Searching for J-Town – A Primer

Oscar Wilde once wrote that “memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.” I’ve written about memory on many past occasions, often in the electronic pages of this, and other blogs. I wrote three novels and published two that were a fictionalization of my memories. You could argue that I am haunted by them, and my uncanny inability to forget them. Yet could the argument be made that the terms “haunted,” and/or “haunting” are not negative ones? Rather, could one such as I claim that to be haunted is to be the keeper of certain memories for others? Could one argue that what I have often considered the bane of my existence is, in fact, a gift?

I have never shied away from talking or writing about my past before now. In many ways this blog was always meant to be the diary that I carry about with me. So were/are the ENDWORLD books. You could argue that my desire to electronically journal that which I once scribbled in a copybook or leather-bound notebook for only my consumption was a product of pretentiousness. Folks might wonder “what makes my story or stories so important that I need to write them down, in the First Person (no less) for public consumption?” The short answer to that question is a simple one: Nothing. My life truly has been, for the most part unextraordinary. Yet the long answer is a bit more complex. I was, and I am keeping a promise or promises that I made to “write it all down one day.” I am a big fan of keeping my promises, which brings me to the WHY. Why this blog entry? And what does it mean for my future? I invite you, my family, friends and oftentimes casual readers to read on for the answer to that two-part question.

2022 has been a bizarre year. I think I’ve made that abundantly clear in my last couple of posts. So much good, tinged with so much bad: A true representation of Yin and Yang, light and dark et al.. 2022 was very much a year, representative of my life in microcosm. Given that, what are the implications for 2023 and beyond? What happens next?

It goes without saying that the completion and publication of HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD, at least from a writing standpoint is tantamount. As a good friend told me recently, “you need to finish your trilogy.” That is and will be foremost on my list of non-work related, and non-home improvement related goals in 2023. But what comes afterwards? Where do I go once the story, I have labored for almost 30 years to complete is finally fleshed out? What happens after I fulfill that promise? The answer to that particular question is also simple: I move onto my next promise. And that one is why I am writing this blog entry today, December 30th, as I glance behind me in the clear, Winter stillness at the year that was, and prepare for the year that is to come.

That same friend who I referenced above–the one that advised me to finish my trilogy–followed up that answer with another. The question? What then? That answer was ALSO a simple one: “Write about what you know.”

Some time ago… Decades honestly, I sat outside my last apartment in Jenkintown, PA with my friend Emily and discussed the prospect of writing a memoir about our experiences, growing up in what we endearingly referred to then, and still refer to now as “J-Town.” It is likely that many of you reading this know about Jenkintown. Even if you didn’t grow up in or around it, you’ve likely heard of it in the last 10-15 years. The actor/director/producer Bradley Cooper grew up there (and apparently was Confirmed with me; go figure). The hit TV series “The Goldbergs” is set there. Jenkintown has grown into so, much more over the last couple of decades than the Frank Lloyd Wright House and the old Wanamaker Building. It is now an integral part of pop culture. I’d go so far as to say it is semi-famous. Yet back then–When Emily and I sat outside in the parking lot of Madison Manor on a warm and breezy, Summer night–it was little more than a product of OUR collective memories. Not just hers and mine, but my sister’s. My mother’s. And all of the families that we grew up with us there. Not just the Marshes and the Cooneys, but the Rings and the Harmers, the Hungerfords and the Fitzgeralds, the Lyons and the Breslins. Even the Morenos. And that was just our street–Maple Street. If one were to branch out further, one could include the Kyles. The Parkers. The Scharnikows. The McCreaveys. I am sure there are other families that I cannot remember currently but may in time. J-Town, for Emily, myself and so many others was at that time still the world we knew the best. Post-college but pre-adulthood.

In the time since that unforgettable night, we’ve all moved around a bit–some more than others, sarcasm fully intended (I’ve probably moved around the most). We’ve grown up, started families and started careers. We’ve developed close, bonds of friendship with people that have only ever heard of J-Town because of Bradley Cooper or “The Goldbergs.” When asked how I became the man I am today, I generally speak of my experiences post-high school, and never those during or before. Yet truthfully, the person I am NOW started then. On a tiny street in a tiny town on the outskirts of Philadelphia, PA. So, if I am and remain committed to the e-publication of the diary I carry with me, how can I exclude Jenkintown from that discourse any longer?

Roughly 10 years ago, I received a message from Emily on what my friend Ed likes to call “The Book of Faces.” Most of us know it as Facebook. It was in response to a post I made about a new story idea.

Not to distract you from your story idea, but your post reminded me of something I thought of over the holidays. So many of the Maple Street/Hillside crew are on ‘Facebook.’ Maybe it’s time to start soliciting memories and stories from them like we talked about doing once upon a time? I don’t know. I really don’t know anything about doing something like this. What I do know is that we all have so many memories–good and not so good–and I would love to capture both. I think capturing both is key because if what I believe is true, it does take a village and ours did a stellar job.

I cannot recall if I ever replied to her post or not, but I remembered it… Jotted it down for posterity, even after whatever story idea I came up with that day had faded. I went so far as to reach out, and the idea grew and grew as more folks from our little village were looped in via email, phone or The Book of Faces. A few months later though? The idea petered out. It took a proverbial backseat to Life with a capital L, but in the time between that post, my subsequent outreach and the last email I received from my sister Katie on it, ideas were shared. Memories were remembered. And I started what was, at that time a compilation called “Searching for J-Town.” I still have it–hell, I’m looking at it right now. “Suicide, Jolly Ranchers and Bloody Lips” courtesy of Sean Leahy. “Of Snow Days and Memories of Childhood” by yours truly. The idea never left me, and many of the folks I grew up with there have, in the years since, approached me about it, even as I toiled away at my own Life with a capital L, and re-re-writing and publishing The ENDWORLD Series. Elements that had been intended to make it into the compilation popped up on this, and other blogs too. “The Mayor of Maple Street” for instance. Through it all I asked one question of everyone that brought it up to me: Why me? Why should I write it? The answer to that question was, predictably simple: Because I am first and foremost, regardless of anything else a writer, and it is my story to tell. Sometimes, the answers to the questions we ask are not complicated.

