Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Novel Idea!

I have finally begun work on a novel. I won't be saying much about it here, because...well, because I don't won't to talk about it a lot; I just want to write it. I have set myself some pretty serious goals.

By December 15th, have a detailed outline of the entire book completed.

By December 30th, have the first three chapters finished.

On or shortly after January 1, send the first three chapters to my volunteer readers -- so far there are 8 of them, one in Oregon, one in Montana, two in Florida, and four in Georgia.

I've started researching agents who may be interested in the kind of book I am writing. It is a fantasy story rooted in mythology, faerie lore (most of which I'm making up), and quantum physics. There is a battle of good and evil -- which is a universal theme, but I hope to put my own very special twist on this theme. Stay tuned.


A couple of good quotes I found today that are appropriate to the plot of my story:

"The myth is the foundation of life, the timeless scema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious."
~ Thomas Mann, "Freud and the Future"

"Man, apparantly, cannot maintain himself in the universe without believe in some arrangement of the general inheritance of myth."
~ Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


The stark raving sky
pushes the moon aside

The cold golden sun
inches its way up earth
hand over hand
growing warm from effort
till it burns.

(Photo: Sunrise, Oct. 10, 2006
by Jim Bohannon)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Up, Down, and Holes in the Ground

Some stream-of-consciousness reflections from my journal today:

I looked up at the stars and watched the heavenly dance about me, a slow dance measured in the steady rhythm of the universe. What is up there, out there, down there -- I say "down there" because in a sense, I am up here looking down on other worlds. When I was a boy, I used to get dizzy looking up. Flying and looking down at the ground from tall buildings never bothered me, but looking up at an airplane or a tall skyscraper disoriented me, made me feel woozy and a little nauseated -- do they make groundsick bags? It is because I realize the concept of up and down is an illusion generated by the random direction of gravity, and gravity, being the weakest of the four physical forces, shouldn’t be allowed to dictate as much as it does. Of course, I know gravity has power over me, and for that I am mostly grateful. It would be most uncomfortable to keep floating out of my seat as I try to type or read. Yet, it would be most dangerous if I decided to fly off the top of a tall building hoping to fly over the countryside to explore its beauty. I would die. That’s what gravity would do to me. Gravity is weak, and it has no conciense. (If I am wrong, I apologize to gravity.)

When I was a boy, I used to love climbing into holes in the ground. Nowadays I am claustrophobic, and there is no way I would go into some of the holes or crawl through some of the tiny pipes that I did in those days. I cringe to think about it now, and yet in a way I long to be able to do that again, to do it without fear. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become fearful of being trapped -- of being trapped in the debris of a collapsed building or the crumpled wreckage of an automobile. Perhaps it’s the looming fear of being forever trapped in the grave. And yet, I feel - I believe - there is something more. The grave cannot hold me. "O, death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?" Is there existence beyond death, or is it an all-encompassing, eternally peaceful rest trapped in the debris of a dying world - universe? What is existence anyway? Philosophers debate and speculate and argue and become self-assured, but in fact, nobody knows, not even the most brilliant of the philosophers. All of us are doomed to speculate, to believe, and we divide ourselves most hideously and most violently over issues of what will happen after death. The Muslim extremist kills himself and innocent people because of the promise of an afterlife full of sexual bliss. The Christian fundamentalist spends her life in torment with the world because she believes everyone around her is going to hell "without Jesus". There have been times in my life where I was cocksure I knew. Now I’m humbly uncertain, yet eternally hopeful. But I’m still avoiding small spaces.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reflections on Nabokov's Lolita

I'd been wanting to read it for a long time. Lolita, that is. The novel by Vladimir Nabokov. I finally did, and here's how it came about (from my 2005 Journal):


Friday, October 21, 2005 (12:37 a.m.)

