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I made a trip to the parallel universe of North Alabama.
FROM DOWNTOWN TO DOGTOWN AND BACK AGAIN
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It is just this last Thursday night. I find myself atop a mountain in Dogtown, south of Fort Payne, north of Collinsville, watching a clear cool sky and feeling the wideness of the open spaces around me.
Just east of where I am standing, the red planet Mars is appearing on the horizon, and to the west the diamond-bright planet Venus is about to be occluded by the trees below.
It is a night to take a deep breath and wonder why you can see so many more stars on this mountain, stars that you can’t see in Downtown Birmingham. Years ago, when Reed Books was located within the Wooster Lofts on First Avenue North, I would climb four flights of stairs above my bookloft at night to gaze at the city–Vulcan would wave from afar, aircraft would whoosh past to land—then leave—the airport, lone walkers would dodge the occasional automobile on the streets below. Above, the moon would moon me, a meteor would give me an instant razz, and I could see a bright star or steady planet cruising on by.
Anyhow, back to Thursday night, where my mind is right now. I’ve come to this mountain, two hours from Birmingham, to speak to a gathering of volunteer chaplains who make sure that hospital patients are not alone spiritually when they don’t want to be. Inside the restaurant—much warmer than the outside mountain air—I find folks who are relaxed and happy about where they live and what they do, in Dekalb and Cherokee Counties. They are close to Mentone and Chattanooga, not too far from Birmingham, but far enough away to feel like country folks when they need to.
It’s clear to me, a couple of hours later, as I hurtle back towards Downtown Birmingham, that most of us find a way to have some peace and quiet midst the hustle and smoke and sounds of the city. Folks back in Dogtown can go to people-laden places whenever they need a break from solitude…folks in Downtown Birmingham can find solitude when they’re done with crowds. In Downtown, I see loners finding occasional solitude in their idling cars, in pocket parks, within their earphones, behind their closed-lidded eyes, inside a restroom or in a stock room, on a streetside bench, in a quiet loft room, on the back pew of an empty church. I notice people who, even in a crowd, can find solitude for a moment—at a symphony concert, in the corner at a cocktail party, inside a book huddling in an alcove.
So, Dogtown and Downtown are just names we give places. In each place, people can find what they need if they use a bit of imagination.
Back in Birmingham the next day, as I leave work, I walk onto the parking deck adjacent to the century-old building that houses Reed Books Antiques/The Museum of Fond Memories. It is nearly dark and the sunset is spectacular in the middle of the city. To the west, I can see First Avenue South running straight toward the sun. To the north, the truncated skyscraper we used to call the Daniel Building shows evidence that some employees haven’t fled yet—perhaps they’re taking in a bit of solitude before fighting the traffic. To the east, Mars is struggling to be seen again, and a solitary aircraft dips towards the landing strip. I breathe deeply, realizing that, whether it’s Dogtown or Downtown, I can always find a sky and an interlude just when I need it most.
© 2010 A.D. Jim Reed
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When I was a mere bud on the verge of wilting or blooming, I discovered that I was alive. Not just existing, not just the figment of somebody’s bad-joke imagination, not just a folktale, not just a lump of granite…I was actually alive, I realized.
Up to that point in my brief life, I had existed on pure instinct and template, breathing, eating, obeying the rules created and enforced by beings in charge of my care. I got along, and it looked as if the world around me got along, too.
Then, one day, I yelled Shazam! and woke up to the fact that I was alive.
It was an amazement.
This kind of thing can happen only once, you know. It’s a unique experience. After all, you can’t wake up one day and discover that you’re dead. Alive is all you know.
Anyhow, after I was born, it took me a few years to come alive…but once alive, I began to record my living, my life. I wrote with crayons on walls, with large thick grammar-school-red number two pencils on butcher paper, with quill dipped in indelible ink on onionskin, with strong finger-jabs at manual typewriter keys, and eventually with keyboard-clickety glowing electronic screen.
What did I write?
Well, poetry, I guess.
What was my first poem?
Uh, I don’t know. But a very early poem came from my telescopic examination of the universe above me. I noticed that planets and satellites had texture, some human-made, some accidental-acts-of-geology-made. Thus, the poem:
Mars has scars,
The Moon has moles,
Jupiter has bars,
And Earth has H-Bomb holes.
Every poem or story I wrote reminded me that I was alive. What came out of my mind and heart and gut traveled through my fingers and wound up in print. Most of the time, the writings just popped out, unedited and ready to read. Sometimes I had no idea where they came from or what they meant. But they were always deeply felt. I had the idea that if I felt what I was writing, the reader would, too. After a half century of writing, this fact eventually had gravitas. After I wrote a few thousand pieces, I became confident, the words flowed easily, and I developed a to-heck-with-rules attitude and just write what I damned well please.
This is fun.
Now, it’s your turn to discover that you are alive.
Write me a poem
© 2010 A.D. Jim Reed