Sitting in the garden on the fourth day of May on a stone bench I once made.
Under the shade of cherry trees, the last pink blossoms flutter down around me,
floating in the bird bath after last night’s rain.
Balmy air is saturated with perfume from bleeding hearts, violets, forget-me-nots, and a thousand other luscious smells, a profusion of life gone wild with the joy of warmth and sun and water;
the ecstasy of the blooming, burgeoning earth excites and calms me simultaneously.
At rest beneath luminous sky and shadows, I hear so many different bird voices: twittering, tweeting, chirping, cheeping; warbling, cawing, cooing and peeping.
The air is thick with music and the contemplative tinkling of wind chimes tickled by the velvet breeze.
It sets my mind into blissful ease, floating around my body to creep into air and soil and the wetness of life set free; a soft explosion of shimmering sensation beyond the wrappings of time and memory.
Robin tiptoes across distant grass, butterflies flit and dodge and weave through golden air.
Everywhere I gaze there is an expectation of miracles and adventure
…and always, a hazy hint of rain.
We all went to a Poetry Jam in Perry, New York last night, hosted by our friend Jordan; College student, poet, and the son of our friends Rich and Lara. It’s such a neat thing to see a kid you’ve known since he was about six grow into a creative, thoughtful, confident young man at the threshold of a life of boundless possibilities!
The venue was small, but for poetry reading, intimate is nice. Several people read their creations; some who had published poems and others who had not. And a couple of young guys and a woman played guitar and sang. It was very enjoyable.
At the last minute I thought about bringing some of my own poems to read (after all – it was an open reading kind of thing). I have one book with stuff going back about forty years; but of course, I couldn’t find it! Other poetry is scattered around in various notebooks and on the computer. But since the family was now in the car waiting for me to go, I left empty-handed.
On the drive to Perry, however, I wrote down some words. But when we got there, I didn’t think it was poem-worthy enough yet to read out loud. I kind of wish I had, now.
Poetry is a funny thing. It’s very interesting to hear other people read their work. For my own writing, the only important thing is that I like it. Some of my poems I definitely like more than others. It’s nice when a poem can express something beyond the words. So here is what I wrote last night:
Squinting sun shines down ancient avenues of glowing grass; down a corridor of newly clothed trees, shedding Spring light on memories of camp-outs, Lord of the Rings and youthful adventures.
Sweet April is fading into sunset across new-plowed fields; a glinting tractor; cows ambling home over rich dark earth.
Apple blossoms never grow old, their creamy white fists bursting into leaf.
I consume the evening air like a succulent dessert; even the far-off scent of manure brings delicious reminiscence.
Cool pine shadows point their fingers toward the night; sky leaps over shining mirrors of open water.
A goose regards me with mellow recognition and says “What a wonderful moment in which to be alive!”
Onward, moving onward; rolling hills meld into evening, clothed in forests growing verdant with possibility.
I welcome the Spring night; the chilly stars or maybe a gentle rain; and the blooming flowers that morning will bring.
Changing; everything always changing; moving onward through our lives, across the seasons of experience. Onward until it finally flows me away.
I hear the voices of my children shrieking with delight in the distance; in the bright playground of Springtime.
What a wonderful moment in which to be alive!
Last week I started watching The Wonder Years on Netflix. I haven’t seen this show in about twenty years, when it first aired on television. I remember really liking it. After all, Kevin Arnold, the main character, was the same age when the show begins in 1968 as I was then (12). And though his life was a bit different from mine, it resonated so much with my own childhood; or those ‘wonder years’ between the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood, that watching this series was like re-living that tumultuous period of time.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine what growing up now must be like! The world of the late sixties and early seventies was so different from today, yet there certainly are many similarities! War, pollution, social inequality, political corruption, corporate control of our lives; in a way not that much has changed except technology! Our world is an exaggerated version of that period. It’s like a lot of what we feared back then has just gotten worse. Maybe the ‘Revolution’ was just postponed for another generation. Another kind of social awakening may be dawning, and maybe this time we’ll get it right? God, I hope so!
But getting back to ‘The Wonder Years‘, it’s been fun watching it again. And my kids are watching it with me, and they are really enjoying the show! Even my six-year-old. They get to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement, the Viet Nam War, Watergate, the Apollo Program and the moon landings. But the themes of the series are also timeless, universal ones: the awkwardness of adolescence, the complexities of social interaction, sibling rivalry, young romance, and just trying to bridge that confusing chasm between childhood and maturity.
