Friday, September 5, 2014

The Sisyphus Cell

 Osage Orange. ©photograph by Michael Douglas Jones




Winter will be coming on, the last red summer sun rises, one hand high above the tree line, and in the valley, whitetails are leaving for cooler grazing ground. I am where I was yesterday, my brim pulled low over my eyes, waking, as sun slivers find me, slicing me, scorching me deep in my own hardwood prison. For hours, days, weeks beyond measure, I struggle, crawling out through the claws of the hawthorn thicket, my blood still on its briar, its seeds still on my shoes, until, just outside its grasp, I rest on the ridge of tall grass and chicory for a time, beneath the daystars of Queen Anne’s lace, where hope hangs overhead, and I can breathe it in long enough to forget. By twilight, the deepest cuts have dried, the blood has blackened; I am weak, seeking sustenance, and eating fallen berries, before fading back into the fitful sleep of guilt and despair. As dawn wakes me, the hawthorn seeds have grown around me and I am once again in the thick of it. Day upon day, I crawl homeward, and night after night, the thicket grows, with me at its middle.

Beyond the briar walls, a staccato of cicada fades in and fades away. Blackbird and wren build nests above me; they welcome the thorn, the berry and branch, a fortress from feral cats. Field mice skitter in and around the quickthorn, while, slowly, the cats, patient predators, circle the perimeter. Bindweed wraps looptight around the branches and draws bumblebees to its bloom brights by morning, and whitetails to its leaves in evening. This unlikely troop follows up the ridge, as each day I grow another vaulted hell, another solitary cell of cyanide seed and cockspur. The lot of us, a hedgerow of outsiders advancing, almost imperceptibly, in a parade of black hearts and blue blacked wings with the devil’s coach horse at the front, and sow bugs and buzzards as the rear guard cleaning the bones of the no man left behind.

Pensée follows a furlong behind this rain parade; my last muse, scarred and bruised, patiently collecting the remnants of my life in her broken bone bag. She says it so simple, “Wipe your shoes,” and I will, but not well; the seeds still take root. She cannot fathom that I wear my father’s hand me down genes, and carry seeds of hawthorn and Osage orange in my pocket to grow my own thickets of thorn, when I need to bleed, when I need to feel his strap on my back.

It was not always this way. We once walked the long line, three hundred years of follow thy father, until that path was paved over, the plank road replaced with asphalt and abstracts. A family of seeders in a world of cash crops and cotton gins, blacksmiths in a time of motorcars and aeroplanes, my father and I were not like the crows that adapted; we strayed from the rattle and chatter of the city. Pensée says it was our weakness, like bread and beer, but it was our hearts, broken by the babble of brimstone, and left searching for a home to sit in peace with the silent sermon of nature.

There was no home, once my father took to his potion, moonshine mixed with peaches, stoppered in bottles, sealed with paraffin, and in time, I took to it too. I hated him for it, and he hated himself and everyone else. He left to fight the world at their center, in the city, and I went deeper into the woods of my own world, where even love would not find me. We both arrived at the same broken center, my father poisoned by toluene gin and I, drawing my own black and blueprint, designed this prison of thorn.

But winter will be coming on, the weather will cool, the growth will slow in the shorter days of autumn; let it take lifetimes, I will make my way home to Pensée and the silent sermon.







Monday, May 19, 2014

Blog Tour

I was recently invited by my friend, Kathryn Dyche Dechairo, to participate in a blog tour to introduce and highlight creative blogs through a few questions on the writing and creative process. You can visit Kathryn's blog at http://dychedesigns.blogspot.com/



Kathryn is a  
multi-talented artist, photographer, and poet living in South Ohio. Kathryn's work has been published in The Pulse of Mixed Media, Artful Blogging 2012, Poetry Nook Vol 3 with her debut collection of poetry and prose 'The Edge of Silence' now available.



Thanks to Kathryn for the honor, and here are my answers to a few questions. If anyone has other questions, leave a comment, and I'd be happy to answer.

