Category Archives: 3 – Writing Blog

This set of blogs will include my view of writing as a pastime, adventure, etc. And I will include some short writings of my own.

How’s the Web Site?

I haven’t paid enough attention to this web site for about two years, and there’s a reason for that.  So, I’ll fill you in on my “secret”.  I am going on 77 years old and I have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, scarring of my lungs in more common language.

It all came to my attention a few years back, showing its ugly head for sure in 2013.  So here I sit, breathing supplementary oxygen 24/7 and taking a few very expensive drugs.  It’s not all bad.  I feel fine.  I just run out of air easily.  The fibrosis does not seem to be getting any worse, but the affect on my heart now is the main issue, thus the prescription drugs.

I’m not telling you this to gain sympathy.  There are plenty of people who have this same situation who are much worse off.  There is no sure bet here, but my life span may not be affected by the situation.  However, all this has made writing and blogging in particular take a back seat in my life.  There has been progress for the better in 2016.  So, I hope to be able to spend more time living as normal a life as possible and much less time going to doctors, enduring tests, and struggling to find financial aid for the drugs.

The third book that I published, Fall to Earth, was started when I was still a working engineer for Boeing.  It was interrupted by two things.  the worst by far was the sudden death of our youngest son at age 24 in 1995.  And then this disease came along.  So, although it was actually my first novel, it took several years to finish.  Sounds silly maybe, but your life interrupts your life.

And then in mid 2013 I started this web site.  That takes time also, and it sadly has suffered from my lack of time.  However, just yesterday I took a look and found that there were over twenty comments for readers that were not marked as SPAM.  Furthermore, on January 7th,  The site had 30 hits.  This is all small stuff for devoted bloggers.  I only have 580 subscribers, which is not much for active websites.  In addition, I don’t know how many of them have looked at the site more than once.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but I will do what I can find the time to improve the activity by adding value to the site.

So, if you are follower of the site, I really appreciate it.  Comments are always welcome.  Questions are always welcome.

Meanwhile, my remaining two children, now in their fifties, want me to provide them with an autobiography of my childhood.  There seems to be some doubt in their minds that I was ever a child.  They sometimes joke that I was born fully adult in mind, though not in body.  It’s meant in good humor, but I guess I do owe them a little family history.

The next writing project after that will then be another Doug Whittier novel.  The light is not totally on for that yet, but it’s getting brighter.  I like the murder mysteries, but I can’t keep killing people in an engineering department.  It’s too far from real life.  Lying, cheating, double dealing, competition, design failures, and insolvable problems are much more common.  I think I can write with that in mind.  You be the judge!

Thanks for stopping by,

Art

Seeing, Feeling, and Writing

1 – The Dark of Night

None, some, maybe many, maybe all of you have heard of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest…who knows? So I will explain.

The title of the contest is based upon the opening line of one of the novels of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, a 19th century Englishman.  One of his novels starts out with a long sentence whose beginning is, “It was a dark and stormy night…”  In some literary circles it is considered one of the worst sentences ever published.  I don’t know.  True it may no be great prose, but it does catch your eye.  And what else do you want the first line of any novel to do?

The contest consists of submitting the worst fictional sentence you can devise. The sentence must not be from a published work, and it must be of your own doing. Maybe I’m wrong, but the contest was originally centered on sentences that would be used to start a book. Evidently any sentence will now suffice — too bad. My favorite entry was, “Beyond the narrows, the river widens.” Call me crazy, but that line had me laughing on the floor.

So, back to the “Dark and stormy night,” but forget the storm. Several years ago, I took a picture.  It was simple enough…standard camera, no electronics, and real film. The exposure was 1.5 seconds. I don’t remember the f-stop, but nothing special. So, what’s the big deal? The picture isn’t all that special. The color seems a bit off. What’s special?

It was taken in the dark of night in natural light!

I hoped to include a copy of it in this blog, but fate stepped in.  I can’t find it.  I know I have it somewhere, but where?  When and if I find it I will put it up.

So, what is the lesson here, aside from the need to file things more carefully? The lesson is simply that black has color! (I could explain the true color of the Sun at this point, but that’s an unnecessary  digression.)

So, where does black show up a lot in our lives? You’re looking at it…the printed word.

2 – The Printed Word

Having retired from over fifty years in engineering, my soul intellectual pursuit is writing. Sure, I give out the obligatory free advice now and then to my younger relatives, but it’s a different generation, and my “free” advice often seems more like “cheap” advice. No offense taken. It’s their world now.

In return, I get free advice on my novels. Some of it is helpful, like when I changed the sex of an important character, a dog, in the middle of one the books (prior to publishing, thank goodness). Most of it falls into two categories: first, “your books lack descriptions of the people”, second, “your books lack human interest.”

