Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Excerpt from DINKLE'S LIFE: A SPIRITUAL BIOGRAPHY (the ultimate ghost story for our times!)


Strolling, thinking, analyzing, Dinkle chooses a brick-paved walk through the older part of campus. Hell to be in this mood. He kicks at twigs. What could be more dangerous than an idle mind, especially one with nagging unfinished business? He savors the knowledge that what he’d done before with spare time—the list of his great works, culminating with The Nature of God. He frowns at the suspicion that he cannot top his own performance. Not that he considered it so grand, of course, to be the one who writes a classic, mind-bending, incendiary bomb too hot for libraries. Did Charles Darwin know what he’d done? Karl Marx? They may have thought something at the time, or wished, whispers LPD, out loud; but did they know, actually know what they’d accomplished, as he did? Probably not, he concludes; they could not have known.
The mockingbird flies to the top of a small, newly planted pecan tree and with hardly a break in its rhythm dumps a stream of notes down Dinkle’s back. For the first time in my life, he says to the bird, I’m stumped. Hands in pockets, he looks back into the Wichita Mountains. At fifty-five, Theory of Complex Systems having done its nasty work, freeing innumerable patterns from their prisons of chaos; Mystic Experience Correlates having hypnotized the daytime television crowd; the theoretical portions of Subatomic Sociology having destroyed the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies; and The Nature of God having . . . having . . . well, now just what did The Nature of God accomplish? Nothing. Wait. It had, so far, done something no other power in the universe could do: It shut down Lonnie Paul Dinkle’s mind and put him to physical work for a year.
Ants scurry on the bricks, a mound of finely chewed soil marking their origin. Dinkle stops, digs in various pockets for his glasses, finds them in the left rear. He’d sat on them. And on his cigarettes. Now which is worse? he wonders. It depends on whether one wants to smoke or study ants, he concludes. A sudden pain sweeps through his forehead, down his neck, and into the region of his chest. It happens every time he gets down on his knees. Luck I don’t have much need for prayer, he says to the ants. The glasses are too dirty and bent for use. He sits back on his feet, a giant doughy groundhog, and starts bending the frames and polishing the lenses on his shirt.
“Hello, Dr. Dinkle!” He looks up at a bare leg. “I loved your speech!”
“Did you understand it?”
“As well as I’m supposed to at this stage of my life.”
“And your parents?”
“We enjoyed it, too.” Dark trousers, wingtips, stood to the left; a slightly slit skirt and high heels to the right.
“Sorry to disturb you. Say ‘hello’ to the ants, Dr. Dinkle.”
“Congratulations!” The three pairs of legs move out of his field of vision as he gets down on his elbows. He sees organization, communication, specialization, life, death, territoriality, defense, agriculture, architecture, bustle, a society that outlives its individual members, all within inches of his face. He struggles back to his feet, dizzy for a moment from the effort, puts his glasses back into the left rear pocket, and looks back toward the mountains, over the city that lay beside a river, then down at the ants, then back at the city.
(DINKLE’S LIFE is available on all e-readers.)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

For Mothers' Day, an excerpt from BERNICE AND JOHN

Here are three excerpt from BERNICE AND JOHN: FINALLY MEETING YOUR PARENTS WHO DIED A LONG TIME AGO. The excerpts are from different parts of the book, but they all deal with Lillian Bernice Locke Janovy, who died in 1962.

Lillian Bernice Locke Janovy may have received enormous pleasure, even an all-consuming happiness, from reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead in 1944, but most of that pleasure and happiness came, I know, from her appreciation for the art of writing instead of from Rand’s philosophy regardless of how much she may have agreed with it. She knew what was happening to her as she read, and she knew why it was happening, and from that knowledge came enjoyment. The philosophy was important, even important enough to be a guide to one’s personal life, but it was also always secondary to the art. The words were the art, the art that could capture a person’s attention and mentally transport that individual into settings and circumstances that he or she would never have access to otherwise. But in all honesty, in the opening years of the Twenty-first Century, my widescreen Mitsubishi in the basement accomplishes the same thing as Ayn Rand. With nothing more than a few punches of my finger, in the course of an hour I’m on the green with Tiger Woods, participating in an armed robbery, solving an old murder case, dunking a basketball against the Chicago Bulls, cooking up a Cajun storm, having an affair with some elegant blond, or completing a long pass into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ end zone. But Johnny, you don’t have to think about any of it, Bernice would say were she sitting in her wheelchair beside me. Then she would pick up her book. The message would be clear: when all you have is words on a page, then you have to think about your journey.

By the time an artist finally painted John Janovy Petroleum Geologist on the 721 Hales Building office door, Bernice could clearly see the end of her life, could probably feel the tumors, so she did what any terminally ill person probably ought to do: she decided to go to college. At the time, daily family events strung out the clock, hid the historical perspective that could, in turn, reveal the personality. Fifty years is barely enough time to gain much historical perspective on a nation’s acts and their consequence, but it is plenty of time to compress a single human life into its defining moments, erasing all the breakfasts, lunches, dinners, the Joseph McCarthy hearings, “I Love Lucy” and Ed Sullivan shows, and Ayn Rand novels, or at least painting them into a faded background landscape. I don’t know which of her doctor’s visits was the one in which she finally received her death sentence. But I can picture the scene clearly; although admittedly fictitious, it is clearly in character—the truth without being literally true.
“You have a year, maybe two, to live, Mrs. Janovy,” says the oncologist.
“Oh,” says Bernice, drawing her gown up around her neck, looking at him in the same way she’d studied all the other humans who’d entered the range of her x-ray vision, “then maybe I should go to college.”
The most accessible post-secondary institution was Central State College—now University of Central Oklahoma—in Edmond. Edmond exists in its late 1950s form because of the West Edmond Field, an enormous mineral resource that fuels the financial careers of a generations’ lawyers, “land-men,” and gamblers, not literal gamblers, of course, but people betting lots of money on what they’ll find in rocks they can’t see except through lines on a map, lines drawn by people like Bernice’s husband. At Central State she will study English, read literature, and maybe write some papers. Decades after her death, in a casual conversation about Edmond, someone makes a remark about her driving. When the doctor tells you exactly how long you have to live, suddenly speed limits disappear. Bernice, it seems, sentenced to a slow, degrading, painful, death at an early age gets into her car and drives like the wind . . . to Edmond . . . to college . . . to study literature.
Were she alive, Bernice from her wheelchair, and from the depths of her mind, would bring a library’s worth of voraciously consumed literature to bear on the great Third Millennial conflicts.
“What makes them think they can change people who are so different from us?” she would ask. Last month’s issues of Harper’s Magazine and Atlantic Monthly would be lying on her lap, just as fifty years earlier Saturday Evening Post had been lying around for her children to read. Stanley Karnov’s Vietnam: A History would be on her night stand, a card marking a page. She would be looking both at and through her visitor, assuming that this individual had read up on global issues, assuming that this person knew as much as she did about history, language, and all those human traits learned best from experience but more pleasantly from literature—deceit, duplicity, provinciality, ideology, and belief, the last as capable of metastasizing and killing as the cancerous cells spreading unchecked through her body. “And what have you been doing today?” would be her second question, expecting the answer to involve some kind of intellectual activity, some kind of effort to sustain one’s individuality, one’s personal dignity, in a world that seemed determined to strip her of hers.

BERNICE AND JOHN is available as an e-book on all readers.