between the tables and chairs in the basement. It was like an elaborate maze zigzagged through the entire big open room. One time we almost burned the place down with a candle one of the girls took into one of the blanket-slumped vaults. Oh man we were shocked back to reality when that happened. We got it out quick and we hid the burned sheet. It was like time stood still for those hours of fun and fantasy. It is funny that it only happened once or twice, maybe three times, but now all those times are gone.
“One year, when I was about ten, I was bouncing around the basement on a pogo-stick and banged my head on the low beam that ran down the middle of the room.  They called me beam-brain for the rest of that holiday. Every time I walked into the room they would laugh at me and say, ‘Duck Mark, duck.’ I only half minded.  Mostly I just kinda liked the attention, the belonging – but now all that is gone and it is my own fault.”
Mark scuffled his feet on the posh gray carpet in front of his chair. “What am I supposed to do?” Mark mumbled to himself rubbing his hands over his face. “How am I supposed to just pick up with Bobby as if it was yesterday? I’m happy just the way I am. I’ve got Frank and my job. I don’t need anyone or anything else.”

Chapter 12 – from my unpublished novel – Some Sort of Normal

Sorry it has been a while since I posted a blog entry but I have been soooo busy with renovations and HBP that I have not had a chance to work on my own personal writing. this below is newly edited and pretty close to being finished. Comments are always welcome.

Chapter 12 – Celebrate the Beauty of the Naked Child

Mark and Frank sat for their weekly coffee at a new outdoor café. Main Street traffic was not too noisy on this Sunday morning. Frank impatiently tapped his coaster on the cool glass table while he waited for his decaf coffee and Danish. “Frank, from what you say, I guess you think, that I think, that it is not even possible to celebrate the beauty of the naked child form in our modern culture without there being some level of titillation of spoiled innocence and the objectification and sexualisation of children.”

Frank smirked at Mark. “You try so hard to sound smart Mark that you just end up sounding stupid. I think that I agree with what you think that I think about the titillation of spoiled innocence and the objectification of children but what a lot of mumbo jumbo man. Let’s cut through your linguistic dance and cut to the chase. Do you know the wonderful painting of two young girls standing naked in front of the glowing hearth? The painting is by Paul Peel? Even if someone hasn’t been to the gallery they must have seen it in a magazine or even an advertisement. It is a painting all about innocence . It is such a famous image that it is now part of our cultural iconography. I think the title is ‘After the Bath’. It is a perfect example of what once was an image of innocence, goodness and virtue. An artist could not get away with painting that image these days. Back in the late 1890s there were a lot of paintings of naked children. They portrayed innocence in a way that you could not get away with today. Now a days you would be tossed in jail on childhood pornography charges. Basically we live in a really weird culture when it comes to matters of sex or nudity of any age. Nudity simply translates as sex these days. It didn’t used to be that way.

Mark laughed at the idea of being tossed in jail for painting pictures of naked children. “Yah I know the painting you are talking about. When did society change? When did children become something different than expressions of innocence? From what I can gather from studying history, childhood is a pretty modern concept.  Totally aside from sex and nudity, young people were expected to pull their own weight as soon as they were able to walk and carry and be of some help. In the old days I don’t think that kids were even an expression of innocence. They were loved like family members but they were simply future labourers for the family. Girls probably did the same work as their mothers the moment they were able to walk, and the boys worked like their fathers the moment they could escape from the apron strings of the mother, out of range of that romantic hearth that Peel’s naked girls stood in front of.”

“I’m not a sociologist,” said Frank, “but I bet men had sex with children at an early age back then. I’ll bet it was just a normal stage of growing up. So basically what is now considered an egregious act by a pedophile, against a young girl, was back then a normal journey into being a young mother.

My Great Grandmother was pregnant when she was just 14. My grandmother said that no one even tried to hide the fact of who in the family the father was. She just had ‘his’ baby. Everyone knew who the father was but they just buried their heads in the sand and didn’t stop him from coming to the dining room table for family dinners. Rumour has it that even his wife knew that it was ‘his’ deed. That’s just how it was back then. Tolerated.”

Frank squirmed in his chair. “I am glad I didn’t live back then if incest was just tolerated and swept under the carpet. Some might say that incest has been frowned on because of the most obvious consequences of inbreeding that generally leads to a decreased biological fitness of a population. At least that is what I was taught in high school about inbreeding.  Even though that might be true, my feeling is that incest between father, daughter or brother, sister was outlawed not for biological stability but because of the social moral implications. The worries about the deleterious biological consequences of incest is, I suspect, the lesser problem compared to the degradation of society. I guess incest has been around for a long time and I am not sure it is going to disappear any time soon.

