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Anthony N. White - writer

My Little Black Notebook

In 2005 I became obsessed with what Jack Kerouac called “New American Pops” or non-syllabled haiku. Just like haiku, the American version that Kerouac played with is just a tiny snapshot of words that can quickly evoke a powerful emotion.

I knew I wanted to be a novelist but the amount of work it was going to take seemed so overwhelming that I didn’t think it could even start. So this was my solution. If you can write a story in just a few words that evokes powerful emotion then it should be easier when you have seventy-five thousand to do it.

At the time I was living in Watertown, New York and taking classes at SUNY Empire. That summer I worked at a restaurant near the library so I would leave for work early and spend some time in the library researching different Japanese Haiku Poets. I figured in order to break the rules you have to know them so I went back to the originators of the art and studied as much as I possibly could.

There in the basement of the Watertown Library I came across my favorite haiku. It was instantly my favorite and without a doubt had an immediate impact on me. I read it over and over again, sitting on the floor in between rows of books. I had gotten used to writing down the ones I liked the most in this little black notebook I carried with me and this one was no different. I scribbled it down and for months went back and read it over and over again.

About a year later I moved to Rochester, New York and stashed all my old writing in a box. I thought that someday it would be fun to go through it, maybe take note of how far my writing has come, or rehash old ideas that never made it passed the scribble stage. Sometime later, after my third or fourth move in Rochester, I decided to look through that box. There were so many memories in it, but not the little black notebook filled with haiku. I was disappointed but I figured that I just didn’t look hard enough, that it was probably stuck in the binder of another notebook.

Years went by. I could remember parts of my favorite haiku and occasionally I would google lines related to it. I couldn’t remember the author, but just new when translated it had the word “lichened” in it. I knew it was something about rain, a grave, and sadness. That was all that would come back to me. Google didn’t have the answer and whenever given the opportunity to look through books of Japanese Haiku I would, but I never found it. That little black notebook contained the answer and it had somehow vanished.

Year later still, I thought of that poem. Only this time there was a death in the family and we would be going to the same cemetery that my grandmother is buried. I needed that haiku. I dug the box out of the basement and went through it very carefully, examining each book and paging through them all. I took other boxes apart and looked through them. Nothing. The book was missing. I stood there in amazement and disbelief. How did I have all of my term papers from college, labeled and stored in hanging folders, but missing a notebook I spent months writing haiku in? “What a wasted summer,” I thought to myself.

Yesterday, I found it. I’ve been thinking about this book for about twelve years and I wasn’t looking for it at all and I found it. It dropped out of a newspaper article I was saving. I must have jammed the New York Times over it and it got caught up in there somehow. What’s more interesting is that the section of the Times I was saving was an obituary that Paul Westerberg wrote for Alex Chilton. Not only do I love both of those song writers, the day Alex Chilton died was the same day I started my punk band in Rochester, Pat Buchanan’s Hearse, or PBH. I saved that article for so many dear reasons it’s actually comical to find that it had been housing that notebook all these years. Chilton died in 2010.

Today I’m going to carry that notebook around all day. I just want to hold it. I genuinely missed it. Maybe in a different post I’ll share some of the haiku that I had started writing because of my studies. But for now, here’s the one that haunted me for almost fifteen years:

Winter rain deepens                                                                           

Lichened letters

On the grave…

And my old sadness

-Roka

Anthony Norman White - Freelance Writer

The Insufferable Writer

I change my mind constantly. One second I’m writing the outline of a new novel, the next I’m querying about a completed one, the next I’m retying terminal tackle to chase after steelheads, and the next minute I find myself setting up a closet as a makeshift studio to record an album I haven’t even written yet.

I haven’t played much guitar the last two years. I had a failed attempt at writing a bunch of songs two years ago. I had a month or so where I really wanted my old band, Pat Buchanan’s Hearse, to get back together. But it just wasn’t going to be possible. I hadn’t written hardly anything since my son was born. So I sat down to write a new PBH song and what came out was Once Surround. I made a demo of it to show the band, hoping that they would like it so much that they’d want to take it up and at least give it a shot at recording for real. It never happened.

Here’s what I had started. (I put the video together quickly so no judgement on it.)

 

I’m not sure of most of the lyrics. I lost the sheet I wrote them on. But the chorus sticks in my mind “Convoluted and confounded I was once surrounded”. At the time I wasn’t sure why I felt this way, but it unmistakable. I felt trapped, held back, and like “a dog in a pound”. But what’s interesting about these lyrics is that they’re in the past. “I was once surrounded” as if I was no longer. The song has a hopeful underdog feeling to it and the lyrics corroborate. It took a few years to put it together but I suddenly recognize why. This song, out of the hundreds that I’ve written and forgotten, has become extremely meaningful to me.

Right before my son was born I took a corporate job that had me on the road. It was a good job with great benefits and a pension. I couldn’t have asked for anything better at the time. I mostly traveled in the north east from DC to New Hampshire. I was home every weekend but usually pretty beat and didn’t feel like doing much. My wife went to work on the weekends waiting tables in a restaurant. Our lives were separate. I barely knew her or my my own son.

I missed his first laugh, first steps, first words, and other firsts that’s really  hard to think about now. It was difficult but this was life. I was frustrated and wasn’t sure how to express that. I fought with my wife. I withdrew from friends. I argued with my parents. In general, I was unhappy. But I thought there was something more to it. I thought that I was just unhappy being a father and another cog in the wheel of capitalism. I wanted out.

I went to a therapist and told her what I was feeling. She asked me a dozen questions and listened intently to my answers. I was waiting for her to come back with the fact that she had no clue what was wrong with me, that I needed years of therapy, probably massive drugs, electroshock therapy, and most likely a complete lobotomy. Instead she giggled.

