"Okay, so we all know about the engagement picture. Pretty much the entire planet saw it in January."

He smiled.

"Yeah, that was pretty crazy."

"Give me a little back story. Where did you guys meet?"

"China."

"China?"

"We were both in Beijing studying Chinese. We were at the same university and she knew some of the people in my class so she would hang out with us when we took smoke breaks between classes.

We flirted for a couple days and then went out with mutual friends at the end of the week. By the end of the second week that we were both in China we were officially considered an ‘item.’”

"That’s pretty romantic, falling in love in China."

"Yeah… Things were kind of crazy and fast. We were both pretty broke so we took odd jobs to help pay our way. She tutored at a preschool and I worked as a TA for an English professor at an adult ed college down the road, mostly grading horrible papers.

"Eventually word got around that we were tutors for hire and we did a few private lessons for kids with rich overbearing parents. They loved us! At one point, we were given an all expense paid trip across china to some militant boarding school where they gave us a room on the condition that we tutor for a few hours. It was pretty awesome. 

"Eventually, we had our own weekly radio show when we played American music and talked about what it’s like to be young in the U.S. We were even in a couple of television commercials. The Chinese seemed to like to watch Westerners kissing. Who am I to argue?"

He shook his head a little and shrugged…

"We’d actually broken up before we left china because I thought a long distance relationship would be untenable. When we came back to the U.S. she moved to phoenix for a semester to live with friends and i went back to the oil field, but we stayed in contact and eventually it worked out that she was willing to move to Oklahoma, so she came out and we got a place together.

"When did you pop the question?"

"I knew it was time to get engaged. We had been together for two years and had been through some pretty great stuff. We’d also been through some pretty trying stuff. Add to it that I’m of the opinion that after two years you really need to make up your mind, one way or another. I mean, I certainly didn’t NOT want to not be with her so I bought a ring just in time for us to go see her folks in California for Christmas.

"I discussed it with her folks but couldn’t find the right time while we were in Cali, so when we came back I arranged a weekend away. 

"I remembered that she told me once that she loved the idea of engagement photos because you could see the brides initial reaction. So I made this elaborate plan where I’d propose and a friend would take the candid shot. It was perfect… Until my friend had to cancel at the last minute and my whole plan collapsed… 

"Seriously, I was wandering around the aquarium wondering how the hell I was going to pull off an engagement picture with no photographer, when I saw the photo-booth and a light-bulb appeared over my head. We got in to snap a shot and i took a knee right before the photo was snapped."

"The rest is history…"

"My aunt had adopted from Second Chance before and had some really good results so we figured we’d give it a try.""Is he… What is he?""His name’s Griffin; he’s full-blood crazy."Griffin had just successfully turned a game of fetch into a game of ‘keep it from the human.’ His deep, menacing growls muffled by the toy and betrayed by his tail wagging high in the air with his front legs outstretched."What were you looking for when you went to adopt?""We really didn’t know. I mean, we went with an open mind but he’s not at all what I thought I’d find, you know? But man, good grief! Just look at that face!! You can’t say no to that kind of thing!"

"My aunt had adopted from Second Chance before and had some really good results so we figured we’d give it a try."

"Is he… What is he?"

"His name’s Griffin; he’s full-blood crazy."

Griffin had just successfully turned a game of fetch into a game of ‘keep it from the human.’ His deep, menacing growls muffled by the toy and betrayed by his tail wagging high in the air with his front legs outstretched.

"What were you looking for when you went to adopt?"

"We really didn’t know. I mean, we went with an open mind but he’s not at all what I thought I’d find, you know? But man, good grief! Just look at that face!! You can’t say no to that kind of thing!"

