Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Day Between Bad Days

Today is Sunday, June 29. Diane is baking and I am writing and the world seems pretty much okay right at the moment. The Sun has just risen over Flathead Lake -- barely -- and the portents are good. Xander spent the night with us Friday, which was a win win win for the family: we got time with him, Mom and Dad got a few hours without having to both attend to CharleeRose and entertain Xander, and Xander got to run around as six year old boys need to do. They are like puppies: you need to run them a bit so they can relax. Plus, he brought the Lego Movie with him for us to watch. We had not seen it, so it was a real treat, expecially since the film was both clever and brilliant. But all this is mere foreplay. What I want to write about is the significance of this day in history. There are many highlights, but for the most part June 29 turns out to have been a quieter day than those around it. In 1888 the first known recording of a piece of classical music was made, of Handel's "Israel in Egypt" on wax cylinder. In 1942 Dmitri Shostakovich's monumental "Leningrad Symphony" received its premiere. In 1963, the Beatles' first song to hit the radio waves was"From Me to You>" One year later, the first draft of the pilot episode for a proposed new program on TV was released: "The Cage," for something called STAR TREK. On that same day, the Civil Rights Act was passed in Washington. There are many more highlights, also mostly positive, for June 29. However, yesterday and tomorrow are different matters. June 28 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the murder that launched the bloodiest century in human history, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his beloved wife Sophie. 187 million human beings would be killed during all the wars and armed conflicts that followed this tragic death. And tomorrow, June 30, marks the 89th anniversary of Adolph Hitler's "Night of the Long Knives," a 48 hour period that extended into July 1 and saw Hitler's forces murder or execute hundreds of political opponents and potential opponents, especially Ernst Roehm and the leadership of the SA, or Brown Shirts, the Nazi militia. Controlling that group was crucial to Hitler's standing with Germany's industrialists, who feared that Roehm was the one with the actual power. Finally, July 1 marks the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 -- during which the British launched a headlong attack directly at German entrenchments and lost nearly 20,000 lives in that brief 24 hours, eight of those killed being among the soldier poets I so treasure. As they say, every silver lining has a cloud.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Writer's Update: Mark your calendars!

Dear friends, family and followers, It is June 26 and I am looking my self-imposed deadline for publishing my next book straight in the face: June 28, the one hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. But I am not ready. There is still more editing and research to be done, plus some editorial decisions to be made. This book is of crucial importance to me, so I want to get it right. I want the reader's experience to be entertaining and provoking, and hopefully educational. I also would like to have the CreateSpace paperback edition available at the same time as the Kindle edition, which will take a little bit of coordinating. As I have said in the past, writing is fun and wonderful, but editing is hell. So I have re-set the publication date to July 28, to coincide with the one hundredth anniversary of Austria declaring war on Serbia and launching "the Guns of August" that went on and on and on through four Augusts into the following November. Anyway, that is my goal now, so bear with me. On the published NOW front, I am happy to report that Ancient Paths will publish my poem, "The Nowhere," on its Facebook page within the next few months; and Leaves of Ink will put two of my poems on their front page: "Eight Years Gone" on July 25 and "Purpose" on August 3. A third poem, "The Grass," will appear in their anthology, date uncertain, and I have been invited to submit more to it. I am busy editing, submitting and writing all the time now, and very happy. Our granddaughter CharleeRose is already a week old, and our grandson Chase is coming in about a month to a month and a half, while big boy Xander is growing like a weed and learning the joys of silly rhymes and silly men. So mark your calendars: July 25 visit Leaves of Ink and find "Eight Years Gone." July 28, my new book, "Charles Sorley's Ghost: Poems and Reflections on Memorial Year 2014" will be out on Kindle and hopefully CreateSpace and Amazon. August 3 visit Leaves of Ink to view "Purpose." I also have submitted poems six so far, and will add to the list, on Feel free to visit all these places and let others know -- the only way to help online presses survive is with our support, and struggling artists such as moi need all the support and all the publicity we can get.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

