Categories
Commentary Journal

I Almost Moved, But Didn’t

I don’t have the engagement here that I used to have and that was getting me down a little bit–enough that I went so far as to execute a new start on a new platform, one in which I might be able to stir up new interest in exchange for new a new commitment to more mature and less whimsical writing–a writer’s blog, if you will, rather than how I once described Old Road Apples, as the site of a literary hobbyist. I was encouraged by my best friend and most ardent supporter to “take it seriously.” So, right. It was inspiring. I wrote up a new essay to start my new site, and then I dove deeper into the new platform and realized a lot of what it is good for is not really good for me and what I do.

As a result, I’m staying here. Some of the most whimsical content from the archive will be disappearing–for the practical purpose of clearing out storage space, but also because it embarrasses me. Other stuff might get rewritten and pushed on you again; but mostly, I’m recommitting to this blog, to awakening those of you who remain “from the days of yore” way back in 2015, 2016 etc. while maybe grabbing up one or two new readers and, with any luck, a few caustic trolls with whom we might toy.

Finally, since I won’t be starting that new site, here’s the essay I wrote for it, a reflection of my direction as well as a glimpse into my state of mind.

This isn’t my first rodeo. I think someplace in the back of my head, for a long time, I’ve harbored a compelling desire to say that; or something equally grizzled and assertive—a dramatic line. Indiana Jones, for example, snarling an understated “Nazis—I hate these guys.” Or Will Riker grabbing the yoke on the Enterprise and sneering, “We’re through running from these bastards,” while an alien ensign side-eyes him appraisingly, all but licking her lips. Or pretty much anything Rooster Cogburn says, in the eponymous film or either version of True Grit. And see, by gods I did it. Snuck it right in there at the top. Maybe that’s why I write: the giddy, intoxicating sensation of power?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, and usually settle on an answer that is as much compromise as it is informative: I write because I can’t not write. I’ve been hobby writing, for lack of a better description, on the Internet for a while now, with varying degrees of consistency and relatively little real discipline, throwing words out across a diverse range of platforms and in numerous formats and “communities.” Sometimes, in the most satisfying instances, I’ve fallen into small groups of readers and bloggers, developing a sort of camaraderie—not quite friendship, but a familiarity among individuals whose situations, insights, and experiences are far different those I encounter in the analog world. Other times, I’ve shouted into the void with nary a hint that even a single word of it was noticed, much less read.

My last blog withered away due to my shifting attentions: working on an ongoing novel, one that I should have finished a decade ago, at the same time that our nation’s politics took a dark turn into the surreally macabre. I found it almost impossible to write anything positive, and I was reluctant to rehash—even critically—the bizarro-world events manifesting themselves minute by minute in the headlines. I know who I am. Commentary turns to screeds, screeds devolve into tantrums, tantrums to hissy fits, and we end up with a full-blown rant. A festival of rants. Unfortunately, although they can be deeply, emotionally satisfying, rants—like methamphetamine—offer only short-term satiety, and are equally alluring to outside observers.

While this was happening, bloggery was changing. I’d found myself able to easily, happily sidestep the word-vomit that is Twitter—a disorienting cacophony of hyper-brief, purposefully inarticulate blurts and burps of artificial brevity that reminds me of a tabernacle choir gathered together, with each member shouting a different limerick, Hallmark greeting, excerpt from the instructions for assembling a new Wayfair coat rack (in the original Mandarin) or middle-school haiku at the top of their lungs. My attention span extends beyond the twelve or thirteen words I’m allowed on Twitter—that’s not even room enough for a decent rant.

