About markrickerby

Hi. I'm Mark Rickerby. I'm a 19-time author/contributor for the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series and co-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 ones I understand and who understand me, blessed and cursed with the same sickness to chronical absolutely everything. The ones who would be thinking of a story about someone who got hit by a car in the moments after they got 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. My two year-old dances better than I do. 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 the 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!

Who Can You Trust? Humor poem (sort of)

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Who can you count on?
Who can you trust?
From the day you are born
till you return to dust?

Coca-Cola doesn’t care if your teeth fall out.
Phillip Morris doesn’t care if you cough up a lung.
OPEC doesn’t care if the earth is a wasteland.
Skoal doesn’t care if you spit out your tongue.

Casinos don’t care if you blow your life savings.
Wendy’s doesn’t care if you have a heart attack.
Developers don’t care about nature or wildlife.
Big Auto doesn’t care if we all cough and hack.

So who’s watching out for you and your family?
Who’ll care for you and for them if you won’t?
Here’s a clue that might help you figure it out –
If they’re making any money from you, they don’t.

You might say your parents would die for you
They certainly love you so I’m sure that is true
but they can’t watch you every waking moment
and they sure as heck can’t live your life for you.

You might say your friends are the best in the world
and I’m sure that they’re all very warm and sincere
but if you could see ten or twenty years down the road,
you might be surprised to see who’s gone and who’s here.

You might say your dog loves you without condition
and he’d faithfully walk beside you through hell
but if Mussolini or Hitler stopped by for a visit,
chances are he’d love both those bums just as well.

“Well,” you say, “Surely God watches out for me.
You’re not going to slam HIM, too, for Pete’s sake?!”
But drive your car toward the highest cliff you can find
and see if He helps you step on the brake.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that God loves us
and He’ll welcome us home when life is through
but for someone who’s bent on self-destruction,
there’s not a whole lot that even He can do.

Okay, so who’s really watching out for you?
Here are a few more not-too-subtle hints.
It’s not the police. They’re just too damn busy.
And it’s not politicans or world governments.

It’s not the Great Pumpkin or the Easter Bunny.
It’s not Woodsy the Owl or Smokey the Bear.
It’s not the Tooth Fairy or good ol’ Saint Nick.
(I hate to break it to you but Santa ain’t there.)

Well, I’ve narrowed it down pretty well
and given a lot of darn good clues.
If this was a game show or a board game,
there’s no way on earth you could lose.

But a game it is definitely not, my friend.
In fact, it should be chiseled in stone.
The only one you can count on 24/7
is you, just you, yourself, alone.

  • Mark Rickerby

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Talky Tina (humor poem for Twilight Zone fans)

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When I was a kid, I was constantly terrified.
My imagination was a bad neighborhood.
I read scary comics like Tales From The Crypt
And watched horror films more than I should.

The first Sunday morning of every month,
I could be found at the local drug store
Looking for the latest issue of Monster
And other mags filled with blood, guts and gore.

On Saturday night, my buddies and I
Would stay up late and watch B-horror flicks
Presented by Vampirella or Seymour
And get our horrification fix.

One would think I was a pretty tough little guy
From all these “inappropriate” movies and rags
But I was actually the world’s youngest insomniac.
I had suitcases under my eyes, not just bags.

But the thing that scared me the most, by far,
Didn’t haunt houses or howl, creep or crawl.
Frankenstein and Dracula were big sissies
Compared to typical, everyday DOLLS.

During sleepovers at my best friend’s house
All the dolls in his little sister’s room
Made me not just run back home to mommy,
I’d run straight back up into the womb.

I couldn’t stand their cold, lifeless grins;
Their painted-on, glassy-eyed stares.
They attempted to murder me night after night
In tortured, tormented nightmares.

Then Rod Serling had to throw in his two cents
And make my night-time fear level climb
When he introduced me to a one Talky Tina –
The freakin’ scariest doll of all time!

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Every night after that, I’d perform a routine
To make sure I was completely alone.
I’d check in the closet and under the bed
With fear that made me quake to the bone.

As I lay in my bed, hiding under the sheets,
A sweaty, petrified, nervous wreck,
I’d hear Tina say, “I’m going to kill you”
And feel her little hands grabbing my neck.

Of course, that was a long, long time ago.
Now I’m all grown up, brave and strong.
Talky Tina never comes to call anymore
And my slumber is peaceful and long.

But sometimes even now, when the moon is full
And the wind makes shadows dance on the wall,
I imagine I see a small figure run by.
I imagine I hear Tina call.

I pull in my dangling hands and feet,
Yank the covers up over my head
And I’m that goofy kid all over again
Lying scared and alone in my bed.

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The Journey (love poem)

To emerge from the chrysalis of fear
In the haunted cave of sorrows.

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To plunge into the sea of hope
And shimmering tomorrows.

