Mixmaster? Just look at ‘Subway Visions’

What, me as a Mixmaster?

Just look at the topics percolating in Subway Visions.

A great bartender is a Mixmaster, too. In fact, the origin of the dry martini is sometimes linked to one at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Manhattan in 1911 or 1912. (Wikimedia Commons photo by N. Renard.)

Here are ten:

  1. Underground mass transit rails. Not just in Gotham, but around the world, too.
  2. Weird chance encounters. A big city is all about people, most of them, I’d say, somehow eccentric. Get on a subway car and just look around – clandestinely, if you’re savvy.
  3. The nature of great cities. Tenements and trash are part of the scene.
  4. Bohemian underground. There’s always been a counterculture in a healthy society. It’s what makes great cities tick.
  5. T-Rex and graffiti. Ah, Kenzie shows up in Gotham just as its trains are being defaced by wild blobs of paint. And here he is as a photographer identifying himself as an artist, too. What’s the point of any art, anyway?
  6. Alternative means of transport. It’s also a time of hitchhiking on the open road. Kenzie discovers parallels in the bowels of the city.
  7. Crashing and couch-surfing. When you have friends, your options multiply. And it’s much better than the one hotel room he rents in his visits.
  8. The Dharma. Kenzie’s visits largely revolve around his studies under his Tibetan Buddhist guru in SoHo.
  9. Overcoming fear. His first ventures into the unfamiliar underworld are scary steps. By the second half of the novel, though, Kenzie is out along the fatal third rail and the elevated heights. How free can he get?
  10. Surrealist vision. He begins seeing in encounters in a fresh light. Maybe it’s a kind of X-ray? It’s entertaining, all the same, as well as refreshing. What else don’t most commuters notice?

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Ten ways this ‘Subway’ is new and improved

My new novel Subway Visions comes a long way from its earlier incarnation as Subway Hitchhikers.

Here are ten ways it’s new and improved.

  1. The novel no longer serves as an introduction to three other volumes but stands fully on its own in a more timeless Gotham.
  2. The central character is now identified as Kenzie, in line with the other novels in my Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle. Gone are the Duma Luma and later D.L. monikers. He’s more grounded than they were.
  3. The action is now built on a clear chronology that runs parallel to his ongoing life to the north. For that, you can read Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.
  4. He now has monthly opportunities to visit the Big Apple and ride its rails, thanks to a floating three-day weekend off from his job. This gives more plausibility to his familiarity with the city while living hours to the north. He is young and ready for adventure, after all.
  5. With his Tibetan guru living in Manhattan’s SoHo district, Kenzie’s Buddhist studies now run through much of the story. His sessions there become his principal motivation for the monthly visits.
  6. The story is now anchored by a set of regular characters, beginning with his guru and Buddha buddies like Holly and Wilson before expanding in the second half with the wild tagger T-Rex.
  7. As one reader said of the earlier version, “I really dig that chick Holly.” Now there’s a lot more of her. (And Wilson and T-Rex are altogether new.)
  8. The language is tighter; the sentences, more staccato, befitting the grimy trains and their stations.
  9. The funky sweet surrealism of the original tale now floats over the substance of an inescapably malodorous substratum. There’s nothing bland and disinfected in this gritty demimonde of endless night where Kenzie encounters the most remarkable souls and visions.
  10. These events are now seen in a historical perspective, thanks to the unseen presence of Kenzie’s daughter Cassia while I was revising the tale. Credit her for the snippier tone, too.

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Take a ride on this new ‘Subway’

Today marks the publication of my newest novel, Subway Visions. It’s an ebook at Smashwords.com.

It’s a thorough reworking of my earlier Subway Hitchhikers, a work I first drafted back when the hippie movement seemed torn between heading in two directions.

One was out into the countryside, where you could hitchhike with ease in most places.

The other was back into the cosmopolitan center city, where you could get around on an underground subway network. (I loved the double meaning of underground, by the way – the idea of counterculture going back to, what, Dostoevsky?)

I wanted to bridge that gap.

Nearly a half-century has passed since that early manuscript took shape. It was eventually published in 1990. A lot has transpired since then.

There’s not a lot about hippies in the new book, for one thing. And there’s no longer a need to sketch out other facets of the broader narrative, now that Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks are available.

The revised story now focuses on Kenzie’s monthly three-day forays into the Big Apple from his perch in the hinterlands to the north. These trips soon center on his jaunts to study with his Tibetan Buddhist guru in a derelict tenement in Manhattan’s SoHo district.

Getting there, of course, means taking the subway, and each venture takes him further and further into surreal realms – many of them rarely seen by the average commuter.

The revised story also builds on Kenzie’s new friends, especially Holly as a fellow Buddhist and, later, T-Rex as a legendary tagger.

The book – like the others in my Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle – is meant to stand alone, though the novels altogether form a larger, overarching narrative.

