Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11th, 2001 || Vignettes


It is an existential truism that we are all looking for meaning in things: life, death, lost loves, the existence of God, and even two planes crashing into a building.

I’m not sure what I can derive from that last one.

When it’s all said and done, like World War Two and the JFK assassination, millions of words will have been written and billions of thoughts expounded questioning why this happened, and what it all means.

9 years on, those questions still linger.

The fact is, the terrorists knew that those Towers represented wealth and prosperity, that they were a symbol of New York and all it stood for: reaching for the sky, being the biggest, the tallest, the best. And if they could hurt you in any way, they’d do it by destroying what you love most, the thing that is most enduring and endearing, the legacy, If only to strike fear into you. Because nothing strikes fear into a person like seeing something so permanent and irreplaceable, something they love, be destroyed so senselessly.

This is the mandate of the terrorist.

* * * * * * * *

Watching the first building fall, I was aghast. At the time I had no idea the members of the NYFD had marched in there to save lives.

I am ashamed to admit, I was the first to chastise these guys for going in there. Surely they knew that structure could topple on them, that they might not come out alive. They had wives. They had children. What were they thinking? It dawned on me that these were the kind of guys who put their lives on the line every day, without hesitation. They probably went in there bent on saving every single person in that building, because who else was gonna do it? And I wonder, would I have had the courage to do that?

Every one of those guys … I cannot express how I feel about them.

* * * * * * * *

The image is indelible: the iconic New York Attitude.

It’s no wonder a lot of us cried. Seeing burly NY cops and Firefighters weeping, exhausted, faces smudged with dust and grime. These guys didn’t sleep; they had a job to do. Accounts from the time document that some of these guys had to be told to go home. They had been on the job for days. Emotional and physically wrecked, they soldiered on.

Those tough New Yorkers. Even there in the streets with billowing concrete dust obscuring their vision, faces ghost-like, they stand before the television cameras and talk to the media. They appear strong, stoic, as is their wont. I can see that, for the benefit of the television audience glued to their sets, that these people are putting on a brave face.  No one wants to cry in front of other people, especially a whole nation of people.

* * * * * * * *

Monday, September 11th, 2001

We’re parked at the side of Britannia road E. in Toronto, just in front of a runway at Pearson International Airport which ends beyond the large fence. It’s 9:30 PM, and the car is filled with the smell of Tim Horton’s coffee. We’re chatting quietly, but there isn’t much to say. We came out here on a whim because we couldn’t believe all air traffic in North America had been shut down. The gravity of it hits us, but we don’t cry. Guys won’t cry in front of other guys.

* * * * * * * *

America, New York, the World Trade Towers; as a Canadian they are almost an abstract thing. I eventually went to Manhattan years later, in 2006, visited Ground Zero even; Just a hole in the ground by then; no match for seeing those magnificent edifices in real time, rising into the sky. Only faded news clips, and old films are left. Man on Wire, the documentry about Philippe Petit, the man who wire-walked across the towers, I watch it and it makes me teary, I’ll admit. He felt a love for those buildings that was almost metaphysical. In 2001, these things were still an abstraction to me. I sat in that car at the airport watching the silent night skies, sipping my coffee, and wondering what it was all about. Almost ten years later, I still am at a loss for the meaning of it all.

* * * * * * * *

On a personal level, I never understood the terrorist mandate. I never understood how you could take a plane full of innocent people and then proceed to fly it into a building filled with more innocent people. My soul could not, and cannot, comprehend it. Cold blooded, cold blooded … and what’s more, I keep putting myself in that building; I’m there, I can’t help it. I want to know what those people felt when they knew their lives were going to end, when they opened up their cell phones and started calling out to people they loved. I wonder about those last messages. How do you say goodbye like that? How do you toss yourself from the window of a 110 story building? How do you march into a building as a firefighter knowing you may not walk out again, see the blue sky again, hold your kids or kiss your wife again?

* * * * * * * *

9 years later, the only meaning I can gather from any of this is, live life while it’s good, be happy, be alive, stop and smell the flowers once in a while, and remember the people of 9/11, lest we forget. || David Hunter

Originally posted in 2010

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Extraordinary Life of Inanimate Objects

In 1997 I was working a construction job re-enforcing foundations, which requires a lot of digging. Six feet down I found this Crush bottle from 1957 (it says so right on the back).

