Excerpt for To Make an Assay by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

To Make an Assay

Shawn Michel de Montaigne

Copyright 2017 by Shawn Michel de Montaigne

Smashwords Edition

Thank you for supporting me and for respecting my hard work.

~~*~~

The manuscript to
To Make an Assay
has been time-stamped

All rights reserved.

Cover designed by Shawn Michel de Montaigne

All photographs and artwork are by Shawn Michel de Montaigne
and are copyrighted to same.







Dedicated to my spiritual and philosophical touchstone,
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.







To Make an Assay







CONTENTS
~~*~~

Dear Lord

Go You!

(For a Hero)

Spaces

Silver Linings

Heroes and Villains

Garish, LOUD

A Very Modest Life

Transmissions

The Coast Starlight

The Pier to Forever

Daen-Cer-Tain

Imagination

A Broken Egg

Materialism and Idealism

Google Plus and Social Media

Musicscapes

Character-Driven Epic Stories

Slum

A Different Kind of Asphalt

Rewritten

More Than Your Derision and Disdain











~~*~~

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the tremble and weave,
For osprey tracing high the pine-scented air,
For silver sheets of rainfall fair;
Where orange rays of draining daylight conceive

These verdant hills and tumbling creeks which sound
As through fluffs of cotton,
Through which this lonesome road winds forgotten;
Quiet walks remembered, and remembered I was found.

Thank you for this morning scene,
And fingers of fog lacing between,
For sudden bursts of golden finches, here now and then unseen;
For the life of my spirit which refutes the mean.

I want to thank you for my pounding heart
And the urge to strengthen it,
For the courage to fight my sloth and recommit
To living this life not apart

From the grace of your love,
The warmth of which
These seconds enrich
And rain down from above.

Thank you, dear Lord,

For these sterling moments of peace
Amidst the cackle of the insane,
Their corrupting, deafening grain;
These pauses that cease

The unremitting insults of the day
Carried beyond the pale,
Varied but dull, and brittle like shale;
Each step as it may

A cry, a supplication all its own,
Offered with and over the swirl and roar so pure;
The susurration, the crossroad, the cure
Here at last! At last be shown

The glory be, unsayable!
Touching! Lifting!
Gleaming! Sifting
These certain steps between uncertain novations prayable!

Thank you for the courage of my convictions
In this deluded and dangerous age;
For the friendship of the insistent Sage
And her reassuring valediction:

It isn't so bad, she says—
This time, this space,
This darkness so many embrace.
They live in pieces,

But the glory of God is one.
Truth cannot forever be denied,
And those who lied
The commonwealth will someday shun.

Thank you, Lord,
For the constant urge to create,
For the insatiable desire to mate
The contradictions. Lo the sword

Proclaims its own art,
Deeper than desire, more intense than pain,
The blank numbness against which I refrain
Any measure of victory; in this I impart

The whole of my soul.
Never to death or dust
Shall it give; nor to rust
And the unworthy jewels it stole.

So to you, dear Lord, I offer this,
What meager and gritty quarry
Is mine to give; the words in the story
So imperfect, so imprecise, but sure as a kiss.

They're mine but also not:
They're yours, truly, like this day, this moment, only mine by gift.
Thus is my wish to uplift,
But back to you, in the end, goes the entire lot.

In them and by them I have soared,
Through them and with them my heart has at last come alive.
So long afraid, so long merely to survive ...
Alive again, and so it sings: Thank you, dear Lord.







Go You!
Posted February 2016
~~*~~

Apropos, I think, for all of us, who now must
stand against a vile Trump presidency

I WAS fifteen years old when I became a Denver Broncos fan.

54 - 15 = 39. Years.

That's an astonishing amount of time to be a fan of anything. But it's true. For almost forty years I have faithfully followed that team and their fortunes and misfortunes. I have jumped for joy at their triumphs and have been crushed by their defeats.

