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Inspirational Reads

The Photograph - Part 2

May 29, 2012

In case you missed the first part of the story, you can get caught up here: The Photograph - Part 1

When I was a sophomore in high school, we had to read John Knowles' A Separate Peace. It was one of the few books that fell into the required reading category that I liked; for some reason, the thing that stuck with me most from the story was the mention of Cadillac Mountain in Maine. As the story put it, Cadillac Mountain was the first place the sun's rays touched in the morning in the continental United States. Ever since I was fifteen, I wanted to visit the place, to look out over the ocean as it changed from night black to the hues of the morning.

The day after my doctor's appointment, I got up, made myself a pot of coffee and looked out the window of the kitchen in my townhouse across the street to yet another strip mall. People wandered up and down the sidewalks, phones pressed to their ears, gabbing gleefully without taking note of anyone or anything around them. The longer I stood there, the more angry I became. Finally, I finished my coffee, went into my bedroom, and began tossing together a bag. I needed to escape my home for a while. I needed to escape everything for a while.

I got in the car and I started to drive. I had no particular destination in mind at the time. All I knew was that I needed to escape, to get away from the press of humanity and the way everyone around me ignored the fleeting beauty of life. I was not sure what was wrong with me. Maybe I was a little crazy, maybe there was something wrong in my head. Whatever the reason, I knew that the road was the only thing that could cure me.

A few hours later, I had checked into a bed and breakfast in Virginia's wine country. From the balcony of the room I rented, I could see the sun settling slowly over the mountains, and while it was nice to be away from the city, there was still something that I was missing. I wandered around the grounds, walking over to the closest vineyard and sampling the wines they had to offer. I bought a half-dozen bottles, more out of a sense of obligation and decency rather than any burning desire to drink. Returning to my room, I opened the door to the balcony and watched as the sun slowly sank over the Appalachians.

As the gloaming slowly spread over the valley, I got up to turn on a bedside lamp so that I would not stumble in the dark later when I decided to find my bed. As I twisted the switch on, I glanced at the stack of books that were set decoratively on the bedside table. In the middle was a copy of John Knowles' A Separate Peace. Memories came flooding back to me as I picked the book up and thumbed through the yellowed, brittle pages. My eyes scanned across pages, parts of the story flooded over me, flowed through me. I came to the part where Finny fell a second time; after reading it, I carefully closed the book and laid it on the table next to the bed. Walking over to the doorway leading to the balcony, I picked up the glass of wine that I had been nursing most of the evening. The midnight blue rises of the mountains against the deepening purple of the evening sky commanded my view and, as I reflected on the pages I had just flipped through, I knew where tomorrow would take me.

∞ ∞ ∞

Bar Harbor, Maine was exactly what I thought a New England coastal city would be--or, I suspect, it is exactly what I am expected to think a New England coastal city should be. A remade downtown area sat next to the deep blue harbor overlooking the scattered islands of the northern coast. The central part of town was ringed by cottages and homes, all of them well-maintained, and most with nice views of the harbor, which was covered with sailboats. This was all nested within gently rolling, tree-covered hills. In all, it was beautiful and serene, a sharp contrast to home and even most of the drive to Maine.

Once I had regained the road, the route had been through mostly urban areas. The cities, the traffic, and the noise pressed in on me through most of my journey. Only once I had escaped Boston did trees once again become prevalent, but it was not until I entered Maine was I convinced that I had found my way back to the natural world. Leaving the bulwarks of the urban jungle behind me, I turned off the super highway near Augusta, fully planning on following the lesser-used routes out to the eastern seaboard. At times, I actually pulled alongside the highway and got out of my car just to look at the rise and fall of the land around me, to feel the openness and calm of my new bucolic surroundings.

The remainder of my drive was leisurely. I would stop and look through roadside vegetable stands. Everything was blueberry-flavored here, and I did not care. For the sheer novelty, I bought blueberry beer. It went along with my blueberry preserves, blueberry syrup and chocolate-covered blueberries. For a change of pace, I would buy something cranberry-related; though there were fewer cranberry products, the vendors were just as prolifically creative in using the red bog berries for their roadside concoctions.

Eventually, I could fit no more berry-based foodstuffs in my car, so I continued on, taking several winding highways that appeared to have been laid out to give the best views of the low, scenic mountains. The views were not typically wide-ranging, with trees pushing in on all sides. While the endless forest did not allow for long vistas of the surrounding land, the sea of trees did carry an allure all of their own. There was something enticing about the primordial forest; the thought of driving into the woods and never coming out crossed my mind from time to time as I slowly wound my way back and forth through the scenic hills and valleys of eastern Maine.

