Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Ironic And The Absurd



March 9, 2017


            We were watching TV and there was a commercial for the network series The Bachelorette.  The ad featured three girls, three Bachelorettes.  Girl One said, "I love horses." (video of girl with hair blowing in wind, saddled on a gorgeous animal). Girl Two said, "I rescue animals and I rehabilitate Rottweilers." (Footage of tender treatment of big dog's wounds) Then Girl Three said, "I haven't had an orgasm in my life." (Footage of her from the waist up, simply standing there in a suburban back yard).
            Wait a minute.  Run the DVR backwards a bit.  She actually said, "I haven't had an orgasm in my life."  I could almost hear the stampede of men.  It was going in two directions: half the men were running away from this girl, they were terrified by the pressure.  And half of them (the cocky douchebag half) were running towards the girl.  Each of the latter bachelors was sure he could open the floodgates of orgasm for this attractive cherry-picked TV crash- test dummy.
            I turned to my partner and said, "I guess honesty is the New Honesty."  I considered for a moment, then amended my perception. "Or is it honesty is the new Authenticity?  Or maybe Authenticity is the new Honesty?  Something like that."
            My partner, Fox, is accustomed to my sense of the ironic and the absurd.  She knew I was reaching, perhaps over-reaching into sheer nonsense. Still, I'll let it stand..
            I am aware that there is a wide spread  hunger for experience that can be perceived as Authentic.  Why?  Do people feel that they are synthetic beings, that they're so coddled and softened by living in this affluent civilization that they've lost an essential component of human experience?  Do people feel unreal?  I think so.  That's why there's such an appetite for TV shows about people living off the grid in Alaska, or marooning themselves, naked and afraid, courting utter misery for the sake of "testing their limits".  We are the species that has come from competing with hyenas for fresh kills to the species that is sending spacecraft to other galaxies.  We've done this in a breathtakingly short span of time.  In achieving this magnificent push, upward and outward, some people have been left behind in their sense of self-worth.  They don't feel brave, tough, worthy.  They've lost their warrior spirit.  And they feel this emptiness every time they go shopping at Target or Walmart, every time they exploit the incredible ease of getting the groceries and the hair gel.
            "Girl-without-orgasm" was simply following the cultural norm as it excavates this new authentic territory, this candid self-disclosure that, to her, wasn't even embarrassing.  She was just letting the world know: she's in search of an orgasm. She needs a partner who can help her master new skills in erotic communication.  She needs a soft slow hand from a tender buddy to help her over the hump.
            I was embarrassed for her.  No doubt it will make good television for those that are into that sort of thing.  I cringed.  What naivete!  How many years will this stuff follow her around?  She'll be "no-cum" to her grandchildren.  It's out of my hands.  I won't be watching the show.

             

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

I won Honorable Mention! Here's Writer's Digest Review of my novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN


I paid $99 to enter my e-book into the Writer's Digest Self Published Book Competition. I would say that I got my money's worth.  I received Honorable Mention.  It wasn't the DREAM PRIZE, $5,000 and an agency contract, plus a lot of major attention.  The review tells me that the reviewer understood the book's basic theme.  The only thing he missed is how often the book is very funny. So.. Here it is.


Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

Plot and Story Appeal: 5

Character Appeal and Development: 5

Voice and Writing Style: 5



Judge’s Commentary*: 

 Confessions Of An Honest Man by Arthur Rosch brings the reader a story of conflict, abuse of different sorts, family dysfunction and eventual triumph over obstacles. This novel is skillfully written to give insight into some dark places of life without overwhelming the reader. The protagonist, Aaron Kantro, carries an awesome burden on his shoulders from first page to last.  As we follow his story and his commitment to his musical calling we are given glimpses of others who are part of Aaron's life. The story spans several decades from Aaron's boyhood to becoming a parent.A highly dysfunctional family sets the tone for all of Aaron's woes.  An abusive mother who suffers mental illness takes a toll on the lives of her children and spouse. As Aaron discovers the call of his muse to music, his mother thwarts his every effort to success.  Despite her obstruction, Aaron climbs his way to success in the face of his own and others' abuse of drugs.  The author gives an excellent insight to the effects of parental abuse on the other members of Aaron's familly.  This book is  an excellent read if more than a bit dark at times.  The ultimate triumph is worth the agonizing stops along the way with Aaron, Zoot and the rest.  Rosch has carefully constructed good characterizations, good dialogue and good descriptive passages.  This is likely a book I would not have picked up on my own but I am better for having read it.  It is one that I will carry with me for a long time.  Confessions Of An Honest Man should achieve wide readership and success.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Two Americas

