Saturday, July 30, 2016

VOCATION

At the age of 12, so my mother reminded me more than once, I announced my intention to be a writer; and while I have made other professional commitments alone the way--to pay the bills--I have never really wanted to do anything else. It seems I'm not alone. A number of the stories I have received for my collection of boyhood memories involve the discovery of a vocation, a passionate belief in who we are and what we are given to do with our lives. Here's one such story from my friend Patrick Nagatani, an artist who is widely acknowledged for his photographic work involving model sets, as he explains (with his permission) in this story of their origin:


AT MANZANAR
By Patrick Nagatani

It’s 1954. I’m nine years old and living with my younger brother, mom and dad in the back of radio station WHFC in Chicago. The radio station is located on Kedzie Blvd. in an industrial section on the south side with one of Chicago’s canals to one side and a few railroad tracks on the other. A huge grassy area behind the station extends to the top of a hill to a tall radio tower. The city industrial dump forms the rest of my “backyard” from the radio tower on.

There are no neighborhood families or kids to play with, only lots of industrial trucks and round the clock radio station employees working in the front. My brother and I go to a Polish Catholic School, St. Joseph and St. Anne, a few miles away. We are the only Asian kids in the school and I wear coke bottle glasses to try and correct my crossing eyes as a result of an early carriage accident. Some say my mind was affected as well, for the better. We are in our own little alone world. Within a year we would all move to California where both my parents came from. How did I end up in a Polish Polka radio station on the south side of Chicago?

At the beginning of World War II, my father’s family was removed from their farm in Central California and incarcerated to the Jerome, Arkansas Japanese American Concentration Camp. My mother’s family was removed from Los Angeles and incarcerated at the infamous Manzanar, California camp. As young twenty year olds they both adventurously left their families in 1944 and made their way to Chicago which was inland and part of a government early release program mainly sponsored by Quakers. My parents met on a blind date and got married. Dirt poor, my father had two jobs and worked with my mother as caretakers of the radio station, cleaning inside the station and maintaining the grounds and hilltop grass.

I was mostly isolated to make my own toys and live in a fantasy world. I started building airplane models out of junk and that Christmas I got a real model airplane kit and some glue. It was a Messerschmitt Bf-109. The German fighter aircraft flown in the Battle of Britain of World War II. I beautifully built my first of many model aircraft to come.

Whenever I could, early in the morning, I would “takeoff” from the back of the radio station and imagine me in the cockpit and fly up the grassy hill past the radio tower and into the city dumps where I had built several secret landing strips. I would land and wander about the dumps collecting things. This was my fantasy world.

Fast forward to 2016. I have made a career as an artist using photography in the “Directorial Mode.” I have made sets and often models to be photographed. I have created in my fantasy world’s the constructed narrative that support the subject issues I have been interested in.

I have spent the last six years working on a novel about fifteen international women pilots flying in a race from Tokyo to San Francisco. Oddly, the reconditioned aircraft are British Spitfires made into modern floatplanes by the Mitsubishi Corporation. The Spitfire’s history is that they basically won the Battle of Britain against the German Bf-109s. I built Spitfire models and photographed them for the chapters in my novel. My life in fantasy and magic keeps me going today in my battle with Stage 4 Metastatic


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A POEM

Here's a poem, today--with his permission--by Morrie Warshawski. A number of the boyhood memories I have received for my collection have to do with mothers. This is a particularly moving one. The reference to the "witness" who "never forgets" gives the poem an historical context, adding a poignant temporal perspective to the immediacy of the moment.


Sonia at 32

The lady never shakes free the ashes
of the dead. Dark clouds.
Dark cauliflower fists.
A birdbath full of urine. The fish

bladder that bubbles up and
bounces in the sink. I climb
the cherry tree for her this year,
Watch the large rats dart

into the basement below, and
carry 5-gallon jars of fresh
clover honey up rickety
back stairs. This lady is

the witness who never forgets.
She hangs wet wash on the
line in a stiff wind against
a background of dust. She yells

at the dog catcher and cuts
chicken to the bone. She cries
long distance about this and
that. About the little man

who is her son. The little
son who is her husband. Over
and over she sings the song
her dead brother hummed hiding

behind their house, and holds

each breath as if to say, “Don’t Shoot!”

---Morrie Warshawski

Friday, July 22, 2016

WELCOME!

