Shane Blackman – The Greenland Dog: An Oil on Canvas

Shane Blackman reads much Irish History and Literature. He discusses routes his Irish great-grandmother Mary took to America with compassion. Shane received a B.A. in History and Literature from Wabash College and an M.A. in History from Indiana University. At Wabash, Shane won the Walter Fertig Prize for Excellence in Writing. He has been a Lecturer in History at Indiana University, a Research Fellow at Princeton University, and a Research Assistant for The Works of Jonathan Edwards project at Yale. Shane taught Creative Writing in Arizona’s high schools, and his poems have appeared in The Mythic Circle and The Galway Review. When the Irish writer Seamus Heaney was Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, Shane was a Visiting Scholar at Oxford University.


The Greenland Dog: An Oil on Canvas

I.

In college, I re-read the book
“James Herriot’s Dog Stories:
Warm and Wonderful Stories
about the Animals Herriot Loves Best.”
Little did I know that years later
words from that book
would jump right off the page
and onto a comfy pillow.
Like a loveable Golden Retriever.
God says to “suffer” the little puppies
to “come unto” you and to
“forbid them not:
“for such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Saint Matthew. Chapter 19. Verse 14.

Words are colours & animals are apotheosised.

“Paint with words,” my mother, Carol, used to say.
“Write like you want to win the Pulitzer Prize.”
She was much like her brother Gary,
who was skilled with words and colours.
“If you want to paint with paint,”
my uncle once told me,
“I’ll teach you how.”

My mother Carol and uncle Gary
have passed away,
but they are in my soul,
every day.

Once upon a time,
I was bit down because I missed those
family members.
But I found a remedy in the television.
Sometimes, watching the tube
is the best anti-depressant.
You don’t feel alone.
And you know what?
You’re not alone.
The Holy Spirit is right there with you,
and so are Judy Woodruff and Bob Woodward.

That evening,
in my apartment in Indy,
I couldn’t get the remote control
for the tv to work.
I get hitting the little machine
with my hands, but I think that
only made matters worse.
Anyways, maybe the battery was low.
So, I got out of the chair
in search of an Energizer Bunny,
to see if my theory was correct.
I was about to pull the batteries out,
when I was forced by nature
to do a double-take.
“Now, what’s this story about?”
I said out loud.
Channel 8 arrested my attention.
I couldn’t change the channel,
but that was okay.
Jonah wanted to go to
the city of his choice,
but God wanted him
to go to Nineveh.

The title of the documentary was “Alive Inside.”
The theory explored by artists and scientists
was that the minds of patients with dementia
could be rekindled by music, the operative word.
Daniel J. Boorstin calls it “hidden history.”
Riveted by the interviews with doctors and patients,
I had this theory that music
could bring anyone’s mind back to life:
Children, teenagers, and college kids.
Graduate students, young adults, the middle-aged.
The elderly, the homesick, and the lovesick.
Single mothers whose husbands had abandoned the family.
Single fathers who couldn’t see their kids,
for whatever reason.
The wife whose husband had cheated.
The husband whose wife had an affair.
The lonely. The war veterans.
Homeless people sleeping on the streets or
on the couches of close friends.
“Friends are the family we choose,”
a pithy summary goes.
“The list of the potential beneficiaries
of this tactic and strategy,”
I thought,
“is a country-mile long.
What about fields besides music?”

Theology and Philosophy

J.I. Packer and Søren Kierkegaard.
“Knowing God” and SK’s commentaries on the Bible.
Studies of SK by David Swenson and Walter Lowrie.

Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction

William Butler Yeats and
Richard Ellman’s scholarship
about the good man from
Sandymount (Dumhach Thrá),
County Dublin (Contae Bhaile Átha Cliath).
W.B. Yeats won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923.

Disability Studies and Education

A Memoir by James J. Barnes titled
“Unforeseen: The First Blind Rhodes Scholar.”
Some of my best memories are of spending
time with Jim and his beloved
Labrador Retriever, Tovi,
in Baxter Hall at Wabash College.
Tovi means “the goodness of God.”

Cinematography and Photography

Robert Richardson’s keen eye
with the camera for the movie
“The Horse Whisperer” or photos by
Morten Hilmer in the Danish monograph
“Silence of the North.”

Linguistics and Translation Studies

Iver Larsen and the Lord in Danish.
“Bibelen på hverdagsdansk,”
which translates into Gaeilge as
“An Bíobla i Danmhairgis laethúil.”
The Gaelige version and phrasing
of Larsen’s Danish Bible title reads as
“The Bible in everyday Danish.”
Praise YHWH,
Gaeilge is alive & well
and has been preserved by
the conscientious & the right-minded.
When Reg Hindley published his book
“The Death of the Irish language,”
things did not look so good for Gaeilge.
But progress has been made.
Thank God for the organisation known as
Foras na Gaeilge,
which, according to its web site, is
“the body responsible for the promotion
of the Irish language throughout
the whole island of Ireland” and
“was founded on the second day of December 1999.”
What a pleasant Christmas season that must have been.

A reliable team of education experts
rank universities in Ireland in this way:

1. University College Dublin
2. Trinity College Dublin
3. University College Cork
4. NUI Galway
5. Dublin City University
6. University of Limerick
7. Maynooth University
8. The Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland

Those are the first eight.
All other Irish institutions are the best too.
If you go to the University of Limerick’s
home page on the internet, it’s all in Irish.
Praise YHWH,
the LORD,
the Psalmist says.
When I was at Wabash College,
I had this friend who studied
at a university in Galway. He said,
“It was the best experience of my life.”
Study abroad and with the merchant marines,
goes a Proverb, in the Holy Scriptures.

The University of Notre Dame has
a world-renowned program in Irish Studies.
Notre Dame’s “Fighting Irish” have got their stuff together.
Harvard University has a premier
Celtic Languages and Literatures Department.
Modern Irish and earlier Irish are
respected and featured courses at Harvard.
Boston College & Boston University
train bright minds & warm hearts
to study Irish culture and Irish cultures.

The Danish Bible Society
has provided multiple translations.
On the society’s web site, a section mentions
the “Biibili,” which is the Inuit word for “The Bible.”
Right after that, a description mentions the
“Bibelen på grønlandsk,”
which translates from Danish into English as
“The Bible in Greenlandic.”
Danes go the distance,
for their Bible society has translated
God’s Word into Icelandic.
The Icelandic word for the Bible is “Biblían.”
Danes use the phrase “Bibelen på færøsk,”
or “The Bible in Icelandic.”
The Queen of Denmark and Greenland,
“Dronning Margrethe II,” as the site puts it,
well, she ordered and sanctioned
a government’s version and edition of the Bible.

Danes think Americans are crazy for
obsessing over the new-fangled
idea that church and state
should be separated from each other.
Maybe Danes are ranked as the happiest
people on the globe because the words of
Christ sooth and train their souls.
Maybe Denmark has the lowest crime rate
in the world because they abide by Christ’s counsel.
Maybe the United States has a high crime rate
because Americans have never learned how
to be civil to each other.
Respectable world agencies
who keep track and keep statistics
observe, rightly, that Ireland is one of the
safest places to be and one of the
most pleasant places on God’s green Earth.
Nobody’s got no crime,
but some places have much less than others.

Eugene Peterson’s vernacular version
of the Bible is called “The Message.”
Check it out, as John Mellencamp,
Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Seger would say.
Eugene’s translation is easy to read, easy to understand,
and is faithful to the original, ancient texts.

What about Young Adult (YA) and Similar Literature?

Matthew Quick’s novel “The Silver Linings Playbook.”
Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, & Chris Tucker
in the film adapted from the novel.
The movie was released in Ireland on Wednesday,
21 November 2012, and in the U.S. on Tuesday,
25 December 2012, Christmas Day.
On the day after, we honored Saint Stephen,
The merciless Saul was a witness
to that saint’s stoning-death,
by God heard Stephen’s prayer for an early exit,
and the request was granted.
The sadistic Saul later would be confronted
about his killing Christians.