Write about what you know. I am haunted by my memories of my childhood, yet not in a bad way. Courtesy of my propensity to remember my past, I am and have been the keeper of those memories since Day One. A curse? Sometimes. As Emily said in her message, some of our memories are “not so good.” Yet even the not so good memories played a part in turning me… Turning US into the people that we are today. Just like love, lost inspired The ENDWORLD Series, J-Town and specifically, Maple Street inspired not only this blog post, but the next project I will be undertaking after I finish my trilogy. I did, after all, promise every one of those people that asked me about our ill-fated “Searching for J-Town” that I would write it down one day. And I believe in keeping my promises.

I should note a few things before signing off with my standard winky emoticon/smiley face. The first? Simple. This is my “on deck” project. I have to finish The ENDWORLD Series first. My plan is to do so and have it ready for reading in late April of 2023–no pressure on my editor or cover artist (I love you Amy and Cat, and I will of course work at your pace). A bit of a truncated timeline to be sure, but the hard part–the first and portions of the second draft–is already done.

The second? Given my outline, elements of past blog entries will make it into this memoir. One cannot speak of or write about Maple Street and J-Town without talking about The Mayor of Maple Street, Big Bill “Mister” Ring. I’ll try to keep them as true to form as they were when I initially wrote them, though admittedly, my writing has changed a bit (sarcasm fully intended) since and I have a knack for not just editing, but re-writing things I previously wrote (see: The ENDWORLD Series). I do so in the interest of voice consistency and continuity.

The third? My memories may not be the same as yours, and if you are reading this right now (I will likely tag you when I post this to the Book of Faces), I invite you to share with me YOUR memories. I promise I won’t steal them and call them mine. Much as Emily and Sean were earlier, you will be credited.

And the fourth and maybe most important thing? My WHY. I’m not writing this to get on Oprah’s now-defunct booklist. I don’t write for profit. I’m writing this because I am a storyteller, and I like to tell stories. And I truly, whole-heartedly believe that this story needs to be told. Given the world we live in now, our little slice of old school Americana is about as extinct as the Dodo Bird. 2022, bordering on 2023 is a much colder, and cynical world than the one that we the children of J-Town grew up in circa 1980-1993. Occasionally, my beloved minions ask me about what life was like for me at 13 and 10 (respectfully). And I tell them as best I can. Many times, they look at me like I have two heads but every so often, their eyes gleam with a smidgen of understanding and wonderment, as well as a healthy bit of skepticism and disbelief. “How could you live without a cell phone or computer Dad?” “Your parents let you stay outside until 10-11PM over the Summer?” “They let you wander by yourself, across Old York Road–a highway–and up to Foxcroft a mile plus away to go sledding in the Winter?” My answer to these questions is always accompanied with a smirk, and a story unfolds. Those answers are the inspiration for what I will be writing in an effort to capture my, and hopefully YOUR memories for the next generation. The children of Maple Street. Back when we all lived in a little town we endearingly referred to as J-Town…

And no one lived anyplace else.

Winky emoticon. Smiley Face.



On the Year That Was, and What Lies Ahead

Admittedly? It seems a bit early to be writing a retrospective on the year that was, and what lies ahead. Sadly, I’ve always been and remain incapable of suppressing my muse when it calls. Whether said muse is a person, place or thing changes from one moment of inspiration to the next. In this moment? It’s choice D – None of the above. Which is in and of itself a new development for me. There’s really nothing driving me to write and reflect right now save for the need to write and reflect. As for how the result will look when I’m done? Your guess is as good as mine. Let’s find out together, shall we?

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table…

I’ve read and enjoyed many poems in my life, yet to this day, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot has been and remains my all time, favorite piece. It’s slightly amusing that it was literally one of the first poems I ever read and wrote about in school–I think I was a freshman at the now defunct Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote, PA–but a good poem… Hell, a good piece of writing sticks with you, regardless of the passage of time. It’s why after innumerable iterations, the first line of my first novel was always “It is difficult to remember a time when my life had meaning.” It is why the LAST line of my third novel (and the third and final book in my ENDWORLD series) has been and remains the same as it was when I first penned it back in 1999 or 2000–I can’t remember the exact year. Literature is timeless. It’s the reason why regardless of my career success or whatnot, I always come back to writing. But I digress. Shit, when do I ever not?

This year has been maddeningly rewarding and challenging. One wouldn’t think that two extremes can co-exist so seamlessly but hey: That’s me. My career has reached a high point. My stability in all facets of my life is better than it has been in years. My children are for the most part happy save for the occasional, pre-teen or teen emo/stubborn moment. I’m reasonably healthy, albeit suffering from a little condition known to most folks as Getting Old. Outside of my need to finish Christmas shopping with only 11 days to go until that jolly old, bearded elf makes his appearance, I’m in a better place than I’ve been in many, many moons.

And yet the year that was was not without its obstacles. I won’t go into the particulars in the interest of anonymity and being respectful to any and all people that might be reading this right now. Fortunately, everyone and everything is reasonably on the mend. Even so, there were times this year that I was more exhausted than I have ever been, and I will not soon forget those moments. As I know some of you potentially reading this will attest to, 2022 was a year that we will remember for a long, LONG time, both for its high points, and its low ones.

Yet as I touched upon in my last post, challenges, while exhausting, can also lead to a degree of enlightenment. No, I am not talking about an eastern, philosophical state of being, but a secular one. They force you to take a look at your life where it is, and they give you the opportunity to foresee your life where you want to it to be. For so long now, I’ve struggled. With life. With love. With the idea of being in a relationship after my marriage went sideways and, TBH (as the kiddos say), pretty much any and every relationship I have ever been in ended poorly. With finances. With the occasional bout of depression, inherent in my bloodline, and spurred on by the sense that nothing will EVER be the way I want it to be. With my health (though not as much as others thank God, or whatever deity or deities you believe in). These struggles? They have been an inherent part of my life for as long as I can remember, and any of you reading this that have been with me on this crazy, 47+ year journey on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence know this, almost as well as I do.

