Amazon Hall of Fame Review

Format: Kindle Edition
It is not often that we find in an actor or writer or performer memoir with that element of truth that must be difficult to write – that stardom somehow escaped them. Rick Lenz has been around the block in the cinematic field and has had contact and interplay with many very famous people – most of which he shares in his entertaining and enormously popular book NORTH OF HOLLYWOOD. His book is more than a gossip column: Rick Lenz looks back at his life from childhood on through years of acting, trying out of major roles and losing them, acting on the stage and screen and television, writing plays and producing because all that happened.

Rick reaches for another star in this new book THE ALEXANDRITE, leaving memoirs behind and concentrating instead on a subject that is gaining more interest in literature – time travel – and that interest may possible be due to the preponderance of films and games and television series that deal with science fiction, as though this world is too much with us and escape to another time or dimension may just be the manner in which to remain calmly sane.
So what makes this diversion into another Rick Lenz winner? Simple. It is his magnetic style of writing, prose that approaches poetry on nearly every page, a story that utilizes Rick’s Hollywood connection, and the fact that, as in NORTH OF HOLLY WOOD, the people he creates (or celebrates…) are so well sculpted that should we pass them on the street we would immediately recognize them. That is a talent in which Rick basks.

A sample of his skill opens this book in1996: `At some unidentified point during the first time I live through the following events, it becomes as clear as my muddled brain has ever experienced clarity that most of us do not see what we see or hear what we hear; in fact, we can’t tell what’s going on right in front of us. As a result, few of us understand that life runs in a circle, that it’s forever changing, but always, always in a circle. And the reason for this is, if it wasn’t in a circle, if life went out in a straight line, it would take us away from each other. And that wouldn’t work because we are all connected, made of the same stuff. Most of us, to one degree or another, are terrified of the end of the path we’re on, never understanding that our path is a circle, and that it won’t end– because it can’t. Curiously– or at least I think it’s curious– what I have just said is something I’ve yet to learn, yet I already know it. Go figure.’

The synopsis outlines the chief facts of the story: `A time-travel noir that slips between the shimmering worlds of modern and midcentury Los Angeles. How many lives does Jack have to blow before getting it right? And is sleeping with Marilyn Monroe worth getting murdered again? When Jack Cade is fired from a no-pay production of Hamlet, he has no inkling his next role will be opposite Marilyn Monroe — forty years back in time, in 1956. As a down-and-out aging actor, Jack’s luck and life change when he’s anonymously sent a pawn ticket for an alexandrite ring. After his wife leaves him, a mysterious woman asks him to meet her at an old mansion deep in the San Fernando Valley. With nothing to lose, Jack decides to go. Once he steps through her door, he enters a world of beguiling physics and plain old magic to travel through time. Through a dark, glitzy whirlwind of events, Jack meets Marilyn, gets killed more than once, and emerges with the jewel that changes his destiny. He discovers the answers to all his life-and-death questions within the constantly shifting colors of the alexandrite.’

So we now know that Rick Lenz can likely enter any realm of story telling and succeed. This one finely tuned machine of a novel. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp

The Selfishness of Kindness

 

The Selfishness of Kindness

(The first passage is from “North of Hollywood”)

Abigail (my daughter) telephones at one o’clock on a Saturday morning. She’s in a phone booth, weeping, gasping to get her words out. I can barely understand her. All I can make out is “Cahuenga exit.” I’m a half-decibel away from not being able to understand where she wants me to come get her. The line goes dead. I tell Linda what I think I heard her say, what I’m going to do, then get in the car and drive seven miles to the Cahuenga exit off the 101 Freeway, in Hollywood. I see no phone booth near the base of the off-ramp, so I keep on driving a couple of blocks.

I see a gas station/convenience store and pull in.

Abigail reels out and gets into the car. She’s still crying, but there’s something very odd beneath the tears.

“Where’s your car?” I ask her.

“In Venice.”

“How’d you get here?”

“I walked.” Venice is about twenty miles away. She’s wearing once-pink rubber sandals; the sandals and her feet are black with grime. I believe in some unlikely way that it may be true.

“I’ll take you home.”

“Okay.” She doesn’t look at me, just out the passenger-side window—down at the pavement disappearing behind us. “I’ve got to get out of this. I saw God.”