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To drift to the island of dreams
On soothing waves of bliss.

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To sleep in the sands of peace
And awake to your sweet kiss.

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Alien Classroom

 

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Scene: A classroom on a faraway planet almost exactly like earth.

Teacher:

Good morning, class. Today, we are going to talk about the beings who inhabit the planet called Earth, which we have been observing for some time now. The question we will seek to answer today is, have they evolved spiritually over the past several hundred thousand years when they were mysteriously given the ability to think, or are they still primitive, territorial savages? Let’s see, shall we?

(Teacher walks to chalkboard, picks up chalk, and begins to draw.)

Let’s say they have a piece of land, which they would refer to as a continent. It is very large and contains everything necessary to sustain life. What do you think they do with it? Do they all join hands, sing its praises and happily share it, as we do? Anyone? Anyone?

No, for some reason, they break it up into territories they call countries. Countries, it seems, come in all shapes and sizes, depending largely on who has conquered whom. That is, who has taken by force most of the land from the others. It has been demonstrated over the centuries that land is a very difficult thing for the leaders of these countries to have enough of. Although they have everything they could possibly desire and there is plenty of room for their people on the land they already have, they seem unable to resist the urge of going out and taking some more land. Of course, this requires killing everyone already living there.

Okay, so they are all split up into countries. Do you think they stop there? Anyone? Anyone?

(Child raises hand.)

Yes, Schnork?

Schnork:  

Uh . . . no?

Teacher:

That’s right.  They then continue to divide up the countries into smaller territories called states, then the states into counties and the counties into, let me see, oh yes, cities.  Within these cities, there are many smaller areas called neighborhoods in which the various kinds of human beings, or races as they put it, congregate, hoping to isolate themselves from the other kinds of people.  These neighborhoods are comprised of rows called blocks.

I’m sorry. I know this is getting confusing.

The main criteria they use in determining who is their kind is skin color. This attitude is so pervasive that there are actually organizations known as hate groups dedicated to hating other groups.

(Several gasps are heard around the room.)

I know, I know, it sounds unbelievable but research has shown that they seem to feel much happier when they are around people who look and act like themselves. Sometimes, they even violently attack others who don’t look like them. Also, when people of a different color come into their neighborhoods for some reason, they are often viewed suspiciously by the residents of that neighborhood. Frequently, the local residents even hit the visitor on the head or kill them with little projectiles called bullets. They then usually take all of this person’s property and leave them in the street to die. It is most disturbing to observe.

It has been theorized that the robbing and killing occurs because the robber does not want to work. After all, what other reason could there be? Except total lack of morality and spirituality, of course.

The main reason, however, is that human beings just have not learned the true meaning of the word sharing yet. They have made a few noble efforts to impose sharing on people through various political systems but, unfortunately, they used violence to enforce the sharing.

We are still not sure what the beings who attack beings unlike themselves are trying to accomplish. One possibility is that they attack each other because they can’t or won’t change and become like one another.

Something we find particularly ironic is human beings’ tendency to refer to themselves collectively as humanity. Obviously, their actions toward each other often don’t do justice to the word.

But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes – once they have chosen their neighborhoods, they buy a box called a house to live in. They also buy a portable box called a car which has wheels on it in case they have to venture out into the world of strangers. These cars emit very unpleasant fumes which make the air heavy and hard to breathe yet, for some reason, they continue to use them. Our top scientists are still trying to figure out that one.

By the way, all of these smaller, personal boxes are covered with locks so that they feel protected from one another.

The thing human beings like to do most is engage in sexual intercourse. The reason for this, we assume, is that the accumulated pressure of living within the confines of so many self-imposed boundaries creates an overwhelming urge to strip all of them away – yes, clothing is another one – and enjoy being what I’m afraid they truly are – naked, primitive beasts driven by the most basic of impulses.

The final boundary or box that these creatures hide in is a very elusive thing they call an image which, curiously, is almost always contrary to the way in which their fellow beings actually perceive them.

These findings have been obtained during our visits to the earth over the centuries. Sadly, despite their technological advances, their spiritual and social development is still in a deplorable state. We have attempted to interact with the earthlings on several occasions, such as when we helped the Egyptians with their pyramids, gave Mr. Einstein a personal tour of our planet, and met with that nice Mr. Spielberg.

We have also worked closely with government officials about a program to begin desensitizing the human race to the possibility of our eventual appearance. Many of these officials fear that if the human race learns of our existence, their egocentric, archaic religious notion that they are the only intelligent life form in the universe would be destroyed. The overturning of this delusion, they fear, would lead to anarchy in the streets and the total collapse of their societies. So the leaders who are aware of our presence go to great lengths to keep our existence a secret for the sake of perpetuating the status quo on their planet. This makes little sense to us considering how desperate the need is for a change of the current status quo on earth.