The secular enlightenment I referenced in the previous paragraph comes not from mediation, but introspection, and within the last, few weeks I have come to the conclusion that nothing, no matter how much I want it to be, or how hard I micromanage myself will ever be as perfect as I desire. Scenes like the one I penned, so many years ago before this blog and the one before it, back when we all lived in one, geographic area and no one lived any place else, that found me hosting a BBQ for my friends and family whilst wearing an apron that says “kiss the chef, earn a super-burger” are… brace for it…

Fiction. A story with a happy ending. That thing we writers write to give our readers a warm, and fuzzy feeling on the last page of our narrative. That moment that makes them say, “when is the sequel coming out?” Its Marketing 101 guys and gals. Manipulation. IRL (again, props to the kiddos and their “command” of the English language, sarcasm fully intended) happy endings never happen the way we dream them up in our stories. I herein redirect your attention back to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and how that poem ends.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

“Till human voices wake us, and we drown.” Happy? Far from it. Given the lead up to that sentence you would think that the picture Eliot is painting is the ideal lead into a happy ending. But no. In the end, Eliot and we reading it awake from the dream to the really, really REAL world and realize that our existence is not a BBQ at the end of time, with all our friends and family around us, reminiscing about where we have been and how we got to where we are. It’s not a “fade to black” moment because the story… Life continues. Even given a moment of serendipity, when “human voices wake us,” we don’t know what is going to happen next. Despite my reliance on destiny in the past–to meet and spend the rest of my life with my ideal partner, to write the next great American novel and get on Oprah’s now defunct book list–I have come to realize that destiny simply does not exist. Where we go, who we meet and what we become? It’s on us, and not written in the last pages of a book, penned by God or whatever deity or deities you believe in. Our last line is not “the end,” at least not yet. It is “to be continued” until the moment when we at last shrug off our respective mortal coils. Even then, is the end REALLY the end? Or is there more? That’s a topic for you, your belief system and your respective deity or deities to discuss. But for me?

Despite my well-documented status as a recovering Roman Catholic for many, many years here is the thing: Of COURSE there is more. The end is only “the end” until the first line of the sequel. And what I think of as Heaven (or Hell; need to give the devil his due, LOL (thanks again kids)) is just that. As for what form it takes? I haven’t the slightest inkling. I have my idealized version of what I want Heaven to look like (let’s not even talk about Hell; I like many former English majors read Dante in college), and spoiler alert: It is very similar to the scene, pictured in the aforementioned BBQ at the end of time, but neither I, nor anyone else that I know of, currently existing on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence can speak to its form or its existence. You either believe in it or you do not. A non-believer might tell you that Heaven is nothing more than a psychological manifestation of hope, set against the backdrop of the inevitable pain of life. Similarly, they might say that Hell is little more than a manifestation of our fear of the unknown. I’m not the best source for a psychological interpretation of the afterlife, given I got a D in the only Psych course I ever took in school. I’m not discounting or belittling that belief. Quite the contrary. I respect it. But hey: It’s not me. And I won the Ted Barnett Religion Award at my Eighth-Grade graduation from the now defunct Immaculate Conception BVM in Jenkintown, PA so whereas I may not be qualified to speak about psychological matters, I could and may still one day write a thesis on Jesus Christ as a tragic hero or a pathetic literary figure if we approach the Bible not as THE truth, but a version thereof. A story. One with elements of truth but not 100% autobiographical.

Am I digressing again? Shit, I don’t think I am. Because this all plays back into the idea of destiny which… Like Heaven, is little more than manifestation of a person’s insecurity about the future, and the path before them. It’s quite simple to say my life went sideways because it wasn’t my destiny. I’ve personally done it more times than I can count. But the follow-up on that is now, I’m expecting that at some point, I will realize my destiny and live… Wait for it… Happily ever after. And when I don’t? When the final line of the book of my life bears a resemblance to the final line of “Prufrock?” I will shuffle off this mortal coil, not at a well-deserved peace, but wondering why? Why didn’t I meet my ideal partner? Why didn’t I write the next, great American novel? Why weren’t ENDWORLD, CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD and/or HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD prominently displayed on Oprah’s Book List? As an avid reader I’ve got to tell you: I will not read the sequel to that story. Regret is a shitty plot point, no sarcasm intended whatsoever.

I’ve heard people say that life is pain. To them let me say that life is not pain. But pain is a part of life, as is birth, death, joy et al.. What separates IRL from Fiction is the preponderance of all of the above IRL, whereas in Fiction, you can pick and choose. Do you want to write a love story? An adventure tale? A dystopic vision of the future? Or maybe choice D – All of the Above? As many of you know, I opted for D in both the case of The ENDWORLD Series, and my Psych class at the never-defunct Penn State University in Abington and State College, PA. I opted for the latter because I made a choice to skip my lectures and tool around with my friends in what we endearingly referred to as “The Clubroom” and later, with my new and old friends on “The Porch.” I was not destined to get a D in that class. I made a choice. Which in a relatively long and roundabout way brings me back to where I started this post, many, MANY paragraphs before this one. On the year that was, and what lies ahead.

This year, I have spent a lot of time thinking. Not necessarily writing but pondering what to write. I finished draft one of HEAVEN over a year ago, and I haven’t touched it in months. What am I waiting for? I’ve started a handful of other stories and musings but stopped a few pages in. Why? HEAVEN is a great story. Maybe the best of the ENDWORLD books. And some of the other stories and blog entries I’ve started but never finished? Similarly good, and yet there always, ALWAYS comes a point, any time I am writing something where I stop. I’ve come to conclude that the problem is not around me, but within me. A simple fact about me that you may or may not know.

