How to Draw a Mirror

mirrorWords are magic. I mean this in a very literal sense, not as a metaphor. Words have changed the world, some would say the world was created with a word, as was life. When I write I am casting a spell, or attempting to.

If I do it right, there is a sequence, a certain combination of words arranged in a very particular order which will effectively transform the page, turn it into a mirror.

I think as much introspection and soul-searching and self discovery you indulge in, if you never attempt to put it down on paper where it can reflect back up to your eyes, you still have much to learn about yourself.

When I moved away from learning the fundamentals and experimenting with every aspect I encountered and really started to write, a window opened up through which I was finally able to see myself and face myself.

I think to some extent this is what all art attempts to do, to draw a mirror, to allow the world to witness its reflection and possibly learn, become wiser because of it. But the combinations change and do vary from person to person, so the job is never complete.

We must continue to cast our spells, find the new and ever altering patterns which unlock our perspective, and allow us to see ourselves and the entirety of existence hanging just out of sight behind the black ink structures we have laid upon the page.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

Fly

FLY

FLY

Oh, Mrs. Williams, if you could only see me now, a couple thousand feet above the east coast, swirling around, twisting in the clouds and probably about to die. I hope there’s something soft down there to land on…
~Fly, MEOWING ON THE ANSWERING MACHINE

Roadsong

roadsongI took my car today
and drove out for many miles
to where the road opens up
and the traffic disappears,
past seven islands of
fast food salvation,
past the edge of
radio reception,
where I found a song
from when I was younger.
As the darkness fell,
I sang it again…

There are roads branching off,
creeping over the horizon,
tracing paths into the unknown
where distant memories are held,
markers on the land where
I’ve left parts of my life behind,
let go of certain aspects,
abandoned ideas here
to be forgotten and fade away.
And I haven’t seen this
road since I was seventeen,
so sing it again…

Miles pass like the years,
each one faster than the last,
counting out the intersecting highways
like the rings of a tree.
Gravel kicks up memories below me,
the further I can get from where I was,
the closer I become to me,
so sing it again…

©Robert Emmett McWhorter 

Constellations

horoTrace the stars
Draw your path
Walk in the shapes
of Constellations
Tell everyone
That you’re wandering
aimless
Don’t let on the plan
Don’t let on…

Make your bed
Of grass and gravel
Sleep in the peace
of Constellations
Tell everyone
That they’re rich and
they’re famous
Don’t let on the plan
Don’t let on…

I’d get high
But I’m afraid of heights
I’d get high
I wobble when I drive
And my heart is
made of Styrofoam
It’s been packaged
Just for you

Talk with the stars
Make a promise
To live in the loft
of Infatuation
Tell my everything
Where your wandering
Mind Is
Tell me the plan
Tell me…

(august 1993)
© Robert Emmett McWhorter
published by Hermetic
Medical Records (ASCAP)

Bugs

BakerI’ve always hated bugs. I also used to think the words ‘Erotic’ and ‘Exotic’ meant the same thing. Imagine my unimaginable repulsion as I was walking past a pet shop advertising ‘Exotic Fish’.

Try to conjure the look on the store clerks face just before calling the police. Luckily I was abducted by aliens just moments before I would have been dragged from the large aquarium by a dozen frothing cops.

The aliens were very pleasant. They told me they were from a planet where there were no words for ‘erotic’ or ‘exotic’ and they were envious of my ignorance, saying, “You don’t know how good you have it” with that peculiar alien sigh we all love so much.

It’s a shame that we had to annihilate the lot of them, but they were godless heathen barbarians after all.

I returned home to live with my family in their luxurious mobile home– to set the record straight, it was not a mobile home in the sense of a house on wheels designed to rust around the rotting white trash in a trailer park, but rather a number of rooms hung from wires at different lengths, spinning and bobbing over a giant baby crib.

We were soon evicted and bused into a bathroom that was shared by an entire floor in the scummiest motel this side of the river Euphrates, it was the best day of my life.

Besides winning the lottery in thirty three of the continental United States and being inexplicably cured of my spleen cancer, I was also elected to the seat of ‘Token Incurable Maniac Faculty Member’ at Harvard. And, all sixty-seven counts against me in the pending federal subversive aggravated jaywalking case were mysteriously dropped.

I was unfazed by our squalid living conditions. A family of six, all in one room with absolutely no privacy, often being mistaken for a toilet by the stone-blind transient patrons of this motel. We were happy and in love and addicted to fifty-eight different chemicals at last count.

Ah yes, the good old days. I can still hear the early morning screams that seemed to come from nowhere, the indescribable and unidentifiable smell that would fill the air several times a day.