I don’t worry about being the world’s greatest novelist. And I can’t dispute that type of criticism. I am an engineer. I am used to writing what is necessary, not what is entertaining to anyone, except possibly myself. You either get it or you don’t. Face it, the vast majority of novels written hold no interest for you whatsoever…nor do they to me. Like all fiction writers, I am stuck with writing what I like.

And what is that exactly? If you haven’t nodded off yet, I will tell you.

First, there is mystery. I like mystery. If I didn’t, I would hate being an engineer. How does it work? Why did it break? Why did it do something unexpected? Can it be fixed? How dangerous is it? Why does it cost so much? The questions for engineers are endless.

OK, I have the mystery side covered.

But, what drives the mystery? Perhaps a better word would  be “curiosity”. Look at it this way. As an engineer I only see the mystery in things because I am curious about things. In fact, you don’t become much of an engineer unless you’re curious about pretty much everything…and you have an insatiable need to find out.

And that’s also what I think makes you a mystery writer, that and the ability to put it into words. Certainly much of these same characteristics belong to mystery readers.

So, where did the descriptions and human interest go? Well, the phrase, “love at first sight,” begs for description(s) and admittedly it is filled with human interest.

I’m sitting here trying to think of a “mysterious love at first sight” situation, one that is truly centered on pure love. I’m getting nowhere.

“I am curious as to why I’m attracted to you.”

“Your beauty is a mystery to me.”

“Do you agree with me that we would make a simply wonderful couple?”

You get my point?  It is not as though these mysteries don’t exist in social intercourse, but they will never be answered.  So, why bother?

Every story is a mystery of some sort, but much of it is in what you, the reader, are thinking or the story character is thinking. Mystery is about ideas, not feelings. You know how you feel. If it is love, you are not curious about your feelings, although you may be curious about her feelings. You may forever be curious about why she loves you, but it is probably not wise to question it if you know what’s good for you.

Don’t get me wrong! I have been married to the woman I desperately love for over fifty years. I have no quarrel with the human interest of love between people.

However, my question as a mystery writer/reader can’t be answered by how a person looks, whether they were orphaned, crippled, taught to hate by they’re experiences in life, or are simply your average Joe or Jane. We all have some grievances. Some are pretty severe, but that doesn’t make us criminals automatically. To me, mysteries are not human-interest stuff. A few of my characters are worth despising, but they are not obligated to be criminals. They might actually be victims.

I guess I could write about crimes of passion, but I wouldn’t be very good at that.  And quite honestly, they seem stupid to me…probably the lowest form of human thinking.

Oh! And by the way, the ugliness scale is not of much help in determining guilt.

So, I write with little description of either the character or beauty of the humans in the story, unless it actually tells part of the story. I concentrate on the character and beauty (or ugliness) of the ideas in the story.

I do provide some descriptions of parts of the Pacific Northwest, and I try to relate those descriptions to the story in general or to the thoughts and ideas and attitude of the protagonist.

Call that a dearth of human interest and description if you will. I actually do respect your opinion. I just may not act on it.

After all, I am a mystery!

The Running Water River Bridge

The Running Water River Bridge, my fourth novel is available both as an ebook and in paperback.  It is a complicated mystery starring my favorite narrator and protagonist, Doug Whittier.  Here is the cover.

RWRB Basic Cover Photo copy1 copy

Between the unknowns and the lies, the story builds using characters based upon my more than half-century experience with engineers and three quarters of a century of experience with people in general.

You will witness the motion of Doug’s career upward and the new responsibilities that come with it without warning.  Some of the characters will be familiar, others not.  Mitch, the “ninety percentile man” from my last book, Hidden Failure, arrives in the middle at Doug’s request.  Two very different private investigators are added to the mix, not without controversy.  And the lies told by the man at the top, Dr. Malerno Benjamin (Ben), make for a difficult puzzle to solve going back some ten years to the death of the only woman Ben ever really loved.

Doug’s wife, Jess, is very much involved, and let’s not forget The Running Water River Bridge, the beginning and end of the mystery.

What’s Next

It’s been awhile since I’ve had the time to add to the website.  2015 was a hard year.  I’ve been rather ill, still am, though better.  I won’t bother you with the details.  Needless to say, it has slowed me down.

So, here I sit, having finally finished working on my federal taxes for 2015, with other things crying for attention.  I did actually finish writing the next book for Doug Whittier, protagonist of Fall to Earth. The title of the new book is The Running Water River Bridge.  It’s a more complicated story than the previous books.  When the good guys lie, it’s worse than when the bad guys do it.  The next requirement for the book is to put it into the correct format for publishing…and then one last reread.  I think I will like this one the most.

