May 30, 2014

You Realize

You Realize
By John R. Greenwood

You wake up one day and you realize that fifty-eight years just scooted under your chair like a late night mouse and left you nothing more than a few nibbled crumbs of proof. Frightened by the thought, your tendency is to run after shadows of the past in hopes of recapturing the joy of high school summers and ski trip winters beside the woman who still fills your heart with love and support. Avoiding obituaries and embracing doctor's orders you pray for a stay of execution and sprint to the next day looking for more fuel for your mind and spirit. I've made that leap and without looking back I grasp at the handle of a moving bus hoping for a ride to another state of consciousness. A destination I've yet to identify. A place where I can flex my creative muscles and stretch my mind wide enough to let the future in for a look around. Having never traveled more than a state in any one direction my view of the world is untainted still. I yearn for something more, something alive and breathing with expression. I'm counting on a river and an artist to bring my dream to the porch steps out front. I am naive enough to retain a junior high optimism that my journey's destination is about to knock. I cup my ear with my hand, tilt my head toward the door and listen to the approaching footsteps. Never doubt your instincts. Never question your passion. Never close your eyes to a vision yet to be named. Always and forever strive for another day, another ride, another daybreak. 

I wrote this a few minutes after receiving a used book titled,"A Brush With Fate" by artist Jack Lewis. The book is packed with his colorful paintings along with additional background about his life. It assured me that my interest in his story is a worthwhile one. It is also a pull that never seems to take a day off. The following day I contacted the University of Delaware. Through my research I discovered they possess a copy of a documentary done about Jack's life. My next goal is to find a way to view that film. My hope is I will be able to do something through library sharing. We'll see what happens. 

May 24, 2014


By John R. Greenwood

contentment glows in dog years
cold noses rubbing in the warm night 
tail waggin’ silliness 
romped happily in the side-yard
when the kids were still pups
peeing on the carpet
terrorizing the purr 
out of Fluffy
pretending to nip 
a skittish mailman
with quick skinny legs 
George and Gracie  
still in love

The names of the dogs above have been changed to protect their privacy. They are farm dog friends and I look forward to visiting them whenever I am on the road. 

May 23, 2014

Close Call

Close Call
By John R. Greenwood

such a close call 
chainsaw teeth 
nipping at my neighbors feet
my fear hidden beneath leafy limb

his solid trunk 
strong and straight
more desirable than mine 
whose punky guts 
sway weak like mush

his bark thick with character
mine brittle like light bulb glass 
ready to shatter under an angry wind

he proclaims strength against the world
I cower in his shadow
my roots trembling in fear
his roots dancing in arrogance 

how finite the distinction 
between table worthy plank 
or embarrassing kindling 
plentiful and forever ignored

This was written for Imaginary Garden With Real Toads


By John R. Greenwood

It really upset me today when I attempted to share my excitement about going to see author and radio personality Garrison Keillor in Manchester Vermont and no one, not even my well educated physician had heard of him. It still disturbs me. I tried to explain the gist of Prairie Home Companion but that only deepened the chasm of understanding.

The doctor hung her head and apologized for her lack of familiarity with Mr. Keillor. She said she did enjoy public radio but with two young daughters her opportunities to control the car radio were limited at best. A short commute of six minutes also played a part in her explanation. I proclaim to be a sharp shooter from the foul line in order to set common ground for unproven proclamations. I forgave her but not without making her promise to Google him between patients. 

She smiled and said she promised, and I believed her. 

Skip ahead eight hours and Mrs. G and I are in the Manchester Elementary Middle School auditorium listening to Garrison Keillor sing “My Country,’Tis Of Thee”, tell jokes about drunken walruses, play tug of war with WMAC’s Joe Donahue, and entertain a couple hundred people for an hour the way they should be entertained. The auditorium was comfortably packed with lots of grey and thin haired fans who’d also experienced life prior to cell phones and cable. You could sense the fear in the audience about how close to extinction this type of entertainment was. There was a good chance that we might be some of the last people to witness true storytelling in all it’s grace.

 I was inspired by Garrison’s words of “cheerfulness”, as he called it. The word being the title of the last chapter of his latest book, “The Keillor Reader”. The crowd sat silent as if absorbing some final blessing from the king of insightfulness. He told stories of his parents cheerfulness and how it spread throughout the family. He encouraged us all to embrace being cheerful, saying the key to it was, “Forward Movement”. 

When we got home that night it was late and I was tired but I felt a strong pull to get my thoughts of the evening down on paper. It was something I didn’t seem to have much control over. As soon as we got settled I grabbed a pad and pen and began jotting down this piece. I had taken Garrison seriously. I wanted to keep moving forward. I wanted “cheerful” in my life. 

