This is a wonderful Odd-Couple story and somehow an incredible comedy. It’s 1962 and brilliant Black concert pianist, Dr. Don Shirley,played by Mahershala Ali (just won Best Supporting Actor for this role) decides on a concert tour into the Deep South (true story). His chauffeur in a beautiful blue Cadillac is Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga, played by Viggo Mortensen who’s just lost his job as a bouncer in a mob-run club in New York City. Tony is good-natured, meat and potatoes and pizza guy and Dr. Shirley is a deific, prince-like being who plays a Steinway piano like a god. Tony likes to eat chicken and smoke while he drives; Dr. Shirley has never eaten fried chicken. The farther south they go, the heavier racism they run into. Tony must protect Dr. Shirley’s dignity and farther south, his life. Of course they are stock characters: the loud-mouth Italian; the super-dignified, super-talented Black; the stupid Southern racism. The brilliance of the movie is that such dark material is blissfully leavened with humor. Great comedian George Carlin said great humor comes from the most painfully taboo subjects. This movie is proof. My judgment of any movie is always: Would I want to see it again? Very rarely would I ever say yes. Green Book I would gladly see again tomorrow.
I dreamed I had been alive for 144 billion years. That I had lived literally millions of lives. There were an infinite number of planets teeming with life and flowing with the consciousness of God. And since in the dream this universe endlessly repeated itself–I had been every sort of being. I had been a bum, a race car driver. I had been a murderer and I had been a doctor. I had died as a baby and lived to be an old woman of a hundred and seventeen years. I had been a slave and I had been a king. I had been a bank robber and I had been a founder of a children’s home. I had been a mercenary soldier and I had been a monk in a monastery.
When I woke up, I remembered there were at least 144,000 things I had not yet been, some ‘bad’ some ‘good’. When I woke up I realized that all of these dream lives had been valid, that I had learned something important from each one of them, whether I had been famous or whether I had been infamous. When I woke up I realized it was no longer necessary to wish I could have been a famous actor or a great athlete. I had already been that–or would be that in the future. All those lives!
When I woke up, I realized that my life right now, was and is, completely valid. Indeed I could be nothing else but exactly what I was and am, no reason to belittle myself or be jealous of anyone else. When I woke up I realized I was okay–and so was everyone else and I…and I…loved myself for the first time…just a little bit.
And I…loved my brothers and my sisters for the first time…just a little bit. Realized they were just a part of myself I had been hiding from–in another form playing another role I had played or would play one day. I had no reason to hate them and every reason to love them. I had no reason to hate myself and every reason to love myself.
When I woke up I wanted to dream that dream again and again. It was a very good dream.
We’re really talking about two different things here: American Ideals of Liberty with the Pursuit of Happiness, and, American Action-History (or reality).
The American flag represents, symbolizes and is emblematic of our American Ideals. When you stand for the American flag here is what you are standing for: freedom of expression; freedom to select elected officials; freedom to pursue your own choice of lifestyle and career; freedom to pursue your happiness; freedom from persecution. We modern Americans very often take these freedoms for granted because we have always had them. Thousands of Americans have fought and died defending these precious ideals. When we stand for the American flag we are standing to honor these Americans who have sacrificed for our freedoms and what we call our “rights”.
I think it’s a big mistake for anyone, and especially high-profile athletes, to not respect the American flag in the traditional manner, that is: to rise and stand with the hand over the heart to signify love and appreciation. To sit for the American flag or kneel for the American flag is an inappropriate response to a highly charged situation. “This is what I stand for.” I want you to take those six words literally and in their deepest double meaning. “This is what I believe.” And, “This is what I stand up for to show respect.”
I believe the athletes who sit or kneel are professing a disgust with American Action-History. That is, the failure of our American Ideals. They have every right to be disgusted because American Ideals are intentions that are world-wide huge and America’s failure are also huge. No country has ever before tried to do what we’ve done. In our shared tribal human history (whether you were light or dark) , if someone looked different, you attacked them or killed them or enslaved them. America changed all that. Let it read, America is still trying to change all that.
America is the country of the world that opened its arms to freedom-hungry people from all over the world. That is a founding American Ideal.
Because human beings (even Americans) don’t always behave in an ideal manner the reaction to the influx of later immigrants (notably Irish, Chinese, Italian) was terrible expressions of prejudice and hatred.
