Remember My Name

Do you want to be famous? Why?

The idea of strangers knowing who I am and caring about what I do holds no appeal for me, but of course individual tastes do vary. If you crave your ten minutes of fame, or ten years of it, I wish you well.

There is one thing I do want from you, though, although I suppose it makes no more sense than fame. I want you, or a few people in general, to remember my name. Wait, my name isn’t important. Just remember what I said. Remember something I wrote.

I’m tearing apart the reasons I’ve spent years writing novels, as a way to find a path forward for me, the books I’ve written and my future writing. So far I’ve acknowledged that I write for the sheer joy of it and for the massive amount of things I’ve learned. I write for therapy and play money. I write for praise.

Today, I face the fact that one of the reasons I write is to leave something behind.

“Oh, so you want to be immortal?” you ask. No. I’ve studied too much astrophysics to think anything in this universe will last forever, and enough history to know that few humans leave a noticeable footprint more than a few generations into the future.

The key word to me is noticeable.

Somewhere in my heart, I think if you leave something of value behind, it will affect others who will do the same and so on. Yes, I’m enough of a realist to expect the effect to diminish with time, and to recognize our life expectancy as a species probably isn’t all that long, anyway.

So? It’s not an influence that lasts forever I’m after. However, the idea of leaving a little of me here for awhile is something I’m driven to do. Like I said, individual tastes do vary.

“Why don’t you just have children?” you may ask. Excellent question. I did that and they’re wonderful. If all goes well, I will leave them behind. Whether any of them will go on to produce children of their own remains to be seen, but I don’t think my desire to leave something of myself on this planet should be a driving factor in our relationship. They’ve got their own paths to follow, and that may or may not include passing my fine genetic material along.

Years ago I read a book of short stories called Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. Each tale takes place in an eccentric bar, and involves a mildly sci-fi premise. To the best of my recollection only one character who wanders in is female, which is maybe why her story stuck with me. She’d lived for centuries, long enough to see every one of her descendants perish until finally she had none. The knowing made her sad. Like I said, the story stuck with me.

“Well, you could get out there and do some good works and leave your mark on this world that way,” you could suggest, and a fine suggestion it would be. I think we should all do that, and I’m trying to do my part. But, it’s not the same thing.

We are each driven by what we are. I want to write something that outlives me. Maybe I’ve done it already and maybe it is yet to happen. Either way I’ll probably never know. Based on Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, I see how not knowing can be a better thing.

Whatever the situation is, though, it sounds like I better keep writing.

But first, I’m going to take a minute and enjoy this great video.

 

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, My Eye-opening Second Reason for WritingI write because it’s cheaper than therapy, Nothing cool about modest ambitions and I love to be loved.)

 

Does Marvin Gaye know what’s going on?

I’ve enjoyed blogging about each of the forty-five songs I refer to in my five books, and today I am writing the last of these posts. For no particular reason, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” has that distinction. It occurs near the end of z2, when much of the group comes together for New Year’s Eve, and the words to the song provide impetus for solving part of the puzzle of the mysterious Maya artifact.

cmkqowgweaeubypIn fact, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is a song about hope. Written in 1966 by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it became a hit in 1967 when it was recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. It basically says I’ll be there to help you , because no force is big enough to stop me. It’s the last part of the that message that gets my attention; the idea that nothing can be so big and so bad that it can’t be overcome by someone who wants to make things better. I’m not feeling terribly hopeful these days; I guess I really need to hear this sort of thing. I must not be the only one, as I and over a hundred thousand other people have enjoyed this simple and classy early video posted a few years ago.

Looking up more information on Marvin Gaye (who is usually associated with the song) I found a wonderful fan page for him and learned that in the tumultuous year of 1969 he became frustrated with the type of music he was writing, wanting to turn towards topics that were more socially relevant.

The timing makes sense. In 1968, twelve elections ago, two fairly unpopular presidential candidates ran against each other while their policies sharply contrasted with a controversial war and a good deal of racial and political unrest. I would guess that Marvin Gaye didn’t want to only sing happy, hopeful songs for lovers. He wanted to weigh in on the social issues of the day.

According to the fan page

… in 1971 What’s Going On was released; the first song Marvin Gaye produced himself. The album explored topics such as poverty, discrimination, politics, drug abuse and the environment. Barry Gordy was reluctant to release the album because he doubted its potential commercial success. Despite the reservations, What’s Going On was an instant hit and groundbreaking work in the soul music genre.