As soon as I had my thoughts down on paper I opened up “The Keillor Reader” and did the unthinkable. I went to the last chapter and dove in. As I read, I highlighted the highlights and noted the notes. I realized I'd gotten more from that evening of organic sharing than I would have at any overhyped movie at the mall--I think everyone did. 

This piece is about simple pleasures and how they affect us. Garrison Keillor has made a living bringing our pulse rates down a notch while the rest of the world gets rich manufacturing ways to raise them. I believe at some point we will exhaust our ability to produce adrenaline. Our bodies will crash from overindulgence and all that will remain will  be an empty shell. Our minds will stand like abandoned mansions in overgrown lots where no memory of the glory days remain. I'm scared for those in line behind me. It not about being nostalgic, I'm looking forward to the future as much as any high school quarterback sharing his acceptance letter with his parents; it's the people who are waiting to skim off his future that concern me. Greed has obliterated personal responsibility. We keep grabbing for more, thinking it's the key to personal fulfillment when in reality, embracing simplicity and fresh mown grass is the answer to long lasting cheerfulness. 

So, Mr. Keillor, I thank you for your time and your career. Your stories and your calm have found their way into the hearts of many. I am hopeful that the world in it's rotation will someday reboot our desire for peace and quiet. And in that rebirth we re-sort our priorities and pleasures. Maybe then when I announce my excitement about listening to a storyteller who makes a living with voice and written word it will result in more recognition from the world around me.  

May 17, 2014

The Dump Can Wait

The Dump Can Wait
By John R. Greenwood

Saturday plans usually go awry and this Saturday was no exception. Minutes before turning in Friday night my wife and I talked about what we both wanted to do the next morning. My wife had visions of doing her early morning exercise routine interspersed with catching up with some things around the house. I had hopes of a run to the dump with a load of leaves and branches for the mulch pile. I also envisioned getting some other work around the house. What greeted me the next morning was a beautiful sunrise that was preceded by a night-long rain shower. Let’s just say I was being led astray. The week had been long and stressful. I needed a break more than I realized. I stood in the doorway to our room and declared, “The dump can wait. I’m going to ride my bike over to nearby Gavin Park and take a walk.”

Many times I simply walk around my 1.5 mile long block but the traffic and its inhabitants can get a little sketchy. With everyone who owns a car texting each other about world events I get plenty scared. I need to hedge my bet on lasting another twenty years. If I have a choice I like walking somewhere other than the road. I figured with all the miles I’ve logged walking State and County roads in the last fifty years my luck may be wearing thin. The morning was a little brisk so I grabbed a sweatshirt and headed out the door. 

It’s a short ride from our house to Wilton’s Gavin Park. It takes about 5 minutes on the bike. It was a little past 7am and I had the place to myself. I rode around the park for a few minutes first then leaned my bike against the fence and began walking. The park has a beautifully maintained walking path around it’s perimeter. It's a mile in length and has tall white pines as an outside border. The park is huge and is chock full of baseball fields, soccer fields, tennis courts, and basketball courts. There's also a spot full of playground equipment for the little ones. It's a place any town would be proud of. Being able to enjoy it on an invigorating Saturday morning was just what the doctor ordered. 

I always come out of the winter doldrums in high gear, searching for that next adventure that will spur a story or interest. I was about to catch one like a catcher snatching a high and outside fastball. I had to pay attention or I might miss what was headed my way. 

I finished my walk. I had to get back home. There were a lot of things I needed to get done today. As I was getting to the end of the street that leads into the park I saw a Garage Sale sign. It wasn’t just any garage sale sign it was a Garage Sale / Art Show sign. How often do you run across one of those on your morning bike ride? 

Now hang in here with me. There is a little more twist to the tale. As I approach the home I see a man and his son bringing more items out to the tables set up in the middle of the front yard. There in the middle was a box of books and some additional home goods. It was only 8:15 and the sale didn't start until 9am. I was curious but I didn't want to impose by asking questions about the art work. I simply said good morning as I was riding by and continued on my way. 

It was a short way. 

I turned around and went back. My curiosity got the best of me. You put Art Show on a sign and books on a table, I'm going to ask at least a pint full of questions. 

"Nice paintings." I said. 

"They're photographs." The father said. 

He explained he was a professional photographer, they had just moved, and that they were thinning excess inventory. He said he would be bringing more items out and that included more books. I love looking through book collections so I told him I'd return later. 

I peddled home and reenacted the story for my wife. Nothing I do surprises her anymore so she just smiled and said,"That's nice dear." 

"I'm going back." I said. "I want to see if he has any old art books or other photographs." 

It was now after 9am so I jumped in my pickup and off I went. Now I could fill the bed of the truck if I wanted to. 