The creative process

I no longer think too much about my own creative process. When I was a trompe-l'œil oil painter, I set so many rules for the reality of my finished paintings, that the entire process lost its joy. Still, it's insightful to examine the how and why of your art occasionally to assure that the creation is true to the heart. A true heart is a luxury in this life, and mine was a gift from the saint in my story, my dearest Marianna.

American artist, Ben Shahn wrote, "An amateur is someone who supports himself with outside jobs which enable him to paint. A professional is someone whose wife works to enable him to paint." Marianna works long hours, so I can create with a true heart, and that is a love, hard to find in a lifetime.



Why do you write what you do?

I clearly remember being twelve years old, often sitting alone in the forest, wondering how something as impossible as life could exist. It was, at equal turns, frightening and wondrous, a complex, circling dance between reality and illusions, between demons and dreams. Everything I ever created, as an artist or writer, was to find the essence of my own place in that dance, and our collective choreography as partners, barefoot and tiptoe, in that ineffable beauty. I create simply to stop the motion at the center, to capture one memory of this neverending moment.  I have nothing to teach, nothing to preach; I write about the wonder of it all, the oneness of me, you, and the waltz of this whirling world.

You breathe out
and I breathe in;
where you leave off
and I begin,
I cannot say.
Where you leave off
and God begins,
I cannot say.


How does your writing process work?

As a writer, I have an undisciplined process, although I’m working harder this year to discard the demons and addictions that have cut me to the core over the past several years; I cannot be creative without clear thinking, and I have not kept clear focus on my task. The distractions of the sideshow waste time for many artists and writers, so I try to ignore the carnival barkers behind those curtains; the main show has no curtain, no secrets. The main show is where the art is starting.

I keep scratch paper and notebooks in every room and in the Jeep. I watch for life’s seemingly insignificant detail; I watch, ready for wonder, ready for one word, or two, and once they appear, I repeat them until they pick up another word to become a sentence. I sing that simple sentence, repeating it aloud and shaping it, stretching it to find its rhythm and adding the music of like-minded words. Editing is my favorite part of the process, taking a paragraph and playing it over and over, filling in detail and layers, until it sounds timeless, like an ancient story, which it is.

I’m always open to write, but my best time is predawn on the side roads, away from the babble and chatter of the cities. I go out into the soft silence of the waking world, and listen to its voice. If a word doesn't appear, I will start with the word “HERE,” and describe that moment, its sounds, its lights, its movement in the dance. Most of the time the word HERE is edited out as the rhythm works its way around, but occasionally, it remains, as in this passage:

All the day, at every hour, the travelers wish, and worry; each with equal effect. Here, near the seven mile marker on a hundred mile rail, built on bridges above the rivers, I work one task at a time to quiet my mind, and watch the wonder of this world, all the day, at every hour.


All the Day
a composite photograph by Michael Douglas Jones

What are you working on?

T.S. Eliot
LITTLE GIDDING (No. 4 of 'Four Quartets')
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Let’s go back to the start. After high school, I couldn't afford to go straight on to college.  I enlisted in the Air Force during the thick of the Vietnam War, not as a patriotic calling, but to have more choice in my destination.  In 1968, any teenager that didn't go to college was likely to be drafted into the Army. For four years, I trained and worked as an illustrator in the Air Force, and then, returned to Maryland to study illustration in college, with the help of the GI Bill.

Looking back over five decades, all of my art was an illustration of a story. I rarely started a painting with a sketch; they started with my words. I thought of them as artist’s notes, sometimes a poem or paragraph, sometimes several pages of symbolism and reference.  The notes were abandoned once the final painting was complete. It wasn't until 2001, in my first mixed media show, Eggs in Envelopes, that I thought to include the words in my art.