This prejudice, this unfair treatment, this un-American treatment, is certainly what the high-profile athletes are reacting to and responding to. They are certainly right and especially as free American citizens they are certainly right to protest prejudice and unfair treatment. It is very much the American spirit to be brave enough to take a stand against injustice especially if it seems to be embedded in the power structure. They are right to do this. They are very right to protest against the racism that still exists in our amazing country.
But they are not right to disrespect the symbol of our American Ideals. I say, Rise up, my beautiful athlete warriors. You have attained power and position in the greatest free land on earth. Use your power wisely to do good. The cause of freedom is not helped by disrespecting the symbol of freedom: The American flag.
America is still trying. America is always a work in progress. Don’t ever give up on America. You are all a part of that American progress we call freedom.
Just a few footnotes on the perils of a getting a professional book review. It’s easy to be too quickly understood by a very busy reviewer (I’m sure they’re very overworked and overwhelmed by the volume of new books on the market). The reviewer says three times my work is a trilogy. It may be unimportant to anyone else on earth but I would like to state and make plain and clear in no uncertain terms:
The Goldfinder is a four-part series. Book One, The Gold Hunter; Book Two, The Gold Shaper; Book Three, The Gold Soldier; Book Four, (to be published) The Heart of Gold Lake.
The reviewer states my character is a “young man navigating the early colonial wilderness”. The American colonial period was roughly mid-1500’s to mid-1700’s. The Goldfinder Series has nothing to do with the colonial period and everything to do with the Gold Rush era, which began in 1849. I have done everything in my writing power to capture the flavor and mania of the Gold Rush era, and particularly the Valory family which is swept up and destroyed by the gold fever madness–and–what will Petr Valory do to survive after the madness has rushed over him. Which leads me to the next point: the white’s relationship with the native people.
I am taken to task “that Native American characters are consistently called ‘red'”. Let me assure you it would be highly unrealistic (unless I were writing a Mel Brooks comedy-parody) to have any of my white characters say, “Let us go over the rise and see if there are any Native Americans lurking there.” Even though it might be offensive to modern ears, the Gold Rush characters would and did say: “Keep your eyes peeled for redskins.” At best I can only repeat the disclaimer that appeared in the foreword to Francis Parkman’s great classic, The Oregon Trail: “It is important for today’s readers to keep in mind, however, that although this book was representative of its time, it in no way reflects current attitudes.”
But anyone who dares to write with any degree of racial flavor is doomed to be misunderstood. And those who are uncomfortable with American history shouldn’t read American history. They should read fairy tales, romances or soap operas. American history is strong stuff and always will be. No other nation has tried to provide equality and freedom for every race and class. Our failures have been epic and bloody. But at least we have tried. And in my life and in my writing, with a great lack of perfection, so have I.
The Gold Shaper is a fast-paced, exciting coming-of-age story about identity and the search for a deeper purpose.
The second novel in a trilogy, Philip Atlas Clausen’s The Gold Shaper puts a twist on the western genre by pairing a yearning for gold with the dramatic story of a biracial young man navigating the early colonial wilderness. Tense interactions between starkly different characters are the star of this adventure-filled show.
Without having read the first book in the series, it is at first difficult to decipher the relationships between the various characters, but after a few pages, each character’s singular motivation is made apparent. Sabbah, a Native American man, wants to evict the white men from the continent by any means necessary. Dain King, a leader in a nearby white settlement, wants gold. And Petr, King’s half-white, half Native seventeen-year-old estranged son and the story’s protagonist, wants to save his kidnapped sister and prevent a war between the white and Native peoples. Petr is pulled in many directions, which constantly shift and amp up the tension of the already suspenseful plot.
At the beginning of the novel, King takes Petr hostage and tortures him in an attempt to get information out of him about the location of his gold. When he ties the boy up in a canoe and throws him down the river–with someone a few miles down to grab him–the canoe is intercepted and Petr is rescued by a group of Native Americans, one of who is the beautiful Minoah. Petr soon discovers that Sabbah is part of this tribe, and tracks him down in order to find his sister. Of the very few women characters featured in the novel, one is Minoah, who functions merely as a love interest, and another is Petr’s sister, who falls into the damsel-in-distress archetype. The speed at which Petr and Minoah fall in love is detrimental to Minoah’s character development as an individual, and Petr’s sister, at least in this volume of the trilogy, seems to serve only as a plot piece to keep Petr moving forward.
