Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy


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Oh My Head

A ditty on the near-psychotic state into which I’ve fallen post and pre-publication of my first two books.

I spent various stretches of time within a two and a half year period writing and completing “Ring Around The Rosy”. Make that three years, and even more time/life devotion in the research and writing of my forthcoming “Astoria Strange”. (And when/if it will be forthcoming is a story I’ll get to in a moment.)WB_Cushman_Front

I’ve stated in a previous log that when it comes to understanding and following directions related to anything with even the slightest hint of technology – see, creating PDF files for book covers, formatting to meet print and eBook requirements, assembling a yoyo — I’m lost. And useless to myself.  So I have to find who can do those things and pay them to do them for me and then hope they are done correctly (which I’m discovering is almost never) when I submit them in the hopes that a book will, as if by magic, appear.

Eventually these issues/struggles/headaches were worked out with my first book and my “Rosy” saw the light of day. To date some 50 people have bought copies, for which I am exceedingly grateful, one small step toward my goal of 10,000 copies sold. However, only 20% of those purchasing people have, subsequent to reading it, gone over to Amazon and left a review – and I’m talking three or four lines, not the Gettysburg Address. I don’t know why that is, I honestly don’t, though a dark cloud of suspicion trails behind me and whispers that many if not most of the buyers never bothered to read the book. Seriously. Maybe they bought it to be nice, to be friendly, to support a first-time author. But they didn’t read it because, as has been noted in a previous post on this Blog space, 53% of everyone over 18 years of age in the United States never reads another book – not a one – after leaving high school. Which, I am coming to believe, sadly, includes my Facebook and email and Twitter friends and followers. Like, before this, I thought my friends had to be hipper than the general population. But.

What’s an author to do? I have begged and cajoled, reminded and revisited book-buying friend after friend to take four or five minutes and leave an Amazon review. Because I’ve learned that there’s something called an algorithm, and for Amazon books that magic number is 20 reviews. Twenty reviews pushes the algorithm and that pushes the book in front of a lot more people. And please let me be clear here. Short of a terrific Stephen King endorsement or a call from Stephen Spielberg, he’d like to purchase the rights for his next film, this isn’t about making money. Full disclosure reveals that for each paperback I sell on Amazon I clear a hefty $2.78. For each eBook it’s $2.02. To date my expenses to publish and then minimally market “Rosy” are something around $396. That includes a number of paperbacks I’ve bought in bulk, to sign and sell, and on those I make a little more.

The point is, it ain’t “Show me the money.” What it is, and I’m betting this is true in some manifestation or another with every author, is having the book seen/read by a whole bunch of people. Because I believe in it, think it’s good, think it has positive things to say about life, human qualities we need to be reminded of now more than ever.

This will be true for “Astoria Strange” as well, and in fact, because the number of words are much greater than in “Rosy” – more than three times greater – the book will cost much more to prinfront_covert and I will have to charge more for each book, and after all that make even less per book, like $2.44. It’s not the money. As Salem State (MA) College professor Jay McHale once said — “The tissue is the issue.”

I will have published two books in my 69th year on the planet, and my preference is that people read them, at least those among the 47% who actually continue to read after their 18th birthday. I say “will have published” because this morning I received the proofs back from Amazon’s CreateSpace publishing company for the final check before they become real, tangible, hold them in your hands things, and lo and behold, the “A” in Astoria was sliced in half off the front cover.  Maybe the book should be titled “Storia Strange”, maybe there’s an alliterative spell to be cast. Hopefully they can fix it, I like it the way I wrote it.

The writing is hard, in a way, and also incredibly thrilling – it’s beyond a mescaline trip to watch as things happen completely on their own, and characters show up never before considered. Like three homeless guys in (A)storia, and a junior high girl named Elsbeth Dowd. Never mind detectives from other states that show up in the quaint Oregon coastal town and jump right into the middle of all the hooptedoodle. Yes, there’s magic in being a writer.

The technical stuff, the half-assed attempts at marketing, the chronic begging of friends for support – I’ve come to learn that part of being a writer is what it is. Add it all up. At least for me, it means a self-publishing, rushing toward 70, left coast yippie finally living out this particular dream.


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I Am Not Your Honkey

Obligation.

Please keep this word in mind.

In the last week my wife Susan and I have watched three movies, two in the theaters and one on a DVD at home. The movies were, in order, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and I Am Not Your Negro. Each presents, in its own way, a view of the black experience in these United States of America. You already knew that. Moonlight, clearly, and I Am Not Your Negro, less so, also shine their light on the experience of growing up gay in the USA.