Children’s Literature, Disney Land, and Disney World.

“Take good care of the kids,” Christ said.
There you have J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter.
All those books have been translated into Gaeilge.
Charles Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol”
was translated into Irish and published in 1903.
Jesus said to be patient
with the toddlers and little kids.
After all, they’re just children.
They need your charity, grace, and mercy,
along with your wisdom, forbearance,
and good leadership.
“Children obey your parents” goes the Bible saying.
But, parents shouldn’t provoke their
“children to wrath” either.
In other words, it’s a two-way street.
Love your child, and your child will turn out well.
Abuse your child, and your child will become a criminal.

Out of nowhere, the thought occurred to me
that I should translate into Spanish the memoir
of the Pulitzer Prize-winner
and Cuban-American author
Oscar Hijuelos:
“Thoughts without Cigarettes.”
Most of his books have been translated
into Spanish, but not that one.
I wanted to find the name of the publisher
who published his other books in Spanish
and make an enquiry with them.
Why didn’t I think of that idea earlier?
James Joyce’s streams of consciousness,
special attention to detail,
and salutary word-associations
have much value, after all.

I’d heard of the word “cinematherapy” before,
but now the idea took on new import
and a new pace.

Film Studies, Irish Culture, American Studies

The movie “In America,”
starring Emma & Sarah Bolger,
Samantha Morton Paddy Considine,
And Djimon Hounsou.

Mathematics and Cinema

“Proof” and “A Beautiful Mind”:
Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins,
and Russell Crowe.
“Good Will Hunting”:
Robin Williams. Matt Damon. Ben Affleck.

Art and Art History

“Mona Lisa Smile”:
Julia Roberts,
Kirsten Dunst,
Julia Stiles,
Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Character Studies and Film History

“The Book of Eli”:
Mila Kunis and Denzel Washington,
the actor who played the character Eli.
Amazing grace,
how sweet the sight of a man
who memorized whole Bible.
Talk about a good memory!

Libraries, Museums, Archives

The National Library of Ireland
& Seamus Heaney’s poem “Markings.”
In Northern Ireland, there’s a museum devoted
to the man from the village of
Castledawson (An Seanmhullach),
County Derry (Contae Dhoire).
It’s called HomePlace:
Life, Literature & Inspiration.
Seamus won the Nobel Prize
in Literature in 1995.
I went to a poetry reading he gave
in November 1996.

Theater, Movies, Television

Saoirse Ronan and Pierce Brosnan.
“Lady Bird” and “Remington Steele,”
the former born in the Bronx in NYC.
the latter born in County Louth (Contae Lú).
Saoirse’s parents had done some acting before.
That’s the way some Hollywood stars learn
to shine like a bright light:
think of Dakota Johnson,
daughter of Melanie Griffith & Don Johnson.
The Ronan Family went back home,
crossing the Atlantic,
to live in County Carlow (Contae Cheatharlach),
then the village of Howth (Binn Éadair),
a suburb of Dublin…

Right there in my living room,
Christ healed a blind man and
brought Lazarus back from the dead.
Annie Dillard was Joanna,
the CEO who kept Christ and His followers
supplied with plenty of sea food
from Red Lobster.
Christ returned the favor
by turning 5 pieces of Alaska Salmon
into 5,000 pieces of the same fish.
He had truckloads of food brought in from
Panera Bread
to feed the large crowds.
Christ snapped His fingers,
and the supernatural occurred.
I mean,
who wouldn’t want to see miracles & healings?

I ordered Italian food from Pizza Hut,
for delivery to the doorstep,
and Pizza Hut was right on time.

I went to YouTube and surfed through
the titles of songs by Enya,
the Irish singer whose soundtracks
back in the 1980s soothed my mind.
I happened upon her song “Wild Child,”
synced to the most marvelous video
of sled dogs trekking across the snow.
Memories flashed across the sky.
My Alaskan Malamute, named Yukon,
in Brownsburg, Indiana.
The time I wrote about sled dogs
for a magazine all about Siberian Huskies.
The journal, as I remember, was based
in Elk Horn, Wisconsin.
See, I have a good memory after all.
I even remember the city’s zip code: 53121.
I went back in time to the movie “Eight Below,”
starring Moon Bloodgood and Paul Walker,
a flick, set in the Antarctic, about 8 precious dogs
who guide sleds and mushers
all the way
home,
through
a blinding snowstorm.
Some of them had to fend
for themselves at one point.
Most of them made it.
Two of them passed away.

The remembrance made me want to paint again.
I hadn’t painted for years,
and I needed a subject.
But I was too tired to think.
Sixpence None the Richer wrote
they’d wait ‘til the morning light,
“under those million parachutes,
now a blanket of white.”
You see, the chutes are snowflakes,
which in the winter pile up
on the ground,
while we are resting.
My mother Carol & father John
once told me the brain is awake
even while we are asleep,
The brain discusses
the day’s events,
with itself…

That night I fell asleep and had this vision
where my Uncle Gary
showed up on the scene.
For some of our dreams,
we can remember a brief conversation.

“Colours have infinite shades,”
my artist-uncle said in the dream.
“Find your muse,
whoever it is,”
he encouraged.
“You’re my muse, Uncle Gary,”
I replied.

…when I woke up, I dug up
letters and groups of photos
from a box of family albums and file folders.
There were pictures my mother had kept
of my uncle and me going through car magazines
& illustrated books on the history of art.
During my childhood,
Gary would show pictures
of oils on canvas by
Hendrick Avercamp,
a man from the Netherlands
with the suppleness of the
footballer Johan Cruyff.
I was mesmerized.
“That gentleman, Mr. Avercamp,”
my uncle wrote in a letter,
“that man could not hear
and he could not speak,
but he could paint.”
Since my United States Navy veteran grandfather,
William Blackman,
was disabled, I always had a heart for the disabled.
There he was, in a picture, from the 1940s,
standing tall and proud in his uniform.
He was about to go off to a war
that changed his life forever.
Grandpa Bill Blackman,
Uncle Gary Metz,
and my acquaintance Hendrick Avercamp
were now inspirations too: a trinity of sorts.

As I started the day,
a light, like one of those
lights you can dim or make stronger,
it started to draw a crystal-clear picture
in my mind.
And you know what?
I got the answer I had been looking for.
The Greenland Dog: An Oil on Canvas.
That was going to be the subject and style.
Things come full circle, don’t they?
What you think about during the day,
what you mull over before you lay your head to rest,
what your unconscious mind processes during sleep:
all these things are the stuff of life.
Psychologists who study the phenomenon liken the process
to disparate file folders,
from your times and places,
working on the information
and sorting things out.

In the library one time,
I had stumbled upon a “National Geographic” article
about these extraordinary dogs.
Let me tell you special things about this breed.
When a musher takes a team of Greenland Dogs
on the frozen sea,
the sled dogs are natural navigators.
God gave them GPS before there was GPS.
He created them with scent skills
like those of the St. Hubert Hound.
That’s another name for Bloodhound.
When prosecutors want evidence
from a dog to hold up in a court of law,
they turn to the St. Hubert Hound as one of their witnesses.
A Bloodhound won’t lie under oath
or at any other time.
These dogs from Belgium and France
can track a helicopter in the sky, not with their eyes,
but with their noses.
Way back in the day, rich families
kept all their money,
hound dogs,
and other stuff,
all in the family.
Blue bloods.
If I were a rich man, I’d donate
a ton money to
the Monks of New Skete,
those spirit-filled dog-trainers
in eastern New York.

