Archive for March 2010
Editor’s Note: Welcome back to The Seeker, Herb Ramlose. Herb last posted on The Seeker in the summer of 2009 when he ruminated on the death of Michael Jackson. He emailed me earlier this week to inform me of the passing of an old college chum. He was kind enough to share a poem he wrote for the occassion, and consented to having it published here. Thank you, sir. I appreciate your contributions.
Where Art Thou, Dear Jimbo
Thus it begins
that call one gets from a friend
“I have bad news”
the first day of spring
with snow falling
the first has fallen
Jimbo is dead
Old college chum
A North Parker
bigger than life
Viet Nam vet
retired postal worker
collector and curator
of all things musical and vintage
jazz and Flash Gordon
Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers
TV series and old movies
sports and trivia
a monumental mind
quick of wit
easy of temperament
heart of gold
a fierce heart dead
a fierce spirit dead
a fierce and loyal friend
lost to the world
Where art thou, dear Jimbo
And where will we be
without you anymore
Editor’s Note: See the March 15 Entry The Pugilist– Round 1 for background critical to this story.
“The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give.” – Howard Cosell
March 21, 2010
I had an interesting day on Friday. Very similar to the previous Thursday, but then again, not. I worked my usual Friday lunch shift delivering on my bicycle. The day zipped by, and before I knew it I was back home getting my things together to go out and have a fight. I took my usual route: North Ave. bus eastbound to Sedgwick. The bus ran slow, so instead of meeting Jerome at his studio, we decided to meet at the Brown Line stop. We got on the train and were there in what seemed like seconds.
We walked in to St. Andrew’s Gym, both of us joking that we hoped my bout was one of the first 5 so we didn’t have to wait around all night. I checked in with the doctor and all was great. “Time to relax and start getting focused,” I thought to myself. We sat down in a section of floor seats and waited. The first four bouts were posted; no Andrew Burd SN 178 listed. A few minutes later, the next ten were posted: BOUT #5- (Red Corner) Isidro Medrano vs. (Blue Corner) Andrew Burd. Jerome explained to me then that I should change my clothes at the start of the bouts and that would give us plenty of time to warm up. We sat around a little longer and watched as more and more people came into the gym.
The bouts started right on time, so I ran into the locker room to get changed. I came out and the second bout was starting. Jerome and I walked up to the gloving table to pick up my blue and white gloves. Golden Gloves matches are scored like Olympic boxing matches– striking an opponent with the white area of the gloves (over the knuckles) scores points. As we started getting my gloves on, the third bout was starting; I hadn’t even stretched yet. Just about the time we fixed up the second glove, the third bout was over! At that point, all bouts had been stopped in the first or second rounds. I said to Jerome, “This is the fourth bout coming up. We’re next.” He immediately began warming me up with focus mitts. Within seconds, the fourth bout was over- another early stoppage- and it was time to shine.
I got up in the ring, and the rest is a blurry memory. I assume you’re first thought is that I got knocked out. I didn’t. I actually fought hard for all three rounds, but it was different than I ever imagined. My hands were slow, my feet were concrete. I was not the wrecking ball I thought I would be, nor was I in control as I’d envisioned. Instead, I was beaten fair and square. I walked out of the ring with a small shiner under my right eye. I changed my clothes and went out to join some friends and fellow boxing classmates. I bought a round of beers for Jerome and me, and we stood for a moment watching the fights.
I went into this tournament hoping for a learning experience, but I wasn’t reminded of that until Jerome said to me, “You know, I’m glad this happened. ‘Cause if you’d gone out and knocked that dude out in the first round, you’da thought you knew how to box!” We both had a good laugh and a “Cheers!” with our beers and went on to enjoy the rest of the night.
Thanks to everyone who supported me, and especially to Towne who tolerated my goofy mustache for two weeks.
I made it. I wrapped up “Something for the Hurt” Saturday afternoon, just in time to get it to the public library for their creative writing contest. I also sent it off to New Scriptor, a literary journal that publishes writing from Illinois teachers exclusively (I sent them a poem and a CNF piece, too).
