April 27, 2014

Who Am I and What Have I Done With My Pen?

Who Am I and What Have I Done With My Pen? 
By John R. Greenwood

"The long road ahead"
This was a strange day and in some ways a mildly painful one. It began the night before while watching the Colbert Report. The guest was author George Saunders and he was promoting his latest book, “Congratulations, by the way”. The book is a transcript of a convocation speech he gave at Syracuse University where he teaches. The speech touched on the desire of many of us to lead kinder more fulfilling lives. Now, I hadn’t even read the speech or any of his other books. I had not even heard of the man before yesterday, but as I researched his background, I realized something. I realized that my thirst may never be quenched. What I found when I began reading some of the things he’d written was that I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I have no doubt about his talent. He had more awards and accolades than you could shake a stick at. The problem was, I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand what people found so “amazing” about his stories. I liked his interviews and his demeanor. I found his imagination to be extraordinary. What I struggled with was enjoying his stories. Maybe I’m lazy. Maybe I don’t want to think about what I’m reading. Maybe I need to be better educated to enjoy someone who borders on genius. I was upset at myself. I kept looking up more of his work, more interviews, more reviews. All I got was more frustrated with my own work. Were did I stand when it came to ability and possibility. Why did this bother me so much? I felt claustrophobic. I was facing a serious feeling of self doubt. Was I wasting my time even touching a laptop or picking up a pen? I spent an entire Saturday letting this subject swirl around my head. I have been told my writing was descriptive and well crafted. I sometimes even believed it. But when I started comparing experience and accolades I began sinking lower in my chair. My shoulders slumped and my confidence level dropped below freezing. I started to stiffen up. My head was pounding. What was happening? Do others experience this phenomenon? 

I finally talked myself off the ledge. I was convinced that what was happening was normal. I didn’t have to rely on my writing to pay the car payment--I had a nine to five for that. What I did need was more courage, more gumption, less whining. Did I really think my silly little blog posts could compare to the talent of someone who’d won a Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowship in the same year? He was famous and I was not. On one hand I couldn’t feel more distant and on the other, the desire to put my thoughts and dreams down on paper was exactly the same as his. He’d paid his dues. I was just beginning. The difference right now was years, or maybe just minutes. I went back to George for a second look. I would buy one of his books. I would study and survey his work more thoroughly. Who was I to think this stuff comes naturally. How arrogant of me. I learned a valuable lesson today. I learned that there are more books than libraries, more trees than forests. I owed it to George to look closer. The ability to grow and thrive depends on our resolve and doing your homework. It doesn’t come on a silver platter. I felt compelled to write about my shortcomings as an artist because I made the mistake of using a measuring stick instead of looking in the mirror. It isn't about the reviews; it's about the person being reviewed. It's about being true to what speaks to you. The problem comes when you're not listening. Today I vowed to open my eyes and listen more closely. 

April 21, 2014

The Ride Home

The Ride Home
By John R. Greenwood

 As I sat at my writing desk (my weathered picnic table in the side yard) I watched the passing cars and pickup trucks returning home from work. It was a regular, old-fashioned Monday night, 6pm, after work parade. 

Something that was a part of my life for forty years--for some reason--tonight stood out like a sore thumb. Maybe it was the quiet of the moment. It was mid-April. The snow was gone. The sun had a half an hour left in her and the Nuthatches were beginning their evening ritual of circling the trees that surrounded my house. 

I was content and the traffic seemed that way too. Monday’s pace didn’t have that Friday night impatience vibe in it. It was as if each passing vehicle had gone into some NBA final minute stall trying to run the clock out at the end of the game. A desperation attempt to squeeze a little more spring enjoyment out of the ride home. I was sitting in my own yard but I felt the same way. It was such a hard fought winter and spring always passes through like a brakeless freight train.

The whistling tires and bass thumping stereos had an orchestra feel to them as they passed by. My heart rate slowed and my pencil seemed to flow across the lines of the page as easily as grandma frosting a chocolate cake. My mind mellowed out like it did when work hadn’t found me yet. I felt relaxed and happy as a kid with no homework or chores to do.

The traffic thinned, the breeze picked up, and the air cooled a degree or two. The sun was losing it’s grip and falling behind the shadowed hill. I heard a mother calling out to her kids to come in for dinner. I gathered up my empty coffee cup and my writing ‘gear’. 

I felt better than I had in months--spring fed and smiling. 

It was a nice ride home tonight, don’t you think? 

