Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy


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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 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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Which Side Are You On

 

It has been hard to think these last five days, for me. To string together coherent, relatively connected thought. I haven’t been able to do it. I have found myself crying periodically, or on the verge. Mostly I have felt angry, that’s been the prevalent feeling, and I don’t like feeling that way. It is contrary to my very nature.

I was very fortunate to find myself in Oakland, California last Tuesday, 20161109_124252and for the two days after. I got to watch the election with maybe my closest friend, and another close friend, and some friends of theirs, my wife with her own friends up in Marin. Tuesday night it was disbelief sliding into fear. Wednesday morning I sat with my friend and we both had woken early, unable to sleep, and we both were experiencing physical pain symptoms, and we both had no clue how to proceed, how to go forward, what to do.  He was there when my wife called and I wept on the phone talking about the pain of moving away from people whose hearts have become heavy with anger and hate, even, and cold. Later that afternoon, Wednesday, my friend brought me to a trauma center to sit in a healing group, and I cried some more, and he did too, as did lots of people, taking turns going around the circle, many teachers, not knowing how to talk with their students, parents struggling with conversations with their children. The fear, the Big Fear, the suicidal ideation upon us. Being there helped. But not a lot.

Earlier in the afternoon, before the group, I had taken the BART from Oakland over to Berkeley, at Shattuck, and walked up through the UC Berkeley campus, finding a sit-in in progress in front of Sproul Hall, an echo of more than 50 years  from the time of the quote below, and I sat down on the concrete and stayed there for a while, and that helped too. But not enough.

And before that, even, on my way from the BART to the campus I passed a young Muslim woman sitting on the sidewalk, holding her daughter, a cardboard sign asking for food, and I walked past but then stopped and took out a dollar and went back and gave it to her. The next afternoon, walking with my wife who had been delivered to Oakland for our flight back to Portland, I told her about that incident, and as I did, talking about what I hoped was some degree of kindness and compassion, I also realized that my action was a direct affront to the new world, in fact, a Fuck You Donald Trump, and for me, then, came the realization that I would — and will — take every single opportunity going forward to say and do and feel and act and share Fuck You Donald Trump. (FYDT). That helped more.

My good friend who lives in Costa Rica sent me an email yesterday in which he noted that they were sending in the clowns. I wrote back this morning and said, in addition to the clowns, they were sending in the Nazis. And it brought me back, for the umteenth time the last five days, to the posts I’ve seen on Facebook, many written by friends, and newspaper stories, encouraging everyone now howling at the moon to lighten up, take it easy, tone it down, even, God forbid, give the guy a chance, he’s our President now, we’re all in this together. I can almost picture this group – Bannon, Gingrich, Palin, Giuliani, Ingraham – sitting around in the West Wing saying those very things. Kumbaya.

My friends and others urging restraint and toned down rhetoric and let’s all work together are coming from a place of White Privilege. Easier for them to say. And arrogant. The campaign was never about making America great again. It was about making it White again. Male again. Straight again.

Anyway, taqeykkzceaakupdhis is what I think, this is how I am feeling. Everyday, in anyway possible, my job is to FYDT. I recently read the autobiography of Cesar Chavez – La Causa – and it’s clear that while marches and picketing and lobbying all mattered, mattered a lot, what brought the grape and lettuce growers and their police force and political friends to their knees were the Boycotts. It’s the money, Stupid. I’m going to spend the next few weeks researching which companies and corporations are behind this clear movement toward “alt-right” fascism and do my part to boycott and encourage others to boycott. And I’m going to sit down and stand up and march and howl and, mostly, write, write, write. Not be a silent partner. Not be complicit.

All of my Blog posts for the foreseeable future will be about the ways I personally discover to FYDT.

 


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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

tower-of-power-19731


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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.


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Monday Morning Pages — Notebook Number 29

I started reading “The Great Gatsby” downstairs in the recliner this morning, early, and twenty-five minutes later began thinking I really know next to nothing and have paid almost no attention in most of the years of my life, and have forgotten nearly all of the things I did see and half-heartedly committed to memory. In other words, so I’ll never be a writer. This follows the rejection I received last night of my most recent short story, the feedback being very direct and clear, with little encouragement.

So now today beings with me having to push through the mush of ancient stories — stories that say I’m not good enough and I’ll never be good enough and why kid myself of any hope to be a successful writer. Yes, those old as the hills stories, the genre of “who am I kidding”.

So there are two choices — and the older I get the more I am coming to believe that there are only two choices in every situation, kind of a yes and a no thing — in this case accepting that I will never write anything that will engage and entertain a large group of readers, large defined as in the thousands and really in the tens of thousands, and so why kid myself. Go on and do something else at which you will have a better chance for some success — though at this point in my life I have no idea what that might be. Or, door number two, carry on my wayward son. Keep on keepin’ on. Try, as Janis, said, just a little bit harder.

Now, practically speaking,  on the one hand I am early morning comparing my writing ability — if there’s really any of that at all — with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s. So there is that. And on the other hand — and as Henry David Thoreau said, I talk so much about me because I know no other subject so well — I have a six decades history of rarely plunging all the way in, with everything I’ve got, to whatever it is I’m on to now. Which now, in this now case, is writing. Being a writer. So give up because I’m just not very good and almost certainly not good enough. Or try just a little bit harder.

Actually the choice feels clear. Since 2011 when I left my somewhat jokingly defined “career” in human services, I have met a guy and co-wrote and created a CD of original music; picked up a paint brush and painted some paintings and had some shows and sold some greeting cards; and taken a creative writing class at Portland State and embarked on a path with some very specific goals to become a successful writer. Maybe not as good or successful as F. Scott Fitzgerald or the authors I like to read, but successful still.

This feels like the last house on the left on a dead-end street. And so, I write on.