“Out of what?”

This! I saw God. I talked to him!”

“You saw him?”

Still not looking at me: “That’s right.”

“What’d he look like?”

“Jesus.”

When I ask her, she doesn’t tell me what He said, but I don’t think I’d have taken it very seriously, whatever it was. I don’t believe in visitations from God.

At home, I bring up the notion of rehab. She does a fifteen-minute rant on how she doesn’t want to “talk about all this shit anymore,” says it only works the opposite way it should with her.

After several stop-and-go conversations, I give up, go into my bedroom, close the door and start making calls to see if I can get her into her third rehabilitation center. There are people out there who care about her and want to help her.

A therapist who’s been working with her recently tells me about a place in Mississippi that has a very good record of resuscitating people from the near-death state Abigail is in and puts me in touch with a guy whose business it is to escort addicts to treatment centers. He’s a private contractor at that kind of work. He’ll be here tomorrow morning. I imagine tying my daughter up if necessary to keep her here until the escort guy arrives………..

After dinner, the counselor calls and Abigail says, “Is that her?”

I nod, she reaches for the phone, takes it from me and says, “Hi. I want to go to that place in Mississippi.”

I wonder if maybe God did show up and talk to her.

TEN YEARS LATER:

Today, Abigail is happily married, and the mother of Frances, (8). They live in Hattiesburg Mississippi. Abigail is an activist, an advocate for free creative expression. She’s Director of the Children’s Division of the Hattiesburg Arts Council and the lead coordinator of Smart Space, which is an outlet for kids who are made to “be still,” and “don’t wiggle,” at their tiny desks during the four or five daily hours in public school. (this is not the school’s fault or the teachers’—they’re just trying to keep their funding. The kids have to pass government sponsored tests.) Meanwhile, those kids spend ALL their time in school, filling in the correct boxes, staying 100% between the lines. In order to keep them from “wiggling,” half those kids are medicated, given class 2 drugs. KIDS!

In Smart Space, the kids are allowed to do art, express themselves, emote, jump, holler, dance, sing, get messy.

They’re allowed to wiggle.

The rest of what Abi does as an arts activist is equally positive, equally worthwhile. Maybe I’ll talk about it some other time.

I asked her why the rehab in Hattiesburg worked. She said, “They told me to ‘Fake it till you make it.’ and ‘Do the next right thing.’” Those are just words. She knows that. There are so many neat little aphorisms and proverbs that are great if you listen to them, meaningless if you don’t. Until that time, Abi had not been able to listen. It’s hard for most of us to really hear the important stuff,” it’s especially hard for a drug addict.

“Do the next right thing,” means no matter how lousy you feel about yourself, after you wake up, the next right thing to do is to get out of bed. After that, you do whatever feels like the next right thing. You take a shower. You have some breakfast. Then later—even though you’re tempted to do something negative or damaging or hurtful, you don’t. You do the next right thing—even when it feels entirely foreign to you—and you fake being the person you imagine, at your best, you might be.

And you keep on faking it (everybody knows this is easier said than done) until one day, the sun comes up and you realize it’s a tiny bit less complicated to do the right thing, and with baby-steps, you begin to comprehend that you just might be able to turn that germinating ability to cope into something substantial, something second nature.

For me, when Abigail was on drugs during that seemingly endless time, I was sometimes tempted to react angrily and therefore hurtfully. Linda always told me, “You won’t like yourself if you do that.” And I saw she was right. At any rate, I tried to do the best I could—not for myself, but for Abigail. (There were lots of other people who did likewise, especially her mother.) I faked being kind, even when I didn’t feel that way—it’s awful being an addict, it’s not a whole lot more fun for those who love them.

Anyway, in the end, most of us were kind, and with Abigail’s natural courage—and that’s for sure part of the equation—she did the next right thing, and the next one…

And she faked it till she made it.

Looking back ten years, with my ant’s-eye perspective, I see something spectacular; I see a woman, my daughter, who is being who she can be. It’s joyful.

Kindness is selfish.

I’m convinced Abigail did see God that night.

When I wrote “North of Hollywood,” I said that the word I used when I tried to become quietly spiritual was “meditation.” The word “pray” made me uncomfortable.

Now I pray for myself, for others, for the world. Not always in that order. I don’t do this because I find virtue in it. I do it because it works.

