Literature Degree

26 Apr

I bet he played a lot of Yab Yum in his day.

I bet he played a lot of Yab Yum in his day.

I guess if I look back on things it would make sense

that I am where I am.

Growing up my only ambition from 12-17 was to be a major league baseball player.

Had I known the amount of work that would be needed to accomplish this, perhaps I’d have turned out a better player than I was.

Too busy chasing skirts.

When I was 14 and made up my mind to make the all-star team, I spent my extra time hitting pennies with a baseball bat to sharpen my hand-eye coordination and playing catch with myself against my apartment building, with a tennis ball.

By the time I was 17, the pressures of living with a tyrant step mom and castrated Dad got to me.

And though I escaped my house by going to other friends’ homes and getting extra practice at school,

it still helped me very little in the classroom.

I slept too much, my study habits were terrible, and I couldn’t pass math. No Pass No Play had just come into effect.

So I spent most of my high school career on the ineligible list. I couldn’t even practice. So all those reps went to other players and eventually I got suspended and kicked off the team.

Books were my saving grace all throughout my life. Growing up, that was my escape.

It was the only time I felt in control.

I really got into it around the 4th grade. Living in Houston with my aunt and uncle, I knew no one and I’d had no real friends to hang with outdoors, all the good cartoons like Thundercats and Transformers, Robotech, and Silverhawks had gone off the air.

So I needed a new escape. I didn’t want to watch Family Matters and Full House with the rest of the family. So I threw myself in the literary world.

Now when I was 4 I taught myself to read. The first book was called Dangerous Fish. I learned abotu the ocean and sharks and poisonous, deadly stuff lurking beneath the depths, and perhaps that is why i have have such a crippling respect to this day for the unknown waters.

I wrote my first love poem as a third grader for my best friend Ricky. he was chasing a gal and I helped by writing “Marissa, Marissa.

It read as follows:

Your eyes sparkle in the night

everyone thinks you’re outta sight

your beautiful hair blows in the wind

I will protect you in the end.

You’re worth more than pearls to me

oh sweet Marissa will you go with me.

I think this is where Steve Martin got the idea for Roxanne, cuz it pretty much paralled Bobby Mickey’s eight year old world (can’t believe I still remember that poem).

So from fourth grade to sixth grade I did scouts, I shared a room with my cousin, and I started my love affair with baseball.

Yet at the same time I felt displaced, like I had no voice, and I was 240 miles away from my parents.

So I read books, Wrinkle in Time, Chronicles of Narnia, Tolkien (the Hobbit is still an inspiration), Harriet the Spy, Anastasia Krupnik…..my nose was always buried in a book (of course it be buried somewhere else in my late 20’s but how was I to know this then).

I read in class, I read at recess, I read at home.

Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe all through middle school. Then I discovered Ray Bradbury who I’d rediscover in my early 20’s.

The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine are two of the finest pieces of literature ever written in the 20th century.

Stephen King for all the glandular titilation he’s put out in the last 20 years wrote some really good stuff in the 70’s.

His novellas are pretty solid. The Body, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption are far superior to the movies they inspired.

Salem’s Lot, Christine, Eyes of the Dragon, The Talisman, The Dead Zone, It are classics, even Insomnia has a place in my heart, even though I probably wouldn’t dig it as much today.

The dark stuff was what I read during these young times, when I wasn’t lying to kids who invited me over to their houses, telling them I was grounded so I could stay indoors and watch baseball, and throw my pen up in the air for hours at a time, fantasizing about space ships, ficticious baseball and football games, and legendary battles.

(Which makes me wonder if just a little bit of me wasn’t suffering from an undiagnosed form of autism, my difficulty in sharing with others, my first sentence being “Leave me alone,” my ability to memorize football, basketball, and baseball stats, as well as comic book characters,random actors and musicians, bands, and albums.

I even spent hours organizing my baseball cards alphabetically by team………..hmmmmmmmmmmm am I a chocolate version of Rain Man???)

Once I realized baseball wasn’t going to materialize for me as a player, I decided to be a sports journalist, I wanted to be an announcer, have my own radio show, and eventually by my freshman year of college, perhaps my own columns.

