by Albert Berkshire
No one ever asks you about your favourite shirt.
People do, however, love to ask about your favourite colour, or food, or car, or brand of bike components…or more recently my favourite book or musician.
Maybe it’s the debate of merits that prompts these questions. People love to debate things.
Years ago, despite what I thought was an impressive collection of Nazareth vinyl, had you asked me my favourite band, I might have said it was Kiss. I had what I was certain were all their albums (yes, also on vinyl), I dressed up as Ace Frehley for Halloween when I was in sixth grade, and I certainly didn’t miss the opportunity to serenade a girl in my elementary school class (from a safe distance, of course) with the words to Beth. Though her name wasn’t Beth. A boy’s gotta try. Even the dorky ones. And to be frank, I may have been a kid, but I was pretty certain Gene had stumbled onto something pretty impressive, and I, too, wanted to rock and roll all night (Kiss, 1975). Possibly with non-Beth Beth.
And then there was the in-between years of Top 40 pop music throughout the mid-eighties that may have been the influence in a few embarrassing record purchases. Except for Madness and The Talking Heads. Madness (Our House, 1982) I can still appreciate. David Byrne of The Talking Heads (And She Was, 1985) was brilliant. (‘Though, there were too many feet in the video. Other people’s feet whig me out.)
Today, since technically by reading on you validate my need to share, I’d have to go with Led Zeppelin as my favourite band. Back in high school, when we were so much more learned and sophisticated than those elementary days, my friend Joe introduced me to The Immigrant Song. I was forever changed. Music, it seemed had more than instruments and choruses. It had feeling. It had emotion. It had lyrics that reached out and grabbed your mind in as tight a clench as with which it held on to your heart. It made us think. And we talked about it. What did it all mean? Most importantly to a couple of high school kids looking for their place in the world, the other kids weren’t hearing this stuff on the local AM radio. We had something different. And we were, in our minds, beyond cool.
Bonham, Jones, Page, and Plant made me listen. They made me rethink what words could do. And to this day, through the many incarnations of U2, the storytelling of the Eagles, the showmanship of Pink Floyd, the depression of Morrissey, the absolute cool of The Verve, the anger of the Pogues, the Ramones, The Violent Femmes, Amanda Palmer, Transvision Vamp, Nirvana, A Perfect Circle (I slept in a ditch that night), and what was described as possibly the first ever on-stage smile of Billy Corgan (also a ditch night), I am most influenced by Led Zeppelin.
Sidebar: I have been on the receiving end of the stink eye on a couple of occasions for interrupting a conversation to turn up Going to California when it started playing on the car radio. And I may have attempted a butt-grope at a high school dance during the standard last-dance song, Stairway to Heaven. But it’s as far as I got. Those Brothers and Nuns didn’t miss much.
Music, admittedly, I will gladly debate with anyone, any time.
Colours. I have a colleague who will debate colours. This possibly happens more in our day to day world of advertising and marketing consultations, but there are specifically studied, established and accepted theories on the impact and influence of colour. The soothing light blue, the urgent red, the hungry yellow (which is why so many fast food restaurants use yellow and red), the calming green. Seriously, we can all mellow out and take a nap at Starbucks.
We can debate these things, but in the end, you either like a colour, or you do not. And as I was asked a couple of weekends ago by a friend as we were getting ready to go out, “Albert? Is green your favourite colour?” I replied without delay, looking at my shirt, “I guess it is. I seem to have it on.”
I’ll get to the heart of the matter (Henley, 1989) in a moment, but first, the others. Sushi. Porsche. SRAM. In case you wondered.
And the book? That’s the tough one. I’ve raved for years about John Birmingham’s He Died With A Falafel In His Hand. A roaring memoir about his time in share housing in Australia. Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos left me somewhat dazed and confused (‘Zep remake, 1969). Douglas Copeland’s Generation X, The Bubblegum Thief, and All Families Are Psychotic each kept me feeling like I was going to be forever young (Dylan, 1973). Joseph Monniger’s Eternal On The Water gave me a new appreciation for ravens and crows, and being a lover of nature and the First People’s spiritual world, it still resonates with me. But I’d have to argue that Tom Robbin’s Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates may be my favourite book of all time. The insanity of the characters, the rolling storytelling, and the depravity of the idea and ideals truly did take me over the hills and far away (‘Zep, 1973).
A couple of days ago, walking through a parking lot in search of a Thai restaurant (second most favourite food), my wife’s mother said, “Albert…Rosie and Marie said to tell you they enjoyed your book and that you are a good writer.”
“That doesn’t mean they liked it.” I said.
“No.” she relied. “I guess it doesn’t.”
“It’s okay.” I said. “It’s all very subjective. It either resonates with you, or it does not.”
“Well…” she continued. “We did have very different ideas about the ending and they debated it for quite some time. And they want me to ask you if he was or wasn’t…”
“Paulette,” I interrupted. “Your daughter still hasn’t read it. So we should stop there for now.”
