A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Deja Vu: Remembering the Past

        The Deja Vu Blogfest has become an annual event hosted by D.L. Hammons.   This is the time when bloggers can rerun a neglected or favorite blogpost from the previous year in hopes that more will see it.  In the case of Wrote By Rote I also have an opportunity to try to reach more people who might not be familiar with my memoir blog.   I hope you enjoy today's look back and that you will return to read future posts.  My regular posting schedule for this blog is each Saturday.

Tee and Cara   "Keeping Track"  (1968)

     --a note about the music:  Tee and Cara's As They Are is one of my favorite albums.  Sadly it did not gain the recognition it deserved although I guess it now has a minor cult status.  I hope you will give it a listen.  I was tempted to use every song on it in my A to Z series.

Keeping Track of Time

         I've always thought about keeping a diary.  Those historical records like the diary of Samuel Pepys who famously chronicled London life in the 1600's fired my imagination when I read excerpts in high school. Anne Frank's diary has inspired many with her harrowing story of living in hiding from the Nazis.  Many movies and literary works have used the diary as a device for telling a story.   Keeping track of the events in my life in written form has often been something that I felt that I should do.

        Yet, I never seemed to be able to keep up a momentum to maintain an ongoing  record of my life.  I would sometimes start.  I'd get a journal or composition book having all the best of intent to faithfully start a diary.  Then after an entry or two I'd forget to write in it, eventually stopping altogether and stuffing the diary in a drawer.

        During my senior year of high school and into my first year of college I faithfully kept a dream diary.  I recorded my dreams in great detail and still have those notebooks to this day.   But that was not exactly my real life.  What happened during my waking hours is now mostly hazy memories if remembered at all.

        Life journal entries are something I tend to start writing when I'm depressed or when some negative event is hanging over me.  During my separations from my first and second wives I wrote a lot.  Sometimes I'd write about my days or I'd write about my feelings.   There were many songs and poems inspired by my hurt and sadness.  I suppose my creative writing qualifies as a form of journaling since I was digging from the depth of my emotions.

          In the summer of 1971 I embarked on what was to be a grand hitchhiking tour across the United States.   Each day I recorded in detail the aspects of my adventure and my impressions of the places that I had been.  There were many pages of writing for this journey that was cut short to a mere month of travel as opposed to several months.   A decade later a briefcase that contained this journal and many other writings was stolen when someone broke into my van in the Holiday Inn parking lot in Greeley, Colorado.  My grandest attempt at journaling probably ended up in a dumpster somewhere with many details of my memory gone with it.

          Like prayer, journaling is something I tend to do more of in times when I'm downcast.   I'm better with prayer since it's easier to say a quick "thank-you" now and then.  Writing takes more effort and time.  When I'm having happy times or good times there is little time for writing about it all.   Time just flies by pleasantly and usually the things I have to show for those experiences are of the nature of photographs or souvenir mementoes related to whatever I was doing at those times.

           Hurt and sadness gnaws long and agonizingly on the heart, mind, and soul.  Those are the times when you have to tell somebody what you're feeling and often that someone is yourself.  I've often turned to writing to sort out my feelings.  Somehow maybe I can find answers by writing.   Or at very least express my frustration or even rage.   Happy times often don't permit writing and pondering.  These are the times to live in the moment and hope to remember the experience.

           Keeping track of time can be tedious, meticulous, and self-indulging.   Or at other times keeping track of time can be quickly scribbled notes that are lost or unintelligible if not expounded upon quickly.  Time goes faster than any of us can adequately ever keep track of.     I suppose if I kept track of all the time in my life I wouldn't be doing that much actual living.

            Do you keep a journal of your life events?    Did you ever faithfully keep a diary in your past?   How do you think journaling life events can help you or others?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blogging Break

I'll be taking a break on this blog for a while as I deal with a family situation.   Please watch for my return here in the next few weeks.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Obituary for My Mother Lois Jackson

Lois Jackson, 85, died Friday morning November 21, 2014 after an extended illness.
She was preceded in death by her husband Robert Lee Jackson who passed in 1990 and her companion of 15 years George Lechelt who passed in 2012.
Lois leaves five children:  Robert Lee and his wife Betty with their children Dan, Ada (spouse Tom Zdanowicz), Diana (Jeff Bowen), Emilee, and Angelina; Joy and husband Jim Melchionda; Joni (whose late husand was Jack Katon) and daughter Jamie (Barry Habel) ; Jay and his wife Hallie with their daughter Cynthia (Sean Baxter);  and Jeff.   Six great-grandchildren include Marley, Hallie Jane, Lillee, Grace, Celeste, and Madisynn.
Born and raised in Morgantown, WV, Lois was the daughter of Paul and Lessie Trevillian.   She attended West Virginia University where she met Bob Jackson, her husband of 40 years.  They moved to Maryville in 1966.
Lois was a dancer whose specialty was acrobatic and tap.  After having met Bob who was a popular basketball player at WVU and a juggler, the two married and  put together an acclaimed juggling act that eventually included their five children.  They performed throughout the United States for four decades.
Ever the congenial hostess, Lois welcomed visitors into her home and was much beloved by her many friends as well as friends of her children.
Funeral arrangements are with McCammon-Ammons-Click.   Friends are welcome to join the family at a graveside service at Grandview Cemetery on Tuesday November 25, 2014.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Watertown: Sinatra's Forgotten Album