Free Associating in Our Back Yard

Free Associating in Our Back Yard:

I realize I talk about my wife Linda quite a bit, but she’s the human I see and hear more than anyone I’ve ever known. For those of you who remember Gracie Allen, George Burns’ wife and long time comedy partner, Linda has just a touch of Gracie Allen in her. Burns used to say to his wife at the end of their act, “Say goodnight, Gracie.” And Gracie would smile at the audience and say, “Goodnight, Gracie.”

“Room” is the name of one of the movies up for an Academy Award this year. If you haven’t seen it or read about it, it features a mother and son, who’ve been kept captive for years by the father of the boy, who kidnapped the mother before the story begins. They’ve been in “Room” for somewhere around six years.

Linda and I haven’t been out of the house very much lately. A couple of days ago, she gazed around and said, “I feel like we live in ‘Room.’”

We’ll do something about that, but today, for example, after breakfast, I was going to go out front and walk to the park. Then I saw Linda in the back putting some potting soil into a flowerbed behind the sunroom. So, I decided to go out into the backyard. It’s not huge, but big enough to walk around in and do my exercises.

As I did that, I looked over at Linda and realized that instead of walking out into the world–seeing through my younger eyes, which I can’t help doing sometimes–I’d chosen to get my exercise by walking in circles on a small patch of earth behind my house, close to a woman whose entire concentration was fixed on planting baby tears, and who is, according to most the outside world anyway, an old lady.

She doesn’t look like an old lady, not even to someone more objective than I am. But knowing her age, if I were still young, I’d have to say, “That’s an old lady.”

Of course she’s not; she’s my wife Linda, who looks to me like the young woman I married, and I expect she always will.

One time, we went to see a friend of ours in a production of Chekov’s “The Seagull.” As we were talking to the actress after the show, Linda gifted the woman with her vocal impression of a seagull, which she does quite convincingly. If you didn’t see her doing it, you’d turn around and look for the seagull that must have just landed nearby.

Night before last, it was unusually warm for February. We were on our patio in the back, having a glass of wine before dinner. Linda looked up and, on the house next-door, saw something that caught her eye.

In a hushed voice, she said, “Look. A hawk.”

I said, “It looks more like a crow… Maybe it’s not a bird at all.”

“It’s a hawk,” she insisted.

I stood up and moved a little closer to it. Then I sat back down.

“It’s a dish,” I said. “You know, to get their television signal.”

“Oh.”

I think she still thought it was a hawk. I’m sure I was seeing their TV dish. But I suppose it’s… possible I was wrong. It could have been a hawk. Maybe it flew away as I was getting up to go look at it, and by the time I got there, all I could see was the big object our neighbors have on their roof to get TV reception.

In my mind (I think), I hear Linda’s voice: “Say goodnight, Rick.”

Goodnight, Rick

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Reader Views review of “The Alexandrite”

Please forgive me friends that while I am still the main (only) publicity agent for my books, I will be posting an occasional review and hopefully contest result. Meanwhile, the next novel is near completion. Thanks!
 
From “The Reader Views” review of “The Alexandrite.”
 
“The Alexandrite” by Rick Lenz is a fascinating novel about time travel, old Hollywood, and one man’s journey to find himself… The plot is fast-paced, a definite page-turner, keeping me guessing and intrigued to very last page…(It’s) a must-read for all lovers of time travel, Hollywood, murder, mystery, and romance. It is a unique piece of literary work that has something for everyone.”

Naked in Tulip Town

Naked in Tulip Town

It was the summer after we graduated from high school. My friends Tom and Steve and I went away for the weekend to Holland Michigan, home of the Tulip Time Festival. We were all privileged to be headed to college (different ones) in September, but for now, we were working summer day jobs, and happy to be getting away for the weekend.

Holland was a conservative community (I would find out after the fact) on the east coast of Lake Michigan, about 130 miles west of our hometown of Jackson, which is 80 miles west of Detroit. Our most compelling reason to go there was the beach, because as with most states with a lot of shoreline, if you want to go girl watching that’s the place to do it. We didn’t expect to actually have sex or anything with whatever girls we might run into; almost no one had sex at our age. But we did expect to get sort of close to some half dressed girls, and in those days that was almost as good.

