Sometimes.

“If you see something that looks like a star
And it’s shooting up out of the ground
And your head is spinning from a loud guitar
And you just can’t escape from the sound
Don’t worry too much, it’ll happen to you
We were children once, playing with toys
And the thing that you’re hearing is only the sound of
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest, was
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“If you had just a minute to breathe
And they granted you one final wish
Would you ask for something like another chance?
Or something sim’lar as this?
Don’t worry too much It’ll happen to you
As sure as your sorrows are joys
And the thing that disturbs you is only the sound of
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest, was
The low spark of high-heeled boys (heeled boys)

“If I gave you everything that I owned
And asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me as I would for you?
Or take me for a ride
And strip me of everything, including my pride —
But spirit is something that no one destroys
And the sound that I’m hearing is only the sound
The low spark of high-heeled boys (heeled boys)”

TRAFFIC

“The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”

Sometimes.

Sometimes is a bad location in the terrain of life; it is in my case.  It’s the ever-shifting space not on any map — suddenly, one arrives upon it and has no idea how long it must be endured.  It is an occasion of indefinite duration that may immediately be followed by another… and then another.  Or one may traverse it and not encounter such again for quite awhile.

How many times a day did Voltaire contemplate throwing his quills out the window, do you suppose?  How many days did this happen in a lifetime?  Physically, he could have gotten by perfectly well without writing a revolution into being — especially not knowing whether there’d be any revolution or not at the time.  Lacemakers gave him income; writing made him trouble.

But once a year on the anniversary of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, he became violently ill without fail, ran a fever, vomited, had to take to bed for a space.  All because the utter injustice and hate of it ate away at him so badly and his conscience was such that he suffered for the dead in his own flesh.

So, back to the quills and ink.  Like it or not.

He was a man of good, high spirits not often given to fits of melancholia; instead, his bile came forth as bouquets of wit and satire.  Right and wrong, it was beautiful and effective.

The temptation to quit all his creative activities or hide them away never seemed to be part of his life — his “sometimes” came in the form of having to escape the censors and the crown by fleeing to Switzerland.  A dangerous but adventuresome sometimes that at least let him know: “Voltaire, you are one effective son of a bitch.”

I am no Voltaire.  Yes, I become physically ill when wars erupt — I ran a 104 degree fahrenheit fever during the debate over the first Gulf War after protesting it with the Quakers and became so sick I wound up at the hospital.  The whole thing, as a memory, is hallucinatory and terrible: I felt to my depths that this was the beginning of a string of horrors for humanity.  And so it was though I could do nothing about it but lie in a bed of torment for a couple of weeks.

My art turned more political after that and my writing often the same until I became a lone voice crying in the wilderness during George W. Bush’s administration — in a small Appalachian town, I wrote lead-heavy long essays for the county’s only newspaper, the only weapon of protest I had to oppose illegal domestic spying, torture, kidnapping, lying, our soldiers being sent to die for Halliburton, human beings — as vicious as some were — redefined legally to the point they were outside the possibility of due process.

Hatred, in the main, was my repayment.  That and $10.00 a pop for the privilege of penning those 5 and 6 page essays every couple of months.  But all that’s external and insignificant: I had to bear witness to the times and use my small voice to say what someone more important should have been saying from the floor of the Senate.  My own conscience would not let me throw my pens out the window.  Maybe that’s why Voltaire never threw his own.

People think it’s my paranoia acting up like a bout of rheumatism, but I swear to you at the height of my writing, the last two years of nearly six years as a freelancer at that paper, all my mail arrived in the box pre-opened.  Was it angry locals at the post office trying to dig up dirt?  Was it the FBI not even bothering to cover their tracks anymore?  (After all, who was I going to call: The FBI?)  All I know, once I was banned from writing for the paper — yes, that happened — my mail was fine thereafter.

That was one of those “sometimes” I felt so defeated I considered just quitting.  I had no platform to speak to the community; some people who were very friendly  to me when I was infamous quit and wouldn’t even do me the grace of saying “hello” when face-to-face; the invitations to come over and discuss ideas failed to arrive anymore.  In short, I was shut down and shut up.

A friend let me begin putting essays and art on a page in his popular website… but it was mainly an exercise in keeping me busy, not gaining readers.  Too broke to get my own site — like this one — no one knew to read it except by word of mouth.  I couldn’t advertise it in the sole paper in the county: That cost money and I’m unsure the ad would have been accepted.  Decline followed and depression as I am melancholic.

I got letters and e-mails now and again from people who said I spoke for them because they were afraid to say anything, or that something I’d said touched them, or to keep up the fight.  Those were good moments, but I rarely responded; I had no words for praise and barely knew what to do with it.  I’m not used to such.  Abuse, yes — that I can do something with; sincere praise and agreement — that’s shocking and frightening, perversely enough.

Someone standing by me and fighting the fight would have been nice, or at least people writing their own ideas, even more moderate, and picking up where I fell would be good.  I was replaced in the paper by a high school girl who wrote columns about the trials and tribulations of being a teenager.  God bless her for at least putting herself out there and getting something in print and her $10.00 a week.  She made more than I did overall for her efforts and it looked good on the college applications. And the people had their wholesome sweet nothings to not bother their consciences — a must for every editorial page.

But it truly made me wonder why I’d bothered in the first place.

The years passed, I mostly moved on, physically if not entirely in spirit.  Loss of my job with insurance, cut-backs in the number of lectures I had at the local university due to underfunding the state educational budget, loss of my marriage… then, I moved to Texas.  Georgia, except for my son and friends who barely speak to me anymore, has nothing but very bad memories for me.

Here, I got to work trying to make comic books and eventually to lecture again, and I do both and attempt to sell some art.  But now, a few years after all the aforementioned,  I’ve wandered into one of those “sometimes.”  I’ll hit 50 in a couple of weeks and Americans have some sort of psychic time-bomb that goes off each birthday ending with a zero.  But 50 is a half-century and 50 is easily more than half my potential lifetime on planet Earth.  In fact, my life could easily be over with at any minute I have so many chronic illnesses and a major mental illness with an average 30% fatality rate.  Manic depression is a hard thing to live with, especially when the tension and pressure becomes intense and all these thoughts of failure and stupidity come boiling up.

I’m becoming too tired to write anymore and I imagine this is tiresome to read if you’ve made it this far.  50 years.  I did not do much damage or accomplish much, really.  My work is uneven, my art difficult to look at, my underground comix are appreciated by other artists and that’s about it — not nothing, but not the popular audience I was looking to speak to, either.  If I last a little longer, maybe more people will read.  Maybe not.  If I last a little longer, some gang of misfits might decide my art is inspirational or speaks to them — who knows?  If I keep writing, I am at least a writer and spreading ideas… then again, I’m unpaid and have no idea whether actual humans are looking at this and not “robots” and webcrawlers.

And my students: some benefit, some don’t; some resist and just don’t care, say so openly, and act as if, because they are “paying customers,” they have arrived at Burger King College where they can say and do as they please and “have it their way.”  The others — I have no clue.  We rarely do: Teachers do their best to plant seeds that might sprout years down the road in their students’ lives and must be content with that, content with having planted better seeds than worse.

As a philosopher… I don’t know and don’t even wish to hazard a guess.  Philosophy, thank God, has kept me alive and given me guidance through Hell several times.  Including the Hell of “sometimes.”  Maybe I gave a good example if anyone noticed.  You never know.

You never know.

16 January 2016

Richard Van Ingram

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