In the years before we made contact with the humans, a few of our fellow beings crashed in a place the earthlings call Roswell. We never heard from them again but can only imagine the terrible fate they must have met. Judging by how they treat the creatures who share the planet with them, creatures they refer to as lower animals, it is too horrible to imagine. Rather than respecting and celebrating the diversity of life on earth, they eat these other animals and wear them for clothing. Sometimes, they even kill them just for fun, or what they refer to as “sport”. Some kinds of animals are spared this fate. However, this is limited to animals they consider to be cute and can be trained not to leave droppings on their carpets.

It is also peculiar to us that they use the term lower animal when referring to non-human creatures since, in all of our studies, we have only seen these lower animals kill each other for survival, never for fun or profit, as human beings routinely do. So many mysteries . . .

One of the most common questions we have heard the earthlings ask is why we always fly over unpopulated areas and not their big cities. Of course, the answer is obvious. With all of their weapons pointing toward the heavens and their inherent propensity to use them, it would be foolish indeed for us to do so. Therefore, in the interest of continuing our studies, we must remain in the quieter, more peaceful areas.

I should add that not all human beings are bad. There are even a few good ones in the big cities where most of the bad things occur. Many human beings even become crusaders, desperately trying to save the human race from destroying itself.  Unfortunately, these people usually lead tormented lives, burdened as they are by such a monumental task.

The purpose of this lecture was not to scare you but to heighten your appreciation of our beautiful world by observing a less fortunate one. Please don’t worry. Human beings have not yet attained the technology necessary to reach our planet.

Class dismissed.

People Every Writer Should Know About #1 – Joseph Campbell

 

This is the first of what will be a series of posts about great writers and others who writers can learn from. I intend to learn from these as I post them, too. After all, when we stop learning, we start dying.  

Anyone who wants to write fiction or find their own true path in life should read everything they can get their hands on by this man – Joseph Campbell.

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He wrote a couple of books –  

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He may be among the top three authors who answered the deepest questions anyone could ever ask, about religion, mythology, writing, and their own inner nature.

He said some cool stuff. Stuff that not only inspires but saves you from the soul poisons of anger, blame, resentment, etc.

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But I think my favorite is this one –  

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known – we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outwards, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

Jonathan Young’s interpretations of one of Joseph Campbell’s main philosophies is pretty good, too.

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He is valuable to a writer because in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he described the elements that tie together most great stories. Here’s a chart – 

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The book to start with is this one –

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It’s an interview in the 1980’s between journalist Bill Moyers and JC. It is extraordinary. A friend I urged to read it once told me she felt as if she were “coming home” – like it tied together everything she had studied up to that point.

Like most geniuses, Campbell had a way of charting the obvious, or what feels obvious once we’re made aware of it – things we knew but didn’t know we knew about storytelling, movies, religion, and the inner workings of our own hearts and minds. 

It’s important for writers to write what they know and what they feel compelled to write, but it’s also important to know the elements and, okay I’ll say it, formula that makes a story great. We don’t need to adhere to this formula slavishly. In fact, doing so can make a screenplay predictable and even boring. But if we deviate from the basic elements of the hero’s journey, we do so at our own peril.

Here’s an even simpler breakdown – 

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These elements are defined very thoroughly here – http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/the-hero-journey-mythic-structure-of-joseph-campbell-monomyth.html

Thanks for joining me on this particular “journey.” Please look for future posts titled “People Every Writer Should Know About.” 

I hope you write a best-selling novel, hit movie, or timeless poem, and I hope this post and the others in this series help you get there.

 

On the Courage it Takes to Get Married – Try Not to Cry

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This is one of the best pieces of writing on the institution of marriage – on the level of commitment and sheer courage required – that I’ve ever encountered. It also happens to be the speech my best man gave at my wedding eleven years ago. I don’t think he would mind me mentioning his name. He’s an actor named Colin Cunningham. You might know him from Falling Skies, Stargate SG1, or about a hundred other movies and shows. He’s also a writer, as you will see.

His parents and mine knew each other in Ireland, and since the Irish tell their kids to call all their friends “aunt” and “uncle”, we grew up thinking we were related somehow. The adventures we had, as kids and adults, could fill a library.

One of the things we share is a sometimes inappropriate sense of humor, and even his wedding speech was not spared it. But it still works, perhaps because of the contrast it provides against the story’s depth. You can skim over his obligatory praise of me if you want. I won’t mind. It gets more interesting as it goes along.

Enjoy! And if you’re married, be proud that you are among the most courageous.

“The great romantic, Leo Bascallia once wrote, ‘What love we’ve given, we’ll have forever. What love we fail to give will be lost for all eternity.’ I believe just after that he shot himself in the face. But I digress.