My guess is it had been part of the landfill for the building back in the 50’s, because not only did I find the Crush bottle, but plates, cups, smoking pipes, and various eating utensils. Was Mel’s Diner buried down there?

I also found a human Femur bone, but that’s another story.

Anyway, I rescued the thing, and have kept it ever since. I often hold it in my hand and wonder who drank from it and then discarded it only to buried in the foundation of a building for 40 years so I could dig it up and look at it.

And so, little Crush bottle, you’re back in the sunlight. By the way, what flavor were you? (It doesn’t say).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Old Man in Waiting

The first time I ever considered the fact that I would be old someday was when I met Gordon Burns. We shared part of a house in the North York district of Toronto some time ago, in the early 1990’s. He was 73, I was 22.

Gordon was tallish, wore big thick glasses, and walked with a slight stoop-shouldered gait. He ate soup and crackers every day, and grumbled about the economy, the weather, people, you name it. Sometimes I’d get so angry with his negativity that I’d leave the room politely. But most of the time I’d sit there and pick his brain about things, and he’d talk about his life, his family, and the war.

Yes, he was a war veteran; stormed the beach at Juno with the Scottish Essex Regiment. He bragged about how they fought all the way up into the Scheldt Estuary and freed the Dutch. After the war he stayed in England for three years and fell in love with a girl – but he decided to come back home to Canada; the worst decision of his life, he told me.

He’d shake his head, “Her father offered me his business. I should have stayed.”

The War, it seemed, was a big part of him, as I found out. Even though he said he didn’t like to talk about it, he usually did. I still tell people about his adventures; how he lied about his age to join the war effort, for one. How he came across the bodies of German soldiers that had turned black after death. How he took command of his unit because their Sergeant had fled and left them there behind enemy lines fighting off a German platoon, stuck in a barn for three days before re-enforcements could arrive, and how they survived on the sausages and old tomato preserves. He told me he woke up in the middle of a dead sleep to the heart-chilling whistle of an 88MM shell, and got up just in time to open the barn doors to let it pass out the other side though a window, saving everyone’s life. And, how only he and two other men in his unit survived those first chaotic and hellish days on Juno beach, with bullets whistling past his ears and gut-churning noise everywhere. He said he never attempted to make friends in the Army again after that.

“Were you scared?” I asked him once. I know it was a silly question, but I often wondered how it would feel to go to war, knowing you most likely will die, knowing it wasn’t a game of play tag that was going on; that the guy in the machine gun nest with the gun means to shoot me dead in my tracks.

“I was too busy to be scared. I just ran like hell,” he said, soberly. “A lot of guys just hid behind the hedgehogs on the beach crying for their mothers. Most of those guys died.”

When he wasn’t talking about the War, he was complaining about everything under the sun. He complained about his Hay Fever, he complained about Bank Machines (he still got dressed up once a week, spit-shined shoes, best tie, to go to the bank) and he complained about being old.

“Friggin’ old age,” I heard him say one day when his arthritis was acting up and he was in a miserable mood. “I’d like to be 40 again, that’s when you begin to know something in life.”

Gordon had all these plans; he wanted to make money, start a business, buy another house, a car; it was like he had the heart of a young man, but was trapped in an old man’s body. He was out of time but didn’t know it.

I moved out of the house two years later, and only saw Gordon sporadically after that. To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to see him; I was afraid of seeing him age, to become doddering and elderly. So I avoided him. It was an admission of my fear of getting old. So I eventually lost touch.

Two years ago I was reading the classified section of my local paper and came across an obituary for Gordon Burns. Died at age 89.

The man taught me how to scramble eggs, taught me about war, told me his whole life story, practically. We drank tea together, played cards, chess, spent lonely winter nights shooting the bull and listening to Glenn Miller records. He used to give me hell for that, wondered why I was listening to that ‘old-fashioned’ music and not Elvis or something. I suppose I was just trying to relate to him, and his era, and his time, a time that had long ago passed.