Let’s just say it’s a wild, comic ride.

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‘Vegan Before 6’ for Great Lent

As Quakers, we’re not confined to a liturgical calendar or its requirements. Even so, through much of our history, members of the Society of Friends lived within the limitations of strict discipline, which included plain dress like the Amish and plain speech of the “thee” and “thou” sort.

These have greatly loosened up over the past century, which is not to say we don’t live out a distinct set of values – we’re just more flexible or forgiving. Non-violence and pacifism, equality, simplicity, social justice, and truthfulness remain forefront in our daily lives. Few Friends I know smoke, and in our circles, I suspect the majority now drive Priuses as a consequence of faith. Many, but by no means all, participate in vigils or social witness demonstrations.

But being Quaker doesn’t preclude us from what Douglas Steere coined “mutual irradiation,” acknowledging that we can learn from others’ religious practices and experiences and encourage them in their own. It’s not the same as a lowest-common-denominator ecumenism, but rather a willingness to be inspired and enlightened by our differences. It’s something I’ve been enjoying among the Greek-Orthodox where I live, and found with Mennonites and Brethren earlier. It’s also a principal reason I participate in the Dover Area Religious Leaders’ Association and our joint services.

Of course, remarrying has changed some of my perspectives. With children, especially, there was no way of downplaying Christmas, not in contemporary American society. (Historically, Friends were among those who considered it a pagan import.) I’ve previously posted about the revolutionary ways observing Advent has helped me cope with the commercial assault of that holiday.

~*~

Eliminating a liturgical calendar also meant we also didn’t observe Easter. (Every day was to be holy.) And without Christmas or Easter, there would be no Advent or Lent.

Leap ahead.

There’s no way to totally ignore these, not when no longer live in close communities of our own and are often the only Quaker in our workplace. On top of that, many of us come from other faith traditions and carry within us many of those teachings and traditions, one way or another.

~*~

All of this leads up to to a desire in our household to use Advent and Lent as times of renewal and rededication. We try to do a special reading together, at the least, and usually give up alcohol.

For the record, by the late 19th century, most Quakers had banned alcohol altogether – it’s not uncommon to meet Friends who have never had a drink in their life. On the other hand, when I admitted to enjoying a glass of beer or wine, one old Friend replied, “Jnana, in thy occupation, we’d be surprised if thee didn’t.” Remember, I was a newspaper editor.

So, here we are in what the Eastern Orthodox call Great Lent, and I’m surviving without my daily martini or a glass of wine with dinner. Abstaining reminds me of just how habitual these things become. Besides, I believe saying “no” for a season can be strengthen one’s willpower for other decisions, too.

~*~

One year, my wife and I went largely vegan for Advent. She had reviewed all of the Eastern Orthodox dietary rules for that observance and concluded they were essentially vegan with the additional elimination of olive oil and alcohol. Oh, and when she concluded that since olive oil would have been the only oil in the eastern Mediterrean, she extended the ban to all cooking oils.

It was a tough period, as I posted at the time. She did come up with some marvelous dishes all the same, but rather than being freed from considerations of food, she was spending more time trying to find ways to manage.

This year, for the period of Great Lent, we’re taking a slightly different approach. Remember, we’re not confined to the ancient regulations, we’re doing this voluntarily. (And, as I’ve learned, the Orthodox rules are only suggested, not required, of the faithful.) What we’re doing is inspired by food guru Mark Bittman’s book Eat Vegan Before 6:00. In short, we have more options when it comes to the evening meal – especially, as we’re applying this, on the weekends.

Since I’m already trying to observe a Healthy Heart diet, I’m not seeing a lot of change. The biggest challenge has involved my morning coffee, which is already down to a single cup a day, thanks to another medical restriction.

No, alas, there are no wonder substitutes for dairy.

Homemade almond milk comes closest – we find much of the commercial variety to be vile. But almonds are comparatively expensive, and soaking the nuts and grinding and straining take time.

Oat milk, made from oatmeal, starts cooking in hot liquid, leaving an unpleasant layer of sludge in the bottom of the mug.

Coconut milk tastes like coconut, which I find disconcerting.

Black coffee seems harsh on an empty stomach – a sliver of lemon helps a little, somehow.

~*~

So I’m counting the days till Easter – the Orthodox version, which comes at the end of Passover, a full week later than the Western celebration.

Mixmaster? Just look at ‘Pit-a-Pat High Jinks’

Sunbeam’s Mixmaster quickly became a staple of 20th century American kitchens. Didn’t we all grow up with one? The line about radio interference, by the way, refers to the way the machine could disrupt the AM radio signal you were trying to listen to, often elsewhere in the house.

What, me as a Mixmaster?

Just look at the topics percolating in my novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.