April 20, 2014

Easter Story

Easter Story
By John R. Greenwood

Silly tales make smiles emerge, softly in the tuck of an arm, and bubble sounds like sprinkled sugar upon warm pastry please a one boy crowd. I collect these simple moments so fleeting, like July fireflies, jarred up and set upon a bedroom sill. A little ones first Easter nourishes me like April rain a flower’s bed. I smile in return and squeeze tight the love staring back at me. 

April 14, 2014


By John R. Greenwood

delusion haunts me every waking hour and then the hours beyond
as the years collide I wonder where the search will end or if? 

what waits there, where illusion and delusion collide 
like battling brothers whose minds can't agree 

listening at every corner with eyes open sky-wide
the taste of sweet corn makes me smile

never sure what train I'm on 
or if I belong at all, I remain un-still and restless

photographs tell me what to write
the pens stalls and wanders off as if dementia riddled 

another night falls asleep, quietly begging for forgiveness
for all it's bravery - what is, really isn't

April 13, 2014

New Umbrella Then Comes The Rain

New Umbrella Then Comes The Rain
By John R. Greenwood

$49.97 was the ticket price. The bright blue stripes whistled at me from the corner. 

Not more than three hours earlier I pulled some of the lawn furniture out from the darkness of the cellar. With it came the yellow patio umbrella. The umbrella was intact, but it was as faded as a twenty year old curtain. I whispered in through the window screen to my wife,  "I think it's time to replace 'Old Yeller'". 

My wife knows that for me, the spring lawn fertilizer comes first, and any new lawn accessories second, so I think I caught her off guard. Being the perpetual decorator she is, she grasped the opportunity handed her and said, "How about something with a pattern for a change?" Being a veteran of the Husband Army for almost 40 years I stopped just short of a puss and just nodded in agreement. As an HA Veteran I learned in year 38 when to surrender. 

Jump ahead a few hours and I'm headed out on a solo flight to "Orange and Ugly" to search for a bolt I lost when winterizing my motorcycle. Did you notice how I jumped from lawn work to my motorcycle? That's what happens when men are left alone 
outside for too long. Anyway, I was in the home improvement store shopping for motorcycle parts when I spotted, "New and Blue" in the corner of the outdoor furniture department. The umbrella was just how my wife had described it. It was a nice fresh blue color with stripes. The best part was the price. They're only good for a couple of seasons anyway, why spend more than $49.97? 

I crept in the driveway hoping to sneak the new umbrella into the center of the table as an unexpected surprise. I knew the person inside was baking me a fresh apple pie. I wanted to reciprocate my appreciation. Sometimes things just fall into place, uncharacteristically, today was one of those days. I found the bolt I needed at "Orange and Ugly" and Mrs. G. loved her new umbrella. Her decorating instincts intact, she was right again, the stripes did look nice.  

We were looking forward to tomorrow being another sunny spring day so we could sit in the backyard and enjoy some fresh air under our new addition, but as you know, all good stories must come to an end. This one pulled up short on Sunday morning when I awoke to the sound of pelting rain on "New and Blue". 

Well, it was a good run, I really didn't want to take the motorcycle out for a ride either. 

April 11, 2014

Arlington Roosters

Arlington Roosters
By John R. Greenwood

I saw roosters today
 playing with the children
so happy 
Spring finally arrived 
they danced 
and sang
and crowed 
till the cows came home

April 07, 2014

A Sign From Chaz

A Sign From Chaz
By John R. Greenwood

I often think of how many people pass by this sign every day with no thought of its roots. I see it every day on my way to and from work and I’m well aware of its significance. I silently salute this quiet memorial and its namesake with each pass. Chaz Dake was the older brother of one of my childhood friends. He fit the proverbial big brother persona perfectly with his wise cracking sense of humor and envelope pushing bravery. His smile, a gift of his parents Charlie and Philly, was infectious and warm. As a boy in my pre-teen years I remember fondly how much I envied my friend for having an in-house comedian to entertain the family. Chaz in the 1960’s was always “Chip” to most who knew him. It slowly matured to Chaz as he entered his high school years. In my high school years Chaz was already out making his own way in the world and I only saw him on occasion. When I did run into him he always greeted me with that smile and a firm handshake. Chaz met an untimely and tragic death several years ago and this sign appeared a short time later. Today something caused me to brake and turn around as I passed by. It has been a long winter and I have been yearning for an excuse to roll the window of my pickup down and savor some fresh air. On this day I got my wish. As I passed the field I saw and heard a handful of teens kicking a soccer ball around. They were like spring foals enjoying their new found freedom from winter’s womb. At first I slowed but continued on. Something pulled me over though and made me turn around. As I pulled up to take the photo of the sign above the boys paused as if waiting for me to chase them off the gated field. They couldn’t have been more mistaken. They had no idea how grateful I was to hear the freedom in their voices as they yelled out to each other while passing the ball back and forth between them. This vision and the sounds that emanated from it instantly transported me back to the 1960’s where a similar scene would have taken place on a long grassy expanse next to the Dake home. It was in that large yard with giant maples running along one side where it would have been touch or tackle football instead of soccer but the youthful sounds and camaraderie would have been exactly the same. I was in a time machine as I stood there absorbing their joy. Suddenly all the faces of my youth were standing next to me watching and wishing we could go back for one more game. In our youth we take those moments for granted, never truly understanding how cherished they will be decades later. We look at the elderly and never think of how they got there. We spend those childhood snippets of time like pocket change, never realizing how valuable they would become if only we’d placed them gently in the coin jar, one by one. Holding the memory coins lovingly in our hand before letting go. 