It’s easy to see why. In a unique sweet and sour style, the title song contrasts a cocktail party sound with harsh words about the times. The song opens with … (From Metrolyrics)

Mother, mother there’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother there’s far too many of you dying

Let’s face it, these are apt lyrics for today, and they got me thinking about how much 1969 and 2017 have in common. They had an unpopular war, we have unpopular wars complicated by global terrorism. Racial tensions then had grown out of the fight to eliminate legal segregation, today many of us of all colors are reeling from a plethora of incidents with the police that make us question how far we have really come towards racial equality. Two high profile assassinations, police brutality during the 1968 democratic convention and the sight of 250,000 war protesters marching in Washington left the people of 1969 angry and confused. Today, we face the inauguration of a president whose election was aided by a longstanding enemy nation and fueled by groups chanting about building walls and talk of registering members of a minority religion. Times change, but sometimes they seem to circle back around, and revisit the feel of a bygone era.

I sought out a video of “What’s Going On” and found this one which has been enjoyed by almost NINE MILLION people recently. I guess I’m not the only one who thinks that Marvin Gaye understood something about the problems of 2017.

Father, father we don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer for only love can conquer hate

Of course, he went on to write and perform many more songs before his tragic death at age forty-five, and he left a wide and varied legacy in R&B, soul, funk, jazz and pop genres. As I enjoyed researching and learning more about him, I realized that I like all of his music, although the hopeful song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the wisely prescient “What’s Going on” are my two favorites.

You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

As the background characters say in the video, “right on.”

Stand By Me: loyalty versus all kinds of other things

Does anyone doubt that a real friend is someone who will stand by you, no matter what?

Does anyone doubt that there are times to walk away from a friend?

maybe 1We hold both statements as self-evident truths and seldom trouble our souls with the contradiction that is implied. Yet in personal and public life we see this interplay at work, and never more than in an a messy election year.

Publicly, word has it that the Bush family places a high value on loyalty, and an insult to one is an insult to all. Witness the family banning together to shun the current GOP nominee, and almost unthinkable act for a blood line that has produced two presidents for that party. I’m no  great fan of any of them, but I remain oddly moved by their loyalty to each other.

The coin falls on the other side with the Trump family’s former butler and current unpaid historian, who was quickly described by Trump’s campaign as some crazy old guy the family barely knew after the “crazy old guy” was discovered to be posting really crazy stuff on Facebook. Hard to find an admirable approach in that mess, but walking away from the friendship was probably better than standing by it.

And in our personal lives? Yes, there are friends we no longer click with or enjoy. There are people we thought of as friends who it turns out we didn’t really know. There are friends who would take too much of our time or money, or at least more than we care to give, which makes us wonder how the strong the friendship was to begin with. Would they even ask that much of us if they were really our friends? And then there are those who do bad things, sometimes even awful things, to us or others and no matter how sorry they are we can’t let it go.

Plenty of people in the news these days that leave me wondering what are their friends thinking right now?

True voice 3And yet — in spite of growing apart, and selfishness on either side, and ethics and screw-ups — there is something so simple and compelling about the idea of “I will always be there for you.” The very concept takes us back to our childhoods. Does it have a place in adult life?

To me it is the essential kernel of a romantic relationship. It is the baseline of parenthood, except in the most extreme of circumstances, and of other close family relationships as well. It is what separates true friendships from social relationships, and it makes it apparent how unusual true friends are. Having someone, anyone, who will stand by you is rare and precious.

Maybe that’s why we all enjoy the simple lyrics and hypnotic base of the 1961 Ben E. King hit “Stand by Me”. I referred to the song in z2, and just finished updating the music page on this blog to include the following. It’s still running through my head. Enjoy the video at the end.

ben-e-kingMy character Alex is a nice man, and he loves his wife, but he isn’t particularly romantic, at least not in the classical sense. When he thinks of their relationship, in many ways he is more impressed by their enduring friendship than he is by their romance. And when in Chapter 18 he needs to reach Lola with a song, and enlist her cooperation with a plan he has, he turns to this classic, as shown in the excerpt below.