When we arrived about one a.m., it was pitch dark. There wasn’t much action. None. We drove to one of the beaches and found, not surprisingly, that no one was on it.

But we were there! ready for the weekend!

We were pretty wound up. We’d just driven across most of the state after what seemed to be an endlessly long workweek. We were extremely young, our adrenal glands plainly telling us we had no choice but to use up at least a little of the energy that was rising up in us like awakening volcanoes.

We took off our clothes, dropped them inside or outside the car—it didn’t matter—and dashed into Lake Michigan, naked as babies. We had bathing suits with us, but they were in our bags in the trunk of the car underneath a lot of other junk we didn’t have the patience to sift through at the moment.

Ten minute later, at the longest, the cops arrived. The lady in the house where the beach ended had alerted them that there were some nefarious naked boys, communist sympathizers she might have suspected, frolicking in the surf, not yelling or anything, but without question enjoying themselves. “I’m an old person, I’m going to die soon. Damn their damned… late adolescent joie de vivre.” She had to have had binoculars, and it came out later that she’d turned some kind of spotlight on us, although none of us remembered seeing it.

We were taken to the police station, booked, put in jail, then a few minutes later, released on our own recognizance. We were grimly instructed to honor our court date the following Monday, and told that each of us should bring at least one of our parents.

At the end of that court appearance, we were advised how lucky we were that they had changed the original charge of “indecent exposure” to “disturbing the peace.” Tom’s mom was cool about the whole thing. Mine wasn’t and I don’t think Steve’s took it much better.

A few years later, I moved to New York City where the only way you can get picked up for indecent exposure is if you actually produce your guy on the subway under the East River, say, on your way to Elmhurst or Flushing maybe, and you wave it around at one or more citizens, like for example the lady who called the cops that night.

That lady knew, even from her distance, that we were sex offenders at heart. That’s true—in a way. If taking off your clothes out of sight of anyone except those with spotlights is a perversion.

When the cops arrived and addressed us over a bullhorn, Tom and I swam straight in, hustled directly out of the water, and covered ourselves with towels. But Steve had for some reason gotten it into his head that he might manage to swim away. He headed south.

Then after a little while he stopped.

I think he lost faith in the possibility of making it the eighty-five or ninety miles across lower Lake Michigan to Chicago. Instead, he swam to shore about a football field south of us. I can still see him running toward us. Well, not exactly running. The police had a huge spotlight aimed at him.

He was scuttling, all sort of hunched over, not too successfully trying to cover himself and run at the same time. It made for a very odd gait, and I think if his mother could have seen Steve lurching toward us that first night of our weekend vacation in Tulip Town, she would have had a lot more sympathy for her little boy that Monday we all went to court together.

The Ring

I’ve worn the same wedding ring for almost thirty-four years. Actually, it’s my second wedding ring. In 1995 my wife and I were mugged near the Pasadena Playhouse. We’d gone backstage after the show to see one of the actors, an old friend of mine. When we came out, the streets were deserted. As we walked toward our car, parked quite a ways down a side street, two young men pulled up in a plain sedan and the guy riding shotgun, jumped out and rushed at us, shouting I don’t remember what, but we got the idea; he had an arm outstretched holding a revolver aimed at the terrified two of us.

He took our wallets and jewelry, including Linda’s watch and my wedding ring. As we’d walked toward the car, just before the robbery, I’d been enlightening Linda as to what was good and not-so-good about the play we’d just seen and probably all about the meaning of the whole thing, and so on. My ego had pushed my street-smarts dial to the off position.

A few weeks later, Linda bought me a second ring with the same loving inscription inside.

On Christmas day, about twenty years after that (nine days ago as I write this), Linda and I went out to my ex-wife, Jessica’s house for Christmas dinner. We’ve been doing that for many years.

After most of the guests had finished eating, Linda and I decided to take a little walk. I told Jess we were going to do that. She lives along one of the canals in Venice and suggested we take a flashlight since it was dark and we’d be walking on the sidewalk, next to the canal, and also over a couple of foot bridges. I told her I had my cell phone and that would work just fine for us as a flashlight.

I never took my cell phone out of my pocket.

Coming down from crossing the first bridge, I was walking a couple of yards in front of Linda, feeling well fed and happy, frisky even.