The book to follow it will be a digression from the mystery/murder line, although I have a good idea for the next one of that type.  I have had requests within my family for me to write an autobiography.  Face it, spending  50+ years as an engineer leaves most of my close relatives and friends in the dark as to what my life has been all about.  My now deceased mother-in-law automatically thought that engineers simply looked up how to design things in a book…not so in real life!  You’ll see.

The plan for the book is for it to be grounded in writing that’s mixed with some poetry and sprinkled with some pictures.  My selected title is, The Practical Poet.  There is some chance that I can pull it off, but I do worry about its level of boredom.  It will take some thought, that’s for sure, and yet it will be non-fiction…easy, right?

Before finally deciding to write for fun and profit (still waiting for that part), I mused about the issue of why anyone would want to read what I write.  It all seems so egocentric.  As it turns out, it really is two other things, once you ignore the ego part.  It is both hard and fun.  I have written non-fiction memos throughout my time as an engineer.  I would say that fiction is actually much harder, especially book length fiction.  That first forty to fifty thousand words seem to take forever, and by then you still don’t know where the story is going to take you, the writer.  I worry that I left the reader back in the first few chapters.  You (the writer) don’t even know who the killer is in most cases until closer to the end of the story…or even how he or she gets caught…if ever.

Writing is probably more of a mystery to the writer than it is to the reader!

Anyway…glad to be back!

Writing Fiction

I’ve had to write nonfiction as a part of my work as an engineer…a book chapter, and many memos, all technical.  That, I’m used to.  I feel safe doing that.

So, how dangerous is writing fiction?  Certainly nothing will catch fire or explode, which could be the outcome of poor nonfiction writing, but what about the insecurity that comes from writing a novel when you are not already a well known author…or even if you are a well known author?

So, let me ask one first question.  Why do you want to write fiction?  Is it for money?  Is it for fame?  Do you have a cause that you want to put before your readers?  Or do you just want/like to write?  It might even be a little of each.

For me, it’s mainly the last one.  I like to write.  Fame, in the sense that people like and buy my books, shows up somewhere in my list, but not first on the list, and certainly not fame like a movie star.  I just want to share my joy in the writing with readers.

A cause?  Let’s see, do I have a cause?  Hmmm.  I don’t think so.  I try to stay away from politics and environmental controversies, wars, and things like that.  I’m really more interested in the smaller things in people’s lives.  Mainly, the mysteries that befuddle us, and the emotions that hound us, the fears, our limitations, our defeats, and our victories.  And I write using characters that I know from my fifty years as a working engineer.  Some of it is right out of past reality.  Some of it is simply made up.

I’ve read a number of books on writing and selling fiction.  With few exceptions, they are the worst books I have ever read.  One notable exception is Stephen King’s,  On Writing, at least his section of suggested rules to follow.  I found that I was pretty much already following them, particularly the one about not restricting yourself to a plot.  I have an overall idea of the story, but the storyline of each chapter comes from the content and event logic of the previous chapter.  Beyond that, I pretty much don’t know the whole story.  In the book I’m writing now, the characters come from what was actually my very first complete novel, Fall to Earth.  When I started this new novel, all I had was an idea for the first chapter.   I only found out who the murderers were recently, after having written nearly fifty thousand words.  What that does however, is make the story as much a mystery to me as it eventually will be for the reader.  It makes it more serendipitous, more alive, harder to predict.

In fact, although my books are mysteries, I think any good book, even nonfiction needs a sense of mystery and discovery about it.  The reader should always want to read the next chapter.  And the next chapter, although connected, should not be predictable.  However, it does have to be credible.

I try to link the incredible to the credible, an event that is crucial to the story that has a real connection with everyday life that the reader probably never thought much about.  Here’s an example that I plan to use as a preface for a future book.

 Preface

Bungee jumping, your life hanging by a single thread…certainly that’s something for the foolishly courageous. OK, you may see things differently, and I respect your right to jump from a bridge only to be stopped before your certain death by a single rubber band. We all have our favorite risks that we think are safe or at least worth it, safe or not.

The list of activities that might kill us is long. Which one is the worst can be judged by its history, but we all know that life is never that simple. Much of safety depends on what others do and what we do ourselves. Controlling those sources of risk is not always easy, thus the need for training, but what about the mechanism itself. How do you “train” a mechanism?

It’s simple. You don’t train a mechanism. You design it.

So, let’s talk about that. The first and most primary rule of fail safe design is that no single failure of the equipment used in a design, shall cause a catastrophic event. Such an event is usually interpreted as one of two things:

1 – loss of mission (in other words, the loss of the capability to accomplish the purpose of the design), or

2 – loss of life!

And now you can see clearly why I picked on bungee jumping. Even when parachuting you have a backup parachute strapped to you, but in bungee jumping, it is obvious that there is only one bungee cord. And a single failure of that single bungee cord is the difference between life and death…your life and death!

