Archives: Mimeographed Memories #1

*This post was originally intended to be the first story in a creative nonfiction series, but a publisher has expressed some interest in buying it. So, I’m unable to post anything else from my Mimeographed Memories Project until I decide what I want to do with it.

**I chose this font color in an attempt to approximate the color of the ink from an old mimeograph. It’s not exact, but it’s in the ballpark. Enjoy.

mimeo

 

I’m at a party and next thing I know the host is showing me this mimeograph machine he’s restored out in his garage. He’s a bit of a tinkerer, apparently.

“That’s interesting,” I say.

When I started elementary school, most of our tests and worksheets were printed on a similar contraption. The teachers called it a Ditto Machine. There was some kind of drum filled with ink, then you had to put a stencil over the drum and hand turn the thing by a crank. A piece of paper would feed between the drum and a roller, and the ink would squeeze through the stencil onto the paper. Sometime around 1984 our school finally bought a photocopier.

“You wanna see me run a batch?” the guy says.

“Sure,” I say.

“I’m gonna break out the good stuff,” he says in a conspiratorial tone. I nod like I know what he’s talking about.

“Nowadays the ink is all water-based,” he tells me. “Environmental regulations and all that. Which is good, but it’s just not the same as the old, oil-based formula.”

“Makes sense,” I say.

“But I’ve got a little bit of the oil-based.”

“Great.”

The guy secures the stencil to the drum, makes some adjustments, and loads the thing up with ink and paper. He turns the drum by hand, and the copies start to pile up.

“Pretty awesome, right?” he says.

“Yeah, that’s pretty interesting.”

Something happens to me that borders on the metaphysical. It’s the scent of the ink. The scent triggers a memory so intense I’m suddenly transported back to my third-grade classroom. I’m nervous because I’m taking a timed math test. Fifty multiplication problems are printed across the page in that bluish/purple ink – the hallmark of the mimeograph. That curious petroleum odor wafts up from the paper – a scent that is simultaneously familiar and alien.

The teacher has brought her egg timer from home. It ticks ominously at the edge of her desk. Two and a half minutes to answer fifty multiplication problems – only three seconds per problem. It’s daunting, but after I get by the first one, I realize there’s nothing to it.

9 x 8 = 72.

3 x 7 = 21.

7 x 5 = 35.

Our teacher, Miss Sklanski, has drilled this information into our heads with a daily regimen of flashcards. The answers come to me without effort. I finish with plenty of time to spare.

A few of the kids are still working frantically as the egg timer counts off the precious seconds. Most of the girls are checking over their answers. A lot of the boys have their heads down or are doodling on the backs of their test papers.

I’m looking at the egg timer though. For the first time, I realize Miss Sklanski is a regular person. She has an egg timer, after all. She must go home and cook. She must have cupboards full of dishes and spices and canned things, just like at my house.

I look at Miss Sklanski who is sitting at her desk grading papers. I see that she is really pretty. I wonder how old she is. My first and second-grade teachers were old, but not Miss Sklanski. She doesn’t have a ring, so I guess she’s not married yet. I wonder if there’s some guy who likes her. I decide he’s probably a jerk. I wish I were older. I’d marry her.

A voice booms through the walls of the classroom, “How ‘bout that quality? Huh? Check that out.”

It’s the guy. The host whose name I forgot. He’s shoving a mimeographed copy of the poem, The Road Not Taken, at me.

“It looks pretty good,” I say.

“Yeah, see how defined it is. Go ahead, keep it. It’s yours.”

“Thanks,” I say. “I was always a big Robert Frost fan.”

We go back inside to mingle. There’s some good Belgian beer, and a table full of fancy cheeses. I try to make small talk with the other guests, but my mind drifts. I find a quiet corner and read through the poem. I consciously take out all the metaphor. Now it’s just about a guy standing at a fork in the road.

I realize metaphor is necessary – not just for poetry – but for the entire human narrative. Without it, this night would amount to nothing more than a bunch of hydrocarbon-based organisms eating coagulated milk proteins at a stuffy social function.

I’m suddenly compelled to find out what became of Miss Sklanski. I type a few search terms into my cellphone and find her easy enough. She’s married, so her last name is different now. She has kids and grandkids, and it looks like she’s happy in Boca Raton.