I believe the force that turned me around and brought me back that day was something from above. I think it began days earlier when my friend, (Chaz’s little brother) and I volleyed some emails back and forth. They were simple stories we dug from our past and shared with each other. Often we test each other’s recollection of similar events. These volley’s of memory always result in some surprises we once thought would never be forgotten. 

I am grateful for all the friends in my past and their big brothers, little sisters, their mothers, grandfathers, and everyone in between. Small town gold I call it. Veins of gold I continue to mine and squirrel away for those winter days when the fields are frozen in snow and the soccer ball is no where to be found. 

Something told me Chaz was out on that field today smiling back at me, far enough away that he thought I wouldn’t recognize him. I raised my hand in appreciation and waved just to let him know I could see him clear as a bell.  

Summer 2013

April 06, 2014


By John R. Greenwood

Psst, have you heard the news? A chatty robin just told me that "Spring" is hiding just around the corner. She heard how bad "Winter" had been behaving and thought she better head our way. She knew "Winter" hadn't gotten much attention in the last few years and got a little riled when he overheard "Summer" say they thought maybe "Winter" had gotten a little soft in the middle. Apparently "Winter" felt disrespected and felt a need to flex his muscles this year. "Winter" has always taken great pride in being the tough guy of the group. He never took pleasure in power outages or school closings but he did like being the big man on campus when it came to Weather Channel interviews with snowplow drivers and Wisconsin retirees complaining about having to shovel out the ends of the driveway for the umpteenth time.  

April 04, 2014

The Blue Shed

The Blue Shed 
By John R. Greenwood

It was old man Crouch who built the big blue shed up on top of Pine Tree Hill. Oscar Crouch spent every morning up there. 

Dart was now eleven and he'd spent the last two summers mustering up the courage to find out the reason why. It seemed strange to him that in a town called Wonderville no one felt a need to dig any deeper in to old man Crouch’s business. Dart wasn’t even a teenager yet and he knew being nosy was SOP in a small town. Maybe the rest of Wonderville knew something he didn’t. 
Dart liked Oscar Crouch and even though the two never really exchanged more than a polite wave to each other Dart was drawn to this quiet man who walked out the backdoor of his tilting farmhouse and up to the little blue shed seven mornings a week, rain or shine. 

Dart got his nickname from his Uncle Sparks, who got his nickname from his father Cheeks. Grandpa Cheeks never shared how he got his nickname but even a one-eyed man with a cataract could see it was those big red blotchy Santa cheeks that were almost always in a smiling arrangement. Dart couldn’t remember Grandpa Cheeks ever playing Santa but he would have made a great one.

Uncle Sparks loved to tell the story of how his birth name of Chester never appeared on anything but deeds or diplomas. Since he never graduated from Wonderville High, Sparks was the only name anyone ever knew him by. Uncle Chester became Uncle Sparks on his birthday, July 4th 1936. Grandpa Cheeks was so happy his son was born on Independence Day that he saw sparks fly when the doctor proclaimed, “You have a healthy baby boy Cheeks! He was born with freedom in his heart and an American flag in his hand.” Dart loved hearing that story and Uncle Sparks and Grandpa Cheeks loved telling it. 

Uncle Sparks lived right up the street. There was a dirt path worn through the backyards between the homes. There were no expensive bags of lawn food needed in Wonderville. You were too busy working to mow the lawn. The thinner the grass the better. No one batted an eye at a beaten path through the middle of their lawn. It made a safe bike trail too. The traffic was much friendlier behind the houses. 

Wonderville seemed to be the Capital of nicknames and poor Mr. Crouch, Oscar Crouch, had no escape from brave little children yelling across the street, “Look, it’s Oscar the Crouch!” He never looked angry about it. He would simply crack a small, corner-of-the-mouth smile, and keep walking. If he was headed up to the blue shed he never flinched. 