When I got back there were a few cars already lined up along the edge of lawn in front of the house. I parked and headed right to the table with the books on it. Right smack dab in the middle was a worn and faded copy of John Steinbeck's "Travels With Charley". Steinbeck was stalking me. Just a couple of weeks ago he had me in his grasp when my wife and I went to see "Of Mice and Men" at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge. I'd been doing some research on Steinbeck and had just learned the story behind "Travels with Charley". Since I whiffed on the college experience I rely heavily on Goggle and Wikipedia for all my educational needs. Another strange coincidence occurred just a few days ago. I was sorting some of my old notebooks and journals. I save everything related to my writing. Sticking out of the top of one of my journals was a small piece of paper with the words TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY written in big bold letters. Not until today did I remember writing that down and why. It was a few years ago when I met portraitist Emile Klein. We met at Salem Art Works. The meeting resulted in me writing a bio for one of his portraits on the You're US website. When he left to go back to California he suggested I read Steinbeck's book Travel's With Charley. He said the theme of my blog reminded him of the book. He was confident I would enjoy reading it because of that familiarity. I assured him I would, but I never quite got there, until today. 

I can say with confidence that I will begin reading the book as soon as this piece is complete. 

Every connection I make swirls me around to another. When I asked the man from the yard sale how much he wanted for the book he said fifty cents. I handed him a dollar and told him briefly about why I was so excited to have found that particular book. He smiled and said he enjoyed reading it. He was pretty sure he bought it at the Lyrical Ballad Book Store. It suddenly occurred to me that it was the Lyrical Ballad Book Store that also brought me Jack Lewis's "The Hudson River". Both books were written in the early 1960's. Both books were about traveling in and around the country they loved. Both were written by aging men looking for more out of life than sitting on the porch swing. Both stories were related in so many ways. 

I did finally get some work done around the house today but I couldn't shake the circle of connections that once again drew me back to the keyboard and the camera. It was a simple sign that ended up as a flashing billboard and it brought me a $1.00 book that may just end up to be a priceless gift. 

The moral of this long winded story about a Saturday in May is this:

If you see a sign in someones front yard that says "Garage Sale and Art Show" 9am-2pm; pull over and make sure you have some cash. 

You never know what kind of treasure you'll find in the middle of a folding table. 

May 10, 2014

Where Did All The Kids Go?

Where Did All The Kids Go? 
By John R Greenwood

I awoke from a vivid dream shortly after midnight. I don't remember the details of the dream but I do know it was something from my youth. Maybe it took place on the road where I grew up.

All I know is when I woke up I felt an instant need to open a window for some fresh air. It was early May and the temperature hadn't been setting any records for being overly friendly so the windows were all closed. I was feeling warm and a little claustrophobic. I needed to breath some fresh spring out of the night air. I yanked back the curtain and strapped it with the braided cord that hung there. The first word out of my mouth was, "Ahhhh".  

I'd only been asleep for an hour or so but for some reason I felt wide awake and anxious for the day to begin. I lay there listening. I was listening for movement-- for some sign of life. I heard none. It was just after midnight on a Friday and there wasn't so much as a curious dog to be heard. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't heard a kids voice outside the window in months. It hit me like a brick in the forehead; I never see or hear kids outside anymore--day or night. 

Where did all the kids go? 

I know they used to exist because I had my own. Plus I used to piss and moan about the ones walking by the house late at night laughing and shouting at the passing cars. I remember running to the window to be sure they didn't whack my mailbox with a stick or plaster it with a paintball gun again. Didn't they know how much I paid for the oversize one with the heavy duty flag? 

How ironic it was that I was now craving something that I once tried to quell like that insistent Junebug who keeps dive bombing the window screen and who you keep finger-flicking back out into the night. Maybe I was lonesome for a fix of youth. Maybe I needed a reminder that I wasn't dead yet. Maybe I needed to know the world was still spinning out here? 

When I first went to sleep I had been researching something to write about. The subject isn't important it was the fact that I am always craving a subject to write about. I'm always in search mode. I've written about it before. I am never full. Day and night I am looking, peering, asking questions. I am forever starved for the next meal of something to document and share. I can not fill that hole. 

As I lie in bed it's now after one in the morning and the sound of silence is pouring in the window begging to be written about. The silence whose voice used to include boisterous teenagers full of life and excess trouble. My mind is wandering again. I guess I'll try to go back to sleep. Maybe I can muster up a dream filled with life's noises; like a pair of teens singing some indiscernible lyrics at the top of their lungs, arms swinging between them hand in hand in the middle of the night. 

I felt better, but I still worried if we had gone to far trying to remove the dangers of darkness from our kids. Have we made them so safe that the life we grew up with is passing them by on the other side of the cement safety net we've built? I reflect back to the nights I walked along pitch black roads with the sounds of crickets, bullfrogs, and distant dog barks serenading me from both sides. Those nights where you welcomed a set of approaching headlights just so you could be sure you weren't being stalked by a hungry monster looking for a naive teen-meal on a dark country road.