I am better able to describe the whole situation now, when I was interviewed on Letterman I was overdosing on pesto-bismal and could barely contain my composure to answer any of his questions.

DAVE: So, I hear you hate bugs.

Me: Yes… Well, no… What the hell is this some sort of interrogation?

DAVE: Hey! Hey! Settle down there, kid! Hey, don’t touch. Biff! Get
this freak off me!

Me: You pigeon-toed manipulator of human morals! You defiled my cat and destroyed all my household appliances! I am going to slice your body and sell it by the pound to cannibals.

DAVE: We’re going to take a commercial break, and when we come back O.J. Simpsons will be here!

When Letterman’s army took over Europe in 2023 I was, of course, banned form the continent. Spoiling my chance at the gold medal in the liver destruction competition in the next Spring Break Olympics which were held in Marrakesh that year.

I was distraught.

But, I had acquired enough camel cash finally to get a real, live camel.

camel

‘Been to the Desert on a Camel with Dead Batteries’

At least I thought it was real. Not until I was submerged in the nothing depths of the Mojave Desert and the stupid animal just seized up and fell over, did I learn that it ran on eight ‘D’ sized batteries. And no store for a hundred miles at least, in any direction. As they say ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitten.’

Nothing, no water, no life. Just the sand, a plastic battery operated dead camel, and I. Doomed to the greasy baking gristle that would become of my crisping skin, a hell of desert heat. Probably destined to die of heat stroke, again.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

Ohio

mg_bombheadinsideYou know what man? Fach Ohio! Eight hours of driving and the campground we’re looking for doesn’t even exist. We’re turned away at every subsequent spot, ‘All full up, try Sea Grove Park.’

Dismally we return to the car, ‘They told us to try you.’

The roads twist and just and disengage, branching out into dark, obscure county roads and Highways named after the Alphabet.

We get the attention of a police car, to ask for assistance and directions. Their pleasantries are a welcome mat of thorns. We tell them we’re looking for somewhere to camp, the cops turn on their flashers and more squad cars pull up behind us and make the display even brighter.

Two officers come to the window with a ‘what the hell are you doing in these parts’ demeanor. One of them rattles off a list of everything they’d like us to produce; Drivers License, Registration, Proof of Insurance, Proof of Purchase, Proof of Citizenship, Social Security Card, Medical and Dental Records, Work History and Tax Records for the past six years, all winning lottery tickets in our possession and any pornography we might have.

We suffered abuse and accusation before they understood that we were trying to ask them for directions. After some deliberation, a silent admittance began to shine through their dogmatic attitude of authority, they were as lost in these backward boonies as we were.

We gave up all hope. The police finally bid us goodnight, and we hopped back onto the turnpike, heading for the nearest rest stop.

Service plaza coffee, parking lot hotel. A hell full of hippies sleeping in and on their cars. Let’s wake these bastards up, the locals anyway, the ones with Ohio plates. Let’s make them party! In honor of their wonderful home state, in honor of a newly wonderful state of mind.

“Come on, ya fachs, get up! It’s four thirty, the sun will be rising soon!”

These roads won’t lead anywhere for us, only back to where we never wanted to be in the first place. So come on, native, lead us to the watering hole or the Booze ‘n Burgers. Take us somewhere we can let the car cool down while we roam along a stream or ascend into the trees.

Been up all night at the rest stop playing pinball, giving up when the machine overwhelmed me with at least a dozen balls for me to juggle at once.

Outside it is tranquil Light is just streaking the Eastern sky, between watermarked clouds with flat, black bottoms. The sun is yet to make it’s initial peek over the horizon, but it seems to be preparing a spectacular entrance for those brave enough to wait it out.

People are sprawled out on picnic tables, asleep, huddled up in large wads of sleeping bags and blankets. Headlights from trucks and cars are view-pointers for the constellations.

Birds in the trees are going crazy. Chattering on and on, moving from branch to branch, tree to tree. An owls god is as good as any, but fall is frighteningly imminent this morning.

They’re all on edge, ready to attack. Don’t shake the tree. We kept them up all night, and they’re trying to figure out what to do now that the cold is coming.

Chirp, chirp. What’re you going to do? I don’t know, what are you going to do? I’m not sure, let’s check with everybody else. Chirp, chirp.

They flutter around in confusion, trying to put it to a vote. Same thing as last year? Chirp, chirp.

South again? Fach south! We go south every year! Is that all you can think of?

The birds chirp wildly, almost in a riotous state, until one steps out and demands attention from the rest. “Well, can any of you think of somewhere else to go this winter? Anyone? Anywhere?”

