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’s 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 in 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.