But I also realize once again what a wonderful childhood I had, despite the fact that both my parents died by the time I was 16. Those years in my life that ‘The Wonder Years’ depicts are the last years I had with my parents; and despite everything, I have so many beautiful memories to relive when I watch this TV show. With every episode I vividly reconnect with that gawky kid that I was when life was so simple and intense, and everything lay before me. Just like it is now with my own beautiful children.
I guess all we can do is try to make our kids ‘Wonder Years’ as wonderful and loving as mine were!
And finally, I’ll end with a brief poem I just scribbled down:
Half light, gray light
November morning warm despite
the drifting leaves and Winter’s coming
geese in flight and pale sun strumming
enchanted chords from deep below
arise from stillness, swell and grow.
That ageless child who stirs beneath
reaches up past joy or grief
an ancient youth; a bygone king
dreams within the heart of Spring
to fly beyond the misty avenues of time
and sing of Nature’s elemental rhyme
where birth and dying; bud and leaf
are contained within each moment brief;
the shining sword within the sheath.
My last post about the Sword and Sorcery yarns I read in the 70’s got me reminiscing quite a bit about the books and authors who have shaped my consciousness and my world view. Of course, I’m just talking about fiction now; non-fiction is a whole ‘nother story! (Religion, philosophy, history, mythology, etc.)
It’s interesting to look back (from my advanced age…eh, hmm) at the incredibly imaginative authors and stories I read in my teens and early twenties. I started out reading a lot of science fiction, simply because it was so much more interesting than mundane fiction, and because it stretched my imagination, my sense of wonder, so much more than any other form of fiction.
Yesterday I dug out a book of short stories called ‘Galactic Cluster’ by James Blish that I remember reading when I was 11 or 12 years old. What a trip it was to read a story I hadn’t read in about 43 years! That particular book came out in 1959! So even when I was in my late teens I was reading a lot of science fiction that was written in the fifties or sixties (‘The Foundation Trilogy’, ‘Dune’, ‘Childhoods End’, ‘Cities in Flight’; to name but a few). And most of those authors were scientists of one kind or another.
In those days science fiction and fantasy were fairly distinct genres. But today there’s not much difference between the two; they’re pretty much lumped together under the same umbrella. And it seems to be a natural progression. As Arthur C. Clarke is so often quoted as saying: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. As todays science fiction writers try to imagine technologies sufficiently more advanced than what we have now, future science becomes more ‘fantastical’ all the time. And one needs a very creative mind indeed to try and imagine what the human race will make of itself (if we can refrain from destroying ourselves and the environment that sustains us, that is) in even as little as a hundred years from now. I love how many of todays authors are quite adept at moving between genres (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, historical) and have helped blur the old-fashioned notions of genre altogether.
It’s interesting how storytelling originally started out as the fantastical, larger-than-life tales of Myth. Stories of supernatural beings, heroic adventure and the archetypal journey through the stages of physical and psychological development that all people share from birth to death; and perhaps what we hope for and fear beyond death. The stories our myths have carried through the millennia, though fiction, are also true as tutorials about navigating human life and consciousness; about trying to understand what it is to be ‘human’. And this is the same thing that good science fiction attempts to do in our own rapidly-changing age. That’s why I love science fiction and fantasy so much! They incorporate all other types of human knowledge (psychology, history, religion, sociology, biology) as well as the technological sciences, into posing possible answers to the BIG QUESTIONS of human existence: Where did we come from? Where are we going? What is the nature of consciousness; the Universe; Time and Space? Do we really have Free Will? Can we create a better future for ourselves or are we bound to committing the same mistakes over and over again? What is our place in the universe? And most importantly: what does it really mean to be Human?
To me, this is the most amazing thing about science fiction/fantasy literature, and why I believe it’s the most important form of fiction. Our modern Myths. The template for what is possible. And with our scientific knowledge growing at an almost exponential rate, these questions are more important than ever if Humanity is going to survive.
It makes me truly sad to think that many people from generations before my own were indoctrinated with the idea that ‘Science Fiction’ dealt only with rockets and bug-eyed monsters; lurid pulp magazine covers and shoddy B-movie matinees at the local cinema; ie: ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’.
