Lost Influence No. 1: The Weirdos

        I can’t help it.  I like it when things get weird.  Based on some of my poetry, and a few of my influences, I suppose you already figured that out.  When other people ask: “Ah man, why did they have to go and get all weird on us?”  I say: “It’s about time that things got interesting.”  Growing up, I liked to watch weird television programming like reruns of The Twilight Zone and shows like The X-Files.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gravitated toward shows like Lost and now HBO’s True Detective.  I just like things (books/music/poetry/movies /television series) that are a little bit strange.  When it comes to my writing style, I haven’t completely crossed over into the weird realm.  No, I just like to dip from the weird kettle from time to time.  I’ve always believed that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  With that idea in mind, my writing seeks to fuse realism with a touch of weirdness, and a pinch of science fiction.  I’m not sure what you would call it exactly.  Personally, I call it A New Beginning…  One thing is certain, though, it ain’t (deleted expletive) dull.

        When it comes to weird fiction, my number one lost influence, there are many great authors to choose from, like H. P. Lovecraft, William Burroughs, and Robert W. Chambers to name a few.  My favorite, though, has always been the man who started it all: Ambrose Bierce.  I find Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” to be quite intriguing.  I also like Bierce’s satirical lexicon The Devil’s Dictionary.  Of course, the real mystery behind Bierce is his disappearance after he joined up with Pancho Villa in Mexico to observe the Mexican Revolution.  With his unexplained disappearance, Bierce cemented his place in the pantheon of weird literature, and on my list of lost influences.

        I’ve always thought that Ken Kesey was a weird dude too.  Technically, he falls into the Beat and postmodern genres, but he’ll always be a weirdo to me.  His book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is quite strange.  You’ve got to love books that inspire Jack Nicholson films, especially films that help him win shiny awards.  Having grown up in Oregon, and lived in Salem for a time, I understand what Kesey was writing about quite well.  I know many Randle Patrick McMurphys, and I suppose there is a little bit of McMurphy in me as well.  I suppose there is a little bit of him in all of us.  What makes good literature, well, good is seeing yourself, or a spark of humanity, in the characters.  Without that spark, there is only complete fantasy.  There’s nothing wrong with pure fantasy, however, it just isn’t my thing.  No, I like writing that reflects the real world.  The way I see it, the very future of our planet depends on us choosing not to believe in fantasy, but what is real.  Sure we need to escape from time to time, e.g., weird themes and science fiction, but we shouldn’t forget the bond that ties us all together: reality.  Kesey certainly didn’t.  Well, most of the time he didn’t anyway….

        Like I said before, though, I don’t completely live in the real world.  I’ve already given you two doses of realism with the Americans and the Russians (I suppose there are hints of romanticism and philosophical fiction in there too), and just now two weird writers.  Now it’s time for the pinch of science fiction.  For me, that would be Philip K. Dick.  Truth be told, he’s a little strange too.  I mean, he did write stories like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Man in the High Castle, and A Scanner Darkly.  Then there are the stories of his unique and peculiar life experiences.  Still, though, Dick is recognized as purely a writer of science fiction.  I could tell you more about Dick, but I suppose the time has finally come for me to quit talking for a while.  I do have a book to finish (polish up to be precise) and some poems that I’m working on publishing.  I’m going to shift focus into that direction, and take a break from blogging for now.

        With my lost influences now complete, and the foundation for my work now laid, it’s time to walk into the future.  What does the future hold? you may ask.  Truth be told, it has always been the same: two doses of the past, a touch of the present, and a pinch of the unknown.  Next time we meet, it will be calmly and coolly – somewhere, in the middle of the future.