The tree is silent and still. A slow remorse and resolve falls upon them, the birds all come to agreement on the plan.

“Come on, everyone! We’re heading South, again!” Chirp, chirp, chirp.

The sun makes its first appearance, coming over the Eastern sky. The birds gather in formation and disappear high in the sky. And cars full of hippies, some just waking, some still up from the night, flock together in line on Ohio’s winding turnpike in search of the paradise camping ground.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter (circa 1994)

Fast Cars, Rock & Roll

BonnieI was standing on stage, making my way through a new song. There’s always some discrepancy between how polished you think the song is at home, and how quirky it comes out the first time in front of a crowd. I stumbled through the bridge, and was glad to reach the middle break.

This particular song had a short instrumental part, a very minimalist rhythmic departure between the coda and the third verse. It gave the song a nice tempo-oriented break before moving onto the next segment, and gave me a moment to collect myself and try to remember the next batch of words.

I played the chord progression, hypnotizing myself in front of the crowd, the steady tick-tock of the tune, a thought popped into my head…

Exactly how much has the automobile influenced today’s music?

And I don’t mean in the sort of ‘fast cars and rock n’ roll’ sort of way, not the old tributes to the automobile that started in the late fifties as one of the earliest staples of the new genre, and continues into the present day. I’m not talking about songs named after a make or model, or songs which take place in a car; or even the whole sub-genres of music meant for the road (driving songs, road songs, and the ‘BOOM BOOM BOOM’ beats that are designed for today’s automotive sound systems), or even all the songs that will inevitably wind up in car commercials.

I mean, in a very literal sense, the automobile is such an integral part of life now, it even affects the creation of our art in the most minute, abstract sense.

The idea came from listening to the tempo of the song as I tried to recall the words, noticing that the rhythm very much resembled the almost algorithmic clicking of the turn signals on older American cars.

Standing there, I recalled a conversation I had earlier in the week, with an online friend. He is an older guy, more than twice my age. He was telling me about a song idea he had a few years back, and in trying to describe the tempo, he said, ‘Imagine a rock stuck in your tire and thumping the ground as you drove around at 20 mph.’

And I knew exactly the beat he meant.

It made me think, too, wonder about how much the car played a part in my own song writing, and not simply in the the lyrics where I use the travel and road as one of my common themes.

I thought of the countless times driving along when a melody would strike, or a few words for a chorus. I would sit there repeating the phrase over in my head to commit it to memory, adapting the rhythm to the motion of the windshield wipers.

So I wonder now, how often does this happen? How many of the great and timeless classics written in the last fifty years, music we hear on the radio everyday– if they are not already about traveling or about cars in some sense– how many of them have been written in a car, to the tempo of some accessory or even the knocking of the engine? how many droning melodies have been dreamed up in tune with a motors purr?

It’s a lot to think about in the middle of a new song, trying to recall how the final verse begins. I think I seamlessly refocused my attention and finished the song. After all it was a brand new piece, never played before, so any momentary lapse, any back up of traffic in the chords as they yield right-of-way to the lyrics, most likely went unnoticed.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

Desert Still Life


  Labrador Dali ‘Exile on Myspace’ CD 2008

We’ve run out of road
And we’ve run out of night
We can keep on driving
But we cant get anywhere
The sunlight’s going to catch us eventually
But for a little while
Weren’t we almost free?

There was a moment there
So remember today
There was a moment there
Then it got away

And back by the camp
The tapers sleepwalking
They’re waking and bacon in room eight
They’re changing the guard out on the porch
With the turtle beer
And that bread they break

And there was a moment there
When I thought you would stay
There was a moment there
But it got away


© Robert Emmett McWhorter
published by Hermetic
Medical Records (ASCAP)

Last Call

last callSunday, 14 March 2004
Topic: overheard conversations

The following is a phone conversation that occurred the other day between me and a character from one of my earliest works; postcards from the end of the world; mentioned previously in the entry titled ‘Why It Is Important to Kill Off Characters at the End of Your Stories’, and I think this exchange further displays the gravity of the situation.

I placed this call to the public transportation info number, and thought I was speaking with an employee of the department, until about midway into the conversation, i realized the horrible truth.

Furthermore, before i begin the narrative, i would like to reinforce the point that the person in this dialogue named Hector is a fictional character from a book I wrote about ten years ago, and not my cat, who also happens to share the name. I mean, let’s not get silly- cats can’t talk.

Thank you for calling Pub-trans, How can we assist you today?

“Uh, hi. OK. Basically I’m at Harlem and Trapezoid and I’m trying to get to Trapezoid and Flog Road or Flow Street. Now I think from when I worked out here years ago that there is one bus that goes down Trapezoid.”