In my world, designs, plans, and schemes are said to be “single threaded” if just one failure of just one part results in a catastrophe. There are no bungee cords in the story I am about to tell you, but single threaded scenarios are all around you everyday.

Can you see them coming…the next oncoming car that slides across that single white line, that sharp knife whose one slip cuts into your flesh, or that natural gas appliance whose design has that one fatal flaw?

******

OK, does that catch your interest?  If now I wrote a chapter about a woman  bungee jumping to her death, would you have a better feeling for how realistically dangerous it would be, even though the story was simply fiction?

The Preface, which is essentially the previous chapter, caused the chapter that followed to happen.  It left a mystery waiting to unfold.  And now the next chapter in line needs to resolve the mystery of why the cord failed.  Why was she the one who died, and not someone else.  Was it an accident?   I don’t have to know the answers before I start to write.  All I have to do is create a credible situation that has danger, or failure, or death, or injury, or confusion, and let it open up questions in the reader’s mind.  From there I pick a credible question or group of questions that lead to the next chapter.  And once you start asking questions, they invariably lead to other questions.  Essentially, the story builds itself from within, and answering the matrix of the exploding tree of questions becomes the full time, increasingly desperate task of the writer, although to the reader, it looks like the protagonist of the story is doing it.

I would have to say that if the writer isn’t as stumped as the protagonist in the story, it isn’t much of a mystery!

Percent Signs

Teach people to calculate percentage, and they think they have become statistical analysts!

So, in today’s paper there is an article about how warm our fall will be because of El Niño.  It further states that history in the Northwest has shown that the presence of warm Pacific water causes our weather to be warmer.

OK, so what?

Well, the next sentence says that because of all this, NOAA says there is a 49% chance that our fall will be warmer than usual.

Excuse me!  Doesn’t that mean that there is a 51% chance it will be colder?  After all there is a zero percent chance that it will be exactly the same.

What brain dead reporter writes this stuff?

 

Stupid Smarts in More Ways than One

Teach the percent sign, and what have you wrought?

A “statistician” is born who knows not but nought!

They think that they know when they don’t have a thought!

Whatever they write, they think you have bought!

They can’t even tell when their lies have been caught!

And this is why wars with the truth have been fought!

Percentage is a thing that is not to be taught!

Reading Poems that Rhyme

just a quick comment about poems that rhyme and those that don’t.

I know someone who has a hard time reading my poetry.  As a result, it has finally dawned on me why.  In order to properly read and appreciate rhyming poetry, you have to have a sense of musical rhythm as applied to the written word.  And although most people enjoy music, evidently not all people have a built in sense of rhythm.

I guess that’s why  free verse (poems that don’t rhyme) are popular.

Fortunately, rhythm is stuck in my head.  As a result, I need poems that rhyme.  That is not to say I don’t like prose, but if it doesn’t rhyme, it just isn’t poetry to me.

Well, that’s my theory!  What’s yours?

FICTIONAL TRUTH — a poem

Hot off my fingers today…

So Much for Truth

There ain’t no science anymore
They make it up while we just snore
It’s politics and money
Coverin’ up the sun while sunny
There ain’t no science anymore

You ain’t allowed to ever hear what’s real
Politicians and the news all know the deal
They pick the lie they like the most
And that’s the only thing they post
You ain’t allowed to ever hear what’s real

Learned experts are no better than the rest
PhD’s who say they know when they’ve just guessed
They too want money, power, and fame
And hope the theory’s named their name
Learned experts are no better than the rest

All the while short on facts and long on theories
They lie and lie and lie to squelch the queries
Then charge a healthy listening fee
To all us skeptics, you and me
All the while short on facts and long on theories

There ain’t no science anymore
When crooks and liars own the store
All I hope when day is done
Is the facts’ll stop what they have spun
But…there ain’t no science anymore!

Arthur K Davenport
September, 2015

 

Some Words are Better Than Others

Fifty years of engineering have taught me the importance of the written word if nothing else.  There is actually a lot of writing involved in engineering, and precise definitions and clear instructions are of great importance.  In some cases, it can mean the difference between life and death.

And having now written three novels, I find wording continues to be of great interest to me.  So, I watch what “professional” writers write.  And, I tend to make fun of them.  Forgive me!

From the RELIGION/NATION page of the KITSAP SUN, Friday, July 10, 2015.

1 —  In an article titled “U.S. in haze from Canada’s fires” there is a reference to actions taken in the province of Alberta:

“Alberta said Wednesday it was bringing in 62 firefighters from Mexico to help battle 92 wildfires burning in the province, including 33 listed as out of control.”

