Founded in July 2010 by four friends in different parts of the United States with the idea to help bring about a more perfect union of art, experience, creativity, learning, and overall better living, The Compass has returned after nearly four years of dormancy. We - Tim Goodier, Anthony Martino, Paul Riley and Luke See - are excited to relaunch The Compass as Pinpoints' official center for artistic expression.
For those familiar with the first incarnation of The Compass, this new version will be different. We will not have a rotating schedule for the four founders to share their creativity. Instead, we will be posting when we have something worthy to share. But, more importantly, we want to provide a space for all Pinpoints community members to share their creativity here. Perhaps you have a poem ready for others' eyes; perhaps a series of photos await a gallery to host them. The Compass is your space - our space - to publish your work. Simply send it to WeTheCompass@pinpoints.community and we'll work with you to post it.
September 2, 2018
Submitted by: Paul Riley
On the piano in the front room of my childhood home back in Delaware, you’ll see a variety of framed photos. Some are silly and recent, like the one of my parents, brother James and me standing in front of the Tower of Terror on a 2015 trip to Disney World. Others are small and faded, like that of my paternal grandmother which James gave to our dad a few Christmases ago. I never met that grandmother. She died before I was born. I wish I had been able to know her, even if only for a few years, because I might have a better understanding of that part of my past, that element of my ancestry.
There’s a different member of my dad's family who also has a picture in the collection. My uncle Norwood, whose smile shines brightly through the graininess of the photo, stands holding a baby Paul Riley in a Wilmington apartment. I’m smiling too.
My uncle, like my father, worked for Amtrak. But instead of being in the shops, like my father toiling away, banging his hands as he made sure the trains were ready to run, Norwood was a conductor. Maybe he smiled at the right time at the right people; someone saw a friendly face and figured he'd be the best Riley to put in a suit on the train. Maybe he worked his way up to that point. I'll never know for sure. But I do know that it was a good job, if only for the fact that uncle Norwood never had to face possible bodily injury like my dad.
Uncle Norwood did, however, face unruly passengers. The family lore tells that one day, my uncle encountered Elizabeth Taylor on the train. As he did with every passenger, he asked for her ticket.
"Don't you know who I am?" Taylor asked, incredulous.
"Lady, I don’t care who you are. If you don’t have a ticket, you’re off my train at the next stop."
It’s cool to hear a story of the regular guy standing up for the right thing, even if it is as seemingly inconsequential as having to show your train ticket. It gives you the energy to do so yourself. It's part of the joy we find watching movies, to imagine ourselves in the role of the hero. That's one of the reasons why I still get goosebumps when I watch Luke Skywalker turn to the Emperor in Return of the Jedi and tell him, “You’ve failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” I know it’s a silly space movie, but it makes me feel like I could be powerful, that I could stand up for what’s right when it’s hard to do, when I'm intimidated by someone more famous or powerful than me.
The desire to see the good guy stand up to evil, unflinching and confident, even as he knows the odds are against him and he will not make it out unscathed, is a common one. How else could we have three days’ worth of Marvel movies with heroes fighting villains if that feeling didn’t resonate with people?
It especially resonates when we aren’t sure if the heroes will make it. That line from Luke is even more affecting in retrospect when we see the Emperor’s lightning bolts tear through the thin clothing he wears, wracking his body. Yet in the Marvel movies, how many superheroes see their loved ones threatened, their companions dispatched to remind us of the fragility of life, the price that must be paid?
Such motivations must’ve been in the minds of all who created Avengers: Infinity War. “If the death of one key character can raise the emotional stakes, what can the death of half a movie’s cast create?” And so, at the end of this 149 minute colossus, we see the dissipation of human body after human body into a celluloid void.
My mom was the one who brought James and me to the movies as we grew up. She bought the tickets, let us pick out candy, drove us to the theater. But my dad did bring his sons to the movies at least twice. The first time was to see Tom and Huck. Why that movie? I'll never know, but I'll never forget sitting in that theater next to my dad.
My mind moves from one seat to another, and I'm in the backseat of a car in front of a garden store. In my lap, a Styrofoam tray with two wells for the pancakes and sausage. My uncle Norwood has just taken me and James to McDonald's for breakfast and driven us across the street to eat. The food is sweet and empty but I am happy until the owner of the garden store comes out to yell at Norwood for loitering. I don't remember what he replies, but we stay and eat.
There's another time with Uncle Norwood in the car, but he's not there, not physically. We are in the lot of the Christiana Care center: me, James, our mom. Our dad is elsewhere (likely with Norwood). I look over at James, to my mom in front of me. James asks, "Is uncle Norwood gonna die?". Mom's tears come out to match James'. "Yes, honey, he is." She reaches back to comfort him, and I sit motionless, knowing that death will soon arrive for that big Irishman whose voice had an accent thick as railroad ties. What can I do but watch James and mom.
I'm brought back to the present, in a movie theater where we just finished watching the latest Avengers movie. What just happened? Millions of faceless, nameless souls disappeared, represented by a few faces we do know. Bodies of characters we like, protagonists we fantasize being. This isn't supposed to happen! The good guys can't lose! We lament the loss, struggling to make any sense of it. While I know that others will cry, I stay angry.