Well,
in not-so-godforsaken-Greenland,
God works miracles & wonders
and supplies the signs.
When you’re out there in the Arctic,
you have to have faith in God
and the Greenland Dog.
They use a keen sense of smell
to work their magic.
If there is no scent of salt,
then the sled and dogs keep moving forward.
But if saline is detected,
warning signs go off and the group
goes around the risky spots.
These puppies have built-in green, yellow, & red lights.
Any lead dog has an IQ that is off the charts.
All the rest are just as smart,
but they’d rather follow, than lead.
Greenland Dogs, I suppose like all dogs,
respond to clear commands,
words of praise,
and offers of treats.
Timing is everything.
Like some people can do,
dogs can sense your feelings and emotion, even pain.
They love you,
as much as you love them,
maybe more.
And they want to get you to your destination.
These Danes and Greenlanders
won’t put themselves, or you,
into any danger.

I went into a small art studio,
an extra room in my apartment,
continuing down YouTube’s path.
I favoured a song I’d heard once
on the radio in Aalborg, Denmark.
I e-mailed by buddy Karsten from Odense
and asked him for the exact keywords
that would bring the song up on YouTube.
A famous cardiologist whose mind works
at lightning speed, he sends me this
quick e-note, with the key-words:
En rose så jeg skyde Akademisk Kor Århus.
I could listen to that hymn all day.

I paused after painting for a while,
moved from the easel, and clicked on a YouTube link
for Sophie B. Hawkins’ soothing “As I Lay Me Down.”
That good lady’s song sounds
beautiful in February or in any other month.
Like we do on YouTube, I found, by accident,
this song called “Caution” by The Killers,
which is the wrong name for anything, by the way.
Still a cool group and a cool song.
You will dance when you hear it.

I picked out CDs I had on hand and let them play on.

“Jesus Paid It All” by Kim Walker-Smith and the Newsboys.
“Hallelujah for the Cross” is the latter’s album name.
My fellow Hoosier John Mellencamp added
“Small Town” and “Pink Houses” to the mix.
Enya’s “May It Be” from the movie
“The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring”
exuded a spirit of renewal.
Who can forget C.S. Lewis
and his buddy J.R.R. Tolkien?
The Lewis treatise “Mere Christianity”
is as Catholic as Dr. Tolkien.
On Monday, 5 July 1954,
John Ronald Reuel was awarded an
Honorary Doctor of Letters (DLitt) by the
Catholic University of Ireland (Ollscoil Chaitliceach na hÉireann).

I tuned into Sixpence None the Richer’s
“A Million Parachutes” & Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed.”
I thought of Dylan’s Duluth, Minnesota,
and that state’s 10,000 frozen lakes.
“Get rhythm when you get the blues,”
Johnny Cash sang.
“Get rhythm when you get the blues,”
Mr. Cash said again.
With a big smile on his face,
Buck Owens strummed the guitar
and sang smooth those Bakersfield, California lyrics,
“Oh, the sun’s gonna shine
in my life once more.
Love’s gonna live here again.”

I got into a groove and never looked back.

In my mind’s eye and the painting,
there were 3 Greenland Dogs.
Two were lying down on the ground,
yet sort of sitting up,
and were looking up,
and into the wide-open spaces,
with verve and wonder.
The third dog was standing up a bit, ever slightly,
yet still sort of sitting,
with its head looking in a different direction.
As if the dog wanted to say,
“I see beauty, and maybe food,
over there, in that direction.
And while I’m taking a break
from this sled-dog, running-around-thing,
I’m just going to relax a bit
and take in the sights.”
All of them had fur that shined.
All of them looked loyal and peaceful.
Some of the snow
was glistening in the little-bit-of-sun.
Some of the snow
was hanging around in the grayer areas.

“Colours have infinite shades,”
I remembered my uncle summarising.

The colours in the picture
were the spectrum that goes on for eternity.
Who said oils are just oils?
I thought of God and the heavens.
The sky I painted was made of many shades
of blue and gray and white.
Snow was falling down,
like a million parachutes.
These Greenland Dogs
were my way-more-than-sixpence
all the richer.

If I ever win the lottery,
which I don’t call Powerball, but Gideon-ball,
I’ll donate millions of dollars to
Irish nunneries & monasteries,
big American cathedrals & little Hoosier churches,
Dutch soccer academies & Irish literary societies.
To say thanks for the life-changing
events and experiences.
To express gratitude for the help with preserving
the Bible’s ancient texts, over the centuries.
To say thanks for helping to save my soul.
They shined a bright light on the
path to salvation and eternal life, in heaven.
You see, salvation is a free gift, from God.
You don’t have to beg for it.
You don’t have to do anything for it,
except repent and turn away from sin.
That’s pretty easy, if you think about.
Christ paid the whole price. He is the sacrifice
that took everything all the way home.
If you’re offered a choice between
driving a red Ferrari around town forever
or living in total darkness and pain forever,
pick the red Ferrari.
It’s way more fun, and the good fun never stops.
Al Pacino and Chris O’Donnell would agree.
Pacino drove a Ferrari, backwards.

An Irish-American, that’s who I am.
Socar star Robbie Keane & UCLA’s Paul Caligiuri
have been on ESPN’s highlight shows.
I’m a fan of the Dutch voetbal experts
Johan Cruyff and Wiel Coerver,
the Danish fodbold players Christian Eriksen,
Brian Laudrup & Michael Laudrup,
and Pelé and Diego Armando Maradona,
from South America and two of the
most dynamic & colourful players of all time.

I kept looking at, thinking about, and mixing colours,
for these 3 dogs,
and the other dogs waiting in the distance.
I imagined the landscape.
The thick ice.
The thin ice.
I painted the various colours of blankets
that could be seen on the shoulders of a musher,
who was carrying his belongings,
as he prepared to take the Greenland Dogs
on a trek across the seascape.

One time at a gas station in the United States,
I had seen two Native American women
get out of their cars and
give a homeless man the most beautiful blankets.
They brought the poor man
food & water,
milk & bread.
These Navajo and Apache women had woven
the most colourful blankets
I’d ever seen.
And were the most generous people
I’d ever observed.

I kept painting.
The musher was wearing a large jacket,
which, at first glance,
might have looked like a red jacket,
but it wasn’t red.
It was umber.

The 3 Greenland Dogs and their bandmates
were an assortment of colours.
No single dog was the same.
That’s the way the genetics work.
I wanted to imitate God,
like we are instructed to do in the Bible,
in those reliable ancient texts and good works,
which some folks, sadly, have tried to describe
as fakes and fairy tales,
to their peril.
C.S. Lewis got it right.
The Narnia Chronicles highlighted
animals and their splendor,
not to mention God’s Word and Truth.
Scholarship demonstrates Mr. Lewis
invented Narnia, in part, from the landscapes
he saw in Ireland, in his youth.
For Lewis, academic appointments at
Oxford and Cambridge
didn’t hold the same deep, personal meaning
as the city of Belfast and its surrounding environs.
His soul always was in Ireland.

I continued to mix colours
to depict the other dogs,
the ones apart from the main 3.
And I labored, on the canvas,
on the hills & undulations,
out in the distance.
And on the building structure
from which the musher emerged.

A spectrum gave off an impression of infinity.
The dog’s furs had a range of colours,
mixed and blended, in wide variety:
Hazel, Jet Black, Snow White.
Mahogany, Tan, Silver.
Beige, Coal Black, Milky White.
Sepia, Ebony, Alabaster.
Buff, Stygian, Ivory.
The whole 9 yards.
The whole 11 metres.

For a final touch,
I wrote the Inuit & Danish
words for The Greenland Dog,
in small letters, on the canvas:

Qimmeq Qimuttoq,
which is Inuit and Greenlandic.

Grønlandshund,
which is the Danish.