Lost Influence No. 2: The Russians

        Strap yourself into your seat, as I’m about to give you the instructions for traveling back in time.  It’s quite easy, I’ve even done it myself many, many times.  The first step is to think of a specific time and place in the past.   Ok, I’ve got my place: Nineteenth Century Russia.  Now, how do I get there?  How do you get to the place that you just thought of?  That’s where step two comes into play.  For step two, you need to find out who the great writers were of the time and place in question.  For me they would be Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Ivan Turgenev.  You may have to do some research, but I’m sure you’ll find whom you are looking for.  If you want an authentic experience it’s best to go with a realist, or as close as you can find; otherwise you might lose your way and find yourself in an undiscovered country. (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that it’s just something other than time travel.)   Ok, now it’s time for step three: read, read, read.  Then read some more.  That’s all you have to do.  Who knew time travel could be so simple?  Who knew that time machines were all around us?

        If books, especially the realist variety with their attention to the details of everyday life, can in fact be viewed as time machines then what better guide would there be than Leo Tolstoy?  Tolstoy probably understood, and was able to relate, his time and place into writing better than just about any other writer.  For an aspiring writer that is very good news.  It means that you can both draw on Tolstoy for inspiration, and breath a sigh of relief.  That sigh of relief is due to the fact that you don’t have to understand and relate everything from your time and place into your writing.  Tolstoy has already done that, and there’s no topping him.  No, it’s just a matter of finding your niche.  A place for your piece to fit into the giant jigsaw puzzle of literature.   My niche, well, that’s a story for another day.  But I will tell you, like all puzzle pieces it has many curves and recesses.

        When it comes to traveling back in time, though, you’ll need more than just one guide.  It’s always good to understand multiple viewpoints on any one issue, or subject, lest you become an absolutist.  When it comes to the past, the more viewpoints you explore the easier it will be to find the truth in its favorite hiding place: the middle.  That being the case, my second guide on my journey into Nineteenth Century Russia is Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  Not only is Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment an interesting read, but it also showcases one of my favorite types of conflict: the internal struggle.  In the novel, Raskolnikov’s punishment for the crime that he committed is in many ways having to live with it.  Or, perhaps, not being able to tell someone that he got away with it.  Either way, Raskolnikov cracks in the end and turns himself in.  Along the way, of course, we get to experience life in the Petersburg slums of long, long ago.

        Capping of my journey into Nineteenth Century Russia is a trip through Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons.  As you may have noticed from my poetry, I find the relationship between fathers and sons to be intriguing.  I also find the relationship between one’s fatherland and individual members of society to be intriguing as well.  Of course, what I really learned from Fathers and Sons is this: we’re all different, but we’re all the same.  We have different beliefs, politics, ages, socioeconomic situations, etc…  Still, though, we’re all human.  We all share a common bond that ties us together if we let it.  We just need to see this commonality in each other, regardless of our differences, and before it is too late.  Otherwise, we may find ourselves lying on our deathbed sometime in the future realizing it is too late to change the past; and finally understanding that it is easy to see the faults of others, but quite challenging to see our own.

        There you have it (in more ways than one).  Now you know how to time travel, and you know three more of my lost influences.  Six chairs have been filled, and three sit empty.  Next month, I will reveal the last three influences.  After that, it will be time to calmly and coolly walk into the future.  Oh, I almost forgot one of the most important rules of time travel.  It is important that you “Come As You Are.”  Otherwise you might find yourself, well, right where you are.

Lost Influence No. 3: The Americans

   Do you like American literature?  I like American literature.  Don’t you like American literature baby?  Ok, I think you get the idea….  The Violent Femmes can have their song back now.  I suppose they’ll want to change the words back too.  I do like American literature, though.  That’s why the Americans have garnered a spot in my lost influences.  When it comes to American literature, three of my favorite authors are Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Edgar Allan Poe.  Given that my favorite metaphor for writing is entering the dark cave in my mind, I suppose it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that my lost influences involve two writers who included caves in their writing, and one who wrote about dark themes.  From a dark cave along the mighty Mississippi (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), to a cave tucked away in a Spanish pine forest (For Whom the Bell Tolls), to the dark themes of stories like the “Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” all three authors touched upon some of my favorite topics.