I've seen the future of this moment because it's already happened. Comic book characters die and return, either replaced by others who pick up the mantle or - more frequently - by a delightful twist that they never really died, or it was actually someone else who died, or there's an alternate universe. There's precedent for reviving the dead.
There's also an outline of these characters silhouetted on the calendar of 2019, 2020 and 2021. These heroes will return. They need to bring people back to the movies, need to see more lives threatened or actually ended. So their death is temporary, and we as viewers think not of the frailty of death, nor of its importance to the cycle of the universe, but of the clever ways our boys will get themselves out of this jam. There's no true reason to care.
They buried my uncle with a hat on his head. It said, "In the gate," and had a horse on it, pictured waiting inside the starting stall. My uncle liked to bet money on horse races, and never got rich. I don't know if the racetrack he frequented is even there anymore. When I visit Delaware, I don't explore those places where my uncle and dad once lost so much. I don't go looking for Beckers' Corner where my uncles, dad and their friends once hung around like crows. I don't go to the Amtrak railyards to imagine my dad smashing his fingers on the train. And I certainly don't go to the graveyard.
But sometimes I'll drive up Philly Pike past the Town and Country Shopping Center across from a McDonald's that has been renovated since I last visited as a child. I look back to those stores and that garden store still stands, and I think of pancakes.
I'll come around the curve of Miller Road and look to my right and see the Christiana Care center's remaining building. I'm outside of myself, and there are two boys in a car with their mother, sorrowful. My uncle is not coming back.
I come in the front door of my childhood home and my dad sits playing computer card games. I know that one day, he won't be there, and I won't ever hear him yell about the unfeeling bastards of the world. And I won't be able to bring him back, either.
There will be no sequel, no reboot, no deus ex machina to heal what's been taken from me. I will have to learn what the world is like then, with my father gone from the world and a few photographs on a piano to remember his face. And in those days, I will still want to go back, still want to sit in a car with a container of pancakes on my lap in front of a garden store, smiling at the men who raised me.
April 29, 2018
Submitted by: Paul Riley
What I remember first is the darkness. On the edges of the scene, it's a starless black. In the middle is a man fleeing from the unseen driver peering through the windshield. We see this man's stumbling gait and know he will not escape. What chance does a broken body stand against 20th century technology? It will not take long.
He collapses. We see his pudgy face bewildered and afraid; we see the physique of every paunchy father who spends his workday sitting; we see defeat.
But the man stands and takes a moment to view his adversary, eyes to high beams. It's in that moment that he sees an opening, a chance to survive. In reverse, the car speeds away, but can't escape the blazing path that has sprung from the hands of this man. The video ends in flames. Nobody gets out alive.
"Karma Police" by Radiohead has never left my memory since I first saw it nearly 20 years ago. But less important to me is the video. It's one brief lyric that has clawed its way into my brain, never to leave, a perfect phrase that resurfaces in all those moments of sober realization: "For a minute there, I lost myself."
I've been thinking at lot about the gap between who I want to be and the person who actually shows up to play each morning. I often feel like I'm not living up to the ideal version of Paul Riley that I've developed over three decades of reading, discussing and idolizing. And when I fall short, I feel like the ideal me stays on the bench while another version runs out to the field, gnashing his teeth at enemies real and imagined, stumbling over himself like a fool.
It's in these moments when I consider the many mistakes I've made out of anger and sadness. I think of the friends I've hurt, the friends I've lost, the venomous bile of hatred and rage I've spat out to flood the streets of cities and towns I speed through on my way to a better place to be. In so many ways, I've failed.
Then I remember what I've known for years: there are three Paul Rileys. There's the ideal: the wannabe Mr. Rogers whose limitless compassion and curiosity prevents him from contributing to the suffering or distress of anyone. There's the dismal me: the despicable creature skulking through the world with malice toward all and charity toward none. There's the real me: somewhere between, unable to be either of the other imagined persons because there will always be distance from the ideal as well as from the villain. They exist to provide context for the real me. They allow me to place myself on a continuum and recalibrate if necessary.
I think of that man in the video, the one pursued by a faceless driver. I think of his pasty face, his squinting eyes, his resignation at the end of the road. And I remember that I don't have to keep running, that when I fall, I can choose to stand up, to turn around, look at where I am and make a choice.
So here I am today: reflecting on three or four years of discontent and anger, choosing to stand up. I tell myself, "For a minute there, I lost myself," and I get back to work.
February 16, 2017
Submitted by: Paul Riley
Two years ago, one of my new year's resolutions was to write a new song every month. I didn't meet that goal, but I'm proud of the six songs I did write and record. As I went through the year, I found the songs telling a story. It's fitting then that this set of songs - and the first post on The Compass - begins with "Janus."
Janus is the Roman god of beginnings, endings and transitions, and inspired this song about crossing the threshold from one year to another. How terrifying it can be to enter something new, to find yourself facing uncertainty.
There's no way to clearly and cleanly split what is now from what was then. It all flows. What appears to begin as something new has antecedents - nothing exists without coming from something else. So as we enter 2017, afraid or celebratory or somewhere in between, we should remember that today came from yesterday and tomorrow will come from today. Your actions affect the flow.