Honkey 1Last night, driving home in the cold Portland rain, having just watched the James Baldwin penned I Am Not Your Negro, Susan and I took turns discussing how we felt about the movie. You’ll have to check with her about her opinion. It will be worth your time. For me, as I sat in the nearly all-white audience in nearly all-white Portland, I was reminded of a thought I had had earlier in the week. Regarding my writing – my fiction. And I explained the connection to my wife as best I could.

I have been trying to market my first published book – “Ring Around the Rosy” – and I have been actively promoting it on Twitter, with, realistically, poor results. In terms of sales anyway. I’d been thinking, earlier in the week, that I was getting very little response from the many LGBTQ and Trans folks I follow on Twitter, and to whom I fairly regularly comment and like and retweet and do all the twitter things to do. Then I had this clarity – why should they? There are no gay or lesbian or trans or questioning characters in my novel. There are characters with what are considered disability – down syndrome (2) and cerebral palsy (1), and as such I have had a some positive response with folks connected to that population, and have sold some books. But, in Rosy, there was and is no gay/lesbian/trans character to be found.

Then I began, the middle of last week, thinking about my second book, currently in what I hope will be its final editing stage and therefore ready for self publishing within the next four to six weeks. That book will be titled “Astoria Strange“, an interwoven collection of 11 stories that live in the genres of supernatural and horror. honkey 4And, lo and behold, narry a LGBTQ character there either. I am neither gay nor trans but this isn’t a case of the admonition to write what you know. It’s me not coming to my writing with what I’ll call “Big Mind.”

Anyway, last night on the drive home I told my wife of the earlier-in-the-week conversation with myself, the smallish “aha” moment, and that sitting in the theater I was feeling that feeling again. James Baldwin’s crystal clear conclusion – the trouble in the United States is race trouble – and it was and is therefore everyone’s responsibility – No, the word was Obligation – it was and is everyone’s obligation to work hard at understanding the other experience. Or else. That was how the movie ended – You have an obligation, white people, to do everything in your power to commit to and thoroughly understand the black experience in America. Or else.

And for me, sitting in the theater, I had the clear awareness that, as a writer – certainly as a Blogger like right now, but as a writer of fiction – I have the obligation to be more expansive, to write with Bigger Mind, to read and study and learn and hang out with and experience and do everything I can do to know more, within the reality of my white skin and heterosexual template, and to get that more-ness into my writing.

It’s my obligation.

I am happy to say, well, it makes me feel better somewhat, that my “Rosy“, within its 14 characters, has three who are black – Marvin, his mom Bonnie, and latecomer Greg. That’s better than no gay, lesbiaJames-Baldwinn, or trans characters. And three characters with disabilities. And that the forthcoming “Astoria Strange” has as one of its primary characters, a black man – Sergeant Rennie Moss. As does my story/novella waiting for me to get back to it – “Bennie’s Berkeley“. Plus, thinking about my obligations, and I shared this with Susan, I am going back into stories in progress, including a collection of short stories and one not yet complete novella, and see where I can be more inclusive, more expansive, more commited to my obligations to help the planet, and in particular help my badly bleeding Country, and to do that the best way I can now, in March of 2017, with my writing. My stories. The stuff of life I sit here and make up out of my imagination and therefore, in a rare instance, have virtually complete control over to create whoever and have them believe and do whatever, whenever they feel like it.

Because it’s my Obligation – capital O – to do my part, to shine my little light, to keep my eyes on the prize, to hold up my sign that says “I Am Somebody (and so are You)” and keep marching to the freedom land.

I’m a writer. I write. I’m a published author. I publish. And I can make a difference.

I might be a straight old(er) white guy, but you know what? I am not your honkey. I can bring Big Mind to my otherwise White writing and do my best to be part of the solution.

Because not trying to learn more and understand more and be your best at empathizing more means something else – that you’re part of the problem.


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So Many Pedestrians, …

When I moved to Portland, Oregon I had to learn a new way to cross the street. I’d grown up in Massacchildren-crossing-sign-k-7066husetts and had spent most of my life living – and crossing streets – there. Now I was living in Portland, a city of about 500,000, similar in population to Boston. The last place I had lived in Massachusetts was the town of North Truro, on Cape Cod, population about about 318. (Actually the town of Truro, of which North is part, has a population just over 2000 so I am likely underestimating – in my usual smart-alecky way – how many people live on the North side, closer to Ptown. The point is, not a lot.)