Peace and quiet caught up to me and I became sleepy again. I clicked a picture or two trying to capture the essence of this piece.

I laid my head back on the pillow. 

The words kept coming. 

"Where DID all the kids go?" 

May 04, 2014

Of Mice And Men

Of Mice And Men 
By John R. Greenwood

This weekend was chock full of exciting events on television. There were multiple NBA game 7’s, and Stanley Cups Playoffs. NASCAR was full throttle at Talladega and Titleist golf balls were flying all over Quail Hollow in Charlotte. The Kentucky Derby was won by an $8,000 horse with a 77 Year-old trainer and I’m sure there was a Dog The Bounty Hunter Marathon on some cable station somewhere. But, my wife and I had the best seat in town. We had tickets to a play at the Hubbard Hall Theater in Cambridge. 

John Steinbeck’s 1937 play, “Of Mice and Men” was on the playbill and you couldn’t have asked for more bang for your buck. The theater was set up with the seating on either side with the stage and the actors sandwiched in the middle. You could literally reach out and touch them. It felt like everyone in the building was a part of the play. The highlight of the evening for me was watching Chris Barlow skillfully master the part of Lennie. Chris’s wife Rachel Barlow was a member of the Hubbard Hall Writer’s Group that I was fortunate to be a part of. I met Chris at their home a couple of years ago when Rachel and Chris graciously opened their home for one of our group’s meetings. I knew after I met this large statured man with the warm and generous personality, that seeing him play the part of Lennie was a, “have-to”. I was not disappointed. I jotted down the paragraph above around midnight after returning from the play. I was running out of steam but I wanted to solidify the evening in words while they were still fresh and clear. Below is what I sat down and wrote the next morning. I reached for my glasses and my pen as the alarm went off. I had witnessed something special Saturday night and it needed to be shared. 

Silence speaks volumes. 

Not one cough or clearing of the throat could be heard during the key moments of Mice and Men as it played out before my wife and I last evening. There on Main St. USA, real life was being played out just an arms length away. 

When the shot rang out that killed Candy’s dog, the only sound was the gentle creak of an 18th Century board beneath the actor’s feet. The actors had our attention--their voices were loud and clear. This world is crowded with youth and it’s stars. They struggle to find a place for us used up old men with missing parts and bent backs. At least that's what I heard in the moment. 

Hubbard Hall and it’s production so finely directed by Jeannine Haas was much more than just a Saturday night out with my wife on her birthday. It was a gift to us both. A gift of truth. The message of this seventy year old play was as relevant and as clear today as any I’d heard delivered during the entire back-breaking winter that preceded it. Life is tough and can be painfully unfair. The soft things don’t last. Warm puppies grow up, you have to savor their warmth while it’s in the crook of your arm. Those tender moments we share wash away in an instant. They disappear like the songbird that flits away the moment you step to the window to see, as well as hear. The cruelty of everyday life comes right back at you the next day, it’s talons straight out reaching to grab your arm and whisk you off to the next task. 

The impact of those actors and all their hard work; the commitment of all the Hubbard Hall volunteers: the generosity of the community that opens it’s heart and wallet in support of this venue; and the presence of such a vintage place, filled with vintage air will last long into the summer and far beyond for me. The gift of, “Mice and Men”, was so much larger than watching a game winning three-pointer, or a two minute Kentucky horse race. The Main St. USA, event to me, was the essence of play giving. It was live and life. It was real. So real, that an old hall filled to the brim whispered nothing more than the soft squeak of an old pine board when an old dog gets shot. Every heart in the theater felt that shot clear down to the bone. Every word uttered in Hubbard Hall last night soaked into our skin like thin stain on a rough sawn board.

I would list each actor and how their fine performance entertained my eyes and ears for a couple of hours but this piece is about something even larger than praise and accolades. This piece is about preservation and perseverance. When you stop and think about how many of these old theaters there used to be stretched across this country you realize what a treasure we have here in Cambridge. Like a crown jewel in a glass display we must insure this treasure remains here for our grandchildren and theirs. Everyone deserves to hear George and Lennie’s voice--Steinbeck’s message. No sudden death playoff at Quail Hollow can replace what a community witnessed last night at Hubbard Hall, five feet away, inches from our hearts, on May 3rd, 2014. 

When George pulled the trigger that ended the night I simultaneously reached for my camera and my pen. I wanted to capture the feeling that I had; we all had. The silence that echoed in that rustic hall reverberated down stairs and up Main St. Cambridge last night. It touched people in ways they haven’t yet felt. 

To all the actors, volunteers, and supporters of Hubbard Hall and places like it, I thank you. The gift I received last night will stick to my ribs like a bowl of warm oatmeal. I encourage anyone reading this to support places like Hubbard Hall with your heart and soul because that’s exactly what they gave us all last night...

Sincerely yours, 

John R. Greenwood