The image-first blogs, primarily Instgram but also TikTok—or Tick Talk, or whatever—and its latest flash in the pan app trend (Vine, anyone?) made for a much more discouraging hurdle. First of all, as you will shortly see should you choose to return, I am what the English so cunningly describe as “shit” when it comes to photography. I have lousy instincts and I’m too lazy to learn how to do it better. I mean, adjusting shutter speed and aperture? That is verging dangerously close to something heinous, something my STEM-savvy daughters refer to as “algebra.” All those variables. No thanks. I’m lucky when I remember how to change the length between intermittent windshield wiper swipes when I’m in traffic. Instagram killed my blog community—the tone over there is very post-apocalyptic, broken windows, overturned cars, and trash blowing down the street. I can’t compete with all the prettiness on Instagram, even though I enjoy it—especially during the pandemic, when the lure of vicarious adventure, vicarious dining, vicarious gawking at all that pretty stuff, transitioned from an amusing distraction to a full-bore necessity, a window into the world that was, as cheery as photos from the Johnstown Flood.

Nevertheless, I prefer something word-based, something that encourages articulation, and something more permanent than the recent trend of messages that evaporate as I read them—”stories”?–the ultimate tease, and certainly an apt subject for some sort of zen-discovery exploration about experiencing before immediately letting go. I’m not Zen at all. Not even close. My family legacy is self-destructive nostalgia and borderline hoarding. So here we are, back to the words.

I arrived at this site on the advice and encouragement of my wife and I must admit to a certain degree of leaping before I look on my way here. Immediate action to preclude reflection. But isn’t that often the way with fresh starts? There’s an element of suddenly jumping from a moving train when some disconnected voice urges “Now!”

Dumping a once-in-a-century pandemic on top of this whole mess has felt a lot like standing knee-deep in mud, hands cuffed behind my head, and being pummeled in the belly and face by a fat, shirtless clown in boxing gloves: more than irksome but not enough to kill me, leaving me bruised, nauseous and disoriented, with a chance of long-term complications. Indeed, I toyed with the idea of calling this blog “A Journal After The Plague Year,” with apologies to Daniel Defoe, but that sounded just a bit too pretentious—and I’m far too pessimistic to embrace the word “after” when it comes to SARS-CoV2. Instead, I went for “The New Old Road Apples,” referencing a former blog and a self-depreciating nudge and a wink reminder that this endeavor shouldn’t be taken too seriously. As for the old “Old Road Apples,” why not just stick with it? Why not, as the saying goes, “make 10 louder?” I made a concious decision to move on from what now feels to be too juvenile, too whimsical, and more focused on volume and production over quality of content—however arguable my use of the word “quality” may be in this context.

Conventional wisdom is that a blog—or any writing, for that matter—should be targeted towards a specific audience, bound by a cohesive topic or focus or, ideally, both. Some degree of continuity seems appropriate, but the thing is: I want to start now and I have yet to figure out the particulars. Who do I want to reach as an audience? Simple: everyone, anyone! What do I want to write about? Not quite everything, anything! And continuity? I guess that makes me the continuity.

So, that’s where we’ll begin, assuming a (possibly arrogant) relevance and proceeding as if there is some interest in what I’ve got to say. We’ll consider it a variety site with a bit of this and that: culture, politics, commentary, culture—like the Atlantic, but written by a semi-retired manual laborer pecking at an aged desktop perched upon a cluttered desk in a small, dark, cold little room at the top of the staircase. Or maybe it’s more like pantry soup: when you pull a bunch of frost- or dust-coated stuff off the shelves and out of the deep freeze and throw it together in a crock pot. With any luck, I’ll find some level of direction, or something that tastes good enough to choke down with a few slices of homemade bread, as time passes. What’s the worst that can happen?

Charles. New Years, 2021 

Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

Blame Trump? Blame Me.

I’m a big fan of the WordPress community and the creativity this outlet and the people here wring out of me–quickly written, spontaneously conceived and sloppily edited. There’s something about wise-assed rants I don’t bother to edit or even proofread that is liberating. I mean what I say, except when it is clear that I don’t, but saying it here is like whooping on a roller coaster.

Where the hell have I been, then, during a historical time of political insanity? Earlier explanations of my hit or miss–mostly miss, to be honest–have blamed the time taken to generate salable content, but the more I introspect the more I realize that I’ve allowed that fucker, Trump, to bully me out of here. I’m a political junkie. As self destructive as the habit is, I can’t help follow the news, processing every outrage. Too many of my days begin with perusing the news, wondering what the bastard has done now, and delving into the stories of the day despite the corrosive cumulative effect on my soul.