Late this evening I walked down the moonlit driveway and crossed the highway (with flashlight lit) to fetch two boxes from Two of the books I ordered were waiting there for me. Thousands of books in my possession, and it’s always such a delight to get new books – especially these. These are Nabokov! I’ve never owned a work of Nabokov. A softcover copy of Lectures on Literature (edited by Fredson Bowers, with an introduction by John Updike) and The Library of America volume, Nabokov: Novels 1955-1962 (including Lolita, Pale Fire, and the screenplay for Lolita that Nabokov wrote for Stanley Kubric). I’ve already been reading in them – particularly the editor’s forward to Lectures on Literature, and a few random passages from Lolita. No doubt I will learn a lot about reading, about literature, and about how to craft my own writing to make it alive and vital.

[end of journal selection]

Lolita, following in the footsteps of other great works, such as James Joyce's Ulysses, has been regularly and frequently banned. When it was first published, Nabakov had to resort to a French publisher, because no American publisher was willing to take a chance on such subject matter -- a fictitious prison memoir of a relationship between a middle-aged man and a 12 year old girl. On its premier publication, one reviewer in London called it "the filthiest book I have ever read" and "sheer unrestrained pornography," which probably assured the book immediate success. The great writer (and British spy) Graham Greene, on the other hand, called it one of the best novels of 1954.

The book is one of the finest I have ever read. We see into the head of Humbert Humbert, and far from being an apologetic for pedophilia, we see Humbert for the monster that he really is. Nevertheless, we also see him as a human being, which is the real magic of the book for me. The prose is exquisite, which is amazing in itself considering Nabokov initially established his career in literature in his native Russian and only began writing in English later in his life. Perhaps that is why he was such a master of the language. When he wasn't writing, Nabokov was most frequently pursuing his other great love -- chasing butterflies. He was an avid lepidopterist. What an apt metaphor, because one can imagine him chasing and capturing the most beautiful words and collecting them in his prose.

I saw this title on a list of suggested books for the local book group I recently joined, and I hope we will select this for one of our monthly discussions. If you've not given Nabokov in general, and Lolita in particular, a chance -- perhaps because of the "scandalous" topic, or because you are intimidated by "great literature" (remember, great literature is great because it is first of all good literature) -- I hope you'll take a look at it. The poetry, the sheer loveliness of language, is evident in the rhythm of the opening lines, some of the most beautiful in all of literature:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Oh, Christmas Tree...

When I was a boy, I spent a lot of time roaming through the woods. Usually I'd carry a hatchet and either my .22 rifle or 410 shotgun, and I'd be gone for much of the day. Those were very different times. I can't imagine spending the better part of a day with my children wandering Lord knows where. I want them close to my sights, if not directly in them, so I can be ready to rescue them from whatever crazy danger contemporary society might have in store for them. Ahhh...those were very different times indeed.

One of my annual chores was to hunt down a Christmas tree -- always a cedar; I didn't even realize there was any other kind till I was well into my teens. I'd usually have a spot already staked out and hoped I'd remember how to get back to it when it was tree cutting time. I'd try to find the prettiest, shapeliest cedar in the woods, and finding that perfect tree was always a thrill. I can't imaging getting that much deep-down joy from a video game! Dragging the tree out was always a challenge, especially having to tote a hatchet and rifle too.

Yesterday we went tree hunting. We wandered deep into the wilds of Walmart, right into the middle of the garden section, and there it was. A 7-foot Douglas Fir -- it assembles in three sections and comes pre-lit! I never saw one of these in the woods. Dragging it out was still a chore, because for some reason we'd completely forgotten to get a shopping cart. No fear -- He Man is here. I hoisted the box over my head by the straps, and we began the retreat to the checkout counter. Trudging through Walmart holding a boxed fake tree over my head, I felt somewhere between extremely virile and very foolish. Confused shoppers gave me plenty of room.

The tree's in the attic now. We have to clear out a spot to put it. At least that part's the same as when I was a boy. Gabriel was upset that we got a pre-lit tree. "But I wanted to put the lights on!" he said. "What are we going to do with the lights now?" I told him to decorate the outside of the house or the yard -- anything. But if he puts them up, he takes them down. I've done my chore.


Thankful... meaning literally "full of thanks". My favorite talk show host (actually the only one I listen to) is Dennis Prager, and he is very big on happiness. He has written a book on the subject (Happiness Is a Serious Problem) and gives lectures around the country. According to Dennis, thankfulness is essential to happiness. I have to agree with him. Have you ever seen an ungrateful person who was happy?