         My middle school years were spent at Merrillville Junior High in the northwest corner of Indiana.   We moved there in October of 1963 right before John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the Beatles hit the American shores to make modern music history.   I was a socially awkward kid in the transition between my much beloved childhood years and the intimidation of growing into my teen years.   Music was one of the many refuges I had to escape the insecurities brought by growing older.

         Since my earliest childhood I enjoyed listening to the music from my parents' record collection.  They had eclectic tastes that ran from pop, easy listening, classical, early rock, and odd selections such as compilations of bullfight and circus music.   The variety of styles they listened to shaped my own musical tastes so that I had a broad appreciation of all styles of music.

          Having spent her late childhood and early adolescent years during the Bobby Soxer Era of the 1940's when Frank Sinatra was the idol of many young girls, my mother was a Sinatra fan.  There were always some of his records in my parents' collection.   I too became a Sinatra fan and he became one of my favorite artists.

          During my junior high years I don't know how many of the other guys were listening to Sinatra, but I frequently listened to his music on the portable stereo in our family room.   My feelings would turn to romance as I'd listen to his songs about love.   I'd listen carefully to the lyrics of great songs like "Moonlight in Vermont", "I Can't Get Started", or "If I Had You" and occasionally try my hand at writing similar types of lyrics.  For a while I dreamed up a running James Bond type spy story in my head that was inspired by Sinatra songs.  The music of Sinatra fueled my imagination.

          Eventually the rock music of the 1960's won me over and that became my passion. Sinatra songs like "It Was a Very Good Year", "Summer Wind", and "Something Stupid" would continue to show up on the hit charts and I was happy to hear them played on the radio.   My mother continued to buy new Sinatra albums that I would listen to and enjoy.  Then, after I had started college, my mother received an 8-Track of the latest Sinatra album offered by the record club to which she belonged.   The album was Watertown.

          As soon as I began listening to the album I was hooked.   Sinatra's familiar style and phrasing was all there, but there was something striking about the songs.  For one thing the series of songs told a story, not in the way that a musical would, but it was more like reading a book or watching a movie.  They were excellent songs and I liked every one of them.    Watertown became a favorite tape that I listened to often.

           I tried to get some of my friends interested in the music, but none of them were Sinatra fans and the music didn't strike them as much as it did me.   It didn't matter though.  I continued to listen often to the tape until eventually it must have stopped working like 8-Tracks were notorious for doing or maybe it just disappeared.   The music was now etched in my mind and I often replayed the songs as I remembered them in my head.

           Years later I tried to find the album on cassette tape, but it was nowhere to be found.  Watertown never did go over much with the public so it was not in general release.  What was to me one of Sinatra's best albums was among his least popular and faded into obscurity.  It had attained critical acclaim when it was released, but it didn't get many sales so apparently the record company saw little reason to re-release it on newer recording formats.

          While researching my Battle of the Bands post at Tossing It Out I ran across some additional reasons that I liked the Watertown album so much.   This album was Sinatra's experimental foray into a more modern rock influenced sound.  Indeed, he had already recorded some albums that dabbled in rock sounds and popular hits like the Cycles album of 1968.   Besides Watertown being a concept album in the song cycle tradition, the songs were produced and co-written by Bob Gaudio who was one of the main creative forces behind one of my favorite groups in my junior high years--The Four Seasons.  Also on board with song lyric credits was Jake Holmes who wrote the song "Dazed and Confused" which was popularized by Led Zeppelin.

           Though the Watertown album has the fine backing of an orchestra, there is also a greater emphasis on a more rock-sounding ensemble of drums, bass, and guitar, giving the songs a bit more punch than preceding Sinatra albums had.   Later covers of songs from Watertown as recorded by groups like Cake and Bomb Dawg show how adaptable to rock the songs are.  Though not truly rock, Watertown put Sinatra on the cusp of an edgier sound while keeping him in the comfort zone of what he did best.

          Please be sure to visit Tossing It Out to vote for your favorite version of the song "What's Now Is Now" from the great Watertown album.