My question:  what 33 are out of control, wildfires or Mexicans?  Why not say, “…33 fires listed as burning out of control.”  Does that use too much ink?

2 — And just below that is the heading of another article:  “Push to reduce dying fish stressed by heat.”

Now you have to admit that there is quite a bit of room for interpretation.  I mean really, if the fish are dying from the heat, they are already being reduced!  What would you do, turn up the heat?

What Do You Think?

Thinking it Over

I don’t mind being thought a fool, as long as I am not the one who is doing the thinking.

Wait!

If I am not doing the thinking, maybe I am not doing any thinking.  Maybe I am a fool.  Maybe if I were doing the thinking, I wouldn’t be a fool.  Or else I’m fooling myself by thinking that I’m not doing the thinking.  Yet, I did say that it was OK as long as I was not the one who is doing the thinking.

Wow, this is hard.  Think about it!  If you don’t think you are a fool, and others do think you are a fool, maybe the “don’t think” part really is you.

I’ll have to think about this.

OK, I thought about it.

I think I’m a fool.

Hold it!

Hold it!

Hold it!

I changed my mind.  After having thought and thought and thought and thought and thought, I think I’m thinking.  So, I’m not a fool after all.

Phew!

Wait!

Maybe I only think I’m thinking…

HIDDEN FAILURE…WHY, CHAPTER 1, and CHAPTER 2

hidden failure

Why Write Hidden Failure?

My engineering career has been spent working for three very different large companies:  The United States Air Force, Hamilton Standard (now called Hamilton Sunstrand), and Boeing.  Drawing on my experience with both successes and failures of complex systems, I wrote Hidden Failure.  So, it is fair to ask if any system I worked on ever killed anyone.  I should leave that question unanswered so it would add intrigue to this post, but that would be overly dramatic.  The answer is, no.

The fictional company in this story is not so lucky.  So, why write the story?  Sometimes the details are dangerous.  Consider it a warning.

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Hidden Failure

1

Freedom

I knew I would always grieve for my now dead family, but I had thought that if I killed the murderer, the grief and rage would soften its grip on me. And in truth, when I finally killed the murderer, the rage did disappear, but the grief, much to my surprise, enlarged. It was as though the grief swallowed the rage, and they became one. You don’t just walk away from killing a human being and find freedom, regardless of how justified the act of taking another’s life without mercy may be.

I attended his funeral uninvited. And there stood Bradley Smithton’s family, his friends, his acquaintances — some in tears, some angry, some trying to hide their joy at his death — and me. I stood off near a line of parked cars, and watched, feeling nothing.

And then I saw a pair of eyes that watched the watcher — a pair I would see again — a woman’s.

2

The Long Fast Fall

The shaking began 9 miles above the earth at a speed of Mach 2.1. He backed off to 1.8 — and still it shook – even harder. Slowing to 1.6, he was sure that pieces were coming off the skin, at 1.3, off the structure. The noise of it added to his fear. The human missile/airplane hurtled through the sky. He nearly froze, stuck in a fear bigger than his mind could hold. He struggled with the controls. The controls stopped responding. The noise increased. And now the speed increased. The displays went blank. The nose went down. He tried everything to stop it. He saw the ground coming up at him. He knew it was a populated area. He held back on ejecting as long as he could, but when the time came to punch out, it didn’t work. It was no surprise. He knew he couldn’t eject at that speed. So, he watched in horror, fixated on the coming point of impact. He couldn’t even speak anymore. And what took mere seconds seemed like an hour to him.

The plane hit the terrain at a speed above the muzzle velocity of a handgun and below that of a rifle, mostly intact until impact, but in a mindless state. And the houses it destroyed were gone in an instant. So were the families – the husbands, the wives, the children. And it happened in the blackness of night.

It had been Bill’s third flight as a test pilot in the XF3. He had worked hard to get that position on the testing of an advanced fighter, one that compensated for it’s own loss of control surface capabilities, a plane with a mind of its own. And that night it lost its mind and took Bill’s with it, body and soul.

The preliminary verdict on the crash was that the pilot could not have done anything about it. It wasn’t the usual conclusion of “pilot error.” Enter, the unknown.

The two other experimental XF3’s were grounded. The maker of the control compensating system, Air Electron Inc., was called on the block, but Greg Kostle, the program’s Chief Engineer, was in no shape to explain anything. The pilot had been his son, William Kostle, an ex-Navy fighter pilot who was working as a civilian test pilot for NASA before he had landed nose down that night. And the grief had struck hard.

Days later, just when Air Electron desperately needed the person with the most history on the program, just when the lawyers of the families of those killed were jockeying for first place in the queue for lawsuits, just as these same families were lost in unimaginable pain, and just when Greg Kostle was still deep in his own personal grief, Greg Kostle disappeared.