I went on to explain that other than the beginning chapter and the ending, I hadn’t read it since the editor did her thing. It’s my preference to not know how she changes my story. (When I hand it over to the publisher, I’m happy with the story I wrote. If they feel they need to change something, then they change it. I know what I wrote and that was the story I wanted to tell.) My point was that I’m certainly not going to explain the characters’ motivations. That, I leave up to the reader – to debate, or not to debate.
But what she said was possibly the nicest feedback I’ve had on We Made A Pact.
It spurred a debate. And that’s the greatest compliment I think I could ever receive for my work.
By the way, that shirt I love? I got it in June of 2011. I was in Seaside, Oregon, when I walked into Moment Surf Shop. I wasn’t looking for a shirt. I don’t like to sport a lot of logos. But this one just had the right feel – at the moment. Serendipity, I guess.
The shirt certainly has seen better days, but it’s been a constant. It’s been the slip-on shirt after more than one muddy mountain bike ride, and has faithfully hung out with me by the pool…sometimes on a sunny day, it’s just been wrapped around my head. It’s just one of those things you come to appreciate. Even if it is just a shirt.
Pretty certain we can’t debate the merits of a shirt. That, I guess, is a safe zone for me.
But I’ll always debate the impact music can have on one’s life. I listened to a lot of music when I was writing We Made A Pact, and from that extensive playlist, I narrowed it down to 24 songs that I felt spoke the emotion of the story. Maybe one day I’ll share that playlist.
We can debate it, if you wish.
Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is published by Friesen Press. It is available in hardcover, paperback, and in various e-book formats. Just follow the links if you’d like to check it out. I hope you will. Public reviews are always welcome. Swapping stories of the first record purchase is welcome, too. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire
A short, short story about a considerably longer story.
There are friends in my life whose careers have long lived and died by their popularity. Their incomes are connected to their ratings, their endorsements are awarded based on their “likes”, and their sense of self are, unfortunately, gauged by retweets. They are ever-dependant on the whims of others.
At least they come by it honestly.
It’s a fickle world that surrounds us. Our tastes change by the moment. One day we’re a fan of something or someone, the next day we have moved on to the next shiny thing. We’re like ravens struck by the beauty of glitter. It’s the age of sociopath media, and we are almost all fully complicit slaves to the cycle. It is this that makes me fully understand, and oddly appreciate, that the inter-web is a wonderfully useful resource, and the woe of my existence.
It does, however, have its place in my life, and certainly in the purpose of this piece.
You see, it’s this thing I wrote that I’m supposed to promote. (Hey, an incidental rhyme) It’s a novel called We Made A Pact. The feedback from those who have read it has been generous…enthusiastic, even. And that’s a nice feeling to be on the receiving end of kind words. But for me to be completely honest with you, I should point out that I’m not the guy who loves the limelight. Certainly, as I have said many times, I would love to sell a million copies! (I’d like to sell a thousand, actually) What writer wouldn’t want success? But at the expense of what?
Likes are not my endorphin. Retweets do not compel me to interrupt a conversation. Ratings do not matter in my life. (Although debuting at #3 on at least one best sellers list was a short-lived thrill.) I’m just a guy who likes to write. The key to that, I’m told, is to sell novels and write more. Ironically, the flashing-lights look-at-me side of things is the evil companion of this goal.
Narcissism, blatant self-indulgence, and shameless self-promotion are not my thing. Writing is my thing. Pouring my mind onto the page is my thing. Letting whatever the character in my mind decides he or she wants to happen, happen, is my thing. As I once described it in a less flattering manner, “Dreaming up shit and barfing it onto the page”, is my thing. But I’m not one to shy away from the work side of the equation. So here it is…the words attached to my novel page on the publisher’s website.
We Made A Pact is not a love story. It is a story of a promise made between soul mates who loved their entire life. The type of love that comes with maturity, in which each touched a part of the others mind that no words could ever reach. Beginning in Paris, crossing decades and ending in the small town of Oceanside, the story is carefully told to Leigh by Leonard, her mother’s lover, as he explains a side of her life, a side of her mother, that she never knew.
I will say this about my work. There are no tinges of pallid in the writing. Not one. Not fifty. My main character has a deep, abiding respect for the woman in his life. That’s something I’m quite enthusiastic about promoting.
I hope you’ll read it.
In the meantime, I’ll be focused on Limerick. The place, not the rhyme. Because it’s writing time.
Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is published by Friesen Press. It is available in hardcover, paperback, and in various e-book formats. Just follow the links if you’d like to check it out. I hope you will. Public reviews are always welcome. For a shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire
- by Albert Berkshire
I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.
We were bobbing around on the lake. Two kayakers, surrounded by hundreds of others in kayaks, canoes, rowboats and stand-up paddleboards. There was an eerie calm on the water surrounded by a festival of events. It was early and everyone looked slightly unsure of what it was they were doing. I was no different.
Hundreds of people were about to swim across the lake. It was the longest open-water swim in Canada, and a friend who was participating asked me to be her safety paddler. I was the person who followed her from start to finish ensuring she had someone to help her should she be unable to continue. That day, I had the easy job. But that’s not the story. Not today.
Paddlers are, like any other subset of outdoor enthusiasts, part of little communities. We intersect and intermingle at random times, acknowledging each other and our sport – or pastime-become-passion – and almost always strike up a conversation as one paddles past the other. Much like any other subset of human culture, we tend to be drawn to each other by our equipment. In the same way two car lovers might swoon over each other’s classics or super cars, or fashionistas might delight in each other’s shoes, paddlers tend to check out each other’s boats. It is the common ground.
“I like your boat”, she said from about stroke away. “It’s exactly what my husband and I want to buy.”
I looked up to see a woman who, I guess, looks like every other woman in a paddling vest, sun hat, and kayak, looking at me.
“Is it a …”
“…Soltice”. I finished her sentence. “By Current Designs”.
“I love it.” She complimented.
The conversation continued with niceties for a few more moments until I told her that I was thinking about selling my kayaks (my wife doesn’t love kayaking as much as I do, so another sport was proposed), and that’s when things turned awkwardly…fortuitous.
In the process of telling this woman how to get in touch with me – pen and paper not being a ready instrument of communication whilst on the water – something sparked a memory for her and she looked at me saying, “I know you. You changed my life.”
Were it not for the hundreds of people surrounding us on the lake, I could tell you the silence fell on the conversation like a blanket thrown on a horse’s back. But the silence was all internal. I’d never heard anything like that in my life – short and relatively inexperienced as it may seem to some.
Jokingly I suggested that it’s not every day a guy gets to hear a woman confess her life has changed because of him. But she was quick, thankfully, to explain herself.
“You bought one of my paintings.”
I stared blankly. I’ve bought a few paintings. And this wasn’t really registering. I was half-listening for the start of the race and trying to find my swimmer in a sea of identical swim caps.
“The Poppy! I met you the night you bought it. We were introduced but you were rushing out the door.”
The Poppy is a beautiful painting that jumped out at me at an open house for a local business owned by acquaintances. It was on display and when one of the business owners was touring me through the new space, I immediately asked if it was for sale – knowing they were not a gallery. It was, and on the impulse, “I’ll take it” rolled off my tongue before I even knew the price. I have no regrets of the purchase, and it is hanging on the wall just behind me in the living room of my home. I love it.
In retrospect, the paddler-come-artist was giving an accurate description of events. I was headed out the door because I had to be somewhere else and I never made the time to speak to her. My disinterest in a fellow creative was not intentional, just circumstantial.
“I had decided I was going to quit as an artist.” She continued. “I wasn’t selling any paintings and the night you bought The Poppy, and the way it was explained that you just saw it and said, ‘I want it” changed everything.”
At this point, I’m squirming around in my cockpit. Perhaps not the most sensible action when bobbing around on the water.
“I went home, raved to my husband about “this guy” who just saw one of my paintings and had to have it. At some point, he became tired of hearing about you, went to bed and I went into my studio and started painting. I was inspired.”
A quick aside, if you will allow me: Over the years of my career – my day job as a writer and producer – I’ve worked with a lot of people who shared in brainstorming and creative session in the pursuit of creativity – the author Tommie Lee is perhaps king of the creative heap in that category. But this, this was a passive, almost surrogate, participation on my part. I’m also certain my jaw is, at this point, still dangling to display one of my adulthood prides of not having a single filling in my teeth. Oh…it was agape. Seriously. Never had a cavity. My dentist hates me. Onward.
She preceded to explain that she now had her art hanging in winery galleries, was painting even bigger pieces contrary to the suggestions and advice of galley owners, and was completely sold out. She was inspired. I was … silenced. And there are not many people or incidents that leave me speechless.
The race started. I began looking for my swimmer friend and we parted company, each paddling after different people. But that night, and for the next few days, her story – her completely sublime telling of her impressions of the night I bought the painting – resonated with me.
And now I was inspired. I sat down and finished my editor-suggested changes and corrections to my novel. The procrastination and the doubt was washed away by the chance meeting with the artist, Korenna Corby.
Korenna, humble to the core, later agreed to create the cover art for my novel, We Made A Pact. The painting, I feel, explains everything. And while she claims she’s not an illustrator, she certainly was willing to step out of her free-form comfort zone to paint the piece for me.
Maybe that’s what creatives – artists, writers, producers, actors and storytellers – do. We help each other…even when we don’t know we’re doing it.
At least, that’s how I remember things.
Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is fortunate to have been influenced by the right people – at the right time. The cover art was painted by artist Korenna Corby (www.corbyart.net). After far too many creative delays, empty bottles of Pinot Noir, and temporary mental inabilities to let go of it, We Made A Pact is set for release by Friesen Press in April of 2015. Albert will likely celebrate with a long paddle across the lake. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire and on Facebook @ facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire.