Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: A saint in a roughneck’s clothing

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Joe” (2013):

Sometimes saints don’t have halos. Sometimes saints drink whiskey and are violent men like Joe (Nicholas Cage).

I am not saying that Joe is the kind of guy I would hang with. Most likely not. But I can say this. Joe is the kind of man I’d want with me if I landed in a dark alley on a Saturday night and a bunch of men were trying to rob me.

Joe has one heck of a temper. It’s that anger that landed him in prison for twenty-seven months. Now that he’s out he has one purpose in life. That purpose is to restrain that tiger of a rage. Once it’s let out of its cage there may be no stopping it. That anger only comes out when somebody starts messing with him or doing his friends wrong.

Joe manages a crew. Their job is to poison brush trees. Then others can come and clear the land and plant pine trees. One day a fifteen year old drifter name of Gary (Tye Sheridan) asks for a job.

“I pay an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work,” Joe says.

The boy is agreeable. The boy fits right in with Joe’s crew. But soon Joe finds out he has a new purpose in life. To rescue that boy from the cold-blooded mistreatment of the boy’s pappy (Gary Poulter).

I first met Joe in Larry Brown’s novel, Joe. The opening chapter really had me going and I didn’t want to stop. And what a read it was. At the time I said, “This is Hemingway in Steinbeck territory.”

With “Joe”, director David Gordon Green has given us a film about a people that don’t have movies made about them much. The hard working blue collar folk who live close to  the edge.

Near 500 words: The finger a sentence

The finger a sentence
the hand a paragraph
the arm a chapter
the body a novel.
Each house a Proust
or a Scott Fitzgerald
next to a Virginia Woolf
or an Ernest Hemingway
down the way from Tom Sawyer
and Huckleberry Finn,
neighborhoods collected
and bound within the walls
of a library, the city.

There are so many marvelous ways to think about human beings. Such a diverse clan we are. Some of us have brown eyes, others blue or green or hazel. Some of us are Catholic, some Protestant, some Hindu, some Jewish, some Moslem, some Buddhist. Others atheist or middle-of-the-road agnostic.

Some are poets, some singers of tales. Some dancers, some performers on a stage. Some gardeners, some vintners or builders. We laugh. We cry. We love and we lust and there is not one that isn’t part of something bigger and more wonderful than ourselves. Aren’t we amazing?

Who is to say that extra terrestrials might not like us?

One thing is for sure. We are each the summation of our experience. We see through a lens those experiences have given us. Each of us could write a hundred novels and still not be finished with the raw material.

When I think about what kind of novel, I wonder. I definitely do not have The Answer to that one. I have to uncheck historical epic. Nothing Game-of-Thronesying about my existence. I sure am not porn. My sex life is definitely not that interesting. Could it be that I am a romance? Probably not. As far as I know, I have not made women swoon or their hearts go pitter-pat. And I am not a Western. I don’t wear cowboy boots and I don’t know “Get along, little doggy”.

I definitely am not science fiction. I am not that technologically inclined. And there’s little doubt that I am fantasy. Ain’t no way I would go off with a bunch of dwarves and slay a dragon. I am not that much of a mystery. My life is pretty an open book. So Sam Spade, stay away.

As far as horror is concerned, I am pretty sure that I am not Dracula or Jason or Freddy Kruger. I do have blackouts during the full moon. But that just means that I need to cut the sugar and eat more protein.

If I have a genre, it has to be a comedy. I might just be one of those boys Tom Sawyer convinced to paint his aunt’s fence.

So what genre do you think you belong to?

A Brand New Year

Hip hip hooray! We made it through 2016. Now there’s a whole new year on the horizon. I am not saying it will be better or it will be worse. All I am saying is there’s 365 days ahead of us and we get a new start. It’s my hope that one of your New Year’s Goals is to continue to check out Uncle Bardie’s Stories & Such.

Before I go into my hashing and rehashing, I just want all of you, my friends, to know how much I appreciate all that you do. Blogging for me is like being a member of a large circle of a community.

I try to keep up with the posts in my Reader. In addition, late at night when moi has a case of the insomnias, I go roving through the posts of people who have given me a like or a comment. That’s a great way to find new blogs. I may not follow you or make comments on your latest blog posts but I am grateful for the posts. And for your generosity.

Only another blogger would understand how much work and thought goes into each post. We send them out into the world with hope that they will find a friend or two and touch someone with a blessing. Your generosity and your hard work is much appreciated from this end of the galaxy.

Now for some hashing and rehashing. Over the past two and a half years, I have had the great pleasure of giving you Stories & Such. I hope you have enjoyed them as much as I have making them.