I hate endings. I always have. Stories end. Movies end. Jobs end. Relationships end. And eventually? Life ends, hopefully many, MANY years after it started. But endings are an inevitable part of everything on this or any side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. I’ve always had issues accepting them. I grasp as firmly as I can to that last, wispy tether of what was when in fact I should simply let go of it. It’s a biproduct of my aversion to change, likely traceable all the way back to that day I found out that my mother and father were getting a divorce. I was nine or 10 (I can’t remember which; only that I was close to Cara’s age when we told her and Natalie that we were divorcing). The years that followed? A blur of counselor visits, being bullied and wanting to be with whatever parent I and my little sister were not with at any given time. Pain. A part of my life, but not the thing that defined it. Because with that pain came hope. Joy. And after a while? Love.

This cycle has repeated itself countless times throughout my life, most recently post-2018. These are epochs. But the one thing that has remained consistent throughout is my aversion to change and my hatred of endings, even ones that I initiated. I have spent so many of these epochs as a prisoner to memory. A past ideal that I strove for but blindly failed to find. Because in my mind, I was destined for something more. Yet in hindsight and as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago? Destiny is an excuse. A crutch that I have leaned on for decades and subsequently, one that I can no longer rely on if I desire to move forward into whatever version of me exists in what lies ahead. The time has come to state in writing and follow through on a fact which has been hiding in my subconscious (some might say in plain sight) for ages before it finally, in this year that was became blatantly obvious to me.

Should I, after teas and cakes and ices
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

The story… The cycle is mine to end. For I am the writer. I am not acting out a page of pre-written dialogue, nor am I a pawn to an abstract concept and excuse to take the sting out of making a poor decision or being the unwilling recipient of the consequences of a decision (how poor it was being relative to the person or persons who made it). The strength to “force the moment to its crisis” has always been within me and me alone. El Autoro. Lunatic Lover. Madchronicler. Yet I have let it continue in fear of letting go of those things that made me… Me.

I will so do no longer. I, like Prufrock, am not Prince Hamlet. I am no tragic hero, nor am I a pathetic literary figure. I, like Prufrock, “Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, Politic, cautious and meticulous; Full of high sentence but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous–Almost, at times, the Fool.” I am also the keeper of my own story and the master of my own outcome. And for the moment? That outcome is for the first time, maybe ever one that is not governed by the pain of my past, nor by my desire to be more than what I am at this juncture: A fellow shithead, living amongst you, my oft times casual readers, on one side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. I have my work, both the job I get paid for and the one I only get paid for occasionally. I have my Minions. I have my friends and my family. And most importantly? I have hope. Hope that I can write this next chapter of the story of my life in a way that gets me close to that heavenly BBQ at the end of time that I envisioned once upon another epoch. Close to joy. And maybe, just maybe one day? Close again to love.

If you’ve managed to make it this far? Congratulations. This may be the most vulnerable I have ever been on this blog. Thank you for following along and as I stated at the beginning of this piece, learning the outcome, with me… Together. There may be one or two of you (you know who you are) who mistook my musings on life, death, Heaven, Hell and whatnot as some sort of cry for help. I assure you: This was not that. Merry Merry, Happy Happy and all that. I am good. Content. And working on happy. I’ll feel better when I hit “checkout” on the two or three, odd shopping carts I have waiting for me, online with the last of my Christmas shopping in them. But for now? My pillow calls.

Dream well friends, family and oft times casual readers. And when you wake up tomorrow morning? Take a step toward your future, even if it’s only into the kitchen to make a strong, cup of coffee. Do not do it because your destiny awaits. Make the choice, and embrace the possibility, inherent in the road ahead. Let pain become hope, joy and love. The BBQ at the end of time awaits.

Winky emoticon. Smiley face.


What Thanksgiving Means to Me, the 2022 Edition (with a Visual Aid)

It is that most wonderful time of year friends and sporadic, casual readers. You know the one: That time of year when, after three or four months of silence, I return to the Interwebs and this blog to ruminate on all the things that I am thankful for. If you’ve been following this site and me in all its/my incarnations over the years–specifically Random Musings 1.0 and in print? My post-college Mental Flatulence and my pre-college/college era Dissertations–thank you. All 20-30 of you (winky emoticon; smiley face). This has been a yearly tradition for as far back as I can remember. Some years it has been tougher to verbalize my thanks than others and this year? Well, I guess we’ll see what happens in the next few paragraphs but for now? As my once-alter ego, El Autoro stated circa 1993-1997, “let’s get schazzy.”

2022 has been… Interesting. And not always in a good way. Unexpected is probably a better way to describe it. Challenging is an even better one. Looking back over the last half decade to decade of my life, it hasn’t been the toughest–2018 and 2019 still take the proverbial top slots, and likely will for quite some time–but it is up there. Yet there is solace to be taken in the fact that regardless of the obstacles I and others around me have faced, I’m/we’re still here. We may be a bit bruised and battered (not always physically; mentally, as well) but in the immortal words of Sir Elton John, I’m/we’re “still standing.” Maybe not better than we ever did, and definitely not feeling like little kids. I have jokingly mused over the years that certain epochs of my life have caused me to age prematurely. I added about five additional years in 2018-2019 (the bulk of which were in the former) and this year? At least one or two. Which technically means (if you believe this kind of timey wimey, wibbly wobley BS) that I am mentally, if not physically north of the big 5-0 this cold, November day. But is that a bad thing? The Magic 8-Ball says? Outcome uncertain.

