Next Door to the Dead


Yesterday was Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos), a time, especially in Mexico, for people to gather at cemeteries and pray for their deceased loved ones. As the leaves drift off the trees and the acorns pop on rooftops, I often, for reflection and remembrance, read and write poetry this time of year. The day made me think about Next Door to the Dead, a book of poetry by Kathleen Driskell. A Poetry Foundation national bestseller, Driskell lives in a former country church with her family just outside Louisville, Kentucky. Next door is an old graveyard that she was told had ceased burials when she bought the historic church. In this keenly observed and contemplative new collection, this turns out not to be the case as Driskell’s fascination with the “neighbors” brings the burial ground back to life, both literally and figuratively.

Driskell is the associate program director and poetry faculty member of Spalding University’s writing program, and is where I received my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction. While a student, I was fortunate to hear many great authors and upcoming writers read their works. It seems to me that hearing the spoken words of the writer, just as you read them on the page, and I immediately had an appreciation for Driskell’s writing and voice.

While reading the poems in Next Door to the Dead, I heard Driskell’s voice, not her actual voice like an audio recording, but  rather, the memory of her voice from her readings.

Of course her poetry is much more than a remembered voice, it is personified, humorous, organic, and moody. Her poems articulate the cemetery much like creative nonfiction grounds you in place. The details taken from history, or from observations from a kitchen window, or during a walk, convey the author’s authenticity of her surroundings.

“Epitaph” the grave of Colonel Harlan Sanders is her only nod to celebrity.Now that Norm McDonald is satirizing Sanders, this poem seems more relevant as seems to both question and acknowledge Sanders as less than an original recipe of a man.

Her ability to be in nature and observe the organic role of death, is why “Crow” stands out to me, as it will to many readers. In “Tchaenhotep,” Driskell’s verse personifies an Egyptian mummy on display for decades at a local museum. “Epitaph, for the man with no last name” is the story of how man meets his grave, what relics rest with him, and why some things were left out. “Not Done Yet” is a story of a dog, a fly, a flea, and the “biting sorrow” that surrounds all three.


Driskell’s poems are richly detailed, humorous, mournful, loving, and sometimes whimsical, all difficult feats given her subject. While most people avoid thinking about death, Driskell’s poems are thought-provoking. The book is not about loss, or mourning, it is about place, not just our physical place, but where our souls feel full. Her poems dance around our mortality but they never devolve into darkness. While many went to the cemetery to remember and honor the deceased on Dia de Muertos, Driskell, with a poet’s sensibility, “visits” the cemetery next door to celebrate the vivid human, animal, and botanical life that surrounds us.

Order your copy of Next Door to the Dead from your local bookstore or from the links below.


Barnes and Noble

What’s your Halloween Costume?

Josh Sundquist is a cancer survivor, paralympic skier, motivational speaker and author. At Halloween, he’s always entertaining. This year he brings a classic amputee joke to life. Click on the photograph or the link at the bottom to watch “Making of IHOP,”  Josh’s short video about this year’s costume.

Josh Sundquist’s 2015 Halloween Costume

His Amputee Rap is great too!

Rhapsodizing Librarians

Shoalhaven Libraries

After such a serious post about osseointegration, I needed to lighten things up and find a way to thank my followers.  So get comfortable, click on the link below, and enjoy the YouTube music video from the Shoalhaven Library staff.

Librarian Rhapsody

Beaches, Bones, and Borgs


Heading back from the beach last week after our Gulf Coast Bloggers meeting at Jenna’s, I went to the Orange Beach Public Library. I was on a mission to find  a print copy of a journal for library school homework. I thought, for some reason, if anyone had a copy it would be Louise, who graduated from Alabama three years ago. She’s a dedicated, energetic, and innovative librarian so I stopped in to say hello.

She was talking with a guy when I walked over to her desk.

After becoming reacquainted, I handed over a copy of my assignment and said, “I’m looking for a copy of this,” pointing to the title.

“Oh JASIST. I know exactly what journal you mean,” Louise said, the familiarity of the assignment now as fresh in her mind as it was five years ago.

I was in my shorts, having just come from a swim in the Gulf. The entire time Louise and I were talking the guy was staring at my prosthesis, a typical occurrence with children, but odd behavior for an adult.


“I’m Rick,” he interrupted us barely lifting his eyes up to meet mine.

“Alan,” I said, and we shook hands.

He wasn’t bashful, that’s for sure, as he blurted out a question about how my prosthesis is attached.