I met him at a poetry open mic in Oklahoma City. I’d read some of his stuff on Facebook and liked it; It all kind of hinted at something deeper; something bigger, staring right at me but just beyond my perception, like a coywolf in the woods. Later he invited me to a regular Saturday poetry group at the Paramount Theater on Film Row. I was a little unprepared for the turnout and for the power that came out of encounter. “I was in the Army when Clinton started downsizing the military. Infantrymen weren’t an ‘in-demand’ job, so I left. Being a nutcase G.I. Joe with the Kung-fu grip they gave me, I chose not to be a support MOS. I came home and tried to replace the massive adrenaline rush I got from being in a light infantry/Air Mobile division but nothing bridged the gap. "Eventually I discovered hard drugs and the fast paced lifestyle that came with ‘em. A four year prison sentence stopped that and the reading list a college guy in the education department gave me changed my life forever.”“Air Mobile to drug addict and changed by a reading list? That must be some list…”“I did four and a half years, the list is long.”He rattled off book after book after book, series after series, from Dickens and Clavell to Tolkien, Dostoyevsky, and Pearl S. Buck. Charrière, Dumas, Stephen R. Donaldson, the sisters Bronte… The list went on. “There’s tons more but it sounds all braggy now.”It didn’t sound ‘braggy.’ If anything, he sounded as if he was trying to downplay this amazing accomplishment. “All those books completely changed my outlook and let me understand so many more realities of the human condition that are out there. It brought me to the realization that my reality was just so small.”“So, you know what I do with the blog and all… Do you mind if I share your story?”“I hide none of it, its all there, in the poems; I own my mistake and I own my recovery. Those that read and understand my work aren’t the types that write you off for a mistake, so I’m comfy at the open mics. My autobiography is in those poems; all of it.”“I guess my only other question… I mean, you’ve done some pretty amazingly dangerous stuff; Why poetry? How does poetry replace the adrenaline?”“The rush!! Public speaking is terrifying! It’s also my last real fear; guns, fighting, blood, none of it phases me anymore. You gotta’ be careful or you’ll start feeling dead inside and that’s the beginning of the spiral. "Poetry at the mic is terrifying and LIBERATING! Like the rush of jumping out of a plane; you’re falling, falling, falling, then… the chute hopefully opens… WHOOSH!! Applause! Awesome shit man!!”

I met him at a poetry open mic in Oklahoma City. I’d read some of his stuff on Facebook and liked it; It all kind of hinted at something deeper; something bigger, staring right at me but just beyond my perception, like a coywolf in the woods. Later he invited me to a regular Saturday poetry group at the Paramount Theater on Film Row. I was a little unprepared for the turnout and for the power that came out of encounter. 

“I was in the Army when Clinton started downsizing the military. Infantrymen weren’t an ‘in-demand’ job, so I left. Being a nutcase G.I. Joe with the Kung-fu grip they gave me, I chose not to be a support MOS. I came home and tried to replace the massive adrenaline rush I got from being in a light infantry/Air Mobile division but nothing bridged the gap. 

"Eventually I discovered hard drugs and the fast paced lifestyle that came with ‘em. A four year prison sentence stopped that and the reading list a college guy in the education department gave me changed my life forever.”

“Air Mobile to drug addict and changed by a reading list? That must be some list…”

“I did four and a half years, the list is long.”

He rattled off book after book after book, series after series, from Dickens and Clavell to Tolkien, Dostoyevsky, and Pearl S. Buck. Charrière, Dumas, Stephen R. Donaldson, the sisters Bronte… The list went on. 

“There’s tons more but it sounds all braggy now.”

It didn’t sound ‘braggy.’ If anything, he sounded as if he was trying to downplay this amazing accomplishment. 

“All those books completely changed my outlook and let me understand so many more realities of the human condition that are out there. It brought me to the realization that my reality was just so small.”

“So, you know what I do with the blog and all… Do you mind if I share your story?”

“I hide none of it, its all there, in the poems; I own my mistake and I own my recovery. Those that read and understand my work aren’t the types that write you off for a mistake, so I’m comfy at the open mics. My autobiography is in those poems; all of it.”

“I guess my only other question… I mean, you’ve done some pretty amazingly dangerous stuff; Why poetry? How does poetry replace the adrenaline?”