Just this last weekend the Denver Broncos defeated the New England Patriots to advance to Super Bowl 50, their eighth trip to the biggest stage in American sports. They have won twice while on it. The last time they went, which was just two years ago, they were humiliated by the Seattle Seahawks 43 - 8. I stopped watching sometime in the third quarter.

The pundits are predicting an equal or greater butt-kicking this go-round at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, whose 17 - 1 record has everybody convinced that they're virtually unbeatable.

Maybe they are. I don't know.

The Broncos were supposed to be crushed by the New England Patriots too. Instead they did the crushing, harassing and dominating the Patriots' offense and its stellar quarterback the entire day. The pundits, instead of admitting their horrible predictions and analyses, immediately jumped on the Panthers' bandwagon and are now saying the same things they were saying last week. "The Panthers are unstoppable." "The Broncos stand no chance for reasons x, y, and z." And so on.

The Broncos might as well not even show up to the game!

I guess what I'm getting at here is that when the chips are down, that few who claim to stand for the very qualities that got the Broncos to the greatest stage in American sports—camaraderie, playing for something greater than themselves, belief in each other, sacrifice, devotion, friendship, faith, perseverance, loyalty, teamwork—actually do. Most people abandon them wholesale. Even worse, they deride those who continue to cling to them as "naive" or "foolish" or for "wearing rose-colored glasses."

The thing is, though, a life worth living—a life worth a damn—is only possible for those who actually stand up for those qualities, especially come hell or high water. Spout doom-laden statistics all you want, cough up nasty probabilities, declare your team totally screwed, chunter on that your dreams are "unrealistic," refuse to stand and face the fire, divest yourself of your fandom, detach your emotions and spirit from the outcome because you believe it to be hopeless and fear failure, turn your back on the possibility of the great victory, and you will join that long, gray line of human mediocrity, to paraphrase Colonel Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman. As a bonus, you will do great and lasting damage to your spirit.

The Denver Broncos stand no chance against a vastly superior foe on February 7.

I stand no chance to be a recognized and popular author.

Your dream of becoming whatever your heart truly wants you to be is silly and should be ignored.

At bottom, there is no significant difference between those three statements. I can choose to believe them, citing statistics and probabilities until the cows come home; or I can ignore the pundits and predictors and prognosticators and press on. So can you.

That's what the Denver Broncos are doing; and that's what I've been doing for thirteen years now, and what I'll continue doing.

What are you doing to prepare for victory at your "Super Bowl"?

I refuse to join that awful gray line where so many reside. No matter what.

Go Broncos!*

Go me!

And go you!

*My forty-year fandom of the Denver Broncos has come to an end. Here’s why.













~~*~~

(For a hero)

In that moment the light will gray.
Beyond it you will see an arch.
Fear it not.
There is nothing past it you need cower before.
It is yours to use as you see fit.
Once an instrument of supreme evil,
you may employ it for the supreme good.

Beyond it is your destiny.
But do not confuse what I am telling you.
"Beyond" and "destiny" are traps.
See them as so, and you are free to redefine them any way you please.
That is your gift.
There is no need to feint.
Besides, it is not your way.

You once cried for an angel.
See that she is you, and the tears will cease.
The light will gray.

Tell me of your moments. Share them with me.
How? 'Tis easy, my song.
Just let them change you.
In the changing I will hear your Voice,
and you mine.
And in the changing you will become,
each moment from the next,
more and more who you truly are.
That's how you'll know I'm there with you.
Always.







~~*~~

There are spaces in your spirit:
fragrant open meadows in which I can breathe.

There are spaces I can run free and lie down
and stare up at the open sky.
You have no idea how rare that is.

I have known many in this odd, odd life.
Most are industrial parks: crowded and polluted
and utilitarian. They exist only to seek profit;
they live only to fill their empty days
with empty activities that their so-called
family and so-called friends say are normal and sane.
They seek approval, and they seek fame, and they seek
to be first among their polluted neighbors.

You are different. You are unique.

I can breathe ...







Silver Linings
Posted September 2016
~~*~~

PEOPLE FEAR change. I do too many times. It can be very scary.