          What is your favorite Frank Sinatra album?   Do you think Sinatra's music will continue to be appreciated by many in the future?    What were some of your musical faves when you were a kid or teen that most of your peers would have been unlikely to listen to?


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Curiosity Kid (Part 4) -- Sexcapades

Girl in shower
Girl in shower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       What child doesn't become somewhat preoccupied with the topic of sex?   For that matter does that preoccupation ever go far from our minds in adulthood?   We look at the sexual content of much popular entertainment as well as the sexual fixation of the advertising industry.   Sex is and has always been on the human mind from the earliest years until the day we die.

       Sexual curiosity came to my childhood as far back as my earliest memory.   I suppose much of it is built into our genetic make-up and is fueled by what we see and hear all around us.   I remember puzzling allusions by adults to mysteries I could not comprehend, but I knew it all had to do with physical relationships and attributes of the human body.   Bit by bit I began to grasp some of the esoteric jokes and conversations that I would overhear from the adults and that even some of my peers would occasionally bring up.

       Always hoping for a glimpse of the hidden parts of especially the opposite sex I kept my eyes open just in case something might be revealed to me.   I would be titillated by the spinning ice skater, not realizing that I was not seeing the woman's undergarments but only a part of her costume.   When my mother would take me into the ladies room rather than send me alone into the men's bathroom, I would hope that just maybe I would see into one of the occupied stalls.  One of the heights of my kindergarten year was when Ruth Springer was removing her snow suit (anyone remember snow suits?) in the cloak room and she accidently pulled down her painties exposing her little bare bottom.   I'd never thought too much about Ruth before that day and from then on had a newfound respect for her.

       I went through the "You show me yours and I'll show you mine" phase through which many little kids pass.   A friend and I might hide in the living room curtains stripping down to our underwear until my mother wanted to know what we were doing and we'd hurriedly pull up our pants, emerging to announce innocently, "Nothing".    The curtains gave a false sense of security to us mischievous children, but my mother was not fooled by any of it.

       One of the milestones of my sexual awakening in childhood came when I was about five.  My mother used to bathe me and my sister, who was a year younger than I, together from the time we were babies.   I never gave this any of that much thought because she was my sister and I had no prurient interests in her--she was like my buddy and co-conspirator.  Taking a bath together was just a part of sibling life.  Then came a turning point in this activity.

        We were visiting my grandparents in West Virginia and my eight year old female cousin was also visiting at the same time.  My cousin held a certain intrigue for me, she being an "older women" so to speak and a girl who I found kind of cute.  We rarely saw each other since we lived some distance apart, but when she was around I wanted to be in her company as much as I could.

       When the time for baths came my cousin and sister headed toward the bathroom and I was right behind them only to be stopped at the door by my grandmother.  Peering around the door into the long bathroom where water was running into the big claw-footed bathtub, I could see my cousin and sister giggling and preparing to take off their clothes.  My grandmother stepped between me and the view and shut the door behind her.  It was made clear to me on that day that boys and girls did not take baths together.  No communal baths ever took place for me after that day.  I'm sure my mother and her mother had a discussion about it.   On that day one of the great mysteries and desires of my childhood would remain a mystery.

       Did you ever play "doctor" or other games related to sexual curiosity?   Did you take baths with siblings?     Do you think sexual curiosity is learned, innate, or a bit of both?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Encounters with Death

English: Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York.
 Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        Since today is known as Day of the Dead in some cultures and we're in the scary Halloween season, I've been running a series of sort on my blog Tossing It Out about the topic of death.   It's not a topic that many of us like to contemplate, but it is a part of life for all of us.   After you've finished this essay at Wrote By Rote I hope you will continue on to my post at Tossing It Out to vote on my Battle of the Bands offering for the first of this month.   Yes, it's a song about death.

         During my childhood I did not have many direct encounters with death.   When I was very young--about 4 or 5--my aunt died.  Since I never was around her the loss didn't register much for me though I was concerned about my mother's distraught state after it happened.  The thing about that death that I remember the most was that my aunt and uncle lived in a nice house and had a color television set--a rarity in the mid-1950's.

         Sometime around those same years I found my mother crying one afternoon and asked her what was the matter.  She said our family doctor had died.  He didn't seem all that close to me and my family so I didn't understand her sadness.  He was just a guy that I went to see when I was sick or getting checked up and sometimes he'd give me a shot, which I did not like at all.

        Years of childhood went by during which I'd get wind that someone my parents knew had died or maybe some relative whom I had no recollection of ever having met.  If my parents had gone to any funerals during those years it was an event that eluded me.  I'd seen graveyards and funeral homes, but never went to any of those kinds of places.