Once a year we have a day formally set aside to be thankful. Believe it or not, Thanksgiving is for more than just eating a lot (although that's a pretty neat side benefit). It's even for more than getting together with loved ones (or in the case of some families, getting together with people whom you try to tolerate once a year). It's a day on which to be full of thanks.

This Thanksgiving day found me celebrating with lots of people whom I love -- and eating and napping and taking some time to read and playing my guitar and chatting online with a dear friend. I am "full of thanks". A list of things for which I'm thankful would be too long to post, but would include:

  • my family (of course)
  • my books (lots and lots of books!)
  • my guitar
  • getting to be with my two grandsons and my great-nephew (all in one day!)
  • my computer (because it opens up the world to me and connects me with friends)
  • music (and, in particular, my subscription to Rhapsody music service)
  • airplanes (even though I can't afford to fly anymore, I can still say I'm a pilot - I got to fly!)
  • a meaningful job (even though it ain't the highest paying one)
  • a love of writing and words!
  • that my brother survived his near-deadly medical ordeal, and I got to visit with him last weekend!
  • Books-A-Million
  • coffee!
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving wherever you are, and one more thing for which I am thankful -- all of you who honor and humble me by reading my blog.

Blessings, peace, & love to each of you!

~ Jim

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Parable of the Oak Tree

When I was in the eighth grade, I found a tiny live oak tree in the woods in which I was tramping. I knew if I left the tree there, it probably wouldn’t survive, and I wanted it – needed it. I was in the midst of a passionate love affair with plants, and I felt a harmony with growing things that has enriched my life to this day. When my spirit gets dry, I listen to the trees calling. I hear their song.

I planted that tree in a corner of the yard, and I surrounded it with white quartz rocks so it would be protected from clumsy feet and deadly lawnmower blades. The little tree thrived on my love, and by the time I had grown up and left home to make my journey into the distant world, it had grown into a big, spreading tree with limbs overhanging the little road in front of the house.

That tree has listened to me and nurtured me through unnumbered crises and joys. It has watched my children play and given them shelter from the biting sun. It has been home for bird families and nourished the world with their songs. It has been a magical tree. That’s how I have always seen it – and how I always will.

The tree lived in the yard of my mother’s house, and when I had to sell the place, the tree had to go too. What the new owners have done with it, I don’t know. I haven’t had the heart to go back and see. They don’t know that tree, even though they may “own” it. By now they may have even cut it down. There were complaints about how the tree had spread into the neighbor’s yard, and how it was threatening to obscure visibility on the little road beside it. But what nobody knows is that I took the tree with me – in my spirit. I had to – it was part of me.

Thinking about my oak set me to thinking about how we see things – the differences in viewpoints, in perspectives, in angles. One tree – many trees. Here is a tale about seeing a tree.


There was an oak tree that sat on a small hill – a live oak that had sent its first roots into the soil more than a hundred years before. It had stretched out to the sky in praise while its limbs were shaped by the wind and from following the sun each day, and its acorns had fattened generations of grateful squirrels. Many people had looked upon the tree, and each had seen something different.

A carpenter saw beautiful wood with a fine, golden grain. Hard wood and solid that would make admirable furniture that would impress everyone with his art and skill.

A poor man who lived close to the earth saw enough firewood there to keep his family warm through a long winter, to fuel the stove that would belch out pan after pan of biscuits, to give a soft light and take the sharp edge of darkness off the bitter night.

An artist saw grace expressing itself in every elegant twist of limb, in every shadow cast by fat green boughs, in billowing verdure swept across a backdrop of sky and cloud. Her palette came to life with color, and shape and form fastened themselves to her canvas, and she captured a reflection of the image of the tree – and she saw that it was good.

A civil engineer saw an obstacle to his project, an object that must be removed and carried away so progress could be made – until the plans for the highway route changed, and the tree didn’t matter anymore.

A philosopher pondered the tree and saw the mystical Tree – Plato’s Real Tree, but perhaps not the tree itself. It was something to think about, something aesthetically exquisite.