Not as far west as Flog Road or Flow Street

“Hmmm… Maybe it was Chase Street, is there a bus that will go from Harlem and Chase all the way to Flow Street and Chase?”

If you really want to do all that walking. Look. Here is what you do. You stay right where you are and a number 90 H bus will be at your corner in 2 minutes 16 seconds.

“That goes south down Harlem though, doesn’t it?”

Yes it goes down to the Harlem depot, where you can transfer to the 3EE train at 3:45 which will take you to the airport.

“Yeah. You see, I don’t want to go south, or go to the airport. I am just trying to home, which is near Trapezoid and Flow Street.”

I understand that sir, but there isn’t one bus that goes down Trapezoid, they all head to the airport from here. Now from the airport you can catch the 138-A at 4:10 from terminal Green-Seven-Puppy.

“And the 138-A bus will take me to Trapezoid and Flow Street?”

No sir, the 138-A goes thru the west side of the city to the Jefferson depot along the border of the Project-Nations.

“Why on Earth would I want to get on that bus?”

I think you’ll find it very entertaining, intriguing even. It is soon to be the latest craze.

“Riding the 138-A into Crackton?”

Are you familiar with Mystery Tours? They are a sort of dinner theater which takes place on a train; they are interactive, the audience becomes involved in the story. During the course of the trip, a murder mystery is unfolded and it is up to the passengers to solve the crime.

“I am familiar with the concept, yes.”

The city is experimenting with a similar idea on scale for city buses. The 138-A is one of our first Urban Mystery Trips.

“Gangland Death-ride would be a more appropriate name.”

It is now the cities official stance that what was viewed for years and misinterpreted as gang violence occurring on public transportation was, in fact, actors, acting and preparing for this day. The city has been in the process of developing this project for over thirty years.

“It’s a good thing they weren’t in charge of inventing the wheel. We would all still be walking.”

You know I hate when you do that.

“Do what?”

Whenever you write something in first person, in the course of almost any conversation that occurs, you will have the secondary character- myself in this case- play the straight man; basically feeding you dry, straight-forward dialogue off which you can zing out one liners and funny asides. You never give the good lines to the other guy.

“I don’t think that’s true at all. If you look at aftermarket soul for instance, you’ll see that even though its written entirely in the first person, the ‘Me’ character plays a mostly static role-

Oh, please, save it. I did not arrange this conversation to listen to you rattle on endlessly about your writing.

“Oh. Hello, Hector.”

Well, it’s about time. I thought maybe you had forgotten about me.

“Believe me, I try.”

See, i don’t know whether to comment on how that statement completely reinforces my previous point, or- just how flawed the thought process is which would prompt such a declaration from you.

“What the hell are you talking about?”.

My indecision on how to react. The fact that I can’t choose between to possible directions in which to move the conversation proves that I do possess freewill; which goes on to prove that I am a completely sentient being.

“Which proves?”

Look, the fact that I am sitting here talking to you on the phone; taking time out of my actual life to talk to you- proves beyond a doubt that you have gone completely nuts. I am a character from your book, right? But here I am, and I don’t really get it either; but I have to get up every morning and go to work regardless, i didn’t ask to be real; but I am certain of one thing- it proves that you are out of your mind.

“Why are you telling me this?”

I want you to stop writing about me. I want nothing further to do with you.

“But I don’t write about you anymore…

You’re doing it right now.

“I’m standing on a corner trying to get a bus home.”

OK. Whatever. You know what? Write anything you like. It doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t care. You know why? I am going to stop reading it. I am not reading another line you write. I quit.

“But you can’t quit, I wrote you.”

~click~

“Hector?”

(silence)

“Hello?”

(long pause.. dial tone.. end of transmission)

©Robert Emmett McWhorter

Garage Door Revisited

carcolorFezby handed me the keys, a pointed tangle of metal poking my hand, digging into my skin.

“You’ll have to drive, you’ll have to do it somehow,” He stuttered, trying to talk without getting enough air in his lungs. “I can’t. Look at me, okay– sorry I said that. I can’t drive, trust me. I’ll guide you, I’ll be your eyes.”

I followed his footsteps, I could tell he wasn’t walking right either. One foot struck the ground hard and the other dragged after it.

I heard the chime of the open door and felt my way into the driver’s seat. Fezby shut me in, and made his way around to the other side and into the passenger seat.

I sat for a moment, the clump of keys in my hand, unsure what I was supposed to do next.

