Authorship: Big Chief Tablet Meets Macintosh Keyboard



Manthos

(photo credit: Gary Bridgman, southsideartgallery.com)

I tried to write my first book when I was ten years old. It was a brief effort of five or six handwritten pages on a Big Chief tablet with a number 2 pencil, but I loved the idea of putting ideas on paper. That first story started out pretty well; the Cold War good-guy spy came smashing in through a large plate glass window, machine gun blazing at the evil bad guys. I knew there should be a love interest for this good-guy spy, but I had yet to unravel the mysteries of women. And I had no idea what the hero was going to say after his dramatic entrance, so that was it. In the days before recycling paper, I ripped out the pages of my story and tossed them in the trash. But I never lost that desire to write.

I can remember girls in junior high taking typing classes, back in the days of selective preparation for the then-obvious career choices. I could hear the clack-clack of manual keyboard keys slapping down on onionskin paper as the girls readied themselves for jobs as secretaries. I had no interest in learning how to type, that was, like Home Economics class, for girls. I took wood and metal shop instead, guy stuff. In reality, also selective preparation—for the trades.

I didn't learn how to type in college either, when I used an old Royal manual, with more steel in it than my present Honda automobile, to type my assignments. But I began to write poetry and essays and struggled through bonehead English composition class, being sent there by my first professor who was amazed I had made it through high school with the language skills I obviously missed out on. At one time I had been able to diagram a sentence, on a real black-slate chalkboard with real chalk with mounds of chalk dust in the eraser tray. But unused skills die as did my composition comprehension.

Big Chief Tablet

(photo courtesy: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/140/346787558_e1c68ae4db_o.jpg)

Now I'd kill to know how to type, even trying a teach-yourself CD computer course with no luck. So I stare at the letters on my computer keyboard and with a four-finger technique manage to wring tens of thousands of words out of my mind.

I started writing "sea stories," tales of my Navy days, back in the mid 1990s, as well as poems focused on my perceptions as a veteran. In 1997 I visited Vietnam with a veteran's tour group, and discovered that it took a trip of 14,000 miles to find out aspects of myself that were revealed through the experience. I learned the truism that the journey is the destination. This trip led to my first compilation of essays, titled Crossing the South China Sea.

An acquaintance suggested I put my sea tales into a book and I balked at the thought. "What, me write a book? No way, I can't do that." But support and encouragement from Karen and writing friends brought me to the intimidating keyboard, and I began to write Steel Beach in earnest. I ended up with a 164,000 word first draft, or about 656 pages. I found that I had to write down everything I could remember of those years, even if the manuscript needed a good third of that edited out for it to be readable. I guess it was; I was fortunate enough to have it selected as a finalist in the 2007 Oregon Book Awards. There is more on Steel Beach found at the link above, as well as in the reviews section.

Planet Chemo: Confessions of a Self-contained Man is my most recent completed manuscript. It is a gritty, hard-hitting story of my struggle with cancer and triumph over it, for now. The sustaining thought I came away with as I left chemotherapy and looked forward to becoming strong once again—to be strong to heal and to prepare—was that it is not how much life I have left, it is how I live what life I have. Using the metaphor of a space journey to a hostile world, I take the reader into the harsh yet enlightening world of fighting cancer. Planet Chemo is currently being submitted to agents and hopefully it will find a home with a publisher.

My next manuscript is tentatively titled Happy Valley. It will be my first attempt at a novel, loosely based on the years spent on my family's Wyoming ranch. Song of the West is the seed from which the story will grow. I'm looking forward to writing about what might have been.

Crossing the South China Sea excerpt:

Chapter 4: Beggars

Camped on a busy, noisy Saigon street corner on staked-out territory, he squatted on remnants of legs; there was no flesh or bone from the thighs down. A microphone was balanced across the stub of one arm, held in place by the stub of the other arm. Into this microphone, which was connected to a primitive metal speaker of the type one might see attached to a pole in some distant military base, he chanted a strange amplified appeal, or diatribe, or lament. No translator was needed. I saw his daughter, accomplice, or both, holding a basket for the donation. I sat on the back of a motor scooter inches away from her stare, her woven basket gently but persistently tapping against my arm, just in case I didn't notice the two of them on their turf. Her look ranged from outright accusation to resigned patience, seemingly changing with each blink of her dark eyes. The old man without limbs was ignoring me, perhaps he was blind as well. Over the course of my several days in the city, he and his basket-holder were always there, on the same street corner, he balancing his microphone to his mouth, she with her woven basket, begging. As you read this, they are likely still there. I don't know what caused his injuries, but the war always comes to mind in Vietnam.