Rather than dive deeply into the bad (as I am so apt to do), for once I’d like to focus on the good. This is, after all, my yearly “what I am thankful for” post. Challenge breeds maturity. You’d think after 47+ years on this proverbial side of the wormhole of experience that I’ve matured enough. And mayhap in many ways I have. But mentally? Something has changed this year. Whether the byproduct of all that I and others have gone through or simply another stage in the evolution of Frank Marsh/El Autoro/The Lunatic Lover/The Madchronicler, my mind is tired, but my focus is sharper than it has been in some time. Why? I can think of a number of reasons:

  1. I have come to terms with an aspect of my past that I never thought I’d come to terms with back in 2018-2019. There is still sadness, but rarely anger, and acceptance outweighs both.
  2. I have come to terms with myself. The dreamer that I once was, dreaming seemingly unattainable dreams remains, but the pragmatist and realist that I fought against for years now has an equal share of my heart, mind and soul. And for the most part? I am grateful.
  3. I have seen, for the first time in a long time that there is more to this world than I ever considered. More beauty. And despite the chaos that seemingly engulfs us 24/7/365–as partisans jockey for position in a 50/50 society–and engulfs me–deadlines and expectations–I have learned, perhaps for the first time ever to pause, and appreciate what surrounds me. There is a certain peace beneath the din. I speculated on this once (anyone remember “there is a key that unlocks a secret?”), but never saw or experienced it. And now? I can. I do.

This is not to say that I am satisfied, or 100% content with what I am and where I am in my evolution–you should never be so; you should always strive to be more than you currently are–but if how I feel today is any indication? This is going to be the best version of Frank Marsh yet. It is still early, and I have learned over the course of my life that the unexpected has a way of f*cking up any and all predilections. So? We’ll see. Though regardless of what happens, I am not sure that I can do away with my Madchronicler moniker. NotSoMadchronicler Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. I think for now, I’ll stick with what’s been working. Besides: notsomadchronicler@__. is even tougher to remember than madchronicler@__, and I wouldn’t do that to you. Winky emoticon, smiley face X2.

How did I get here? What was my roadmap? For that you need to reference back to the three reasons I mentioned above. In reverse order:

I have seen, for the first time in a long time that there is more to this world than I ever considered. I’ve spent so much time in and around Swarthmore, PA (with the occasional weekend trip to the mountains or the shore) these last, four plus years that I forgot that other places existed. This year (and at the tail end of last), I travelled to Atlanta, Tampa, Denver, Alexandria (VA) and Palm Springs. Mainly for business–Tampa being the exception. In two/four cases it was my first time visiting a State, specifically Colorado and California. With the exclusion of Alexandria (which I am sure is picturesque, but the specter of Hurricane Ian cast a damp, and dreary pall over my time there), each place was more incredible than the last. While travel has, for many been a way of life for them for as long as they can remember, travel, for me–even within these 50 United States–has been limited to say the least. And many times, the product of a long and laborious drive from Point A to Point B. In late 2021 and this year, I experienced snow-capped mountains (real mountains, not the Poconos or Alleghenies, which is in no way, shape or form a knock on either), a desert oasis and palm trees X2. I stood upon a beach before clear, blue waters in 80-degree weather on New Year’s Eve, snapped a selfie grinning from ear-to-ear in front of the Rockies, and I relaxed in a hot tub beneath a crystalline, blue sky at the beginning of November. These moments, while trivial for some, were life-altering for me for in each case, I took a moment to simply stop. Close my eyes. Exist. And marvel at how small I am against the backdrop of the larger world that I forgot existed more than four hours away from where I write these words presently.

I have come to terms with myself. I will always be a dreamer and, to some extent, a hopeful romantic. I will always dream of penning the next, great American novel. I will always strive to find and embrace an ideal that many have considered far-fetched over the years. These aspects… They are a part of who I am regardless of where I am in my evolution. But the days of me allowing them to run my life and drive me have passed me by. Perhaps this is age, rearing its ugly head, or mayhap it is simply a long-awaited conclusion to so many times attaining a “dream” that was, in actuality nothing more than a romanticized version of a life, not less extraordinary as I have thought and written so many times in the past, but simply a Life with a capital “L,” responsibilities and all. I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn these days–way more than I spend on any other site in the Social Mediaverse–and this morning? The following pic caught my eye. Cue the visual aid I promised in my title:

To say that this resonated with me (and may or may not have caused me to write this blog post today) is an understatement. May it resonate with you, as much as it resonated with me. And may you too find joy, not necessarily in the story you dreamt of, but the one that you are writing.

I have come to terms with an aspect of my past that I never thought I’d come to terms with back in 2018-2019. A few months ago, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in a bit, and we got to talking. I was a bit shocked to hear that they are going through something similar to what I went through almost a half a decade ago (my God, has it been that long?). In hindsight? I likely did more talking than I should have. As someone who has been there/done that I can attest to the fact that the last thing you want when you are going through the early part of a significant life change is to have someone that has been through it advising you on what you should/should not do. Because every circumstance is different. If that person is reading this right now? I apologize. Mayhap my “evolution” has changed me from a listening ear to an at-times preachy old fart. 47+ years, a spot of Type 2 Diabeetus (as my good friend Matt says) and a pre-arthritic, right knee will do that to a person, or maybe just to me. But? I distinctly remember saying that the key to surviving and still standing is focus. Specifically, how you focus, and what you focus on. Priority One is you/your minions (if any and if not? You) and establishing, despite the inevitable chaos, a place of physical and mental stability for you and them to reside within. Priority Two through infinity is all the other sh*t. This is something I, admittedly did not consider to its fullest extent when all manner of things went sideways for me. I was angry. Upset. Neurotic and paranoid. I spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out where I f*cked up. And even now, there are still times when I replay something in my mind and wonder why the hell it happened, or how I could have prevented it. Those moments? They are inevitable. But like any, dark memory that you retain you cannot let them define you. Always dial it back to Priority One. Once you get to that place of relative stability, everything else becomes a metric ton of a lot easier to deal with. Been there/done that. Own the t-shirt. Winky emoticon, smiley face X3.