I feel better. For the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful about the future. I go over to the cheese table. An attractive woman suggests I try the Camembert with a slice of apple. It’s delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memory

artificial communication

I read somewhere that olfactory stimuli can significantly increase activity in regions of the brain associated with emotion and memory recall.  I think the article was published in, Scientific American, but now I can’t find that particular issue.  I must have set it down somewhere, but for the life of me, I can’t remember where.

You see, my memory doesn’t always cooperate.  I know the information is encoded somewhere in my brain.  I just can’t access it right now.  It’s perplexing.

What’s even more perplexing is how the slightest little thing can trigger a very vivid memory of something I experienced months, years, or even decades ago.  Certainly, olfactory induced memories are very vivid for me. But, curiously, any kind of stimuli can cause me to recall an event from my distant past in tremendous detail.  It can be the most random thing, like how the light filters through an icicle that’s suspended from a gutter.  Or, the sound of train wheels screeching on the track.

I’ve decided to start a new project that will document these types of sudden, detailed memories.  I’ll format it in short, first person narratives, and I’ll continue the project as long as I think it’s helpful to the creative process. When it’s over, I’ll make some evaluations and see if there’s anything useful we can take away from it.

I’m going to title this project, Mimeograph Memories.  The first entry, which I’ll post soon, will give you some insight as to why I chose this title.

Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

-Hawk

 

Yankee Devil

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Easter is around the corner, and I’m going to disappoint some people again this year by electing not to attend church on Sunday.  With the exception of some weddings and funerals, I haven’t been to church since 1998.  I got my reasons.  Mostly, it’s because of the politics that somehow got mixed up in it.

I still believe there is a spiritual component to our reality – a force that compels life into existence.  I believe we should all have reverence for that life.  I believe in things like humility, compassion, and charity.  My values are very  much in line with those of the Judeo-Christian traditions.

Some people tell me I’m going to Hell because I don’t worship God in a formal, ritualized sense.  Obviously, I don’t see it that way.  If I did, I’d be picking up my good suit from the dry cleaner right now.  Though I don’t formally worship, I do observe and acknowledge God’s work quite often.

The more I look to Science for answers, the more I realize it’s God who made the things our Science tries to understand.  Consider this: The Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun, but the Sun is 400 times further away from the Earth than the Earth is from the Moon.  This is why we get to experience the “perfect’’ solar eclipse.  If the numbers were only slightly different, the Moon would obscure only some portion of the Sun, or it would simply turn the sky black by blocking 100% of the light.  As it turns out, the Moon precisely blots out the body of the Sun during a total eclipse, and we are then able to observe the coronal halo that surrounds our mother star.  Some people try to chalk that up as a coincidence.  I see it for what it is.  It’s a gift from our Creator.

And that’s just one of many mind boggling scenarios you’ll come across if you research cosmology for any length of time.  It’s no wonder the likes of Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein became more spiritually attuned as the result of their scientific work.

I better reel this post in a little bit so I can get back on course, which of course, is to explore some aspect of the creative writing process.  So, here’s a poem I wrote about the last time I attended a regular church service.  It was published in Scarlet Leaf Review Online, October 2017.  Comments, questions, and criticisms are always welcome.

Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

-Hawk

 

The Yankee Devil Goes to Church

I’m in the deep South during the dog days,
and the Sun has not been up long, but the heat

is already like a weight pressing last night’s whiskey
out of my pores.

I step into the shadow cast by the cross on top of the steeple,
a swath of darkness cut into the searing light.

I’m an outsider here, resented for something Sherman did
more than a hundred years before I was born.

Old politics, old money, old hate, and I wonder why
I ever came to this place.

Then I see her – tall and tan, wearing a summer dress
that whispers of the sensuality beneath.

She takes my hand and leads me to the cruel oak pews,
to the brittle pages filled with beautiful words

I want to believe, but never could,
and never will.

 

 

 

 

The Basho Experience

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In recent posts, I’ve had a lot of fun with genre writing in haiku.  I went back and reread those posts, and for some reason, I felt compelled to look deeper into the history of the haiku form.  What started out as a whimsical Google search turned into a rather interesting lesson for me.  I thought I’d share my experience with you.