Alex had learned to tolerate Lola’s telepathic abilities, but as the group gathered up their work to head back to the tiny hotel in Punta Gorda, he realized that he could do better. Why not actively use her talents at times to make both of their lives easier? According to what she had told him, all humans project emotions and to some extent also project the thoughts that drive those emotions. In other words, everybody talks. But hardly anyone listens. Some one percent of the population had vague, undeveloped receptive abilities, Lola had said, and some tiny fraction of that, through desire, practice and circumstance, crossed over into being fully adept receivers.

A little over a year ago, Lola had made just such a crossing. Which meant that now he could send information to her, but not get an answer. Think about it, Alex laughed to himself. In some ways isn’t that every husband’s dream? He can tell his wife things and not have to listen to a word back?

Alex supposed that was a less than admirable thought… but hey, a man thinks what he thinks, and fortunately Lola’s ethics were such that she generally stayed out of his head and let him think in peace. But knowing how much his people-avoiding wife was going to hate the idea of having three unexpected houseguests, and how much better she would deal with it if she had all the warning possible, Alex tried for the first time to actually get Lola’s attention. She said images worked well, so he imagined a picture of himself jumping up and down waving a large bright yellow flag. Look. Look over here. I need to tell you something. This is important. I’m going to totally mess up the rest of your holidays with the kids there and everything by bringing three strangers and two ancient artifacts home with me and I really need you to flow with this.

Then he remembered. Music was one of the easiest items to transmit and receive. What was a song that Lola liked? That he liked? His subconscious mind found it for him, and he hummed and whistled Ben E. King’s anthem of loyalty “Stand by Me” over and over as he helped to load up the car. Of course, he’d follow up with an honest-to-god phone call once he got to the better reception at the hotel, but with any luck by then Lola would already know and be in a frame of mind to help him.

I’ll bet you can’t sit still, or keep from smiling, as you watch this video that celebrates both Ben E. King’s original song and the movie of the same name.

 

More songs about this than anything, except of course for love

If you search for song titles containing a particular noun, it should come as no surprise that the most popular word is “love”. But what is the second most popular? My empirical evidence suggests that it is “time.” That confounding concept that gives and takes away from us in equal measure is the source of no end of angst, and, therefore, of music. I knew that my book z2, which is about time in so many ways, needed a song called “Time.”

light clockBut which one? I’d already used a favorite of mine, Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” in x0. Pink Floyd has a great song called “Time” but it’s a little serious for Alex’s tastes. A rapper named Feat Wap has one too, but again it’s not really Alex’s style. Ditto for Sarah McLachlan’s lovely song “Time” and Mikky Ekko’s of the same name. All beautiful and wonderful and there are quite a few more, but Alex likes music that makes his feet tap. Then I remembered the song by Hootie and the Blowfish and it was perfect.

As the story fell into place, the memory of the Hootie and the Blowfish song turned out to be what set in motion Alex’s year long project to have his advanced physics class try to build a time machine.  See the short excerpt below.

Alex wondered how much of that was his own fault. Maybe he had been doing the same thing for too long. Was it getting stale? In truth, the student who showed up for a high school physics class was seldom enthused. But maybe he needed to be working harder these days to capitalize on what little enthusiasm existed.

On the other hand, in spite of some of the behavior problems in his regular physics classes, the students this past year had tended to be more engaged than usual. Even his most potentially unruly class, third period with the three T-heads, as they now called themselves, rose to the standard of intelligent discussion on occasion. Alex wondered how many of his eighty or so first-year physics students would go on to take the more advanced class next year.

This bunch would be a fine group for trying something a little new, something designed to grab the interest of an eighteen year old. What would he have cared about at eighteen? Besides sports and girls?

Alex started toying with ideas, and found himself humming a familiar tune. What was that song? He struggled for a few minutes trying to place the melody. That’s right, he thought. The song was called “Time”.

Because of family, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Charleston SC, and am in fact here as I write this.  So it made me smile to find this version of Hootie and the Blowfish performing their 1995 hit “Time” live in Charleston S.C. in 2006. Enjoy!

Learn more at hootie.com.

Seasons in the Sun

There is something special about this time of year, when daylight is at its shortest. Any time we get to spend in the sunlight becomes precious, or maybe we are just more inclined to realize how precious it is.

sunset (3)My post about it today is poignant. Over the past couple of days. I’ve learned that three people I knew have died. The first I knew as a high school boy who was my partner in chemistry lab. He passed away suddenly at his home a few days ago, according to the online obituary I learned about on Facebook. I remember him for singing the Doors classic “Light my Fire” every time we got the Bunsen Burners out. His memory always makes me smile.