73 Years Ago Today

On this date, June 22, 1941, Adolph Hitler launched Plan Barbarosaa, his invasion of Russia. Whatever anyone thinks about Stalin and the Soviet Union, at the time they were allied with the Western nations, and Hitler's invasion began a bloodbath that would claim upwards of thirty million lives and ultimately lead to his defeat. A little remembered fact: Hitler had originally planed to launch the attack on May Day, to coincide with the major celebrations held in Moscow on May 5 and thus demoralize Stalin and the Russian people. But before he could launch, uprisings broke out in Greece and Yugoslavia against the Italians who were occupying them. Mussolini asked Hitler for help, so the Fuehrer sent 24 of the 28 Panzer tank divisions assembled along the Russian border to crush the rebellions. It took six weeks to refit the tanks and ready for launch, which meant the attack was delayed. Oddly enough, the Panzers rolled through Russia almost unchecked, and reached the outskirts of Moscow on October 16. Then the snow began to fall, an early winter, and Hitler's attack was stalled. After the Battle for Stalingrad, which began soon afterward, Hitler's forces bever gained another piece of foreign soil and began their long gradual retreat. With those extra six weeks, he probably would have taken Moscow, and then who knows? It is one of the biggest What Ifs of all. Most interestingly, the man who encouraged the uprisings was Winston Churchill, and the major leader in Yugoslavia was a Nationalist named Tito -- so this is how Marshal Tito and Winston Churchill saved the world.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Tony Gwynn Remembered

One of the greatest pure hitters in the game of baseball has passed away. Tony Gwynn died today at age 54, far too soon. The thing that made him so remarkable as a player was the fact that he hit so well in an era dominated by players going for the long ball. Tony won eight batting titles and finished with a career average of .338 with over 3,000 hits (3,141). He played for twenty years and played every one of his games for the San Diego Padres -- a rare feat to stay with one team for your whole career. His .338 career average is 20th all time and the highest of any player in my lifetime, since 1950. (Ted Williams hit .344 but began his career long before I was born). Gwynn's single season high of .394 in 1994 is the closest anyone has come to the magic .400 since Williams hit .406 in 1941. Besides this, my impression of Tony is that he was a true gentleman in the sport. Tony, you leave us far too soon, and we will miss you. Your achievements will live forever. My deepest sympathies to your family and friends, and thank you for everything.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Too Shy To Scream

I am watching Oprah's Super Soul Sunday with John Mackey of Whole Foods. He quotes Mark Twain, who said, "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you realize why." I am 64 years old, obscure and relatively unknown, narrowly read by others, and yet I know I was put on this earth to write. I have been thinking a great deal about what that means: to write. It is not to make money at my writing, which is fortunate. Mostly I wrote for myself, but also I write for you, to reach you somehow with a bit of humor, humanity, and even fear. I am here to scream at you. But I have always been too polite, too shy, too concerned with not upsetting anyone. Kingsley Amis said, "If you can't anoy people with what you write, I think there's little point in writing." Personally, I want to amuse as well as annoy, to warn as well as welcome, to entertain as well as educate. Thomas Hardy wrote, "The business of the poet and novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things, and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things." So be it a poem or a story or an essay, all I want to do is reach out to you and have you pull me into your arms like a long absent friend, then let the time between visits melt away. And when I am loud, forgive me my urgency, but when I am silent, please listen.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Bravery is a relative thing. Sometimes it is merely doing what is asked of you when you do not want to do it. On Monday our grandson Xander had to get his vaccines up to date for school. His parents made an appointment at our local clinic, and Diane and I took him so Dad could stay at work and Mom, who is nine months pregnant, could stay home and rest -- it was both an easy thing for us and a delight to spend the time with Xander. But the clinic only had one of the three shots he needed, so at about noon Xander got his first shot. He asked the PA if it would hurt, and she told him, "I won't lie to you -- it will hurt, but just a little." Bravely, he took the shot without flinching, though he did say "Ow, ow, ow." Then he got a cool band-aid. But the bad news was that we had to travel into Kalispell to the associated clinic for the other two shots. So we piled into the car and headed north for the half hour drive. From his car seat, Xander commented, "I don;t like shots." We answered that nobody does, but they are necessary to keep you from getting sick, and you need them to be allowed in school. I don't think that helped much. He pretended to fall asleep, I think in hopes that we would skip the second stop. But we didn't. By the time the second PA came in, this time with two needles and two even cooler band-aids, Xander had had an hour to think about the pain he would feel. We all know how thinking about something unpleasant is worse than the thing itself, which made me think Xander was even more brave as she gave him a shot first in the right arm and then in the left. Again, he didn't flinch. Again, he offered a chorus of "ows" but not one tear. And in the waiting room, while we waited for the paperwork proving he had his shots, Xander started playing with two other little kids, animatedly discussing how shots hurt, as if to give each other strength in numbers and in shared experience. And I was thinking: how wonderfully brave.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