I’ve been telling myself its’ a willful thing, not wanting to slog through politics, but the truth is that I’ve been using my sagging mood as an excuse. I’ve not only stopped fighting (here, at least) but allowed the discouragement to avoid recreational creativity and cathartic bitching and moaning at the very moment I not only need it most, but which is more heavily laden with potential inspiration than any time in my adult life.

So that’s on me. I need to do better. Call me out on it if I don’t.

Categories
Commentary

Not Flood Nor Fire, Just A Blog Unattended

Here we go, boys and girls. I miss you all when I’m away, and look forward to catching up and finding out what you’ve been up to while I’ve been “away” from the wonderful world of WordPress. At the same time, tons of detritus has built up behind the dam while I’ve been attending to other concerns. So, let the fires begin….

The_Great_Conemaugh_Valley_Disaster

Nothing like a marginally obscure, and somewhat tenuous, historical reference to jump back into the blog, but…

I live about 30 miles from Johnstown, PA, sometimes known as “Flood City, USA.” That’s gallows humor, northern Appalachian style. Johnstown was a major steel producing city built in the bottom of river valleys where the Stonycreek and Conemaugh come together, but it has become more famous for the series of catastrophic floods that have swept through the city, beginning with the greatest and worst in 1889. Upstream, a private dam at a summer retreat owned by a group of mostly Pittsburgh-based super-wealthy robber barons, held back a lake on the Conemaugh, surrounded by ornate vacation mansions on beautifully manicured grounds. The rich folks would come up during the hot and humid summer months to escape the pollution in the city. The earthen dam didn’t merit a lot of attention. It was a cobbled together, poorly engineered thing that had been repaired using highly technological means such as, ahem, shoving tree stumps into leaks. May of 1889 was a particularly damp month, and in the last days of the month the rains were incessant.

On May 31, the damn broke, releasing 20 million tons of water in the already engorged watershed. Johnstown, about a dozen miles downstream, never had a chance. Hundreds were killed as the initial wall of water scoured the valley floor, and many more died at the stone bridge in the city, where a magnificent buildup of debris piled up and, adding horror atop horrors, caught on fire. At the time, it was considered the greatest disaster in American history, and even now it the carnage has been eclipsed only by the 9/11 Attacks and the great Galveston flood. The city would suffer additional floods of lesser magnitude in 1936 and 1977.

Unlike at the South Fork Dam, no one will die from my poorly maintained blog, but the device for this post crept into my head and I decided to roll with it. Inattention, stuff building up at the dam–if nothing else, I found a way to throw a little history your way.

In the meantime, it is time to let the clean-up begin, and that starts with getting all the saved Junk sorted and passed along to you. We may even see days with multiple posts…

Categories
Commentary Journal

Home Sweet? Home

DSCN1156
Early morning. Thermal features near the Artist’s Paint Pots in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

It’s been awhile: 23 days. 5974 Miles. 15 States. 10 National Parks. 2 Spectacular State Parks. 5 Motel Rooms. 7 Campgrounds. Temps 33 (Madison, Yellowstone National Park) to -99 degrees (Moab, Utah). 2 Jacuzzi nights.  About a dozen great old friends. A few new ones. A lot of new adventures.

Am I glad to be home? I’m still thinking about that one. I will say it is good to sleep in my own bed again, that it was nice to be indoors for two nights in a row, and that I missed my dog.  I guess I missed some people, too–a few here and a lot of you, there, gentle readers.

If I had it to do again, I’d take the laptop and blog from the road, even if it was only a an update now and then.  You’ll be hearing a lot of this trip–it was significant for me in many ways far and above simple nostalgia–but I’m certain a great deal of things that might have been amusing, or entertaining, or at the very least just a little bit droll, have fallen prey to my aged and distracted mind.

I didn’t write while I was gone.  Intentionally.  The object was to stoke the creative fires, build up a good appetite, and enjoy the trip viscerally rather than interpretively or expositionally, and I’m feeling some of that but, strangely, this is my third evening indoors and I had to overcome a bit of awkward reluctance to sit down and start–something I can best describe as shyness.