Dart got his nickname when he was seven years old. It was in Uncle Spark’s backyard down the street. The lawn was filled with relatives bearing birthday gifts for Uncle Sparks and bowls of potato salad for the combo America/Uncle Sparks birthday party. There were cousins galore all running and playing in the July heat. Dart was seven, a bundle of energy, and the fastest kid to ever wear a pair of Keds. As the crowd of relatives thickened their patience thinned. Just as Harold (soon to be nicknamed Dart) came roaring around the back of the garage, Aunt Sparkles (Yes, you guessed it. Uncle Sparks and Aunt Sparkles) stepped out of the backdoor with a tray of glasses and a pitcher full of grape Kool-Aid. The two of them collided in a slow motion, grape rain that found its way to every bleached white t-shirt within thirty feet. Every man, women, and child stopped in suspended grape animation--everyone but Harold. Harold spun around and saw the look on poor Aunt Sparkles face and he darted for that dirt path that would lead him home. He hid under his bed in a sticky grape panic for what seemed liked days. When his mother found him and led him back to the birthday party the name Dart was born. 

In the years between nine and eleven Dart began fine-tuning his observation skills. His energy tapered off and his curiosity began to take its place. Old man Crouch was at the center of that inquisitiveness. Dart’s friends had tired of Oscar the Crouch. They were on to other adventures. Dart headed in the opposite direction--up to Pine Tree Hill. 

The blue shed was maintained in opposing condition to Crouch’s crooked farmhouse. The shed was as neat as a pin on the outside. Dart was pretty sure it had been coated with fresh paint every year since it was built. There were two large windows with heavy shudders. Crouch would open them while he was there and close them each day before he left. The forged steel clasp on the door had an antique oil-soaked lock on it. There was nothing outside but flower boxes on the windows. During the summer they were always stuffed with big white petunias that always looked like they were smiling. The contrast between the white petunias and the blue shed made a striking statement at the top of Pine Tree Hill. It gave off a calming aura, it was as if it were trying to say something. Dart could feel this even as a kid. He couldn’t understand why people in town weren’t up here poking their nose into things.  

It was the last week of June and school was already a distant memory. Dart got up each morning when his father left for work. One morning after two slices of  peanut butter coated toast and a glass of cold frothy milk he rode his bike down the backyard path and up to the bottom of the hill where he had a good view of the blue shed. There he would let his imagination meander as he waited for old man Crouch to pass by. Dart had taken a courage pill this morning, he was going to ask Oscar Crouch if he could come inside the shed and look around. 

What’s the worse thing that could happen? 

He could see Crouch coming. He was carrying a heavy paper bag, the kind you use to get at the grocery store, the ones you don’t even see anymore. Dart saw that as an opening. 
As he approached, Dart called out to him, “Can I carry that bag for you Mr. Crouch?” 

“Certainly, that would be very kind of you.” Crouch replied. “What are you doing up so early anyway?” 

“I get up and have breakfast with my father. Most of my friends aren’t even up yet. I came up to Pine Tree Hill to ask you a question. Do you mind?” 

Crouch never hesitated, “Sure.” 

Dart wasn’t expecting such a quick and easy response. It took him off guard. He took a deep breath and let it fly. “I see you come up to this blue shed every day. You never miss even one. What do you do in there? Can I come inside?” 

“Well Dart it’s a long story, only the old-timers in town know. The younger folks are too busy to care and you and your friends have probably made up some crazy kid theory of your own. The fact is Dart, I make wooden toys by the bag full, and yes, you are more than welcome to come inside and look around. It would be nice to have some company. 
You see son, Mrs. Crouch and I couldn’t have children. Her health issues prevented us from even adopting. She passed away many years ago. I promised her I would find a way to get children into my life. I have been making these simple little toys ever since. Come on in, I have a wooden puzzle for inquisitive little boys like you.”

Inside the blue shed was a thick wooden workbench ten feet long. It was surrounded by meticulously kept tools of all kinds. The smell of fresh pine filled every corner of the building. The white petunias engulfed the view out the windows. Dart felt like he was in Santa’s workshop. In a way he was. The two of them stood there looking at each other smiling. 