So? In summation? This is what Thanksgiving means to me in the year of our Lord, 2022. This year, I didn’t write a book. I didn’t publish anything save for a couple of blog entries. But I travelled. I met and networked with colleagues and prospects that became or are in the process of becoming partners. I embraced my 9-5 moniker of Business Development Manager and guess what? I enjoyed it. I was successful. I spent time with my kids and loved every minute of it. I’ve been a Dance and Cheerleading Dad, a Theater Dad, a Volleyball Dad and a Basketball Dad. And despite the exhaustion and wear and tear on my car? I wouldn’t trade it. Not one breath. I’ve got two little minions that have grown into little ladies. Smart. Sweet. Occasionally sarcastic. Oft times fantastical and others pragmatic. But most importantly? Happy. Family? Friends? Amazing as before and always. I have a roof over my head, heat, water, food in my belly and a 9-1/8-2 football team (not to mention a baseball team that won the pennant; we won’t talk about the Sixers and the Flyers). And perhaps most importantly? For the first time in almost a half-decade, I feel… Free. When I sit back and weigh the positives against the negatives? The result is overwhelmingly the former. What am I thankful for?


This is your old buddy, the NotSoMadchronicler saying Happy Thanksgiving to you, and to yours.

Winky emoticon, smiley face X4.


Saturday Thoughts

When you are me… And those of you who know me the best know this, you have moments of inspiration, and those moments can be, and generally are few and far between. Once upon a time… Because all good stories begin as such, or so a battle-hardened revolutionary from a universe that exists solely in my mind (or does it?) once said… Once upon a time, I was a child who thought he would be the next Stephen King. Those of you that know me know this as well. My mind overflowed with ideas. Did you know that I wrote my first short story when I was my oldest Minion’s age? If you read my author bio, attached to ENDWORLD – A Novel you did. I started my first novel at 15 too. Only a couple of people know that. It was called THE OAKS, and it was a ghost story that featured a specter modeled after Jerry Garcia. Yep! I did that. I haven’t the slightest idea what happened to it. It’s likely downstairs in storage on one of the many hard drives that for some bizarre reason I decided to amputate from my first, three computers and keep. They’ve been sitting in a sealed shoebox now for decades. There’s no way anything on them could likely ever be recovered. So I can safely assume at this juncture that THE OAKS, and so many other stories and started novels of mine are lost to time, and youthful stupidity. Ever hear of a disk drive Frank? Of course I have. But where’s the fun in that?

I never became the writer I thought I would become in my youth. Two novels, completed and one left to finish (the story? Done, but my edit is ongoing, and has been on an extended hiatus since February of this year). Dozens of poems and short stories, not to mention novels started but never completed, journals filled and yellowing in my secretary desk downstairs, and this blog. Frighteningly? This is the most sustained and consistent writing I have ever done, which is pretty sad given how often I post something these days. When you look up “prolific” on you do not see my face. But honestly? I am okay with that. I’ve written more than many write in their lifetimes. And I am proud of my accomplishments. So for the small segment reading this (all 25-30 of you, sarcasm as always fully intended), let me get this out of the way right now: This is not meant to be a depressing post. This is not your old buddy the Madchronicler crying “woe is me” or seeking attention. There is no need to call or slip into my DMs on social media and ask me if I am okay. I am fine. Better than fine honestly, and way better than I’ve been in years. I’m writing this with a bit of a smile on my face so in the immortal words of that eminent sage of modern wisdom and hilarity Wayne Campbell, “chill INSERT NAME HERE. Take your Ritalin.”

To dial it back a bit, while I have never been prolific as a writer so to speak, when inspiration strikes me? It hits hard. Like a semi barreling down I80. And I go from writing these little ditties every couple of months to banging out whole, 300+ page novels in a year. Sadly? Those 300+ page novels generally take a lot longer to finish and one year ends up being four. Or in the case of CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD, six. For those of you reading this that are waiting for HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD don’t worry: It won’t be 2025 by the time I publish it. I’d wager end of year this or Spring 2023 at the latest. So once again, “chill INSERT NAME HERE. Take your Ritalin.” And to be honest? I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing over the last couple of months, but nothing that has seen the light of day. Literally. Everything I’ve done has been presented after dark to a group of my besties for between 5-8 hours every couple of weeks as we, ever-closer to the big 5-0, have embraced the geekiness of our youth and the once-cult, turned mainstream attraction that is Dungeons and Dragons. I’m 10 or so sessions into my first stint ever as a Dungeon Master, or DM to those of you that know the lingo and to be honest? I’m having a blast. But writing a fantasy role play for a bunch of high school and college buddies is not the same as composing a blog entry or, more importantly, writing a novel for public consumption. But still? Inspiration again. I’ve been driven to each, new session like I’ve rarely been driven to anything, save for writing a novel before. So as my buddy Tigger would say, “same difference.”

But the inspiration to force a bunch of middle-aged guys to face off against Warforged and Drow, not to mention Hobgoblins and the occasional Thug is not the same the inspiration that goes into composing a novel. And that’s where I find myself this unseasonably cool and clear Saturday night in mid-August. Once again, facing a question of inspiration.

2022 has been an interesting year. You could argue that “interesting” can be interpreted in a number of ways and in both a good and not-so-good context. The good? A great job. An amazing family and support system of friends and colleagues. And the not-so-good? An ex-wife-remained-friend that went through a lot this year, only to come out on the other side of it with a smile on her face and, as she said herself the other day via a GIF, feeling “born again.” She may or may not be reading this right now but if she is? I want her and all of you to know something: I am damn proud of her. I’ve seen people go through less than what she went through and come out changed for the worse, and she has come through it renewed and inspired herself about the next stage in her life journey. I’m excited to see what she does next. To reiterate a point I made in my last post, divorce is hard. Hard on you. Hard on the kids if there are any. Hard on a lot of things. But if you can… If the situation allows you to, remember who you were before the day when you decided you weren’t any longer. Keep that close to your heart and mind, even when the love you once felt has departed and the confusion and all the other emotions that come with it are tempered. Because there may come a day when you’ll be thankful for it. I was. Shit, I am.