And the very next day he appeared again, but now he was wet, and cold, and floating, and dead.

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I read these two first chapters at a local library a few months back.  I don’t think it was what they had in mind, but Hidden Failure was what I wanted to write about!

Beyond the Breakers…Why, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2

Beyond_the_Breakers_Cover_for_Kindle

Why Write Beyond the Breakers?

Eventually, everyone faces tragic grief. At some point they will lose someone dear to them. Sometimes it seems normal, as when a person dies at an old age. And then there are those other cases of prolonged illness, or the long lingering results of an accident, or a killing that results in premature death.

When it comes to the emptiness and pain of loss, arguably the worst loss is the sudden and unexpected death of your child.  The death may be only at their start in life, or they may die in the midst of discovery at any age. What is left are unfinished lives, torn from their goals and their dreams far earlier than life’s intent. And your future dies with them.

The world goes on with the merest of notice. You want to scream, but you can’t, for it won’t help. Or, writing skills be damned, you want to put something down on paper that reminds the world of the wonder that’s been lost, but you can’t, not because you can’t write, but because you can’t write about it. And who will read it anyway?

So, that’s where I am stuck. My son of twenty-four years died suddenly, three thousand miles away from his mother and me. It has been nearly twenty years since…and I still cry.

Writing this book makes it no better. It is not my way of “letting it out,” but it is a story that knows why it screams in lonely silence. It is a fiction about non-fiction reality that all too many of us experience. I am not the protagonist, but I know how he feels. I know how he breathes. And I know how he yearns for justice. In my son’s case, the murderer was an accident, a wisp of fate. In the case of the son of the fictional Dale Riley Richards, it was an intentional bullet.

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Beyond the Breakers

1 – The Ocean

Long Island is about 110 miles long east to west and about 30 miles wide at the thickest part north to south. That’s where I grew up – to the left of the middle.

Along the southern side there are a number of thin islands close to shore. The one separated from Long Island by Great South Bay is called Jones Beach Island. It contains Jones Beach State Park, which covers 6.5 miles of the island’s ten-mile length. It’s hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and has more sand than you could ever want to play in.

As a family, we often went to Jones Beach to swim in the Atlantic Ocean. I loved it there. Sometimes after my dad got home from work, we quickly drove out there and ate cold fried chicken and cold boiled potatoes in the cooling ocean breeze of the early evening. And the water was freezing too. It was great!

When I go there now my senses fill up with memories, mostly of the waves, beautiful and terrifying, waves that would knock the largest man down without any effort. The day after a hurricane went through, I once saw waves higher than the top of our house roof ­– power beyond belief – power from Hell! As a boy, I used to stand at the water’s edge and watch the waves come ashore in wild chaos, crashing down as frightening breakers, or so it seemed to me, fascinated and fearful. I couldn’t swim very well then, and have remained so, but I never even thought about the actual drowning process. It was simply the power of the breakers, simultaneously beautiful and deadly, that I feared. And yet the greatest lesson of my life was theirs to give me.

When the ocean was relatively calm, I could walk far out in the freezing water, but eventually a wave would always rise up to attack me. The fear of that wave, not of drowning, would overtake me, over wash me with shear unthinking terror, and there I was, just a little boy alone. I would run with legs as in a dream, slow, impeded, fighting the irresistible undertow, and seldom did I outrun the inevitable. I would tumble in a world of sand, water, violence, and darkness, drinking in the very wave I feared. I never cried, but it was my personal solid proof that going beyond the breakers was never to be done.

I look at ocean waves now, and they calm me down. Back then they were a living nightmare. Other children my age and younger would enter the water and go out beyond the breakers. “Just get beyond the breakers,” my parents would say, but I knew they were wrong. Yet, deep inside of me, the will and strength to do it was there all the time and growing. And then one day I did, and I became stronger than the ocean that threatened me. The ocean became calm for me in the midst of fury, chaos, and destruction.

The fear didn’t leave me, but now I knew its name, its face, its illusion. Now I could trick it, outsmart it, defy it.

And then I grew up and married, and we had a son who would hopefully someday learn the lesson of the breakers, but instead, in an instant, my wife and child were gone, as if washed out to sea by a violent, irresistible undertow, far beyond the breakers – lost in the darkness, yelling my name and yet uttering not a word, forever beyond my reach.


2 – The Aftermath

The murderer was never caught, and his reasons for the murder were drowned in a sea of ignorance.

I had been brought up a Christian, yet I couldn’t believe it was God’s will.   Still, it was one of God’s creations that had shot them. One lone breaker had finally risen to a height that I couldn’t cross. And it continued to grow as the minutes and hours flew by. Along with that breaker came an unrelenting undertow – grief, hatred, and darkness – the searing confusion of the greatest loss. I knew to approach the wave would bring more destruction, maybe my own, but I wasn’t ready to stop hating it. Those of you who have been through deep grief know what I mean. You would do anything to destroy the destroyer, even at the risk of your own life, but what was the name of the wave? No one knew.