None of which is the focus of this piece. I was talking about crossing the street, and re-learning the way to take that action once I’d relocated to the Northwest. You see the title up there, up at the top of this post? It is, in fact, half of a popular bumper sticker seen periodically on the rear bumpers of cars whooshing around the Bay State. In it’s entirety it reads like this – “So Many Pedestrians, So Little Time”. If you’re a Bay Stater, you get it.

When I moved to Portland and needed to cross the street I would step to the edge of the curb or into the curb cut or even off the curb if I felt foolhardy and wanted to live dangerously – and wait. Approaching cars, somehow having seen or perhaps sensed my intention from more than half a mile away would slow down and eventually stop. Up the street from me. Being from Massachusetts, where we take it as a God-given right to actually gun the motor at the sight of someone foolishly teetering at the edge of the curb, I would wait. The car would wait. I would wave them on with my hand, cause there’s no fuckin’ way I’m stepping out there Bro. They would wave me across. I wouldn’t go. They wouldn’t go. I would feel something like frustration, like, just go you asshole. They would feel something like rage, because I was making their sensitive and kindly and well-trained in driving etiquette selves waste time, and I have little doubt that perhaps more often than not they would slide their fingers under the driver’s seat, or maybe into the purse to their right, and feel the reassurance of cold steel – locked and loaded, one in the chamber, safety off motherfucker.

What’s a boy to do? Because I know, growing up where we have bumper stickers that yearn for just a little more time, that if I step off the curb and start the dead man walking stroll across the macadam some perverted Celtics fan is going to gun that bitch and twist the wheel ever so slightly in my direction. So I don’t go and the Portland car don’t go and I wave and they wave (and sometimes you can’t actually see the face behind the wheel and it’s freaky and scary like that movie “Duel” with Dennis Weaver and the invisible truck driver, which was actually Stephen Spielberg’s very first  full-length film btw) and I mutter under my breath “dumb Portland asshole” and have no doubt that they mutter too, except in braille, with their fingers on the trigger.

And so, back to Cape Cod and without disparaging the truly lovely and inspiring town of North Truro, the fact is you’re way more likely to get gunned and runned there than with the half a million sweet automotive souls in the Rose City.

Which is mostly meaninmonday-pic-2gless – all of it I’ve just written – to this Blog post. Because this is a post about reading, about reading books, about the 50% of the United States population that continues to read books after graduation from high school, and about what I was thinking early this morning, in the blue recliner with my second cup of coffee, looking at the pile of “to be read next” books on the little wicker thingy table beside the chair, and I had this thought – “So Many Books, So Little Time.” Honest, I had that very thought. There were three books I’d just purchased at Powell’s with a Christmas gift card and two out from the library, and three old Kurt Vonnegut paperbacks and the copy of Desolations Angels I’d finally bought for myself after having read Kerouac’s book (my favorite of his) twice out of the library, and I said “Man, there are so many books to read, I’ve got to read more” and I thought “so many books” and then, as if by the magic of one bread crumb leading to another or, possibly, psychosis, the bumper sticker found on cars in Massachusetts, the one that says if I had any wish in the world – other than world peace – it would be for just a little more driving time, that popped into my head and I ran down here in the basement and turned on the computer and typed in the headline above, then went upstairs and took the picture of Steinbeck, Steinbeck, and Bradbury, had a bagel and some yogurt, looked at Twitter for a while, and then came to the keyboard – which I do quite a lot these days – and typed up this daydream about living life right, where you wait for all the cars to go by, and living life wrong, where the cars wait for you, and they’re not happy about it.

And by the way, in the spirit of full disclosure – drivers in Massachusetts are way, way, way betters drivers than drivers in Oregon and Washington and probably most everywhere else will ever be.

Word.

Stay off the road. Read a book.


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Interview With Author W.B. Cushman – Part Three

Editor’s note: Clarrisa Everglad is a former journalist, and Professor Emeritus at Cape Cod Community College in Barnstable, Massachusetts. She is the author of seven books on fiction and fiction writing, including “Show Up and Follow“, winner of four internationaltierra-del-mar-2-061 awards. She regularly interviews authors on their fiction work.

Following is Part Three of an interview with new author W.B. Cushman of Portland, Oregon. His book is “Ring Around the Rosy“. The interview was conducted by phone from Everglad’s home office in Orleans, Massachusetts.

Everglad: We’ve gone off topic, a little, away from the book which is the focus of this interview. Though the points you’ve made about the writing process, and its joy for you, are most interesting and, I believe, invaluable. I’ll want to ask you more later. But now, back to your “Rosy“. There is a small paragraph coming near the very end of the story that stands out for me, in its language and, I’d say, subject matter. I’d like to read it to you and ask for your feedback.

Cushman: Okay.

Everglad: Here it is – “The sun slid out from behind a passing cloud, and a soft breeze moved across the land and out over the ocean. If there were seagulls they would have been making their seagull calls. Minnows would swim around eddies in sand pools created by the eternal waves, and small brown and gray pipers would chase the tiny fish back and forth, playing tag with the rhythm of the watery world.”  It’s quite lovely, for me as a reader, and different in the power of its imagery from much of the rest of the book.

Cushman: Thank you, Clarrisa, for bringing that paragraph into our conversation. It may be my favorite paragraph in the book. If I can take a minute I’ll explain why.

Everglad: Please do.

Cushman: My favorite genre in fiction writing has always been mystery. I love speculative and horror, if its good – like Stephen King’s – and lots of science fiction. Clearly Rosy falls into a speculative category, and most of my writing – “Astoria Strange” and another collection of stories I’m gathering for publication down the road, “Collected Strays” – is horror and science fiction in nature. But, there is something about mysteries, Detective mysteries, that satisfy me most. Perhaps my favorite mystery writer is author James Lee Burke. He has a series of maybe 20 books with a character named Dave Robicheau that is outstanding – the plots, the characterizations, the ongoing story line. But, what sets him apart from other famous and successful mystery writers is, for me, the power of setting he creates with language – language that allows the reader, transports the reader, to be there completely, to see it, hear it, touch it, smell it, experience it. There is a majestic poetry to Burke’s writing. And, to the point you raised, Professor, that is an ongoing goal of mine, as a writer, to use words to pull the reader thoroughly and willingly into my story. It’s a goal, like I said, and at this point in my time as an author I’m nowhere close to where I want to be. Having said that, the paragraph you quoted is me moving toward that place. The story of Rosy and all her traveling companions is coming to an end, at least in this book, and, for me, the end feels so much like a pause.  So into this pause comes a memory, told as an ‘if only’ – if only life as Rosy and her friends knew it continued to exist. Then seagulls would be seagulls and the tides would come and go, with shoreline inhabitants doing there forever shoreline things. I stopped at that paragraph, when I got there, and tried to infuse it with a Burke-like sense of thusness. Look and hear, and you will know this and remember, what’s gone now. In a way coming in a complete circle back to a sticky summer day in August when kids went to aquariums and the waves in Buzzards Bay licked the hurricane wall in New Bedford Harbor.

Everglad: That’s well said Mr. Cushman. Your explanation with a poetry of its own. And I do know Burke, and like you, I am a fan. I also appreciate your honesty, that to write with the sense of majesty you describe is, for you, a goal, that you are not there yet.

Cushman: I’m nowhere near there. But it’s good to have goals.

Everglad: I would hope that every writer would hope to improve with each passing day, and story. Do you have a plan to help you on that path?

Cushman: I read a lot. Maybe four or five books a month. I’d like to read mbooksore. In his book “On WritingStephen King says the two most important things a writer can do are read a lot and write a lot. So those activities are certainly the foundation for becoming a better writer. Which includes reading books about writing. I just mentioned King’s, which is my favorite. Another that’s important to me is Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing”. Those are both autobiographical as well as instructional. There’s a third book as important for me and that is “The Art of Fiction” by John Gardner, which is more of a textbook.

Everglad: It is a very important book for any aspiring writer.

Cushman: I took a class – Fiction Writing – at Portland State University, either in the Fall of 2014 or 2015, I can’t remember. One of the reading assignments was the first chapter of Gardner’s book. Upon my first reading I had the reaction that there was an arrogance in the writing, what he was saying. I remember saying that in class, and I’m pretty sure I remember the Professor chuckling, or something like that. Anyway, for some reason, a couple of months later, I ended up going on Ebay and buying the book. A brand new paperback copy. Now I’ve read through it at least twice, it’s marked up and highlighted and underlined, meaning I’ve made it my book, and like I said, it’s become very important for me – as a student of writing.