“Is your prosthesis connected to bone?”

“No,” I said, that’s someone who gone through osseointegration, a surgery that is still unapproved in the United States.”

Osseointegration is a surgery that leaves a metal rod sticking out of your stump where a prosthesis can be attached. (Residual limb is the politically correct term for stump, but Residual Limb the Librarian will never catch on so I’ll be sticking to what I know, hoping that the style does not offend.)


Anyway, this guy Rick seemed a bit obsessed, so much so that he was distracting me from my conversation with Louise. I wondered how well Louise knew this patron. She probably wondered why he was so fixated on my prosthesis. I’m used to talking about my leg, but others amputees prefer not to discuss it. There are all kinds of odd behavior in the able-bodied and amputee world. Acrotomophilia is when an individual expresses strong sexual interest in amputees and are called amputee devotees. Other people suffer from apotemnophilia, a sexual desire to have a perfectly healthy limb amputated.

“I met a guy who had a prosthesis attached to his bone,” he said.

“Really,” I said, not sure if I should believe him.

“The guy was in the service,” Rick said.

“I just threw out a copy at home,” Louise said.

Then she went to the stacks behind her desk, “I weeded that one too.”

I suggested she check her boss’s office, not realizing he was not in today.

“He keeps it locked, and he wouldn’t have a copy anyway,” she said, and headed off to check somewhere else in the library.


“Are you gonna have the surgery?”

“No, I think it’s for younger people.” I didn’t tell him I was a better candidate for osteoporosis than osseointegration.

“The veteran told me it gets infected a lot and he takes medications to control the infection. Hey, is that titanium?” Rick asked, pointing below the socket.

No, that’s an alloy, but my old leg has titanium hardware,” I explained.


When I got home, I looked at the literature I had on file for osseointegration. Rick, it turns out was more credible than I gave him credit for. As I dug through my files I found the information for a clinical study (Rosenbaum-Chou,, 2013) and an article on Miranda Cashin, (Hochnadel, 2014) an Aussie who underwent the procedure and blogged about it from 2012 to 2014. Cashin initially thought of the procedure as “science fiction-I would essentially become a Cyborg.”

There were osseointegration clinical trials in 2013, according to an article in The Academy Today. Ten former US veterans and military personnel underwent the procedure. The clinical studies are supposed to last two years so the findings should be reported later this year.

Libraries have many odd and eccentric patrons, but Rick wasn’t one of them. Talking to Rick served as a catalyst for me to write about osseointegration, a subject I had wanted to write about but could never find an angle on how to approach it.

Louise was not able to help me on this visit, but as we parted ways we shook hands. and at the time I thought of us as superhero librarians with a lasting Super Friends connection. “Wonder Twin Powers Activate!”

As for Rick, well, who would have guessed two patrons in a public library could share such an obscure interest. It’s more than a coincidence, it’s serendipitous! You never know where the next story is going to come from or who you are going to meet in a public library.


Hochnadel, L. F. (2014, May). Miranda Cashin: Tall tales to sci-fi. The O & P Edge, pp.               70-71.

Rosenbaum-Chou, T. (2013, Spring) Update on osseointegration for prosthetic                               attachment. The Academy Today: A Supplement of The O and P Edge,                               pp. A9-A10.

Blogging While Building a Home and Going Back to School

Stump the Librarian is branching out. This space has always been geared toward my creative writing, my work at Fairhope Public Library, and the amputees that populate my literal and figurative world. Fear not followers, Stump the Librarian will continue with two posts each month about books, movies, libraries and amputees. I’ve added “Question” and “Answer” pages to extend an olive branch to “Stump the Librarian” Google searchers. Stump the Librarian is a universal search term, so if you land on my site for that reason, great! I’ve got some questions for you and I encourage you to browse around and read more, especially if you are an amputee or a librarian.cropped-dscn1098.jpg

Building a Home Downtown Fairhope

Our builder, Delia Pierce of Lemongrass Custom Homes, has over a decade of experience and her homes in Fairhope and Point Clear are beautiful, but she knows and appreciates that we are on a much tighter budget, We went to TK Cabinets on Friday where we started to design our kitchen. We have already changed our garage location which is setting us a back a week. Thank goodness we came to this conclusion while we’re still on paper. This will give us a nice private back yard. I’ll be posting photo essays of our progress. If you want to stay up to date and “follow” our construction process go to Alan Samry. I plan to post once a week


Back to School

Later this week I will be attending orientation for the University of Alabama’s Online Masters of Library and Information Studies program.

