Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Quote

You fail only if you stop writing.

~ Ray Bradbury

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Ruins of Raleigh, Indiana

The Belfry
Yesterday evening Kelly and I went out for a pitch-in and our usual, Saturday night dancing. The trend started as a way of getting a little healthy exercise, but it's become a passion. At least two nights a week you'll find us polluting the hardwood of some venue with our hybrid of Latin and swing dancing. Regardless, yesterday we made the trip to Rush County and the tiny town of Raleigh and the evening kicked off with covered dishes brought in by local residents and visitors alike. The tables groaned with the usual Indiana staples: green bean casserole, chicken and noodles, and a couple versions of Mississippi Mud Cake. 

As you probably can guess, a heavy meal doesn't exactly do much for a fellow's dancing. Personally, I can attest to the fact that making three trips through the serving line doesn't make the situation much better, either. So, after dinner Kelly and I decided a little walk would be in order and, accompanied by Kelly's mother, we made our way out into the early evening to stroll along the county road that serves as Raleigh's main traffic artery. 

After walking along and enjoying the air, Kelly's mother asked if we would like to see the ruins at the edge of town. Now, I'm not sure about you, but to me the word ruin carries a certain adolescent mystique. I'm encouraged to imagine dungeons, trolls, and buried treasure. In spite of being without my trusty sword and shield, there was no way I would have thought about turning down the opportunity to see anything that could remotely be classified as a ruin. We strolled down the root-heaved sidewalk and just beyond the pole barn that serves as tiny Raleigh's fire station I caught my first glimpse of the tower. 

The warm yellow brick and arched belfry gave the impression of a monastery, somewhere in Capistrano that a flock of swallows would feel comfortable calling home. A blanket of ivy clothed the tower's midsection in green, but in spite of its cover the devastation visited on the structure could be seen. A jagged stump of wall jutted from the tower's back and the windows gaped, providing easy access for the twittering martins that claimed the building as their roost. 

The Washington Township Public School was the first consolidated school in Indiana, established by William S. Hall in 1876. Mr. Hall purportedly had a passion for education and according to INGENWEB: 

"Washington township and the town of Raleigh will ever be known as the home of the consolidated township school, such a school having been organized at Raleigh under the direction of William S. Hall as early as 1876, which is said to have been the first movement of the kind in the United States. Mr. Hall, whose ardent interest in school work is referred to elsewhere in this volume, was one of the most influential of the earlier residents of Washington township, served for years as the local justice of the peace, as township trustee, during which latter term of service he performed his notable work of school development, and later represented this district in the state legislature. His son, the venerable Frank J. Hall, now living at Rushville, who was born in this township, was elected lieutenant governor of Indiana in 1908. It is said that the first white male child born in this township was Kin Prine and first female, Polly E. Jackson. The first marriage was that of John Martin and Prudence Cooke. The first school teacher was John N. Penwell." 

On the Threshold
I walked up the path that hundreds of children must have tread on their way to school and crossed the ancient threshold into the ruins of an old school. The door opened to a jumble of bricks and fallen stone and to my right I could see the charred remains of a staircase that must have led up to the belfry. Standing there, staring at the corn and silos, an air of depression fell over me. How many places like this one have been lost to the modern age? How many small towns are like Raleigh, dwindling into dust in the era of globalization, urbanization, iThis, and That-pod? Don't get me wrong, I'm no Luddite. I love my indoor plumbing, effective medicine, and the interconnectedness that the internet offers, but I recognize the clunk of falseness that comes from our footsteps as we all boldly stride into a future where we're increasingly disconnected from one another and under the sway of the new, corporate Rockefellers. I know that "friending" someone is not the same as being their friend. The heralds of simpler times, those that possibly never really existed, call to me whenever I visit a place like the old school house. 

Outside the ruined school in a fenced off plot a plaque is mounted on a bolder. It reads: 

The Plaque
This Marks the Site of the
First Consolidated School
in Indiana
Established 1876 by
William S. Hall
trustee of Washington Township
"Our school was the first, make it the best."
Erected by Tuesday Study Club

I don't know if the marker came during the school's time or afterward, as a remembrance of glory days gone by. Tuesday Study Clubs were (and are) social groups similar to book clubs and they tended to draw retirees who had time and a desire to socialize, so the '27 group could have been marking their golden youth when the monument to the school was put in place.

I wanted to put out a call to anyone who might have grown up in Raleigh, IN or the surrounding area - especially anyone who might have attended the old Washington Township Public School located in Raleigh, IN. I'd like to hear your stories of the place, what it was like to attend school there, what do you remember about the town and its people. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Quote

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.