         The first time I ever saw a dead body was when I was still in high school.  It was in a car accident.  I was riding in the back seat with my parents and we passed a car that appeared to have been in a minor fender bender at an intersection.  There did not appear to be much damage to the car, but in the back seat nearest to the side that I was sitting on was a man with his head leaning against the window.  He appeared to be merely resting or perhaps unconscious, but there was a great deal of blood splattered on the window.  I was puzzled about the amount of blood as the man appeared to be generally uninjured.   In fact, I didn't even realize he was dead until I read about it in the paper the next day.   The accident must have just happened shortly before we came upon it because the other occupants of the car, including some children seated near the man, were just sitting in the car with dazed confused looks.   None of them appeared to be hurt, but just uncertain about what to do.  And the man was dead.  I didn't even realize he was dead and maybe the people with him didn't know it yet either.

        Since that first direct encounter with death I have experienced the deaths of  friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members.   I've been to many funerals and sent off many cards and messages of condolences to survivors.  As I grow older death has settled in as a frequent visitor to remind me of my own mortality.   Death will eventually come for me one day, but I'm certainly in no hurry.  Take your time, o death, I'm not ready to go anywhere with you.   Not quite yet.

          Have you had many encounters with the death of loved ones in your lifetime?   When was the first time you actually saw a dead person?   Do you think about your own death or is this a topic that you try to avoid?

          Hope you'll stop by to vote on my Battle of the Bands post at Tossing It Out.  Thanks!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Curiosity Kid (Part 3)

Hazardous waste bottle in a chemical lab
Hazardous waste bottle in a chemical lab (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        Like most kids I had a curiosity about chemistry, sometimes bordering on the potentially hazardous.  If interesting ingredients were accessible I was ready to mix them up to see what would happen.  I'm pretty sure it was inspired by something I'd seen on TV.  In one case I know it was.

         In one of the Little Rascals episodes the gang was baking a "surprise cake".  They mix up a batch of stuff in the kitchen to create a batter that eventually starts groaning and bubbling.  I wanted to do that.  So one summer afternoon while my mother was talking to a neighbor across a backyard fence, my sister Joy and I and one of the neighbor kids decided to make our own surprise cake.  Joy and I were about 4 and 5 at the time and had imaginations that were always at work.

          We climbed the counters, digging out flour, milk, spices, and whatever else we could get to and manage to get open and we started mixing in the biggest bowl we could find.  The mixture never bubbled or made noise, but we sure did make a big mess, evident by my mother's angry reaction when she came inside.    To our defense, we were in a hurry to mix things up and didn't have time to clean up.

          Then there was the time a few years later after we had moved to San Diego.   Once again it was Joy and I and some friend from down the street.   Joy and I were like the two stooges so I guess we always needed another kid to make the trio complete.   It was summer and we were exploring the garage to see what was there.   We quickly started assembling an assortment of chemical products--cleaning supplies, turpentine, and other miscellaneous containers of mystery liquids.

         We got a galvanized metal bucket in which to mix up our chemicals and the experiment was underway.  After stirring up half a pail of some nasty smelling dark liquid we waited to assess the results.  Nothing happened so we hid the bucket away in a sort of clubhouse that we had constructed out of stuff that was stored in the garage.   We then went to seek out other mischief.

        It was a few days later when a truly foul smell started permeating the garage.   When my mother inquired about the smell Joy and I looked at each other conspiratorially.   We knew what that smell was and now we were a bit concerned.  Scared even.  After my mother had gone back inside the house we immediately went to where the bucket was hidden.   The brew had a gag-inducing smell with a truly sickening appearance with unidentifiable particles floating in a film on top.  It was disturbing to say the least.

       Now I can't exactly recall what we did with this toxic mixture.  It was undoubtedly deadly or at least unsafe.  If this had been in the current age we might have called a hazardous waste clean-up crew to dispose of the substance.   Maybe we just dumped it in the backyard or maybe one of our parents disposed of the evil liquid.  As I think more on this I do believe I dumped it into a utility sink that was beside the washing machine in the garage.   I don't know what we created in that frightening chemistry experiment but I shudder to think back on it.

      It was kind of funny though--in a perverse sort of way.

      What were some of your fearful kitchen adventures?   Did you ever mix up liquids to see what you could brew?   What did you brew?


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Curiosity Kid (Part 2)

An illustration of a character from a story; a...
An illustration of a character from a story; also, an illustration of illustrations
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        Earlier this year I put up a post called "Curiosity Kid" in which I talked about some of things that mystified me as a child and wanted to know more about.  These were incidents that might have been somewhat embarrassing to my mother putting her in an uncomfortable spot.  There were other instances that were probably more of a nuisance to my mother or things that were done surreptitiously.