It is also problematic that Sabbah is often referred to as “the bad Indian,” that Native American characters are consistently called “red”. Petr considers his Native American heritage a “dirty” part of him and chooses to identify with it as little as possible, except for in a few brief instances with Minoah, such as when she gives him a pair of moccasins that symbolize her wish to marry him.
The interpersonal relationships between the characters–aside from the too-fast partnership of Minoah and Petr–deepens the story beyond its action-filled plot. Especially for Petr, the tension between the two communities and the complex men within them can twist single-minded ambitions from distinct to more than black and white. Realistic, dramatic dialogue strengthens these interactions and pulls the multilayered plot forward swiftly. The woodsy setting, too, always looms in the background, commingling danger and beauty.
The Gold Shaper is a fast-paced, exciting, coming-of-age story about identity and the search for a deeper purpose. Fans of westerns and historical adventures may enjoy this novel and the other volumes of the trilogy. (Aimee Jodoin– April 26, 2018)
Gritty blue collar snapshot of America in 1982
Reviewer: Philip Atlas Clausen on February 4, 2018
Very gritty blue collar snapshot of America in 1982. Least Heat-Moon needed to get away from home in Missouri where his marriage and career were disintegrating so he took this circular trip around the USA to clear his head and in so doing created one of the great travelogues of all time. He’s not visiting glamour spots or drinking destinations of the travel brochures. He’s down, lost and confused. He wants to see how real people are living and getting on with life and maybe get a clue about his own place in life. And since he’s limited himself to the back roads, the blue-lines on the map, he meets mostly blue collars in the little out of the way places. A delightful plus and surprise to me was he took photo snapshots of the people he met and included them in the book. The man has a photographic mind for detail and dialog which got a little overwhelming at times.
Steinbeck tours America in his prime
By Philip Atlas Clausen on January 16, 2018
What I didn’t know about John Steinbeck is that he is always engaging. For twenty years he was the big man writing the Great American Novel: “Tortilla Flat”; “Of Mice and Men”; “The Grapes of Wrath”. Then in 1960 he decided he needed to refill his creative tank. He needed to travel across America again (from Maine to California and back home to New York), not as a tourist, not to see the sights–but to engage with people, Americans–see what they were thinking, hear what they were talking about. Steinbeck was the kind of man who could walk into any bar or hardware store or gas station and engage with and maybe even make a friend for a moment or a lifetime of the person he encountered. To be sure, whisky often seemed a catalyst to his socializing. Certainly he was a charming man. To make it even more charming he traveled with this poodle, Charley. Steinbeck didn’t give out his name, didn’t want to be treated as the big writer. Thus he gathered a very honest, undistorted view of 1960 America. I also didn’t know Steinbeck didn’t live very long. He died in 1968 at the age of 66.
ATLAS SHRUGGED, Ayn Rand is the opposite of modern pop-fiction.
Philip Atlas Clausen January 15, 2018
A big novel, a big investment of time, written in a time and for a time (1957) when there were far fewer media and entertainment venues in the world to pull the mind into the bright nothings of modern life, when a novelist could get away with long soliloquys quite unnatural to the modern sound-byte consciousness. This big book is for the contemplative reader. Here’s what it’s about. Brilliant, hard-working industrialists create all the modern wonders of incredible motors, trains and steel–and the government talking-heads ‘experts’ do all in their power to bleed the creators dry of their just rewards symbolized by the mighty $ sign. The mysterious John Galt secretly organizes the creators into a strike: they disappear one at a time into a hidden and secret valley and withhold from the non-producers of the world their creative and maintaining powers. The industrial world slowly crumbles. Trains stop running. Electricity runs out. The lights of the world go out. At the end of the novel, now that the world learns who its real benefactors are, the inventors, creators, artists and industrialists: the creators are ready to return and rebuild the world. It’s a unique book if a little exhaustive and exhausting. Something Ayn Rand does over and over again to the point of silliness is overdrawing of faces: triple meaning etched into the expression of every face becomes a little tiresome and eventually preposterous. This novel is a very long dramatization of the virtues of capitalism versus the evils of socialism and welfare-ism. It’s like mental weightlifting: tiring, but noble and worth the effort. The opposite of modern pop-fiction.
