About Mark Rickerby

Hi. I'm a 25-time author/contributor for the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series and the creator/head writer of a western TV show called Big Sky, coming to your TV screen soon. I like to write. I like writers, the people I understand and who understand me, blessed and cursed with the same love of well-turned phrases and well-told stories; the ones who would be thinking of how to write a story about someone who got hit by a car while they're still on the ground after actually getting hit by a car. My three and six year-old daughters help me with my writing. The other day, my eldest was running around the back yard collecting stars in a Mason jar. I asked her what she was doing and she said, "I'm catching stars. Want one?" I do my best to live in their world as much as possible. I lost my way after all these years, but they're showing me the way back. You may have found this page because you read one of my stories in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. Or you may have read my poem How We Survive. I'm very proud of that poem. It seems to help people, which for me is the highest purpose of any art. Or you may have heard a song from Great Big World, a CD of songs I made for my first daughter to welcome her to the world. However you found me, I hope you'll hang out for a while. I'll be posting articles about writing, music, poetry, travel, friendship, poetry, marriage, fatherhood, and other stuff that makes life worthwhile. Please also look for my series called Messin' with Mark, God's (yes, God's) TV showing the pranks He has pulled on me. Thanks for stopping by!

Innocent Lost, Trust Betrayed.

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I can’t stop thinking about little Cannon Hinnant and all the children who have been killed this year by the madness that seems to have infected America.

I don’t know what the solution is, except perhaps mandatory, nationwide classes in how to control emotion, because that’s what every sociopathic idiot has in common – total inability to regulate their own impulses. They have chaotic minds, and lead chaotic lives, and the kids are dragged into them. Misery truly does love company.

I suppose it’s nothing new. The innocent have always suffered because of the sins and foolishness of men.

Looking at their sweet, trusting faces, and thinking about what their lives and futures “should” have been – if they could have trusted the broken world they were born into – brought to mind an old poem by Longfellow. 

The Open Window

The old house by the lindens
Stood silent in the shade,

And on the gravelled pathway
The light and shadow played.

I saw the nursery windows
Wide open to the air;
But the faces of the children,
They were no longer there.

The large Newfoundland house-dog
Was standing by the door;
He looked for his little playmates,
Who would return no more.

They walked not under the lindens,
They played not in the hall;
But shadow, and silence, and sadness
Were hanging over all.

The birds sang in the branches,
With sweet, familiar tone;
But the voices of the children
Will be heard in dreams alone!

And the boy that walked beside me,
He could not understand
Why closer in mine, ah! closer,
I pressed his warm, soft hand.

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Tribute Bands

I once heard some cynically conclude that being a tribute artist is a “waste of a life.” I disagree, for several reasons.

  1. They help diminish the grief of losing our favorite artists, and there are fewer higher purposes than softening the burden of grief.
  2. On one hand, it’s sad that nobody on the stage was actually in the original band. On the other, these are people who have obsessed, even more than the biggest fan, about every detail of their music. This makes them worthy of respect. After all, it’s the love of the music that matters, not who’s singing it. Of course I’d rather see the actual artist up there, but someone who loves them that much is worth watching too. We can’t bring them back to life, but capturing their spirit sure helps lighten the load of missing them. It’s about love and celebration of all they were and all they gave us.
  3. If the band/artist absolutely nails the original band’s sound down to the smallest detail, we can close our eyes and remember our own smallest details – of when that music first grabbed us, made us feel more deeply, learn something new about the world or ourselves, and gave us the kind of joy only music can.

Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about when I say “nailed it.”

When I listen to a Beach Boys tribute band like The Fendertones, I remember driving home from the beach (I was born and raised in Southern California) with my high school girlfriend, stroking her hair as she lay sleeping on my lap (cars had couches for front seats back then), the sun setting in my rearview mirror, and The Warmth of the Sun playing on a cassette tape. I think of laying on lounge chairs by my parents’ pool, drenched in Tropical Blend tanning oil, my eyelids bright red from facing the sun, friends jumping off the roof into the pool while Fun Fun Fun blasted from a radio. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m listening to the actual Beach Boys. These guys loved them as much, maybe even more, than I ever did.