The Science Experiments:

        Kids are scientists at heart.   When we are young we are always experimenting to see how things work or what will happen if we do something that we probably shouldn't be doing.   And for the latter, most of those somethings are things we definitely shouldn't be doing.

         Rarely did I have a toy for too long before I began dismantling it to see what was inside and how the darn thing worked like it did.   Mechanical toys were my favorites.  Once the outer layer was broken through, I would make great discoveries such as finding that the Japanese recycled things like tin cans and old magazines to manufacture the toys they sent to us kids in the U.S.  This was the pre-China years when most cheap products were "Made in Japan".     After the dismantling, I would be without a toy and left with a pile of useless scrap that could not be reassembled.   Another toy in the garbage.

         My most major accomplishment of destruction for the sake of curious discovery was the beautiful bouncing horse that my sister and I got for Christmas one year.  I was about 4 or 5 at the time.   The horse was made of sturdy plastic and suspended by heavy duty metal springs to a metal framework.  Not only could one bounce on the horse, but there was also some sort of mechanism which after pulling a string the horse would make realistic horsey sounds.  My mission was to find out how those sounds were made.

          Lacking any patience for careful dismantling--there seemed to be no easy way to take the horse apart to get to its innards--I took the most logical approach to doing the job.   I used a hammer.  With great energy I bashed through the plastic to find an odd little device that was something like a miniature record player.  After having liberated the mechanism from the hard plastic shell of the horse, the device now only played a weaker more draggy version of the horse sounds until it eventually quit working.   No horse sounds, no bouncy horse.   Consequently we never got another horse like it.

        Did childhood curiosity ever lead you to dismantle toys or other items?   Do you like to find out how things work?    Has any of your children, grandchildren, or other children in your life shown a predilection for taking things apart?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Parallel Roads: Friendships That Span Time

        Over the past few years I've written about my old friend Dan Holom on my blogs.    On Wrote By Rote I did an A to Z post about Friendship in 2013.  A few years earlier on Tossing It Out I related a story about a possible telepathic connection between my friend and I.  You can follow the links to read those stories.   Today I have a follow-up story regarding my long-time friend.

          Dan Holom and I became friends way back in junior high school nearly fifty years ago.  We were best friends during that time.  When high school came I moved away from Merrillville, Indiana where my family had been living during those junior high school years and relocated hundreds of miles away in East Tennessee.  I occasionally heard from Dan and saw him a couple of times over the years, but then for a few decades we lost contact.   I never forgot about him and though I had an idea where he was living, I never managed to reconnect with him until 2005.

           He came to visit me in California in 2006.  Actually he was meeting with the illustrator for a children's book he had written so he decided to pay me a brief visit as well during his short week-end stay.  Since then we have kept regular contact.

            A signed copy of his book Sleepy Sheepy and Daniel arrived in my mail sometime in 2008.  I was thrilled to see that his dream had come to fruition.  Over the years since then Dan has been working hard at promoting his self-published book.  Anyone who has been involved with self-publishing knows the hard work involved in promoting a book.   Dan has been steadily pushing his book through speaking engagements and whatever else he could do to promote sales.

            Now he has released his book on Kindle which makes distribution via Amazon far easier than trying to market to the book stores on his own.   The book is also cheaper for readers.  Sleepy Sheepy and Daniel is based on the Bible story of Daniel in the lion's den.   With whimsical illustrations by acclaimed Disney animation artist Mark Henn, children and adults will enjoy this entertaining book that is very values oriented.  

          If you don't mind spending $1.99 or if you have Kindle Unlimited where you can read the book for free, I would encourage you to help Dan with his book sales.   I think any children in your life would enjoy this book--it would make a great gift.   And once you've read the book please remember to leave a review on Amazon and wherever else you typically leave book reviews (don't forget your blog as well!). 

            Dan Holom and Mark Henn have big plans ahead.   Their book is to be turned into a series of Sleepy Sheepy adventures.   The success of this first book will make the publication of the next book an easier process.   Wouldn't you like to be a part of this fun series for children?   I hope so!

            You can find my reviews of Sleepy Sheepy and Daniel at Amazon, Goodreads, and my Sunday blog A Few Words.

           Have you had friends that you've reconnected with after many years?    Have you purchased any children's books on Kindle?   Can you help my friend Dan Holom launch his book series (sharing this post would also help)?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Google as a Memoir Research Tool

English: Computer-globe
Computer-globe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

          Since "Google" has become synonymous for "search engine" I've used this term in my title.  It's the search engine that I use almost exclusively and I would imagine most of you do so as well.   There are many search engine options and in many ways any of them are superior--certainly far more convenient--than other research options.