   I like Mark Twain.  He was witty, funny, and like me he didn’t like romanticism very much.  Twain was a realist.  He didn’t believe in noble causes, or looking at the past through romantic lenses.  Many of his most notable works convey this message.  After all, why were the Dark Ages dark, anyway?  I believe there is a Connecticut Yankee who can tell you about that.  In the end, though, I believe Twain was both correct and incorrect at the same time.  No, the past was not romantic.  Instead it was filthy, despicable, and full of ignorance.  Of course, so is the present, and most likely the future will be too.  That’s life, and what is more real than life?  Like most things, a little romanticism won’t hurt you; it’s when it’s overdone that it becomes a problem.  Then, I suppose you knew that….

   When it comes to Hemingway, I really, really like his vivid imagery and details.  His stories feel as though they were first person accounts.  Of course, given Hemingway’s fascinating life, his stories may have been just that.  Perhaps, in a way, he was Robert Jordan and Frederic Henry, and all the other protagonists he wrote about.  Still, though, his ability to describe a setting down to the very last detail is more than what you usually find in, well, most anything that you may happen to read.  The main lesson that can be taken away from Hemingway is write about what you know, and do it in precise detail.

   Then there is Poe.  There’s just something about exploring the dark side of life that is intriguing.  Poe certainly did that.  For whatever reason, I’ve never been able to get the evil “vulture-like” eye of the old man in “The Tell-Tale Heart” out of my mind.  Nor, the imaginary beating heart.  Poe doesn’t overdo his stories with gratuitous violence that in the end becomes a caricature of the things that we fear, as do many modern day horror writers.  No, Poe was much more sinister than that.  Instead, he explored the psychological aspect of darkness.  What is more fascinating, and terrifying, than that?

   So it is, that the first three chairs around the table that represents my lost influences have been filled.  Six chairs still sit empty.  Next month, I’ll fill three more chairs.  After that, well, we’ll see how it goes….  For now, I suppose we should leave it up to the Violent Femmes to take it away….

Literary Influence No 1: The Eye in the Pyramid

        What if?  That’s the question that Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson asked each other nearly 40 years ago.  It’s also the question that every writer asks themselves.  The place where every story begins.  My collection of poetry came into being, because one day I was bored and I asked myself: What if I wrote a poem?  That, of course, led me to then ask myself: What if I wrote a collection of poetry?  Soon after, I asked myself: What if the collection was linked by a theme and included a recurring enigma from Shea and Wilson’s book?  By asking those questions, and then putting them into action, this blog came into existence.

        As for Shea and Wilson, they were both editors for a prominent American magazine.  As part of their jobs they dealt with letters from the public on civil liberties, many of which involved paranoid rants about imagined conspiracies.  One day the pair of editors asked each other: What if all these nuts are right?  The answer to that question, of course, was there would be a great story in it.  By asking themselves that question, Shea and Wilson came up with the idea for their Illuminatus! Trilogy, the first book of which is The Eye in the Pyramid.

        As you can imagine from the back story, The Eye in the Pyramid is a very strange book.  I found it to be entertaining, but it’s definitely not for everyone.  I’ve even heard that a few people, forgetting that fiction is just make believe, have become paranoid conspiracy theorists themselves after reading the book.  As for me, I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist.  In a fictional sense, conspiracies are fun to read and write about.  In reality, though, most conspiracy theories lack those pesky things called evidence and facts.

        The main reason why I chose this book, is that I love the back story.  In the end, I suppose this blog has been all about asking the question: What if?  Of course it doesn’t hurt that the book delves into the 23 enigma, which if you haven’t guessed yet is the enigma that I reference previously.   I paid homage to the enigma by alluding to it 23 times throughout this blog (not including today).  Some references were obvious while others were quite obscure (standing in front of the 23 room Pittock Mansion in the photo for “My Children“).

        With my influences complete, my efforts now turn to finishing A New Beginning…  I have a good start, but there is more work ahead of me.  There are only 79 days until the end of the year.  I have a new project to begin in 2014, so I had better finish this one soon.  Before I take a break for awhile, I have one last post for next week.  I hope you’ll be back to read it.  For now, I thank everyone who has read my work.