I considered that everything that Gordon had known, the music, the rituals, the language, the people, the traditions, had all vanished by the time he’d reached 73. And I considered that he knew he was out of his time, but was afraid to admit it. I considered that I would be cranky too if all that I’d know and loved had faded into obscurity, having been replaced by incomprehensible modern day goings-on.

I now understand Gordon more than I did then.

I still tell everyone I know about him.

He lives on. 

And I still smile when I scramble eggs the way he taught me, when I was a young kid on my own for the first time and not quite sure about the world. I suppose I’ll be grateful for that forever.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Back in 2009, I started a blog called The Writer’s Den. There was no rhyme or reason to it; I just thought it was a nice name for a site. I gave little thought to my author platform or the future, I just wanted to start sharing my thoughts as soon as possible, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.

 And of course, I started writing about ‘writing’, and got pigeon-holed as a 'writing about writing' guy.

 Recently I read a post on Kristen Lamb’s Blog (Forgive me, I cannot find the link) about this very subject. It was unforgiving, and all true; writing about writing is a crutch. It finally convinced me that I had to stop. The reason? It was always a last resort when I couldn’t think of something else to post; It became too easy to dash them off. There are already billions of writing sites – all saying the same stuff, only better. And I got the feeling that my friends were getting tired of the endless babble and shop-talk about the craft, which left non-writers out of the conversation.

Write about writing, and only writers will read it. Maybe. Possibly. They have their own stuff to worry about – without taking writing lessons from yours truly.
As for friends and non-writers, they ask me about my blog all the time, and I always have to preface it by saying ‘Here it is, but it’s mostly about writing.’ A blank stare ensues. I’ve tried to ‘repurpose’ it, but the damn thing is called ‘The Writer’s Den!’

So here we are. I’m not going to shut down the Writer’s Den, or stop posting there completely, but I am starting anew; this blog you are reading, cleverly titled Bloggo David (A play on the Irish-inspired ‘Blog ‘O David’) for instance, will be my new home. I’ll post a variety of things here, including my own cartoons, memes I want to share, guest posts, anything that drifts through my transom. For what is a blog but an expression of one’s inner soul?

You won’t find writing posts here – that will be reserved for The Writer’s Den. Truthfully, it gets harder and harder to ‘write about writing’, so the future in that regard is fuzzy. I hope you’ll all hop aboard and stay with me here. For, without you, there is no David Hunter, the writer.

I have to go now – the place is a mess. There are all kinds of things to fix around here. Stop by anytime, comment, or just relax and enjoy. Mi casa est su casa. Or something like that.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Inside David Hunter

An Interview By Jill Edmondson

Jill: A while back you did a blog post titled “When is Writing Advice ‘Bad’ Advice”. In the piece you share 10 writing tips, followed by 3 counterclaims. So now, for the record, what is the ONE piece of advice you would offer to aspiring authors, and what was the worst writing tip ever suggested to you?

David: One day when I was prattling on about my manuscript and my writing, my girlfriend interrupted me and said; ‘Would you please just shut up and write? Finish your book already! Stop talking about it!’ Which basically meant ‘for the love of God, finish something!’ Finish anything; a short story, a novella, a paragraph! Completion is the cheese. Then you can call yourself a writer. Maybe.

The worst advice I ever received was ‘Only use one exclamation mark per 100 words.’

Jill: There are a number of writers out there who don’t bother at all with social media. How necessary do you think it is to be active in social media if an author is just starting out?

David: These days it makes a writer seem either aloof or out of the loop not being on social media talking to their readers. Plus, all your potential readers are online now. Building an audience isn’t like it was in Stephen King’s day – now you have to be a ‘personality’ to stand out, to the chagrin of shy or reclusive artists. Unfortunately the shy writer may be the new James Joyce and get no attention, while the loud and flashy ‘personable’ writer may be a Dan Brown; with apologies to him, of course. I’m not a big fan!

Ultimately, the work speaks for itself. But unless people know you exist, no one will read it.

Jill: What can you tell me about your current work in progress?

David: It’s a novel based on the ‘End of the World’ scenario, following a group of survivors as they struggle with the fact that there’s no more civilization. There is another group of survivors, a decidedly more pessimistic group who walk the earth and kill anyone they find, because they want all humanity to end for good. These two groups meet, eventually, and they must confront each other, and fight it out as it were. The premise being that as long as there are two people left on earth, there will always be war. There’s certain sadness to that, don’t you think? A social satire of sorts.