Greenland is a part of Denmark.
On its website, the Central Intelligence Agency
says, about Greenland’s flag, that there are
“two equal horizontal bands of white (top)
and red with a large disk slightly
to the hoist side of center
– the top half of the disk is red,
the bottom half is white;
the design represents
the sun reflecting off a field of ice;
the colors are the same as those of the Danish flag
and symbolize Greenland’s links
to the Kingdom of Denmark.”
The CIA makes this note about the Danish flag:
“the cross design element was subsequently
adopted by the other Nordic countries of
Finland, Iceland, Norway, & Sweden.”
Visit Scandinavia sometime
and you’ll see that the CIA ain’t lyin’.
All those countries are pals with each other.
If the St. Hubert Hound were given
the CIA’s polygraph exam,
it would be pointless,
cuz that dog don’t lie.
One more thing about the Bloodhound.
If you don’t feed those hound-puppies
in just the right way,
they’ll drop dead on you,
right in front of you.
That’s why all law enforcement agencies
around the globe should read
this poem and the thorough manuals.
Too many mishaps have happened in the past.

So, it took a while to finish that ole canvas.
To make it proper. But I got it done.
When my good Cherokee buddy
R. David Edmunds and his family
flew from Texas to Indiana for a visit,
that’s when I pulled out the canvas
and gave it as a present to Professor Edmunds.
One of the best true story tellers of all time.
Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize.
I was paying homage.

Let me tell you why that Cherokee soul liked
an oil on canvas titled “The Greenland Dog.”
You see, that particular dog has been
helping Indigenous Peoples on Greenland and beyond
with getting around the dangerous spots,
with providing sustenance & survival,
with tooling around villages and towns,
for generation after generation.
Native Americans and other First Nations around the globe
have been navigating nature for centuries.
According to the Fédération Cynologique Internationale,
“The Greenland Dog is one of the world’s
oldest breeds and has since ancient times
been the Inuits’ only sledge dog.”
When Noah disembarked from the ark,
Maybe Greenland Dogs led the way.

After the Edmunds Family headed back to Dallas,
I got on a plane at the Indy airport
to go visit my good friends in Arizona:
The White Mountain Apache.
Laptop in tow, pens in my shirt-pocket,
and blank notebooks ready to go,
I was going for a new journey.
Art inspires art.

II.

When I arrived at the home of Arlene and Jesús Rodriguez, my White Mountain Apache friends in Paradise Valley, AZ, I was given the warmest of greetings. Jesús already was standing at the doorway, with the door wide open. Arlene was out shopping getting more supplies for the guest-house cupboards and kitchen. What a lovely couple, I thought. Good, lasting marriages can be had, after all. When you need some charity, hang around those who love you unconditionally. It heals a broken heart, faster than almost anything else. Love and laughter are two of the best medicines.

Their little, but not so little, St. Bernard puppy came running out. Excited to see a new face, this Bernard slobbered all over my face.

“Hey there, partner,” I said. That caused him to jump for more joy. A dog can sense voice inflections, just like you or I can, maybe better. If you talk to dogs in a high-praise voice, they’ll sense what’s going on and see it all as high praise. If you speak to them in a low, growling-like voice, they’ll be a bit concerned, just like humans can get concerned with that mode of voice. Anyway, this big puppy was happy to meet me, even though I was a stranger. Sometimes, it’s a stranger who can be your best friend, though it’s very important to be very discerning when talking to a stranger. I’m just saying that I’ve known a handful of strangers who were nicer to me than some of my own cousins, who are family members.”

“Sorry we haven’t started the basic training for the puppy just quite yet. We’ll get there, though,” Jesús noted.

“That’s no problem,” I replied. “You know me, I love dogs. What’s your dog’s name?”

“We call him Seven. Seven hasn’t figured that out yet, but we’re almost there. Seven responds to the words Cheerios, hamburger, Captain Crunch, and other food, but not to Seven.”

“Why’d you name your dog after a number?”

“We don’t see it as a number thing. We see it as a Sabbath thing. God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all its people and animals, rested on the seventh day, and that’s what we’re supposed to do, too. Since Christ is the New Sabbath, it’s okay to let your kids play soccer on Sundays. Anyway, we view this little St. Bernard and our little St. Seven as a reminder of how good God is and how much joy and relaxation and fun God and Seven provide, on the Sabbath and the other days of the week. Seven: it’s the perfect name and the perfect number.”

“That’s a wonderful, beautiful explanation. I wouldn’t have been able to think of that myself.”

“Well, Arlene gets the credit. She’s the one who picked the name out.”

Jesús came over close and gave me a big hug: “Welcome. Welcome, young man. We love you so much,” Jesús said.

Seven tried to put his paws on both of us as we hugged. That’s what dogs do when they see lots of love. They want to be part of the charity action, and can you blame them? Who doesn’t like a lot of love?

“Well, Jesús – if it isn’t Jesus Christ Himself talking to me right now, giving me this huge bear hug,” I said.

We both laughed out loud. Normally, I don’t laugh at my own jokes, but that one was kind of funny.

“There is no such thing as too much love,” I continued.

“And there’s no such thing as tough love either,” Jesús said. “I never bought into that idea. Tough love breaks the will and the spirit. That horse whisper guy, Buck Brannaman, now he would agree. I never liked this cliché: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Arlene and I always love being around each other. It’s unhappiness that breeds contempt. Anyway, how’s your dad John holding up?”

“He’s doing great. He’s in Cork, Ireland, now, as we speak. He’s an Irish citizen you know. Holds dual citizenship. Irish and American. He likes to be alone sometimes. He’s doing all right. He’s visiting family members around Ireland, when he wants to, and spends time alone in Ireland, when he wants to.”

“Like father, like son.”

“I haven’t been in your new home yet. The place is lovely. A gated community. I feel safe, and I sleep well when I feel safe.”

“You’re now in our new home,” Jesús emphasized. “We’re delighted to have you here. We are sorry about your wife and what happened. Your heart must be broken. We are here to heal it. Hey look, she had an affair 6 months after you were married. Correct? Okay, there was something not quite right with her. You’re a fine young man and you’ll find a good Christian woman one day. Trust me and trust in the good Lord.”

“Thank you very much, Sir,” I stressed. “Your invitation was a welcome surprise. And about my ex-wife, well, she never loved me, like you say. So, I’m not all that sad. I don’t see it as a loss, all that much. I mean, how do you lose a love when you never had the love in the first place?”

“Very true, young man, very true. You like our mansion and estate?”

“I love it.”

“Glad you like it. Not all Indians are poor, you know. We don’t all live on Indian reservations, in shacks. That’s a stereotype. I’ve got a big mansion. Some people assume that, because I’m a wealthy Indian, I must be a casino owner. Well, not so there, either. Not all rich Indians own casinos. Blessed are the poor in spirit and the super wealthy. God doesn’t have anything against rich people, and He instructs rich people to take good care of poor people. If you read Christ’s words real well, you’ll know that Christ understood real wll that the world is comprised of the rich, the poor, and everyone else. He didn’t have a problem with rich people, he just wanted rich people to put their treasures in heaven, not on earth. Good point right there. Christ was an idealist and a realist. Feed the poor and make sure to tithe your money to the local church you attend. Those are key messages from the Bible. Ananias and Sapphira learned the hard way that it never pays to lie to the Holy Trinity. They tried to lie to St. Peter, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghose about something, and Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead, right there in the temple. I think Raphael painted a portrait to that effect. And you know what, now that we’re talking deep stuff? Some Native Americans prefer to be called Indians. And some Native Americans prefer to be called Native Americans, First Nations, or Indigenous Peoples. To each their own.”

“That’s what the Apostle Paul wrote,” I thought out loud, “in one of his letters to one of the churches he knew. You’re right, to each their own. That was Paul’s message. He was trying to get the early Christians to stop arguing with each other about the small stuff. By the way, you have way more money than I’ll ever have. I’m a starving artist.”