I took a little shortcut from the bridge to the sidewalk that runs along the other side of the canal. I didn’t see that the ground was lower in the gap between the two surfaces. I was shocked and extremely disappointed in myself when I realized I was airborne. I sensed already that my landing was not going to be any fun.

The first part of me to return to earth was just below my right knee, the uppermost part of the tibia. For a landing strip I’d chosen the sharp edge of the sidewalk we were to walk home on. The rest of my body was scattered nearby, half on the sidewalk, half in the weeds and bushes just short of it.

With the help of a sturdy young man passing by I leveraged my way to my feet. I thought—or hoped—I’d be fine, sore as hell, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t broken anything.

Having made our way back down the other side of the canal and over the second bridge, we got back to Jessica’s. Although I expected some bodily payback for my walker’s miscalculation, I was managing so far not to limp. I was pretty embarrassed. We ate some dessert, stayed a little longer making chitchat, said our thanks and goodbye, and drove home to the San Fernando Valley.

Six days later: It’s the day before New Year’s Eve. Almost all of my right leg is a muted purplish color—not pretty, not bright, not a color I would choose to paint a picture. The area of impact is still sore as hell. I am, if I’m honest, whining a little bit or maybe a lot, tired by now of lying in bed with my leg up. The damned thing is taking forever to heal.

I limp out to the kitchen, reach for a loaf of bread in the refrigerator, take out a piece, put it on the counter, and return the loaf to the fridge. Drawing back my left hand, I notice that my ring finger is sans ring. I’ve hardly ever taken my wedding ring off since my wife got that second one for me after the robbery twenty years ago.

I eat my toast and peanut butter, limp back to bed with an ice pack, my mind working, running over where I could have lost the ring. I look in my bed and all around it. In my mind, I carefully review my movements of the last six days. I check out every possibility. I haven’t actually been anywhere. I ask myself if perhaps I’ve made some violent motion that might have accidentally squirted the ring off my finger.

Then I realize where it is. Someone has picked up the ring or else it’s in the bushes.

I call Jessica and tell her, for the first time, that I fell and where. She makes sure she’s got the right coordinates from me and says she’ll call me back.

Fifteen minutes later the phone rings. “How much is it worth to you?” she says. Jessica has a terrific sense of humor. I already figured she’d found it by how quickly she’s called back.

I say, “You’re kidding! Where was it?”

“In a bush. In plain sight. If you were looking for it, you couldn’t miss it.”

We will pick it up next week when I can walk again. I always love imagining I’m getting some big lesson from things that happen in my life. But all I’ve gotten out of this one so far is to look where I’m going.

 

Forgiveness

FORGIVENESS

I got a nice review (4 stars) not too long ago for my first book, “North of Hollywood.” Well, not entirely nice. It said some complimentary things, but the reviewer went on to say about the rating: “Because the dude is an ass for most of his life. Yes, he’s apologetic now, but he left a lot of heartsore people in his wake.”

After a lifetime in show business, I don’t usually read reviews, or if I do, I don’t pay much attention to them (or I try not to—especially if they didn’t like me), except when someone tells me something that’s helpful, something that makes me able to do whatever it is better the next time. Unfortunately, we don’t get retakes on most of our past mistakes. I’m thinking of the ones that are hard on other people.

I don’t think this person’s reaction to my book was meant to be mean (4 stars isn’t bad). And there’s actually a lot of truth in what they said. I’d be silly to argue with it.

But that comment brings to my mind the subject of forgiveness. I’m not talking about this reviewer, but the whole idea of forgiveness and its healthful effect on the one who forgives—even the terrible things.

When we forgive other people their errors, we’re surely forgiving ourselves as well. Some of my mistakes have been lulus. I like to think I wouldn’t do them again, and to the extent I don’t, I think it’s because somewhere along the line somebody forgave me. I’m currently married for the third time (this one stuck—for over thirty years). But quite a long time ago, my first wife made a point, after it was over, of telling me she forgave me for my bad behavior in that marriage. I doubt that it was easy for her, but she did it, and she made it clear that she meant it. I think it probably made her feel good. It sure made me feel good.

Although time has closed over my relationship with my mother, I do remember that it was not a good one. She was not well qualified to be a parent. Lots of people aren’t cut out for it, but they have kids anyway. I had three, who are grown up. I didn’t get to be a good parent until long after most of the important moments were past.