Very few artists had a greater influence on me than John Denver did, particularly his love of the environment, and promotion of sustainable ecology and human compassion. For that, there’s this guy – Jim Curry – who has John Denver’s voice DOWN –

Or Ted Vigil, who looks like John’s twin brother and does a darn good impression of him too – 

 

I suppose I just love people who love the same things I do. They’re my family whether or not we’ve ever met. I love surfing culture thanks to The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, The Surfari’s, Frankie and Annette movies, and access to Malibu, especially now that I’m leaving California due to overcrowding, crime, gangs, etc., I love the people who help keep my memory of it alive, and who make me feel like maybe all is not lost after all. 

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California Screamin’

 

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My usual jogging path along the railroad tracks in Burbank, California, has gotten worse and worse in recent months. Trash everywhere and a lot more homeless people.

I walked by a couple who were living in a very nice tent. They even had a generator. He was chewing her out about something as I approached, then she furtively pointed at me and he stopped, but as soon as I passed he went back to yelling at her. The part I caught was, “Look at this right here! If I didn’t pick it up, it would sit there for a year!” He then picked up some item on the ground. (This did not distinguish the item at all because there was no furniture in the tent and everything was on the ground. )

Apparently, they were having marital issues because he doesn’t think she’s a good enough “tentkeeper.” I can’t blame the guy for wanting to maintain some dignity under those conditions, but I couldn’t understand why he would be so abusive to the one person on earth who is willing to suffer with him.

Bob Marley said, “Everyone will hurt you. The trick is finding someone worth suffering for.” I suppose the message here is to appreciate the people in our lives. They suffer when we suffer, and that’s worthy of respect, at least.

Real Life vs. The Movies #1

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I had another “no wonder I’m a writer” moment recently.
In movies, the candy man sings, rides a rolling ladder and showers happy children with candy.
In real life, a pimply teenager stares at an iPhone constantly, ignoring the one child customer right in front of him, and doesn’t smile when you buy his damn candy.
Conclusion: Real life can really suck sometimes. 

My Last Night in Athens

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It was my last night in Greece and I only had fifteen dollars in my pocket. I had to decide between a meal and a bed. I chose a meal, and one last night of wandering. I could sleep when I was back in L.A. It was a Saturday night in July so there was plenty to see and do. The Greeks love to celebrate, and they don’t need a reason.

After dinner, I went to a music festival for an hour, then walked over to the Acropolis to get one last look. I was momentarily disappointed when I found the gate locked, but there was only a chain link fence around the base of the hill. Not exactly a fortress. I walked to a secluded spot at the perimeter, threw my sleeping bag and backpack over the fence, and crawled under it. I would have to keep my eyes and ears open because I saw armed guards with dogs there a few weeks earlier when I first visited.

Once inside, I walked to the Theater of Dionysus, talked to the statues holding up the dais, and delivered a monologue at center stage under the stars to whatever forgotten gods on Mount Olympus might be listening. For a theater major, it felt pretty amazing to have this stage all to myself, the same stage Thespis, the first actor to ever play a character in a play on a stage (according to Aristotle), once stood. (For those who don’t know, this is where the term “Thespian” comes from.)

Then I chose one of the cracked seats (sixth row, center, thank you), pulled a half-full bottle of red wine from my backpack, and imagined I was an ancient Greek watching some passion play. It wasn’t difficult. All I had to do was look at my feet and the brown leather Greek sandals I had bought on Mykonos months earlier.

The wine and the hour made me drowzy, so I hiked to a cave in the uncarved stone at the base of the hill supporting the Acropolis, laid out my sleeping bag, took a candle and a book of poems from my backpack, and invited some great company over (Frost, Longfellow, Dickinson, et al) as I watched hot air balloons glowing against the night sky in the distance, at some other festival.

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Finally, sleep took me until I was awakened again by a high-pitched squeal. I held my candle up to the sound and saw . . . bats. Dozens of them, clinging to the walls. Though the night was warm, I got inside my sleeping bag and zipped it over my head, hoping they wouldn’t try to bite me through it.

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I awoke at dawn, and went out the way I came in. I was spotted by a guard from the top of the hill. He yelled but I just kept moving. Thus ended six months in Europe. I arrived home twenty pounds lighter, with less than a dollar of change in my pocket, but with a heart and soul filled to bursting, and a mind filled with dozens of new stories to tell my grandchildren. If I had spent that last fifteen dollars on a bed, I would have had nothing to write about. That old saying is true – “It’s better to wear out your shoes than your sheets.”