I’m also working on a coming of age love story set in 1982 that’ll be published on my blog (and hopefully on Kindle and Kobo) called ‘The Dogwood Summer’. It’s my first foray into this kind of thing, but I wanted to explore the subject of time and love, as they both fascinate me.

Jill: I took a look at your bookshelf on “GoodReads” and noticed that you only gave one star to “The Da Vinci Code” and one star to “Moby Dick”. What was it about each of these that you didn’t like?

David: Moby Dick, while a great classic, was written in serial form and published in parts. It was not written as a novel, so there are a multitude of repetitious passages and minutiae to wade through. Moby’s prose doesn’t translate well to modern readers, well, to my generation at least, yet I can read Mark Twain and Jules Verne with ease. As for Dan Brown, I dislike his dialogue, it jags on me, and his writing is rather un-artistic (Yes, I’m a writing snob!). His books seem written with movies firmly in mind, with wooden characters to match. The Da Vinci Code itself has a great idea behind it, but a great idea can be ruined by bad execution. Although in this case his story idea saved it. Dialogue is the key however– if a writer messes that up, it ruins everything for me. Robert Ludlum! You cad!

Jill: You are a very active blogger. What is it about blogging that appeals to you?

David: It’s free, and a great way to get my writing out there. And, this is the key, it is instant gratification. I don’t have to wait weeks or months (years even) to publish something. Also, it allows me to experiment with different things; poetry, op-ed, essays, short stories, novellas, serials, and different genres of writing; crime fiction, horror, etc., although I haven’t posted much of it yet. I’m still shy that way. But 2012 seems to be my year; I’ll be posting a lot more fiction. Another great thing about blogging; people get to know you, and you can build a trust there. Then you can get them to read your work a lot easier.

Jill: Between fiction and nonfiction (and the many subdivisions within each) what type of writing do you enjoy doing the most?

David: Fiction. Non-fiction can get mired in reality, which can be quite boring, so then you have to exaggerate it, turning it back into fiction. There’s a vicious loop in there somewhere.

Jill: What is your highest aspiration as an author?

David: To contribute something lasting to the literary canon. I cite Gene Roddenberry, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and even Rod Serling as examples. Each created something that will outlive us all. That’s not asking too much, is it?

Jill: Which authors do you admire and why?

David: I have to say, for pure word wizardry, Edward Abbey. I read Desert Solitaire, and some of his descriptive passages took my breath away. The man described the desert sky a dozen times and each was different and fantastic. Not the greatest idea man as far as fiction went (Although his book Brave Cowboy became a movie in 1962) but he knew his way around a phrase (I think a thesaurus was planted in his head). His prose style still shows up in my work a lot. A surprisingly modern writer for his time, he kept a brisk pace and made good use of frags. For learning about the more interesting mechanics of writing, he was invaluable.

Another influence, Stephen King; too easy, right? But what he contributes is a wonderful myth-making ability. He is able to create stories that become lore; you know, like those campfire tales you heard as a kid that stayed with you because you thought they were real. Not easy to do in fiction. He has a wonderful gravitas, a weight to his story-telling that I try to emulate. There are 5 dozen others, but I won’t go on and on. Those were the first two to come to mind.

Jill: What is one of the strangest/weirdest responses or comments you’ve received from a reader?

David: In response to a post about ‘writing for an audience or for yourself’, someone wrote “one needs to write for themselves. Its purpose is not to entertain,” which I found strange.

Jill: Last question is kind of a freebie. What question do you wish I had asked but didn’t? Now ask and answer that question.

David: What does it take to become a successful writer? Well, a lot of reading. Not just reading, studying prose; how authors turn a phrase, how they transition from scene to scene, how they attribute dialogue, pace the story, and build characters. The story idea is important too; the more you read, the more you can steer away from well-trodden and clichéd avenues. There’s a lot to know. Anyone who has ever been successful at anything has studied their craft, knows the rules, and knows their stuff. You gotta train to gain, because there’s a lot of competition out there, and the only way to get ahead is to be prepared. Me, I’m getting there – it’s a journey, not a destination.