Literary Influence No 2: The Rum Diary

        Given all of the hints that I have dropped, this one should come as no surprise.  Not reaching the top spot, though, may come as as surprise.  Of course, those recurring numbers have to count for something….

        Like my last post, the story of this selection began long ago.  Specifically, the story begins in a log cabin perched atop a rock cliff overlooking the farmlands of the high desert with Black Butte and the Cascade Mountains looming in the distance.  It was there, in that cabin, that my father helped me select the last class that would inevitably complete my schedule for my first semester of high school.  That class was Introduction to Journalism, and it lead me on a path that brought me to this very moment in time.

        Along the way I have learned much, and forgotten even more.  Even my forgotten memories, though, are not lost.  Like bubbles surfacing from an active geyser, they trickle into my consciousness from time to time clearing the way for an inevitable explosion of past memories.  My father is there, old friends and co-workers are there too, along with conversations long forgotten.  One such conversation that has surfaced once again came in the dark and cramped office of a college newspaper. Our managing editor, an old reporter from the daily newspaper in Bend, Oregon, had brought in one of his old co-workers to talk with the staff about the newspaper industry.  I don’t remember all of what he said, but one point stands out clearly in my mind.  One of my fellow staff members asked him about the best way to become a writer. He responded saying that anyone can learn to write.  The real trick, he said, was learning about the world.  I believe that it is through this understanding of the world that a writer finds his or her voice.  Without a voice, you might as well write ad copy, because money will be the only thing that you can hope to gain from your writing.  Don’t get me wrong, you can do a lot of things with money.  You just can’t find yourself in it.

        When it comes to writers with a voice, you would be hard-pressed to not to include Hunter S. Thompson on the list.  Love or hate him, Thompson definitely had a voice.  That voice landed his book, The Rum Diary, as number two on my literary influences list.  One of my favorite lines from The Rum Diary comes on page 51 of the novel: “I felt for the first time in my life that I might get a chance to affect the course of things instead of merely observing them.”  That line is followed closely by another of my favorites: “I began to see a new dimension in everything that happened.”  Definitely great lines.  I too hope to affect the course of things instead of merely observing them.  I suppose everyone does.  To truly influence the world, though, I imagine we should follow Paul Kemp’s words and look for the different dimensions in the things that happen around us.

        I for one, enjoyed Thompson’s voice.  As crazy and insane as it could be, it sought to explain the world in the best way Thompson knew how to explain it.  In the end, I suppose there is only one way to describe Thompson’s voice, and that is with a quote from the man himself: “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”  For now, I leave you with the scene from the film version of The Rum Diary below:

Literary Influence No. 4: The Prince

        One of the most notorious books of all time, The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli introduced the concept of the end justifying the means for the first time in writing.  As Machiavelli points out repeatedly in the text, though, the concept had been employed many times in the past (and in various ways is still employed to this day).  Most notably, perhaps, in the case of Cesare Borgia whose court Machiavelli spent time at during the fall of 1502 and winter of 1503.  In many ways, the methods and historic fall of Borgia are the central theme of The Prince.  Personally, I found The Prince to be one of the most intriguing historical texts that I have read.  Not because I secretly harbor a desire to employ cunning and duplicity to achieve my ultimate goals, but because I seek to understand those who do.

        Having read The Prince, though, I actually interpret it much differently than traditional historians.  To me, Machiavelli lays out and identifies the way in which princes (royalty) must behave to keep their empires.  Does he condone this behavior, though?  Well, that all depends on how you read and interpret the text.  I believe Machiavelli gives away his beliefs by dedicating the text to Lorenzo de’ Medici (clearly sarcastic), and the fact that in the beginning he explains that he will not discuss republics, but in fact does discuss republics in many places (slight of hand).

