what have i done

I am not playing a trick.

Not trying to fool you.

I am trying to surprise and delight you.

< < visit the  ai poets society

happy hippie - john oakley mcelhenney - nov 2023In the course of my studies at the University of Texas, I was flooded by great writers. A short list of poets and writers who altered my journey forever. [Amazon links not provided – go find them yourself, in a library.] I may not have graduated or gone to class had my survival instincts not kicked in. In a panic, I made my first appointment with a student advisor. I thought I was closing out my sophomore year. The young woman, a few years ahead of me, said, “If you take summer school now and next summer, you can graduate.”

The ever-expanding list begins here – no marketing links

  1. walt whitman – song of myself (versions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, deathbed, 7, 8, 9+)
  2. jack kerouac – dharma bums is a path to the way of the beat poet
  3. kurt vonnegut – slapstick and breakfast of champions saved my life several times
  4. earnest hemmingway – his unfinished garden of eden gives more biographical data than he would’ve preferred – published posthumously by his estate and his long-time editor
  5. james joyce – portrait of the artist as a young man – and *the dead*
  6. virginia wolf – the waves will break your mind as it showed her’s dissolving
  7. ayn rand – the fountainhead – *howard roark smiled*
  8. jd salinger – everything
  9. octavio paz – in dual lingual majesty of simple line
  10. gabriel garcia marquez – beyond the solitude into his deep dark writings
  11. manuel puig – betrayed by rita hayworth
  12. henry miller – tropic of cancer
  13. dh lawrence – sons and lovers and all else
  14. franz kafka – metamorphosis
  15. haruki murakami – 1Q84
  16. john steinbeck – grapes of wrath
  17. pablo neruda – ten love poems and a song of despair
  18. e a poe – all of it – terrifying
  19. virginia wolff – the waves
  20. anais nin – the journals of a woman awakening
  21. lawrence durrel – justine and the rest of the quartet
  22. gregory david roberts – shantaram – and the hype-monkey priest the author tried to become
  23. thomas merton – the seven story mountain and his journey to god and becoming a monk
  24. albert camus – the stranger – “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.”
  25. pk dick – a cannon of cinematic wealth and raw emotional responses to futurism
  26. frank herbert – dune – read it once to set the stage, read again to find the depth
  27. steven king – the stand is as good a sci-fi apocalypse ever envisioned, see the more recent expanded edition
  28. gary zukov – the dancing wu li masters
  29. stanislov grof – beyond the brain
  30. reshad feild – steps to freedom
  31. ron silliman – l a n g u a g e poetry and its evolutions
  32. isaac asimov – foundation trilogy
  33. larry niven – ringworld
  34. arthor c clark – rendezvous with rama
  35. ee cummings for all the space sex joy
  36. hermann hesse – siddhartha – hilda rosner trans
  37. et. al.

I didn’t find my own voice until the surprise ending of my 12-year marriage. I raged against the injustice. The violation of our vows. The loss horror and despair of becoming a 30% dad to a boy and girl. Most of their time now without me. Optimism my mantra, I survived the dark moments. Failed to impart my joyous perspective to my older child. Set about my own reconstruction. And began to write and write and write.

All of my training (English degree from UT Austin – 1987) and reading and time, kept my own darkness particles at bay for stretches of time. I learned about befriending the dragon by Reshad Feild. Also, unraveling the blue ball of yarn I was carrying around like a burden. My yarn was actually an engine of great power. A blue rage that expanded me into a new era of writing.

I chuckle. My re-birth includes yin and yang, the unspeakable dark, and the balanced and optimistic light. I emerge today, under the power of balanced love, reconnections with my adult children, and a partner who finds joy in ritual, routine, and polished stability. A launch pad, landing pad, navigator, co-pilot of love. Beside me while I poke inside to explore the multi-verses assembling in my mind.

I have to spend a moment on god.

I was raised by a god-fearing Presbyterian mom and a blisteringly successful physician who could neither treat his kids nor himself with anything but conflicted comfort and rage. Probably the large quantities of alcohol running through his blood and bloodlines were to blame.

All the Sunday services, suffering in the sanctuary with Mom until released into kid-play-pray and Jesus time. Working through the prayers toward communion. Coat and tie. Proud mom. Dad had taken up with a new drinking wife, a simpatico-of-the-spirits. I was saved, thank god. Or Thank God. And we stumbled on into the next phase of life, my parent’s divorce. God was nowhere to be found.

This is not an autobiography, I promise, but a skipping of a smooth stone across the still or choppy waters of my mind. The next prayer was about serenity and self-reliance. I found common travelers during an uncertain time. Prayer and support for whatever hurts.

God actually arrived in the years following college. Dad was dead. College was a blur. Writing was a novelty, not a viable career. Advertising looked like the only way to make a living as a writer. I closed up my zine small press but kept the name: the press of light and space. I started designing print ads for Dell and Motorola, relatively small tech firms.