I felt a lot of momentum with the story, starting ’round about the last time I posted about it here (that’s one of the purposes of the blog… to motivate me to write; I also knew if I announced the story to you, gentle readers, that I would have to keep at it so as to avoid telling you I gave up on it). I also started back with some old writing habits; primarily, working on chunks of the story in 15-20 minute bursts when my Creative Writing classes were journaling. That was a nice reminder of how much I can get done if I just sit down for a few minutes. Plus, I would invariably leave of at some awkward point, so the story would remain on my mind until I redressed the awkwardness.
Another old habit came into play here, too… I stuffed the rough drafts and edits into my journal each time I was done working on it. My journal is always with me, so the story was, too. It was like my shadow following me around.
My friend Ray (my local fiction expert) was kind enough to do a late edit for me, and it was a real difference maker. He pointed out some issues with the story that I had little clue about because I’m not trained in fiction writing. I referred to those issues as the “emotional truth” of the story, and they were key to getting the reader to care about the protagonist, and even convincing the reader that the protagonist cared and had cause for concern about the other characters. It’s complicated. I addressed those issues as best I could, and called it a story. At this point, I don’t care how, where, or if the story is recognized. The experience of writing outside of my comfort zone made the story worthwhile, and I’m content with that.
I don’t know how much more fiction I’ll write, or even when. I don’t get the fiction impulse; I don’t get bit by an idea for fiction like I do with CNF, or even poetry as I often do. Like I said in a previous episode, the idea for “Something for the Hurt” literally fell into my lap as I was engaged in some rigorous cognitive processing. The story flashed through my mind almost in its entirety, and my writer instincts kicked in almost immediately. So I started writing.
I know my mind is trained in certain ways, and that’s why I am attuned to ideas for CNF and poetry. But I also wonder if I subconsciously suppress my fiction urges because I’m uncomfortable with or afraid of it. I am both. I think fiction presents too many problems to solve for a story to make sense. I have to get deeper into psychology than I am comfortable getting. There are blind spots I can’t negotiate. As I’ve said time and again, I prefer CNF because I’d rather make sense of the world instead of creating a world that makes sense.
Finally, I realize now that all these stray thoughts are pointing in the same direction. There’s no sense in me denying it. I need to write more fiction. It will help me become a better writer.
Editor’s Note: If there’s anybody who can kick your ass, it’s probably my nephew Andrew Burd. He once told me that the bullies in his middle school never bothered him, because when they asked him if he wanted to fight, he would reply, “Yeah. I do.” He went on to make a name for himself on campus at Fairfield High School by cracking skulls on the football field as a defensive lineman, and then as a wrestler. He has competed in Mixed Martial Arts, and recently has been training in boxing. On Monday, March 8, he emailed the family with this information:
“I will be participating in the Chicago Golden Gloves amateur boxing tournament. This is a month-long tournament with full protection (Headgear, foul-guard, mouthpiece, etc.) and it begins this weekend… I will be in the 178 lb. Senior Novice division. The bouts are 3, 3-minute rounds, with full protective gear… The first round of bouts begins this weekend. I will not know when my match for this weekend is until Thursday, but I will keep everyone posted as to whether or not I advance to the next round…”
Andy will be posted on The Seeker as he relates his experiences in the ring.
March 13, 2010
“I see you’ve rolled your way into the semis… Dios mio, man…” -Jesus Quintana in The Big Lebowski
Just an update- I’ve made it to the semi-final bout of the Senior Novice: 178 lb. weight class! And it almost didn’t go down…
I wake up on Thursday morning and jog down the street to HERO Fitness to I check my weight. The scale read “180”- I was two pounds over. I had until 5:00pm to weigh 178 lbs, which is a weight I hadn’t seen since my junior year of high school. Was I going to make it? Too early to tell. I thought to myself as I took the long way back home (to work up a sweat), “I paid $43 for a USA Boxing passbook; I better make weight.” With a good sweat going, I make it back home to lay low for the rest of the afternoon.