 Eggs In Envelopes; The First Day
mixed media by Michael Douglas Jones


Slowly, the words have replaced their illustration, standing alone without the picture, open to the reader to see the image without illustration. This was a huge revelation to me that a word is worth a thousand pictures. It took quite a while to realize that writing was as important, to me, as drawing or painting, and I still hesitate to post prose or poetry without an image, but I'm on my way.

I am working on a new book, Written Receipts for Paid Attention.  I still intend to make images for that book, but the images are now background to the words.

I am also working on an art exhibit, The Seeder Suitcases.  As usual, I have pages of artist notes that will transform into images.



I have invited two of my favorite writers to answer these questions. Please visit them, as they will be posting their answers next week, Monday, May 26, 2014. They are passionate writers, who are unafraid to go into the darkness of the past to shine a lantern, that we all shall see light.



Jason Benoit is just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world. Everywhere he goes weather seems to follow. He writes, and he reads; he loves, and he leaves. He drinks whiskey from a glass, and wine from a bottle. He whispers to the walls and listens to the hushed tick, tick, tick of his keyboard as he waits for a response, and thankfully, he has yet to hear one.

You can find his words on his blog, Love Letters &Suicide Notes. And he can also be found on twitter here: @Mr_Bob_Gray



::


C. Streetlights
 Of all the fools I've met, I admire Don Quixote most of all.  If only because it is from him I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter that the dragon turned out to be only a windmill.  What matters is that the dragon was fought at all.

C. Streetlights, fighting windmills and dragons since she could tell the difference between the two and could give a damn.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Courage is Quiet


Courage  #AprilMoon14


 This day's sun slips through the thornapple branches in jagged cuts of light and night. I rise with its pain, and listen, but Courage does not call out commands, or curse from atop the porch step to the chattel below; he will not wait for reinforcements. Courage whispers, and walks toward the plank road where the work will be done. He does not ask to be Courage, as I do; he takes the task at hand and handles it now, so I walk behind him awhile, in the early morning, as the fog lifts beyond the tree line.

I wear my father’s butternut overcoat, and deep inside the left pocket is the Colt pistol that he turned on himself, in the war before this war. I carry the weight of that Colt, the weight of that coat, the wet wool heavy of my scars and shoulders, and every morning, I reach into its worn pocket, moving my fingers across the blood and oil polished pistol grip, knowing that I am on his path; knowing that his way is thick with thorns and tangled honeysuckle vines, with deep mud, and deeper madness, and I ask to be Courage for this one day.

Courage is quiet, and walks with a steady step through the tall grass, even as the grade steepens near the slip rail, a full furlong before the plank road, where the work will be done. I fall behind in the high noon sun, my heavy boots caked with the drying mud of years lost, trudging the circling path of thorn and vine. By late afternoon, Courage is a shrinking silhouette on the west ridge, and I am remembering the cool shade of the hawthorn and the thick sweet scent of honeysuckle, its taste on my lips, so I sit for awhile to consider my direction for tomorrow, and move the pistol to my right pocket.



Monday, December 30, 2013

My Name

#reverb13: The way forward

Forgotten railroad tracks
Frederick, Maryland. December 31, 2013


The long nights of winter offer no rest; awake, I ache, my face wet with worry from false thoughts and hurtful memories. Oh Pensée, wrap me in wonder and wool; pull me out into the day. This cot is cold, and old pinewood stained dark with tears and scarred deep with penknife scratchings of the names of the wounded in this room, from the war before this war.

My name is of no importance; the same as tens of thousands, says the enumerator. Neither steam engines nor search engines will find my bones tomorrow, so I take my own penknife and shave a point to this pencil, and put to paper one last pursuit. Names carved in wood and stone do not matter much; we are each and all, forgotten in time. The least and the most grand among us will be forgotten. Only the wonder of life remains.