“Let me see if my memory serves me right about that one song. ‘I am just a poor boy, though my story is seldom told?’ Is that how it goes?”

“That’s how it goes. It’s Simon & Garfunkel. ‘The Boxer.’ That was a great song.”

“Still is a great song, young man.”

“Indeed it is, as Army Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade would say. Indeed it is.”

Jesús then started to quote some movie lines, from an exchange between one character and another, between the blind man and military veteran, Frank Slade, and Charles Simms, the guy Slade was thinking about hiring for a temporary gig:

“Lt. Col. Frank Slade: Your father pedals car telephones at a 300 percent markup. Your mother works on heavy commission at a camera store. Graduated to it from espresso machines. Hah!”

[Pause]

“Lt. Col. Frank Slade: What are you, dying of some wasting disease?”

“Charlie Simms: No, I’m right – I’m right here.”

“Lt. Col. Frank Slade: I know exactly where your body is. What I’m looking for is some indication of a brain. Too much football without a helmet? Hah! Lyndon’s line on Gerry Ford. Deputy debriefer. Paris. Peace talks. 68. Snagged a silver star and a silver bar. Threw me into G-2.”

“Charlie Simms: G-2?”

“Lt. Col. Frank Slade: Intelligence. Of which you have none.”

Jesús got the move lines exactly right.

“Interesting movie script, for sure, and an amazing memory you have,” I said. “Remember that one scene? Where Pacino’s character, Slade, is interviewing O’Donnell’s character, Simms, for the gig. Slade says: ‘How’s your skin, son? I like my aides to be presentable?’ And Simms starts to give a whole, long, big spiel about his skin. And the Army man who wants concision cuts him off and says, ‘The History of My Skin, by Charles Simms.’ Remember that? Some of the funniest movie lines. Some lines in that move are sobering too, though, because Frank Slade is in a lot of mental and physical pain. We don’t see most of that pain til later in the movie.”

“You’re right about that film, young man. Humor in some places. Sobering in other places. The right balance, though. Reality bites and humor soothes. That is one of best movies of all time. In my Top Twelve favorite movies. I like to memorize things in 12s. Easier that way for me, you know, to have a pattern or routine-way. You know, building and reinforcing the memory. Twelve favorite actresses. Twelve favorite actors. The twelve disciples of Christ. But you know what? You know the disciple I don’t like?”

“Let me see if I can guess correct. How about Judas?”

“You’re damn right I don’t like Judas. Betrayed Christ. What a traitor! I like his replacement Matthias, though. Good man. Good wingman. Good backup plan.”

“I guess you do like numbers. Seven and twelve, twelve and seven.”

“Sure do. Life is comprised of words and numbers, language and math, and if you think about it, that’s almost it, right there.”

We laughed again a bit, at things that amused us. Laughter is indeed one of the best medicines.

“What have you been up to?” Jesús enquired. “I see you got writing utensils and a few three-ring binders with you.”

“Well, I’m thinking about writing a screenplay.”

“What’s it going to be about?”

“I don’t know for sure yet. I want to make a new kind of Western movie. Spaghetti Western and some other things too. A mixture.”

“An oil on canvas, if you will?”

“Yes, that’s about right. I like the movie title ‘Once Upon a Time in America,’ but that one’s already taken. Sergio Leone. 1984.”

“Whatever you call it, I’ll want to see that movie because I know you don’t like stereotypes. ‘All the drunk Indians’ are what I hear every now and again, when I’m out and about. Say, let’s see how good my memory is again. About the film you just mentioned. I think I know the names of the central stars.”

“Okay. Have a go,” I encouraged.

“Let’s go with the ladies first,” Jesús started out. “Martha Stewart says we should do that and so does Dale Carnegie. Now, ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ stars Elizabeth McGovern and Tuesday Weld. As for the gents, in first-name alpha-order: Burt Young, James Woods, Joe Pesci, and Robert De Niro.”

“Damn!” I declared. “That is darn good memory right there. You do have a remarkable memory. And, before I forget to say it, I agree with you on what you said about stereotyping. I think stereotyping is a weak, immoral, unethical, imprecise, and wrong-headed way of thinking. People need to think in refreshing, original ways, ways that make sense and follow principles of logic.”

“Well,” Jesús replied, “in the same way you defend my nation and don’t like stereotypes of my people, I don’t like stereotypes of the Irish. You always have a friend in me, my brother. ‘The drunken Irish’ or ‘The Irish drink like fish’ – a bunch of hogwash and another example of stereotyping. It’s hardly a true portrait of the Irish. You’re having a pint of Irish cider tonight and that’s it – see what I mean? I know you and how you are and how you think. And I’ve got a memory like a steel trap. What better evidence do I need than that solid epistemology?”

“What’s epistemology mean?” I queried. “You’re like a walking dictionary, my brother. That is so cool.”

“Well, thank you, my goo brother. Epistemology is just a fancy word for the study of knowledge or the study of knowing. How you gain knowledge and keep it. How do we obtain and process it. How we come to the conclusions we come to. How we arrive at what we think is true and what we think is false. How we start to have biases and how we can avoid and jettison biases. When the French scientist René Descartes said ‘I think, therefore I am,’ believe it or not, he was doing a bunch of stuff right there.”

“Insightful you are,” I said in response. “And what about the Texas philosopher Renée Zellweger. What’d she say?”

“Well, I’m glad you asked because I happen to know the answer to your fine question. Here you go, brother. Sometime after Renée won an Academy Award for her performance in the movie ‘Cold Mountain,’ she told a press member, a bit later, ‘I see the Oscar in my bedroom, and it’s like I bought it in a souvenir shop on Hollywood Boulevard.’

“Now there’s a down-to-earth lady right there,” I said. “That’s what Texas does to people. Makes them real nice to talk to.”

“That’s right. And did you know that the highest percentage of annual recruits into the United States Marine Corps are from the State of Texas. Wanna know why?”

“Why?”

“Texans are the best with guns. Marines gotta know how to shoot real well because they are the first warriors into a battle zone and they are the last warriors out of a battle zone. In that gigantic state where the cattle go on forever and where there’s some dangerous prey, they got to know how to shoot guns at any range. Short range. Mid range. Long range. Close-quarters combat (CQC) with pistols and machines guns, and then there’s sniping from longer ranges. The best damn sharpshooters I’ve ever been around. The Canadians are the best snipers in the world, but that’s another story. So, you wanna know another reason why there’s a lot of Texans in the Marines?”

“What’s that?”

“Texans are the most loyal people you’ll ever find, which fits right in with two of the Marine Corps mottos: ‘Semper fi’ and ‘First to fight.” Semper fi, or Semper Fidelis, is Latin for ‘Always loyal’ or ‘Always faithful.’ The ‘first to fight’ part is self-explanatory. See what I mean?”

“I see what you mean, Sir.”

“So, anyway, we have some Magners Irish cider bottles right here in the fridge, and we’ve got some for you in the guest house too. And if some sadness hits you out of the blue and out of nowhere, like it sometimes can do to people, just wait a little while before you have a drink. Talk to God about it all first. He’s the finest wine in the world. After all, he turned the water into wine, didn’t he? I know it wasn’t Grape Gatorade. That stuff tastes lousy. Anyway, the Holy Spirit will comfort you more than anyone on the planet or all of God’s creation. Just one bottle of beer is all I’m having tonight. See what I mean? In my book, there’s no such thing as ‘those drunken Indians’ or ‘those drunken Irish’ – see what I mean? I can’t stand stereotypes. Say, I’ve got something I want to give you before you head to the guest house.”

“Oh, yeah. What’s that?”

“Well, we found this cool Johan Cruyff jersey, brand new, online, for sale. Just for you. Not the actual jersey. That would be in a museum or soccer hall of fame somewhere. We found a good replica, made by a reputable company.”