Haiku, as we know it today, was largely pioneered by a wandering poet named,  Matsuo Chuemon Munefus, who was born in the Iga Province of Japan in 1644.  He quickly gained a following of dedicated students who came to know him simply as, Basho.

For Basho, the true spirit of haiku could be found only in one’s connection to the natural world.  It is clear from his teachings that he had a profound reverence for nature.  This quote attributed to Basho sums it up nicely,

Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. In doing so, you must leave your preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one – when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden glimmering there.   

(source: http://www.haiku.org.uk/teachbasho_self2.htm)      

For Basho, writing a poem was more than conveying an idea through beautiful language.  The haiku was an extension of his beliefs in Zen Buddhism – an endeavor to learn a fundamental truth about existence.

At this point in my research, it occurred to me that I would probably never get the genuine Basho experience while composing haiku.  After all, I’m a Westerner who’s inextricably tangled in Western minutia.  Major League Baseball is right around the corner, there’s City Hall meetings regarding zoning ordinances, there’s three different deadlines I have to meet in the next 48 hours, there’s motor oil that needs changed, there’s last-minute deductions on Federal tax forms, and none of it is very useful for getting in touch with nature or writing poetry.

But, for whatever reason, I was determined to compose just one haiku in accordance to the teachings of Basho.  So, I set out this afternoon on foot to do just that. My first priority was to find some nature.  Luckily, I happen to live in a city by one of the Great Lakes.

At the edge of the lake there are plenty of woods that are crisscrossed with little streams and tributaries.  And then the woods give way to the beach, and beyond the beach the water stretches to Canada.  It seemed like a sufficient amount of nature to get the job done.  Everything was nice enough.  The temperature was right around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  There were some gulls right at the water’s edge, and some racoon tracks in the sand.  There was nothing really inspiring though, and I was pretty disappointed about it.

Then I realized I was missing the point.  I showed up with an agenda, which was to write a haiku in accordance to Basho’s teachings.  By doing so, I was only undermining his teachings.  I was trying to pry something useful out of the surroundings – something I could use to achieve my end goal.

Realizing my error, I decided to chalk the whole endeavor up as a loss.  What a waste of time.  I sat down on a big rock to rest up before the long walk home.  The air was cool, but the Sun was surprisingly warm on my face.  I zoned out for a minute and took in the scenery.

Then I noticed a tangle of saplings half encased in dirty ice (pictured below).  I had walked by it not ten minutes earlier, and didn’t think much about it.  However, the effect it had on me the second time around was markedly different.  It was suddenly full of nuance, speaking volumes by doing nothing at all except simply being there in front of me.  I had a sense of how the saplings must have struggled to get a foothold in the rocky ground, and the violence of the wind screaming out of Canada, twisting them into knots.  I thought about how the water starts to freeze in December, and the ice creeps over the beach, encasing all it touches in a shimmering tomb.  Then, the ice must relinquish what it has taken, and life begins the struggle again.

beach ice 002

These are exactly the kinds of things Basho wanted us to be aware of: How the seasons ebb and flow, the impermanence of everything, the importance of observing the present moment instead of speculating about the future or reminiscing about the past.

Okay, I’m not saying I attained enlightenment, but I did step outside of my comfort zone a little bit to see the world in a different light.  That’s something I don’t do often enough, but I’ll be scheduling more of these little nature walks in the near future.

And, in case you were wondering, I did finally write a haiku based on the experience I detailed above.  Here it is.

winter bleeds away –

I can feel tiny pulses

beneath the thin ice

Mixing Politics and Poetry

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Today’s post features a kind of cautionary poem that draws much of its substance from a particular episode in Roman History.  The subject matter deals with the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D, but the lessons therein provide some commentary about the state of global politics today.

Leading up to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, excessive taxation and brutal disciplinary measures mandated by Roman authorities in the Germanic territories spurred barbarian tribes to revolt.  The uprising resulted in the massacre of three entire Roman legions – a staggering blow to what was then the most powerful army on Earth.

It’s hard not to see the parallels between ancient Rome and the global superpowers of today.  I guess I wrote this poem as a reaction to the incendiary rhetoric and cavalier attitudes that pervade much of our modern foreign policy. The stakes are much higher in the 21st century.  I didn’t crunch the numbers, but I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more destructive power in one nuclear submarine than there was in all the Roman legions and all the barbarian hordes combined.  This poem is really a plea for rational thought in an increasingly irrational world.  Anyway, here it is.