I’m looking forward to beginning this program, and a bit apprehensive about the amount and type of work that will be required. I’m one of 43 students in Alabama’s 11th MLIS cohort. We have self identified as “Elevenses.” (AKA Elevenzies, or 11zs) My suggestion, from This is Spinal Tap, “These go to eleven,” was soundly rejected. I’m taking two courses, Organization of Information and Introduction to Library and Information Studies. I’m receiving the Friends of the Fairhope Library Scholarship and I’m grateful that it covers the cost of one course. Thanks to my coworker Rob Gourlay (Alabama MLIS ˈ15) for letting me borrow two of his books. The classes take place in real time on Blackboard. If anyone cares to follow my educational experience, you’ll find it at alansamry.wordpress. I’m told by several people who have been through the program, there could be some required blogging for future classes, but my goal is to post my experiences about the program once or twice a month.


Change is the only constant in the world. I’m trying to embrace it. I hope you’ll join me in the journey.


journal cover

“Everyone looked like a broke-down movie extra,” Sal, On the Road

Day Three

I arrive on Monday in time for a full breakfast of pancakes, eggs, grits, bacon, fruit, yogurt, orange juice and coffee courtesy of Sessions Productions.

I see Tommy while I’m eating.

We talk about our weekends.

“I rode my bike down your street over the weekend,” he says.

“Did you check out the lot we are building on? It’s the one with the big live oaks in the front.”

“Is it next to a house going up?”

“Yeah it is.”

“It’s a nice piece of land and those trees are beautiful.”

“Thanks, stop and say ‘hey’ if you see me on the lot while it’s being built.”

“I’ll do that,” he says.


I have time to socialize and find out how Friday night at the Flora-Bama Yacht Club went. Extra Bobby says it was a great time and the party didn’t end until 3 AM.

I’m still waiting around Base Camp at 10:30 AM so I open On the Road and start reading.


Finally they call the extras. Several of us, including Extra Bobby, a retired Navy Veteran with two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and the special effects people take the boat ride to the rig. We hear from big hat and big beard effects guy that the plane is on set today and we are shooting the rescue.

“After that,” he says, “we’re moving locations to film at night.”

The day hasn’t even started and he speaks from experience as he says, “Shooting at two locations is a lot for one day.”

I don’t go directly to make up on the rig today. I hang out with the extras on the back of the platform, and we battle one another for a place to sit. We get our face, hands, and necks made up in the back of the rig shadows. Prop man hands us all our dog tags.

“Thanks, you gave me Sledge’s the same ones I had Friday.

He looks at me, confused, “that doesn’t happen very often.”

“It’s a good sign,” I say, as he hands a set to extra Barrett. He’s a professional disc golfer I met while introducing some people to the sport at the course in Fairhope. It was great to see a familiar face and we pass the time chatting. He knows Tommy too because they play disc golf together.

“Man,” one extra says, “It’s 12:30 and we haven’t even gotten wet yet.”

There’s a buzz as Nic arrives on set.

Sam calls me up to Video Village. I say hello to all the make up and wardrobe women who are are busy with actors, not extras.

The rig is unusually full today. Everyone involved with the production is on set and there are lots more chairs set up for the movie’s producers under the Video Village tent.

One producer is barking at everyone to “pray for the sun.” Everyone ignores him.

“The PBY is in the air,” Mario announces with the bullhorn about the incoming seaplane.

A few minutes later he walks by Marley and I, more excited and animated than his son and says, “You’re being rescued today!”

“Awesome Mario!” I shout, and a few guys yell, but it sounds  lame because no one is in sync.

“ETA 10 minutes.”

It should be arriving from the north any minute now. It comes into sight over my right shoulder and is cruising fairly low. It looks like a boat with wings.

As impressive as the sight of it is, the sound is even better. The steady Bwaaa bw bwaaa is mean and powerful, and a little worrisome, like it’s not firing on all cylinders. Everyone is standing, craning their necks to get a good long look at the seaplane. It makes a second pass for the camera. It circles again and lands rather roughly. It has a massive wake as much of the plane seems to be below the water line.

An hour passes, and Nic comes out of the galley, his makeshift trailer, and says, “I’ll see you for the night shoot.”

Everybody is looking at each other wondering what’s happening. It takes another half hour to reach me that the plane broke down and that there will be no plane rescue scene.


They are shooting underwater scenes with the sharks circling and attacking the rafts.



The animatronic shark is swinging over our heads from a crane. I grab my iPhone.