Just a House

 

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I found a photo online today of one of the four houses I lived in as a child. (Chimineas Street In Northridge, California.) Just a house to anyone else but much more to me, of course.

I played Frisbee with my brother (now gone) in the summer on that grass.

I helped my dad (now gone) wash his car in that driveway.

My dog Skipper (a black terrier mix) pulled me on my skateboard down that sidewalk.

I planted a pine sapling in the front lawn because it was growing by a block wall and I knew it would be pulled out and thrown away when it got too big. It is now that giant pine tree on the right. It’s a strange thing to be able to climb a tree you planted. (One of those things that lets you know you’ve been around a while.)

I rushed home from school at Darby Elementary to eat scooter pies and watch Scooby Doo in that living room.

My brother and I shared the bedroom on the left. My bed was by the window. I used to look at the stars and pray, certain God heard every word. Lots of comics read under the covers with a flashlight, too.

I would trade a year for five minutes in that house again, at that time, with my brother and father. So much changes, and memories can be so clear that decades feel like days, even minutes.

Those of you who have lived long enough to know what I mean, have a listen to this song by my favorite singer/songwriter, David Wilcox. I think you’ll like it.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9L5iP0R2Zqo

New Publishings!

 

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Please look for my stories The Radio That Couldn’t Be Stolen and A Word Whispered to a Toddler in this book, now available in bookstores and online. 

These make 23 of my stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s inspirational books, but only the second time I’ve had two stories in one book. I’m always very proud to be part of their inspirational collections.

There was an expression in the 60’s – “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” These books are part of the solution. All of life’s great questions can be found in them, collectively. With over 250 titles released over the past twenty years, they are the best place to find stories about extraordinary events written by ordinary people. 

Tim Conway

My father died in the same condition comedian Tom Conway is currently in. His daughter doesn’t expect him to last much longer. As a child, my parents, older brother and I laughed uproariously at his performances on The Carol Burnett Show. It was a time when comedy was still clean and free of attacks on others. The last gasp of innocence in America. Carol is still good and decent, as evidenced by her new Netflix series about children, similar to the 60’s show Kids Say the Darnedest Things.

I was once interviewed on the radio by Tom Conway, Jr. so I feel an odd connection to his father, though I never met him.

So another light is going out, and that’s what it is in a world filled with dimmer bulbs. A soldier friend of mine once shared a photo on Tim Conway’s Facebook page of himself holding an 8×10 signed by him. He actually re-shared it saying, “Here’s one of our fighting men with a signed photo of me he’s not trying to sell on eBay.” (Or something to that effect.) He went on to say some nice things about veterans in general. The man was old school in that way, too. The current crop in Hollywood, at least most of them, are either conspicuously silent or outright critical of the military. I suppose they think that’s more hip.

Here’s more about Mr. Conway’s life right now.

http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2018/08/27/carol-burnett-star-tim-conway-is-battling-dementia-and-is-almost-entirely-unresponsive-report-says.html

And one of his most famous skits –

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away
of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been,
time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go;
but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen,
the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.
Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.
I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes
than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.
– Edna  St. Vincent Millay

 

The Last Days

This idiot’s expression is incredible when he finds out starving an infant to death is punishable by life in prison without parole. Too many people, especially men, think their children are their property, not separate lives independent of them. Too many people call themselves Christians without having any idea what it means, too. Unfortunately, these two morons have two other kids who will now be raised in foster homes. What is it with all the stories about child murders, child abandonment, etc., these days? Maybe it’s time to start requiring a license for having a child the same way licenses are required to catch fish and drive cars. Or are fish and cars more important than babies? Sorry for the rant. This is just another of the dozens of things I don’t get about human beings.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/christian-couple-baby-girl-starvation-dead-michigan-seth-welch-tatiana-fusari-mary-a8482311.html

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I wish that was all the bad news in America today, but there was also this:

South Carolina Mother Arrested for Homicide After Leaving Newborn in Trash Bag on Car Floor

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/08/07/south-carolina-mother-arrested-charged-with-homicide-after-leaving-newborn-in-trash-bag-on-car-floor.html

And this:

Man Arrested at Extremist Muslim New Mexico Compound Was Training Kids to Commit School Shootings