“Here,” Fezby was trying to guide my hand. I didn’t know what he was trying to make me do, I felt I was fighting him, I felt I was getting in his way. He took the keys from me, and put them where ever they needed to go.

The engine fired up, the car purred around me. I was expected to operate this heavy machine. The rattling, vibrating pulse under my legs and up my back was the car letting me know it waited on my word.

Fezby grabbed my hand, guiding it to a cold and somewhat sticky sort of handle. I studied it, working my grip around it, the top was scalloped to fit my fingers.

“This is the gear shift,” Fezby’s hand over mine nudged my thumb to depress a button, the handle felt free to move in my grip. “The steering wheel is in front of you. And at your feet are the pedals, these are important, the gas in on your right and the brake in one the left. Step on the brake and I’ll put us in gear.”

I kicked around with my feet. They became entangled with two protrusions. I couldn’t get a good feel with Fezby’s urgency. I stepped on the left, the pedal moved against the pressure.

Fezby yanked my hand and the plastic handle moved back, clicking past a few notches. The car came to life under me, around me, vibrating harder and louder, responding to me.

“You’re going to take your foot off the brake and the car will move backwards. When I say stop, press the brake, when I say go faster, press the pedal on the right. When I tell you to turn, just twist the steering wheel in front of you,” the urgency of Fezby’s bark became a little calmer. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t want to do this, I don’t want to ride with you, no offense, but I don’t see we have much choice. Let go of the brake and back us out.”

I let pressure off my leg, felt the pedal releasing, I thought it was stuck to my shoe the way it leaned in on my foot . The car bucked under me. My stomach dropped as far down into my intestines as it could manage. I was thrown for a moment from my seat, and the car growled loudly at me. I heard a crashing, a grinding of metal, a buckling or crunching. My head hit something in front of me, the windshield, I heard Fezby hit it too. He cried out in surprise or pain or both. The car still purred, agitated now, but not moving. I had made it mad, or bristled its fur, I wasn’t sure.

“What did I do?” my forehead throbbed where my head had hit against the glass, a pain piercing my skull. My left hand gripped the steering wheel, I wasn’t sure if I was shaking that hard or if the car was shaking me.

“I put us in the wrong gear,” Fezby’s excited tone calmed enough to let a slight laugh break through. “You hit the garage door. Bent it right in. No matter, I’ll fix that later. This is going to be harder than I thought.”

This last statement didn’t ease my fear, my nervousness, the awful feeling of have no idea what I was doing. But he was right, Fezby couldn’t drive. I was going to have to do the best I could with his direction and hope I didn’t kill anyone on the way.

We hadn’t moved much at all and I’d crashed into the garage. It didn’t make me feel comfortable or in control. I was afraid if we actually did make it to the hospital, both of us would in need of medical attention.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

Wall of Water

October 3rd Writing Group exercise: ‘Experience a Rainstorm’

rainI sat in still traffic, waiting for the light to turn green. From the west, I saw something approaching. I couldn’t tell what it was. It seemed to be a shadow, a darkness creeping toward me. It reached the intersection; my stomach tied itself in a knot, I saw that whatever it was, it would be upon me soon.

The darkness crept over my car; it was such a distinct border between shadow and light, unlike I have ever seen. Raindrops beat furiously on the roof. I yanked the handle for the wipers, but they were unable to help. Blades dragged back and forth on the windshield; smearing dirty, greasy water; making it harder to see.

The storm came on so quick, there was no build up, no drizzle or sprinkles to warn me; only a sudden switch between clear skies and this torrent.

A honk came from behind me. I couldn’t see the stop light; I wondered if the car behind me could, or was just anxious to move. I crept forward a little, pulling onto the shoulder, letting the car behind me go on its way. I shook my head a moment, thinking of this blinded driver in such a hurry, wondering what could be so important that he had to proceed.

I felt trapped inside frosted glass, the sound like popping popcorn distracting my thoughts. I rubbed a sleeve at the window, a vain attempt to clear the fog. Should I crack a window to defrost the glass, and soak me in the process? Or should I wipe it away as best I could, knowing this would only make the fog come back stronger, more determined to block my view?

My question was met by silence; it took a moment to register. As quickly as the rain had come upon me, it was now gone. The wipers swept the last of the water away, and squeaked against dry glass, informing me they’d completed their task.

It was as if it never happened. The sun was beating down again, the sky peaceful and clear. The only evidence was the darkened pavement, and off to the east now, the retreating wall of water creeping out of view.

I thought for a moment about the car that had been behind me, but was in such a rush to move on. I wondered if he was still stuck inside the odd, localized downpour. Perhaps, for one reason or other, he was chasing the storm, or perhaps the Storm was chasing him.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter