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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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 – Part Two

Following is the second part of an interview conducted by Professor Emeritus Clarrisa Everglad, ftierra-del-mar-2-061rom her home in Orleans, Massachusetts, with Cushman in Portland, Oregon. The interview was conducted by phone. Please see Part One of the interview for details about Everglad’s career in journalism and as an author and interviewer of authors.

 

Everglad: Discombobulated by the cover you had designed? And who is Victoria?

Cushman: I have the technical skills of a snail – probably less. When I realized I was done with Rosy, I’d edited and re-edited, had my wife Susan do a thorough editing, which is a significant skill of hers, and received feedback from my official readers Jamie and Pat, now it was time to publish. Initially I went the traditional route, sending applications and copies of parts of the book to five traditional publishers. All that netted was two formal rejections and three no replies. After a couple of months I decided I needed to self publish, and when I discovered that self-publishing through printing houses was going to cost more than I was able and/or willing to spend, then I had to self publish, go the route of Amazon CreateSpace and Kindle Direct, also making use of the ability to reach more on-line and brick and mortar outlets via IngramSpark (a $49 fee) and Draft2Digital. This is probably unnecessary information, the point is I needed a cover and spine and back cover, and I needed the 52K plus words of Rosy formatted correctly for these companies upload requirements. And I could do none of that. So I turned to Fiverr

Everglad: Fiverr?

Cushman: An internet site where you can hire people, starting at $5, for all kinds of different technical and not so technical services. And reading through various people’s pages I settled on a woman in England named Victoria to create the cover art. It cost me $26, likely the best $26 I’ve spent. She offered unlimited revisions, amazinoriginal-rosy-coverg for that amount of money, beginning her process with what I had messaged her about the book and what I felt would be the best images for the cover. Her first image was vastly different from the one that is the cover of Rosy now. On the right is her first image. Too dark, too much of life left, Teddy and Matt much different than how I saw them. Only Rosy felt right. So I gave her feedback and she made another and this went on, back and forth across The Atlantic, for three weeks, maybe a little more, before I felt it was right. Which included having Marvin with brown skin, which wasn’t there through many of the versions she messaged me. But, long story long enough, to get back to the word “discombobulated”, which goes back to your question about how much I knew my characters before they appeared on the pages, to see her creations of Teddy and Matt, after all the changes, it was a little weird. Because now, when I pick up the book and read various sections, the young men on the cover are who I see when I hear them talking. So, it’s really interesting.

Everglad: I can see that. I’ve never actually had this conversation with an author before. It is interesting.

Cushman: Thanks. I’ve already decided to use Victoria again for my next book, “Astoria Strange“.

Everglad: Is this a book you are planning to write?

Cushman: No. It’s nearly done now. It’s a collection of stories, interwoven in their setting and sharing of characters, set in Astoria, Oregon, a small town on the Ocean about 100 miles from where I live. They’re told from the point of view of stories in a newspaper column that focus on subjects outside of what would be considered normal. Anyway, I’m working on the final story. When I’m done there’s going to be a significant re-write and editing process. When it’s all done I’ll hire Victoria again for the cover and back cover art.

Everglad: Is this book something you began after you’d finished Ring Around the Rosy?

Cushman: No. I began Astoria long before I started the story for the submission request that would evolve into Rosy. Close to two and a half years ago now.

Everglad: And you are hoping to have this book completed and published sometime this year?

Cushman: My goal is to have it published before the end of April.

Everglad: Now that would be quite the accomplishment, Mr. Cushman. Not publishing anything until age 67, then having a second book out less than six months later.

Cushman: It will be very cool if I get it done.

Everglad: Will this be a book similar in length to your first?

Cushman: It’s already nearly three times longer than Rosy, just over 150,000 words so far. Three of the stories, including the one I’ve been trying to finish for months now, are nearly the size of small novellas. Fortunately the stories are meant to be read one at a time, and many are, in fact, typical short story length.

Everglad: I’d like to talk more about the new book in a few moments, if we can, it’s a surprising addition to the breath of the interview’s original intention. But, let’s get back to your Rosy.