          Some of you enjoy going to the library and this research option can provide some great hands-on opportunities for research with resources that are frequently more reliable than internet resources.  Most of us have probably been the victim of unreliable internet sources which in some cases get duplicated onto other sites until the faulty information eventually gets permutated into seemingly reliable information  

          Caution must be taken when doing internet research, but that is an applicable caveat to doing any kind of research.   Often conflicting accountings of events and histories can mislead us if we are not careful.   Using multiple resources, organizing data, and filtering by the application of our own sense of logical reasoning can help us in drawing the best conclusions, but mistakes can still be made if enough care is not taken.

          My personal experience with internet research is a mixture of good and bad.   Search engines can give us access to facts such as weather, historical events timelines, geographical data, or even genealogical background--usually much of this information can be obtained for free right from your computer at home.  If you're like me and prefer to work in the comfort of your own home rather than getting out into the hubbub of the outside world, obtaining information on the computer is a great advantage not only from the standpoint of convenience but also limiting stress and  transportation costs.

          Aside from the dangers of succumbing to inaccurate information that is sometimes disseminated online, my biggest trap is getting sidetracked by all of the easy access to other information related to our searches.  Not that this can't happen in a library or similar research venue, but distractions come so much more easily when we are on the internet.  One click on a link that we happen to see can lead us down a rabbit hole into subjects we had no intention of researching or just reading about.

           The distractions can be fun and even result in new brainstorms.   Sometimes we'll find information related to what we are looking for at the present or something we had previously been researching purely by accident.   Taking that sideroad can turn out beneficial, but more typically our diversions just make the research activity last longer.

          Google and other search engines are a boon to those of us who need to do research--usually far better than those encyclopedia sets most of us probably used for composing school reports.   As with anything there are good and bad sides.   The computer is an amazing tool for connecting ideas and bits of collected data.   I've found numerous things related to my family history as well as data that has sparked memories about my own life.  

         In compiling accurate and interesting memoir, we should never limit the resources we use to collect data.    We need to get out of our houses to experience the world and the lives of the people around us.  Reading good resource materials and talking to others can provide information we might not have run across in other ways.   However, since we often do spend so much time at our computers, the search engine is one of the better ways to prompt and fuel our imaginations.

          What is your preferred or favorite way of finding memoir data?    Do you have a problem finding trustworthy data online?     Can you recommend any particular sites that are particularly useful when researching for writing a memoir?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Book on the Window Sill

English: Building at 123 West Jackson Avenue i...
 Building at 123 West Jackson Avenue in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA,
 photographed in 1976. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        As mentioned in my most recent post at Tossing It Out, one of the books that I read over the summer months was The Third Strike by Jerry Gray.  This is the second time that I've read this book which has been in my possession for over 40 years now.  There's a story behind this book.  I've decided to share that story here today at Wrote By Rote.

         By 1973 I had been working at Acme Premium Supply Company in Knoxville, Tennessee for a couple of years.  Acme was a wholesale carnival supply company dealing in plush toys, carnival glass, and all of the other prize items given to winners of carnival games.  It was a quirky business that provided me with the flexibility of work hours during the school year and the opportunity to work as much as I wanted during the summer months.  

         During the first half of the 70's I was attending the University of Tennessee full time most of the year.   In the peak carnival season of the summer months I worked full time at Acme with all of the overtime they had available and there was plenty to be had.  Due to the seasonal nature of the business there were periods when there would be work lulls and the warehouse would operate with minimal staff.   Since I was a favored employee who could be depended upon to be reliable, the company would keep me on duty even if there wasn't much to be done as far as the daily sales and shipping operations.

            There were always the maintenance duties of cleaning, organizing warehouse spaces, and restocking where merchandise had dwindled to low numbers.   So even if there were few customer sales or ingoing and outgoing truck traffic, there was always something to be done.  Some days I worked at a more leisurely pace because speed wasn't essential to get things done.

             When the main warehouse was overly stocked to the point there was no more room to safely store merchandise, we kept some of that overstock in a Jackson Avenue warehouse nearly two blocks away.  This extra space was in an old building that was one of many that filled an entire block.  Most of the buildings were empty and most likely condemned for use.   Apparently the building we used had been deemed usable, but it was not in the best shape.  My guess is that these buildings dated back to the early part of the 1900's or perhaps even earlier.

            Occasionally when I found myself working alone in this old building, I would explore the upper floors.  Nothing above the first floor was in use since it was not practical, and possibly not safe, to use those spaces.   There was an old freight elevator, but it seemed not to be operational.   There was an eeriness in those empty dank upper floors.   The hollow cavernous space echoed as I walked through it.  