June is Here; Bad History Channel: The World Wars

Well, June has arrived, three days in. I meant to write sooner; I always mean to write sooner and more often but that damned thing called life gets in the way. This time it was a complex combination of events and non-events that conspired against me. The last two weeks I have been sick with a very nasty cold that all but sapped my energy. At the same time my laptop decided to die on me -- and I had to wait for both the funds and the energy to fix the problem. Fortunately, all I needed was a new power charger chord, a smaller expense than I had anticipated, and here I am back on line! The laptop itself remains outdated and unsupported, but for now it will do the job and I am used to it. I'm on Windows XP, by the way, in an 8.1 world. But that's okay, since I'm kind of an anachronism anyway, or becoming one. The main problem is that I have not been working on my writing for over two weeks, with a few major projects that I wanted to get done before now. That's just the way it is. I feel that my body and the ether combined to tell me to take a small vacation. Vacation over. I am still working on what I consider to be the most important project of my career so far, a volume of poems and prose, complete with biographical sketches, that commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of World War One, which began officially on August 1, 1914, when Germany declared war on Russia before Russia could declare war on Austria -- and then the nations of Europe entered into the conflict like dominoes. As I said, this may be my best work, and yet I fear that no one ever will read it. Still, I will forge ahead. I am on the final polish and hope now to see it on Kindle by June 28, the date in 1914 that Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, which became the excuse for war. I also want this one to be available in print and plan a CreateSpace version ASAP. All the while, CharleeRose, our first granddaughter, is about to arrive and Chase, our California grandson, is due around August 1. Plus, the summer season is here in Lakeside, and there is more work to do. But, busy is good, very good. Speaking of the Great War, I want briefly to comment on the History Channel's six (well, 4.2) hour documentary mini-series, the World Wars. I watched them yesterday, sitting through their entirety despite continual disappointment. The program was told inside out, its material was incomplete and often inaccurate and misleading, making it a very poor excuse for history. Warning to anyone who thinks this program is a shortcut to understanding the thirty-one year period from 1914 through 1945: you will be totally and completely wrong. Time lines get jumbled in the back and forth telling with no assistance from the presenters, so that the sequence of events does not measure up. I offer just one example. The Galipoli campaign indeed was meant to take pressure off and give physical aid to the Russians. It took place in January 1915, and failed. The narration in the program immediately tells us that the Germans, in order to take advantage of their victory at Galipoli, brought Lenin into Russia so he would stage and win a revolution and take Russia out of the war altogether. This much is true: the Germans did bring Lenin to Russia, and Lenin did plot and plan a revolution. However, these events took place in 1917 -- a full two years after the Galipoli campaign and long after the Battles of the Somme and Verdun (which were not even mentioned). Besides, there was a democratic revolution in Russia in early 1917, but civil unrest over the continuing war effort led to Lenin and the Bolsheviks' successful revolution in October, 1917. At best, the program is a starting point for deeper looks into these crucial moments in human history. At its worst, it is an over-simplified and confusing presentation of selected events that trivializes and often ignores a vital, complicated and fascinating history. Careful examination of the facts as compared with the presentation will show that my example is just the tip of the iceberg. The most irritating thing for me is that the show will be seen as fact by many too many. But poetry is all but dead except among poets -- go figure.