I started writing full-time in 2004. I split time writing with trying to build a tutoring business, one that ultimately failed in 2010. I had no desire to work for anyone ever again. I wanted to call my own shots and make my own name for myself.

As it turns out, I couldn’t have picked a worse market than San Diego, California, to start a tutoring business. Despite having the highest number of Ph.D.s per capita of any large city on Earth, the city is virulently anti-education. The dropout rate back then was seventy-five percent. You read that right: three out of four kids who entered high school in the San Diego metropolitan area in 2004 didn’t make it to graduation their senior year. I don’t remember the statistics for later years, but it doesn’t matter. The business went belly up, as I said, in 2010. It was barely surviving as it was, but the recession finally, mercifully put a bullet in the back of its head, and that was that.

Change has often been like that for me. It appears as a horrendous calamity. I’ve had to fight to keep from seeing it as such, because, as in this case, it really wasn’t as negative as I originally believed.

~~*~~

“Every cloud has a silver lining.” Perhaps not when you look up at them at first, certainly. But in my case, at least, I can say that, eventually, every cloud gets a silver lining. It’s just a question of when, and also if, I decide to look up and see them. That doesn’t always happen.

I went to the eye doctor this past week. I hadn’t been to one in many years. They have this newfangled machine, one that eliminates the need for drops to dilate pupils in order to check for cataracts and glaucoma. You press your nose up against this pliable plastic barrier while gawking into a lens with your left eye, then your right. A bright light makes it painful. If you press hard enough, your eye gets right up against the lens without touching it, and the painful light turns green, which is the machine’s way of saying you’re pressing hard enough. At that point the nurse takes a picture of your eye, which involves an even more painful bright yellow light passing quickly by.

It turns out I’m developing a cataract in my right eye. I’ve got pigment floating around in places it shouldn’t in both, and old scar tissue around the edges of both, cause or causes unknown.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I suffer from clinical depression. Over the course of the last decade and a half I have learned how to manage it to a degree that, though I’m certainly not satisfied with it, I can live with it as I learn how better to take care of myself.

In the past, news like the one the eye doctor gave me would have been very difficult to get around. I would have fallen into the Black Swamp, as I call it. I would have refused to look up for those silver linings.

Instead, this time I shrugged. Both externally and internally.

Is it depressing that I’m more than half a century old now, that the days seem to be sniffing cocaine, that my eyesight is potentially failing, at least in one eye, that my body looks nothing like it did even in 2010, that I have two partially frozen shoulders from overtraining as a young athlete, that bending over to touch my toes seems a harder task than jogging up Mt. Hood, that I have hair growing out of spots that God never intended, that my chin’s antigravity is definitely failing, that I no longer have freckles but liver spots?

Damn straight it is.

Still, for the most part I have managed to avoid the Black Swamp. I think I know the reason why.

In 1998 I was still teaching high school kids. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. In fact, I hated it. The stress was overwhelming, the hours more so. It didn’t help that Loveland Public Schools paid me less than fifteen thousand dollars a year. That’s not a typo. And that was for a full-time position. I was putting in eighty hours a week and making less money than the night janitors, who weren’t full time and paid by the hour.

I knew what quitting ultimately meant. I knew I was going to struggle like hell for a long time. I still am eighteen years later.

Struggling doesn’t exacerbate depression if what you’re struggling for is what you have always wanted to do with your life. Does that make sense? If you look forward to getting out of bed in the morning to do the work you know in your heart you were meant to do, no matter what is facing you, no matter how insurmountable it appears, depression has a much harder time gaining a foothold. I speak from stark experience.

I still experience bouts of depression, most definitely. When they come, I deal with them as sanely as I can. My life circumstances provide plenty of fodder for a quick hop, skip, and jump into the Swamp, despite the fact that I have been hugely blessed with the chance to write full time. Sometimes, without even knowing I’m doing it, I take the dive. Splash. I’m a ball of goo in bed, and the days and nights ooze by like they have sandpaper on them, and I’ve just been skinned alive and had lemon juice poured on me.

Psychologists claim that depression is anger turned inward. I don’t buy it, especially these days. Depression is depression. For some there may be a component of inwardly turned anger; but not for me. The inexorable march of time ... the dreams of youth long since gone ... the abandoned goals, the futile strivings, the grinding failures ... those are my triggers. They don’t inspire self-anger or judgment; they inspire profound sadness. I know myself well enough to say that with complete confidence.

Art picks me up: a good movie, or a well-written essay, or an inspiring song or video. So does connecting with my readers.

It isn’t a guarantee, of course. Sometimes I’m so low it takes multiple immersions in them.

Nature works well too, especially here in southwestern Oregon, where she makes a grand show of herself no matter which way you turn to look. My affliction comes with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD—wouldn’t you know it?), which exacerbates my condition as daylight wanes through fall and winter. I endeavor to be even more vigilant after September 21.

The one constant in life is change. It powers the universe. Nothing is ever the same. Heraclitus said it best: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” The full realization of that has freed me somewhat of the tangles of the Black Swamp, for this too, said the ancient Sufi poets, shall pass. Even the Black Swamp.

For now, I endeavor to look up.







Heroes and Villains
Posted spring 2016
~~*~~

THE JEDI don't pee.

At least, I bet that you can't imagine them peeing. Think of it: Obi Wan Kenobi standing over a dirty toilet in Mos Eisley or hurrying around a big boulder to keep those little glowing-eyed dudes in the cloaks from whisper-croaking-spitting their amusement.

Jedi don't poo either. Try to imagine Windu Filteredbeer—or whatever Samuel L. Jackson's Jedi character's name was—say, "Damn, man, I need to take a righteous dump! The Force be with my bloated colon! It's losing structural integrity!"

Imagine Palpatine—Darth Sidious—biting his nails or popping a zit. Does he wear regular underwear, or are there some special and particularly evil briefs he puts on each morning when he gets up? They'd be black (of course), but would they be made of cozy, comfortable cotton? Do Sith Lords like cozy, comfortable cotton skivvies? Does he ever sit on his throne and squirm on it, thinking, Infernal hemorrhoids! Does he ever get jock itch? Does he examine the evil hairs in his evil ears and try to cut them with an evil pair of scissors?

Does Darth Vader ever take a breath (koooooooo-keeeeeeeeeee!) and say, frustrated, "Now my indigestion is com-plete ... buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrp!"

(koooooooooooooo-keeeeeeeeeeeeeee! -groan-)

One of the great weaknesses of fantasy heroes and villains is that their authors do almost everything they can to remove their humanity from them in order to make them appear unreachable and invincible. Even JK Rowling did this with Lord Voldemort. You didn't see him cutting farts just after coalescing back to his nasty, pasty little snaky body after Wormtail cut his own hand off into the cauldron and dropped in a dirty bone from Tommy's dad's grave and dripped in a bit of Harry's fresh young blood. If nothing else gives you gas, I don't know what will. A more accurate portrayal of his re-introduction into the world would have featured him walking amid his Death Eaters and saying: "Welcome!"--fffffft! "It's been thirteen—" bubblezzzzzoooofffffffgurgle!—"years!" "Harry! There you are, standing on the bones of myfffffffffffffffffffffffffftzzz-ather!"

Heroes also get the same treatment, as I just mentioned. What would happen if the Incredible Hulk suddenly developed an erection while tearing down yet another skyscraper? His pants seems infinitely stretchable no matter if he's Bruce Banner or his fearsome alter-ego, but can they accommodate that? If you're Iron Man and have a sudden bout of diarrhea while burning through the atmosphere, do you need to land in some forest somewhere and hurriedly strip off all that high-tech fighting armor, or has Tony Stark engineered a solution to such a potential problem? If so, has he accounted for the extra thrust generated once he releases his pent-up bowels? Genius, after all, can carry you only so far. Past that, one must rely on one's humanity and hope that anything dripping down your leg won't cause all that electricity humming around you to short circuit.


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