The second, a co-worker of mine for decades, was one of those people with whom one has continual clashes in the office. He wasn’t a bad guy, we just never resonated well. He retired and I just learned via social media that he died peacefully at home in September. Now I wish I had said something kind to him before he left the company, to wish him well.

The third was Brian Rush, a more experienced online writing buddy who was in part responsible for my diving into the self-publishing world like I did. He was kind and helpful to me, and I enjoyed his books. The best I can do to thank him now is to provide a link to his work.

In spite of the odd news that came in threes, the last couple of days here have been unseasonably warm and sunny with a bright blue sky. I can’t say whether it was the news of the deaths or the season’s relative lack of sunshine that kept me sitting on my porch, feeling the warmth on my face while a host of Christmas-related chores went undone.

Because the winter solstice is part of the plot in z2, when I went searching for bubblegum music for my hero Alex to enjoy, “Seasons in the Sun,” made famous in 1974 by Canadian singer Terry Jacks, was an easy choice to include. I though of it as a schmaltzy fun song, and I suppose that it is. But today I played the video that I link to in z2, and let myself shed a tear or two in spite of Terry Jacks 70’s hair and background props.

We do all realize that our seasons in the sun are short and to be savored. We really do. We just forget it sometimes. So please, enjoy the video, and find yourself some sunlight to appreciate over the next few days.

 

 

Stop

Surpemes Like the other members of the Zeitman family, Alex finds that music helps him do the extraordinary things of which he is capable. To me, this is merely interjecting a bit of realism into the plot. Music helps me stay awake late at night when I am driving. Music helps me get out of bed and face a tough day, thanks to the fact that I have an alarm tied to an mp3 player with a special selection of wake-up songs. I play one kind of music when I am cooking a big meal or doing a chore that takes extra energy, and other types when I am stressed and need to relax. I think most people use music, the right kind of music for them, to bring out their strengths and to help them do what needs to be done. Because Alex can slow time down, it is natural that he gravitates to songs that tie into this talent. Enjoy this short excerpt from z2, and the video below.

Alex stood in the parking lot with his hands full of books and supplies to bring into his classroom. School was out for the day and it was better to carry all this stuff back in now rather than deal with it in the morning when he would inevitably be running late. The heat sizzled off of the asphalt and the glare of the late afternoon sun on the windshields was blinding. He gave the car door a hard push with his knee and then he remembered. His keys were on the car seat. The locks were on. Damn.

As Diana Ross and the Supremes started singing “Stop! In the Name of Love” in his head, Alex dropped the books and thrust his hands into the narrowing opening, trying to get the gradually slowing car door to hit his arms or at least his wrists. He did not want to break a finger. The door didn’t stop, but the speed of the door became slower and slower as he thrust forward until finally it barreled into his left lower arm and he felt the pain. Ouch, that was going to cause some bruising, he thought with a wince.

He stood for a few seconds in the blinding bright shimmer of sunlight on metal and glass, and let his heart slow down and the world around him speed back up. As he bent down to pick up the books he had dropped he thought, I have got to learn more about what the hell is going on with me.

Watch the Supremes perform their hit song live on Shindig in 1965.

You might also want to check out this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Tribute to the Supremes, and consider purchasing this song from Amazon.com.

“Only the Strong Survive”

61DxiskibfL._SL500_AA280_When Jerry Butler first sang “Only the Strong Survive” in 1968, he was talking about a man with a broken heart learning to pick himself up and move on. The message resonated as his hit reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, with eventual versions by Elvis Presley, the Dutch group The Trammps, and even an eight minute club mix produced by Frankie Knuckles.

tatooThe title was used for an album compilation of soul music, a 2002 documentary on soul music, and it has inspired a wealth of quotes, t-shirts and tattoos. No wonder. The phrase itself goes well beyond recovering from a devastating love affair as it touches on each of our need to find inner strength to overcome whatever life throws at us.

Alex, the hero of z2, has a fondness for oldies. He is a strong man in the classic sense of being big and athletic. But he is also wiser than most, and he knows that true strength comes in many types of packages. As he gets to know the new transfer student named Xuha (pronounced “schwa”) he recognizes that along with the boy’s unusually short stature is a strength that is both physical and mental. Read the excerpt below to understand why Alex hears the Jerry Butler hit from 1968 in his head as he hits tennis balls with Xuha.

