Wednesday, September 24, 2014

You are a gift.

UNION; The Courier Journals, 1861~1865 

    Over the past five years, you and I have developed a remarkable relationship; we are not numbers or transactions in this world; we are high above the bottom line. We are a gift, given back and forth at every moment, and I cherish you, each and all, my friends, my family, and my imaginary friends that I may never meet. The lift you have given me for these five years on this blog is beyond measure. 

    I have just converted my novella, UNION, to a .pdf file, and offer it to you as a gift of gratitude, and trust you to share it, pay forward to anyone else, or contribute what you think is a fair value for the work, as you see fit.   You may download the file on the left sidebar. The file can be uploaded to a Kindle or other device. If you would like me to email it directly to your Kindle, let me know, and we can try that. 

Now, let's see what you and I can create in the next five years.

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

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.