Tag Archives: Ty Russell

The Bucket Brigade

By Ty Russell

When I was three I fell in love. I’m a writer, so my retrospection is probably clouded with nostalgia, but I think that this is how it all, everything I am, began.

There was a woman walking down the streets of a quiet Florida town, a coffee-colored book bag with leather straps hanging loosely from her elbow, holding the hand of her curly-haired son. She walked silently and the little boy imitated her crisp steps and held his own empty bag under a tiny, milk-white arm. For each step she took, the little boy took three.

This would eventually become a familiar sight for the families in our neighborhood. But this was the first time. The first of many steps, the first in a series of events that would carve a man out of the lives of ten thousand others.

This was the day my mother first took me to the public library.

We walked through the front door and the librarian had a stuffed owl perched on the brim of her black felt hat. I hid behind my mother’s leg (I have since learned not to fear librarians, but rather marvel at them, for they are some of the most remarkable creatures in God’s creation, but for then, I was scared). She kindly directed us to the children’s section, and within 20 minutes, I had stuffed both our bags full of picture books on dinosaurs. I stood there open-mouthed like a baby bird, watching as the librarian, Miss Alexis, opened the front cover, slid in the date card, and gently shut it again, a process that, for some undiagnosed reason, still fascinates me.

We were back in three days.

In a month, I had the dinosaur section memorized, but I kept checking them out, reading them, rereading them, eight, nine, ten times. It was free, after all. I moved on to books on space, books on pirates. I grew. We moved. Changed libraries. I found new books on dinosaurs and memorized them, too. Soon I graduated to the upstairs where they kept the novels and the grown-up books. It was there that I would find the real treasures.

To me, the process of intellectual growth is a lot like a bucket brigade. We learn from, are influenced by, or just flat-out steal from someone who came before us. We receive a bucket full of water. And it is our responsibility to pass it on, to be a teacher, to send it toward the fire. Books are the ultimate method of this. A man can write a book and print it himself, sell it himself and distribute it himself. A book is cheap and personal. A book can be easily concealed beneath a coat. A book is just a few sheets of paper stuck in between two thicker ones. Small and simple. And yet in a book, a man can pour out everything he’s ever loved, anything he’s ever feared, seen, smelled, or tasted. A book is an intimate conversation of knowledge, the easiest and most enjoyable way to learn.

Upstairs, I found a million buckets full of water.

Fifteen years later, I am still wading through the water, my own empty bucket in hand, searching, choosing, taking a few handfuls out of some buckets and picking up others to pour their contents into my own. I write because it’s freedom and because I have been molded from words. I am a conglomeration of all the people and ideas whose pages I have once turned or dog-eared. I am, as I once heard it called, a collection of various smokes.

As a writer, I want to pass on enough droplets to future generations so that one day a boy like me will have something fresh to put in his pail. I want to do my part to ensure that the ideas from which I have formed myself continue on for generations after I do. But no matter what comes from writing, I am just another step in the fire drill, one link in a far greater chain of changes. Everything I ever learn I will one day pass on like water in a bucket.

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Ty Russell’s work has been published in Apiary MagazineThe Pennsylvania Gazette, Phantom KangarooPeregrineSilver BladeRelevantMagazine.com, and is a nominee for the 2011 Rhysling Award. He lives in north central Pennsylvania with his wife and their children.

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The Saints, in Alphabetical Order

 By Ty Russell

It was very late at night.

So late, in fact, that it was actually early and yet I was sitting at my desk, perched over the old family computer, wondering if I could ever get a tan from monitor glow. I think it’s important to note that I was simply “perched.” I wasn’t “deafened by the clacking sound of keys,” or “punching holes in a wired alphabet,” or even just “typing.” I was just sitting there, waiting for the Muses should they decide to come and possess me, to exorcise themselves through my twitching fingers.

When I say wait, think Godot-like. I was Estragon, but I was ready, poised like a praying mantis.

I wrote a sentence. Read it. Reread it. Deleted it.

Repeat.

A cardboard lid lay on the floor next to my desk, half filled with the pages of a novel I thought would never get done. I got up and opened a window because I thought I had heard some new and profound idea tapping on the pane, something that would win me the Nobel Prize for Literature.

There were crickets outside. Nothing else.

I had just started to press a key, when I heard Dickens open on my cluttered desk, screaming, “Look, look how easy it is. Just count the hairs on his nose and describe them, great! Now do 400 pages and you’ve got yourself a book, easy.”

From my night stand, Hemingway shook his head, “Charles, you moron. Your readers aren’t stupid, let them figure it out for themselves.”

Oscar Wilde was more relaxed, lounging on the bottom shelf in between Walt Whitman and Virginia Woolf. He took a long puff from his cigarette holder and murmured lazily, “All forms of art are inherently simple; it is only the flawed perspective of the flawed observer that creates complications of interpretation.”

“What? What kind of mumbo-jumbo is that, inherently flawed and simple observers,” Robert Louis Stevenson shouted, adopting as snooty of a tone as he could possibly muster. “Write about pirates. Everyone loves pirates.”

I wrote about pirates.

“Oh, I love pirates,” Ray Bradbury yelled, clapping his hands. He was almost 90 now, but he spoke with all the excitement of an eight year old. “Make it simple though. Something extraordinary and everyday. I’d like to read that.”

Somehow, Dave Barry felt out of place.

I started to type, slowly at first, the sentences forming and marinating in my brain for a few moments before I set them into the computer.

“Make it dark,” Edgar Allen cooed, playing with the ends of his mustache. “Make their skin curdle.”

“Must you always be so serious, Poe? And for heaven’s sake, let the sun meet your skin!” The Bard himself looked gently at me and spoke in quiet tones. “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.”

“Yes, well…” Herman Melville, his beard like a living thing on his neck, jostled his shoulders and shimmied for space on the cramped shelf. “Now why does Shakespeare get two copies of his plays here? There’s hardly any room for the rest of us!”

Jane Austen called down from the top of the bookcase. “Is that the weighty one himself, complaining of space? When one volume of his takes up more weight in words than five of dear William’s?” It was obvious, to me at least, that as soon as Miss Austen had heard of Mr. Shakespeare’s sonnets, she had developed quite a bit of a crush. “He gets the space, Herman, because he gets the readers!”

I was typing furiously now, wildly, like a man on fire. My brain worked faster than my fingers could dance.

Sylvia Plath wailed something melancholic. I refused to listen.

“If you create a world and believe in it, so will all of your readers,” Tolkien said, blowing rings from the end of a long wooden pipe.

“Yes, yes. And make it bold, make it audacious! Nothing great was ever done without large amounts of courage.” J.K. Rowling was floating on a black broomstick, just a child amongst a thousand elders. “And have fun!”

The great ones all murmured in agreement.

I got up and started shutting their covers, one by one, kissing them goodnight like dear children. Slowly, slowly, their voices began to fade to mumblings as they fell asleep. I smiled, five new pages still hot in my hands. As the clock rolled on into morning, as the voices of all the ghosts who had gone before me echoed into eternity, I added the pages to a pile of two hundred I hoped the world would one day see.

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Ty Russell’s work has been published in Apiary Magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Phantom Kangaroo, Peregrine, Silver Blade, RelevantMagazine.com, and is a nominee for the 2011 Rhysling Award. He lives in north central Pennsylvania with his wife and their children.

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