            At the back side of the building were a few tall windows that overlooked the railroad tracks and beyond to East Knoxville.  I was drawn to the windows for the view as I would ponder my thoughts, worries, and dreams.   This lonely place was the ideal spot for contemplation though more than once I contemplated the possibility that the building I was in could collapse with me in it.

           During one of my early explorations when I was drawn to the back windows, I noticed a small book on the window sill.  Judging from the amount of dust that had settled upon the book it appeared to have been there a very long time.   After dusting off the cover I examined the book.  

           The compact book with a green hard cover had "The Third Strike by Jerry Gray" printed in gold letters.  The book only had sixty pages.   The chapter titles intrigued me.  Titles like "Rain in the Bowery", "Battle of the Bottles", and "Climbing the Heights of Darkness" piqued my curiosity.  Six short chapters was the extent of the book.

            Taking the book home with me I read it that night.  The writing was quite good--poetic prose with a somberness that made me even more curious about the book and why it was in that old warehouse.   The story of Jerry Gray lingered in my thoughts.   I decided that one day I would write a story or perhaps a novel about a character inspired by this "Jerry Gray" even though there was little more that I knew of him than what was written in this book.

            My guess is that this book was a publication that may have been intended for free distribution to those suffering from alcohol dependency.  The story is about one man's struggle with alcoholism until he eventually loses the battle.   There are moments of deep introspection, revelation, but ultimately hopelessness for the author who exhorts others to heed his warnings and take charge of their own addictions.

            Since the area where Acme Premium Supply was located was an area frequented by winos and homeless alcoholics, my supposition would be that one of these poor souls who sometimes had found refuge in the building our company was now using for extra storage had been given the book at an AA meeting or by some party wishing to help inspire someone who was in the depths.   If this scenario were the case, it was probably something that had happened years prior to my finding the book.   The warehouse had probably been abandoned for several years before Acme started using it.

           Eventually after many moves and over a decade of living on the road, my found copy of The Third Strike became lost in all my stuff that had been in storage at my parents house.   The memory of the book stayed with me over the years and often came to my mind.   After I moved to where I now live I would sometimes look through boxes that were still packed to try and find this book.  Finally, this year before taking my vacation trip, I found the book.  It was time for another read through of this book that had haunted me for so many years.

            The Third Strike was the first of the books I read this summer.  It was still as good as I remembered it being.  The small volume now resides on my bookshelf where I will undoubtedly pick it up now and then to drink in the beauty of the words.   Too bad that this "Jerry Gray"--a pseudonym as revealed in the Foreword--wasn't writing more and drinking less.  That is, if this author story is actually true.  It really doesn't matter who wrote the book.  A good book is a good book.   I almost wish this one were longer. Or if the person who did write it wrote other similarly well written books that I could be directed to.   Maybe I'll never really know.  Or maybe one of you reading this knows something about this book, this author, or anyone affiliated with either.

         Do you ever explore old abandoned buildings?   Have you ever found an abandoned book that influenced you in a big way?    Do you have any ideas or knowledge about Jerry Gray, The Third Strike, or Starr Daily?  


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Concert Series: The Hello People

English: 1978 Todd Rundgren
 1978 Todd Rundgren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      During this year's Blogging from A to Z April Challenge Michele at Angel's Bark for the letter "C" wrote about concerts she had attended.   Her post brought to mind some of my own concert memories.  In my comment response to her post I suggested that I might use her idea as an occasional series topic.  This post will be the first of a sporadic series that will most likely correspond to Battle of the Bands posts that you will find on my blog Tossing It Out.   If you haven't visited to vote on my current Battle I hope you will drop by before Sunday evening September 21st at which time I will tally the votes to come up with the most favorite artist of the two I've presented.  The winner will be announced on my post of Monday the 22nd.

The Sounds of the Silent

        Many of us undoubtedly have fond memories of concerts we've attended.   Most of mine come from my college years and the decade or so that came after those years.   I had more time to spare, less obligations to care about, and more friends who were more than willing to join me in my concert experiences.   Actually there were more than a few concerts that I attended by myself since my eclectic music interests took me to events that no one else I knew was willing to join me.

        Another of the reasons that I attended so many concerts was that they were relatively cheap--anywhere from free to five or six dollars.   The big concerts with two to three big acts averaged about five dollars each.  I don't recall paying for parking for most of these, but if we did pay to park the fee was only a dollar or less.  A concert night was not a huge outlay of cash even considering I was only making $1.75 to $2.50 an hour at the job I worked during my off school hours.

        One of the more outstanding concerts (they were almost all outstanding for that matter) was in May of 1972 with the line-up of the headliner Alice Cooper, the band Free, and Todd Rundgren with The Hello People backing him up. Alice Cooper was the draw for most attendees--I was certainly an avid fan.   Free was a bonus.  Their song "All Right Now" had been all over the radio as a huge hit.  They rocked and would have been a great headline band.

