As Christmas season approaches, I become more mindful of living with a sense of mystery. This is faith to me. Not certainty. Not belief. But being comfortable with the not knowing. Embracing it. Letting it be whatever it will be. Isn’t that the most apt name for God? Who is God, we may ask Moses, to which he would reply, “The I am that I am.”
Although, I do not assert the commonly held interpretations of the Biblical Christmas stories as fact, per se, they are deeply meaningful to me, and if you presented me with incontrovertible evidence to their veracity, I would not blink an eye, and it would not change the way I live because I believe following Christ has less to do with believing and everything to do with loving.
My father is a man who believes in the power of mystery. I raise his name in this story only as a matter of speculation, because I have absolutely zero proof that he had anything to do with this mystery friend. for whoever it was, pulled it off without flaw.
I discussed this briefly with my twin, Paul. We both believe that visits from the Mystery Friend began soon after we found a trainset under our parents’ bed one Christmas season that supported an opposing view on Santa. We would have been seven or eight. This new view of the holiday universe did not ruin anything for me. It was simply shifted the experience. But, as often is the case, the unraveling of one mystery leads to a new mystery.
Sometimes, when the air hits me just right, I’ve just returned from an early Saturday morning paper route—a Tears for Fears tune from my portable cassette player still running through my head. I’m sinking back under the covers with the damp coolness of the bike ride in my hair and the smell of newsprint on my hands.
As I sip a cold mineral water with a splash of non-alcoholic rhubarb aperitif (bitter sweet) on the second floor landing of my temporary abode, I reflect on a strange moment of the evening. The last, quiet nights of summer hold a sad sweetness for me. I’ve written about two such nights already: Home Turf and Un Dolce Momento Triste; both special and unique and profound for me.
My father-in-law and his wife joined us at Victoria’s Pasta Shop in downtown Norman to commemorate the passing of a friend, by eating his favorite sandwich: the chicken parm sandwich–a chicken parm served on a cheesey baguette with a side of Norman’s best marinara. We shared our sweetness, sorrow, and laughter with each other. As the light began to fade on our patio table, we decided to pay the bill and take a stroll in the warm, evening air. While my father-in-law and my wife went to put some stuff in their cars, I stood in the back alley of the line of downtown shops and restaurants chitchatting with Linda about wanting the Norman Music Festival to return. We’d seen many bands near this alley over the last few years.
“You know it’s gonna rain tomorrow.”
We both turned to see who was speaking to us in such a low, gruff voice. He had a slightly rough appearance–dirty t-shirt, tan skin, ballcap, gray beard. The beard was the tidiest piece of his appearance. He was smoking a cigarette and smelled faintly of beer. I couldn’t gauge Linda’s response, but I was a little anxious about being approached by a stranger at night in an alleyway. I stole a glance back to the parking lot to see if the rest of our party was returning.
“Oh yeah?” I said, remembering that rain wasn’t in the forecast until next week…the day before fall, in fact. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. “Yeah, I heard there’s some rain on the way.”
“Yup. I woke up in the middle of the night last night, and saw stars, but no moon,” he continued. “The stars were as clear as could be. But no moon.”
Linda looked up to the south of us, over the roof of Victoria’s and pointed out the half moon. “Well there it is tonight.”
“Oh but it wasn’t there last night,” he said with easy certainty. “You watch. It’s gonna rain. Won’t be much, but it will rain.”
He stamped out his cigarette and began to walk back into the bar with his back to us, saying, “Yep, it’s gonna rain, and you can tell people I said so.”
“Ok then! Well I’m gonna hold you to it!” I shouted after him with good nature. “If it doesn’t, I’m gonna come find you!”
I’ve learned that street encounters like this are usually worth enduring a little unease for. I don’t know the basis of his science. Perhaps he was a farmer with folk methods. Perhaps he was just drunk, prone to storytelling. While writing this, I did look a the forecast–nothing but sunshine.
I believe in signs. I look for them in the difficult times of my life such as this week; losing a friend and losing my aunt. I don’t know if this is a sign for me or for just the rain or for the folly of a strange men in alleyways.
As I reflect, I am remembering a detail. When he approached, I thought I knew him. He looked vaguely like my friend who had just passed. If it were some spectral manifestation of him? I wonder what sign would he be giving me?
We’ve been looking to the moon and stars for signs as long as we’ve been a species. The stars to guide us, the moon to give us just enough light to make our way. And right now? I’m fumbling in the dark a bit. With grief, with indecision, with fatigue, with insecurity…no moon to the light my footsteps…and yet there are the stars giving me the tools to continue to move in the right directly even if a little clumsy–to what, I cannot say.
Perhaps there will be an inexplicable rain shower soon, but I don’t need it. I don’t need something to validate the mysteries and wonders and unknowable truths in my life. What I will remember is not whether it rained or not, but that a stranger in a sometimes lonely world wanted to give me a peek at his truth.
A very special aunt died yesterday. We knew it was coming. Once it became inevitable and once her quality of life had deteriorated, we wished it to happen as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Everyone seems to be grieving healthily and beautifully. But what is grief? Why do we even have to experience it? This is one of those posts where I just have to work through something. I’m not sure where it will take me.
My favorite site in the world https://www.etymonline.com/ looks to various roots that involve the the words “heavy” and “burden”. That is the feeling, right? Grief feels very weighty. My heart, which can be light, is now heavy. And “sorrow” is another word associated. Sorrow, in terms of grief, seems to have a weight to it.
Then there is “bereave”, which is to have something taken away from you. So, when someone you are close to dies, you feel the weight of sorrow from having someone taken or separated from you.
Although I’m curious about the science behind this phenomenon, I’m not in a place to investigate anything on that level. I’m talking about the experience of grief.
I am a perpetual, creative motion man. If I didn’t have a wife to spend time with and to let know that she’s important to me, I would probably write, make music, and code non-stop. It’s part of my bipolar disorder, but it’s also one of my innate qualities.
I’ve been in an intensive collaborative creative project for the last few months and will continue for a few months more. I am writing a podcast musical with a couple of songwriters. We just put out the first episode. It’s at the bottom of this post if you’d like to hear it. I did all the writing and the marketing and this Saturday I told my wife I was exhausted and in need of a break. Later that day, my wife got off the phone with her mother and said, “I was telling my mom about your project and that you were exhausted. She said, ‘He’s finally exhausted? I never thought that would happen!'”
It struck me as funny. I laughed at it. She’s a wonderful mother-in-law and likes to give a good ribbing from time to time, but it left me thinking. I know I’m exhausted, but am I exhaustING to other people? Is my perpetual motion a perpetual nuisance?
As someone who handles most of his own marketing, this is often a concern of mine. Are my friends just sick of it? Maybe less than I think, but I do think I can be a lot to take.
And what is at the core of all this nearly inexhaustible work ethic? Well, of course, I love writing; otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I also believe in my writing. I think it’s worth reading, and I believe with the right visibility, my writing could catch on. I truly believe that it is a matter of time. This musical could be the lucky break. It’s a unique project that is getting a lot of play–much more than anything else I’ve written.
But I’m gonna be transparent with you. Deep down. What is this drive? I’m not even sure I know myself, but I often think about a party I attended in my twenties. My wife and I had formed a tight bond with a group of young couples from church. We called ourselves the DINKs (Double Income No Kids). It was such a fun group and was such a formative time for us all. At this party, a Cuban-born friend started doing a party trick: palm reading–something he’d learned from his abuela in Cuba.
With great interest, I watched him read a few palms. It was very entertaining and he frequently assured us that it was just a fun party trick and to not take it seriously. My wife went first. The only thing I remember is that her palm indicated that she would have a couple of other husbands on down the road. It’s been 27 years, and so far it’s just been me. Then it was my turn.
The party was starting to get boisterous. We were enjoying cocktails and munchies and had split into groups: the living room group, the kitchen group, and the palm reading group in the den. The lights were low and we were laughing and enjoying each other’s forecasts. My wife left her seat on the ottoman next to the chair Carlos was working from. He was a big man–tall, full-bodied–with a very neatly trimmed beard and a snappy haircut. He was a good speaker–quick-witted, engaging, smart.