A few days later, I saw a disfigured woman on a beach near Hue. Badly burned years ago, her scars were weathered like the rest of her. The left side of her body looked as though some grotesque alien being had been grafted onto her; she had two bodies, one normal and one made of scar tissue, connected by an irregular vertical seam. As she stood in front of our group hawking small items from a round woven basket, we speculated that perhaps it had been napalm that had changed her life forever. We did not ask for verification, and after a lengthy moment of silent testimony from her, I gave her a small denomination and she went to the next group on the beach to beg.

You don't need to look far to find such people, all you need to do is open your eyes. Vietnam has millions of the destitute. You have to face the truth that you cannot help everyone who needs it. You have to pick and choose who will be the beneficiary of modest generosity, and live with the burden that either you select a fortunate few, or ignore them all and be invisible to them as you are tempted to make them as invisible to you. Hardly a dignified choice, and either one leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I had no answer, and guilt fills in any empty space in my thoughts. The next time I will give more, but that is no real solution, only a token assuaging of my accountability. Why was I accountable? Because I was there, in front of them.

As our party walked about the open air marketplace in Hue, a disfigured dwarf singled me out as a mark, and he shadowed me for half an hour, literally a shadow behind me as I walked with the group. He was not aggressive, only persistent, somehow knowing that I would eventually give him something. It perhaps started with our initial eye contact, me checking him out, he an expert at reading other's eyes for the right signs. Late at night the dwarf from Hue follows me in my dreams, just as he did that day as I was leaving the marketplace. His sad eyes stare at me in my sleep, just as they did that sweltering afternoon in Hue.

Steel Beach excerpt:

From Chapter 8:

There was no land in sight, just the vast expanse of blue-green ocean accented by the small whitecapped bow wave and frothy green water churned up by four huge propellers below the stern. A watery emerald tail trailed the carrier almost to the horizon. The sun's penetrating light thrust into the water like copper spears, keeping pace with the ship as if there were some aquatic race to nowhere. "Vast" was too small of a word; there was no word to describe the enormity of the ocean. My so-called supercarrier looked pretty big tied up to the pier in San Diego. A thousand feet long, it was getting smaller by the day. Some called a carrier a floating city but mostly it was a cramped ghetto of working-class men.

The hours were days and the minutes blended into each other like drops of rain into a sea, lost among the vastness of time. Everything was endless: the horizon, the sea, the sky, all shades of blue and green and punctuated by phosphorous-white clouds that drifted through that patch of universe pressing down on our watery realm. I'd done my work for the day; the flight schedule was posted stating no flights. The crew log books were brought up to date, I managed to get some chow, and I stared into the deep.

The water curling off the bow spewed a hissing sound as if it were annoyed we were disturbing it. Row upon row of swells churned up by distant storms marched through the ocean bound for beach assaults on unseen shores, slowly rocking the big ship side to side in rhythm to some watery pulse older than mankind. It was soothing, as if the ocean was rocking an orphan. The sea breeze, partially created by thirty knots of speed, felt cleansing. Down below, the crew compartments were said to be air conditioned. Sure, stale air circulated through miles of tubes and pipes with all the force of a yawn. It was stifling with thousands of sweating bodies in close quarters.

The sun hadn't moved. If it weren't for the bracing wind I might have thought the world stood still. My mind couldn't keep itself busy. Throwing something over the side might have given me some sense of contact with the water, and it was oddly satisfying knowing that whatever was tossed sixty feet below would be gone forever. I wanted to reach down, stretch my arm to the inviting water and sail my finger across the blue velvet surface, cutting a fine wake of tiny ripples that cascade away, scattering thousands of pinpoint reflections in a blinding array of pure hypnotic light.

Porpoise raced from a mile away to play in the bow wave of the massive ship. They grinned that evolutionary grin in an almost mocking way, as if to say "we have the key to sanity." They were calling like a siren's chorus; "jump, jump, join us!" I wanted to grow gills; I wanted to de-evolve, to dive sixty feet to the water below in an impact of refreshing coolness and weightless exhilaration and join them in their world.

Nothing was on the horizon. Nothing to look at to give some sense of dimension, distance, human life beyond our own little floating galaxy. We were churning toward a destination so far away that even at thirty knots I didn't know how we would ever get there. It would have been madness to jump, but a madness that could be right and true and sane.

It seemed like I'd been staring at the sea and daydreaming for hours. I went below into the labyrinth of steel passageways to see what my buddy Pete Cassidy was up to. All he said was, "What, back so soon?"

Planet Chemo excerpt:

Touchdown

I have cancer. I can't remember when I first uttered what would become a mantra of self-realization. It was an exercise in self-convincing. At a stop light: I have cancer. At dinner: I have cancer. While reading the paper: I have cancer. While shaving: I have cancer. IhavecancerIhavecancerIhavecancer. I was saying it to myself two hundred times a day. Then I would try believing it.

Being back on safe and familiar ground after the trip to Planet Chemo gave me time to settle into the reality of being a cancer survivor. The treatments had been worse than the symptoms, it was hard to identify the lymphoma since it had been, to me, nothing more than a nasty lump at the base of my neck and lab results from microscopic examinations of cells. But chemo rammed home the truth—cancer had become the defining feature of my life on Earth.

I'm going to die. Well of course I'm going to die; I'm not made out of titanium. It's one thing to contemplate my own death philosophically—and I have a degree in philosophy as evidence that I have—and a wholly different exercise to confront death as it's squirming inside me, vying for dominance of my every waking moment, seeking to end those very "waking moments." Cancer will try to kill its host, even though that means it will eventually die too. And "host" isn't a very good word because it's not an invader like malaria; it's my own stem cells gone haywire. I could ask, "Why is my own body trying to kill me?" but my energy is better spent on questions like, "How am I going to fight it?"

Life has become a meditation on when I'm going to die. And how I'm going to live. It's that last part that gets me up in the mornings.

Song of the West excerpt:

I finally reached the age where a rite of passage in western life took place. I was given a bolt-action, JC Higgins model .22 caliber rifle, magazine fed and complete with a 4 power scope. It was a major landmark in my ascent to manhood, and I was ecstatic. The rifle felt heavy, the blued steel reflecting a solidness to breach and barrel. This was serious business. Paper targets, concentric circles of black and white, were my first targets.

I read Dad's war manuals on how to shoot, the pocket-sized volumes complete with pictures in faded sepia tones, mostly of men with guns. One photo was of a strong, masculine hand squeezing a tube of toothpaste, illustrating how not to jerk or mash the tube, but rather confidently "squeeze." That is how you pulled the trigger on a weapon, squeeze, not jerk. One page contained a grainy photo of an Imperial Japanese soldier carrying a big bolt-action combat rifle tipped with a long bayonet, charging the camera. The caption read "Maybe his uniform doesn't fit as well as yours, his rifle may be obsolete, but he is as determined as you to kill his enemy. Don't underestimate him." I started at the picture and looked back with a determined scowl; I wouldn't take my enemies lightly, no sir. I would learn how to squeeze the trigger just so, keeping the barrel steady and not jerking it off target, whatever that target may be. I had just turned twelve.

The .22 didn't kick at all when fired, and the weight became a reassuring heft as I stalked the land. I was armed and able to affect the world around me in a newly profound way. I progressed from paper targets nailed to a fencepost to live animals.

Gophers were worth a nickel a piece bounty from Dad. I became an efficient shot, squeezing the trigger and always aiming for the head. It upset me to see the small brown furry rodents flopping around in the dirt so I tried to kill with one shot, making the end quick and easing any suffering, theirs or mine. There were huge complexes where gophers had built entire towns, real communities, and I would pick them off one by one. Timing was crucial. The gophers would stand up on their haunches taking turns to look for eagles, coyotes, danger of any kind, looking for any threat to the extended family burrowed below. A quick chirp, a warning flick of the tail, and they would scurry back below into their safe tunnels. But the lookouts could not beat a .22 Long Rifle slug. Occasionally I would find a blood trail leading down into a burrow, and sense the panic and fear hiding below me, the tiny heart pumping out the last of what little blood their small bodies held. I learned they had brains, bones, body heat. My nickels piled up as Dad's pride grew. His son was learning the song.

photo by LDwebgraphics
 
(photo credit: LDwebgraphics.com)

Current News

September 2016
Jeff recently sold a violin based on a 1704 Stradivari as well as a 15 7/8" viola of his own design. He has started two new violas, one on the popular 15 7/8" pattern and one on his 16 1/8" pattern. He expects them to be completed by spring.
April 2016
Northwest Musical Instrument Exhibit: Saturday and Sunday, April 30th & May 1st, 2016 Marylhurst University,
near Portland, Oregon. Map
March 2016
Jeff just completed a 17" viola based on a Maggini pattern from the late 1500's.
Inquire for price and availability.
April 2015
Instrument Show Northwest Musical Instrument Exhibit: Saturday and Sunday, April 25th & 26th, 2015 Marylhurst University, near Portland, Oregon.
January 2015
Jeff was interviewed by the University of Oregon's school of jounalism for their series Northwest Stories: Violin Maker Jeff Manthos Violin Video link
Jeff is completing a 16 1/2" Da Salo model viola which will be available soon. His next instrument is a 15 3/4" viola on his own pattern, which will be ready by late spring.
May 2014
Northwest Musical Instrument Exhibit: Saturday and Sunday, May 3th & 4th, 2014 Marylhurst University, Lake Oswego, Oregon.
January 2014
Jeff recently sold a 15 3/4" viola and is working on another of the same pattern.

Contact information

Street: 2635 SW Fairmont Drive
City/State: Corvallis, OR 97333
Phone: 541-754-7645
E-mail: jeff@jeffleemanthos.com