I had read stories about people going into the Maine wilderness and getting lost. Reading the stories, I was amazed--almost appalled--that someone could get lost in a time when global positioning satellites could pinpoint your location within thirty feet. Driving through even the eastern part of the state, where the forest was not as intensely unsettled as the wilderness would be, I suddenly understood. Resisting the urge to truly become one with my surroundings, I pressed on and soon found the coast. The road wound around and through more hills, valleys and great, primordial woods, but soon I found signs pointing me toward Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor.

I had called ahead to find somewhere to stay, grabbing a cottage on the outskirts of the town proper where I could have access to Cadillac Mountain. It was small and white and almost exactly what I expected a cottage to look like in Bar Harbor, Maine--or, again, perhaps it was what I was expected to expect a cottage to look like. It was small and it offered a small view of the bay; the water was dazzlingly blue in the afternoon sun, and what seemed like a thousand white sailboats plied the waters. I quickly unloaded what I needed into the small, one bedroom cottage. After a quick survey of what was in the unit--surprise, more blueberry pancake syrup--I got out and stretched my legs.

The seaside part of town had been rebuilt--or at least redone--to make walking more accessible for anyone staying in the town. Clearly, tourism was a major source of income for the people here, but this did not bother me. It was good to be out of the car, to walk through sun-warmed streets and feel the breeze blowing in off the ocean, to smell the briny aroma of the sea. The people I passed were friendly and courteous, and one couple suggested a good place to sample some of the local fare. I wandered the streets some more, window shopping and genuinely enjoying being out of my car for a while before I went to find dinner.

While I had seen foods incorporating blueberries and cranberries almost since crossing the border, now I was on the coast and that meant that the shift was to what the sea provided. I ate myself almost sick on seafood and--no surprise here--I washed down the meal with blueberry wines that came from Maine's own burgeoning wine industry. In all, the meal was delicious, but I did not linger long over my dinner. Once I had paid, I took a stroll around the town once more, hoping to walk off some of the enormous amounts of food I had eaten. After finishing a cigarette, I made my way back to my cottage, taking one long look over my shoulder at the wine-dark waters of the sea. Hesitating at the door to the cottage, I looked past the humble, white building toward the looming behemoth backlit by a sun that had set nearly forty-five minutes before. Nodding to it, as if it watched me, I bid the rocky heap good night.

Tomorrow, I would conquer the mountain.

Friday Morning Latin Lesson: Vol. CII

May 25, 2012

While we're brushing the dust off archaeological digs (read: my blog), we might as well dive right into the deep end of the dead language pool. Plus, someone said they missed the Friday Morning Latin Lesson; that's like inviting a vampire into your home. Ill-advised at best, and down-right encouraging of debaucherous behavior if we're being frank.

What's the occasion? Well, there's a couple of things going on today. On May 25, 240 BC, the first recorded track of Halley's comet was noted in some Chinese scientific writing. There's a chance that the comet that was reported in Greece (and possibly Babylon) in 467 BC was also Comet Halley, but we can't be certain of that. Evidence points in that direction, but no one has the balls to come out and say it. Yet.

Again, on May 25, in 567 king Servius Tullius held a triumph to celebrate his victory over the Etruscans. Servius Tullius was the sixth, and probably best, King of Rome (the first was the Big R himself, Romulus). He was a bit of a socialist, though, as he was one of the first to want to spread the wealth from the noble families to the poor of Rome's citizenry. This would prove to bite him in the ass later on. He also helped to lay the foundation for what would become the Roman Republic. In general, Servius was pretty well-liked, aside from his political rivals, who ended up murdering him. Details, details...

As with any character of Roman history, there's an entertaining backstory with Servius. His mother was a lady named Ocrisia who was probably captured from the Latins (there was an actual people, from whom the language arose...they lived in the "flat lands") during one of the wars between Rome and the Latin League. She arrived in Rome pregnant (most likely) and as she was a woman of noble birth, she was given to the king's wife to act as a servant. There, she gave birth to Servius; the baby, being born in the king's household, became a member of his extended family. Eventually he would grow up and marry the king's daughter and, when the king (Lucius Tarquinius Priscus) was murdered, Servius ascended the throne in Rome.

There's also a story that Ocrisia (still captured from the Latins) arrived in Rome as a virgin and was given over to serve as a Vestal Virgin (Vesta was keeper of the hearth flame at home, and she was one of those ever-virgin goddesses). Ocrisia, by her noble birth, was then sent to serve in the king's household, performing the rites and rituals of Vesta for the king. One day, after offering a sacrifice on the holy fires within the king's hearth, Ocrisia damped the flames. Apparently, Ocrisia turned around and shook some of that sweet virgin ass at the hearth, because a disembodied dick rose from the remains of the fire and penetrated Ocrisia. The child she bore was Servius Tullius, the child who would become king.