But when I did get to be better, it was mostly to do with forgiveness. My mother died before I learned enough to tell her I forgave her. I wish I’d had the knowledge and ability to do that before she passed away, but I didn’t know how until after she was gone.

I think forgiveness is an art, even a craft that you have to learn. One of the ways to do that is by forgiving yourself for whatever you’ve carried around for however long. If you feel guilty, it’s hard to be kind. Many of us who carry guilt around with us find it hard to develop the skills of forgiveness and the kindness that goes along with it. As a result it all turns into a vicious circle. How do you forgive if you don’t feel forgiving?

It ain’t easy. And I’m not talking about just saying the words and at the same time keeping a kind of martyred feeling inside you.

My mother use to jab my sister and me in the ribs with her elbow every once in awhile—we never knew when it might happen. I won’t go into any detail beyond that, there’s no point. She was a fearful, and along with it, angry woman. For many years, when random thoughts of forgiveness came into my mind, I rejected them. I saw what she’d done to my sister. It was unforgiveable—what she did to both of us.

But it wasn’t. I think a world worth living in hinges on unqualified forgiveness. I don’t even think we have much choice in the matter if we are at all concerned with the pursuit of happiness.

The good news is that being forgiven tends, step-by-step, to cure people of doing the things that call for forgiveness in the first place.

In one specific way, it’s only practical: vengeance doesn’t work; it only perpetuates the vicious circle.

Later, thinking about my mom, I began to wonder if many of us aren’t taking part in a sort of series of unforgiving moments that have then turned into a perpetual cycle of retaliation.

When do we stop blaming people for the way they are? My mother was angry for reasons that had to do with unkind treatment she’d been the target of in her own childhood. But she couldn’t go back and undo what had been done to her. So, she carried it forward.

When and how do we break that sequence of fear and rage? Most of us happily relate to kindness. If I see a movie about fairness, justice, and acts of love and compassion, it moves me in the deepest way. The same in real life: I can’t think of anything more joyful than seeing one person or several consciously choose the path of kindness and understanding, and of practicing not just tolerance, but going beyond that and living lives of generosity and… forgiveness.

There’s a Bible proverb: “With all thy getting, get understanding.”

We live in a culture where a lot of people are consumed with “getting.” How about following proverb 4:7’s instruction and get a little understanding. When we understand people, it tends to make us nice to them—even when they’re not understanding with us.

And eventually it starts to rubs off anyway. That seems to be how it works. It’s unquestionably true that setting up a pattern of being nice to each other is the unsurpassed way to turn the world away from insanity.

I can’t think of anything nicer to celebrate Christmas and begin a new year than to think a little about taking a few steps back from insanity.

I know for myself that if I lay down a track of kindness, people tend to be kind back to me. It actually turns out to be self-serving. Kindness turns out to be selfish. How cool is that?

In any event, other roads, like violence for example, just lead to more of the same. I choose kindness, forgiveness.

And I came to this from only one not-so-bad book review.

 

 

 

Nicer Name Calling

Nicer Name Calling

I’ve begun to think lately that the current language of anger in our culture is less than useful, certainly less than kind (and it’s not such a terrible idea to be kind to people even when you’re angry with them). If someone crosses your path in such a way as to inconvenience you—like maybe they’re pulling out of a parking lot at the same time as you and there’s some disagreement as to who was there first; or else the “malefactor” is thoughtless of you or someone you’re with in some other mundane way, I wonder if it’s necessary to stoop to such epithets as “dickhead” for example. That soubriquet is in such common usage that the spell check on my Microsoft Word program has no problem with my combining dick and head into one word. It informs me, however, that I’m making a spelling error if I make spellcheck one word, which as I type this now is underlined in red. It feels no need, on the other hand, to admonish me to break up into two parts “dick” and “head”.

And there it is: Dickhead is now, according to the US and English Oxford dictionary, a legitimate, acceptable word. I don’t think that’s right.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the reality of the top of a penis, circumcised or not. But in our still basically Anglo-Saxon culture, which came to us in the western hemisphere deeply colored by Victorianism and our early pilgrim influences, it’s simply “not nice” to refer to a person as “being” a part of the anatomy that is otherwise utterly unmentionable.

Some of our forefathers and mothers burned witches, and it didn’t take a lot of sinning in many cases to be convicted of witchcraft. I personally think there’s a strong possibility that in the case of Hester Prynne, for instance, branded according to Nathaniel Hawthorne, with an “A” for adultery—that had she called the men who punished her in the manner they did a bunch of dickheads, that she would very likely have been burned at the stake.

So, I’ve raised what I think is a societal problem. “Do I have any solutions?”

Yes, I do.

Words go in and out of style. At one point early in the development of black jazz in the United States, the word “cool” took on the usage common today. It applied to anything that was nice, smooth, appealing, fascinating or attractive in a non-gauche (or if you prefer), non-white way.

Later, white people began to use the word “cool” pretty much indiscriminately, shortly after which it was no longer cool to be cool—in jazzy black communities first, and finally anywhere at all.

Time passed, and “cool” crept back into popular usage. It may still in some areas be thought of as not being as cool as it thinks it is, but nevertheless, as of today anyway, it’s not uncool to be cool.

Long way to my point.

Why not just look for an out-of-use, archaic, if you like, substitute for dickhead, something less cruel and injurious.

The Biblical meaning of the word vengeance is “vindication.” Yet, we take vengeance to mean, for example, that God will come and wreak some awful punishment on all of us sinners. But that’s not what God intended when He allowed “vengeance” to slip into the Bible. He just wanted to bring about what vindication means—He wanted to make something right out of something that had previously been… wrong.

That God, of the actual Bible would, I’m pretty sure, never call sinners dickheads.

Here’s my suggestion. I’m thinking of a word that means a dishonest or unprincipled person. Using that instead of the aforementioned dickhead would convey our distress over what a thoughtless, insensitive person might be doing at the moment, but it wouldn’t stoop to the level of the worst insult we can possibly imagine, to a level of name calling far beneath our dignity.

The word I have in mind for a dishonest, unprincipled, unkind, thoughtless person: “Varlet.”

For example: “I arrived at this parking lot egress before thee, thou varlet!”

Wouldn’t that suffice to let the sinner know they had seriously transgressed?

Of course it would. And we wouldn’t need to call into question the other person’s humanity, by labeling him—notwithstanding what the Oxford dictionary says—the outer end of a penis.

Speaking at the Historical Novel Society, then going home with Linda

I had a swell time this past weekend speaking at the September meeting of the Los Angeles chapter of the Historical Novel Society. It took place at the Fairfax Library in Hollywood.

The friendly, welcoming members all sat around a large table. Light poured in through the high cloistered windows that encircled the round room, and the air conditioning was thankfully working—it was a stifling hot LA day.

The other speaker was Jennifer Ramos of Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena and Book Soup in Hollywood. Vroman’s has been in Pasadena since 1894! She provided a wealth of information about selling books in today’s market, and was inundated with questions from the members who are all eager to sell their books. Me too!

After I gave my presentation, which included a Q & A session, the members took turns talking about what they’re currently working on—the agonies and joys of being a writer. The subject of having someone critique your work as you go along came up; it was an interesting conversation.

  1. For most writers, it’s vital to have at least one other person read your work, and give you constructive criticism and feedback.
  2. That other person or persons should be sensitive to the author’s feelings during the process. Writers are fragile, beings about their work, and a harsh or brutal word can literally stop the process, at least for a while. (Are you listening to this, Linda? “Eeew, nobody wants to hear you talk about that,” is not actually going to help anyone that much. A simple, “Darling, oh my darling, you only ever write sublime, poetic prose,” will do.)

The discussions were lively, fascinating. Linda and I had a good time and made some new friends.

When we got home we had glass of wine and another lively conversation about the always entertaining subjects of tact and ceasefire.

 

Publication Day– The Alexandrite (Brain Damage)

After Pink Floyd recorded “Dark Side of the Moon,” Roger Waters, who did vocals, played bass guitar, and wrote the lyrics, took a reel-to-reel copy home and played it for his wife. He was understandably, after an unusually long time working on an album, very close to it—probably too close, he imagined, to have any objectivity left.
The album originally consisted of two sides, nine cuts. Each side was a continuous piece of music. For awhile, the title was “Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.” The day Waters brought the tapes home to play for his wife, he sat next to her, but not watching her as she listened to the entire album.
When it was over, he got up, switched off the tape machine, turned back to her and saw that her face was covered with tears.
The album went on to sell over 250 million copies worldwide.