“For some reason I had almost this exact conversation with my buddy John the other day. He was saying that history has some very famous examples of incestuous relationships.  He was talking about Caligula in Rome, having sex with his sisters, being one of the most egregious.  However, the Bible is full of brother sister, father daughter couplings.  He was reminding me that even the story of Adam and Eve has an unspoken second generation coupling between siblings.  After all who did Cain marry?  Who did Abel bed?  Who did Seth know?” Frank laughed, “I don’t think that any of this was ever talked about in my Sunday School class when I was growing up.”

Frank chuckled and shrugged, “How did we get onto this topic anyway? It is your fault, you brought it up. Now you’ve got me stated on a philosophical tirade. One can’t look at incest or pedophilia without looking at the questions and implications of what is moral law and what are the consequences of breaking moral law?  Which comes first, moral law or legal law?  And then one has to look at natural law and what constitutes cultural law?  It takes me back to my university days of arguing a point in class. How do all of these laws blend and overlap? It’s almost too much to fathom.”

Mark put down his bran muffin. “You are right. It is too much to fathom or understand. What’s the point of hashing it over and over? Every male basically thinks with his dick. Society would like to think that the male libido is held in check by cultural mores but it really isn’t.  Those cultural values are shattered by images on television, in popular music, in teeny bopper magazines, in ads all over the place so what is the point of even discussing it.”

“Mark, don’t try and get out of taking responsibility for thinking with your dick. Not all men are the same. All the women that you are with week after week qualifies you for being morally infantilized. You make it sound like you don’t know the difference between cultural encouragement and cultural approval.  You know you don’t get my approval for your life style with adult women let alone what you did with your daughter and I doubt that most, even men, would approve.”

 

Life is the Plot of Your Own Writing – from an unfinished novel.

Chapter 7 – Life is the Plot of Your Own Writing

 

 

Afternoon light streamed in the living room window over Mark’s lap. Instead of basking in the glorious heat of a cold January day he squirmed with discomfort. He has a black, 1960s land-line receiver pressed to his ear. Frank is on the line exercising patience.

Frank finally pipes up, “How can you consider yourself a victim of your own life? I don’t remember much of my philosophy classes in university but there was one philosophy that I remembered and liked. In a nutshell it kind of says that we are all the authors of our own life, the good, the bad and the ugly stuff. It is like your entire life is a plot in a long story. It’s like your entire life, including every chapter or episode in your life, has had an order. It seems to have been conducted by some deity high in the clouds but in fact you are the author of your own plot and all of the chapters that take place. You are the author of every event that seems to be disconnected from you but it turns out that those disjointed chapters are all composed, written and acted out by you.”

Frank heard a sigh of discontent from Mark and stopped him from interrupting his monologue. “Just listen buddy. The philosophy is, and I totally believe it, is that you are the author, the director and the audience all at the same time. No one composed this elaborate lifelong play called, your life, other than you. It is that your entire life is composed by the will within you. In fact, ultimately I think that it is the deep, deep will to learn and grow that impels your life in one direction or another. What is even more cool is that everyone’s life or plot is intersected with your life and your life intersects everyone else’s plot.

“You have to get a grasp of this Mark. You have to understand that your plot and all of the people and all of the events that you partake in are all a manifestation of your own creation. They all happen because of you.”

“Frank you are crazy, you think I created all of this shit in my life on purpose. You are nuts. Half of this shit just landed in my lap. You think that I invited three ex-wives to screw me around and that I wanted to be a single father and take care of my daughters for years all on my own? If I was going to create a job don’t you think that I would have created a better job than the one I have?”

“You have to remember Mark that human will is the human tool that we use to learn whether we know it or not, whether we want to learn or not. Who do you think created this plot called your life? You have to believe that you are a total victim of shit that hits the fan or you have to take responsibility for your life and accept that what you sow is what you reap because you are going to learn from it.”

Mark switches the receiver to his other ear and huffs, “I hear you man but I don’t think that I believe a word you are saying.”

“Just listen Mark and trust me. None of us has lived the life that we intended. If we did we would all just live the nice parts and not live the not-so-nice parts and we would not ever learn anything. Life is the never ending plot. Some would call it the journey. I like calling it the plot because it has so many different chapters that all eventually intersect and show, in hind sight, what we need to learn and what we have to do to learn the lesson. Life is the never ending plot line of your journey because the learning never ends. The more we resist the learning the more we create pain in our life like you and all of the women you keep inviting into your life just to screw you around.”

“Frank, you are nuts, you think I so-called invited my ex-wives just to screw me around.”

“Yah, you gotta see that. What is totally cool is that the journey never ends. The closer we get to the horizon the further it seems to be from our reach. The more we learn the more we learn that we have to learn. Mark if you don’t learn it this time around you are going to wake up dead and live it all over again until you do learn.”