Oh, and despite the fact that she was a servant of Vesta (who presumably didn't have a dick), it was widely accepted that Vulcan was the father of the child...which is probably why he moved his forge under Mount Etna, to avoid child support payments and such. While Vesta was in charge of the sacred flame of the hearth, Vulcan was the god in charge of fire used in defense of the city.

This wasn't the only run-in that Servius had with the divine, however. During his reign as king, Servius expanded Rome's territory, spread the city across the surrounding hills, founded several temples in the name of various goddesses (Diana and Fortuna being the main ones), expanded the vote, reorganized the divisions of Roman society, improved the military and helped to keep the plebians happy by spreading some of the wealth from the top of society down through the lower ranks. It was said that Servius had so much luck on his side that Fortuna, the goddess associated with good luck, sneaked in through his window at night so that they rucked like hounds. Apparently, he did not inherit daddy's floating dick trick.

Wow. Not only did he get to bang the daughter of the previous king, but he also spent his nights in the arms of the goddess of good fortune? Talk about one lucky bastard. It sure brings this little phrase to mind:

Bonum est regem esse!

Pronounced: "Boh-noom est ray-gaim aye-say!"

Regal translation in the hovertext!

The name Servius is an interesting one. Since Ocrisia was most likely a slave--at the very best, a servant for the queen--people have noted the similarity between her son's name "Servius" and the Latin word for "slave", which was servus. Servius as a name probably comes from a root meaning "to keep or to preserve", but the similarity was enough that Rome's enemies used it as a sign of weakness in one of the Republic's founding fathers. Mithridates, the Poison King of Pontus, whom Julius Caesar had to personally destroy after Mithridates' fourth or fifth rebellion (incidentally, it was Pontus about which Caesar uttered his famous "vini, vidi, vinci"), was one such person to pun on Servius' name. He pointed out that even the Roman kings included "slaves and house servants of the Etruscan (people)", basically thumbing his nose at Roman rule, their citizens and their leadership.

Whatever the story, the links between the slave class and the name Servius was enough that the name fell out of vogue by about the time that the Roman Republic was established, despite the popularity of the king who carried the same name. Despite being born a slave (or of a slave), Servius is considered Rome's best king and overall one of the best rulers the city/republic/empire had.

Not bad for a guy whose father was a severed dick.

The Photograph: Part 1

May 24, 2012

There is a photograph on the dashboard. It was taken years ago. I have it turned around backwards so that, when I pass beneath the orange cone of the sodium lights lining the highway, the picture is shown in reverse on the inside of the windshield. The elongation and warping of the images as I pass beneath each light is almost hypnotic. If the aberrations of the picture's images are not putting me to sleep, they are at least keeping me companion here on the endless plane of America's heartland. The night is dark; there are a million stars stretching from one horizon to the next. The radio sputters in and out, songs and voices being replaced by the crackle of static and the loneliness of silence as the miles continue to pile up behind me.

My only companions are the photograph and my own thoughts. Somewhere, here in the middle of the country, here in the middle of a vast, directionless prairie, I have direction. If nothing else, my direction is memory, dreams built on the events of the past. A crumpled piece of paper sitting on the passenger seat reminds me of how it's dangerous to let my mind wander into my memories. Try as I might, I cannot ignore it or what is written on it.

For the time being, I keep driving, eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, thoughts tumbling through my mind. The road is lonely, my head is far lonelier.

∞ ∞ ∞

The phone rings, but I am ignoring it. Finally, it shuts off but I do not hear the chime letting me know that I have new voice mail. Five seconds after it stopped, the phone rings again. I try to ignore it, but the pattern holds until, after the fifth time it rings anew, I answer it.

"This is Rob."

"Hey, Robby! Where are you?"

"Hey Steve. I'm in New Jersey. Did you know they actually make you pay to get into New Jersey?"

"What in the hell are you doing in New Jersey?"

"Looking for a hamburger stand. I saw it on that show on Food Network. The one with the Italian guy, with the hair. You know what I'm talking about. The food here is supposedly 'off the hook' or some such."

"No, seriously, Rob, where are you?"


"Fine, be that way. Graham is going to be pissed--"

"I called Graham and left him a message. I told him that I was headed out of town for a couple of days. Doctor's orders."

"Oh? Hey, yeah, how did the check-up go?"