My brother Rog and I lived in California in 1969 when he got drafted into the Army while I was going to junior college with a 2-S (student) deferment. The 2-S meant your military obligation was deferred (or put off) until you finished or dropped out of school. I stayed in school, but I felt torn because my father had served in WWII as a B-17 copilot and I believed Rog would soon be going to Vietnam–and shouldn’t I serve? I went to the Marine Corp recruiter in San Jose. I was 18, not very athletic, and I had been told the military would “make you a man”. My big problem was I felt volunteering for the military meant volunteering for killing someone, and my 18-year-old conscience said I couldn’t do that. I told the recruiter I wanted to apply for the Officer Candidate School. This meant I would stay in college and learn to be a Marine officer on weekends and in the summer. At graduation I would become a Marine Lieutenant on active duty for three years (as I recall). The recruiter gave me a bus ticket and off I went to Moffett Airfield (by San Francisco Bay) for physical fitness examination.
The room was a great old airplane hanger bigger than a football field and filled with a circle of 500 young men who had either enlisted or been drafted into military service. A doctor in the middle of the room called out “injuries”. For example, he yelled, “Anybody got a bad knee?” Hands would go up. A team of doctors went around the ring checking for “bad knees”. One man raised his hand every time for every “injury”. One man told me he drank a quart of soy sauce so his heart would pound. I passed every test except the vision test. When I returned to the recruiter the next day, he gave me the news. “You can’t quality for Officer Training, but I can still get you into the Corp as a soldier! You can enlist right now!” I said I hadn’t thought about that. I said I had only thought about Officer Candidate School and staying in school. He said, “I think you need somebody to make your decision for you! Give me ten pushups!” I did twenty, and left there in a hurry, feeling ashamed and sad. (In my old age I know I probably wouldn’t have survived very long as a Marine Corp lieutenant in Vietnam).
I moved to Nebraska to be close to my girlfriend. We both went to school at Dana College, a Lutheran college. I still felt very confused about whether I should enlist, or not. Now at the wise old age of 19, I made the brilliant decision to let fate make my decision. I wrote my draft board in San Jose and told them to take away my 2-S deferment and make me 1-A, the designation that meant you were eligible and ripe for military service. I finally got a notice back from my draft board saying I was no longer 2-S. I was now 4-D. I had to look that up on the list of designations. The 4-D signified I was a “divinity student” and therefore ineligible for the draft. I will never know how that happened and I took that as my answer that fate did not intend me as a soldier in this lifetime.
A short time later (I think it was early 1970) the Draft Lottery was televised and we watched in the student union TV lounge as our birthday dates were drawn out of a tumbler. Those who got low numbers (who would be the first to be drafted) turned away in shock and despair. My birthday, October 27th, got a high number (187??) and I was told I would no longer need to worry about the military draft. If I wanted military service I would have to voluntarily enlist. Then Rog returned from Vietnam in late 1970 and told me in no uncertain terms that he did not want me to go to Vietnam. And that’s how I ended up not going into service and not going to Vietnam.
And I will always feel second-best to those who went and those who served in Vietnam.
Now I’ve given you all the Letters from Viet Nam from Rog, and I believe he wrote in a humorous style to hide the horror and terror of what he was doing. But there are other things I remember, things he told me. And right now it feels like two of the letters are missing (right before and after he got wounded) because I can remember things he wrote that I can no longer find on paper.
He wrote: Don’t believe what you read in the papers. We don’t fight for patriotism or democracy. We fight to keep alive, to protect our buddies–and we fight to get payback on our buddies who were killed. That’s why we fight.
He wrote: The wounded guys all look like zombies. Don’t come here, Phil. There is Clausen blood in this ground and one Clausen is enough for this war. Don’t come here.
I can’t remember if he said his machinegun was 50 or 60 caliber. He wrote: The door-gunner machine gun is so powerful I can chop down a tree with it. You can’t imagine what it does to a body.
After Rog died, his stepson Dave told me Rog used to scream in his sleep at night at home. Rog didn’t want to talk about it. But finally he told Dave, “I’m here at the shit plant (the water treatment plant in Palo Alto, CA). and the gooks are coming over wire, over the fence. The gooks are overrunning the plant and I can’t stop them. They’re coming….”
Philip Atlas Clausen is author of The Black Butterfly Woman, a Vietnam era novel about the war. Purchase now at https://goo.gl/MBDMU2 Available as softbound or e-book.