“How beautiful that jersey is! Holland is one of my favorite places. Home to Hendrick Avercamp and Johan Cruyff. How did you know I was a Cruyff fan?”

“You told me so, a long time ago. When I was in the United States Marine Corps, they used to tell me I have a memory like a steel trap. In a war zone, that’ll keep you alive, real fast. Here, stateside, in civilian country, a good memory helps me to remember things you forgot to put on the grocery list. Back in the day, when I was in the Corps, there were these four Marines, some superior officers, who tried to enlist me in a case study at San Diego State University. Some professors there were doing a study of memory. I have a photographic memory and audio-graphic memory. I remember what I see and what I hear. The Corps put me into the field of Intelligence work at first, and then a few years later into the field CounterIntelligence, which requires an extra-special memory. Intelligence is hard work. CounterIntelligence is doubly hard work.”

“Why’s that?”

“In CounterIntelligence, you’re doing several things. CounterIntelligence agents go up against, or counter, the enemy’s Intelligence, the enemy’s best, brightest, most vicious, and most fearless warriors. Let me tell you, that ain’t easy. Then, there are these people called double agents. You think they’re spying for you, but really they’re spying for the enemy. Deception is not always easy to spot, but CounterIntelligence officers, military and civilian, the good ones anyway, they are good at detecting deception. Think of things in this way. CounterIntelligence is the art and science of finding and smoking out enemies outside of, and inside of, your organization.”

“Wow, that’s very interesting.”

“Let me say just one more thing on this topic.”

“Please do.”

“War is hell, young man. The reason war feels surreal is because it doesn’t match at all with what you’re used to, when you were at your grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner, having turkey and apple pie with ice cream. And it doesn’t even really match with the Marine Corps training and war-gaming you did at boot camp and other training, at the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, AZ; 29 Palms; San Diego, CA; and Parris Island, SC. When you get into war and people start shooting at you and trying to kill you and cause you to cease to exist, it’s a whole different ball game. When I was in Nam, I saw some of my best friends blown to bits, right in front of my eyes. And, sometime, there were these artillery shells that would come in from God-knows-where, and I’d see buddies I’d just had breakfast with that morning…blown to smithereens. I couldn’t have dinner and fun with those buddies that night. Dead. Gone. They were dead on gone, forever. Broke my heart. Broke it very much.”

“I’m very sorry you had to go through that, Jesús. I’m so, so very sorry.” Some tears came to my eyes because I felt so sorry for this man who had to go through all those bad things.

“Thank you, young man, thank you very much,” replied Jesús. “Vietnam was the right war, fought in the wrong way. The U.S. and its Allies – and there were about 40 nations who helped the U.S., in one way or another. Americans and their friends were on a humanitarian aid mission that turned into protracted war. Should have won that war, fast and furious. There was a way to do that, but we didn’t do it. Wanna know what the most recent estimates are of how many people left North Vietnam to get the hell out of North Vietnam during the one-year period in the 1950s where there sort of was free travel betwixt North and South? 2 million people. Wanna know how many people went from the South into the North during that same time-period? Let’s just say it ain’t even close to 2 million. People numbering in the thousands, maybe the tens of thousands, and they were just going back home to see their families, oblivious to the brutality of what was about to hit them in the North. You tell me what was going on there? 2 million people vs. let’s say, 50,000 people, maximum? Life was shitty in the North. Life was sort of okay in the South. Our job was to make life delightful in the South and to tell the North to buzz off. They didn’t have Pizza Hut in South Vietnam, but there could have been Pizza Hut in South Vietnam. There should be a free, democratic South Vietnam today, just like there is a free, democratic South Korea today. You wanna know what two of the major problems were? The Soviet Union and China. They were providing intelligence, weapons, and military personnel in what seemed like countless numbers. Some American diplomat should have got on the damn phone with Moscow and all the capitals in the China provinces, and reminded them of the times we helped them out, big time, during the Second World War. I mean, we had American bases in China during that war, and China and the U.S. were good pals then. As for the Soviet Union, if we hadn’t helped the Soviets with kicking Hitler’s ass, which allowed the Soviets to do their thing in also kicking Hitler’s ass, there would be no happy McDonald’s hamburgers in Moscow. And since the Soviets were steadily supplying North Vietnam during the Vietnam War with weapons, through the port of Haiphong, in North Vietnam, just to name a few places, we should have had the courage, boldness, and merciless tenacity to annihilate certain Haiphong targets, but with precision, then asked the Soviets, ‘Hey, if you have any more questions, we’ll be glad to root you out of North and South Vietnam, in a bunch of other ways, like some of the worst kinds of asymmetric warfare you’ve ever seen in your lives.’”

“What happened, man? Well, it’s a long story, and I’m tired and need to go to bed, but I’ll put some books here on the kitchen table in the morning, if you ever want to read about the Vietnam War.”

“Okay, thank you so much.”

“There are twelve books I recommend.”

“Twelve does seem to be the magic number for you.”

“You bet I like the number twelve. Okay, now, listen up, for just one more short while. I’ll rattle the book titles off, to see how good my memory is. I like to test my memory. Makes it stronger and more neuroplastic. Here we go:

1. ‘I Made Mistakes’: Robert McNamara’s Vietnam War Policy, an international relations study by Aurélie Basha i Novosejt. Ladies first.
2. Deliver Us from Evil, an account by Thomas A. Dooley, M.D.
3. Operation Passage to Freedom, history book by Ronald
B. Frankum, Jr.
4. Lost Victory, a memoir by William Colby
5. Strategy for Defeat, by military science artist U.S. Grant Sharp
6. The War Managers, a political science textbook by Douglas Kinnard, the 30th anniversary edition. University of Nebraska Press.
7. Phantom over Vietnam, by F-4 Marine Corps pilot John Trotti
8. Rumor of War, an autobiography by Philip Caputo
9. Backfire, a cultural study by Loren Baritz. The Johns Hopkins University Press edition.
10. Dereliction of Duty, another political science tour de force, by H.R. McMaster
11. Triumph Forsaken, a historiography and history by Mark Moyar
12. The Vietnam War Reexamined, a recent study by Michael G. Kort”

“How’s that?” Jesús continued.

“That’s pretty damn good,” I said. “Thank you so much letting me borrow the books, Sir. I’ll look forward to reading them. And I want you to know, I have you in my prayers.”

“Thank you again, young man. Well, I’ve got to call it an evening. Go get yourself some good sleep now. We’ll see you in the morning or whenever. We know you like your privacy and are a bit of a loner. We’re okay with that. We love you, brother. You can stay with us for as long as you want. We know you get lonely sometimes, after all that you’ve been through. So, we’re here for you.”

“Thank you, Sir. Thank you very much. I’m fortunate to have a job, online, so that I can work from anywhere.”

“Do your job during the day and work on your screenplay in the evening. That’s what I suggest anyway. You’ve got us and you’ve got your nice tv in the guest house, all to keep you company.”

With a few hours left that night, I got into a Johnny Cash rhythm. I took my belongings into the guest house. And, with the lessons I learned from God, the Greenland Dog, a Cherokee master storyteller, and a wise Apache Indian & former U.S. Marine Corps officer, I started work on a movie script.

Before the good work got underway, though, I got on my knees and knelt on the floor next to the bed and said this prayer:

“Our Father, God, you are in heaven. I fear and respect you. You are holy, and I am not. Please hear my prayer and know that I love you and thank you for the gift of salvation and for letting me into the Kingdom of Heaven. May your eternal and perfect Kingdom arrive sooner rather than later. May your will be done, on earth, as your will is done in heaven. Please be with my friend, Jesús. Please mend this kind man’s heart. Be with him Lord. And please be with Arlene and all the other war-veteran and active-duty spouses and families. Please bless and protect all. I ask for these things in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and in the name of Jesus the Christ, my Lord and Saviour, the Messiah, who was tortured, put through a slow death on a cross, dying a painful death, but who rose from the dead, hung out with his pals for another 40 days, and then ascended back up into heaven, where He sits beside you, to the right.”