          However, the pairing of Todd Rundgren with the Hello People was the act that interested me the most.   I'd already been a Rundgren fan for a few years and had a couple of his albums.   But the Hello People?  I owned their first two albums having found them in cut-outs and loved their music.   What a surprise to find two great acts unpretentiously paired as an opening act.   Being able to see Todd Rundgren in concert was definitely cool, but to see the Hello People coming to Knoxville, Tennessee was a totally unexpected treat.

         I will say here that Rundgren and the Hello People delivered a great concert far exceeding any expectations I had for them.   Honestly I didn't know what to expect, but the show they put on would have been enough for me.  I would have been happy to sit through a couple hours of their act with no other accompanying groups.

        After the coliseum lights darkened and a myriad of lighters flamed up to ignite the joints that were a staple of any rock concert back then, the stage lights came up to reveal a group of mimes.   The white-faced characters began a typical mime routine.  They were proficient in their mimery, but there was no clear indication as to why the mimes were there until they took to their instruments.   As they broke into a jazzy tune from their second album, the Hello People broke the silence barrier and began doing what they did best--playing music.

           Todd Rundgren soon joined them and the collaborative group skillfully addressed a series of some of Todd's best songs.  The Hello People were solid as a back-up band.    The set was too short for my tastes.  As I have already noted, I could have devoted the entire evening to nothing but these fantastic musicians.  But alas, the set ended all too quickly and proceeded to the next two acts.

          I wish there was a filmed record of the Todd with the Hello People.   There may very well be since I've run across at least one YouTube clip of them.   I'd like to see the entire set as I saw it on that May night in 1972.   Those concerts all went by so quickly that it's hard to remember a lot of the details.

Here's the YouTube clip that I've found:


         Those concert years were great times.   It was cheap entertainment compared to now when the cost of parking alone can often exceed an entire night out back in the 70's.  There were many great entertainment events that I witnessed during that time.   I'll try to recapture some of those memories in future posts on Wrote By Rote.

          What great concert memories do you have?   Were there any groups who surprised you with their presentations?    What do you like best about going to hear music artists perform live?


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Is My Life Story Worthy of a Memoir?


         Recently I received a comment on a guest post that was published at my blog Tossing It Out on July 20th of 2011.   Yes, sometimes these comments do crop up on older posts, usually due to someone doing a Google search on the topic of the post.   It's good to know that these posts are showing up on the search engines.

        Anyhow, this guest post was by my long time blogging friend and memoirist Karen Walker at Following the Whispers.   If you don't know Karen I encourage you to check out her blog and give her a follow.  Her first publishing success was a memoir dealing with some of the tough life challenges she has had to endure.   Currently she's wrapping up her first attempt to publish a novel.  Her blog posts usually offer snippets concerning her life that might make you put your own situation into perspective.   If you're thinking about writing a memoir or have already done so but have not yet started submitting it anywhere, Karen's blog might be a good place to commune with others of like mind.

         However, getting back to the comment Karen received on her guest post at my blog, it was offered up by Michael Fontana who left his comment on the post "Do's and Don'ts of Memoir Writing:...". Here's what Michael asks:

Karen, I am writing a memoir and am desperate for a glimmer of hope. It seems that the web is chock full of people saying, "do this" or "don't do that". Also I'm beginning to feel my subject matter is contrived, already been done, or that it's just not that interesting. I seem to be stuck on the idea of having to present it from growing up (which is when I showed traits of what is to come in the "arc") and so many say "don't talk about growing up, being bullied, drinking/drugging/recovery" etc. I'm a bit lost because when I tell stories aloud people say "you have to write a book" but the process is making me think that I don't, but I really want to LOL! Thoughts?
           Here is Karen's reply to Michael:

Hi Michael,I want to encourage you to continue to write your story. Try not to pay attention to what others are saying about the do's and don'ts right now, including me. Just put down on paper the story you want to tell. You can always delete or add things later. And it doesn't matter if someone else had similar issues and told their story. Your story is unique because it is yours. And the way you tell it will be unique, too. Just allow it to come out. With editing, you can start to pay attention to some of what others are saying. But not now. Good luck!karen

       Not much for me to add to Karen's simple practical advice. If you feel compelled to tell a story, first of all just write. Then later on you can go back over your work to see what you did right.

       You can find Karen's complete guest post at Tossing It Out.

        Do you think your life is too boring to write a memoir? Have you read any boring memoirs about a person who had an exciting or extraordinary life? What do you think are the most important things to consider when writing memoir?