Thursday, July 20, 2017

Self Help Radio 071917: Pencils

(Original image here.)

Pencil fiestas!  Artisanal pencils!  Pencils & paper!  Pencil-necked geeks!  This week's Self Help Radio had them all!

Also, we apologize for all the pencil shavings on the floor.  Someone forgot to clean out the pencil sharpeners.  & for the time being, we have no new pencils, just the little stubby ones that are hard to use because someone just kept sharpening them when they were just fine to use.  Why must pencils make one so anal retentive?

It doesn't matter.  We had a lot of fun, we chewed on a bunch of erasers, we doodled & scribbled while pencils were celebrated around us!

You can enjoy a radio show about pencils now at the Self Help Radio website.  (Hint: username is SHR password is selfhelp.)  There are two parts, each roughly an hour long, & the songs you'll hear on the show are below, as well as the breaks where interview guests go on & on.

What's this?  A number three pencil?!?  Get outta here!

(part one)

"That's What They Put Erasers On Pencils For" The Gems _Chess Rhythm & Roll_
"Pencil Song" Jake Sorgen _Sudden Myth_
"Turn The Pencil Over" Porter Wagoner _Honkytonk Man_

"Pencil Test" Yo La Tengo _Prisoners Of Love (A Smattering Of Scintillating Senescent Songs 1985-2003)_
"The Pencil Broke (& That's All She Wrote)" Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra _The Lionel Hampton Story_
"Pencil Case" The Hidden Cameras _In The NA_
"Pencil Rain" They Might Be Giants _Lincoln_

interview with David Fruchter, putting on the Pencil Fiesta

"Pencil & Paper" Ruth McFadden _The Bert Berns Story: Twist & Shout, Vol. 1 1960-1964_
"My Pencil Won't Write No More" Bo Carter _Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts & Lollypops_
"100 Yellow Pencils" Jad & David Fair _Six Dozen Cookies_
"Pencil Boy" The Richter Scales _We Hate A Capella_

"Pencil Marks On The Wall" Henson Cargill _On The Road: The Mega Years Plus_
"Pencil" Rackett _Don't Try This At Home_

(part two)

"Pencil, Paper, & A Broken Heart" Bill Brock _Tip Top Teeny, Vol. 4_
"Pencils In The Wind" Flight Of The Conchords _Folk The World Tour_
"The Pencil Sharpener" Fishboy _Zipbangboom_

interview with artisanal pencil maker CJ Buchanan

"The Pencil Song" The Diamonds _Four Classic Albums Plus Singles 1955-1961_
"Pencil & A Pad" The Cashews _Small Ponds_
"Pencil Me In" +/- _2002 Teenbeat Sampler_
"Pencil Thin Moustache" A Touch Of Grass _The Creation Of A Band_

interview with spiritual master Rev. Dr. Howard Gently

"Vermillion Pencil" Nits _Omsk_
"Pencil Point" Native Tongue _Yowl_
"Pencil Rot" Stephen Malkmus _Face The Truth_
"Pencil Neck Geek" Fred Blassie _Tales From The Rhino: The Rhino Records Story_

"Pencil Peligroso" Drug Boyfriend _Pencil Peligroso_
"Pencils" Gay Against You _Bogus Totem Summer_

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Whither Pencils?

(Image from here.)

Why not pencils, I ask you?  Why not a radio show about writing & drawing implements?  Why not more songs written every day about pens, pencils, paintbrushes?  Even as I type this on a computer keyboard, even as I know my handwriting is now so awful that my cursive is unreadable & my printing at best only slightly less confusing than hieroglyphics, I still ask why not celebrate the best thing we can do with our hands, writing, drawing, doodling, sketching?

But since this show is the vanguard, since we are only just now issuing this call to action, we will have to start with the simple: the humble pencil.  That little wooden tool has been a devoted companion for most of my life, & yet, as I write this, I am ashamed to say I have no pencils on my desk.  Indeed, there are a few pens in a little mug & the only paper is in a drawer in the printer.  What has happened to me?  What has happened to my life?

Today I shall go to some stationary store - not a chain store, not a Max Office or Depot or whatever - & I'll buy some nice pencils & some paper.  I have no letters to write - let's face it, there's something much more satisfying with email - & I have nothing I want to draw.  But to have a desk without paper & pencil?  It makes me feel that I have lost myself along the way.

Tonight's show, a celebration of the pencil, is on from 9-11pm eastern, 8-10 central, on 93.9 fm WLXU in Lexington & online at Lexington Community Radio Online, please choose the WLXU side.  Limited edition copies will be made available after the fact of the show transcribed in pencil.  I wish!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Preface To Pencils: Here's A Sad Story

When I was a kid, I liked to draw.  I have hazy memories of pages & pages of comic book heroes & adventurers I created & started stories about & mostly never finished.  All in pencil.  Even though I read comics religiously, & knew there were things called "inkers," I was never curious enough to say, "What does that mean?  Could I get better at drawing things?  How would I do that?"

It should be noted that, at the time, doodling comics was not something anyone thought was a worthwhile endeavor, except maybe the people doing it, & some admirers, like me.  My siblings didn't care anything about my interests, so there was no encouragement there.  & I, I was probably too shy & self-absorbed to ask anyone for guidance.  It is something I still don't do, & more & more I realize how dumb that is.

& anyway, I don't think I had the skills or the desire to be part of that world.  Because those who did the work I read & loved faced greater hurdles but wanted it, wanted it more than anything else in the world.  Then, as now, I was quite lazy.

But, again, no one in my family thought any of my scribblings were worthwhile.  In fact, one day, in seventh grade, I came home from school & found the closet where I kept my papers, years of them, for elementary school up, in a couple of boxes, I found that closet "straightened up."  My things were gone.  When I asked where they were, I was told they had been thrown away.

Of course I was startled & hurt.  My sister Pat was visiting & I guess she helped my mother do some cleaning.  There were things in that box that I had drawn, that I occasionally returned to, little half-page comics I had made in third & fourth grade which I shared with friends.  How strange & wonderful it would be to see those things again!  But they disintegrated in a city dump so long ago.

Thinking about it, I can't remember if I cried, but I must have.  I was a very tearful boy, a crybaby of the old school.  Years later, in a very damaged state, someone struck me - it's a long story - & I just burst into tears like I was that seventh grader again, who had discovered that nothing was really his, that things he valued were just garbage & clutter to the adults who were supposed to be role models & mentors for his life.  I had learned the arrogant disrespect that the old inherently feel for the young; I had learned that those who know better know very little, especially about those in their care whom they are supposed to be nurturing.

Since that day I have lost so much more, & most of it not written in pencil; the subsequent drawings I guarded fiercely, & the last time I looked at them - it's been over seven years now, since I boxed them up when we moved from West Virginia to Kentucky - many of the pencil marks on those pages have faded.  My first novella - a horribly rushed pastiche of Kurt Vonnegut & comic books that my friend Terri actually read & told me, "It's terrible" before I took it away from her - it's all but illegible now, as I wrote it in pencil, both sides, its awfulness soon to be indecipherable - it was in there, too, & there was a comfort in its presence if not in its reminder of my talentless self.

These are the sad things I think about when I think about pencils.  But is it really sad?

Monday, July 17, 2017

It's Time For An Old Poem

Do you mind?  I have nothing to say, & this was written when I might have believed I had something to say, a little over twenty years ago.  It's called Death Treats.


take the shadows, keep them outside the box, prop your big body between
them & the wet, hard summer night.  i don't have anything to say, really,
about noses, breasts, tongues, ankles, birthmarks, scratches, james joyce
or idaho.  i have nightmares because i want out of all this.

the gun goes in the mouth, points up.  afterwards, my cat eats the brains,
or something.  it could be a punchline of a joke, it could be the end of an
x-files episode, it could be something you forward to your favorite mailing
list.  i can't bear the fact that i have lost everything meaningful to me.

i have forgotten, i don't know how anymore, to communicate, to tell even
people who are or were friends how i am doing.  often i am doing something
so i do not know how i am doing.  the balloon drains slowly of air, i crawl
out of bed, i take the cigarette out of my mouth, i inflate all over again.

so, crybaby, the nothing left tastes like a sore throat, it drains down
your throat like some sinus disorder, it sets in the stomach like a
doctor's appointment, it never goes away.  i daydream about the
mythological stories where everyone changes into something else.  i can
only change into me.

my dusty past in cartons, crates, containers, real love, real connection,
things i think i kept in a folded piece of paper, in a letter from some
authority figure, in photographs, on audio & video cassettes, in locks of
hair, toenails, teeth, empty bottles of medicine, rat bones - where to take

you can't take it with you.  you can't go home again.  you don't know what
you got until you lose it.  you can't teach an old dog new tricks.  you
can't win unless you play.  you can count the cliches like raindrops.  i am
unable to say exactly what i mean.  but i mean it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Things About Myself That Somehow Changed & About Which I Am Glad # 1: Dog Walks

Will this be a long story?  I hope not.

When I first met the woman I would eventually marry, I had two cats & she had a dog.  I was, as the saying goes, a "cat person."  This is not to say I didn't like dogs - I loved them.  I would pet them, play with them, roll around on the ground with them.  But my lifestyle seemed to be more cat-oriented - cats were more self-sufficient, they didn't seem to need my affection as much, etc.  & so I kinda looked down on "dog people."

Oh man, I used to get so annoyed at the "dog bandana" people in Austin who brought their dogs (fully bandanaed) to pubs & restaurants.  The dogs just seemed miserable.  They'd pant in the heat under the tables while their owners ate & drank & smoked & rarely paid any attention to them.

Then, alas, I started dating a woman with a dog.  It's not fair to call her a "dog person" as she had loved many cats in her past.  But she brought a dog into my catty life.

& yes, she took her fucking dog everywhere.  Not just to restaurants & pubs, no.  She went on long walks with him every damn day, especially to the so-called "green belt" in Zilker Park, where she'd disappear for hours while I was at work.  What was up with that?

She invited me, from time-to-time, usually on the weekends, when I didn't have to work.  (She was a grad student, she had very few responsibilities.*)  I'd want to sleep in, I wouldn't want to escape the crushing Austin heat by waking up too early in the morning & then spend four sweaty hours walking in pseudo-wilderness with bike riders & other dog people.

Not that I didn't occasionally go.  When we adopted a second dog, Ringo, & a third dog, Winston, I did find the time to make those weekend outings, but I confess I was always unimpressed by the unstructured nature of the walks, by what seemed to me to be a waste of time disguised as exercise.

Eventually, we moved from Texas, & ended up in West Virginia, then Kentucky.  & around that time, something changed.  I wish I could tell you what it was, but I think it had something to do with two things:

1) I became closer to the dogs.  & 
2) I recognized the walks for what they were: bonding time.

After we moved, I stopped working a regular nine to five/eight to five/eight to four/whatever job.  I spent most of my time with my animals, which meant the dogs as well as the cats.  & we - the dogs & I - became close.  So when it came time for walks, fuck yeah I wanted to go.  I liked to be around them.  We were buds.  We loved each other.  Let's go for a motherfucking walk!

At this point in time the wife & I were married, so we would go on the walks & we discovered that we could use this time, this specific time, this specifically demarcated time, to talk about things that were important to us.  It was not uncommon for the wife to come home from work & say, "I have so many things to tell you, leash the kids up."

It's almost a certainty that, by the second year we lived in Lexington, I was a true believer in dog walks.  So much so that now, when the wife is away doing work stuff in far-flung places, I will still drag my lazy ass out of the bed at the early hour of six am - before it gets too fucking hot in Texas - to walk the dogs their average three miles a day.

You heard me!  Three miles!  Three miles of pooping, peeing, dragging, & sweating!

If you were to hang out with me & my future wife in 2003, just two years into our relationship, & you were to say to me, "In less that ten years, you will not only walk the dogs every day with your wife, but you will also enjoy it, & you will do it without her when she is not able," I would have laughed in your face.  It was inconceivable.

Now it is one of my daily joys.  & I am so glad I changed.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

* Boy, would she get mad at that joke.