I met up with a group of old friends–former coworkers I met 25 years ago as a young, messed-up, kid who didn’t know the first thing about the world or himself–except that he wasn’t happy. It’s been 20 years since I saw most of them, and I was a little nervous going in: these people mean so much to me, but were we still the same people?  The sensation was disconcerting, to say the least–I’ve beaten as much of the hesitance and doubt from my soul as I could without breaking my hammer, and I’m unaccustomed to feeling awkward, but this was important. I’ve made very few friendships that move me as these people move me.

DSCN0692
Badlands National Park, South Dakota, with some innocents who have no idea I’m about to make them famous…. When you see these long narrow panorama pictures, give ’em a click…they get BIG.

And, of course, I had nothing to worry about. There was no question that the years had passed, but I fell right into the comfort of my friends’ company as naturally as if we’d been separated for a day or two–there were hugs, of course, a general marveling at how much we did/didn’t look as we once did, and a profound awe at meeting our respective children.  At least, I was awed.  Every kid I met was loaded down with coolness and cuteness and –because folks like us were drawn together for a reason–there was just a little devilry to be found in those youthful eyes.  I would remark over and over again how strange it was, to be in that place, among those people, knowing full well how much time has passed but at the same time feeling like it was nothing at all.  A blink.

How strange it was, then, to come home a few weeks later and feel estranged and awkward at my desk?  Some things I’ll never figure out–and I’m not going to waste more time talking about it.  I’ve got a ton of writing to do, both here and on The Novel, a lot of work in my day job, a lot of work around the house, and a host of other crap in front of me and, strangely enough, I feel motivated to take care of some business.  I also have over 3 weeks of my favorite bloggers to catch up with–so be patient.  I’ll be around, eventually.

Categories
Fiction Excerpt

Kilt Too Damned Many

I found this last night in a file folder full of old stuff–I’ve no idea when I wrote it, or why, or in what context, but I sure wish I did.

“A hero, pffft.” Keaner spat, “there’s them to call him that, and you say rascal which is something closer to the mark. A killer is the truth of it—a warlock, a demon, a he-witch and a defiler. He ages just a day for every 40 years and he can’t be kilt no matter what. He’s been cut, stuck, shot, smashed and burned—only the worst of it even scars him. Them injuns he cavorts with say he’s got tree sap for blood, that even if you cut him down at the ankles and cubed up his meat the bastard would grown right back from the stump like a locust and just as thorny. He’s a devil, that’s the bottom of it.”

“Why a devil, Mr. Keaner?” Arlene smiled in her mischief, “Why not an angel?”

“Aw, he’s kilt too damned many for that, little doll-girl.”

Categories
Commentary

How Is Your Blog Different Than You Intended It To Be?

A visual representation of the Junk Chuck writing process.
A visual representation of the Junk Chuck writing process.

So, I’m sitting down about a month ago, thinking of a lot of non-bloggy things: Christmas presents, the menu for our annual Christmas party, the relative lack of shrill, bleating demands to “put the Christ back in Christmas,” the inconsistent play of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and all the projects I didn’t get done this last year that I really, truly, honestly wanted to finish.

And then I thought: this was supposed to be a writing blog.  A writing blog with a lot of poetry in it.  A lot of bad old poetry I’d post for fun, and a considerable volume of new poetry I’d be inspired to write just by forcing myself to think about writing and poetry outside the context of my ongoing novel project.

I bring this up every once in a while and don’t really do anything about it, which pretty much shows how much it matters.  I like that Old Road Apples did not become the earnest depository for my pseudo-literary scribbles.  It’s much more fun as a combination bar stool/soap box/subway platform–and I’m more comfortable as a living, breathing mash-up of blowhard/busker/rabble rouser/feature writer/pornographer/doggerel-monger/wolf-crier/journalist/drunk-guy-slumped-over-the-bar.

I imagined a satisfying blog would have a little dignity.  I was wrong, at least in this case.  I feel like I’ve succeeded in part by not really thinking about dignity–or, perhaps more prescisely, pretense–at all.