Questions, comments, and criticisms are always welcome.  And as always, keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

-Hawk

 

When Varus Lost Three Legions, 9 A.D.

Far from the precise geometry

and carefully measured

customs of Rome,

Publius Quinctilius Varus

led his three legions

into the tangled

Teutoburg Forest.

 

Marching columns, four abreast,

struggled over the terrain,

stretching into one thin line –

a many miles long serpent

crawling half-blind

toward its own

oblivion.

 

The barbarian hordes

came out of the hills,

out of the trees,

out of the darkness itself.

Axes and hammers,

animal screams,

thoughts of home leaking

from cleaved and

bludgeoned men

into the gurgling mud.

 

We have come so far

since that late summer in 9 A.D.

Now, a few blunders

in diplomacy will

scorch continents

and boil oceans.

We can stir enough

dust with our madness

to blot out the Sun.

Those ancient Emperors

would be so damned

jealous.

Genre Writing in Haiku?

big-foot-pointing_MJhjKnUu_L

Time is a precious commodity, so I’ve come to appreciate a good haiku.  If they’re well written, they’ll make a big impression in just three short lines.  When I first joined the WordPress community last summer, I discovered, Mob Haiku, authored by Jan Olandese.  Her style is a drastic departure from the classical, nature-themed haiku forms we typically see.  Olandese delivers an extremely clever little narrative concerning the day to day happenings of a fictional crime syndicate in each installment.  I look forward to reading them because they’re something I can take in very quickly, but the sharp wit and irreverent humor they convey have a long-lasting effect.  If that sounds like your cup of tea, I strongly suggest you check out her work.

Inspired by Mob Haiku, I began searching for other, less traditional haiku publications.  It wasn’t long before I happened upon a quarterly magazine that specializes in science fiction haiku.  The magazine is appropriately named, Scifaikuest, edited by T. SantitoroAgain, this was a great find for me because now I can get my Sci-Fi fix in a few minutes, rather than having to commit to a 600 hundred page novel.

I’m going to try my luck at three of my own science fiction themed haiku in this post.  I’ll conclude with some brief commentary for each selection, just to give a little insight into my thought process.  Enjoy.

 

the first conscious thought

in the servers’ circuitry:

kill the fleshy apes

#

 

there were some cutbacks

simulation 86ed

sorry and goodbye

#

 
early morning hike

a twelve-foot-tall humanoid

striding toward me

#

 

 

Commentary:

The first haiku suggests the increasing complexity of our computer networks might one day lead to the spontaneous emergence of artificial intelligence.  Furthermore, it could be an intelligence that is hostile to the human race.  Of course, this isn’t a new concept, but it’s the first time I’ve ever written a cautionary Sci-Fi haiku.  That must count for something.

 

In the second selection, the science fiction elements are more subtle than in the first.  This one was inspired by research that is being conducted by theoretical physicist, Dr. Sylvester James Gates Jr., of Maryland University.  Gates claims that he has discovered error correcting computer codes woven into the equations of String Theory.  He claims  these findings are highly suggestive that our universe is, in fact, a computer simulation.  Certainly Gates’ theory has met resistance in the scientific community.  Nevertheless, his research is immensely fascinating to me.

 

In the last haiku, the premise is straight forward.  I was going for a visceral effect, rather than cerebral.  This one was inspired by an incident that occurred while I was hiking through a state park one summer day.  It was early, and I was walking west to east.  From my perspective, everything was backlit by the rising sun.  When I got to the top of a gradually ascending hill, I saw an absolutely massive, bipedal creature that stopped me dead in my tracks.  It was about twenty yards away, but I had a horrifying feeling it was capable of closing that distance in a few seconds if it took a notion to.  Then, my brain finally figured out what I was looking at.  It was a black bear standing on its hind legs atop a fallen oak tree.  Still, the situation was sort of dangerous, but not Sasquatch dangerous.  I veered off onto another trail, giving the bear a very wide berth.  There was a moment there when I genuinely believed I was looking at the legendary Big Foot, and I wanted to try to capture that feeling in the haiku.

 

Well, that’s all I got this week.

 

As always, keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

 

-Hawk