“Your real parents?” he asked hesitantly.

“Never knew my dad,” Xuha shook his head. “But I’m told he was not only there when I was born, but he delivered me.” To Alex’s surprised look he added, “I was an emergency birth in a car. Not my style to come into this world in a normal fashion, huh?” Alex could see the raw emotion behind the bravado.

“You knew your mother?” he asked gently.

“Oh yes. She came to the United States because my grandfather was here for cancer treatments. They were from Mexico City. Nice established family. Had some money, at least before my grandfather got ill. The treatments didn’t help and my grandfather died here in Houston hours after I was born. I’m told I was rushed to his deathbed. His first, his only, grandchild. He cried when he saw me and then he died.” Xuha laughed. “How’s that for a start in life?”

“You knew your grandmother then?”

“She raised me until I was almost six. Sort of.”

“Sort of?” Alex asked. He hoped he wasn’t treading too far into personal ground.

“Well, she never was very strong after my grandfather died. Sad. Sick a lot. Always crying. Lot of crying in my history, huh? But she wouldn’t go back to Mexico right away because they buried my grandfather here and she wanted to spend time by his grave. I’m told that my mother agreed to stay with her until she was done grieving, and my grandmother kept promising that she’d be ready to go in just a month or two more but she never was.”

“Your dad didn’t stay too?”

“He couldn’t. He had to get back to work. My grandmother told me that he got angry with my mother when she didn’t come home after a while and my parents fought on the phone and then my mom got hit by a car.”

“No.”

“Yes. Buella said I was three, three and a half. I don’t remember my mother. But after she died all my grandmother did was cry every day and night and I do remember all those tears. She blamed herself for everything. I used to heat canned things up for dinner and try to get her to eat. I guess I was almost six when she died. Just died in her bed.”

Alex looked at Xuha and watched the boy make a clown’s sad face that mocked his own sorrow. “Then I was the one who cried. I thought it was my fault that she died, you see. That if I’d known how to cook she’d have eaten and gotten strong and gotten out of bed and then fed us both.” He added a comic eye roll. “A child’s logic, huh? If I could have cooked better I’d have had someone to feed me.” Alex didn’t laugh.

“Your foster mother found you then?”

calm“Yeah. She was a neighbor, and according to her she was kind of keeping an eye on me already. Newly married, really pregnant with her first child. When Buella died she and her husband took me in and fed me and never fought once about my being there. They raised and treated me like their own, as best they could. Most of what I know about my real parents comes from things my grandmother said, but she told Maria, my foster mom, the same stories. So I believe them.”

“Wow Xuha.” Alex wasn’t sure what else to say when an odd question occurred to him. “So you were born in the U.S.? You’re a citizen?”

“I think so. I have a birth certificate. From the hospital in Houston where my grandfather died.”

“Where does it say you were born?”

“In route to hospital.”

”Well that should count,” Alex mused.

“Why do you ask?” Xuha seemed a little defensive now.

“Oh, it’s nothing. I guess because I am helping out some friends of my son. There are some complicated nationality and immigration issues involved and he knows that I’ve dealt with some of this before. So it was on my mind. It just seems that you’ve had enough trouble in your young life, and for some reason the animosity towards undocumented immigrants has grown exponentially in our region over the last couple of years. It’s pretty sad. I’m just glad to know that you’re okay in that regard.”

Xuha didn’t say anything for several seconds. Alex took the cue and sipped his own tea in silence.

“I don’t think that Maria and Diego have the same luxury,” Xuha said finally.

“No, I was guessing that they didn’t. Let’s keep that between us. Your foster parents sound like wonderful people working very hard to raise a family and do what’s right. I’d hate to see any trouble come their way.”

As Alex and Xuha made their way back onto the court to finish their workout, Alex couldn’t help but notice the song that was playing in his head. Without thinking about it, he was hitting tennis balls to the rhythm of the Motown hit “Only the Strong Survive”.

Check out this video. It will have you swaying in your chair, humming along and feeling just a little stronger yourself. If interested, you can purchase the song at Amazon.com.

And remember …..

fast

With the second song of each book, I pick up on the intensity of the theme a little more. Click on to read about x0’s “We are the World“, y1’s “Party Like it’s 1999“, c3’s “Heads Carolina” and d4’s “I Follow Rivers“.