He offered my hand and he put it in the palm of his own hand. The only light in the room was the lamp next to his chair. He turned my hand to the light and began tracing the lines of my palm–occasionally making sounds like “hmmm.” Every reading I’d watched was about relationships, children, and careers, but not mine.
He said, “Wow, David. This is really interesting. I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
If my wife didn’t say it, I’m sure she thought it, “Heeeeeerrrrre we go. There is nothing ordinary about this man.”
He pointed to a longish line and said, “See this line? This is your fame line. David, in all the times I’ve been doing this yours is the longest fame line I’ve ever seen.”
I said, “Wow, really? You think I’m gonna be famous?”
He examined it a little closer and said, “Nope, but you’re going to be almost be famous.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“I couldn’t tell you, but I think that you’re gonna get very close several times.”
Jesus. Almost famous. That seems worse than not ever getting close to famous! I’m almost going to be famous?!
I think that on some level, that sparked a desire in me; a desire to conquer Fate. Doomed to be almost famous, and so far, my palm has not lied. In my musical and writing endeavors, I’ve been close to success—especially with writing. I believe that I am close to a hit blog, a hit book, or a hit musical. So close! Almost famous!!! ARRRRRRRGGGG!!!!
I can hear my wife saying, “Why does it matter? Just enjoy it. Why do you have to be famous?”
My answer is, “Well, I don’t have to be famous. I just want to be successful. I want my work to be acknowledged, read, enjoyed, and profitable.”
But to be totally honest? I wouldn’t turn down a little fame either.
Remember the original version of The Simpson’s on Tracey Ullman? Or Mickey Mouse on Steamboat Willy?That is this version of Robot Love. A demo performed by one of our songwriters, Gregg Standridge.And it is too awesome not to share.
I am so excited to announce the publication of my book, “A Whiff of Life and Death” with Kentstead Media! I know that you will enjoy it! It also makes me happy that $2 of every sale goes to shelter the homeless. This is what Kentstead has to say:
“This book by David Wilson-Burns is sure to engage your imagination, entertain your senses, tug at your heartstrings, and leave you with a tear in your eye and a smile on your face. David is gifted at character-driven stories, and you’ll no doubt finish this book a little in love with the very odd, very quirky Jim Bronson.”
As I navigate my way through the beginnings of a writing career, my number one goal is to be read. I have a publisher for one of my books, but my latest book is still unsigned: Bay City Runaway. I’ve published it myself on Amazonand a number of people have read it. But as is often the case with self-publishing, sales have dwindled to nothing. I could blow some money on a large marketing campaign to boost sales, but at this point, I just want readers.
I feel good about the book. I think it has an audience, but Amazon is the largest pond in the book world, so I’m going to do what I’ve done before and share my writing for free on various smaller platforms to raise readership.
My publisher is looking at this book and has no problem with me doing what I want with it in the meantime while they work on my current project. When/if the time comes to hand it over to them, I will take the book offline and give them exclusive rights to it.
You can read this book as a daily serial at the following websites including my own.
David Wilson-Burns offers his gritty and emotionally potent debut novel, Bay City Runaway, a story of two runaways finding each other in their escape from abuse and tragedy.
James, a thirty-something software wiz with a drinking problem, runs away to San Francisco to escape a tragedy in his home state of Oklahoma. In front of his favorite pub one night, a teenage girl with a nasty bruise on her face asks for a cigarette. He sees her several more times and gives her food and smokes. She appears to be living on the street, running away from abuse. Late one night, the frantic teen, Amy, shows up at his China Town apartment. Having nowhere else to go, she seeks shelter and protection from her abuser, who could show up at any time. They form an unlikely and complicated friendship.Wilson-Burns’ moving and engaging novel brings to vivid life the struggling, lonely alcoholic, the precocious, street-wise teenager, and the sexually-charged complication of a would-be girlfriend, Kyra, as their lives become intertwined.