“You mean to tell me you’re stuck doing a job you don’t like, missing out on engaging family time, and not creating, writing, or playing music? No wonder you’re miserable!”

I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t written or created much during this time. She convinced me that I needed to. “You’re an artist at heart,” she said and I swear at that moment  something changed in me forever. I had never considered that before. I had never even thought about really. I just thought I was a little kid having a hard time becoming an adult, playing in rock bands and reading poetry and dumpy coffee houses. Turns out, in a way, I am. But it’s not that I haven’t grown up, that’s how I cope with the stresses of everyday life, including becoming an adult, a dad, and a working professional.

So I was determined to get the old band back together. I made some desperate phone calls. No one wanted to listen. I thought if I just wrote a classic PBH track they’d have to come back! We’re were a good little punk rock outfit. They’d need to try it back on. I never felt so liberated as to play some rock and sweat it all out and feel better and get drunk and laugh and yell and scream and…have fun.

So I wrote Once Surround after a conversation with my friend Mike Leon. I pieced it together with a few riffs I had floating around and then once the melody hit me I penned the lyrics in a few minutes. I never really stopped to think about what I was writing. It just fit the mood of the song and my spot in life. I recorded the demo a few days later and then it got stored on an external hard drive and that was that. Until a few days ago when I found it.

I was once surround.

 

What Lies Between Hope and Myth

There’s a myth that continues to swarm about how certain groups of people are entitled to their position in life. The rich are entitled to everything. The poor are entitled not to work. The left is entitled to feel entitled. The right is entitled because of money. The Millennials are entitled because they’re self-absorbed. The Boomers are entitled because they worked their ass off.

The myth is that one group or generation is actually entitled. Everyone says each group is but no group actually feels that way. Instead they feel that another group is more entitled than themselves and so the myth continues.

It’s sad really. That we all have something in common but don’t stop to realize it.

Life is good. We all can be OK. Whether you are rich or poor, democrat or republican, or whatever you are you probably need a hand. We all need a hand. Some people need it monetarily. Others just simply need a hug. Some might need a meal. One needs medical care, the other a light for their smoke.

This is a diverse and strange country. The people of the mountains of Montana don’t face the same daily obstacles as the people living in Stuyvesant. But as great as their lives might both be, they still might need something that the other can provide. It’s the way the universe works. No one thing is complete without another.

We as humans aren’t complete without plants and animals, to eat, to breathe, to love. Some need to eat more animals than love. Others eat no animals and only love. That’s okay. No one is right because you still need each other to balance out. The person who eats only animals is balanced by the person who only loves animals. Maybe those two get together and figure out world peace. First, get together.

It’s a myth to think that we’ll someday have a collective realization, stop hating each other, and actually help one another. World peace is a myth. Big Foot is probably more likely to be sighted than someone dropping their manufactured hate to take stock in humanity and just enjoy that we are all people. The myth is that me sitting here writing this might inspire someone, anyone, to do that.

Yet the hope meanders on. All that negativity and yet there is hope. Hope is not a myth. I have hope and I know others who also have hope. Hope can be heavy. Sometimes we drop it. Other times we carry it along when we probably shouldn’t. Hope can be carried along and we don’t even know it.

No one person or group is entitled to something more than another. We’re just people, that’s it that’s all. To see it in another way is taxing. To manufacture hate for someone else’s perceived entitlement is hard. It takes a lot of energy, energy that could be used to laugh. Energy that could be used to help someone who needs it.

Or maybe we’re just animals meant to compete for time, money, and space. Grueling over our daily tasks to make a bed in the grass and lie down, our bellies stuffed and our minds at rest. Maybe we’re meant to hate what seems entitled because our path must be harder than everyone else’s. Maybe we’re meant to hate what doesn’t look like us, what we see in the mirror, the ghostly imperfections and deep dark circles around our eyes, imagining all that entitlement that everyone else has, stewing in our growing manufactured hatred for everything that isn’t “us” and feeding the myth.

But still, there is hope.

Nothing Rhymes with Orange: A Poem

Nothing Rhymes with Orange

 

The Corn Hill streets are

Orange with leaves as

Orange sirens whizz by, the sound of

O R A N G E

Ringing in my ears, cigarette smoke rolls from the

Dark porch next door, an

Orange ember barking in October’s northern

Orange wind. Nothing rhymes with

Orange in the fall.

 

But it’s all around anyhow.

Watching Instead: A Poem

Watching Instead

Every day on my way to work I drive by the same house near the corner of Culver and Main

There’s always a woman there with her three kids, loading them onto the bus.

Sometimes she’s drinking coffee or smoking

But she always looks like the weight of the world has been placed on her shoulders

And her sole job in life is to figure out a way to get it off.

I look at her every time and now she’s become familiar and I expect her.

She’s a birthday card from a long distant aunt.

Recently I drove by, and she was out there, in the same way

Except she had been beaten very badly about her face.

Her kids were there, getting on the bus, and her face was there too, swollen in different colors.

I was instantly incensed and I went to work that day and discussed Employee Assistance Programs.

The director of the program showed a statistic about how many people have been helped

It was broken down by category or the reason they called

Financial Trouble – 13

Employee Relationship – 29

Student Loan – 7

Professional Advice – 5

I stared at all the categories and their numbers until I saw

Domestic Violence – 0

Everyone needs to do more than help women and men who suffer from domestic violence and

Everyone in the room agreed, and later, because of my advocacy, I got a raise.

Imagine that: I got a raise for someone else taking the brunt of their loved one’s fists.

I’ll drive by with my extra $25 a week and stare at the black, blue, red, yellow, and purple

Bruises of this city

And just keep driving

With my eyes focused just in front of the hood of my truck

Intent on helping but

Joining the rest of the crowd

And watching instead.