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/08/08/man-arrested-at-extremist-muslim-new-mexico-compound-was-training-kids-to-commit-school-shootings-documents.html

And this:

Mother of Dead Fetus Found in American Airlines Bathroom Arrested

https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/mother-dead-fetus-found-american-143326928.html

And this:

Police Locate Mother of Baby Found Dead in New York River

https://www.yahoo.com/gma/police-believe-located-mother-baby-found-dead-york-100106574–abc-news-topstories.html

Then there was the little boy yesterday who overdosed on meth because his father was too strung out to get out of bed when he said he was hungry, so the kid ate his entire stash thinking it was cereal. Yep. Cereal. He died horribly a few hours later, and I’d be willing to bet the dad regretted losing the meth as much or more as losing his son. Here’s the boy and the waste of skin he called “dad.” In better times, that kid might be at a park or zoo today with parents who laughed with him. He’s laying on a cold, steel gurney at the morgue instead because this piece of dog crap (not to insult any actual dog craps) was too lazy even to keep his drugs out of reach.

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I’m sorry to bring everybody down. I usually try to keep things light. But we’re all used to this crap anyway, right? Today is just a little bit worse than most days in America. Adults have never been able to get along, but the ignorance of some people is even more appalling when it affects the lives of children who didn’t ask to be born and got ripped off in the cosmic lottery by ending up with monstrous parents. 

I’ve never been a big believer in the “end times” because people have always been brutal, because we probably just hear more about it now that everyone has a camera in their pocket, and because we have such easy access to news, which is all bad by nature. But it’s still hard not to take these words from the bible seriously –

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

– 2 Timothy 3:1-5

What Falls Away

I always loved going to garage sales. When I was younger and hadn’t lost any family members, I used to like having them, too. That has changed. I lost my brother twenty years ago, my mother-in-law almost ten years ago, and my father four years ago. So mixed among the usual clothes and CD’s, DVD’s and books were their clothes and other property. I kept my father’s office chair, the chair he sat in behind his desk, supporting our family. I kept all of his office items and papers, just because they held his handwriting. I kept the reclining chair from his home.

Since he died, I have pressed my face against the back of that chair where his head rested, against his clothes, and inhaled, hoping some odor is still caught in the fabric. My wife has done the same thing with her mother’s belongings, even her old cell phone. God in heaven, the desperation to be close to them again is overwhelming sometimes, or to just prove to ourselves that they existed. Because whatever it is that separates heaven and earth is thick and heavy and almost completely impenetrable.

There have been strange occurrences since my father died, like my toddler saying a word that identifies my father better than any other, just minutes after I prayed to him for a sign that he is free of the brain diseases that took his life. A shamrock appearing in a puddle under a trashcan after a similar prayer. (He was fiercely Irish.) Giving an old lady who missed her bus a ride on the first anniversary of his death and discovering that her destination was the very hospital where he died. Some people find pennies. Some feel like butterflies are the souls of passed loved ones. Maybe. But all these little messages, though better than nothing, are never enough when we need to hug them, touch them, hear their voices, see the love in their eyes again.

I haven’t been able to move on, not only because my dad died, but because of the way he died. Whittled away to nothing by Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia over five years, until he couldn’t remember who I was. He deserved better. Then there’s the anger at God for allowing all of it. I’ll never understand it no matter how agile the verbal gymnastics of stronger Christians is.

But I needed to move on so I put his old office chair out in the yard with everything else. I watched people walk away with his shirts, bought for a dollar each, as if that’s all they were worth. But I kept a few. The ones that hadn’t been washed before he died. There all I have left of him. But I put them in a box, out of sight, to be taken out again someday, years from now, or maybe tomorrow. I never know when I’ll need to, especially at night, when there are no distractions left to hide in.

And I suppose that’s grieving in a nutshell. We move on in little ways, in minuscule increments, until the loss becomes bearable. Nobody bought my father’s chair. It’s sitting in front of my house, at the curb, waiting for someone to take it for free. People driving by slow down and look at it, as if it were just a chair.

I understand now why people hire others to handle their estate sales. It’s bad enough to lose someone without haggling with deal-seekers over their property, too. Someone tried to talk me down on one of my father’s jackets and I felt like strangling him. But it wasn’t his fault. How could he know that jacket once held someone who was everything to me? How can anyone know the hurricanes that are raging in the hearts of strangers?