I was left without my family, and surprisingly without some who had called me friend. They could leave rather than face it. I had no choice. The only thing I had left was a dying dog that hung on for what, for me? I don’t know. Maybe she wanted vengeance, and knew she couldn’t get it if she died. It was her family too. She had to know something about the horror. She was there. She was part of it. How deep can a dog think? Where was the reasoning in any of it?

Still, Esther hung on. She had been shot once, and after two nights at the vet, she returned home bandaged and on death’s brink. The vet held out no hope, but there we were in our house, just Esther and me. Esther was a comfort to me between the tears, and sometimes even while they rained down.   A few friends, relatives, and even strangers offered advice and food. Esther offered only extremely weak and intensely sad eyes, her breathing abnormal and labored. Strangely, at least to me, food was a big part of it. It was probably about the only real comfort that got through the haze along with Esther.

On went the ocean, waves of grief, waves of anger, waves of bewilderment, and the undertow of hatred for the person that did this.

I remember thinking soon after it happened, “Two hours ago they were fully alive, unharmed…three hours…four hours…a day…a week. How can it be true and yet seem so untrue? Let’s fix this mistake before it becomes permanent.”   And at that point my body would almost come to a complete stop.

Their names? You want to know their names? It’s hard even now to say them to people. They’re gone, and I feel so responsible for the thing that I could not possibly have predicted or prevented. I can just barely talk about it, but say their names, and it becomes too real to talk at all. I can only say them to Esther. Ask her. She’s still alive.

What purpose was there to leaving me here and taking them? They deserved their lives. They were good. Why kill good people? Why maim an innocent dog. Why give it the pain of a long recovery? Esther never barks anymore – for joy, for anything, with few exceptions. And the point is?

How can God allow this? Why fill me with hate and grief?

The police had all but given up. And I didn’t see why they had any reason to go on. Unlike the police, I had no choice, neither did Esther. “Move along, there’s nothing more to see here.”

I can’t. I won’t.

#########################

OK, Beyond the Breakers sounds pretty depressing, but you must know that the protagonist means to have his revenge.  I simply gave him a reason to do so.  That’s all.  And now he must find the killer, deal with him, and repair his life as best he can!

Survival of the Fattest

As many of you know, tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States.  And a large part of it involves eating.  Admittedly, the United States has abundant food, although some of our citizens run a bit low on the stuff.  So, for Thanksgiving, I will provide you with the longest poem I have ever written:

Survival of the Fattest

I took a survey just for fun

I asked each and every one

If they thought that they were greedier than I

 

I assumed they understood

And they weren’t up to no good

And that half should have been low and half been high

 

For I’m a median sort of man

In the middle of the span

Surely it would turn out as I said

 

So, I wrote down their conclusions

And hoped had no illusions

But as I figured all the numbers in my head

 

It seemed it wasn’t so at all

Not even close, as I recall

For I fell far below the greed I thought I had

 

It seemed there was a large delight

In being at the height

And the implications of this fact are rather sad

 

But think! It makes good sense

In the logic of events

That the guy who has the most is bound to last

 

Evolution (Darwin’s guess)

Was surely bound to bless

The greediest of the greedies in the past

 

You think it’s just a spoof?

You want objective proof?

Well take a moment friend and simply look around

 

Little cars are getting big

And we each eat like a pig

So you see my theory really is quite sound

 

Once resigned to such a case

You’re quick to say you have no trace

Of remorse for what you want or how you act

 

It’s the natural scheme of things

Certainly of the truth it rings

Greed is really good, and that’s a fact

 

You see it as a drive

To keep you and yours alive

Why then is greed a bad thing for too seek?

 

I suppose it’s the institution

Of the word called distribution

For the average guy is well below the peak

 

But surely competition

Prevents the repetition

Of a strategy of life that always looses

 

A lack of greed will weed you out

Your offspring will be few no doubt

While the greedy guy has all the kids he chooses

 

But the wrench within the gears

Is that things do change with years

Nothing stays the same — no status quo

 

Since the greedier we get

As though Darwin drove us yet

We must ask ourselves how far this thing will go?

 

Is it not greed that starts all wars

Annihilates millions by the scores

Creates the hatred in our hearts for wrongs past done?

 

If we follow at this pace

Will we delete the human race

To the point that left standing is just one?

