Original Short Fiction: "The Graveyard Whistler's 'Letters'"
The characters in this story are fictional and resemblance to any person living or dead is unintentional.
The Graveyard Whistler's Introduction to "Letters"
As my faithful readers know by now, I am pursuing a PhD in literary history with a concentration on "irony." The thing is I am finding such marvelous gems that do not actually address the issue of irony but which are just so fascinating I can't let them drop without exposing their emotional plights to light.
This series of letters offers a delightful exchange between a professor and former student. They are obviously very much in love but have much baggage that prevents their ability to requite that love, that is, until certain unpleasant facts of life are overcome.
I apologize ahead of time for not being able to offer a completely satisfying ending to this story. I know my readers will be left with questions: did LJ succeed in persuading JL to relocate to SoCal.? does their love ever become physical? do they resume writing that corroborative collection that seems to have started this whole thing? and simply, do they live happily every after?
I know I would like answers to those questions, and I will certainly keep looking for them. But for now, please enjoy the exchange. Their writing includes some clever and quirky turns of phrase. They both were definitely lovers of literary language, and they definitely loved each other with a rare love and affection that many of us only dream about finding on this mud-ball of a planet.
Belmonte Segwic, (aka The Graveyard Whistler)
April 19, 19—
It's still difficult to call you that, even though I know it would be ridiculous to call you Professor Lawrence, considering our past relationship. I know you must be surprised getting a letter from me now; maybe you are shocked or annoyed, and are not even bothering to read this, so maybe I am writing in vain, but I will continue in the faith that you do still have at least a spark of interest in me and my life.
I owe you a huge apology for just vanishing the way I did, without one word of explanation or even good-bye. I hope you will accept it and know that I am truly sorry. I don't really understand myself that well even now, but at the time of our relationship, I was thoroughly confused. That confusion—or my desire to try to work it out—is part of the reason I am writing you now. But there are other parts. I hope I will be clear; I'm not even sure I can be.
Before I get into that, I wanted to tell you that when I saw your book on our library's new arrival shelf, I was tempted to check it out, but then I rushed over to the bookstore and ordered my own copy. You can be sure I will read it carefully and cover to cover as soon as it arrives.
Well, there are some things I have to say, and I might as well jump right into them. At the time we were working on that collection of poems, I was in a constant state of turmoil. I had written what I considered some of my best poems for the collection, but I feared they were too revealing, I mean, I feared they showed too clearly how I felt about you, and our growing closeness. I feared that if anyone we knew (your wife for example, and my parents and brothers) saw those poems, and saw that we, a professor and student, had authored them, they would make assumptions about the nature of our relationship. I could not face that. And I did not have the courage to tell you about my fears. You had such confidence in me, and you thought I was so bright and sophisticated for a twenty-year-old, but I didn't feel that way, and it scared me and upset me to have you find out. I just couldn't let you know how weak and insecure I felt, so I transferred to Miami to finish my BA in English.
Living at home was hell, but I'll tell you about that later, if you are still speaking to me or listening and you still care.
I had thought I'd tell you everything I had been doing and thinking lately in this one letter, but I see that it is getting too long. And I really should not be so presumptuous as to assume you are still interested. Instead, I will just come right out and ask you: Are you still interested in hearing from me? Do you think we can be friends? I have never forgotten you for a minute. I really do love you, and I have missed our talks.
You were always so insightful; I look back now, and realize that I surely could have trusted you with my insecurities back then, but I just didn't know it then. I am learning, but I am still full of confusion.
I hope you will let me know if it's all right to write you more. Please let me know soon.
Your "Lucy Light" (I hope still)
21 May 19—
My Dear Lucy Light,
I was delighted to get your letter. I have wondered about how you are doing and where you are. I have wondered if I had been the cause of your sudden disappearance and from your letter I gather I must bear some guilt in that regard. I should have realized that you were too young and inexperienced to become equal partners in that endeavor of authorship. But I will never take back what I said about your intelligence; you are still the brightest and most perceptive student ever to sit for my class in Mod Brit Poetry. You are also one of the most creative. I had occasion to teach a creative writing section last fall; as you know, I hated every minute of it, but at least now I know why I hate it so much. Because I totally agree with Auden that artists who take academic positions should do academic work. If I had my way, all creative writing courses would summarily be banished from the university. I have gotten upon my soapbox, and now I shall descend again to finish my lecturing to you alone.
Dear, dear girl—as you have apologized to me, let me say that if you truly think you owe one, then I accept it. But let me apologize to you in return. I am so sorry for what you have been through. I am more than willing to do anything that you feel will help you; I am more than willing to accept you back into my friendship, and may I say this, without pressure, if you feel you would like to resume collaboration on that collection, I would be happy to do it. I put the project away and have not had the heart to pick it up again, since my Lucy Light was extinguished.