Just a brief word, this morning, to welcome readers from The Buddha Diaries, which has been my blog since 2008. It morphed that year from my first blog, The Bush Diaries, a teasingly (but not nastily) disrespectful daily letter to then President George W. Bush which I started on November 5th, 2004, the day after the re-election of a man whose initial (s)election by the U.S. Supreme Court had already appalled me, and whose re-election, after the disaster of his first term, left me wondering about the sanity of this country. (We all know now about the path the Republican Party has followed ever since; from this old socialist's point of view, from bad to worse, to worst ever. Where can it go from here?)

Anyway, having fallen like Alice through the looking-glass into the blogosphere some four years before, I awoke one morning in 2008 with the realization that I was waking up every morning with Bush in bed with me and decided that I needed to change course. I'm glad that I did. The Buddha Diaries has been a good friend, and has had a good run. But now it's time to move on. My own interests have shifted, and I am spending much of my time, these days, on my "boyhood memories" project. As I have said elsewhere, I would have preferred to use "Boyhood Memories" as the title for this blog, but the domain was occupied by an elderly (and I believe now deceased) Greek gentleman who has not posted since 2008.

So thanks to the suggestion of one of my memory contributors, the Hawaii-based painter David Friedman, I have landed on BOYHOOD MOMENTS.  I'm planning to continue posting some of my own memories, but to include more and more stories--with permission--by those who have made contributions to my growing collection.

If you're new to this site, as well as to my idea, I welcome any contribution you might have. It's my belief that all of us men have such memories, and that they put us in touch not only with our childhood, but with who we have become as men today. I have heard back from a good number of men, thanking me for having provoked the old memories that somehow pop up on cue and reveal their importance to us. If this should happen to you, please take a few moments to write down your story--anything from a couple of paragraphs to a couple of pages--and shoot them off to me at the email address you'll find listed on my profile page.

More to come. I hope you'll stay with me as I continue to explore this rich vein of human experience.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

THE TIC

Okay, time to move on to listen to other voices. Here's a powerfully emotional memory, with permission, from Stuart Balcomb. It actually brings up a whole complex of emotions--the kind of complexity we experience in the real world. Enjoy...


THE TIC
by Stuart Balcomb

            When I was almost five, my sister Amy was born. I was very happy with my new baby sister, especially since when she came home from the hospital she "gave" me a new set of Lincoln Logs. Wow, was I impressed!
            But over time—it must have been about a year later—I gradually developed a tic, a slight nodding of the head accompanied by a silly grin. Up to Amy's arrival I had been the center of the family, the only child. Now, there was a "competitor" for my folks' attention, and naturally, she suddenly got the lion's share of it.
            By then I was in First Grade. I don't remember if I did "the tic" at school, but most likely not, or the kids would have said something.  I'm not quite sure I even knew that I was doing it. It was something that happened at home, in the family environment… where she was.
            One evening my mother took me to a PTA meeting at the school, while Dad stayed home with little Amy.  At school, the kids went to their respective classrooms, and the parents met with the teachers in the cafeteria.  At one point, I left the classroom, walked down the hallway, and peered into the crowded “big people’s” room. I spied my mother sitting at the far end of a table with other parents. She was talking to my teacher, motioning. Before my very eyes from way across the room, I saw my mother grinning and nodding her head. I realized she was mimicking the very tic that plagued me. I was crushed, horrified, betrayed. I ran back to the classroom and sat, red-faced and stone quiet, at my desk. And that's all I remember.
            I did not reveal to mom that I saw her that night. Like her, I was always one to internalize feelings of that sort, stuff them down. Many years later, when I was an adult, I finally did tell her. She was horrified that I had seen her copying my “tic” and it crushed her to think that she had humiliated me, which was clearly not her intent. My mother was always kind. I do know, as an adult, and maybe something in my pre-pubescent mind also knew, that she wasn't being cruel or making fun of me, but was simply informing my teacher of my problem so she could understand it.
            One day, without my really being aware of it, the problem suddenly went away. My parents later told me that they had consulted the family doctor, and he said, "Stuart's world has been intruded upon by your new baby. He isn't getting the attention he was used to, so I would advise being more physical with him. Hug him more. Let him know he is loved every bit as much as his new sister." And it worked. Who doesn’t need a few more hugs?
            What effect did this experience have on me? I've always been very sensitive to the feelings of others. I will go out of my way to not embarrass someone. I would never scold an employee in public—not even in private—but would deal with a problem in a constructive and, I hope, sensitive manner.
            I also think that because of that experience, I'm hesitant to rock the boat in relationships. In my first wife's family, if there was a problem, all hell would break loose, they'd fight like cats and dogs, settle the situation, then hug and make up. My parents? Our house was as silent as a tomb. No one talked about troublesome, emotional things.  An entire day might pass before I'd learn why my mother was scowling, and then I'd hear why I was in trouble. So, following what I knew, I kept silent about that night at the PTA meeting. I buried that one real deep. I've possibly buried many other “difficult emotional things" which may have fared better coming to the surface, brought into the light of day.
            It's never too late.  