"Everything's...fine. Except I'm stressed. The doctor told me that my stress levels were high, which was causing me some blood pressure issues and was the reason why I'm not sleeping so well. He told me that I probably needed some time away from the office." I paused for a moment to cough and clear my throat. "So, I just got in the car and drove."

"Wow. That's some shit man. When are you going to be back?"

I hesitated for a moment and coughed once more. "I dunno. I haven't taken any time off in three years. I think I'm due."

"What about the Smith report?"

"Emailed it to Graham. There's a manila folder on my desk with all the Smith stuff in it. If Graham needs it, tell him to look in there."

"Well, alright then. I guess that's all. Gimme a call when you get back this way, alright? We'll hit the bars, smoke some stoags. Sound good?"

"Yeah, sounds great. I shouldn't be more than a week. Anyway, I think I'm at that joint in Hackensack. We'll see if this place really is 'off the hook.'"

I disconnected before Steve had a chance to respond and promptly turned the ringer off. Tossing the phone on the seat next to me, I ignored the exit numbers and kept going north.

Is This Thing On?

May 23, 2012

*timidly approaches the stage, taps the microphone*

*two echoing booms ring out, followed by an ear-piercing screech of feedback reverb*

So, uh, can anybody hear me?

Hello? Hello? Hello? Is there anybody out--no! I'm not going to stoop to the level of a forced Pink Floyd reference.

Well, if there is anyone out there still reading this (and my stat bar suggests that at least some ill-meaning spam artists are still showing up here, if only to slap together some penis-enhancement ads in Cyrillic script), I thought maybe I'd give you a little update on my life.

Motherfucker's been busy.

I know I told I was working two jobs, and that shit sucks. Think about working one job, and then double it. See how that works? It's like math or something.

I've also taken up this geocaching hobby, which is an obsession all to itself. Basically, it's a big hide-and-seek game done with GPS satellites. Way to use technology for the betterment of humanity, right? Anyway, I...I would rather think about how much weight (like, 50 pounds or so) I've lost hiking up and down the trails of central North Carolina and less about the amount of gas I've burned driving to find these little things.

Moving on.

I've also been writing more. Well, not here, as evidenced by my severe drop-off in the number of posts I would crank out for no one to read. I've been doing actual writing, stuff. Plus, I handed out a bunch of copies of the manuscript I have done and I'm "happy" with. Of course, while converting it to formats that can be read on electronic devices, I found two grammatical mistakes. And that was just on the last page. Before I did the conversion, I noted an incorrect "it's" and then a misspelled "respects" (I think it was "respescts"). Fucking fabulous. I are gude at proofreeding.

I have about three major stories on hiatus while I go back and do yet another rewrite on my big book, the one that kicks off a multi-volume series. You know, because everyone loves Game of Thrones so much, and they really love those six year gaps between books. I thought maybe I should get into that game (pun only slightly intended). Or, better yet, if I'm in that arena and something should happen to George Martin (like it did to Robert Jordan), I want to be the guy who picks up the ashes of Westeros and puts them back together.

Unfortunately, I decided that I should go through and develop some of my secondary characters in the story and work in a few more plot twists and such. This means that, in some cases, I'm reading and rewriting certain chapters probably for the fifth or maybe sixth time. BO-RING!!!

Why am I telling you all this? Why the fuck have I come back now? For some shameless self-promotion? Well, yeah. However, I finally killed a character that I've offed half-a-dozen times now, leading me to a natural break in the story. That means that I can finally step back and work on a different project for a bit.

Backstory time: A while ago (and by while, I mean a shit-ton of years ago) a very dear friend of mine wanted me to write her a story. Just, a story. She told me nothing about what should go into the story, just that she wanted me to write one for her. Not about her, not with her as a character, just write a story.

I have started and stopped the story several times over the interim, and let me tell you, hitting "delete" just does not have the same cathartic feeling as ripping a piece of paper out of a typewriter, crumpling it up in your hands, and chucking that bad boy against the far wall in a fit of writer's block-induced rage. Finally, one day while sitting in traffic, I began to formulate the makings of a story--an actual good story--and so I kept rolling the characters and events and order over and over in my mind. This eventually led to getting text on the screen and the notion of a story put together--plot, timing, development and everything!

Her birthday was recently, and I tried my best to get the story done in time for her birthday, but, as usual, I failed. I only have a bit of it done. So, that's what she's going to get for now. If you remember my Romans vs. Vampires story from a few Halloweens ago, I think I'm going to put her story together like that: releasing it over the course of a few days and then, in the end, pulling all the pieces together, making a pdf and sending to her.

In the meantime, starting tomorrow, you'll begin to see the story I wrote for my friend called "The Photograph". I hope you enjoy it.

Happy birthday, pal.