64346_10100567057494079_5687454911479049322_nIn trying to think of an apt metaphor for what I feel like my blog has become, the thing that imbeds itself in my head is a cafeteria table.  Specifically, a high school cafeteria table at which I sit down with friends, some of whom I’ve known a while, others who ended up with me because of the fortunes and misfortunes of a class schedule.  (One of the big items for discussion among my children and their friends each summer when class schedules are mailed out is: “what lunch period are you eating, who else is eating at my lunch?” )  As for the actual blogging, it’s a lot like the conversations at those tables–especially since the kids, banned from their seductive devices, are forced by circumstance to interact on a personal level.  My posts, by and large, are along the lines of “hey, did you hear this?” , “check this out!”.

All in all, I could have done worse.

How has your blog turned out differently than you expected?

Categories
Commentary Funny and/or Strange

A Note on Proofreading…

An attractive young woman approached me in the kitchen early this morning and complained about the seeming lack of proofreading on Old Road Apples, forcefully implying my carelessness (carefree-ness) regarding edits was bringing shame to the entire household.  I couldn’t help but agree.  Things are a real mess.

It’s appalling, really.  I don’t know how any of you manage to put up with it. but I’m grateful that you have.

Junk Chuck
The Writer

The guy who writes this blog, however, is pretty stubborn–and utterly indifferent to the travails he inflicts upon his readers.

He says, “I’m here to write fast and dirty, to get it done and get the hell out–or post some stupid picture or video when I don’t feel like writing.”

Frankly, this guy is a bit of a jerk, this writer fellow, but he’s the best we can get on the budget we have.  Despite that, we’ve fired him straight up, at least a half dozen times, but he just comes back the next morning (or he posts a picture and sleeps in).  What can we do?  He’s too big to move by force–and no none else wants the job.

We also feel bad for the fellow.  He’s not getting any younger, and it seems like the wrong words come out of his fingers–“him” when he meant to say “her,” or “on” when he wanted to write “over.” I’ve seen places where he loses track in the middle of a paragraph and stomps his way out through the underbrush.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it, and it’s not like he has some gloriously dramatic drug-addled back story to justify his failings. The guy is just old, like my last truck. Worn out. Rusty wiring. Sloppy valves. Catalytic converter going bad–there’s this odor.  But I  don’t feel right selling him off as salvage–he was good, once, or at least serviceable.  Also, we get a charitable deduction to offset some of the insane profits we make from selling Old Road Apples Official Products, simply for keeping him around.

So, we’ll see what we can do to pay a little more attention to editing, since the ranting stream of semi-consciousness doesn’t seem to be working for everyone, some of whom are all stuck on nit-picked minutiae like posts “being readable” and “making sense”–things the writer finds to be tedious and, I suspect, a little beneath him.  (Did I tell you about his delusions of grandeur?) .  In the meantime, thanks for your patience and understanding.

The Management.

Categories
Commentary Journal Photo I Like

Sunday Morning Rumblings

I don’t have a particular topic in mind, and while it occurs to me that I could open up my links to news pages and scour the daily dose of mayhem, gloom, and marketing for the latest tragedy/outrage/scourge/feel-good moment of the day, so that I might feed my hungry inner commentator, I sometimes feel that the media–like well-intentioned advice–is best left ignored.  There’s something to the old “ignorance is bliss” chestnut.

Dedicated readers, after waiting all weekend, crowd around screen to drink from my cup of wisdom.
Dedicated readers, after waiting all weekend, crowd around screen to drink from my cup of wisdom.

Before I go further, here’s a picture I’m including because, let’s face it, people don’t click on, let alone read, blog posts that don’t have any pictures.  (Ignorance tempered by cynicism should be mistaken for wit.)

The real reason I haven’t posted this weekend is that Peter Freuchen, the subject of my previous post, is so awesome a figure, and the photo of him and his wife so magnificently iconic, that I have been reluctant to create a new piece that would–that does–push him down the feed.  That’s the kind of photo that might actually justify closing a blog with a sigh and a “I can’t do any better than this.  It’s over.”  But not to worry, I’ll trudge on.

