–Variety of eBook formats
–6 x 9 in. paperback; 100 pages
PB ISBN: 978-1490974279
Author: J. L. Lawson
from notes provided by: J. R. Backhouse
from John Robert Backhouse:
Porch Dialogues are the actual dialogues I had with a series of anonymous guests to my front porch over the span of a few months. I am able to offer these, my notes from those occasions because I have absorbed them integrally, to the point of understanding, and wish to share this hard-won knowledge with others; hopefully it may lead to some understanding for you as well. I introduce the reader to these conversations just as I was at the time; i.e. blind-sided.
from J. L. Lawson:
The spaces between sections are the placeholders of a separate story which was also delivered by his mysterious guests. That story is not included here. Find the Donkey and the Wall trilogy, published by Voyager Press for full content of that tale.
Read an excerpt below or read it at the Voyager Press page:
Excerpt from: Porch Dialogues, © J. L. Lawson 2013
Everybody had an idea. “Just do it,” was the most recurrent offering. Yet, lurking there in the shadows of future failure, was a glimmer of the hope that somehow it would happen.
I’ve got a world of experience, unlike when I first thought of it an age ago. I’ve got the time necessary and the skills. It’s not exactly the ordinary thing to attempt, but I have never been accused of being ordinary…
“I suppose it can’t be any worse than taking up golf or flyfishing…But…” And the all too familiar wave of trepidation at the first step of something new washed through him. This time around it wasn’t the debilitating numbness or white haze of confusion that whelmed his thoughts; it was resolution and surrender. Maybe that’s what it felt like to everybody else, after all, when one at last ‘just did it’, and knew it was doable, possible, even practicable.
The morning was the same as any other. His body creaked slowly to the bathroom form the bed, then to the kitchen and the coffee press. The porch was chilly, the sky was a brightening promise and the cat welcomed a scratch on the ear she had slept on.
“Not the same any more.” He muttered in counterpoint to the purring. “It’s even a bit easier, don’t you think, Mocha?”
She didn’t answer except to expand the range of the scratching to her neck. A bird dropped from the branches of the Tallow tree off the porch to peck at an early bug in the grass. A breeze ruffled the water of the pond as if in sympathy with his sigh as he got up to fetch the morning’s first cup of coffee.
“Where to begin?” he sighed almost aloud.
‘At the beginning…‘ Startled, he looked around for the voice. He peered about uncertainly at the porch, then the kitchen. “That’s odd, indeed,” he muttered and sat down again.
‘Stories usually do, you know…‘ Again, the uncomfortable feeling of intrusion, but still no body to append to the voice. Stopped in mid-sip at this last contribution, he burned his tongue on the hot liquid and splattered himself trying to rescue his mouth.
‘Good stories, anyway…‘ and the voice trailed off quietly.
“Uh, thanks?” his forced courtesy was mechanical. Though he questioned his own voice for answering at all. “So this is insanity, where to now, I wonder, catching at imaginary butterflies?” Strangely, he was only slightly unsettled, and decided to pursue ordinary activities as the best defense against further lapses, and proceeded to go upstairs and change from his pajamas, going about the ‘normal’ routine of a morning.
No history of nutters in the family closet, he reflected, never a mention of hearing voices, nor he emphasized, of seeing things. Must be a sign of getting older, I suppose, he concluded. As he descended the steps and had almost convinced himself there hadn’t been anything out of the ordinary, after all…
‘If you cannot think of a story of your own, I have some good ones…‘
“I can hear you, you know! And I am unused to conversations with the empty air. Where, who…you’re…” words weren’t coming easily.
‘You talk on the telephone.‘ the voice replied as if making a point.
“So?” he challenged, scanning the room for some evidence of a source for the voice.
“There’s only empty air then, isn’t there?‘
“This isn’t a phone call and it is definitely not…” he stammered, leaving: “normal,” left unsaid.
Mocha chose that moment to scratch at the sliding door. He turned to let her out, then froze. On the other side of the glass was a person. Conflicted by the relief at a having a body to append to the voice, versus the abruptness of the sudden arrival and manner of the surprise guest, he was only able to feebly reach for the door handle and pull it aside.
The man had already begun to speak as he slid the door open, “Indeed, I am not a phone call, I’m afraid.” he finished, reaching down to stroke the cat at his shins, “and I am not normally empty air,” he finished, with a tone of self deprecation. ”May I sit down with you on the porch here?”
It was the same voice.
“The coffee smells good,” the man prompted.
“Uh, let me get you a cup.” the younger man said numbly, and moved woodenly into the kitchen, fumbled in the cabinet for a mug and went through the motions of pouring a fresh cup. He hesitated as he reached for the cream.
“Yes, please, just a bit” came the voice from the porch.
He poured a dab into the steaming coffee and returned to the porch, padding out through the still open door. Mocha was already in the stranger’s lap napping. The man smiled up at him and reached out a tanned hand to receive the proffered mug. Sitting down across from the visitor, he stared expectantly, not knowing what to say nor what to think.
The visitor began, “It was Goethe who put it best: ‘Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness…’” he paused to fix his hosts eye, “Concerning all acts of initiative there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.” He waited for the words to have an effect and continued, “A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.” The effect of the visitor’s words were concrete, he sat rapt, expectant. “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” There was a slight inflection on the last words: ‘Magic in it’, and the visitor continued to look at him, with a gaze that begged an answer, or a response of some sort. The host had heard every word, and they felt to him as if he had been parched and the voice was clear water.
“It was your voice.” he said at last, then clearly asked, “But…how, uh…where…who…”
“You ask all the proper questions a writer should ask, at least,” the guest said mirthfully, and sipped his coffee.