But getting back to my original thoughts…
When I was younger I looked down at fantasy writing from my high horse of science fiction. But I grew to discover the value and purpose of fantasy, thanks to Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin and numerous others since. Sword and Sorcery was almost another distinct sub-genre; but after delving into the works of Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, I came to appreciate the value of a good, old-fashioned adventure yarn as well. I guess all types of fiction have their own special appeal. BIG IDEAS and visceral adventure all have their place in the grand experience of being human!
Since we’re talking Science Fiction, here are a few links of interest. In the Asimov interview, he pretty well predicts internet education as it exists right now! And the last link by Neil deGrasse Tyson is all science, not much fiction. I hope you enjoy them:
The new ‘Conan the Barbarian’ movie opened this weekend in theaters. I’ve read several reviews from widely divergent on-line sources, and the great majority of them say the film is pretty bad. I haven’t seen the movie myself, but from the previews I’d watched recently I already had a bad feeling about the new ‘Conan’. The reviews so far have confirmed my fear that this movie is another special effects gore-fest that’s big on visuals and severely lacking in character development, story and dialogue, as I’ve come to expect from ‘Hollywood’ films.
And you know, it really pisses me off!
When I read many months ago that a new Conan film was being made, and that it’s creators wanted to get back to the spirit of the original Conan stories of Robert E. Howard, I started to get excited! I rather enjoyed the original 1982 ‘Conan the Barbarian” film with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a little trippy, a little cheesy; but it had a good heart. It had humor as well as bad-ass sword fights. It had violence and gore (in the spirit of Howard’s stories) but not the totally over-the-top CGI buckets of blood that everything these days seems to employ (ie; Spartacus: Blood and Sand; The 300). It had one of my favorite movie soundtracks of all time by Basil Poledouris. And, I think Arnold did a decent job playing the stoic Cimmerian; speaking little and only when he had something to say. But still – the idea of a modern movie that could better capture the true spirit of Howard’s iconic character and the dark sorcery and wild diversity of the eldritch world of Hyperboria really got my hopes up for this new film. Only, it seems, to be dashed once more!
When I was in my late teens back in 1973-75, I loved Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. They were the pinnacle of swashbuckling, testosterone-stirring adventure! (And the genesis of the ‘Sword and Sorcery’ genre, I would later learn). I also loved the Conan comic book series by Marvel in the 1970s. But more than that, I loved the atmosphere of Howard’s stories. They took place in a vast and mysterious prehistory that was completely unknown; ripe with magic that seemed like ancient vestiges of a forgotten science. A kind of post-apocalyptic Dark Age reminiscent of Jack Vance’s ‘Dying Earth’ stories or Gene Wolfe’s ‘Book of the New Sun’ about a far future Barbaric Age where the glories of a superior technology were almost, but not quite, forgotten. So really, anything was possible! It was a world as wild and untamed as imagination; both strangely familiar and utterly mysterious.
“Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. . . . Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand . . . to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.” That kind of says it all.
For a few years before I discovered Robert E. Howard, I had been immersed in reading the great science fiction authors like Asimov, Arthur Clarke, James Blish, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Philip K. Dick, etc. The myriad possibilities of the future and life on other worlds; and how science, politics and religion might shape human destiny were what I grew up on. And most of these writers were scientists and wrote about what might be theoretically possible. So when I found this new genre of primal savagery, heroic exploits and sinister sorcery (not to mention scantily-clad babes) it appealed to another aspect of my adolescent psyche that had been previously unattended-to. And the stories of Conan’s adventures are just plain fun! As were other authors I soon discovered who inspired or were inspired by Howard; like L. Sprague De Camp, Lin Carter and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
It looks like it could be interesting, and hopefully more in the style of the books than the Conan movies have been so far. One can only hope!
But there’s one thing I must realize: A movie is never going to be as good as a book. And that’s just the way it is. A motion picture is a completely different animal than a book. And that’s OK.
But I really wish someday someone would use one of Robert E. Howard’s wonderful stories to base a Conan movie on. Or combine a couple of stories. Conan was a well-developed, interesting character who changed and evolved over many years and adventures to finally become a great king. Heck, there are a wealth of great Conan stories by the man who created him; why not attempt to base a film on that?!
Alright, my rant is coming to an end. For now. I just wanted to let whomever may read this know that Conan is much more than what you see in the movies. And Robert E. Howard was a writer of great talent who found a niche and launched a new literary genre. And tragically, he died way too soon, by his own hand. Below I’ve arranged a few links about Howard and his life. Check them out; I think he’s worth getting to know.