Necessity and responsibility have trumped inspiration this year. Yet over the last month or so, I’ve felt a twinge of it coming back. Growing stronger and more prevalent until it reached a fever pitch, earlier this week and I went so far as to cancel my scheduled D&D session with “The Party” in the hopes of devoting an entire weekend to working on HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD. Needless to say there was outcry, and said session did happen as scheduled last night (though admittedly, I may have taken a bit of frustration out on my motley crew of Half-Orcs and Genasis, Humans, Halflings and Changelings; fortunately they all survived). And this morning when I awoke? The urge to dive into the book was MIA. So? I got up and went about my usual, Saturday without the Minions routine: Breakfast, a bit of house straightening, grocery shopping and a nap. By the time 7PM EST rolled around I was resigned to not writing and turned on the Phillies game.

Yet through it all, there remained an inner dialogue between what I like to call Frank Prime and Frank Sol (shoutout to Matt Mercer of Critical Role fame for the inspiration with Pumat Prime and Pumat Sol (see: Campaign Two: The Mighty Nein)) about inspiration. Specifically what inspired me to write ENDWORLD – A Novel and CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD… And what inspires me, or does not inspire me to finish HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD now. And it was there, in the midst of my Saturday thoughts that I figured out something I’ve been apparently working on figuring out for a while.

The first two books were inspired by my past. Book One? My time as a late-teen and early-adult with my own Mighty Nein, the friendship and specifically the love I found and lost there. Book Two? My marriage, subsequent fatherhood and dissolution of the former. These were things that I knew, and have written about before but it was the next recognition that came as a surprise to me and when it hit? My eyes opened wide and I said… I literally intoned, “huh” to my empty house, and my confused looking cat who was simply trying to nap before hearing her hooman’s voice. Book Three? It is not inspired by anything that has happened to me before this moment in my life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. The after-effects of Books One and Two remain for HEAVEN is… We’ll say loosely informed by my past, as is my life this night as I sit here typing these words. And those after-effects or mental aftershocks will never go away. But the inspiration for what comes next? It is the unknown. The ability to forge a narrative not based on where I have been but a true accounting of where I want to go. The long and winding road beneath a crystalline blue sky ahead that leads… Somewhere. To a door? Perhaps, though the road before me right now is quite clear. I envision a smooth and for once not rutted path through a grass-filled valley heading westward. Lush, summer greenery rises up into the foothills flanking me and the sun? It has just started it’s mid-day descent toward the horizon. I hear cicadas droning in the grass… Birds chirping as they go about their business. A light, slight and gentle breeze caresses my cheeks as I stroll, ever-onward into an undetermined future. As for what I will encounter there? That remains a mystery, but one that I am excited to investigate. I realize, as I sit here typing these last words in time with the crickets singing outside my open windows and the not-so-distant drone of semis and cars speeding by on I476 that this my friends and oft time casual readers?

This is peace. This too is how it feels to be “born again.”

May you all sleep well tonight and have the most pleasant of dreams. Thank you as always for reading the random musings of one psuedo-madman co-existing with you on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. And to Simeon Cobblepot, Pia Kha’shu, Gordjuck, Mondragon, Castor Raines and Ames/James/Amelia?

Roll for initiative.


On the Past, the Now and the Soon-To-Be

Lately, I find myself thinking a lot about the past. Where I was. How it pertains to where I am. And just where the f*ck I’m going. 2022 has proven to be a taxing, and quite unexpected year, and not in the greatest of ways: A year filled with challenges and limit testing. Not all bad of course. Some good. But many of the trials have been less-than-savory. I won’t delve into the particulars at this time. If you know me outside of this Blog, you are aware of them, and if you really don’t know and want to know more? Reach out “offline” as we say in Business Development. Or “slip into my DMs” as we say in the Social Mediaverse. God, that sounds even more off-color when I type it out, and slightly pervy when it’s an invitation. Apologies if anyone is offended.

This little piece of Mental Flatulence is not about what’s going on in my life, and the lives of those I care about on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence in 2022. As I said in the first sentence of Paragraph Uno, it’s about the past. My past. How it is affecting my “now” and how it might affect my “soon-to-be.” And maybe what is on my mind this beautiful April day under an endless deep, blue sky (with just a hint of cloudiness on the horizon) applies to you, as well. We’ve all got a past, right? And some of us think about it more than others. Hell, some of us live in it. I try not to. I’ve always endeavored to focus on my present but every so often, something triggers a memory. One memory leads to another, and the next thing you know your old buddy the Madchronicler is halfway down the rabbit hole without a rope to grab onto or a parachute attached to his back. Falling. And the only way to slow that fall is to write about it. Enter? Blog post.

In roughly two weeks my oldest minion is auditioning for a musical at her school. “Annie JR.” She’s 12 years young going on 16 some days, as you’d expect from an almost full-fledged teenager. This is not her first audition. She’s been in a number of productions to date–“Moana JR” last fall and “Aladdin JR” before that to name a few–but this particular audition holds special significance for her given that she is entering 8th Grade and at her school? Every 8th Grader, regardless of skill level gets a part. Or so she tells me.

Don’t get me wrong: The kid has skills. Mad ones. A voice. The ability to be dramatic (like all pre-and-full teens sure, but better… or worse depending on your perspective) and act. The ability to dance. She’s honestly the complete package and I’m not just saying that because I’m her father. She’s a bit shy but who isn’t at that age? I was, and I know that eventually, she’ll come out of it. But despite what she considers a guarantee, she’s nervous. She has her heart set on playing Miss Hannigan and for those of you unfamiliar with “Annie?” Take a moment and Google, Bing or Safari/”search up” (as my kids say) Carol Burnett Annie. You won’t be disappointed.