A local historian thought about all the generations of folk that had passed by since the tree had crept from its acorn and established itself on the edge of town, how many significant events had taken place, and this tree (much like the ancient turtles of the Galapagos) had been alive through them all – and still lived.

The birds and the squirrels saw shelter and food, but there was nothing remarkable about that – there were countless other trees (oak, poplar, hickory, maple, and otherwise) that would provide the same thing.

Perhaps the saddest of all were those who never even saw the tree. Their eyes were fastened onto other things, things less permanent, but always more important than a “dumb tree”.

To the tree none of this really mattered. All that really mattered was the little boy who came almost every day to sit beneath its shade, to run his fingers across its bark, to fondle its leaves, to tell it all of his secrets, all of his dreams. The tree became part of the boy, and the boy part of the tree in a mystical bond more mysterious than even the philosopher was able to apprehend.

And they both live to this day, ages hence – tree and boy, boy and tree. Happy is the one who understands this parable of the tree, and saddest of all the one who can not see.

Comfort...Reflections from My Journal

Thanksgiving day is nearing, and with it, like Christmastime that gallops in on its heels, memories of holidays past... places we've spent those times before, and the people with whom we've spent them, places and people in many cases no longer here, and in all cases no longer the same. One of those significant places for me is my boyhood home in Hillsboro, Georgia, and one of the most significant people is my mama. Holidays tend, in many ways, to make me more uncomfortable than happy. It's not all bad, because there are certainly new memories to carve out this holiday. But the past, like omnipresent Dicken's ghosts, is always haunting the present -- and the future. Here is an entry from my journal from a few months ago that helps put this in perspective -- and indeed gives me comfort:

Saturday, July 14, 2007 (3:07 a.m.)

Some things just don’t feel comfortable anymore. Like my boyhood home. I have very fond memories, but I also remember how uncomfortable the place had become when we’d go up to visit Mama. The beds were uncomfortable, and the arrangement of the house just didn’t appeal to the gentler senses.

It was Mama, and it was me. That’s what made the place special. Those walls and floors and the space within was sacred. But it was the presence of certain people through the years that hallowed them, not any innate virtue.

The spaces have been taken from me – the sacred floors and walls desecrated by the business exchange of a sale. Yet the spaces within me – one might call them memories, but they are something more…much more – are still pure and true. There is something real and eternal that transpired in the mundane act of growing up and making a life my own way that inhabits the spaces that I have brought with me. They’re no longer “up the road a piece, in another county” – they are with me all the time.

I take great comfort in that, but it has taken lots of time for that comfort to settle in. It's still far from complete, but its real presence is clear – like the Spirit of Christ in the Eucharist.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A World Without Us

There is a fascinating discussion on today’s Dennis Prager Show with author Alan Weisman, who has written a book called The World Without Us, an imaginative look at what would happen to the world if all of a sudden humans disappeared. Dennis asked what the first most noticeable characteristic of a humanless world would be, and Weisman replied, “The sounds.” He says the noises of human activity would disappear and all that would be left would be the sounds of wind and rain and birds.

He goes on to explain he isn’t anti-human, he just wished there were places we could go where we could hear the sound of nature without the background hum of human activity. Most of the places that people went to in the 50s and 60s when he and Dennis (and I, for that matter) were growing up are now strip malls and industrial complexes. Weisman says as a journalist he has been fortunate enough to travel to places that are still pristine (my word, not his), but he had to travel a long way. He mentioned the Arctic and Antarctic, and Dennis, who has been to Antarctica interjected that while that may be so, he was amazed at how noisy penguins were. Weisman agreed, and he also commented that when you get close, they are also very smelly.

Most of us are relegated to experiencing our visits to pristine locations vicariously, through photographs and video images. Something we don’t always remember while we’re admiring the breathtaking majesty are the noises and smells associated with the location and its wildlife, geothermal extrusions, and what have you. Not to mention the dangers.

This makes me appreciate the Internet so much more. The past few days not only have I engaged in communication with people and places around the country and around the world, but I have visited spots throughout the solar system and traveled into deep space via images from the Hubble Space Telescope and various space probes. I've even been able to listen to Saturn and some of its moons! (I wrote about this before in a previous blog -- take a look Space Music. And for more about my fascination with space, take a look at Space...What a Wonder!)