Everglad: What about it speaks to you, and if you can, please relate that to your writing of your newly published book.

Cushman: In the second chapter of the book – which for me is the bonanza – Gardner says, “Fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader’s mind.” Further in the chapter he says, “What counts in conventional fiction must be the vividness and continuity of the fictional dream the words set off in the reader’s mind.” That, for me, is the highlight statement in the book, and the thought I carry all the time I am at the keyboard, or brainstorming with myself on a yellow legal pad. What I ask myself – Am I continuously engaging the reader with the vividness of my writing? That is The Question, and I emphasize those two words, for me and my writing. So, with Rosy, the feedback I’ve received so far would indicate that I have had at least some degree of success in the continuity of the story maintaining reader interest, in a couple of cases people asking about a potential sequel, wanting to know what happens next. I’d like to think that I was able to move forward from the story’s apocalyptic beginning and create first three and then more characters who mattered, who were worth caring about, characters that hopefully people could identify with. And want to travel across the state of Massachusetts with, and see how it turned out for them. And that was true as well, I hope, for Peter Frates, an entirely different character with a completely distinct milieu of emotions from the kids, but someone you could still root for. And hopefully I maintained a continuity describing the day-to-day physical survival needs and activities as well. The other part, the vividness of the writing, I guess every reader will decide that for themselves. I think it goes back to the earlier conversation of writing with a majesty like James Lee Burke. It’s good, and in places very good, and hopefully I can do better.

Everglad: Every question, and every answer, incites further questions. There is so much more to talk about. Marvin’s mother, why you wrote her the way you did? What was your level of research for the book? How is it that a second character with Down Syndrome appears? And of course a number of questions about the narrator and your choice of perspective. I ‘d call it an omniscient third person, with an attitude.

Cushman: I’m yours for as long as you need me, Professor.

 

 


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Interview With Author W.B. Cushman

 

Editor’s note: Clarrisa Everglad is a former journalist, and Professor Emeritus at Cape Cod Community College in Barnstable, Massachusetts. She is the author of seven books on fiction and fiction writing, including “Show Up and Follow“, winner of four internationaltierra-del-mar-2-061 awards. She regularly interviews authors on their fiction work.

Following is an interview with new author W.B. Cushman of Portland, Oregon. The interview was conducted by phone from Everglad’s home office in Orleans, Massachusetts.

 

Everglad: Welcome to the world of published authors Mr. Cushman, and congratulations on your new book “Ring Around the Rosy“.

Cushman: Thank you Clarissa.

Everglad: This is your first?

Cushman: Yes. My first ever. I’ve had one short story published in a Weasel Press Anthology September 2015. But, this is my book.

Everglad: It’s an interesting story, one I enjoyed very much. We’ll get, in a minute, to some of the specifics. I understand that when you began your tale of Rosy and Teddy and Matt it was not with the idea of writing a novel.

Cushman: That’s true. At the time, in the Spring and Summer of 2015, I was committing myself to fiction. I’d been publishing a Blog for about a year then, the posts generally autobiographical in nature. Anyway, I’d begun writing short stories and submitting them to on-line magazines requesting submissions. I don’t remember which particular magazine this was for, but one of the sites was requesting a story that required an apocalyptic setting and at least one character with what would be considered a major disability.

Everglad: How did that venture morph from a short story to the now-published novel?

Cushman: There was a word limit, I believe it was 7000 though it could have been 5000. In short order I flew past the limit and made the decision I would just keep going and see where the story took me.

Everglad: Could you explain “see where the story took me”?

Cushman: There are probably as many different ways to write a story as there are writers. One way would to be thoroughly organized, creating an outline with plot development, character and setting detail, pretty much having it figured out. I would say I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum. Most of the stories I write, and now this novel, I have an idea for a beginning and nothing beyond that. Seriously, it’s rare that I know where a story is headed, and I almost never know who’s going to show up to tell the story.

Everglad: Is writing that way anxiety producing? Don’t you worry you’ll bog down, get stuck?

Cushman: Yes, and that’s happened a few times. But, more often than not, an idea appears. Or a new character. In “Rosy”, for instance, I began the book with only three characters in mind, the three you mentioned. But when those three arrived back in their hometown, following the apocalyptic event in which the entire planet of Earth was cooked by a solar intrusion through the atmosphere, all of a sudden there were four younger kids hiding in the ruins of a private school. And we meet them when one calls out, “Halt. Who goes there?” Which for me is pretty cool. Who wouldn’t want to write those words in a story? It’s like a ticket right back to childhood.