        When it comes to the dedication, why does Machiavelli dedicate it to Lorenzo de’ Medici?  The simple answer is that The Prince was a gift to Lorenzo.  The more complex answer is that Machiavelli desired nothing more than the reinstatement of the Florentine Republic with himself resuming a role in it.  That being his motivation, I believe that Machiavelli subtly argues for the republican form of government by pointing out the flaws of princely states, perhaps, hoping de’ Medici would see and understand this argument (of course, he didn’t and neither have many others).  It seems to me that Machiavelli gives this away in the end when he praises the characteristics of the people, in spite of historical references to the contrary.  Machiavelli does warn the people, though, with this line: “The mob is always impressed by appearances and results, and the mob is the world.”  Definitely a means for princes to gain power, and something we need to remain wary of today.  There are numerous other ways that Machiavelli subtly chastises princes, but for today the previous reasons are sufficient.  In a future work, I’ll explain more thoroughly.  For now, take my word that Machiavelli identified the characteristics of psychopathic princes so that the people being aware of their tricks might live in free republics in the future (Unfortunately, he also gave would be tyrants a game plan to build power; darn unintended consequences).

        Like Machiavelli, I don’t want to be ruled over by a pious prince who derives his power from appearances and results that are not in the best interest of the people.  My response to Machiavellianism, an unfair term that I believe should be called princeism instead, comes in the form of my poem: “The Lost Garden.”  Indeed so much has been lost over the years; the future, however, is still unknown.  For now, we make take solace in the fact that we will never be royals, and there is now a great song to go along with that line.

Literary Influence No. 5: The Old Ways

        I like books that teach me something, which is why I loved The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot by Robert Macfarlane.  This book taught me that walking can be so much more than just moving from one place to another.  The Old Ways helped me to understand the concept of walking as a means of thinking.  As it turns out, the idea isn’t new.  As Mcfarlane explains throughout the book, it’s an idea that has been with us for a very long time: we’ve only forgotten it.  Still, though, paths from the “Forgotten Realm” crisscross our landscapes, and our minds.

        While reading the book, it was hard not to picture myself hiking along old paths, or sailing along old water routes with Mcfarlane.  Exploring these places in my imagination via Macfarlane’s words, granted me a reprieve from the life of a modern commuter.  There’s definitely something freeing about traveling on foot that is hard to experience in planes, trains, and automobiles.

        When it comes to my writing, I always like to include an element of the past.  As I alluded to in my poem “The Journey Begins…”, without the past we have no map to guide us on our journey.  Indeed the past is an interesting place to explore.  That is, if you can reach it (without pesky perception getting in the way).  My current project doesn’t delve as deeply into the past as my next will.  For now, though, the recent past is all that matters.  There’s still plenty of time to explore the worlds of long, long ago….

Poetic Influence No. 2: “An Eternity”

        Archibald MacLeish’s poem “An Eternity” heavily influenced my obsession with time, and the idea that the present is all that we ever get.  I addressed this concept throughout my entire collection of poetry, and specifically in my poem “The Present.”  Like MacLeish, I see the past and future as realms only reachable through the present, or now.  Without this moment, there can be no past, or future.  That being the case, both past and future flow from the ever progressing present.  Like holograms projected from the present, the past and future both exist and do not exist at the same time.  Here is how MacLeish delves into the topic:

An Eternity

by Archibald MacLeish

There is no dusk to be,
There is no dawn that was,
Only there’s now, and now,
And the wind in the grass.

Days I remember of
Now in my heart, are now;
Days that I dream will bloom
White peach bough.

Dying shall never be
Now in the windy grass;
Now under shooken leaves
Death never was.

        One of the great aspects of poetry is that like art, it can be interpreted multiple ways.  I see this poem as dealing with time, and the present, and containing a seize the day element.  Others, though, may see a poem wrestling with faith and rational comprehension.  In the second scenario, MacLeish’s poem may relate more to my poem “The Journey Concludes…” than to “The Present.”  Just like beauty, though, interpretation is in the eye of the beholder….


Photo by Elizabeth McCullough