“The rush!! Public speaking is terrifying! It’s also my last real fear; guns, fighting, blood, none of it phases me anymore. You gotta’ be careful or you’ll start feeling dead inside and that’s the beginning of the spiral. 

"Poetry at the mic is terrifying and LIBERATING! Like the rush of jumping out of a plane; you’re falling, falling, falling, then… the chute hopefully opens… WHOOSH!! Applause! Awesome shit man!!”

"I’m a U.S. intellectual and cultural historian.""A what, now?"He had a big grin. It wasn’t the fist time someone had asked him that question. "Someone who studies the history of ideas and the people who had them.""Is that anywhere near what you thought you were going to be when you grew up?""Well, when I was very little, I thought I’d be a paleontologist. So, no, that’s not quite what I’m doing. But in a larger sense, I am doing what I expected to do. I come from a very academic family and, in that sense, I ended up in the family business.""Okay, so within the scope of your research, who’s had the most unusual idea you’ve come across?""I dunno… What counts as ‘unusual’? Like any historians, we try to write about ideas and people that are significant. And there are plenty of significant, unusual ideas out there. "The thing about really significant contemporary ideas is that they’re like water and we’re like fish: we all swim in the water, but since we know nothing else, we might not notice it on our own."

"I’m a U.S. intellectual and cultural historian."

"A what, now?"

He had a big grin. It wasn’t the fist time someone had asked him that question. 

"Someone who studies the history of ideas and the people who had them."

"Is that anywhere near what you thought you were going to be when you grew up?"

"Well, when I was very little, I thought I’d be a paleontologist. So, no, that’s not quite what I’m doing. But in a larger sense, I am doing what I expected to do. I come from a very academic family and, in that sense, I ended up in the family business."

"Okay, so within the scope of your research, who’s had the most unusual idea you’ve come across?"

"I dunno… What counts as ‘unusual’? Like any historians, we try to write about ideas and people that are significant. And there are plenty of significant, unusual ideas out there. 

"The thing about really significant contemporary ideas is that they’re like water and we’re like fish: we all swim in the water, but since we know nothing else, we might not notice it on our own."

"The plan right now is to study at the Confucius institute in Beijing. I’d be going there for philosophy and psychology.""Great choice, but how did you even hear about the Institute?""I take Chinese in school and one of the headmasters came to visit my teacher and they talked about it with the class. Kind of in the air but it would be a great way to get to see China.""No doubt. So, what’s the backup plan?""If I don’t end up in Beijing, I’ll probably go to O.U.""Sounds like a pretty wide range of options, there. Why O.U.?"He smiled."Rugby."

"The plan right now is to study at the Confucius institute in Beijing. I’d be going there for philosophy and psychology."

"Great choice, but how did you even hear about the Institute?"

"I take Chinese in school and one of the headmasters came to visit my teacher and they talked about it with the class. Kind of in the air but it would be a great way to get to see China."

"No doubt. So, what’s the backup plan?"

"If I don’t end up in Beijing, I’ll probably go to O.U."

"Sounds like a pretty wide range of options, there. Why O.U.?"

He smiled.

"Rugby."

"Human beings, ALL human beings, need a purpose. They need to feel a daily sense of accomplishment. They need to feel like they contributed in a meaningful manner even if it’s just for themselves, every day or they lose their direction."Hard work makes a person strong; it challenges them. Soft work has exactly the opposite effect. Take that satisfaction away and people become bored and angry. "Too often young people look for a paycheck before asking if what they’ll be doing is enough of a challenge to keep them engaged."And then she let fly with a treatise on fixing the prison system based on this daily sense of accomplishment that would have won me over, if she were running for something.

"Human beings, ALL human beings, need a purpose. They need to feel a daily sense of accomplishment. They need to feel like they contributed in a meaningful manner even if it’s just for themselves, every day or they lose their direction.

"Hard work makes a person strong; it challenges them. Soft work has exactly the opposite effect. Take that satisfaction away and people become bored and angry. 

"Too often young people look for a paycheck before asking if what they’ll be doing is enough of a challenge to keep them engaged."

And then she let fly with a treatise on fixing the prison system based on this daily sense of accomplishment that would have won me over, if she were running for something.

"My brother walked onto the railroad tracks when he was 19 and I was 10. For years my mom spent almost every dime she made trying to sue the railroad. Hell, it took her a bunch of tries before she even found a lawyer that’d talk to her. The last one pretty much took everything she had left, one hour at a time." "How did that effect you?""It took going through it but I learned that you can’t always assume that all the blame belongs to someone else. Some battles just aren’t worth fighting, even if you think you’re right."

"My brother walked onto the railroad tracks when he was 19 and I was 10. For years my mom spent almost every dime she made trying to sue the railroad. Hell, it took her a bunch of tries before she even found a lawyer that’d talk to her. The last one pretty much took everything she had left, one hour at a time." 

"How did that effect you?"

"It took going through it but I learned that you can’t always assume that all the blame belongs to someone else. Some battles just aren’t worth fighting, even if you think you’re right."

This is an original poem written for us, using an unpublished OTWISI image as a writing prompt. The author is one of the Mentors for the ‘Red Dirt Word Farm’, a mentoring project set up by OTWISI to help student writers explore their art. He also happens to be a really great guy…_________________________Maggie Murphy’s HomeI am not myself; sky-cladand earth-worn. I will cradle youthrough the smallest of orbits. I am possessed with eyes; sparrow-deathand moth-born. I will give birth to youagain and again; trembling feetreturned to the swaying stance. Or I will cup you in my hands beneath my fire-brim, entranced with the sound of Maggie Murphy’s Home caroming off your revolutionsunder my blue eyes’ tilt. Not myself;you, dressed in a blurred ricochet.[Greg Stapp]

This is an original poem written for us, using an unpublished OTWISI image as a writing prompt. 

The author is one of the Mentors for the ‘Red Dirt Word Farm’, a mentoring project set up by OTWISI to help student writers explore their art. He also happens to be a really great guy…

_________________________

Maggie Murphy’s Home

I am not myself; sky-clad
and earth-worn. I will cradle you
through the smallest of orbits. 

I am possessed with eyes; sparrow-death
and moth-born. I will give birth to you
again and again; trembling feet
returned to the swaying stance. 
Or I will cup you in my hands 
beneath my fire-brim, entranced 
with the sound of Maggie Murphy’s Home 

caroming off your revolutions
under my blue eyes’ tilt. Not myself;
you, dressed in a blurred ricochet.

[Greg Stapp]

"Blossom runs the show. We’re out here a couple of times a day, bird watching. She knows when it’s time to get ready and she lets me know."We chatted for a minute about what birds could be found this early in the year and about the beauty of the secluded spot. And then Blossom turned and started walking up the road, stopping once to glance back at her companion.He smiled."Well, it’s been nice meeting you. Blossom says it’s time to go."And we watched them disappear down the path, Blossom in the lead.

"Blossom runs the show. We’re out here a couple of times a day, bird watching. She knows when it’s time to get ready and she lets me know."

We chatted for a minute about what birds could be found this early in the year and about the beauty of the secluded spot. And then Blossom turned and started walking up the road, stopping once to glance back at her companion.

He smiled.

"Well, it’s been nice meeting you. Blossom says it’s time to go."

And we watched them disappear down the path, Blossom in the lead.

"I’ve been a Special Education teacher for 21 years at Cleveland Elementary School."Her daughter piped in, pointing out various awards; ‘Teacher of the year’, and numerous others."That sounds challenging.""It can be. The triumphs far outweigh the challenges, though.""What’s your biggest cha-"”Standardized testing. It’s the least logical part of education for a lot of my kids. For most kids, really. Sorry, were you going to ask about the greatest challenge?”

"I’ve been a Special Education teacher for 21 years at Cleveland Elementary School."

Her daughter piped in, pointing out various awards; ‘Teacher of the year’, and numerous others.

"That sounds challenging."

"It can be. The triumphs far outweigh the challenges, though."

"What’s your biggest cha-"

Standardized testing. It’s the least logical part of education for a lot of my kids. For most kids, really. Sorry, were you going to ask about the greatest challenge?”

"So, on a scale of one-to-ten…?""Oh, this is nothin’. This is just tricky because of the way the truck is balanced over the culvert.""So this isn’t bad?""Nah, I’ve seen loads worse than this. I’ve had jobs where all we could do was to wrap chains around the body and pull. Wrecks are usually bad; fatalities are the worst.""What’s the best part of the job?""Well, I’ve been doing it for more’n a decade. I mean, it’s been a good profession for me. No two calls are the same. You get to use your imagination a lot on a vehicle recovery, like this one.""What’s the hardest part?""Well, you never pull up on someone havin’ the best day of their life…"

"So, on a scale of one-to-ten…?"

"Oh, this is nothin’. This is just tricky because of the way the truck is balanced over the culvert."

"So this isn’t bad?"

"Nah, I’ve seen loads worse than this. I’ve had jobs where all we could do was to wrap chains around the body and pull. Wrecks are usually bad; fatalities are the worst."

"What’s the best part of the job?"

"Well, I’ve been doing it for more’n a decade. I mean, it’s been a good profession for me. No two calls are the same. You get to use your imagination a lot on a vehicle recovery, like this one."

"What’s the hardest part?"

"Well, you never pull up on someone havin’ the best day of their life…"

His enthusiasm and knowledge were engrossing, not unlike listening to a craftsman speak about his specific craft; the topic itself is overshadowed by the passion of the speaker.

"I got the idea to center the story around a coffee shop when I thought of starting to write something…"

He gave me some details which I think will make for a fabulous story (though I’m not going to spoil it for you) and before I knew it, we’d wandered waist-deep into a conversation about one of my favorite authors, J.D. Salinger.

"I’m sure you know that he was the man who wrote THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. A book more memorable now for being the legal defense of assassinations on 3 occasions, but which stands as, perhaps, the greatest American novel of the 20th century. 

"Chapters of CATCHER were with Salinger when stormed the beach at Normandy, for God’s sake!"

"How is Catcher relevant today, though?"

"Each generation has art that contributes in some way to its definition. Its social context, like ours, is self-destructive and still dominated by that which is the out layers of superficiality in human life. Which is real, but emphasized excessively. 

"I think this is seen but not discussed fairly. The absolutists and dramatist-exaggerators are on both sides. The story I want to write is evolving but fundamentally, it’s going to be about my town, and what transcends to unite a community.”

His enthusiasm and knowledge were engrossing, not unlike listening to a craftsman speak about his specific craft; the topic itself is overshadowed by the passion of the speaker.

"I got the idea to center the story around a coffee shop when I thought of starting to write something…"

He gave me some details which I think will make for a fabulous story (though I’m not going to spoil it for you) and before I knew it, we’d wandered waist-deep into a conversation about one of my favorite authors, J.D. Salinger.

"I’m sure you know that he was the man who wrote THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. A book more memorable now for being the legal defense of assassinations on 3 occasions, but which stands as, perhaps, the greatest American novel of the 20th century. 

"Chapters of CATCHER were with Salinger when stormed the beach at Normandy, for God’s sake!"

"How is Catcher relevant today, though?"

"Each generation has art that contributes in some way to its definition. Its social context, like ours, is self-destructive and still dominated by that which is the out layers of superficiality in human life. Which is real, but emphasized excessively. 

"I think this is seen but not discussed fairly. The absolutists and dramatist-exaggerators are on both sides. The story I want to write is evolving but fundamentally, it’s going to be about my town, and what transcends to unite a community.”