He also captures 1990s college life as he tells the story of how a new friend, Zach, helps James win back the girl he will marry, leading up to the tightly kept secret of the tragedy that puts him on a plane to San Francisco in 2007.
In gripping detail, Wilson-Burns delves deeply into how alcoholism can grow from little seeds into a tragic and disastrous bloom.
Wilson-Burns uses his expressive, straightforward writing style to create an emotional experience for the reader and brings a deep sense of redemption and faith in humanity into his characters and story. Those who have experienced alcoholism in their lives will identify powerfully with James and Amy’s struggles. He shows how love, friendship, and faith can redeem the running, lost, and hurting.
There is an old adage that we hear what we want to hear. I think it is a good adage. It speaks to the deep human propensity to make disturbed and muddy the clear, still waters of reality. But like much of the world, belief is a complicated force. Perhaps it is all in how we use it. Where would we be without the believers and the dreamers? I know my life would have much less meaning and fun without belief in the yet proven–in other words, faith.
When I was a child, I came across a film one day flipping through our limited selection of channels on TV: The Legend of Boggy Creek, a docuhorror about a bigfoot-like creature supposedly sited in Fouke, Arkansas throughout the 1940s and 1950s. It was both terrifying and fascinating. Perhaps it was the first horror movie I ever watched. It has long been one of my favorite genres. I was convinced that the movie was absolutely true–perhaps it was.
On the large scale of history, internet social media is still in its infancy. We have been exploring its boundaries now for 20 years (even more for some early adopters). We have discovered what is valuable about it and what is ugly about it. Many have disengaged because of the uglier facets. But most remain, tolerating the ugly for the valuable.
We now have a new society unlike any in human history—one which spans the globe and which encompasses to full diversity of humanity—and we haven’t yet figured out how to order this new society. What was once considered unacceptable in society is now commonplace. We have entered a new Wild West.
But I believe it is time to establish order. The power brokers of the various platforms are trying to do this, but ultimately it is in our hands.
I do not have a person in my friend list who I do not love and believe to have sacred worth, but I’m finding that Facebook is not a healthy platform for me to be associated with some.
There are many people on this planet who never had a platform for their hate and disrespect. You may blame platforms such as Facebook for that, but the reality is that we control the scope of that platform with our friend lists.
For our new society to thrive and be of value, I believe we must not allow unwanted behavior to thrive by giving it such a huge outlet.
It’s unfortunate that Facebook as used the word “friend” and “unfriend” to describe our granting and denying access to our individual Facebook worlds. Because it makes it too personal as if to say “hey, being connected with you through this technology is not working out so I guess we can’t be friends.” Yes, if Facebook was the only basis for our relationship, perhaps that is true, but I have several friends and acquaintances who I connect with in positive ways outside of Facebook and just want to limit it to that.
If you consistently exhibit behavior which is preventing our new society from growing in positive, healthy ways, and you’ve been given ample warning, I will not “unfollow” you, because that does not limit the scope of your behavior and influence. I will “unfriend” you, not to tell you I do t want you in my life, but because it’s time for social media to grow up a little bit. It’s time to take a new step toward maturity.
This is not about dividing. I want diversity, but we can have differing views without the bad behavior.
I propose we all do the same.
Someone pees in your pool once? Say something. They pee in the pool again? Kick’em out. Maybe the lake would be a better place for them.
My voice teacher in college was a truly unique man. A New Yorker, painter, self-styled urban cowboy, French song interpreter, and gifted singer. He was particular–perhaps an acquired taste. He had a gaggle of devoted fans, mostly older women, who attended all of his recitals. He projected an air of sophistication, confidence, and elegance, unlike anyone I had met. I too was a big fan. I admired him greatly.
He taught me a word quite uncommon in Oklahoma. I had to ask what it meant. I don’t remember the exact context, but I will fill in the blank. During a lesson one day, he was describing something–a house, a hotel, a restaurant, an art gallery, someone’s fashion…can’t remember. In describing it he said, “Yes. Very chi-chi.” (also shi-shi)