I am so glad you are going to read my book; it's just one of those critical pieces that takes up much more time to write than it is worth. But it did me favors when it came time to apply for promotion, which I did and won full professorship; now I have occupied the Glossmere Distinguished Chair in Rhetoric and Writing for the past five years. Unfortunately, my share of committee work has not lightened, but I do intend to take steps to reduce all outside distractions, so I can concentrate on my own poetry. I have published maybe five poems in the past two years, and I feel that is a disgrace, but as I said, I do plan to remedy that.
So Lucy, as you may have gathered thus far, I will be watching my mailbox with a greedy eye for your letter. Your place in my mind and heart has not been filled by another nor erased by time. Come back into my life, and let's make life brighter and fuller for both of us.
I too have much news for you, but I wait for yours first. I wait and watch.
Yours for the works,
May 30, 19—
Oh my dear Distinguished Professor,
You have made me so happy for accepting my foolishness and forgiving it. Now I feel relieved and confident that I can tell you my reasons for contacting you.
Do you remember Nathan Glass? He was a student in the Mod Brit Poetry the same semester I was. And maybe you remember that he and I were dating off and on, while you and I were working on that collection. Just before I transferred to Miami, Nathan asked me to marry him. I told him I couldn't marry him because I was in love with someone else. And he pressured me to tell him who it was, but I never did tell him.
Without my knowing it, he was watching me; he contacted me at Miami, and insisted I see him, and when I did, he told me he knew that you and I were having an affair. I denied it, of course, but he said he had pictures of us. Well, I laughed in his face because I knew that was impossible, but he showed me pictures that looked exactly like us entering the Bevon Motel. He said it didn't matter if they were real, because they looked so real, real enough to get you fired and divorced. Anyway, he insisted I marry him or he would show those pictures to your wife and department head. So that's what I did, I married him. I hated him; I feel so guilty now, but I hated every minute of being married to him. Every time he touched me, I wished he were dead. He raped me; he never ever made love to me; he raped me, and he'd call me whore, slut, bitch, in love with that prig of professor, here bitch take this. That's what he’d say. He would never leave bruises on me, and he bragged that I would never have any proof that he continued to rape me and curse me.
That went on for three years. I was working on my masters at the University of San Diego, and he was an assistant professor in history. At the beginning of last year, his department head gave a party for the new members of the department. It was some kind of record; they hired something like five new members, and they had many more new TAs than usual, so they wanted to celebrate. The department head held the party on his boat, and everyone got real boozed up. Nathan usually never drank, except for beer, and he had told me he was allergic to vodka; this is why I feel so guilty. The bartender set out on a tray three glasses of drinks, two had gin in them, and one had vodka; I picked up the one with vodka and took it to Nathan, and I said, "Here's your gin." He was talking to one of his colleagues and didn't pay any attention and just drank it. About a half hour later, there was a big commotion and people looking over the side of the boat. And a couple of TAs jumped in. I rushed over to see what it was, and it was Nathan in the water. A female TA said he tried to unhook her bra, and she slapped his face, then he told her to watch, he could walk along the edge of the boat like a tight rope, but he couldn't, and he fell in. They pulled him out, and he was dead.
Oh, Jefferton, I hate myself for these next words, but I can't help them: I was so relieved, so happy. I cried and cried for days; of course, everyone thought I was crying in mourning for my dead husband, but I was crying in relief for myself.
Of course, I don't miss him and I'm still glad he's out of my life, but I also know that I never wished he was dead. I just wished he were a decent human being. But the guilt is eating me up. Jefferton, help me, if you can. I have no friends here yet. I am teaching two classes of composition at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, and I also work as a waitress in a natural foods restaurant. They think I will eventually get hired full time in both jobs. But for now, all I have is two jobs, and I need a friend with some advice.
1 September 19—
I must apologize for not answering your last letter sooner. After I recovered somewhat from the shock of your plight, I discovered that Marie has been having an affair with—well, never mind with whom—but the horrific scene that played itself out at our home on the third of July this year has left me a shambles. I don’t want to go into the details of that yet though, because I know I must attend to your request. Let me just add that Marie and I have finally decided to end our thirty year marriage; you must have noticed my address change. I can no longer live in the town where I was born, the town where I fell in love, the town where I grew to manhood—leaving only to pursue my graduate degrees, and then returning to the town I had taken to my heart for what I thought was a lifetime. No, the very trees here mock me that my Marie would deceive me so, and so I have moved to Indianapolis and become a commuter to my beloved Ball State to finish out my days as Professor of Rhetoric and Writing. I cannot leave my undergraduate alma mater, the university that took me to its bosom to allow me to blossom in my career as professor of English and now Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Writing. No, I shall live those fifty miles away and drive to my university every day, and leave as soon as my teaching and other duties are over.