~ Robert A. Heinlein

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fun with Authors

I just received an update on my Facebook account from one of my favorite radio programs, A Way with Words. It linked to a nice slide show from Flavorwire showing famous authors doing amusing (sometimes silly) things. Paging through the images makes me feel better about my own odd habits. Maybe I should adopt a few more to help with my success?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Blimp

In my part of the country, May brings thoughts of the Indy 500 and auto racing. I've never been a fan of motor sports. I'm not sure of the reason. It might be due to the fact I grew up close enough to the 500 track to hear the practice laps. Maybe that made the idea of the race too passé. Then again it might be a version of the same affliction that bothers the locals in just about every tourist destination, a simultaneous love and loathing of the hoards who flock to your town to spend money. The restaurants are filled, the streets are crowded, the stores are emptied, and the price on gas gets gouged an extra percentage. All of that can leave a taste of resentment on the pallet. 

The one thing I do remember fondly, though, is hearing the droning of propellers and running to my suburban back yard to watch the Goodyear Blimp passing overhead. I remember it donned in lights, flashing advertisements aimed at whoever else was drawn out by the sound of its passing to look up into the nighttime skies. Apparently the ad campaigns weren't very effective because I don't remember anything they were selling. I always imagined I might see the blimp signal to me; send a message that I should meet it in some remote field. I'd spend the rest of that evening imagining what it would be like to slip out the back door after everyone had gone to bed. I'd creep away to my rendezvous and before the sun came up I'd be gone on an adventure. The message never came, though, and May followed May until the idea of a fantastic escape died under the weight of daily life. 

Eventually, I got a toy blimp as a present, complete with a motorized, backlit sign with transparencies that could be colored in to create messages. It hung on monofilament in the bedroom window and occasionally I'd turn the battery-powered motor on to watch the messages I created scroll by. To this day I miss that blimp and when I've got a spare moment, sometimes I find myself browsing the internet in search of a replacement.

The blimp represented leaving everything behind and having nothing ahead but the horizon and scattered stars. The blimp of my memories was huge and silver, its seams ending in a bright red nosecone. The gondola that hung beneath seemed tiny compared to the envelope of helium that kept it aloft. There'd only be room for myself and maybe the dog, but together we'd find a better place and start a fantastic life there. I'm always slightly disappointed when I see the new blimp, smooth and painted in corporate colors, lacking the flickering a sign with which to signal the world. It seems smaller, though I'm not sure if that's not just an artifact of growing up. Still I can't help but running outside when I first hear that droning sound of engines, and my mind turns toward the horizon.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Quote for Friday

Write drunk; edit sober.

~ Ernest Hemingway

The Royal #10

The Royal #10 Typewriter
 Ed and Lynn, a pair of good friends who are just back from a Hawaiian trip, made me a gift of an old Royal #10 Typewriter yesterday. It’s a solid old machine, minted in 1933 and weighing in at a good 25 pounds of solid metal, rubber, and glass. It’s a beautiful machine for an era when it took just under 20 hours to fly from coast to coast, construction of the Golden Gate Bridge had just began, and Europe began its slide into World War II. It also was the year Dashiell Hammett wrote The Thin Man, Agatha Christie wrote The Hound of Death, James Hilton wrote Lost Horizon, and Ellery Queen wrote the American Gun Mystery.

The old Royal has weathered the nearly ninety years it’s been existence with a kind of grace that can’t be ascribed to modern consumer products. The iPod I purchased less than a year ago is scratched shows evidence of every grain of grit it’s encountered. The Royal has a few sticky keys and needs a good cleaning as well as a new ribbon, but it’s no worse for nearly reaching its 100th birthday.

I think we had the same typing teacher...
 There’s something about a machine that’s been around as long as my Royal. It has a kind of gravitas, a force of personality that transforms everything it comes in contact with. It even changes the atmosphere, perfuming it with the scent of old machine oil and ink and putting me in mind of my seat in the back of typing class at high school. Apparently, this is an experience that takes me back to the Great Depression. While writing this piece I found a photograph of young men taking typing lessons and if you look at the fellow in the back row, closest to the camera, he's using a Royal #10. This machine takes you back to a more physical time, a time when it took more effort to do anything than it does now. Even typing your name requires reacquainting yourself with the right wrist position and getting a feel for keys that have to be struck with a little force. It has a sound, and I’m not talking about the hushed warble of plastic computer keys. The Royal hammers your thoughts into the paper, indelibly with mistakes embedded in the end result. It clatters and sounds like it ought to eject a hot casing at the end of each line of text. An old typewriter is noir. It embodies all the hard edges and tough truths, mistakes that can only be covered over and periods that will punch right through a manuscript.

The Royal is the latest step in my assembly of a good, old fashioned detective-style office. It goes well with my old, tube-type radio, wing back chairs, and reproduction Craftsman Style desk. Once I make some hard decisions about furnishings, I’ll be painting and putting up wainscoting and eventually getting a single-light door with my name painted on the glass and a brass mail slot. All I need is a brick wall view and neon light seeping in through the blinds and I’m an alcohol addiction and a partner short of turning into Mike Hammer or Sam Spade. I’ll have to resist taking clients and focus on my writing. As Hemingway once said, "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

H. P. Lovecraft Quote

"Almost nobody dances sober, unless they happen to be insane.”

- H. P. Lovecraft