Everglad: So, new characters appear, almost as if by magic. How did you come up with their names?

Cushman: Felix, Les, Cal, and Marvin? I don’t know exactly. I tried to picture each kid and a name that would work for him. If I can sidebar here for a minute, and this could be a much longer conversation, but one of the thrilling aspects of writing fiction for me is being able to create something out of nothing. Before I wrote “Rosy” there was no Felix Sylvia, an 11-year old living in Marion, Massachusetts in 2018. There’s probably someone with that name, maybe lots of someones. But not my someone. And how cool is that? And Sylvia was a name in my hometown growing up, a Portuguese name. I had a friend named Bruce with that last name. So, I get to honor and make jokes with myself and do whatever I want. Which is a complete joy of writing fiction.

Everglad: Writers have always been encouraged to know much more about their characters than they share on the pages, know everything about them, their habits, their likes and dislikes, the names of their pets, etc. Was that part of your process in writing your book?

Cushman: I would be giving myself way too much credit if I said yes. That would involve more attme-writingention to detail and devotion to being at my absolute best than I’m generally able to amp up – for anything. It’s a goal, to know future characters that well. To be able to tell you the name
of Felix’s dog. Maybe it’s Taffy. So, my best answer to your question is a little bit. I know each of them, and all the characters in the book, as individuals. I’d know each one if I met them on the street as a group. Ditto for Peter Frates and Cat Levesque and everyone else who adds their voice to this journey. Of course, when Victoria created the cover, and had a very particular Rosy and a Teddy and a Matt looking out at me, well, that was a little discombobulating.

End of Part One

 

 

 


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Scatttered, yes, But Clear.

There aren’t many people I feel connected with these days. As I make my day through the world – my world anyway. It’s accurate to say that there are very few people with whom I would want to spend any time. I have some friends – not many – but I do have some, and I cherish them. I think that at this point in my life, with many more years behind me than ahead, my choices, the way I’ve lived my life, my gypsy lifestyle, how I am as an introspective, comfortable being alone, re20140817_090403latively asocial character — well, that has resulted in very few friends, almost no one calling me, writing me, emailing me, texting me. I say this as, Walter Cronkite use to say, that’s the way it is. If you hear a “poor, pitiful me” in this then I haven’t written clearly, I haven’t said what I want to say.

And what I want to say – and saying it right – is a thing for me now, as a writer, a pretty big thing. I’m not always clear about it, exactly what I want to say or why I want to say it (for instance, I spent a long time yesterday writing a post for today’s Blog and then woke up with some doubts and after asking myself – What’s the goal? – I decided to throw it away. I’m not sure it was what I wanted to say, and clearly it wasn’t how I wanted to say it.) But it’s the goal.

The title of the post I wrote yesterday was “Not My Tribe”, and the point I was trying to make, in a rather deluded meandering way which including calling out all my Portland friends and fellow artists for not showing up at Saturday’s family Art Show, but that really wasn’t my goal and it is what it is, because what I was trying to speak to was my complete sense of distance from most of the people in this Country today and in particular people who support and voted for Donald Trump. As in, at this point in my life, the accumulation of all the experiences and all the people and all the feelings and perceptions, the whole stew, I have nothing in common with, other than the giant USA zip code, those people. They are not my people. They are not My Tribe. I wouldn’t want to sit next to them at a bar-b-que, I wouldn’t want my time at a coffee shop messed with in some casual conversation, even an overheard conversation. I have no use for bullies and racists and people insensitive to the joy of difference and the bedrock principal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, the idea that people have a right to live their lives and love who they want, the crazy notion that its possible there’s not an even playing field for everyone in these here States, despite what the haters and the venture capitalists and hedge fund managers and white supremacists and the ‘Christian Right’, and the legion of poor white people who have been hoodwinked all these years to believing that it is “us against them”, when in fact they’ve got the “them” wrong.

Anyway, this post is how my mind is working, barely, these last two weeks. Disorganized, unfocused, a particle collider of thoughts crashing through my head. Crying sometimes, infuriated more, helpless and hopeless and then all positive about sticking it to the man. The Man.csnbly0waaagpqo

Only a few things feel clear. I love my wife, my best friend. I cherish the few friends that I do have, and the larger group of people in my life, a bunch on Facebook, that I was lucky enough to meet and get to know along the way. I’m grateful I grew up in the town I did, with its large percentage of people of color, so I didn’t have to grow up despising or fearing people who look or act different from me because that’s what someone told me I was supposed to do,  and through my whole life I’ve been too lazy and stupid to bother to figure it out for myself. I’m thankful I’m not one of them.