One other thing—Martha-Marie Vandover Lawrence will never teach at this university again. Over and over I thank my God in Heaven that we bore no offspring to suffer this slice of hell on earth.
I just re-read this opening paragraph, and I am tempted to delete it, but no, I want you to know my state of mind, so that you may better judge any “advice” I give you.
First, you are not guilty of anything. That lout simply got what he deserved and in that, you are getting what you deserve: to be rid of him. Yes, I remember that knot-head. His putrid essays left a stench on my fingers; I hated having to mark them, and how I would have reviled having to discuss further with him any point I might have marked, and if I had marked any of his inanities, he would have engaged me after class to elucidate further stupidities. So I always marked him A and let it fall at that, no comment, nothing to invite his further attention.
How I would give anything had you told me that that bastard was blackmailing you. Oh so many years between that blackguard’s deeds and now—but I would not have allowed him to get away with it. Still, nothing we can do to remedy that, except that I convince you that you have no reason for guilt, and you must know that—I insist. Of course, you did not wish him dead, and you did not kill him. His own perversion killed him; his overweening pride, his misogyny, his blatant disregard of decency and humanity.
Lucy, if you could come here I would so cherish a visit from you. I have my own confusions. All the years of my marriage I was never unfaithful to Marie, though I have found out that she was unfaithful many times. But she claims my infidelity was mental and emotional, and she found your letters, and uses them as evidence I was just as guilty of infidelity as she. Maybe I am just old and out of touch, but I do not see it that way. To me there must be a physical consummation to constitute marital infidelity, and you know that we never so much as held hands.
Dear Lucy, if there is anyway you could travel back to Indiana, I would cherish a visit from you. I feel that we both need a balm that we cannot hope to receive from anyone other than each other. I simply must convince you that you must leave any guilt for that villain's death to the wolves. You deserve to make your life a haven of peace.
I will be waiting for your response with prayer that we may meet soon, resume a blessed friendship, and find the strength to live out the rest of our lives in harmony with each other and the world.
In love and friendship,
September 5, 19—
How to express the relief I feel from your kind words! No, I cannot. I am overwhelmed by the invitation to return to Hoosierland. You can be sure that I will begin immediately making preparations for that return.
It's all so breathtaking—it makes me dizzy. My work here is not without its perks, and I do love the climate. A thought, maybe a crazy thought!, just popped into my head: how might I persuade you to relocate to southern Cali? No, we can jump off that bridge if and when we come to it. But just maybe your love for your school and native state has run its course?
Now, I am off to make a flight reservation. Before I go further than that, I feel we need to reconnect in person to discuss all the details of my relocation. Please know how grateful I am to you, and that I so look forward to seeing you, listening to your sage advice, and just generally unburdening myself of cares and issues that I know you have the wisdom to address.
I will let you know my flight information as soon as it is confirmed!
Thank you again, dear Professor!
With love and gratitude,
PS/ Just in case, here is my phone number (760) 701-4619.
Letter #6: Post Card
15 Sept 19—
Our talk left me stunned and so grateful for our re-connection. Oct 7 cannot come soon enough. See you at the airport!
SRF Lake Shrine, Windmill Chapel
Life Sketch of Linda Sue Grimes
The following original poem captures the tranquility of my favorite meditation place in Los Angeles, California, the Windmill Chapel at Self-Realization Fellowship's Lake Shrine.
The Windmill Chapel
In the temple of silence
By the lake, we sit
In stillness, meditating
In divine Bliss.
Returning to our daily minds,
We walk out into the sunshine,
And the flowers greet us.
The Literary Life
Born Linda Sue Richardson on January 7, 1946, to Bert and Helen Richardson in Richmond, Indiana, Linda Sue grew up about eight miles south of Richmond in a rustic setting near the Ohio border.
After graduating from Centerville Senior High School in Centerville, Indiana, in 1964, Linda Sue Grimes completed her baccalaureate degree with a major in German at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, in 1967. She married Ronald Grimes on March 10, 1973.
As a writer, Grimes focuses on poetry, short fiction, politics, spirituality, and vegan/vegetarian cooking, which results in her original veggie recipes.
Although music was her first love, Grimes considers herself primarily a literary specialist as she creates her own poetry, studies the poetry and literary arts of classic writers, and writes commentaries about classic poems.