Has that ever happened to any of you–you like a post so much you don’t want to post “on top” of it and make it slide down from the top of the blog.

It’s been a mixed bag weekend.  The Steelers got hammered by the Ravens (which, admittedly, is better than getting hammered by teams I don’t respect, but still)–yet I missed most of the game in favor of dinner with friends.  The local high school won in dramatic, overwhelming fashion, and my Alma mater got pummeled despite being nationally ranked before than game.  Pitt won, tipping scales towards the positive.

ForSalePics1035My 3-year old lawnmower broke and requires a real pain in the ass repair–I can do it, but I have to remove the mowing deck and drill a hole–and while that sounds straight forward enough, it’s hours of fun.  Sigh.  The good news: my wife bought me a really sweet vintage cub cadet from a guy up the street, for a great price.  It’s built like a tank and the engine purrs like new.  I started it three times.  Fourth time: nothing. There’s a minor electrical hitch somewhere, or maybe the starter died.  Talk about “Are you kidding me” moments!  Even needing a repair, it’s a great deal on a great machine, but enough is enough.

warlockOn the plus side, my neighbor gave me a big, beautiful  beer for no other reason than he’s a good guy, and my daughter went out for Chinese food with her boyfriend.  The latter might not sound like a big deal, but you want to know what I found in the refrigerator at midnight last night.  Opps!–I stumbled and that General Tso’s accidentally fell in my stomach.  I hate when that happens.

the general

Categories
Commentary

Henry Miller’s 11 Writing Commandments

I’m offering a rare repost, but this one is irresistible–not only for the racy photo of Henry Miller, but his rules for writing. I’ve broken all of them within recent memory–my shortcomings and failures are no longer inexplicable. Check out “Journelle Frivolous”–it’s well worth the time.

Categories
Commentary Journal Quote

Response To Suzie81’s “7 Questions For Bloggers.”

Last year Suzie81 stirred up the blogosphere with a wonderfully successful post that posed 7 significant questions to bloggers.  It was so successful she’s decided to give it another go-round.  There is no way i can resist–and why should I?  Here goes:

Interrogation
Annie Leibowitz photo

1. How did you create the title for your blog? I’m a big poetry fan and an enthusiastic, in not particularly talented or prodigious poet–the jump from the word “poem” to the french word for an apple, “pomme,” is a short one. Ed Abbey, one of my favorite writers, has a small collection of his verse collected in a book called “Earth Apples”–making the same connection.  Now, around these parts it’s not uncommon to see piles of horse dung on the backroads, which my grandfather always called “road apples.”  Many of the early posts on this blog were old pommes, I mean pomes, I mean poems–old apples, if you will, and kind of shitty at that…the title for my new blog became obvious.

2. What’s the one bit of blogging advice you would give to new bloggers?  There are no rules here beyond civility–write what you want, when you want it, and have a blast doing it.  In other forms of writing, we need to be market sensitive–who is the client, what do they want, who is the target audience, what do they want, what do they expect?  Unless you’re looking to monetize your blog, or you covet fat statistics, there is no reason to do anything but what you enjoy–and there aren’t many formats in life that provide that opportunity.

3. What is the strangest experience you’ve ever had?  I was baptized as a child–that’s a pretty weird thing, if you think about it. Lightning once struck the ground a few feet from where I stood–I could feel the static in my beard, and smell the ozone and electric discharge..

4. What is the best thing that anybody has ever said to you?  “I love you.” Seriously, what other answer could there be?  

just answer the questions
just answer the questions

5. When presented with a time machine, which one place and time would you visit? That’s difficult–the first Christmas, maybe? Talking barnyard animals and angels hovering over a bunch of bewildered shepherds? How cool is that?   

6. If you had to pick a new first name, what would you choose? I’m named for my grandfather. There isn’t another name in the world I’d like better.

7. If your life was a B-Movie what would it be called? The Thing That Slept Through Breakfast.

Questions, Questions, Questions: The WordPress Community Experiment