Now, I understand the need to keep a child motivated. But I further understand the requirement to set achievable expectations with them, and while I firmly believe she has what it takes to not only win the part of Miss Hannigan but knock it out of the park, there are… Considerations. Competition to be specific. And she has some. There are a number of girls in her class that are also blessed with mad skill, not to mention boys, and I wouldn’t put it past her school to introduce a Mister Hannigan versus a Miss. This is, after all 2022. I’ve been working with her… Keeping her level and assisting her in whatever limited capacity I can to keep improving/keep getting better. And while I’ve been doing this–and here’s where I get to the part where I tell you why I’m writing this Blog post–I’ve also been remembering my own time “in the theater.” God, I hope that doesn’t sound conceited because when I wrote it, I heard Mister Howell from “Gilligan’s Island” in my head (I was going for Danny Kaye from the “Choreography” number in “White Christmas”).

I won’t delve too deeply into the particulars of my experiences as a member of The Royal Masque, Barricade Productions and the short-lived Ogontz Theater Company (abbreviated OTC; yep! I came up with that one) because A) I hate to come across sounding conceited and like a braggart–Mister Howell I am not–and B) I don’t want to make anyone associated with those fine companies of talented actors and actresses, many of whom who have gone onto great things embarrassed that I’m referencing them. But… As Norman Osborne/The Green Goblin once said in “Spider-Man” and recently said again in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Ya’ know, I’m something of a scientist myself.” Replace “scientist” with “actor/singer” and you’ll get where I’m coming from. And over the decades since my last, utterly forgettable appearance as a member of the chorus in “They’re Playing Our Song” (save for an unauthorized and substance-induced, staged bar fight on closing night that got me and a handful of others forbidden from ever acting in a Penn State then-Ogontz, now-Abington production again; ah to be 19 again, sarcasm fully intended), I’ve dabbled with the idea of getting back into it. I even went so far as to schedule an audition with The Swarthmore Players a few years back to be in their spring production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” But I never went. Life interfered, as life seemingly always does and I cancelled. Yet the itch… the desire has never gone away and to be honest with y’all? I don’t think it ever will.

Which places me in an all-too-familiar pickle. Not just with “the theater,” but with other instances that I have been faced with in the past ranging from school to writing. If my past is any indication–and it is, else I would not be writing these words right now–I always… get close. I pull a Prometheus and fly just close enough to the Sun to touch it before the wax upon my wings melts and I plummet back to the Earth and my… say it with me guys and gals, my once-and-still “mundane, routine existence.” As Catherine sings in “Pippin,” “I’m your average, ordinary kind of woman.” Replace “woman” with either “man” or “the Madchronicler” and you’ll smell what I’m cooking. God. That didn’t sound right either, did it?

Do not get me wrong. I would not trade my life for anything. Not my family or friends, not my job or… sh*t, anything. But I can’t help but feel–as the day creeps closer toward afternoon, the end of my lunch break and 80 degrees for the first time this year–that there has to be more. It’s blatantly obvious to me at the ripe old age of 46 pushing 47 that I’m not achieving, and honestly never have achieved whatever potential God instilled me with. My skills? Never fully utilized. Hidden behind responsibility and a steady paycheck. Is it too late for me to… I don’t know, become what I was supposed to become? Or is this my destiny: To exist as an average, ordinary member of the societal hive mind and pass on my once-dreams to my children in the hopes that they will achieve their potential in the days, weeks, months and years to come? And would that be so bad? To teach them as I was taught, and sit as a proud member of the audience watching them? After all, I’m a few years shy of a half a century–God it pains me to write that–on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Isn’t the future theirs?

Perhaps this is a mid-life crisis. Or perhaps I’ve simply had too much time lately to think and… I’ll say it: Regret. Regret never following through on my dreams. Regret settling (man I hate that word). I can’t shake the thought that in some universe, perhaps closely adjacent to this one I did write the next great American novel and made it into Oprah’s Book Club. In another one? I am the bearded, suit-jacket-with-the-patches-on-the-elbows wearing college professor that I envisioned myself becoming. And in another? Jesus Christ. No, literally Jesus Christ, starring in a touring production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Well, maybe not Jesus. His range is too high. And not Judas–same problem. But Pilate? Herod? Perhaps either/or. Whether these alternate realities on other sides of the proverbial wormhole of existence exist or not I will likely never know in anything more than a fictional, musing (random musings, perhaps?) capacity. There is only here. Now. And what I do with this life in this universe. And really? What remains is a decision. My decision.

Everyone still tells me that I have the power to become whatever I want to be. But how truthful is that? In life, we the people make choices. And with those choices? Rewards. But also risks. I’ve shied away from the latter in my recent past because there is no margin for error any longer. When I was 19 it was easy to get fashnookered (AKA f*cked up) and stage a bar fight in an amateur production of a little known musical from the 1970s. I like most 19 year old’s gave zero f*cks about anything. But now? I have kids that need me, family and friends that count on me and clients that I support. Not to mention creditors that I answer to but who doesn’t? Sometimes, adulting sucks. But throwing caution to the proverbial wind does not come naturally anymore. One slip and I may find myself without a roof over my head, water to drink or food in my belly. And I would not wish that upon anyone, least of all my minions. So? As T. S. Eliot wrote and Prufrock intoned, “how should I presume?”

Sadly? My aforementioned decision is not forthcoming right now, as much as I might want it to be. And my past is little more than a distraction. I have chosen and choose not to live in it. I chose and choose to focus on my now and if, perchance, an opportunity presents itself in my “soon-to-be” to become more than the guy writing this piece of Mental Flatulence in the waning moments of his lunch break (damn… this only took an hour?)? Well, I guess I’ll simply have to cross that bridge when I come to it. But I can’t help but feel–as the morning segues slowly into the afternoon and I measure out the time left between now and when I have to go pick up my minions at school with coffee spoons–as if my time is running out. Godd*mn that sounds bleak. What can I say? This Blog is supposed to be filled with “the sometimes insightful, but many times inane observations of a self-proclaimed Sh*thead living on one side of the proverbial wormhole of existence.” You may agree with me, and you may not. But despite the bleakness inherent in the words I just wrote? Somehow… some way I feel better.

Thanks as always for tuning in, my oft-times casual readers. We’re a long way from Denis Rodman and a thunderstorm this afternoon. Booyakasha. Respect.