“Oh yah sure Frank. I make the truck run into me and almost kill me and I lose my legs and my pet dog because I figure I need to learn something. Yup that makes total sense Frank.”

“Good example Mark but you don’t actually create the shit that hits the fan but the plot that you create is how you deal with the shit that hits the fan. There’s a million ways that you can deal with being hit by a truck. You can bury your dog and never buy another pet and morn your loss with a broken heart for ever or you can go out and buy another dog just like the one you lost. That’s two of your million choices. The beauty of it is that you get to choose. You get to learn how you are going to learn.”

“Frank, Frank, shut up. I have to hang up on you and take a piss or I am going to die of boredom. I am going right out to buy a dog and see what it is going to teach me. See you on Saturday for a coffee.”

Mark hangs up. Elbows on knees he rubs his eyes and wonders just how much of Frank’s diatribe actually makes sense. “For fuck sakes he didn’t get my point about shit that happens.”

Excerpt from the unpublished novel – Some Sort of Normal

Chapter 4 – Some Sort of Normal

 

Four years earlier, a dialogue with Harrison talking to Mark at a family gathering.

 

Mark and Harrison sat at a picnic table in the back yard of Aunt Miriam’s house waiting for others to arrive at the family gathering. Mark said to Harrison, “We were just normal kids weren’t we? Weird family but none the less us kids were some sort of normal. I think we all grew up kind of Norma. We even fought like normal kids.”

 

Harrison laughed and poked Mark in the ribs. “I know I was normal but you I am not so sure about. I am not sure this is a good example of normal brother but I remember one time when I threw a small piece of wood at you, who knows why? It was a triangle piece of wood. One of four that we were nailing down to the corners of our sandbox as seats. You were whining and taunted me as you often did. I pushed you away and threw the piece of wood at you as you turn and cried that you were going to tell mummy. It whizzed through the air like our orange Frisbee and it struck you in the forehead. It was kind of like throwing a stone at a bird but not really expecting to hit it and you never do but it hit you right between the eyes and it cut open your forehead and you bled like a stuck pig. You squealed like one too you sissy. Mother sent Jimmy out to see what the ruckus was all about. He came running from the house thinking that I must have tried to kill you with an axe or something because there was so much crying and blood. You got blood all over your hands and all over your shirt and up the wall on the way in the house. Dripping spots led a path all the way to the bathroom. Oh man you howled like a wounded dog. All I wished is that you would just shut up and stop your screaming. Later on our neighbour, Karen, said that she almost called for an ambulance you were screaming so loud. You wouldn’t have known it was just a little scratch and didn’t need stitches.

 

Everyone was pissed off at me for days. Mother screamed at me, ‘It could have been so much worse. You could have put an eye out.” She yelled at me as she hit me with a wooden spoon. “Don’t you think before you act?’ I paid for that big time.”

 

Mark rubbed his forehead as if he could still feel the pain. “That is so strange, I don’t even remember any part of that story but isn’t all that just some sort of normal for kids growin’ up. I survived, you survived, we all survived despite ourselves.”

 

Harrison leaned back with a smile, “Yah, I think that we were pretty normal kids. We did just about everything together. We used to bike all over the place. The three of us. Jim was the youngest so I tied a rope from my bike to his and I towed him around where ever we went. Sometimes we would take a pack of wieners with us and make a fire down at the creek and stay all afternoon swimming and lying on the rocks in the sun.

 

“Do you remember the time when we biked all the way up to cousin Bobby’s house and I towed Jimmy up the hill at the water reservoir. We all bulleted down the steep side like mad demons and I didn’t think to disconnect Jimmy before heading down.” Harrison rubbed his face with the palm of his hands. “I whipped out at the bottom and poor Jimmy came flyin’ like a bat out of hell and landed right on top of me and my bike. His bike landed right on my nuts; I thought that I was going to die. Jimmy just laid in the grass laughing. I was so bruised and hurtin’ I decided to call dad to come and get us but he was too drunk to drive so we walked all the way home. I hurt too much to ride. He was always drunk in those days. Unfortunately that was normal to see him drunk, Man was I sorry I ever pulled that stunt.”

 

Mark slapped his hands on his legs and laughed out loud. “I always wondered why we were walking our bikes home. You just kept telling me to shut up and keep walkin’.  By the time we got home it was dark and we got hell from mom, and dad gave us a lickin’ with his belt. Lucky he was so drunk that he could hardly swing his belt. We all just went to bed without any dinner even Jimmy and he didn’t do anything except be dragged down the hill by you.”

 

Harrison fell back into his chair. “Yah I guess we were some sort of normal. Those were the days of innocence man. Those were the days of us just being normal kids. We were just normal kids doing normal shit. Now that we are adults we have so much to worry about and how we can give our kids that same life of blameless innocence. Those were the good old days.”