So, walk with me through the cities unseen, out beyond the empty stone towers. Carry no coins; sow seeds that are not for sale, along the side roads and forgotten railroad tracks and timber trestles on the west side, the wrong side of town, in the fallow fields where your fathers once grew cash crops of cotton and cover crops of red clover. Plant fruit trees and berry bushes close to the path, and know that someday, off from the distance, a hungry soul will walk that way seeking sustenance. Plant ideas of days where there is only one of us, and that is all of us, and all of everything there is, and know that someday, off from the distance, a hungry mind will walk that way seeking solace. Your name shall be Seeder, and I shall be the annalist, to write your name forever.







Monday, December 16, 2013

Full Measure

#reverb13 Day 16: Habits and addictions

Step and Stumble


Kat McNally writes, "Today's post and image come from master wordsmith and craft beer connoisseur, Michael Douglas Jones. How Michael manages to make 140 characters come alive with all the glory and agony that it is to be human remains a mystery to me... you'll just have to follow him on twitter to see what I mean."

Michael writes:

Habits and addictions, some are silly, some serious; when we have issues without answers, they can hold us so tight that we stop moving forward with the life we intended.


Were you able to loosen those fetters this year, and if you were successful, how did you manage it? Did you accept outside help, or work alone?


If you still feel that grasp of addiction or hurtful habits, what will you do differently in the year to come?


I am working on this life; a step and a stumble. The steps are small; the stumbles seem to fall forever. I find that I have followed the footsteps of my father, with his fears and failures, his escapes into excess, until his way has become my own. I have written his words into my book, and recite them often, forgetting my own poetry. My weakness is well known; I walk between two worlds, one of anger and frustration, the other of limitless love. It matters not whether he wrote me this way or I cut my own quill; I can set my full measure in only one world, where I am the writer, the annalist of wonder; one world where I scrape my father’s ink from the parchment, where, even though the trace remains, my word is the last line on the palimpsest.

Oh Pensée, you are the saint in my story, protecting me from the other man I am. If you believe in me, write your words in my book, and it will hold me through to the final page.  



Saturday, December 14, 2013

I Ride the Side Roads

#reverb13 Day 14: Decisions

What was the best decision you made in 2013?
This is why I ride the side roads.
 Sunrise on Friday, December 13 on Price's distillery road, near the burnt hill road.


 This year, one of my best decisions was to change my Jeep's GPS navigation setting to "avoid highways". This may seem trivial, yet it has made such a difference in my day; I have slowed down, and found such treasures off the interstate that have immensely inspired my creative life. Try it for a week; life is not about how fast we can get to the end of the road.





 In summer, I ride the side roads, beyond the babble and chatter of the cobblestone cities, not within earshot of their rain parade. My fanfare is a forecast of crows, and the salutation of crickets. I am poor of pocket, and still I sit front row for the full thunder moon, eastern toad, grey tree frog, firefly, and cicada.

 In winter, I walk the same roads, slower than in other seasons, as the verglas trees caution me to be steady in my step. Unaccustomed to travelers, the whitetail deer, the barred owl, and the redtail hawk do not fear me; they stand straight and sentient in my presence, as we are, each and all, equal.










Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Settle into Silence

#reverb13 Day 11. What challenges lie ahead in 2014? How might you meet them boldly? 

 

Be quiet now, and listen to the soil moving slowly into solstice. Come, with me, out before the new morning of the longest night to gather firewood from the deadfallen branches. The crows will keep the time; the red-tailed hawk atop the old oak will keep watch as we work. A new snow quilt covers the field of cut corn and the harvest is over; now is the time to rest and reset. All is still, predawn, along the buffalo road; the slight and silent movement, reflected in your lantern light, is the shooting stars of snow falling from the tall pines. Watch for the black ice of yesterday’s storms; it will make your night mind restless and weary. Do not track that restlessness back inside the winter cottage. Put the room at rest, and settle into silence. There will be struggles ahead in the longer days, so now is the moment, in the quiet crackle of hardwood fires, for a sleep deep inside, where we may wake anew. Be not born again to make the same choices; let this be a new season within you.

Set your taper by the bedside, and move in close beneath the quilt; I will watch over you, soft in sleep beside me. Be quiet now, and listen, moving slowly into solstice.