 

But how to rid us of this plague

Is an issue that is vague

It’s as if a gear inside a clock

 

Said, “I’m just a cog, I would opine

But even so, I’ll redesign

These works to stop the Tick, but save the Tock

 

For all our wisdom, we’re but small

So even though we know it all

We cannot change one tiny part of all this greed

 

We have instituted laws

But greed is still a mighty cause

And our plan is lacking something that we need

 

Take ethics for example

For although money is quite ample

Among the rich who seem to need more all the time

 

Their view is “take what’s showing

Especially if it’s glowing

For as long as you’re not caught, it is no crime!”

 

So much for jurisprudence

It’s wasted on the students

Of the greedy gots who run the railroad on this earth

 

For although you think giving

Is the better part of living

The greedies will just grab for all you’re worth

 

We also tried religion

Which we thought might help a smidgen

Maybe moral codes will do the trick?

 

Oh, but wait, remember war

And how many were fought for

Religious codes that generally make one sick

 

Even in written words

When we talk of worms and birds

It’s the guy who gets there first who gets it all

 

So if you want to be not needy

Then you’d better turn quite greedy

Or you’re the one who’ll have to take the fall

 

I guess I’m back where from I came

I still see things the same

But, I haven’t solved the problem that I found

 

Like world hunger, wars, and illness

Or the noise that shatters stillness

I’m convinced that greed will always be around

 

Art Davenport

February 2000

A WRITING EXERCISE — THE WALL

I belong to a local writer’s group that meets twice a month.  I was not at the last meeting in October and just saw the “homework” that was generated at the meeting.  Not having much time, I wrote something that doesn’t quite fit the request.  The request was to write a short story of 500 to 1500 words that ends in “And the ghost slowly faded through the wall.”

Here is my entry:

THE WALL

The night I died

I almost cried

It seemed so sad to see

But then I found

Once in the ground

It wasn’t bad “To be

Or not to be” alive in life

With all the strife

That filled my days with pain

And tears that fell,

As streams from Hell,

That turned the sun to rain

So now I rest

And try my best

To scare the living with a laugh

Those beings who

Are living through

A life that’s filled with chaff

Nightly is my time to roam

I startle them with slightest moan

Then tell myself a joke to bring my smile

Followed by laughing loud revealing

In them that so loathsome feeling

That life may end in just another mile

For what is life but fear of death

That near is the day you’ll lose your breath

And freshened air will never once return

Life rushes by

And with your eye

You see your end, a lonely clay-like urn

But urn or grave

You’re not a slave

To fear of death and rot

You’re free at last

To have a blast

Scaring those whose death is not

“Perchance to dream”

Just may not seem

So bad once you have left

Along a path that has no sound,

Ensconced or underground,

Where you’ll find you finally have no heft

And for that very reason

You’ve reached that very season

Where your matter doesn’t matter much at all

The living will surely feel the fear

Of having one like you so near

And say the moment you disappear,

“Thank God that ghost has faded through the wall!”

Art Davenport, 2014

Do You Enjoy Commuting?

I only write poems that rhyme, so literary critics can tune out at this point.

As I got older, and the commuting got longer — two hours each way to Boeing — I started using “beaters”, old cars with little life left in them, but cheap.  I have had two used Chevy Metro’s in series, both red.  They were peppy little cars, easy to park, but they were no match for a Corvette.  The following story is actually quite true, although I never followed up and actually talked to the Corvette owner.  The whole idea came to me right there in the parking lot as it happened. Hope you enjoy the poem.

My Whole Life Flashed Before My Eyes

 I drive a Geo Metro

It’s a beauty, and it’s red

It uses very little gas

It’s my second, first one’s dead

 You might ask how I got it

I’ll tell you, but sit down

It all started many years ago

Now try hard not to frown

 I got myself a big degree

In engineering and so it went

I spent time in the Air Force

As an officer and a gent

 While I worked for Uncle Sam

I bought my first used car

And in those days a tank of gas

Didn’t get me very far

 It was a 1960 dual quad Vette

All white with red inside

To that I added a pretty wife

And then a father’s pride

 All too soon the Vette was gone

A Buick in its place

But life was lookin’ up, my friend

My career picked up its pace

 I sent men to the moon

And  a lota stuff like that

I got my masters at RPI

And then more kids I gat

 My car by now was a Maverick

It got 21 on the road

The years went by and now I drive

This cramped and cheap red toad

 So there I was this mornin’

Looking for a place to park

When I spied a spot that looked real great

And I went for it like a shark

 But as I closed upon my prey

A sleek red bullet passed

A modern version of my old Vette

And I was all aghast

 I didn’t mind the spot he got

He got it fair and square

What I got was a fiendish thought

Could  I do it, would I dare?

 Well, I decided that I’d do it

And I headed off his way

I said, “I don’t mean to worry you son,

But you’ll be drivin’ that someday!”

 Art Davenport, June 2002