However, Grimes does continue to express her love of music by writing her own original songs, which she records, accompanying herself on guitar or keyboard. She shares her musical compositions at SOUNDCLOUD.
After completing the PhD degree in British, American, and World Literature with a cognate in Rhetoric/Composition at Ball State University in 1987, Grimes taught English composition in the English Department at BSU as a contractual assistant professor from 1987 until 1999.
Grimes has published poems in many literary journals, including Sonoma Mandala, Rattle, and The Bellingham Review. She has published three books of poems: Singing in the Silence, Command Performance, and Turtle Woman & Other Poems, and a book of fables titled Jiggery-Jee's Eden Valley Stories.
Grimes published her first cookbook in the spring of 2013, titled The Rustic Veggie-Table: 100 Vegan Recipes. She is working on a second cookbook and her fourth book of poems.
Currently, at Owlcation, Grimes (Maya Shedd Temple) posts her poetry commentaries. On LetterPile, she shares her creative writing of poems and short fiction, along with prose commentaries on each piece. She posts recipes resulting from her experimental cooking of vegan/vegetarian dishes. on Delishably. She posts her politically focused pieces at Soapboxie, and her commentaries focusing on music at Spinditty. Pieces on the writing process appear at Hobbylark.
Linda Sue Grimes has been a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda and a member of his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship, since 1978. A Kriyaban since 1979, she has completed the four Kriya Initiations, and she continues to study the teachings and practice the yoga techniques as taught by the great spiritual leader, who is considered to be the "Father of Yoga in the West."
Grimes practices the chants taught by the guru accompanying herself on the harmonium. She serves at her local SRF Meditation Group as one of the chant leaders.
Online Literary Presence
In addition to the contributions of her literary works to Owlcation, LetterPile, and SOUNDCLOUD, Grimes also curates her original creative literary pieces at her literary home, Maya Shedd Temple, on Medium, where she features her creative writing without commentaries. Grimes also maintains an additional online presence on Facebook and Twitter.
My Spiritual Journey: Why I Am a Self-Realization Yogi
"By ignoble whips of pain, man is driven at last into the Infinite Presence, whose beauty alone should lure him." –a wandering sadhu, quoted in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
Introduction: Salvation Is a Personal Responsibility
I am a Self-Realization Yogi because the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, who in 1920 founded Self-Realization Fellowship, make sense to me. Paramahansa Yogananda teaches that we are immortal souls, already connected to the Divine Reality, but we have to "realize" that divine connection. Knowing the Great Spirit (God) is not dependent upon merely claiming to believe in a divine personage, or even merely following the precepts of a religion such as the Ten Commandments.
Knowing the Creator is dependent upon "realizing" that the soul is united with that Creator. To achieve that realization we have to develop our physical, mental, and spiritual bodies through exercise, scientific techniques, and meditation. There are many good theorists who can help us understand why proper behavior is important for our lives and society, but Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings offer definite, scientific techniques that we practice in order to realize our oneness with the Divine Power or God. It makes sense to me that my salvation should be primarily my own responsibility.
No Religious Tradition
I did not grow up with a religious tradition. My mother was a Baptist, who claimed that at one time she felt she was saved, but then she backslid. I learned some hymns from my mother. But she never connected behavior with religion. My father was forced to attend church when he was young, and he complained that his church clothes were uncomfortable as was sitting on the hard pews.
My father disbelieved in the miracles of Jesus, and he poked fun at people who claimed to have seen Jesus "in the bean rows." My mother would not have doubted that a person might see Jesus, because she saw her father after he had died. My mother characterized my father as agnostic, and she lived like an agnostic, but deep down I think she was a believer after the Baptist faith.
Here’s a little story that demonstrates how ignorant about religion I was as a child: When I was in first or second grade, I had a friend named Caroline. At recess one day at the swings, Caroline wanted to confide something to me, and she wanted me to keep it secret. She said I probably wouldn't believe it, but she still wanted to tell me. I encouraged her to tell me; it seemed exciting to be getting some kind of secret information. So she whispered in my ear, "I am a Quaker."
I had no idea what that was. I thought she was saying she was magic like a fairy or an elf or something. So I said, "Well, do something to prove it." It was Caroline's turn to be confused then. She just looked very solemn. So I asked her to do something else to prove it. I can't remember the rest of this, but the point is that I was so ignorant about religion.
The Void in My Life and My First Trauma
Looking back on my life as a child, teenager, young adult, and adult up to the age of 32, I realize that the lack of a religious tradition left a great void in my life. Although my father was on the fence regarding religion, he would listen to Billy Graham preach on TV. I hated it whenever Billy Graham was preaching on TV. His message scared me. Something like the way I felt when my father's mother would come and visit us, and when my father would let out a "Goddam" or other such swear word, she would say he was going to hell for talking that way. I was afraid for my father. And Billy Graham made me afraid for myself and all of us because we did not attend church.