For the last year or so, Uncle Bardie posted five posts a week. Sundays have been a free-for-all anything-goes kind of post. Mondays a weekly movie. Wednesdays an on-going novel called “Politics in America” and the Man from Weazel Sneeze. Thursdays a weekly music selection. And Fridays a Creative Artist.

Uncle Bardie’s been doing a heap of thinking lately. That means that he’s been ramming his head against the wall to shake his brain loose. Long time ago Uncle Bardie started with three posts a week. Beginning this week, he will return to three posts a week.

Why cut back? Doing five posts a week consumes a lot of seconds and minutes and hours. I have come to realize that it’s time to get on with some longer writing projects. I have several long stories and a novel that needs serious editing. Only by cutting back on the posting can I get to those projects.

So here’s the plan. Sundays will continue to be a free-for-all. Fridays will combine three weekly posts–Friday’s Creator Corner, the Weekly Music Pick and the Movie of the Week–into one and retitle the new post “Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight”. Each week will feature one of the three on a rotating basis with an occasional re-ordering to honor someone or something specific or just because I want to be ornery that week.

Wednesdays are for an on-going project. In 2014, I spent a year of Wednesdays creating short stories in response to a series of short story prompts. Fifty-five to be exact. 2015’s Wednesdays were a humorous look at “Hamlet”. 2016 brought y’all “Politics in America”, a satirical response to the presidential campaign. Come February 1 of the new year that will sink over the horizon Titanic-style.

But Wednesday’s comedy will not be over. On top of that, it will not end. There will be more comedy. As Zero Mostel sang in “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum”, there will continue to be comedy.

That comedy will come in the form of a very loosely based historical humorous novel called “The Absolutely Unbelievable Extraordinary of Lady Wimpleseed Prissypotte”.

The Adventures take place at the end of the nineteenth century. The daughter of a rich American is pressured into marrying a British Lord. Momsie wants a title in the fam. The Lord the daughter marries has one foot in the cemetery and one in the grave. In chapter three, her new hubby croaks in a bowl of soup. Suddenly the heroine doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she goes in pursuit of True Love. Or at least a good orgasm.

The novel has bandits, Mata Hari, Tarzan, big game hunters, Queen Victoria and three of the nicest ghosts ever to haunt a British manor house. If that wasn’t enough, it has mud pies, steamboats, and Istanbul. Loosely based on the old serial, “The Perils of Pauline”, it was a lot of fun to write. I hope it’s as much fun to read.

I want to close out this post by wishing you a Happy New Year for 2017. And leave you with the wonderful Renee Fleming singing Cesar Franck’s “Panis Angelicus”.


The Beast That Is Nanowrimo

PrintI completed 55,004 words last Saturday to qualify for Nanowrimoship. A good deal of the month I worked on back story and extracurricular scenes for the novel I began in November. I wrote six chapters toward the final product. I plan on continuing with 500 – 1000 words a day until I have completed a first draft. The nice thing was that I gave myself permission to write a Titanic load of unreadable crap. 

Having done my Nanowrimo this year, I have come up with an image that kind of goes along with the exercise. Writing a nanowrimo is like riding a bull or a bronco at a rodeo. You get on, then you are in for a wild ride. And it ain’t like riding that mechanic bull you see in some bars. This one’s wild as wildness can be. He’s bound and determined you ain’t going to get far on his back.

That’s why the prize money for bull riding is good and the respect you get from your peers is second to none. You’re a champion indeed if you can stay on even for eight seconds. It’s like John Lennon said in the song, “Christ, you know it ain’t easy.” Or Ringo sang, “It don’t come easy.” That’s the way it is with the bull we call Nanowrimo.

No matter how you practice for that sucker, it ain’t like riding the real thang. You get on, then the chute opens and you’re in for the write of your life. I ought to know. I’ve done four of ‘em. Nanowrimos, that is. Not bull rides or bronc bustings. I may be a little nuts but I’m not crazy, you know.

I started out well enough. October 31 I had my spurs and my chaps all ready to saddle up and write that fellow into the dust. I had my outline. I had pictures of my main characters. I knew who they were and they knew who I was. And to cliché a phrase, I was chomping at the bit to get at that Nanowrimo. He was not about to best me this year. Sure, he was a little red-eyed and had that snarl. That’s to be expected.

So it was Sunday morning, November 1, and I rose from my bed. I grabbed my big mug of coffee. One thing was for sure. I knew I wasn’t going to get a good ride out of that bull without a cup of joe. I strapped on my chaps and my spurs and headed for the chute. I lowered myself easy to the chair, then I faced the future. The blank page.