Just as I’m ready to tap, I hear, “No pictures Alan.” Sam, the PA is in the right spot at the wrong  time. I listen this time. It’s a tiger shark, and it looks very real, glistening in the sun, yet still seawater slick.


I got this picture of the animatronic shark suitcase. It’s the blue thing directly behind the trash can.

At 3 PM, Tiffany removes my leg make up.

“That’s 30 minutes.” We break for lunch. Lasagna, salad, collard greens, watermelon and lemon bars for dessert.

“This location is a wrap.”

Still in our movie wardrobes, we wait for the boats to take us to Base Camp while they move the whole production from the rig to a barge on the Intracoastal Waterway, about six nautical miles away.

We arrive at the Base Camp location,which practically empty, like a carnival that has up and disappeared. All that remains is one trailer and a wardrobe truck.

Under the bridge, I pour Skittles directly into my mouth like a confectionary troll. We wait for someone to call our name, give us some news, tell us where to be, or what to do. Your life as an extra is to follow instructions. The only problem is we receive very few instructions. It’s been a hurry up and wait day. There are 20 extras today and nobody, including my eastern European friend and Gulf Shores resident, “have been in the water.”

We are told the new base camp is off Canal Road, not far from the breakfasts and Bloody Marys at Brick and Spoon.

We have two hours before we are due at the new base camp. I have an extra take a picture of me.


Cool Treat

I drive to Dairy Queen. I walk in and order a Reese’s Blizzard. I wait for it, and a family of four wait beside me. The little girl is staring at me. I’m used to being stared at. Does she think the amputation is recent? There have been shark sightings along the Gulf, including Hammerheads.

“I’m in a movie,” I tell the girl with braids like Pippi Longstocking. Her expression doesn’t change. I know thanks to make up my face looks fried and blistered, but Pipi’s dad looks like he’s burnt crispier than I am. His sunburn is going to hurt for a while. Mine will wash off, sometime today.

“Reese’s Blizzard,” someone says, and I move up to the counter to see she’s already inserted the spoon. She flips the cup upside down. ‘I should put some of this on that guy’s face.’ Naw, that’s wasting it, and I think how foolish I would be to expect a third meal as part of my extra benefits.


When I get to the new Base Camp, I see Tracy chucking a football in a parking area near the trailers.

More people arrive on scene around 8 PM. We are all hungry, and can smell food, but only the actors get to eat.

Another hour goes by and I pass the time chitchatting and reading from the parking lot light.

“It’s a wrap for today”! Maggie, the chain-smoking blonde says.

“We’re wrapped!” I had spent 12 hours waiting at base camp, in make up, on set, waiting for the rescue scene to be filmed. It didn’t happen. I am weary, upset, angry, and relieved in a span of 12 seconds.

Reflection in the Mirror

For the first and only time, I stepped up into the make up trailer. Tom Sizemore was saying thanks to Lauren and exiting the other door. Alvin, my raft mate, was getting the grease rinsed out of his hair. I looked around, half tired, when a fresh and familiar voice called out amidst the confusion and bright light from the bulbs reflecting off the mirrors.

“Over here Alan,” Stacey says, and I brighten at a friendly and familiar face.

“Have a seat,” she says and I plop down into the barber chair, exhausted from doing nothing, except breathing in the wet, salty, Alabama air, intermixed with the diesel from nearby generators.

She uses baby oil and “99” to clean my face, neck, and arms.

The casting agent called me on Thursday. I told her I couldn’t make it. I like to think that by not showing up, my character didn’t make it. In a movie inspired by real events, even I did not see my character surviving 4 days at sea. What was keeping the character alive? A narrow denim tourniquet.

It doesn’t really matter what I think, if they want my character to survive, all they have to do is grab another extra, like Barrett, bloody his knee cap, fly the green screen, and put him in the background. It’s Hollywood, by the time they are done editing, the movie-goer will never know the difference.

Oddly enough, the reality is not the movie, it’s in the movie-making, and the people who work in front of and behind the cameras. It’s not about where the movie is going, it’s how it gets there. Just like Sal in On the Road.

My chances of actually being background seems better than most simply because I was in the same boat with Nic, Tom, Joey and a few other actors.

The last Nic Cage movie shot in Mobile, Tokarev, was renamed Rage and went straight to video.

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage producers are hoping for a May 2016 release. It would be nice to see the film in a movie theater, and my friends and family are hoping for the best. If it goes straight to video my coworkers are having a premiere party at the library.