            I hate this sense of polarization in the United States, this propaganda-driven idea that it’s US Versus THEM.  I thought I might take a look at the groups, the US and the THEM and see if I can’t analyze the difference.
            First of all, let me state that I am firmly one of the US.  I wouldn’t let a THEM in my house nor allow my sister to marry  one of THEM.
            There are many lifestyles in this country and I think the US/THEM divide flows along lifestyle differences.
            There are two kinds of people in this country.  Hostess Twinkie People and Progresso Soup People.
            I heard a snippet of a Sarah Palin speech yesterday and she is a Hostess Twinkie person.  Her speech began with the question, “Dontcha wanna get back to the good ol’ America that we grew up with?”
            This is the archetypal Hostess Twinkie question. It’s the soft white piece of cake on the outside.  It has no meaning, no nutritive value and is uttered to appeal to the most childish type of person.  Then Ms Palin said, “Doncha want to return to the America that respected values, like honest hard work?  Values like believing in God and the family?” This is the payoff, the creamy center, made from shortening, corn syrup, fructose, sodium glycol and unspecified binding agents.  It does not require teeth to be eaten.  It does not require a mind to give pleasure to childish people.  It just needs to be sweet and gooey.
            The Progresso Soup people are looking for an honest lunch in a can.  The packaging of Progresso Soup conveys a return to old-country quality and nutrition.  If it was called “Progress Soup” it would sound cold and industrialized.  The addition of the “O” transforms it to grandma’s home made blend of split peas, onions, celery, noodles and chunks of chicken.  It became so successful that it forced Campbells to make better soups.  You know, the soups that NFL players’ moms force them to eat.
            I’m not saying that a Progresso Person won’t eat a Twinky or that a Twinky person won’t eat Progresso Soup.
            The point I’m making is that there are a lot of people in this country with empty minds.  They have no curiosity, and are too lazy to figure things out for themselves.  They are content to be fed the intellectual equivalent of cake and candy.  Due to their lazy childishness, these people are easy to manipulate.  That’s what scares me.  Twinkie people are being lied to.  They are being told that Progresso Soup people are not real Americans, that they’re trying to undermine the constitution and destroy the values imbued in this country by the Founding Fathers.
            They believe these lies because they want to, because it’s easier to believe a comforting lie than to search out a truth that might not go koochy koochy koo.
            Twinkie People are slowly being turned into mobs who will chase Progresso Soup people down the street, force them to hide in attics, and, sooner or later, put them on trains going nowhere.
            We will look a little odd when they make us wear Progresso Soup labels on our jackets.  However, we will be squirting little doses of Ecstasy into the creamy centers of their Twinkies, so I expect the results to be worth the struggle.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