I’m clear about my Tribe. Crystal. And about doing my part to stick it to The Man. Every day, in every way. To wrap my arms around liberty and justice for all. Yeah, I might be scattered these days. Wicked. But, I know right from wrong.


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Bread Crumbs

The guy behind the counter was playing jazz when I took my coffee to a chair in the Just Bob Coffee Shop on Alberta in Northe20160916_142455_hdrast Portland last Friday. It was just after two in the afternoon, and while there was the occasional customer lining up at the take-out counter, most of the seats in the shop were empty. Mostly I didn’t hear the jazz music playing, and when it would intrude into my consciousness every once in a while, I’d ignore it. Jazz is not my thing. It’s funny, my non-appreciation of that purely American music form, because it was a favorite of The Beat writers, including Jack Kerouac, one of the writers I most revere, and try to borrow from as a writer. He wrote like jazz, these long, often connectedly discombobulated riff of words, sometimes making up new words to suit the flavor of the riff. Like jazz.keruoac

Which isn’t really the point, other than saying I love Kerouac and don’t like jazz.

There was a woman sitting in one of the three stuffed chairs in the shop — I was in another, facing her — and she was reading a paperback book, a softcover to be exact, and squinting my eyes I could see the title of the book was “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria?” She herself was a black woman, young, maybe mid 30s, and was taking notes in a bound notebook like the one I carried in. Mine was for recording any ideas I could brainstorm for the 11th and final story in my collection of Astoria, Oregon tales. (None happened to arrive while I was there.) So, I shifted tasks, and asked The Universe for ideas for future Blog posts — like this one — and the thought came to me to play detective — Buddy Cushman, Coffee Shop Sleuth — and follow the woman’s book wherever it would lead me.

When I got home, it took quite a while from NE way down to SE where I live, with Friday afternoon city traffic, but it was sunny and hot and I was playing, very loudly, one Tower of Power song after another, so the trip was not only tolerable but, in fact, a wicked blast, rolling, singing, howling, party on wheels (think The 52s “Love Shack” www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SOryJvTAGs ) Anyway, at the computer dr-tatumI googled the book from Just Bob’s and learned it is a highly valued thought piece on race and race identity and relations in the Country, collective experiences and perspectives written by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, the President of Spelman College in Georgia. Here is a ten and a half minute review, very thorough and interesting, of the book and its author. It’s worth a look and listen:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_l5bO9KZrY&list=PLlFqqfHxQmjOGUX3oN6On3kJW253lUGRx     I now have the book on order from The Multnomah County Library system.

What can be more important than how we live with, and value, each other?

The woman with the book left before me, and I sat there looking at the sun stream through the multiple front windows of the shop. At some point the barista behind the counter changed the music and I instantly recognized the opening descending bass and violins of The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee”. Hard to imagine anyone doesn’t know the song, and certainly anyone who grew up in the 60s. I mean, the empty sidewalks on my block are not the same.

I was struck, wleft-bankehen “Pretty Ballerina” came on a couple of songs later, about the so-often-highlighted black and whiteness of the world — of the day. The woman and her book, it’s black title, and now a thoroughly ‘white’ sounding pop group from 1965 New York City. After another song I walked up to the counter and asked the guy what exactly he was playing. Turns out it was a “best of” collection by The Left Banke called ‘There’s Gonna Be a Storm: the Complete Recordings 1966 – 1969’. A
couple of songs , white poppy little things, stood out to me — I’d never heard them, shame on me, especially working in a record store most of those years and holding The Banke’s debut album in my hands many times. So here they are, for your listening enjoyment, and maybe they are long-time favorites. “She May Call You Up Tonight”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZSlF2AkrS4   and “Let Go Of You Girl”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=POdiO1xOg-E

Way cool. And maybe all this matters not a wit to anyone but me, Buddy Cushman – Coffee Shop Sleuth. Oh well. And by the way, as Oakland’s Tower of Power — a strong example of what glory we can get when you combine black and white — since they helped me along my way home, I’ll end with one from them. Thanks for showing up.

“So Very Hard To Go”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9BRqGpppJw

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