Here are ten:

  1. The early ’70s. The counterculture movement has changed. It’s no longer centered in a handful of big cities or a few isolated communes but is now found across the country, often revolving around college campuses.
  2. Back to the earth. For those who move out into the countryside, the new digs could be perplexing. Most of the hippies came from the city or suburbs, and few knew much about gardening or raising chickens or general household maintenance or even cooking. It could be a steep learning curve.
  3. Intentional households. Settling in with a group living together presents unique problems, even when it’s not a full-fledged commune. Just what are the advantages and disadvantages, anyway?
  4. Friends and housemates. Kenzie arrives in a place where he knows only one person but quickly encounters a host of friendly new faces. And through them, his adventures really take off. Where would he be without them?
  5. Each one is different.
  6. That first full-time job. Learning to cope can be a challenge.
  7. For Kenzie, this arises as Tibetan Buddhism and its daily practice.
  8. Couch surfing. The term hadn’t been coined yet, but here he is, spending many nights in friends’ apartments rather than back at the farm.
  9. His best friend’s collection of drums provides a counterpoint to the narrative. Just listen to how expressive this can be.
  10. Personal healing and growth. Kenzie undergoes a transformation through this time of seeming retreat. He emerges stronger, more caring, and happier, especially.

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Food as the new cultural touchstone

My wife came across an article that noted the primary cultural focus in 21st century America is fine food and wine. It’s what intelligent people discuss, even argue about, in casual conversation. And just look at all the writing focused on it today.

A related factor the article raised was that in modern history, in each century one nation has dominated in one art form rather than many. That’s had me thinking, even though I think America led on two fronts in the 2oth century.

Here are ten examples that spring to my mind.

  1. Painting and sculpture. 16th century Italian masters.
  2. Theater. 16th century England. Shakespeare is unrivaled.
  3. Painting. 17th century Dutch masters.
  4. Painting. 19th century France culminating in Impressionism.
  5. The symphony. 19th century Germany towering in Beethoven and Brahms. Do we think of Vienna as essentially German?
  6. The novel. 19th century England and America. Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn may be flawed but they remain original masterworks.
  7. Opera. 19th century Italy. Verdi and Puccini remain the core of the repertoire.
  8. Ballet. 19th century Russia. Its great symphonists excelled here. And look where the great dancers and teachers still come from.
  9. Movies. 20th century America. (Shall we consider Hollywood as a nation unto itself?)
  10. Popular music. 20th century America as jazz and then rock evolve. (Note that this happens more in the eastern half of the country – New Orleans, Kansas City, Memphis, Cleveland, Nashville, but especially New York.)

I’ll leave it to others to look for the food trends over time. 

What else would you add to this list?

Mixmaster? Just look at ‘What’s Left’

What, me as a Mixmaster? Just look at the topics percolating in my novel What’s Left.

Here are ten.

  1. Questions of personal identity. For Cassia, this moves from a desire to fit in with what she considers normal for her peers and classmates and turns into something more solitary Goth before she hits stride as a rock concert manager.
  2. Questions of just what, exactly, identifies a family. Hers has its landmark restaurant as well as a circle of close cousins and siblings she calls the Squad. But she’s still missing her dad.
  3. Greek-American experience. She grows up in her mother’s extended family, the fourth generation after two brothers and their spouses, two sisters, arrived in Indiana from Greece. It’s a colorful tradition.
  4. Family owned-and-operated business. Their landmark restaurant means the kids learn to work early, and their parents often have to miss big events at school or sporting events. It also presents uniquely troubling aspects when company clashes erupt or a member dies and inheritance taxes are due.
  5. Guerrilla economix. Her uncle Dimitri advocates a community of small-is-beautiful economics using the restaurant as its base. Seeing himself as a socialist capitalist, he champions generous worker benefits, funding worthwhile startups, and creating considerate rental housing.
  6. In this family, even its initial hot dog joint adds distinctive touches. When they acquire burger-and-fries Carmichaels’, they look for local sources to give them an edge, especially in their daily soups and specials. And then when they branch out into upscale and vegetarian lines, the thinking turns especially creative.
  7. Bohemian life. There’s Gypsy, from one direction, and hippie, from another. And Cassia’s aunt Pia, so full of kefi, makes the most of it.
  8. Keys to success. Cassia soon realizes the ideal of the self-made man is an illusion. Her family is a model of working together, even mentoring. Her father’s fame would have never come about without their support.
  9. The Dharma. Members of her family, especially her father, take up Tibetan Buddhist practice before she comes on the scene. It gives her a dual outlook on religion and spirituality.
  10. Emotional loss and recovery. Cassia loses her father to a mountaineering accident when she’s 11, setting her on a course to recover whatever she can of him. But ultimately everyone in her family suffers a deep personal loss, and how each of them addresses it leads either to bitter despair or else emotional growth and wisdom. Guidance often appears in the most unexpected times and places.