Oh, and... here's Stuart's self-portrait!




Tuesday, July 19, 2016

THE BELT

Here's a second example of the kind of thing I'm talking about--this one my own, again, and a little less benign. Some of my own memories are more deeply traumatic than this one, but we'll get to those. Meantime, many of the stories I've received for my collection have to do with fathers. But please don't think I'm looking only for father stories. There's a whole range of boyhood experience to be explored, from larks and pranks to other misdeeds and punishments, to body issues and early sexual experiences. And so on. Please feel free to submit your story, whether for publication on this blog or for en eventual book. I'm looking for intensity, a sense of time and place, a particular emotion, a lasting imprint... Contact me through the link above, or via the email address that shows up in my profile. For now, here's...



BELT

It starts on the landing at the top of the stairs in the Rectory. I have done something bad, something terrible.

Have I pulled my sister’s hair again? Have been disobedient in some way?

No matter, my father is now in a terrible rage. He is wearing his black clerical cassock, and the skirts go flying as he chases behind me, down the long corridor that leads past the bathroom to the spare bedroom.

Once there, I stumble across the first of the two, twin beds, the ones with orange and yellow striped counterpanes.

My father towers over me, livid. He loosens the silver buckle of the narrow black belt that cinches his cassock at the waist and raises the strap high above his head. I cower away from him, terrified, crying…

I’m saved by my mother. “Harry!” she screams, running after us. “No!”

And suddenly all the anger drains out from my father’s face. Suddenly, it’s as if he realizes what he was about to do. I see his shame replace the anger.

For a long while, there’s silence. Then he tells me, gently, “You don’t have to be afraid of me. Not ever again. I promise I will never hit you in anger. Not ever again.”


And he never did. But I think I never entirely lost the fear.


Monday, July 18, 2016

MEMORIES...

I'm putting together a collection of boyhood memories. Your participation would be welcome. You'll find my email address in my profile. The idea is to describe a particular, intense moment from your boyhood years--the one that pops out with a kind of sparking clarity in memory, and speaks across the years to the man you are today. Just to get things started, here's one of my own memories...


THE FATHER

The father stands at the altar, arms raised at either side, his hands facing forward. We see the white length of his surplice from the back, the white rope that cinches it at the waist, the gold-braided green chasuble at his neck.

What we cannot see from here, but intuit, are the luminous effects of the burst of sunlight whose rays filter in through the tall stained glass windows at the east end of the church, illuminating the father’s whole person, his vestments and his face, now upturned toward God. No, what we see is merely the father’s figure, tall, and outlined in glorious luminescence. We hear the euphonious sound of his voice as it intones the familiar liturgy of the Holy Communion, rising high in the chancel.

The son stands behind the father, a little to one side. He is perhaps ten years old. He wears a cassock and a short surplice. He is the server. When the right moment comes, a gesture from the father will beckon him to the small side table, where the wafers await, where the glass flagons of water and wine await. He takes, first, the wafers and offers them to the father, who places them on the paten, between the folds of the pure white cloth. He takes the wine and the water and offers them, one by one, to the father, who pours the precise amount needed into the gleaming silver chalice.

The father will now respond in kind to the reverential bow with which the son has learned to follow this exchange, and returns to the altar to offer the sacrifice of wine and wafer, now to be transformed into the flesh and blood of Christ.

This is the father’s mystery, in which the son must learn to believe. In his heart, he must learn to believe it. It is a mystery, yes. Perhaps one day, when he is older, he will learn what it means.