Cushman: Professor, if you’ll indulge me for just another minute, I want to reference a particular aspect of Astoria to expand on a point I was making a while ago about, what for me is the joy of writing fiction. Not only from creating something from nothing, something that wasn’t there before – a person, a coffee shop, a factitious newspaper – but also getting to play while doing it. Getting to goof on myself, which is really it, to play while writing, to flash on different times in my life and different people I’ve met and known along the way. And to bring those people, I don’t mean them or any of their personality, but to borrow their name as I create someone knew. I keep using the word thrilling because that’s how it feels.  So, to make the point, in the third of my “Astoria” stories I introduced a new character, a female police officer named Ruthie Thompkins. I needed a name for an officer right there in the story and this name popped into my head. But I didn’t make it up. Back in my high school in Wareham, Massachusetts, probably about 50 miles or less from where you live Clarrisa, there was a math teacher, head of the math department, names Ruth Thompkins. Lots of the kids in school called her Ruthie. So, I’m needing the name for a female officer and trying to think up a good one, and the name Ruthie Thompkins flies into my head and I go ahead and type that. So, I borrowed on a piece of my childhood. And that’s what I’m talking about, because there’s something in the doing that weaves my entire life together, make it richer in some kind of way, and, I used this word before, honors a time in my life.

Everglad: I do understand what you’re saying, Mr. Cushman. One of the joys of writing fiction.

Cushman: Here’s the last thing about that. And this comes more under the idea of seeing where the story takes me, which you asked me about earlier. I typed the name Ruthie Thompkins because I needed a name, a one-time name. But, honestly, to my surprise, Officer Ruthie Thompkins showed up two stories later, again primarily in passing. But, two stories after that, in a story titled “Rat Boy“, not only is Ruthie driving her cruiser onto the pages again, but now, by the end of that story, she’s become a much more important player. So, there’s no surprise to me when, over the final three stories, she plays key roles. She’s become one of the primary characters. And she showed up, originally, because I needed a name and I remembered a name from my high school.

End of Part Two

 


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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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Fear and Hoping From the Basement – Storytelling

This is my today story. My Sunday story. But, first a brief note on everyday.

I get up at 5:30 a.m., my wife turning off the alarm and, she tells me, touching the warm spot where I have been in the bed. I drag on some clothes, go to the bathroom and splash water on my face, then head downstairs. There is a straight-back, dining-room chair I have placed in the middle of the living room the night before, and for the next 13 to 25 minutes I sit in the chair, the goal being to meditate, and think about a whole bunch of whatever it is that shows up today. When I’m done I go turn on the coffee, while waiting I usually go outside and look at the sunrise or lingering darkness in the winter, then I take the first of my two cups of coffee to the pinkish, mauve-colored recliner I bought for $40 (delivery included) on Craigslist when I first moved to Portland seven and a half years ago. Reclining there, I read something I consider to fall beneath the broad umbrella of ‘spiritual’.blog pic

Now today. Sunday. I read from three books that I checked out at the library yesterday – actually I checked out five, but two cups of coffee only go so far. This morning I read the ‘Introductions‘ to these three: “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron; “Bagombo Snuff Box” by Kurt Vonnegut; and “Thunder and Lightning” by Natalie Goldberg. Last night I’d brought upstairs “Maps and Legends” by Michael Chabon to the other recliner in tkurt-vonneguthe house, the blue one that belonged to my mother Irene and was gifted to me when she died 11 years ago, and which I have dragged across the length of these United States three times since then. I began reading the first story (there is no Introduction) of the Chabon book about 10:45, but between the smothering heat on the second floor and the length of a long day the words began dancing before my eyes, and I quickly gave it up and went in to sleep , no covers, beside my already sleeping wife.

I checked these particular books out yesterday – the fifth being “The Pocket Muse, Endless Inspiration” by Monica Wood – because my step-daughter Marie and I are heading off on our second annual “Writer’s Retreat” next Sunday foIMG_6634r four days, to a cottage partially owned by Marie’s Dad (meaning we get a big discount)  which sits not four hundred yards from the Pacific, to write stories (and in my case edit already written stories). The five books, which are all coming along, will serve as anchors and inspirers and rectangular muses and anything else they wish to be, and we will write in timed writing periods throughout the days and take long walks on the fabulous beach and deal with my cooking and watch DVDs we bring (with my fave “Super 8”   www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCRQQCKS7go   among them).

Because writers we are, and writing is what we do. I’m an artist – as is Marie – and I have a brand new Artist Web Page ( www.buddycushmanfineart.com ), and I go on long walks and have a long career in human services and administration and even an original music CD to my name. Yet, after all the meanderings and dead ends and geographical cures and flights of fancy that make up the 67 plus years of my life through this morning, I’m a teller of stories first and foremost. A story teller. Hence the writers retreat. Hence the blog. Hence the telegraph avelibrary.