About My Book, CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN

 Old School. That's what this is, this book about a dysfunctional family that begins in 1957 and carries the reader through to the present day. I started this book in 1976. In '78 I made a splash by winning Best Short Story Award from Playboy Magazine. I signed with an agent and there was a lot of interest in this book. I had lunches with my editor in New York City. It was classic author-stuff, from another era. I had an opportunity but I wasn't ripe, the book wasn't ripe and I didn't finish it until 2014. I had to do some living before I could write the stories in this book.
            I've drawn a lot of autobiographical material into this narrative. I was the kind of kid that Aaron Kantro is in these pages. I was still in grade school when I first heard jazz on a recording by Louis Armstrong.   Can you imagine a twelve year old closeting himself in his bedroom and listening to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane? Can you imagine that today, or fifty years ago? This is a precocious lonely child.  He doesn't fit in well with his class mates.  He gets bullied but he doesn't cringe easily, doesn't give in.  
            Aaron's mother, Esther, is horrified. She regards any deviation from her plans as personal attacks. Her sons will become professionals.  They will be doctors or lawyers. Her daughters will marry socially prominent men of wealth and have two or three grandchildren apiece. She gets, instead, a dreamy musician who listens to what is called, in Yiddish,"Scvhatze music". She is convinced that her oldest son will become a bum playing at Bar Mitzvahs and her younger son...well...he's crazy, he goes into trances and hurts people and then he can't remember what he's done. Esther's dreams are fueled by a pathological insecurity that develops into full-blown Manic Depression, today's bi-polar disorder.  On top of her clinical disturbances, Esther is flat-out mean. She's sadistic and clever.
            This is starting to sound a little depressing.   I promise you, it's not. The book has darkness, of course. But it tracks the development of two creative children who get no support. They need determination and strength to follow their dreams.  The other two children are interesting in their monstrousness, their violence and greed.  By splitting the four children into two teams I've created a laboratory, showing the corrosive effects of parental abuse.  The outcomes depend on the child's innate moral nature.  Aaron and Sarah survive and become productive only through enormous courage and tenacity.
            This is the Kantro family. A father, a mother and four kids.  Two of the kids are sweet and two of them are monsters. Max knows that something is wrong in his family. It is the 60's and he has few tools available.  He's trying, but it's hard to maneuver through the family's emotional problems.  There's always trouble.  Aaron may be experimenting with drugs.  Somehow that's not so bad as Mark's propensity to collect weapons and lurk on the outskirts of thuggish mayhem.  The world  has yet to fill with more sophisticated knowledge. There are few books to be had  about family dynamics. Eating disorders are unknown. When Sarah dives into Bulimia, she hasn't a clue, nor does anyone else, about this compulsive behavior.  It's a total mystery and the only option is to put her in a mental hospital for a month or two.  
            In "Confessions Of An Honest Man" we travel the Hero's Journey with Aaron. He's brave enough to defy his mother. He goes to New York City at the fresh age of sixteen. He's searching for his jazz hero, the legendary Avian Coulter.
He finds Avian.   The man is Avant Garde, a polarizing figure in the jazz world.  He's also an addict.  Avian takes Aaron under his broken wings and turns him in the direction he needs to go.   He introduces Aaron to the successful blues n' bop saxophonist, Zoot Prestige.  Aaron needs to play Black, Aaron needs to be in Chitlin' Circuit clubs in Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis.  Avian trusts his friend Zoot more than he trusts himself.  Zoot will watch over Aaron and keep him from getting into too much trouble.  The gigs with the Zoot Prestige Trio are wonderfully goofy.  
            This is a fairly large book and it goes a lot of places. We meet Jimi Hendrix and we fight the Soviet Army with the Mujahiddin in the Eighties. Read the book.  F'god's sake, it's $2.99. Then leave a review.   Every author needs reviews.   Thanks for being here.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Stars: A Discourse on Atomic Transformation



Stars are fully conscious beings.
They know what they are,
they know what they do.
They have lives, beginning
and ending.  They have work
to do.  They have intellect
beyond our ken, emotions
vast and mighty.
Stars know what’s in their heart,
understand full well
how atomic nuclei fuse
to give them life,
control their power
and communicate
with other stars, and with the mighty hosts
of galaxies.
Stars participate
in the orchestra of cosmos,
stars love.  Stars love.  Stars love.
Stars sing, growl, howl, scream
adore, implore, quake, mistake,
correct, deflect, in counterpoint
composed by stars’ mighty fathers and mothers,
grandfathers and grandmothers, substance
of eternal generations going all the way back
to the beginning of this time, this time
which stretches long and rejoins itself
where stars truly begin.  And end.
Stars go crazy and explode, and shed
their substance in stellar
pregnancy and regeneration,
of doom and resurrection.
It is difficult for humans to conceive
the roaring inferno of love
out of which stars make their lives,
how the insides of stars determine
the outsides of stars, and how
at the very center of a star,
a single particle is always igniting,
igniting, igniting, that lightning
is to a star what a heartbeat
is to a man,
the most fundamental element
of existence, burning burning hot,
hot so hot beyond comprehending,
a melting love, a fusing love,
a uniting love, an orgasmic love
tied to everything in deep converse
merged with all in a universe
where voices cross the void
where void disappears into
inexplicable and infinitely tiny
spaces, like spaces inside our bodies
where atoms combine, where molecules
caress and form other lives.
Stars know what they are.
Stars are alive and individual,
quirky with personality,
often pulsing and drawing
gravity blood, gas and heat,
combining with other stars
combining and mating with other
stars and forming unions of
higher imaginations
in order to serve the Master  of Stars.
Even rogue stars, sad brown old stars,
invisible stars, fresh newborn stars
understand why they came to be
what they are
in the very first place.




Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Cat Heals An Autistic Man

     
This is Cookie
    

          One day we found out that an autistic man was going to move in next door.  I should remind you that we live in an RV.  We rent a site with power and plumbing, but sometimes we have to compromise on privacy.  Our south side, our lounge-and-relax area under the awning, is the side we would be sharing with the new neighbor.  
          I was concerned.  How autistic is he? I asked the manager.  "It'll be fine, he's very quiet," the manager responded.  The manager often tells people what he thinks they want to hear, so I discounted this bit of information.   Autism can be a vague diagnosis.  It contains so many degrees of malfunction that it has stretched beyond its original meaning of a soul completely lost to human interaction.  "A little autistic" could mean almost anything.
          When Henry moved in he took a look at me and The Fox and literally said"whew" as if he were relieved at what he saw.
          "Whew."  Where did he live before he came here?  His former neighbors, we later learned, were motorcycle people and meth freaks.  Whew, indeed.
          Henry divulged little about himself.  He said he liked cats.  That was fortunate, because our site is something like Cat Central at Vine Haven RV Campground.  We have two indoor cats and two outdoor cats, plus a wide variety of feral visitors and neighborhood pets.  There's something about this space that draws cats.  It might be the plum trees and their abundant population of wrens and robins.  We do our best to discourage bird hunting.
          There are people who claim their pets have super powers.  When I first heard this I was disdainful, but my thinking has changed.  Our cat Obsidian is a big brown tabby with green eyes.  I've seen him tame people in that Little Prince way, literally capture their unruly spirits and put them back in a more harmonious order.  That's Obsidian's super power, the power to restore tranquility.
          He's getting old, and so are we.  He doesn't jump the fence and climb around with the younger cats any more.  He has more important work to do.
          Our new neighbor Henry is middle-aged.  He is a fearful, cranky and withdrawn man, but we barely know he's here.  His social interactions are limited but acceptable.  He can be easily upset by minor disturbances.  He is so averse to noise that he can be pushed into a ferocious sulk by the mere revving of a motorcycle.

This is Obsidian

          He has been adopted by our two outdoor cats, wise old Obsidian and his sidekick, the comical black and white Cookie.  These cats have given structure to Henry's otherwise bleak world.  By loving Henry they have tricked him into loving.            I looked out the window one day to see the elusive and feral Cookie sitting calmly on Henry's lap.  I had never seen her behave this way.  It was strangely impressive.  Henry is a cat savant, he has some magical affinity that he didn't know he possessed until he moved close to Obsidian and Cookie.   
          I assume that you, my readers, understand how easily a friendly animal, a pet (if you will) can become a tyrant who turns your life upside down.  Henry is such an innocent that he immediately began flirting with disaster.  We had to set him straight without setting him off.  If he let Obsidian into his home even once, he would become nothing but a door man, opening and closing all day, all night, at the tabby cat's demand.  I caught him just on the verge of doing this very thing and rushed to halt the action.
          "Don't let him in, Henry!  Close your door, quick!"  He was frightened and cut Obsidian off  just as he was about to slip between his feet.
          I explained what had almost happened.  I spoke towards Henry's averted eyes and raised defensive shoulders.  I spoke to him as I would speak to any intelligent adult.  In Henry's heart, the need to trust someone was rising like a powerful burst of magma from a volcano deep beneath the sea.  His need to share the cats' companionship was forcing him to emerge from his shell and talk to us.  The cats pushed Henry past his fears.  I doubt he's had this much social interaction in a long time.
          In the next few weeks we learned more about Henry.  It wasn't easy but we supported his struggle to communicate. Then something unexpected happened.  Henry and Obsidian fell in love.  I'm not being flippant.  I'm not suggesting an improper liaison.  It's just that simple.  When Henry left to visit his mother, Obisidian sat on his front step, waiting for his return.  He would emit an occasional sob.  There's no mistaking Obsidian's sob.  He has an amazing gamut of vocalizations, including a perfectly robin-like cheep that must have been useful during his hunting years.
          I can't put it any other way.  They were in love with a pure emotional connection.  Henry's autism perhaps short-circuited his intellectual activity and left his feelings to flourish without interference from the busy mind.  I don't really know.  I watched this fountain of feeling take shape between Henry and the cats.  I could feel its authenticity in my guts.
          Henry leaves the campground for treatment four days a week.  When he first went away, Obsidian was inconsolable.  He went into a paroxysm of grief.  He stared into space for long periods.  He moped and cried.  But Obsidian gradually learned that Henry ALWAYS comes home.  Thus our cat friend's tranquility was restored.  He knows Henry will be back and that's enough to comfort him.  It took him a few weeks to get this; I watched him unwind and relax.  I watched his attention return to his world: the falling leaves and the showoff Cookie with her bounding up and down fences and trees.  Obsidian resumed his lordship of his domain.  The lost baby possum was under his protection.  The upstart kitten Stinker was not welcome and he meant business, even if he had to hire Cookie to teach Stinker a lesson.
          Now Henry has left for two weeks.  He has gone to Connecticut to visit his sister.  Three thousand miles! cried Henry in terror before he was picked up by his ride.  The enormity of this journey, its scale and distance, were almost paralyzing.  I shared with Henry my own fears about travel: the feeling that I'll never get home, I'll be trapped in some alien environment without the solace of my place and my people and animals and the routines that keep me from flying apart.  Henry and I aren't so different.  This bit of one on one engagement gave Henry something to take with him on this unprecedented trip.  He had shared an emotional link with another human being.  And he had given his heart to a big brown cat with green eyes.
          How different is Henry's world today?  That's not for me to say, but I suspect that it's just different enough...enough to make a difference.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Letter From The Afterlife Of A Terrorist Bomber