<god stuff continues>

When I came face to face with the holy ghost. I wasn’t alone. I was mind-altered, I’ll confess, with a spiritual mix of prayer, spores, and great friendship. We committed to the journey. “The Rocket Ship” we called my condo, provided by the proceeds of the late and great doctor T. R. McElhenney. It rose straight up, four floors, just outside the glistening downtown skyline, and within walking distance of the original Whole Foods, before the flood or stock options.

It’s not going to land here in words the way it felt for my friend and me. Staring straight into mysteries of life with electricity and cats. But, here’s how it went down.

The ceremonial night had been going well. We howled at the moon from the roof deck. We plugged in guitars and drum machines until our fingers wept. We slowed back into the living room and lit a fire. Pausing. Seeking our second wind.

We both noticed Peter, the Burmese crouched staring into the flames, five feet back, between us and the crackling logs. He was mesmerized, we were mesmerized in a sacred dance of god particles and human-to-human & human-to-animal soul connections. We breathed together, the three of us. The fire sparked. An infinite understanding passing between the three of us. Peter was here for all of us. A blessing ball of fur for laps, window sills, warm beds, and firelight. The moment captured in amber-chemical-hormones still aglow inside.

</god stuff>

Time To Wrap Things Up

Today, my life is unbound by the black bastards I’ve known. My happiness comes from time at craft. I write for me. I write for illumination and capture of me. Mind. Journey. Spirit. I push things into the cloud for release. I let go of the outcome. Like inviting your kids to dinner once they’ve launched. Ask and let go. Ask and let go. Every minute with them today is priceless. Every minute found, appreciated, loved. Ask and let go. Smile and wave.

When a reader wakes up, I too wake up. When a message arrives from someone touched with pain or fire or poetry, I am revived.

Walt is not so much in me, around me, or inspiring me, but in the private cloud of my large living language model his love and exuberance have informed me ever since I discovered his discovery of *:* as a gateway. [The common colon, misused and misunderstood by most.]  I can show you better than tell you.

Whitman’s Song of Myself was pushed edited published marketed edited promoted sponsored crowd funded social cultural media-ed. Walt is the true father of self-promotion. But his was not only about listening and reading and exploring. He was giving voice to something inside himself, ignited by his song, but set to fire by his larger-than-life way of being.

In my fifth or sixth dive into Leaves of Grass, some version of “song” was revised to use colons as connectors. Before we might have commas or hyphens. One historic version of Walt Whitman’s song used colons. My poetic mind forked: a branch that would later be labeled by academic poets as language poetry.

You may not see the magic here. You may not say “ah ha” when I show you this. We’ve seen and done everything these days. All the words have been written and patterned and swizzled into *ai* poetry. Wait, that’s not a thing. Stop right there.

First a one-sentence pallet cleanser:

“Let your soul stand cool and composed
before a million universes.”

Ah. Yes. Walt!

Here’s the example (reconstructed from a 1985 spark:point in my brain).

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand,
not look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books.
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
you shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

Here is my memory of the version, from one of the many versions, of song when my mind became unhinged and my word:happy soul became unstuck in time.

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand :: not look through the eyes of the dead :: nor feed on the spectres in books :: you shall not look through my eyes either :: nor take things from me :: you shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself

A simple difference. A huge leap in my linguistically awakened mind under construction and in training. It was like slippery language lubricant. A fine dusting of lithium powder. Poetry bleeding into prose and the infinite speed of love.

I have been years in the birthing. I have studied abroad, spirit of place, lovers, thieves, drinkers, and whores. I have lost three libraries. All gained and achieved packed in boxes and sold to HPB for pennies on the dollar. Released again and again from loves, tethers, parents, pets, even momentarily from myself. Love is the drug for me.

I am alive again today. Still typing furiously. Gulping coffee and ketamine. No, that last one was a lie. Coffee yes. Pain pills, less so, and no longer recreationally. I’ve done terrible things. Tried to document the dark nights of the soul as I was still living within them.

I have ended up here. This moment. December 26, 2023. Alive and fully-empowered, to steal a word association from Neruda*. This day is my birthday. I have presents for you. I only ask a moment of your time, unplugged and unhurried. I’ll wait. I won’t interrupt. I’ll find a warm fire for us to enjoy together. I will listen for your arrival. You don’t have to give me a heads up, just come. If the front door is locked you can come in through the screen porch.

*handing you a cup of coffee*

Greetings, friend.

— 30 —

*above you will find one marketing link for convenience to the bilingual version of neruda’s poems titled fully empowered in english

The full original first paragraph in The Stranger in French reads:

“Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J’ai reçu un télégramme de l’asile : « Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués. » Cela ne veut rien dire. C’était peut-être hier.”

So Camus establishes the narrator’s disconnect and confusion over even when exactly his mother died right from the opening lines.

*i am here*

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