Then somehow drugs, and alcohol found their way into my life and I stopped reading as much fiction and delved into non fiction, reading books on religion and philosphy and sometimes Ayn Rand.

I realized I wanted, needed to be a teacher, professor and also a writer.

I got into Vonnegut, and James Baldwin, and other stuff recommended to me. Kerouac aroused things in me that I never knew were there.

I knew then I was meant to travel and write, but I knew if I was to be a good writer I needed to read more and broaden my perspective, so instead of going the creative writing route,

I took the literature degree.

And I spent way my time reading more crap than stuff I was interested in, and having pretensious literary discussions in the classroom.

Yet I was exposed to some good stuff I wouldn’t have found on my own without those literary anthologies.

Writers such as Carver, Richard Ford, Tobiass Wolff, Tim O’Brien, Chekhov (The Lady with the Little dog–one of my favorite short stories) and Philip Roth with Portnoy’s Complaint, Operation Shylock and Goodbye Columbus (which got me through my first major break up).

Vonnegut is still one of my all time favorite writers, I’ve read more books by him than any other writer except Stephen King. Reading his stuff is like sitting on a porch with some older cat and just having a really nice conversation on a spring or fall evening.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things they Carried is one of the most intense pieces

of literature I’ve ever read in my life.

and Charles Bukowski………..

I was introduced to Bukowski through U2. They’d used a title of one of his famous book of poems (the Days Run away like Horses on a Hill) on a lyric in their album Zooropa (Dirty Day)

but it wasn’t until I was in Toronto kicking it with this gal Abigail that I was first exposed to him. He was misogynistic, vulgar, and most of all honest.

I felt like I was reading stuff I’d been thinking my whole life, stuff I’d wanted to write my whole life, I was sickened and amazed at the same time. His novels were great and parallel my life in certain ways, the feeling of alienation and despair despite my great ambitions, these were feelings I knew too well.

Then the poetry……wow….changed the game for me……stopped all the flowery, pretense and forced em to get to the core……(as Mingus said, stop playing notes and get within yourself)

and so I did and the rest is history………..

nowadays I’m reading more Gary Snyder aka (Japhy Ryder from Dharma Bums) who I plan to meet this fall when I go to Davis, California to visit.

He’s been more of an inspiration as far as traveling, loving, living, and writing. You see his pics and he’s still a striking man…very thoughtful….

 

but recently I’ve rediscovered Carver, and I’d read his short stories many years ago, Cathedral was my introduction) and I liked them. The simplicity of it. The space in between the words. I found him more likable than Hemingway. 

There was an unspoken pain coming through his words. Blue collar people with real life situations, I loved the way he used the Iceberg technique.

I had yet to discover his prowess as a poet. WOW!!!!!

Whereas his stuff in short stories is sparse. His poetry is so rich and full, and so much imagery. He’s even better as a poet. Beautifully hear wrenching stuff……….

and that’s where I am today…….as i work on the next book, titled “Instant Exchange of Recognition Upon First Glance”

halfway through with the writing, then the editing, then the other stuff…….once you’ve written a book, the way you look at one changes completely.

From the way you look at covers, to dedication pages, prefaces, and boook jacket photos……….hard row to hoe……..

but in some ways I’m still what I wanted to be.

I’ll continue to play baseball my whole life in some way (whether through men’s leagues or even coaching– although I’m done with major leaguer  baseball)

Blogs were unheard of in 1993, but this in my opinion beats a column in the Dallas Times Herald.

I still plan to teach and working with kids has enhanced that passion.

I still write love poems,  I still travel, and I still bury my nose in things other than books.

Yes. You could say live a pretty good life.

I even have friends now.

How about that?

All that along with a Literature degree?

 

And in a way I’m still that bubble gum chewing, bike riding, comic book collecting, cartoon watching, 12 year old.

Just ask my girlfriend.

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One Response to “Literature Degree”

  1. pearl June 4, 2009 at 5:06 am #

    i love that you are who you are!

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