I checked out my outline. I perused my notes. The bull just wasn’t ready to fly from the chute. He’d gone tame on me. What was I to do? Go choose another bull. It was too late. It was this one or it was nothing. Well, you can imagine my surprise when I found my way to getting this bull to get up and go.

I started on a scene not in the outline. “What? You can’t do that,” you say. But, oh, I can. It is written by the scribe who writes such things that I can. I took a gander at my outline and started to wander what really happened to get this booger going. Why was Mr. Main in the mess he was in? Had he been messing where he shouldn’t have been messing? Well, you can imagine my surprise when I finished almost a thousand words that first day. I was going to write this bull or it was going to ride me.

Over the next few days, well, actually it was more like over the next week or so, I wrote 25,000 words and more. I was up to that first scene. If I didn’t know where I was going, I let the beast take over and lead me wherever. I would sit down to work on a scene and start writing, then somewhere a character, a prop or even a setting showed up unplanned. All I could say, “Very interesting.” Then continue on.

Now after thirty days of sweating the blood, sweat and tears it takes to ride a Nanowrimo, I actually have six chapters of my 80,000 word novel that I began as a nanowrimo. It’s been a tough ride but I managed to stay on that bull’s back for the entire thirty days of November and then some.

Yes, the novel is unfinished. I fully expected that. I wasn’t even expecting the complete first draft to be done. I will continue to work on it in December and into 2016. Once it’s done, I shall take the seventh day off and do some well-deserved resting. Then it will be back to shaping all that bull into one heck of a novel. And it will be good.

Will the real Rabbit please stand up?

Updike by Adam Begley.

Within the last year, biographies of three major writers of the last half of the twentieth century were published: J. D. Salinger, Norman Mailer and John Updike. Without opening the pages of each book, the reader can almost sense something of the author’s life from the covers.

There is no photograph of Salinger on the cover of his biography. It is as if Salinger, even in death, is still hiding from his public. On the Mailer cover, there is Norman grinning back at the reader. We can almost imagine him saying to us, “C’mon, throw that punch. I can take it as much as I can give it out.” Like Hemingway, a writer he admired and modeled himself after, Mailer is daring us to refuse him the title of “the great American novelist”. It is a larger-than-life personality we see.

On the cover of Adam Begley’s “Updike” stands a young man in his mid-twenties, a journeyman of letters who is on his way. There is no challenge on that face, just a smile that says to the world, “I’m a nice guy,” a face that could be as Joyce Carol Oates affirmed when she reflected that Updike was “gentle, sly, clever, witty, charming”. In the middle of the book are more photographs.

Twenty-seven to be exact. For a writer 76 years old, and as well-known as Updike, I wondered why there were so few. Of all of these twenty-seven photographs, it is the one taken by his brother-in-law in 1964 that I think John Updike would have considered his best portrait, and the truest one. He sits at a typewriter, glasses on, doing what he loved best to do, writing.

Begley begins his biography not with a family history. He begins with a place. John Updike was born and raised in small town Pennsylvania where he would turn to again and again for inspiration. First, Shillington, then the farm at Plowville. His father was a school teacher and his mother was a wannabee writer. Sounds like a novel Updike might have written. Well, he did. They are “The Centaur” and “Of the Farm”, among others.

Here is the Pennsylvania boy who became a world famous and sophisticated writer, and yet in so many ways never left the Pennsylvania of his youth behind. In that, he joins Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain who never left their boyhoods behind either. He was a small town boy who went off to Harvard. Then he was in New York and at work doing the Talk of the Town for the New Yorker magazine. This most New Yorker of writers was least comfortable with New York and the parochial literary scene there in the fifties. So he left for Ipswich, Massachusetts. And there he stumbled into his subject.

Early on Updike, like Fitzgerald, earned his living writing short stories, most of them exclusively for the New Yorker magazine. But, with the novel, “Couples”, he found his footing. If alcoholism was Raymond Carver’s subject, if Ernest Hemingway’s subject was death and loss, if Scott Fitzgerald’s was money, if Flannery O’Conor’s was the religion in the deep South, and if Faulkner’s was the past, sex and adultery became John Updike’s. It also might be possible to say that his real subject was the politics of relationships, for he is a writer of the personal. What other writer would begin a story the way he begins “Love Song, for a Moog Synthesizer”: “She was good in bed”?

Begley’s book does not hold back on how much sex and adultery Updike experienced. Unlike other writers bad habits, it did not lessen his power as writer. He seemed to relish in it for over a decade. Until it destroyed his first marriage. Begley gives us details that say a lot about John Updike the man. Such as a wedding ring. In his first marriage to Mary, he does not wear a wedding ring. In his marriage to second wife Martha, he wore one (p.443). But, if he failed as a husband, he made an effort to make up for it by trying to be a good father.