I knew God knew all that stuff already, but I was hoping He felt all the love because there was a lot of love in my heart, for Him and for my family and friends.

III.

“Once Upon a Time in the West”
was a film directed by Sergio Leone.
Quentin Tarantino will tell you Mr. Leone’s title
suggested and supplied the rubric for QT’s flick
“Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,”
Yes, there are dots in QT’s title there.
Those dots are just his way of
putting his mark on film and art history.
Can you blame him?
You’d do the same thing, if you made movies.

Now, this charming film stars
Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Sometime, if you happen to be in L.A.,
you might consider visiting QT’s theater,
the New Beverly Cinema.
That will take you back to 1969 and other times.
Quentin’s film about tinsel town reminds me
of Seamus Heaney’s book “Seeing Things,”
which is about journeys
the narrator takes back to childhood
and other various times and places.

Some hot-shot under-grad student
from the Imperial College of London
once called Tarantino a master of the inferior.
Nothing extraordinary about him or his films;
that was the gist of this kid’s claim.
What the heck?
I don’t know what you think,
but I think that under-grad student issued an insult,
trying to be polite while flinging the insult.
“How’s that again?” I thought to myself, puzzled.
Let’s just call a spade a spade,
rather than do double-talk.
QT is master of his craft,
and he’s not inferior, in any way.
I’ll bet money that so-called literary critic kid
will never have a bank account
that looks anything like
Tarantino’s bank accounts.

Then one time I happened upon a
an egg-head book-worm pseudo-intellectual
in a Barnes & Noble store.
He tried to tell me:
“Don’t read or write poetry.
There’s no money in poetry.
Poetry doesn’t sell well.”

To which I replied:
“Ever heard of Quentin Tarantino or Bill Stone?”

“Know of Tarantino,
but never heard of Bill Stone,” he said.

“Bill Stone’s full name is William Oliver Stone.
Ever heard of him?” was my query back.

“Oh yeah, I know of Oliver Stone.”

“Well, when Oliver Stone was in Vietnam,
he went by Bill Stone.”

“What’s your point?” was his come-back.

“I’ve got two points,” I replied.
“The first one is,
those guys read poetry to inspire
the writing of their movie scripts.
They are millionaires.
Are you a millionaire?”

“No, I am not. So, what’s your point?” he asked.

“My second point is really a question:
You said earlier that you have a Ph.D.
from Cornell University, right?

[pause]

Ivy league, right?

[pause]

Okay, so if I took the full text of your doctoral thesis
and ran it through the
most sophisticated,
most comprehensive
plagiarism detection software program in the world,
would I find any flagrant cases of plagiarism?”

“Well, to be honest, I’m not sure,” he answered.

“Well, to be honest, if you’re not sure,” I came back,
“then I give it a high probability
that your Ph.D. thesis is
just one, big cut-and-paste job,
with egregious cases of plagiarism in it.
Now, you were going to say something fancy
about poetry or copyright infringement?”

That was the end of that conversation.
Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino
have silenced their critics, more than once.

If you want to consult a real-life
Encyclopedia of Film & Cinema,
Tarantino is the right person to talk to.
A high-school drop-out and former video store clerk
who got paid minimum wage,
this self-taught afficionado did what he wanted.
That’s the way it works with autodidacts.
They want to be left alone, learn what they want to learn,
& do it all in their timing, at their pace.
I don’t see anywhere in the
“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”
autodidacts should be defined as
rebellious teens with personality disorders.
Nope, never seen such a thing
in that so-called guide to the insane.
And it’s not clear to me why some hyper-active parents
sometimes defame the character of their own children.
Boggles my mind.

Neuroplasticity is teaching yourself
some things about some stuff
you like to think about,
not what Mr. Gradgrind demands that you learn.
If anything, it’s called natural genius.
Oliver Stone would agree,
though in his true humbleness,
he would concur in a self-effacing manner.
No false humility or pseudo-humility there.
Olive Stone is the real deal.
You see, most Vietnam War veterans
are quiet, shy, and meek.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) still plagues
some of these gals & guys, all these years later.
There were women in the Vietnam War too, you know.
The women just didn’t get the newspaper press,
like the guys did.
God bless the gentle souls of all of them.

After the war, Oliver Stone made the movie “Platoon.”
If Mr. Stone had not fought in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968,
he never would have made that film
with such precision and passion.
Compassion too.
Thank you for your service, Dr. Stone.
Oliver flunked out of Yale, back in the day.
That’s what he says anyway.
Don’t have a reason to doubt him.
And not difficult to fathom,
given how much heartache
combat veterans go through.
An Edinburgh University news release
dated 20 June 2017 reads:
“Academy award-winning film director
Oliver Stone is among the public figures
to receive an honorary degree
from the University of Edinburgh next month.
The filmmaker will receive the degree
of Doctor Honoris Causa
at McEwan Hall on Tuesday, 4 July.
Mr Stone will be awarded a degree
in recognition of his prominent and politically
engaging career in film.”
In case you and the distant cousin
of Robert Burns are wondering,
Honoris Causa means “for the sake of honour.”
Oliver did well for himself.
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

There was no deep autodidacticism in Vietnam.
No energy or time for that there.
Too much stress,
and high pressure doesn’t allow
the brain to decompress.
Alone-time and think-time
are two ingredients in the autodidact’s secret sauce.
War is too fast and too furious
for self-teaching.
During the downtimes,
you’re just drinking a few brews
and napping your brains out,
to forget about life and war for a while.
In war, there’s a thing called survival-skilling.
That’s where you figure out how to “eat soup with a knife,”
which is how U.S. Army Lt. Colonel John Nagl puts it.
“Adapt. Improvise. Overcome.”
That’s how U.S. Marines say it.
In war zones,
necessity is the mother and father of invention.
God bless the tattered bodies & souls of war veterans.
May their bodies & souls heal and always be healing.

If QT had gone to USC for an MFA,
who knows?
Maybe the University of Southern California
would have inadvertently knocked
the creativity right out of his head.
Good thing he didn’t finish high school.
If you decide advanced-schooling is better for you,
I recommend the University of California, Los Angeles.
UCLA is much cheaper than USC
and less concerned about pedigree.
I want to how to help actresses and actors
deliver their lines in the ways
that make them most comfortable,
like Clint Eastwood is known to do.
I want to know how to angle this camera that way
for this reason: clarity and authenticity.
I don’t want to listen to USC cinema professors,
in ivory towers,
drone on and on about why they think Tarantino
took the spelling of the original movie
“Inglorious Bastards” and changed it to
“Inglourious Basterds” for his film.
I could care less about that.
It’s not the kind of question I ponder.
I’m sure he has a damn good reason for his wording.
I want to know how to make an award-winning film.
Tarantino is not a bad speller, so we can rule that out.
In his youth, I’m certain he would have won
the Spelling Bee contest in Washington, D.C.,
if you had cut him loose on Noah Webster’s dictionary.

Mark Cuban picked Indiana University
for his business-school training,
because it was the least expensive school on the list.
Sounds pragmatic to me.
Why go to the Wharton School of Business
if you can get the same education
at a fraction of the cost.
A state school in Indiana,
in the middle of a corn field!
Who would have thought?
Mark is now worth a little over 4 billion U.S. dollars.
Don’t get me wrong,
I know money doesn’t buy happiness.
I’m just saying that the perception of a thing
sometimes doesn’t match the reality of a thing.
I know farmers in Iowa and Ireland
with no more than a grade-school education,
and they have more wisdom and intelligence
than some intellectuals
and all of the pseudo-intellectuals.