Even though Dart finally knew what was in the blue shed he still felt there was more to the story. He couldn't help but wonder why people didn't talk about it more. As he slowly walked around the shop looking at all the toys in various stages of construction he couldn't help but wonder why many of them were painted in the same blue color as the shed. 
"Mr. Crouch, why blue?" 
For the first time Crouch paused without answering. He stood there looking out at the giant white petunias. 
 "You see Dart, my wife Petula and I were both the only children in our families. Neither one of us came from large families but we lived on either side of a family much like yours. It was a family where aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters were as thick as a June hayfield. We both loved spending our time there in the chaos of a large family and when we grew to love each other as adults we vowed to raise a house full of kids after we married. This town saw us grow up together and when we found out our home would be one without children the town shared our grief. We promised each other that we would not let our situation sour our love of children so we pretty much adopted an entire town full. People in town always admired my wife's ability to keep a full generous heart even though they knew the pain it held. She died in a winter storm the week before Christmas when her car got stuck on the railroad tracks just outside of town. The back seat was full of presents. She was taking them to the orphanage in a town north of here. The town was silent for months. I was devastated as you can imagine but slowly the people in town pulled me out of my shell. They encouraged me to begin making toys again. They said, "Do it for Pet." So that is what I did. I have been doing this ever since. The color blue came from Pet's love of the song Blue Christmas. Although it brings me to tears it also brings her close to me when I hear it. I know you're young and you may not understand but someday you will." 
Dart stood there clutching a wooden train engine painted deep blue with red wheels and a green roof. For some reason he knew exactly what Oscar Crouch was saying, and feeling. 

I'll have a blue Christmas without you;
I'll be so blue thinking about you.
Decorations of red
On a green Christmas tree
Won't mean a thing
If you're not here with me.

And when the blue snowflakes start falling
That's when those blue memories start calling
You'll be doing alright with your Christmas of white,
But I'll have a blue blue Christmas.

I'll have a blue Christmas, that's certain;
And when that blue heartache starts hurting,
You'll be doing all right
With your Christmas of white,
But I'll have a blue, blue Christmas.
Billy Hayes & Jay W. Johnson -1948

This story was a submission to a short story contest I entered. In the end I wrote two stories, the first of which I considered practice. It's called "Photograph In The Closet". You can read it here

April 02, 2014

Work Ethic

Work Ethic 
By John R. Greenwood

Work Ethic 
a belief in the moral benefit and importance of work and it’s inherent ability to strengthen character. 
origin 1950-1955 

Brian Vogel
I spent the night shift riding in a gas tanker with a man who defines the term work ethic. In fact, I am surrounded by people burgeoning with it. In my decades of employment I've felt a moral obligation to not just practice it, but to place it on a pedestal and worship it. I also feel a need to salute those who’ve spent their lives practicing it without the realization that what they were doing was anything special. To me, it’s as special as stardom or celebrity. Work ethic created the "American Dream" we all strive for. Is not the journey in search of the "American Dream" the actual product? How would we know if it was something more or less? Isn’t possessing the freedom to work at whatever endeavor we desire the actual dream? Some of us realize that dream in various levels and stages, but to be a man behind bars, sealed in a cage of worklessness, is to me the antidream. Simply having choices is enough for me. What I do for work may be influenced by need or want, but ultimately I am the decider. I get to stand or sit, walk or run. If I am successful, I am the beneficiary of the amount of effort. I can also take immense pleasure in the knowledge that success is based on 'my' interpretation not yours. Regardless of public opinion you are as successful as you choose to be. You may install cellulose projectatrons and solar diffractionites in radon based incepticals at projectile speed and be a giant among others of less capabilities, but if you’re not happy doing it, work ethic has no meaning.  

I take pride in saying I have a good work ethic but if in reality I am a slacker and a slouch I will probably find my monetary rewards drastically reduced. It doesn’t mean I can’t still be happy. You see, it’s my decision to be happy. The truth is, success is usually directly proportionate to the degree of work ethic. Success is defined on a sliding scale. For example, I’m pretty happy with my life. I could take a dirt nap tomorrow and say I had a real good run. I’m 58 and have never even been to Florida or been up in an airplane, but I’m still happy. I hit a $600 Take Five Quick Pick twice in 2013, did you? I’m pretty lucky right? I don’t whine because it wasn’t a Mega Million Jackpot, I revel in the proportional moment. The same is true with work ethic. I am glad to possess the ability to work. I feel it has given me a moral benefit, and that it has strengthened my character. I am also proud to know hundreds of people that feel just like I do. I am truly blessed to have many of those people working at my side every day. To my friend the gas driver, I thank you for your effort. To my friends across this country who get up everyday and put their best foot forward walking out the back door in search of the American Dream, I thank you for doing what you do. Whether it’s the night shift, day shift, or swing shift it has it’s rewards. All you have to do is realize them today and then do it again tomorrow. 

Yours truly,

The nine-fingered milkman 
John R. Greenwood