The flummoxed host searched for something to say, then blurted out, still in somewhat of a fog, “You said start at the beginning, like what?”
“Well take any whole phenomenon…say… Music. Pick a note, any note on a keyboard, and it is a beginning that doubles itself; it travels along a definite path to achieve an end.”
Still fazed but now feeling he was gaining some composure, the young man retorted, “But, life doesn’t have clear beginnings and endings… It’s all fuzzy, you know.” Perhaps this last was more reflective of his own condition rather than a sincere expression of his views, but he was rolling now.
“Oh of course it does. Look our meeting this morning,” the guest winked, “it began when you made a real decision, and then committed to it.”
“And it will end…!?” was the host’s only plaintive.
“Well yes, when you accomplish this aim.” the older man concluded easily.
“Sounds simple,” the host conceded, “but life’s not always like that!”
The stranger stroked his chin absently, and the host began to think he was at last gaining ground on his sanity. The cat stretched in his nap as if reaching for phantom prey. The guest pushed his hands through the silver hair on the sides of his head in overture to starting a fresh tack.
“Let’s agree to not be silly, and instead, adhere to reality in order to avoid lapses into pure illusion.” he offered.
Taken aback by the assertion that the obvious was being obviated, the host insisted, “I’m talking about reality! Work, pay taxes, die! Everybody knows it!”
“No.” As if the calmness of the guest’s simple response was intended to brook any further argument. “The world is more fantastic than is dreamt of in your philosophy. Only because a proposition is commonly held, does not certify its validity. People live in a half-waking, half-sleeping state where things are done through them while no one does anything, existing as they do in a dream world of illusion…believing any old tale, and constantly changing the positions of their incomplete attention.”
The host recoiled in the crashing cold of this new wave of information. Feeling his new purchase on sanity slipping from him, he whimpered, “But, I’m not talking about some philosophy! I’m talking about how it is, it’s just facing facts”…”isn’t it?”
The stranger sat, the cat slept, the ripples on the pond grew in the breeze, birds flitted amongst the Tallow branches, insects buzzed and reeled, and the stranger just sat quietly, resolutely, calmly smiling reassuringly at his host. After what seemed an eternity, or just a moment, his soft voice affirmed, “What you describe is merely a description of a very poor, very drab, albeit ubiquitous, illusion. That is all.” The finality of the statement came and left, and the host was without a lifeline again.
After a further quietus in which they sipped their coffee and gazed into the morning, the stranger recited almost to himself, “ ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear as it is, infinite.’ Blake put it beautifully, don’t you think?” the guest mused, then began again, “Permit me to lay some groundwork for our endeavor: there is philosophy, there is theory, and there is the practicable. Each of these has its own merits and each may describe some facet of Reality. Only the Practicable must be based entirely upon reality, for only in the presence of reality can anything be truly done. Do you see the necessity of this?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” the host blankly responded.
“Then when we speak together of beginnings, and the gamut of a course to an end, we shall speak practicably. Agreed?” the guest offered, drawing the host into the confidence that they should speak more of these things, and that felt as a sort of relief to the host, though he couldn’t explain to himself why. The stranger continued.
“Your lack of understanding on this point is wholly understandable.” the guest continued gently, “Modern man is besieged with a barrage of misinformation and half-truths to such an extent that where he should have a functioning conscience able to discern the actual from the mistaken, he has only hearsay and old wives tales as his guide through a complex world. His defense is always to blame another, or to blame fate itself, when things go wrong, and then blithely accept as his just reward the accolades for any success he encounters, which, however, is often the result of coincidence, then at best: haphazard.” Depressing as it sounded, the young man listened carefully in spite of himself. “And to add insult to injury, he claims for himself the most unjust prize of all, that he is, de facto, a unified individual. Simply because he uses the same name throughout his life, because he sees the same image in his mirror morning after morning, and refers to himself always as ‘I’. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. It is therefore no wonder that when recounting any remarkable event, he is lost. Unsure of his own participation, unsure of the agencies involved outside of himself, and almost always unclear as to any event’s exact importance, unless he was perhaps impacted intimately.”
Unable to bear the weight of any more debilitating news, the host whimpered aloud, trying to use any means to deflect the stranger’s assertions, “And what does this have to do with a story, and where to really begin?”
The old man answered, “That is the gist of this conversation. To make this information clearer, let me provide an illustration of my meaning and you may take note of the methods and content employed, so as to better understand it. Does that sound to you like a good course of action?” the guest asked, then waited as the young man deliberated the proposal.
“Yes, that actually makes sense, thank you. I’ll just get some paper and a pencil.” With something, at last to do, he went into the house and returned in a moment, ready to write.
The earlier chill of the morning had given way to a comfortable warmth pleasantly punctuated by an occasional breeze. Across the pond a couple red eared turtles were dragging themselves up onto the bank into the sunshine. From where they lolled, the porch of the house appeared a stage upon which two actors played the parts of teacher and pupil. One with the silver hair of age, looking to a distant screen for his cues, the other, young and studious, diligently scribbling notes as his elder spoke.
The backdrop of empty, fallow fields below the sharp blue Texas sky held the titanic shadows of tall clouds gliding across the landscape, as a grand stage set in motion.
Gazing long enough, one might begin to descry the story of the land. The seas which once covered it, dotted here and there by short expanses of archipelago, and the gradually receding waters leaving the silted river deltas and fertile soils for new grasslands and forests. The rise of animals to graze and hunt its bounty. Then the cataclysm that ended it. Rising from the ash and dust, life tenaciously resumed its march to dominance once again. The earth rejoiced once more in its bounty and awaited the coming footfalls of its new master. Man. And the old man began a tale of man.