About a world free of humans – I'm voting against that one. I'm rather partial to humans. But I am fascinated with those spots where our presence is missing – except by imagination.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Write Gyro

Earlier today, while at work, I wrote some journal entries on loose-leaf, and – as is so often the case – I bemoaned my lack of writing progress, and I just wanted to analyze that here for a while. I am inflicted with a serious writing avoidance gyro that diverts me from most of the opportunities available for me to write. since it has never shown up on any of the many MRIs or CAT scans I’ve had across the years, I’m not sure where that gizmo is physically located, and prospects of having it surgically removed are practically nil. The only solution I see is to implant another gyro – one that pushes me into writing opportunities, even when none seemingly exist. The new gyro I will simply label as “Write Gyro”, and the old gyro will be hereinafter known as “Wrong Gyro”. Hence my new mission will be to discriminate continuously between “Write” and “Wrong” and always to follow what is “Write”.

There are many avoidance behaviors that lead me down the “Wrong” path:

Problem – I surf obscure points on the Internet that, although sometimes seem interesting (but much of the time do not), do little to enrich my time. It furthermore occurs to me that I frequently use these diversions as an alternative to stimulation. I become passive letting the Internet do most of my thinking for me.

Solution – Actually, there are two. First of all, I could altogether avoid random surfing – which will be incredibly hard to do, since I have a terrible case of OCD. Second, and preferable, in my opinion, is to dialog with what I find, to use it to let my fingers return to the keyboard and chase down thoughts as I form words in my word processor. Much like stream of consciousness writing, this could be called “stream of consciousness surfing”.

Problem – Snood! For those who may not know, Snood is a computer game that you can download for free. If you want to play unlimited games (and I don’t exaggerate), you pay a one-time fee and have a lifetime access code. Snood begins with rows and columns of colorful Snoods in 4 shapes and varieties, and you have a Snood launcher with which you aim and launch a Snood toward the wall of Snoods. Three in a row, and they vanish, and when you remove a row of Snoods holding others, they drop, thus clearing the way deeper into the wall of Snoods. The more you drop off, rather than just make vanish, the more your launcher is re-charged. If your power goes dry, the wall descends toward you one level. The object is to clear out the entire wall of Snoods. There are several levels, Child, Easy, Medium, Difficult, and Evil being the basic (I always play the Evil level, because I want to battle against evil). This is really a game of strategy, and it is actually categorized as an educational game – but it is also addicting. Now to defend myself, I mostly play Snood while I’m listening to audio, because I can’t do one thing at a time. I was an obsessive multi-tasker before the term was coined.

Solution – Instead of dropping Snoods, drop letters. Approach a little playful writing like dropping Snoods. Get addicted! Loose all inhibitions and let the words pile up. Let audio stimulate thoughts and reactions. It actually does anyway, but I just need to respond. Active listening taken to a new level.

Problem – The myriad distractions: the kids who keep barging in to tell me about the latest micro-detail of a videogame I’ve never heard of, or who decide there’s a shirt I must wash “right now”, or who want to know why there are no clean glasses (I’m obviously the only one in the house who can wash a glass). The piles of clutter (because I’m obviously the only one in the house who can pick up anything weighing over 5 milligrams – especially if it’s lying in the middle of the walkway through the house), etc.

Solution – I could move and not leave a forwarding address, but I’m sort of very, very attached to this bunch of folks around here. I could pick up a baseball bat, slam it into my open hand while growling and letting foamy saliva drip from my face, but that one doesn’t scare them anymore. But the only thing that is going to work here is – focus. Pick up what I can. Listen for a reasonable amount of time, but then let it be known I’m a video game know-nothing and always will be (at least about any games beyond Snood) and I’m very comfortable in the skin of a video game know-nothing. But – stay at it and WRITE.

Follow the “Write Gyro”, and in the end everything should come out all write.

NaNoWriMo progress: Ha ha ha ha ha...! Seriously, just over 23,000 words behind at this point, which means I need to come up with just over 48,000 words before November 30th becomes history. 3000 words a day will do it!