And then there’s this.  A musical story by The Stories for the song of the week:    www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJxZL9L6YWc        And here is author Michael Chabon talking about my favorite book of his, “Telegraph Ave” and the 1970s:     www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvgjhwuxKeE       And, lastly, here the wondrous Kurt Vonnegut takes a minute and a half to explain his “Eight Rules” for writing a story.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmVcIhnvSx8

I ‘d like to mention these books as well – Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” and Julia Cameron’s “The Artist Way” – as having profound influence on my storytelling life.

My Monday blog appearing Sunday this week, just because.

Do you have a story to tell?

 


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Who Are Your Friends?

Sitting in the recliner early this morning, with coffee and a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”, I got to thinking about the people in my life, and more specifically, the color of the pimageseople in my life. It’s a current topic for thought, what with the incredibly sad events of this last week, and further back in time. Where there has been much discussion and suggestion and confrontation regarding the idea of walking a mile in my shoes.  Regarding that just maybe you, whoever you are, haven’t got a clue what it’s like to live and shop and sell and drive and gather and sing and worship, for that matter, in my shoes.

So I got to thinking about my life, and the people in it, mostly the people currently in it, but back all along the way too. And I thought that I would try to get a little analytical about it, though me and analysis are usually like the Hatfields and McCoys. Anyway, what better place to begin my search for the reality of my people milieu than in that friendliest of friend places of all — Facebook.

As of this morning I have 408 “Friends” on my Facebook page. I italicize the word because, I’m imagining like most people on FB, some of my friends are more like friends I haven’t met yet, in my case other artists and writers, the occasional friend of a friend, people from various locations along the way, etc, etc. I came down into the basement, here, to the computer, found a blank sheet of scrap paper, and began tallying up the exact specifics of just who make up my friends today.

Of my 408 Facebook friends, 20 are black. That works out to just under 5%. If I add in friends of Hispanic heritage, and the artists I’ve befriended along the internet way from Iraq, India, Portugal, and Japan, the total of my so-called non-white friends, I find that a little less than 9% are non-Caucasian — not Honkeys, if that resonates more.

Within the current population of the United States, the number of African-Americans totals 13.2% So I’m nowhere near representative of who my neighbors in the Country are. And speaking of neighbors, if I were to take a walk out my front door the chances are that I am not going to come along and wish a good morning hello to anyone with any color other than white for a face. Or when I sit in my favorite coffee shop.  Or at the local Trader Joe’s. In fact, I’d have to drive way up to NE Portland and North Portland to have a good chance of meeting a person of another race. Specifically, black people make up 6.3% of the Portland, OR population. And most live together.

There’s more. The black population percentage in the entire state of Oregon is 2% — TWO. In my home state of Massachusetts, black people make up 8.1% of the Commonwealth’s population, and in my adopted, wannabe home state of California, the number is 6.2%. By the way, it just might be so low in my current home state of Oregon because Oregon, in its statehood inception, not once but twice passed laws barring any people of a darker color from even moving into the state.

Then I went through my high school yearbook this morning. There were 119 of us in it graduating as the class of 1967 at Wareham High School, and of those 119, 20 — that’s 17% — were children of color. Better — and that’s the right word, the expansive, illuminating word — than any place I’ve noted above. That was us, the Class of ’67, WHS, all God’s children. And I am ever grateful that’s where I grew up, or at least started getting older.

I lived in Oakland, CA for a while, and visited there a couple of months ago. Black lives make up 28% of the current population of Oakland, and all I had to do was walk out my friend Gavin’s front apartment building door to begin my immersion into a world of color, on the sidewalks, at the Whole Foods, around Lake Merritt. Everywhere. And the fact of the matter is I felt energized and stimulated and bigger, even. And grateful.

The title of this blog post, and I wasn’t really writing it about me, is “Who Are Your Friends?” So I’ll ask my white Facebook friends to, right now, take a couple of minutes and tally up your percentages. My guess is that most of you won’t even come up with my sorry percent of 5% of black friends. I’d like to be wrong, but I bet I’m not. I don’t say that as a Yay for me or a Boo for you. I say it because it’s something to think about the next time we, any of us, think we know how it is for someone else, someone who looks different from us, and that you can at least consider that, well, maybe you don’t. Because how much practice are you getting?

Driving while black? – there’s a new phrase appearing in my world. I don’t know what that’s like. Maybe some of my friends can help me understand it a little better. Maybe some of your friends can help you.

If we bother to just talk with each other some more. And listen.