Meanwhile, five or six years after that album’s release, in my tiny, and at the time, crashing life—two divorces behind me, living in a garret apartment so shabbily constructed the building would have to be torn down after the Northridge earthquake (the quake left it resembling a three-dimensional parallelogram), I was alone, listening to “Dark Side of the Moon,” and drinking myself to sleep.
I’d had several years of psychotherapy, but it obviously hadn’t done the job. I’d been semi-well-known for awhile as an actor. In fact, the next to last “cut” of “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Brain Damage” was about, according to Wikipedia, “a mental illness that results from the elevation of fame and success above the needs of the self.”
That was too simplistic for me; I was crazy for a wider variety of reasons than just dealing with the ups and downs of show business. What I was, was a self-absorbed figment of my own imagination, slipping down the backside of the medium sized hill of my career, every bit of confidence I ever had withering away like the Los Angeles water supply. I even considered suicide, except that I had three children I loved. That was the only redeeming feature I could think of about myself; I loved my kids. Otherwise, I was a man in a mask, unsure of anything except that, as the song said to me over and over, “the lunatic is in my head.”
I was writing a lot at the time. In the afternoons before the urge to get blind drunk overwhelmed me, I made various stabs at plays, screenplays and novels. One story I wrote had to do with someone who has lived another life, and that other person was totally different from the first one, but not in a way I could understand. He was just this… stranger. I was inside a stranger (it was a first person piece), trying to figure out not only whose body I was inhabiting, but who this “I” was in the first place, yo-yo-ing back and forth between my insane artiste’s constructions and unconsciousness.
I guess this became my first faltering version of “The Alexandrite.”
As you can imagine, no one wanted to buy it, represent it, or even read it.

Going back to my little apartment and my first attempts to write the story for “The Alexandrite,” the novel that’s been released today, I got more therapy. I finally became sane enough to even consider having another relationship.
I did. I had a few.
I failed at all of them.
Then I met Linda.
Linda is my third wife. We’ve been married for thirty-three years. She is an exceptional person; only someone exceptional could have put up with those first years of living with me.
Finally, I allowed her to train me a little, like house-breaking an untamed mid-life dog you come across at the pound, feel sorry for, and for motives only unwavering dog lovers can understand, decide to bring home and make him a member of your family. That was me—a mongrel with a thousand bad habits, but which, for reasons nobody else can understand, becomes beloved by its owner.

Finally, after twenty-some (+) years of working on it on-and-off, and growing up a little more, I finished the book. I think I got it right. It may not become the all-time best seller I’m dreaming of. It’s kind of a peculiar book, and I’m sure not to everyone’s taste. It’s part literary fiction, part magical realism, part historical fiction, part Hollywood fantasy. And I don’t think it will be everyone’s cup of tea.
But Linda loves it and I trust her completely (she has absolutely no gift for lying).
If the Alexandrite is successful, it’s for three reasons: I had the great blessing of falling apart at the seams, but not dying. I met Linda. And finally, I learned—or I should say I’m learning—to put myself in the hands of whatever that Universal Force of Goodness, that part of us that wants us to be happy and succeed and that knows, really KNOWS, that we are all in this together.

Back to “The Dark Side of the Moon” and “Brain Damage,” “The Alexandrite” is about a man who is literally joined with another self, in another body, in another time. And there is literally someone in his head—but it’s not him.
As the party of the first part (in the story) comes to understand he’s living inside the party of the second part… or vice-versa, it’s not so easy to tell, his initial instinct—as with every other nightmare in his life—is, desperately, to try to wake up and prevent them both from losing everything, like especially their lives.
The book features a hero who, among other things, has to figure out who all’s inside him, what they’re doing there, and what their relationships are to each other. For awhile, he comes to believe he actually hates this other part, or these other parts of himself, as I did a lifetime ago. The “others,” he believes, have to be lunatics just as he always “knew” they were, just as he always “knew” he was.
It comes then as the most surprising lesson of his life when he learns:
“I cannot go without you for you are a part of me.”

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