I thought I would be in Paradise
but I am in unspeakable hell.
The fire, the fire!
I thought it would only burn for a second,
but it keeps burning!
I thought I would lose consciousness
and wake up in heaven,
but I am stuck now for an eternity
in agony!
The screams of the innocent dying
are like poisoned darts,
lancing the exposed nerves of my inmost soul.
The tears of the bereaved in their  thousands
rain upon me like acid.
And the worst hell of all is my regret,
my infinite regret,
that I was so stupid, so gullible, so callous,
so easily swayed by insipid argument,
so readily moved to escape my depressing life
by casting it upon others.
I was so sure my mother would be proud
of her son, The Martyr, The Shaheed.
But she screams and tears the hair from her head
until she is half bald and looks like a plucked chicken.
The mothers of all the children I murdered were nothing
to me, they were not human, until now.
The fire, the fire!  The jet fuel
sears me for ten thousand years!
The screams and the grief that blame me, rightly,
crush me under a million tons of leaden metal and concrete!
Allah, Allah, I was not merciful, I was not compassionate,
and now when I call to you I see the grit of your robe
as you turn away from me.
I thought I would awake in Paradise.
What a dreadful mistake I have made!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Two Meditative Poems

 Something


Something
imagined us into existence.
That something was
very scientific,
very loving, very wild,
very mathematical,
very chaotic,
very purposeful,
very explosively given to
extravagance and elegance,
profusion and color,
yet so gentle that It knew
exactly how much to breathe
into the fire of life
without burning us all to cinders.
Imagined into existence,
we are here, duty bound
to imagine ourselves back to
that Something,
whose nature must take imagination
as the earth takes wind
for the circulation of its ideas.
I will imagine myself back into
the bosom of that Something
that made me
as a wind-wisp,
as a pink cloud from the most glory-stained
sunset, imaginable.  






The Gatekeeper


I have been knocking at this gate
my whole life,
knocking, knocking, so long
that my knuckles have worn
a hole through the wood,
and sometimes, if I stand
just right, I can see bits of light
coming from the other side.
I am afraid to put my eye
to the hole I have made by my knocking.
It is like looking
directly into the sun.
So I step back and keep knocking
making the entrance a little larger
with each knock,
with each prayer for understanding,
with each thirst
for what lies beyond the gate,
beyond this world.
I must wait respectfully
for the gatekeeper
to answer my summons,
though the temptation to batter
through the hole I have made is strong.
I would risk blindness,
risk incineration
in the world beyond the gate,
if I did not already hear
the footsteps of the gatekeeper.