Begley writes about the influence of Henry Green and Marcel Proust on his style, and his growing interest in Nathaniel Hawthorne. There is a good exploration of his fictional alter egos and where they fit into ouevre. Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom was the self Updike might have become had he stayed in Shillington. Richard Maples was the husband and father John Updike was. Henry Bech was the literary figure Updike could have become if he had stayed in New York. Bech helped his author in his evolution and passage to the world traveler that Updike became. One can see his traveling self as Bech in such stories as “Bech Swings?” and “Bech Third Worlds It”

There are the relationships he had with other writers, such as Joyce Carol Oates , John Cheever, Philip Roth, Ian McEwan and Nicholas Delbanco. And, yes, his spat with Tom Wolfe is in the book.

Updike’s fascination with theology and a belief in God is chronicled. Though he was a churchgoer and a subscriber to Christianity, it seems all an intellectual and emotional pursuit. Somewhere along the way he decided Christian ethics was not a code he needed to live by. One comes to the conclusion that the greatest fear for Updike was that if there wasn’t a Christian God at the center of all things, he would have to face a void of nothingness. This he did not have the courage to do.

Like Jacob, like Hamlet, John Updike spends much of his creative life wrestling with an angel. Seeking an answer to the question, how can one be a sinner and sin again and again, almost as if that sin was an obsession, and ultimately gain grace. This is the reason he read Kierkegaard, read Barth, read Tillich. Even read Freud. And it is also possible that he had some familiarity with Wilhelm Reich.

This is the biography for you, if you want to know how a fiction writer uses the pieces from his autobiography. Updike was one of the most autobiographical of fiction writers who ever lived. It is almost as if he had photographic memory, not only of details but of dialogue. When it came to his literary work, no relationship escaped the mix. Nothing, and no one, was off limits.

If Updike’s life teaches anything, it is the commitment to the work a writer must make if she is to be a great writer. If Updike’s work teaches anything, it is that commitment and talent are not always enough to create a great writer. If a writer learns nothing else from Updike, it is that a good work ethic is required to be successful at the literary craft.

Updike will down the line be recognized as a master of the short story form. After reading a number of his short stories, and this biography, I am beginning to realize that Updike could be referred to as the Chekhov of the American middle class. He is that wonderful a short story writer. In story after story, there are true gems, stories like “A&P” “The Happiest I’ve Been”, “Pigeon Feathers” and “A Sandstone Farmhouse”, written a few months after his mother’s death as a memorial to her.

Unlike his novels, Updike’s autobiography does not usually overwhelm the stories. But there are stories when John Updike cannot get enough of John Updike. For example, “The Bulgarian Poetess” is one long selfie, its protagonist, Henry Bech, a substitute for Updike. At least, it’s an interesting John Updike. If a selfie can be considered pleasurable, this selfie is a pleasurable read.

Begley has written what a biography of a writer should be, focusing on the work and how the writer’s life infused that work. Not on the details that do not pertain to the work. Fiction writers constantly have the dictum “write what you know” shoved down their throats. Updike did this more than most, and may have gone too far in some cases. In this biography, the reader will see just how much.

I don’t usually read biographies. I used to but not anymore. For a very long time John Updike remained a mystery to me. I would pick up one of his novels, read a chapter or two, then set it down and not pick it up again. John Updike didn’t appeal to me. When I would see him or read an interview with him, he always seemed worth my effort and time. He seemed to have it together as a writer. So I read this biography to get a handle on why he was considered a great writer by many in the literary establishment. And why I didn’t care for his longer fiction.

Adam Begley’s biography was helpful. If I have any complaints about the book, it would be that there was not enough about Updike’s obsession with golf and the lack of a narrative about any of the golf stories. The second thing I would have liked to see was a bibliography of Updike’s works with their order and the year published. But those really are petty complaints.

All in all Adam Begley has written an extremely good biography of John Updike. By the end of the book, he has accomplished the purpose he set out to do as written in the opening sentence of the Introduction. “In addition to the relevant facts, winnowed from heaps of raw information, a biography ought to give a sense of what its subject was like to shake hands with or stand next to or drink coffee with.” In the final chapter, “Endpoint”, is a loving tribute for a man who did everything with grace, even dying. And that John Updike would have appreciated very much.

Perhaps I shall read the Rabbit books soon. Not now, but in six months or a year. If I do, that will be an affirmation to the success of the biography of this most elusive of writers.