Friends, honored guests . . . and people sitting at the weird, kind of ‘not really any of the above’ table . . . 

I’ll try not to lament on how I met Mark Rickerby, our anecdotal childhood, nor the honor it is for me to be here tonight. This is not a tribute. Mark’s not dead. He’s just getting married.

Neither am I here to offer advice on matrimony. I am a bachelor, have never been married and hold my toilet seat up they way our Marines held up the flag at Iwo Jima.

Instead, my role here today as best man (if I be worthy of such a title) is to represent one of the greatest friends I’ve ever known. But also to perhaps ‘introduce’ him to those on Claudia’s side of the aisle that may not know him as well as I.

Mark Rickerby is a friend.
A protector.
A romantic.

Not the ‘bubble bath and chocolate’ kind of romantic, but one of an insatiable quest to find beauty in all things.

A writer.  
A poet.  
A Hemingway rowing through an ocean of tripe.

Mark has always been one who searches out the triumphs of ‘day to day’ to pay tribute to much forgotten. Mark has always thought a little harder, looked a little deeper, and felt a little more.

A man who has battled for such trophies as integrity, bravery, character, respect and honor, words no longer as common in today’s vocabulary, for they are trophies that do not come with a scratch and win, Happy Meal or Diet Coke. They are things to be earned, not granted simply because you exist.

And so, all I can do is tell a few stories that may enlighten you as to who Claudia’s family will be spending Thanksgiving dinner with.

As younger men, Mark and I spent much time traveling about the Greek Isles, and when others were showing how progressive and enlightened they were by going topless, getting tattoos and having their genitals pierced, Mark was sneaking into the Parthenon just as the sun was setting over Athens.

Then, after all the tourists had been ushered back to their hotels and cruise ships, by the light of an Aegean Moon, he would come out of the shadows and take his own personal tour. He’d stand where Aristotle stood, where Socrates once spoke. One more Man pondering the what’s and why’s of life. One more ghost.

For as a younger man, Mark had the wisdom to know that his rights of passage would encompass more than a beer bong. That, and if he wanted to pierce his wiener, well, he could do that right here in West Hollywood.

One morning on the Greek island of Paros, as the college graduates were icing their nipples, Mark pulled me away from the action to visit a local graveyard. As was Mark’s style, his purpose for travel was always far greater than putting notches on a pension’s bedpost.

The small cemetery was old but tidy, nothing incredibly unusual, only this one did have something neither of us had ever seen before. There were small, glass boxes – ‘aquariums’ if you will – at the head of each grave. Some were very old, others current to the times. But what they all had in common was the fact that they all contained personal contents of the deceased. Things such as a pocket watch, photos, medals, etc.

I know it may sound a bit morbid, but bear with me. It was incredible, for these glass boxes were essentially ‘windows’ into their lives, and reminded one of things far greater than any cold headstone ever could.

Well, Mark and I had never seen anything like it. You literally got to know the person that lay before you – their family, friends. It was exceptional.

Having many questions about the place, we looked over to see a lone caretaker tending to a corner at the far end. He was an old guy. Quiet. Just sweeping about the place.

And so, keen for information, we approached the man.  

Respectfully, we began our barrage of questions as to ‘why’ and ‘how’ and ‘what’, etc.  But the old guy spoke NO English and instead just looked at us like we’d just asked him to scrub a lizard or something. He then gestured for us to follow him.

With that, we came to a small headstone and yet another glass box. In it were a couple of old black and white photos. One of a young woman and the other of a young couple.

Mark and I had no idea what it was, or why the man had brought us there. It was then the old man pointed to the ring on his finger, and then pointed back to the glass box.  

He was the man in the photo. And the woman buried there was his wife.  

To this day, I have never seen a sweeter, more profound introduction. This man took a part-time job at a cemetery so that he could be close to the woman he loved.

And it was then I realized . . . marriage is not for the timid. Not for those who seek safety. It is for the most adventurous. The most brave. It takes great strength. Determination. Faith. It is a subscription to things far greater than you are alone. It takes guts.

It takes a romantic.

My trips to Greece basically ended with a container of bad potato salad. But Mark continued on throughout the Mediterranean, throughout Europe…. and finally, to San Juan Capistrano where he met Claudia. And she turned out to be a friend of such beauty that it inspired, perhaps, his greatest adventure of all.

That said, I would like to raise my glass and propose a toast. On behalf of myself, my family, and all who have come together to make this day special.

To Mark and Claudia Rickerby. May God bless you, as we have been blessed through you. My love to you both.”

A New Friend for My Lonely Doggy

My dog was lonely and in need of a haircut, so I made a new pal for him out of his trimmings. Problem solved!

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(Just kidding. Don’t worry. I have two dogs and they have lots of fun together. Actually, they were both very excited about this new friend but soon lost interest because he just lays around all the time.)