At 4:30pm, I meet Jerome Nealon– my ever-supportive fighting guru and Corner Man. We hop on the CTA Brown Line toward Kimball and take it to Addison, where we find St. Andrew’s Gym. When we get there, there are tons of other fighters huddling around the check-in table trying to get everything in order for the evening. Lots of coaches, staff, etc., all trying to organize the chaos. “Lot of personality disorders in this room,” says Jerome as we find our way in line. I check in and hop in the weigh-in line, and I wait for my turn. I can’t stop thinking, “179… I know I’m going to have to cut a pound somehow.” I step on the scale… 177.8 lbs., WOOHOO! I’ve made it. Jerome and I leave immediately and go get something to eat.
When we return an hour later, Jerome explains to me that we have to wait to see who I’m fighting… they haven’t made the brackets yet and they’ll be posting them shortly. The first six bouts are posted; my name is not listed. The next 13 bouts are posted; still not listed. The last two bouts are posted and an announcement is made, “If you’re name is not listed, you are not fighting this evening. Please stand by to hear when you’re next fight will be.” Check the list- no Andrew Burd SN 178. Someone didn’t make weight so there are now only 7 people, including me, in my weight class. Somehow I’ve been chosen the “odd-man-out” and automatically advance into the semi-final bout.
Anti-climactic? I thought so, too. The good news is, though, that I don’t have to weigh in again until I make it to the finals.
So, that’s my story for now. I fight next Friday, March 19th. If (when) I win, I’ll advance to the final bout which will take place the second weekend in April.
Thank you all. I hope to have a more exciting story for you next Friday night!
Just when you thought it was safe to read my blog again… BAM! It’s back!
Yes, I’m again fumbling around with my thesis. I’ve had it out for the past month or so as I apply for a summer writing fellowship. The nice folks at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony want a 40-page sample of my work, so I busted out my thesis and have been looking through it. I settled on a selection to send, and have worked on the edits my second reader suggested. I’ll send it out by the end of the week, and hopefully I’ll be spending some time over the summer doing some more writing on it.
As I looked through my writing, I realized that I’m guilty of taking myself for granted. There’s a load of great stuff happening in the thesis: stellar research, a complex narrative arc that effectively bounces around in time, detailed characters, humor, tragedy, painful honesty, football. I think over the course of the last year, I have forgotten how much blood, sweat, and tears I poured into the story and how impressive some of the results were. But damn! I’m a pretty good writer!
There’s something else at work here, though; something more important than me wagging my own tail. I realized that I have a short memory. That’s a good thing for a writer to have. Forget about the crap you write as quickly as you can, but don’t rest long either on your greater achievements. Keep pushing.
Finally, I posted episode 14 of this serial exactly one year ago. I had stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to write, and was wrapping up my thoughts for the day as I sipped my third cocktail. I know I was on the ragged edge. As I think back about it right now, it seems like I was living an entirely different life in some strange universe that I could barely navigate. I don’t even fully recognize myself from a year ago. Life was odd.
I’ve been ignoring this blog lately, which is to say I’ve been ignoring “Something for the Hurt.” I can’t justify writing in this blog if I can’t find time to work on my fictional creation.
It needs fixing, which right there tells me the problem, because “fixing” is a term I never use for my writing. “Fixing” means it’s broken, and when I look at an early draft of a story, I never say it’s broken. It still runs. It still works in some ways. The engine still turns over, and at least it will rattle down the street and get you somewhere. So to say a story needs a tuneup, yes. It needs tweaking. Rotate the tires. Change the oil. Clean the spark plugs and install new wires. It’ll run more efficiently. It’ll be a better ride.
But this sucker needs fixing, and I’ve been avoiding it because I’m not sure if I can fix it. This is why I hate fiction. I don’t like being tasked with creating a world that makes sense. My writing group tells me that there’s not enough apparent conflict. Characters motives are unclear. It could be 6-8 pages longer. The list goes on. It’s all substantive feedback from writers I like and respect, writers who wouldn’t spare my feelings at the cost of promoting average or subpar writing. That’s what I need, even if what I want is to be told that my writing is sublime.
Something else that is killing my motivation is that I haven’t settled on an avenue for the story. The local public library has a creative writing contest each year, and I’ve thought about submitting the story for it. The deadline is March 14. I’d feel more comfortable about that right now if I hadn’t spent the last month avoiding the story. And I don’t want to turn in a clunker. So I guess I have 11 days to overhaul the engine.