I never believed that things like swearing and masturbation could send a soul to hell. But then back then I had no concept of "soul" or "hell." I believed it was wrong to kill, steal, and to lie. But I'm not sure how these proscripts were taught to me. I guess by example. It seems that I had no real need for God and spirituality until I was around thirty years old.
My life went fairly smoothly except for two major traumas before age thirty. The first trauma was experiencing a broken heart at age eighteen and then undergoing a failed marriage, after which I thought I would never find a mate to love me. But I did meet a wonderful soulmate when I was 27.
Heretofore I had thought finding the proper marriage partner would solve all my problems, but I learned that my difficulties were very personal and at the level where we are all totally alone, despite any outward relationships.
The Second Trauma
A second trauma that added to my confusion was being fired twice from the same job at ages 22 and 27. At age 27 things started to make no sense. And it started to bother me intensely that things made no sense. I had always been a good student in grade school and high school, and I was fairly good in college, graduating from Miami University with a 3.0 average. That grade point average bothered me, because I thought I was better than that.
But then not being able to keep my teaching job and not being able to find another one after I had lost it very much confused me. It seemed that I had lost touch with the world. School had been my world, and my teachers and professors had expected great things from me. But there I was at age 27 and couldn't get connected to school again.
Feminism and Zen
I began reading feminist literature starting with Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, continuing with Ms. Magazine, and many others. The result of taking in the feminist creed led me to believe that I had someone to blame for my failure—men; men had caused the world to be arranged so that women cannot succeed outside the home. I began writing again, an endeavor I have sporadically engaged in most of my life from about age sixteen. I decided to apply for a graduate assistantship in English at Ball State University, feeling that I was ready to get out in the man’s world and show it what a woman could do. I felt confident that I could succeed now that I knew what the problem was. But that didn’t work out either. I finished the year without a master’s degree in English, and then there I was, confused again, and still searching for something that made sense.
I had heard about the Eastern philosophy known as "Zen" at Ball State, and I started reading a lot about that philosophy. Zen helped me realize that men were not the problem, attitude was. I kept on writing, accumulating many poems, some of which I still admire. And I kept reading Zen, especially Alan Watts, but after a while the same ideas just kept reappearing with no real resolution, that is, even though the Zen philosophy did help me understand the world better, it was not really enough. I got the sense that only I could control my life, but just how to control it was still pretty much a mystery.
Autobiography of a Yogi
Then in late 1977 on one of our book shopping trips, I spied a book, Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, and I recommended it to my husband, because he liked biographies. I purchased poetry books, and we purchased the autobiography for him. He did not get around to reading it right away, but I did, and I was totally amazed at what I read. It all made sense to me; it was such a scholarly book, clear and compelling. There was not one claim made in the entire 500 plus pages that made me scratch me hand and say "what?" or even feel an uncertainty that this writer knew exactly whereof he spoke.
Paramahansa Yogananda was speaking directly to me, at my level, where I was in my life, and he was connecting with my mind in a way that no writer had ever done. For example, the book offers copious notes, references, and scientific evidence that academics will recognize as thorough research. This period of time was before I had written a PhD dissertation, but all of my years of schooling had taught me that making claims and backing them up with explanation, analysis, evidence, and authoritative sources were necessary for competent, persuasive, and legitimate exposition.
Paramahansa Yogananda's autobiography contained all that could appeal to an academic and much more because of the topic he was addressing. As the great spiritual leader recounted his own journey to self-realization, he was able to elucidate the meanings of ancient texts whose ideas have remained misunderstood for many decades and even centuries.
The book contained a postcard that invited the reader to send for lessons that teach the techniques for becoming self-realized. I sent for them, studied them, and I have been practicing them since 1978. They do, indeed, hold the answer to every human problem.
I know it is difficult for most educated people to believe that all human problems can be solved, but that’s because they get stuck in the thought that they cannot. If you believe that you can never really know something, then you can’t, because if you believe that you can never really know something, you won’t try to know it.
Yogananda gives a map with directions to reaching God, and realizing that one’s soul is united with God brings about the end of all sorrow and the beginning of all joy. Just knowing the precepts intellectually does not cause this realization, but it goes a long way toward eliminating much suffering. The faith that we can overcome all suffering is a great comfort, even if we are not there yet. I realize that God is knowable, but most important is that I know I am the only one who can connect my soul to God—and that is the spiritual journey I am on.
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes