Never a Day Without a Line
When a mentor passes on–A Memorial to Donald Murray
I heard it on the 11 o’clock New Years Day news. Donald Murray died of a heart attack at the age of 82. He had submitted his column ‘Now and Then’ to the Boston Globe the day before he died. He never stopped working, learning or sharing the knowledge he had gained.
My connection to Donald started from a Now and Then column that he had written in late winter which mentioned a spring writing class and one of his favorite bookstores on Water Street in Exeter NH. A heartfelt feeling took me there and I bought the book he suggested and left my information. Fortune smiled and on a Monday nights for six weeks I found myself at Don’s house in Durham with a circle of writers and novices of the craft. Don in his chair teaching by drawing us in and sharing his life and the work he loves. A large man in both stature and heart held court as we listened and learned in a circle where he made us feel equal. No pretense, just the spirit of a man open and true. His words ring true in my head: ‘Find your voice and tune it to the situation’
‘Writing is personal-be as true as possible’
‘The voice must sound like you, if not something is wrong-you may not be close enough to the material’
‘I still sometimes look at the world as a soldier’
‘Write with velocity and lower your standards’
‘Good writers see deep important things about the human condition. They articulate the human condition for those who can not’
‘Surprise is wonderful, I want to surprise myself some more before the road ends’
I met with him three times after the class ended. Twice for breakfast at ‘Young’s’ in Durham where everyone knows his name. The morning after class ended I picked him up at 5:45 AM. He told me he had stayed up all night as enthusiasm about the class, father’s day trip weekend prior, writing, and using his new art supplies would not let him sleep. He insisted on paying for breakfast and said that my turn was next. As I dropped him off at his house and told him to get some rest he answered, ‘after I write a little’. 82 years old, up all night and his motto, ‘nulla dies sine linea’ and work ethic still ruled.
For me he is gone too soon, too fast but he will always be with me. It’s his turn again to buy breakfast and he promised to come for dinner and meet my ‘Maria May.’
He believed in his family, his students, his friends and his colleagues. He gave us a confidence devoid of judgments that we could find our voice and tune it to the situation.
I offer a poem written with Donald in mind and submitted during what would be his last class. He had taken up drawing and painting recently for the sheer joy and surprise of it. The last line was added today.
Hard Wood Writing
Feeling lucid under pressure
Moments of sheer horror and panic do pass
Drawn on ousted emotions to draw-paint words to paper
Form scenes opened felt by me
Acts of art for others to observe-see
A word play called ‘New Hope Spring’
On a clean cool clear and cloudy canvass of Papyrus
Framed pages with words
Book cover borders
Times Temperaments Torments Trusts
Loss and Rebirth
Felt and Palpable on written page
Hopes spring grows and flows
Words in mahogany and oak
A writer’s true rings of hard growth memory
True to a vision of what has come to pass
Hard Wood Writing on soft textured page of one person’s past
Written Word Etched for Eternity by Scribed Survivor
Mahogany Voice Rises from Oaken Experience
From scribbler to Scribe the Survivor Crafts
The soft subtle textured pages of a life’s
Lessons Learned and Shared
Now and Then
His time was write
Found a mentor, ol’ sage, life almost spent
He opened his home, gave a last class
Unconditionally he let us in and shared a successful career
“Write Short, Write Quick,” the mentor said.
The world has changed–attention spans are short sighted
Draw them in, hold them, set them free, with words from the heart
An old man’s spirit shared
His time was write
Now and Then taught me ours is then and now
The road goes on and I will be one of Donald’s Acolytes–Apostles
Nulla dies sine linea–never a day without a line
Share a life til the road ends
To be taken up by a spirit who’s time is write
Copyright by Ken Pothier
Going through the door to another time I find myself 27 years old again in summer.
Twenty Seven Year Old Dreams—Against the Wind
The fish were not coming near our boat yesterday. Perhaps the intensity of my dreams was keeping them away. I used an open ended roll of film and could have taken as many pictures as I wished. I did with my minds eye. Such a reality is felt out on the open sea. My dreams were out there, I could feel them pulling me on as I gathered strength for the storm.
I dreamed of hitting the road to island and mountain sanctuaries of spirit. Today I am on the road from Martha’s Vineyard Island to Jackson NH in the White Mountains. Dreams tempered and shaped by uncomfortable reality that I am rapidly moving toward even greater change. A soul searching vacation thinking about loose ends and trying to make amends to old friends. Sorting myself out in feeling thought and in running the roads and realizing that you just can’t have it all. You just don’t need it all. (Credit this line to Bob Seeger)
My traveling companions on the boat from the island were special people, a juggler and a fool. What eyes on the world. Felt good to meet them, share the view together for a short while. Foggy this morning yet we found light spots of life and laughed. Talked of serious things without being serious about it. The fool is a mirror of life reacting to what he sees and feels helping others to laugh at themselves and stop being so dramatic. Fools and jugglers are masters at getting others to lighten up. Take it easy and lighten up on your load. It’s not that bad if you take it slow, do your best and don’t forget to laugh. Move on in the face of change and uncertainty. I move on down the road to gather my backpack and head for the mountains.
What time is it anyway? What you make of it! Jackson NH, afternoon, it is time for getting my head together. My home customized Chevy Van is my room on wheels and feels so fine. The side door open acts as my window. The ride was smooth and timeless, an open day under high open sky. Listening to the music, taking it all in, learning to put it all together.
Knowing only that what has gone before my eyes this vacation has been beautiful. The realm of possibilities is immense and I became lost in the grandeur of an island dream. The road was open so I took it to the mountains to give ocean and island dreams room to expand. I have got to play my hand. Live free or you do begin to die. Shadow Captain and dark star are moving on and shining thru the fog to see beyond immediate reality. Blend of past present and future as the road and life go on. Balance is hard to maintain as situations shift and sway in the wind. I am holding on yet giving enough to maintain the balance. The summer wind today is clean and free flowing. I can see the love that will be.
Mountain day dream given room to expand brings me back to the island fair in West Tisbury. Such a wonderful parade of people and almost everyone makes an appearance. The island women are so natural and strong in their beauty. The island is reflected in them. They are so fine in country dress and bare feet. My dreams soar and time opens and my picture of the world becomes so close to perfect for a short part of the year. The fair is a celebration before the work of the harvest. It is a celebration of warm energy that has been built up thru the summer months. I was surely lost in the warmth. I could not open up to the possibilities the way wished not in the few days of vacation. Getting there gave me a time for reflection, a time open to looking at what has come to pass trying to shed light on what is ahead. It is a time to look at the whole of your existence in hopes of enhancing your reality. The broader the vision the wider the possibilities. Reflect and be glad for the way ahead. Dreams are never left behind. We are always moving toward them. We must do what we can, learn lessons and do some more. The pieces turn up as you go. Shifting and sorting, piecing it all together takes time.
Take it easy, take your time, have patience! The best is ahead but it will only be the best if we work towards making it that way every day. The road goes on, pieces of dreams to be found and mountain daydreams to give them room to expand.
© Ken Pothier
Written yesterday and today
Mary Ann’s Diner
I egress to an overnight frost, perhaps the last of this season. A different road is taken this early morn under cloudy sky. The rise and fall of hills–twists and turns of a never straightforward road. I pass old farms and churches’ spires. They mark time and my passing on the road to Mary Ann’s Diner and Family Restaurant. It is done up 50’s style. Choice of booths, tables for two and four squeeze in six in a pinch. The counter for single lonely souls lost in a paper, a cigarette, a dream. TV is on but no sound and here no one cares for that kind of news. The music here is fifties and sixties oldies played back to back in an endless flow from past memory to present thought, noninvasive in a subtle and seamless meld of years. I sit with the lonely souls at the counter with a local newspaper but it is hard to read with all the life and sound around me. I play name that tune–name that band–feel that memory–emotion with the music. The flow of music matches the life of the place and the quickstep of the waitresses. Full–bodied waitresses in long poodle skirts, bobby socks and soft shoes, friendly,
carrying their loads with big smiles. Coffee and ice water brought to me with never– ending refills. Ol’ style breakfast made to your liking. I order steak tips marinated in raspberry sauce with eggs over medium, home fries and raisin toast-$7.50. Smiles small talk and refills free and this diner’s experience priceless.
A place where you are always welcome a sanctuary of sorts. Local contractors make their plans for the day; count the week’s profit and loss. Workers of all sorts fill their tanks with good food and fuel for the day’s travails, still stiff from yesterdays work. They shake it off here and get it up to do it again in their own endless flow of work, recovery, work that makes this country run.
Couples meet greet hangout, form and break relationships in a life flow of the yin and yang-the profit and loss of love and affection. Families sit together and show the strain and gain of their growth over time.
Conversations of the day: weather, sports, family progress, accomplishment and setback, goals and dreams, gossip and truth all meld with the music of the place. Spring’s arrival and blossoming, another week removed from winter, a new season and a fresh if cool and cloudy day.
No promises made; however, those who stop at Mary Ann’s leave with a full stomach and a spirit filled with smell of coffee and good food, the sound of human contact and connection in varied form.
A man sits at the counter alone; two bikers who have hardly touched their breakfast are leaving in a hurry. I move to the space provided and find out why they are moving on. The man in his 30’s is a local and a regular. He is also manic–depressive, schizophrenic, Bi-Polar or all of the above. He immediately talks to me at breakneck speed in a flow of words that have meaning but make no real sense. In ten minutes he goes from being the reincarnation of Jim Morrison of the Doors to a Naval Academy graduate at the head of his class. He had a busy night at a secret NATO meeting with CIA, FBI and national security
types. The meeting ended early when the Russians did not show up. He tells me he is still in the military and I ask in what way? He says that he is in deep too deep undercover and secret. He moves from booth to booth asking for a cigarette as I move over one stool at the counter. I can listen better and finish my breakfast from this vantage point and the waitresses understand that I cannot solve this man or the nation’s problems today. I must finish and join the workers soon as schedule intrudes on the seamless flow of music and conversation. Connections made and lost–hope for the lonely soul at the counter that tomorrow he will find communication, connection, and peace. Hope for the man with the paper that he will turn the page to someone’s smile and a new start. All in sanctuary found at a 50’s style diner, oldies playing as full–bodied women in long skirts serve up a new day.
Lyrics in the music of a life
“Time may heal, time may steal, time to decide and every thought of you casts its own shadow and everything I wanted is subject to review as time the conqueror closes in on a life.” Words paraphrased from the first and title song of Jackson Browne’s newest creation, Time the Conqueror. Many times in my life the language of lyrics have been the music that kept me going in hard times, that helped me celebrate joys and accomplishment, that helped me lift my head when others harsh words beat me down and sucked the life out of any possibility of spontaneous action or creativity. Lyrics well written and found in a timely fashion are an unbroken thread that permeates my long and winding road in getting to this point. A time which finds me lost and searching when I should be enjoying the fruits of past labors, a time when I know exactly where I wish to go and how to get there. I find that word-processing my thoughts while listening to a brand new selection of music and lyrics from one of my favorite singer/songwriters helps heal fresh wounds and leads me back to that road I was on. Once again focus returns and creativity flows. It has always been this way for me, life and people knock you down, you listen learn and move a little to the groove and move on.
The Language of Lyrics, lyrics to go with the music of life, a writers blues survival. Rock and roll rebellion, the angst of punk, rap, hip-hop, the grunge of rainy day alternative rock, the blues based feel of southern rock, dance, and disco, pop, folk, country, reggae, rhythm and blues, soul, the cool of jazz, international flavors and the music of cultures all carry their own language and lyrics for those who listen closely.
Inspired by returning to University, tested, enthused, pushed to creativity and thought in a natural high derived from writing odds and ends, bits and pieces of a life lived, observed. A large part of what has kept me going over the years and the tears is the music of my life pulling me along with the thread of a lyric put to soothing melody or vibrant rock beat. It has kept me sane after separation and divorce from a post traumatic, obsessive compulsive, politically correct, emotionally special needs wife, supported by me in so many ways. She abandoned and left me in the downward spiral of a parental alienation syndrome from my three girls and in an avalanche of emotional pain that I never saw coming. Naïve, I believed that truth mattered when a first, false, unnecessary and unjust restraining order was filed only to be told by two lawyers that truth has nothing to do with the law. A reprimanded judge, (Heffernan-MA) who never should have been allowed again on the bench to decide RO’s “had no choice but to extend the RO” and destroy any chance for communication and connection with my family. My life changed forever though I had never broken the sacred trust between Man and Wife, Father and Child. Truth lost except in the words of my journals righting it out, touching truth and reality in the only ways left. Writing, listening, learning and moving on from an emotionally dead man walking to an inspired man talking, the thread played a large and critical role in my survival.
The thread began with a sleepover listening to the 45 revolution per minute records of an older friend of the family. It was a time when Elvis Presley was King, a rebellious young man from Mississippi ahead of his time, raw, energetic, an original leader of the baby boom generations search for meanings of their own. The rock n roll era began when I was young but far from rebellious, I was hooked when a muse arrived in the guise of a portable record player and two long playing records, Chubby Checker Twist and Introducing the Beatles-VJ Records. “Do You Want to Know a Secret” grasped the thread of lyrics for me and never let it go. Love Rain or Me (The Who), Let it Be (The Beatles), to Great Big Sea (Band from Newfoundland), a palpable connection in 45 flip sides, artist, producer, label, LP-long playing records, album cover art, jacket liner notes expanded my universe and pulled me beyond a household of 9 children and a High School away from my home town which I had no say in attending. It carried me to a job at 16, girls, and a 1963 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport with slush box on the floor, bucket seats trimmed in chrome and best of all a radio with rear speaker featuring reverb. The lyrics of the thread playing in the background were touching and intertwined with first loves. I bought my first three albums with that first paycheck, The Animals-Hits, Dave Clark Five-Best of, and The Rolling Stones. The sound and lyrics of The Animals: House of the Rising Sun with Gary Burton singing blew me away in the power of a bands performance touching words.
Bruce Springsteen strengthened my lyric thread with his life and our times written out, put to music and brought to a climax in concert with the E Street Band. Jackson Browne was contributing writer on a story about Springsteen in Rolling Stone Magazine. I was overjoyed when discovering this connection between two of my top lyric writers and musicians. I have taken selective quotes from the article and cannot outdo Jackson Browne’s portrayal of feelings (shared entirely by me) about the ‘Boss.’ Bruce Springsteen is the “Embodiment of rock and roll…combining strains of Appalachian music, rockabilly, blues, and Rhythm and blues, his work epitomizes rock’s deepest values: desire, the need for freedom and the search to find yourself. All through his songs there is a generosity and a willingness to portray even the simplest aspects of our lives in a dramatic and committed way.”
Jackson Browne on Bruce in concert, “…He had this descriptive power—it was just an amazing display of lyrical prowess live…”“It was drama, his approach to music, something that he would expand on many times over, but it was there from the beginning.” No concert is the same. “It was obvious that they were drawing on a vocabulary. It was exhilarating, and at the bottom of it all there was all this joy and fun and a sense of brotherhood, of being outsiders who had tremendous power and a story to tell…indistinct utterances have been magnified to communicate volumes……Bruce has always had enormous range in terms of subject and emotion…He is always working on a very large scale, a scale that is nothing short of heroic. He is one of the few songwriters who work on a scale that is capable of handling the subject of our national grief and the need to find a response to September 11th. His sense of music as a healing power, of band—as—church, has always been there, woven into the fabric of his songs, He’s got his feet planted on either side of that great divide between black & white gospel, between blues and country, between rebellion and redemption.” The Rising on Columbia Records was Bruce’s answer to the events of 911, a short review from RS follows, “After everything fell down on September11th, 2001, Bruce Springsteen made the rock & roll we needed most–fifteen songs about getting up again—with the greatest backing combo in the world, the E Street Band. This Reborn in the USA swings between extreme despair (“You’re Missing”) and Irish wake (“Mary’s Place”). But in the grainy force of Springsteen’s voice and the muscular exaltation of the music, the power of ordinary men and women to build a new, atop so much loss, rings loud and true.” Healing power drawn from lyrical truth found in focused listening just happens when the music touches you for his is an honesty which comes thru loud and clear. He is someone you can trust and believe in. As a retired Fire/Emergency Medical Response Captain, Springsteen’s lyrics in The Rising were palpable as he describes the thoughts and feelings of a firefighter responding to the twin towers in N.Y. 345 Firefighters lost their lives that day wearing the Maltese cross of their calling and as the men climb the towers their thoughts turn to their loved ones. Parenthesis added by me as the lyrics strengthen the thread.
Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me (duty)
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone (SCBA air tank)
On my shoulder a half mile of line (folded pack of hose)
Come on up for the rising
Come on up lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight
Left the house this morning (firehouse)
Bells ringing filled the air (alarm bells)
Wearin’the cross of my calling (FF Maltese Cross)
On wheel of fire I come rollin’ down here (Fire Apparatus)
There’s spirits above and behind me (the already dead)
Faces gone black, eyes burnin’bright (fear in others faces)
May their precious blood bind me
Lord, as I stand before your fiery light
I see you Mary in the garden
In the garden of a thousand sighs
There’s holy pictures of our children
Dancin’ in a sky filled with light
May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
A dream of life comes to me
Like a catfish dancin’on the end of my line
Sky of blackness and sorrow
Sky of love, sky of tears
Sky of glory and sadness
Sky of mercy, sky of fear
Sky of memory and shadow
Your burnin’ wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life
Not long before the 2004 election, Bruce for the first time took a political stance and endorsed John Kerry for president. An addendum of his words in Rolling Stone, September 2, 2004 is attached. He expresses my desires for a president who, “places a priority on fairness, curiosity, openness, humility, concern for all America’s citizens, courage and faith.” This is another juncture where my feelings and the lyrics of Bruce and Jackson Browne intersect. Both write about the historic winds that surround us with focused concern. On the Iraq War of choice Bruce wrote the lyrics to Devils and Dust-2005 and Last To Die-2007 in which he paraphrases John Kerry’s words to a congressional committee during Viet Nam. My wife and I stood up front with the firefighters for Kerry at the last big rally in Manchester days before the election. The rest is History.
Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake
The last to die for a mistake
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who’ll be the last to die, for a mistake
-From the same album and the song Magic
Trust none of what you hear and less of what you see
This is what will be, this is what will be…
…and the freedom that you sought’s
Driftin’ like a ghost amongst the trees
This is what will be, this is what will be
Jackson Browne’s song The Drums of War intertwines with the thread of my feelings facing another four years under Bush and at War:
…time comes when everything you ever thought you knew
Comes crashing down and flames up in front of you
Roll out the drums of war
Roll back the freedoms that we struggled for
What were those freedoms for?
Let’s not talk about it any more
Roll out the drums of war
Whatever you believe the necessary course to be
Depends on who you trust to identify the enemy
Who beats the drums for war?
Even before the peace is lost
Who are the profits for?
And who are they who bear the cost
When a country takes the low road to war
Who gives the orders, orders to torture?
Who get to no bid contract the future?
Who lies, then bombs, then calls it an error?
Who makes a fortune from fighting terror?
Who is the enemy of truth and justice?
Where are the courts, now when we need them?
Why is impeachment not on the table?
We better stop them while we are able
Roll out the drums of war
The last line is a call for a revolution of ideas and it has started with the campaigns of 2004 and 2006 leading up to this critical election and the choices to be made by the voters of this country. I feel a need to speak up for the truths I see, a need to build bridges of connection and communication, understanding and reason. The truths of Bruce and Jackson’s lyrics strengthen and intersect with both History and how I feel. They don’t know me from a hole in the wall but over the years they have touched me deeply and I am grateful. It is better to write than wallow in grief, to speak up and stop the thief, to feel the fire in your belly and shed light on the liars. Our country changed with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and John Kennedy. All were leaders I believed in and feel as if we have lost great potential for this country in the years since their passing. Jackson Browne touches on this and the connection of today’s History to the 60’s in the song, Off Of Wonderland:
…there was change in the air
It was love everywhere
Living off of Wonderland
Ankle deep in contraband
Working on a life unplanned
Didn’t we believe in love?
Didn’t we believe in giving it away?
That didn’t really leave us with the love
To find our way
After RFK and Martin Luther King
Do you feel it today?
Love is still on the way
Coming over Wonderland
The world is in your open hand
Once again it’s at your command
Didn’t we believe in love?
Didn’t we believe that love would carry on?
Wouldn’t we receive enough
If we could just believe in one another
As much as we believed in John
Do you want to know a secret? (I believe that) before time the conqueror turns us to devils and dust a rising will occur over the great seas and that love will reign over us. That the ideals and ideas of the founding fathers of this country will be the last to die as the drums of a war of revolutionary idea wins. A global world will be built with magic, off of a wonderland thread of dreams picked up from the language of lyrics in music that connects us all. We will construct a house of the rising sun of reason, live in peace and let it be.
Language is the thread! Peace is the answer!
 2008 Jackson Browne-Time The Conqueror-Inside Recordings. L.L.C.
 Rolling Stone-Issue 946—April 15,2004 by Jackson Browne
 Rolling Stone-Issue 912/913—Dec 26, 2002 by Fricke, David
 2005 Bruce Springsteen-Devils and Dust-Columbia Records
 2007 Bruce Springsteen-Magic-Columbia Records
 2008 Jackson Browne-Time The Conqueror-Inside Recordings. L.L.C.
 2008 Jackson Browne-Time The Conqueror-Inside Recordings. L.L.C.