On Wednesday, 15 June 2016,
Tarantino was awarded
an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA)
from the American Film Institute.
Best film school in the United States.
He’s way richer than you,
and you have a Ph.D. from the Ivy League’s
University of Pennsylvania.

So, it’s not really Mr. Tarantino, it’s Dr. Tarantino.
But he won’t demand you refer to him as
Professor Tarantino.
That’s because he’s a regular guy.
Legend has it the legendary filmmaker
can be found in the parking lot some evenings
at the cinema he owns in Los Angeles,
chatting it up with youngsters and adults alike
about this or that film
or why they did or didn’t
like this or that film.
He lets them talk.
He’s a good listener,
and that’s what makes him a good moviemaker.
“The best qualification of prophets
is they have a good memory.”
That’s a quote from I’m not sure who.
Anyways, the point is that those
who listen to the past
do well in the future.

QT is a humble man.
Self-assured to the core,
he knows what he wants.
Some call that arrogance.
I call it self-confidence.
He’s a self-taught, self-made millionaire
with rewards and accolades from the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the
HFPA, which stands for the
Hollywood Foreign Press Association,
in case you, Holden Caulfield, and J.D. Salinger
were wondering.

Tarantino has his share of
Oscars and Golden Globes.
Best Original Screenplay.
Best Director.
The guy was 31 years old in May 1994,
when his flick “Pulp Fiction”
won France’s version of the Oscar,
The Palme d’Or,
at the festival in Cannes.
A few months later, this Q-T break-out film
was released in the USA on Friday,
14 October 1994.
Ireland released it two weeks later on
28 October 1994.

I’m going to wrap up the poem & prose
with a short note on the bard
who wrote about Beowulf.
I can’t swim underwater on end for
hours, days, weeks, or whatever,
without any oxygen,
like Beowulf could,
but I have concluding thoughts,
nevertheless.
In high school, I had this teacher
who tried to persuade me that
the poem’s original title,
without question,
was “Beowulf.”
“How did the teacher know that?”
I wondered in my mind.
I know what you’re thinking,
because I’m thinking the same thing.
At least the lady or gentleman
who wrote the poem could have provided
a signature.
Or at least the chroniclers and archivists
could have taken better care of the original document.
Or maybe the original author didn’t give the poem a title.
Or maybe the fire that ravaged some
manuscript materials
wiped out the title.

So, then, what’s the poem’s title?
Maybe we’ll never know.
That’s Daniel J. Boorstin “hidden history” thesis.
When I wrote an essay in high school
about the character Beowulf,
I kept thinking to myself:
“Why are people trying to convince me
that the poem is titled ‘Beowulf,’
when we really don’t know what the title is.”
As they say in mathematics,
“quod erat demonstrandum.”
Or as my Irish great-grandmother
Mary used to say sometimes:
“God is good. God is great. QED.”

IV.

If Moses got a message from God from a burning tree,
where God said what was on God’s mind,
it stands to reason Luke could have received
a correct narrative & the accurate quotes,
from a God-talking candle, for example,
to help light the way for Luke’s writing
a biography of Christ &
a history of what the Apostles were up to.
If Hemingway, by the way, ended sentences
with prepositions and won the Nobel Prize in Literature,
well, then, I can do the same.
Anyways, how did that St. Luke guy
get all those long, precise, direct quotes
of Christ & the Apostles?
Luke did go about his business,
as an historian,
to collect information from
eyewitnesses and such.
Then he put everything into words, so
that those at that time and in the future
could have a true, accurate account.
There were bound to be charlatans
who would go around saying this or that false thing,
claiming that they, themselves, were the Christ or
babbling on and on with pathological lies,
rather than telling the truth and giving the facts.
Maybe an angel of the Lord
dictated material to the historian.
Maybe Christ Himself showed up every now and again
to dictate the truth-words.
After all, after the Resurrection and Ascension,
Christ did pay a visit to
the Saul-who-became-Paul.
Maybe it was a combo of a God-talking candle,
a wise team of angels,
and Jesus Christ Himself.
It must have taken Luke a long time
to put the life of Christ into words.
He didn’t pull an all-nighter like Thomas Jefferson
did when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

I believe the truth to be the truth
because I have faith in the Holy Trinity.
Like Blaise Pascal asked, in his the now-famous Pascal’s Wager,
why would I take such a huge risk?
If there’s a chance you might go to hell forever,
you get the heck out of that situation, at lightning speed.

We know the Bible authors did not get their
BAs or MAs and DPhils or PhDs
from Oxford or Cambridge
The Ohio State University or the University of Michigan,
West Point or the U.S. Naval Academy,
North Carolina State or the University of North Carolina.
Those places and others like them
don’t say much about God anymore.
Richard Dawkins, a father of know-nothingness,
is a hardcore atheist and diligent skeptic.
There’s one teacher in America
who, too, is an avowed skeptic,
and maybe an atheist.
I don’t think, even he, knows what he is.
He only knows what he is not.
He’s not a fan of God.
He enjoys playing the devil’s advocate, to be sure.
Those all are sad facts, and I lament them.
There was a day when
scientific discoveries & archeological finds
confirmed, for most people, what they
already believed to be true, by faith.
Not so much, these days.

Saint Matthew did work for H&R Block,
but Christ turned Matt into a full-time Evangelist.
Some of the Bible writers were self-educated.
Some of them were fishermen and the like.
Some of them, like Saul of Tarsus,
were well-educated and went to Philips Exeter
for high school.
As it turns out, though,
Saul was too smart for his own good.
God turned things around for Saul
and transformed him into Paul,
since that guy didn’t seem able to do it himself.
When God makes it so you can’t see for a while,
that event will grip and train your mind, real fast.
When Jesus shows up out of nowhere
and starts giving you commands,
you darn well better listen.
“The Book of Romans” is more than
Paul going on a guilt trip.
That letter sent to Italy
describes and defines you,
for who you really are.
If you read “Romans” and “The Psalms,”
you’ll learn what the word “holiness” means.

What about that one time that one lawyer
asked Christ about how one could get into heaven?
You remember that incident?
Jesus answered the question, with a question.
It went like this:
“How do I get into heaven, Jesus?”
a hot-shot jurist enquired.
“Well, you tell me, lawyer,
you’re the educated guy.”
Jesus replied.
“You’re the one who is supposed
to have passed the bar exam,”
the holy, perfect man continued.
“Remember any of those testament sections
in the Law Library,
where it says you are to love the Lord your God
with all that’s in you and to love your neighbor as yourself?
Remember that question on the bar exam?
There’s your answer, mister attorney.”

Anyways, all the writers of the books of the Bible
were inspired by God, in one way or another.
All of them had a spirit that was open to God,
their official, holy, sanctioned muse.
God gave them their educations for free.
Gospel writer Mark was the disciple Peter’s
research assistant, memoirist, and note-taker.
Mark was able to recount what Peter said
because Peter told Mark what Peter said.
That’s not rocket science.
Given the fact that I like modern amenities,
like air conditioning in the summer,
and a warming-system for the house in winter,
I’ll say the only other period in history
in which I would have wanted to live,
other than this time right here, right now,
is the time when Jesus lived on earth.
Who wouldn’t want to be around a guy
who raised people from the dead
and offered people eternal life in heaven?
I would have hung out with Christ,
any day of the week.

Mark said in his biography of Jesus
that the Messiah came to serve,
not to be served.
The Christ way is the best way…

Without having gone to film school,
and with the independent, creative spirit
of Saint Peter and Saint Mark,
of Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino,
I decided that the title of my movie script,
a new oil on canvas,
was going to be…

“Once Upon a Time in Apache Country”

 


NOTE: Read here the Author’s Letter to The Galway Review…

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted in Fiction, News, Non-Fiction, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

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