Axel Shillers, Creative Writer, Photographer


Welcome to my Web-Site
Here you will be able to read my offerings in the literary art
and view my photography.

The Greatest Gift Ever

July 18, 2009


A few years ago, I mentioned in passing to my good friend that someday I’d like to learn how to build a personal website. He told me he’d help me when he was not swamped with work. At that time, I truly had no concept of what its content or reality might be so I never pursued the idea again.


This June 22, 2009, my 73rd birthday, he, who is a computer graphics designer ( without equal, gave me the greatest gift I have ever received. He mailed me a birthday card with only one line and his signature. When I called him to ask what exactly the single phrase meant, he told me to look it up on a Google search. When I did so, I was flabbergasted to see my own website. It had subject matter I had backed up on another computer from which he had gleaned some of it covertly.


I’m sure a few of you who are visiting my site wonder why I have one at all. I am not a major published writer, mostly anonymous within the community I live in and probably known more for the havoc—when I was an active alcoholic long ago—I created in many people’s lives. Though now I’m not the destructive force I was, I truly regret my dysfunctional self’s path of devastation during those formative years. Today, I cherish my anonymity, have exorcised most of my demons with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and try to be a productive influence in my surroundings.


Four ex-wives suffered from my imbecilic antics. A number of ex-girlfriends also tried to extinguish my mentally toxic torch before it was passed to the next unwary victim of my wayward ways. Although I was never physically abusive, until I got truly sober on St. Patrick’s Day in 1979, the only person that mattered to me was me.

Why should such a psychosocially impaired being as I was back then want to alert the world to my youthful failings? That answer lies at the core of the newfound acceptance of my faults in the past and the measures I used to change them. It took me eleven years of riding the roller coaster of lengthy relapses and brief redemptions while sporadically attending AA meetings to try to absorb their message. Finally, I became more committed to yearning for sobriety and increased my attendance at these gatherings. Thanks to those actions, I had my final drink thirty years ago.


I toiled erratically and futilely at many jobs in the years before my enlightenment. Driving a Red Top Cab out of Arlington, Virginia between 1971 and 1991 was the occupation which taught me the most about myself, the world and its inhabitants. In many ways it was better than a college education.


To some of my cohorts at the company, I had become semi-synonymous with Larry King. During the 1980s, he had an account with Red Top to deliver to and pick up his guests at his nightly radio show. It was advertised during that time as being held in Washington, D.C. It was really broadcast live five nights a week from a studio in Crystal City in Arlington across from National Airport. I had driven many of his interviewees to it and him to various places around the D.C. area, including once to Dulles Airport to pick up one of his fiancées. I was told I emulated him in terms of being able to loosen the lips of many of my fares.


I had learned most people enjoyed talking about themselves honestly, particularly if they believed their audience was a benign, innocuous and nameless sounding board. These sessions were part of my education about various routines of living, how to do both noteworthy and obscure things, fix all types of stuff and explore alternate ways of thinking. They also kept this occupation interesting.


Over my twenty-four years as a cab driver, I’ve driven and conversed with some senators, congressmen, other notables and one Supreme Court judge. I’ve also chauffeured several Washington Redskins (Sam Huff and Joe Theismann) and other personalities such as Patti Page and James Whitmore.


Many potential cab riders in Washington cussed out drivers from our company when we told them we were not allowed to legally take them from D.C. to a destination there—only to Virginia. After I once turned down Charlton Heston for a trip to Capitol Hill from the Watergate he was polite, gracious and understanding. He also had a good laugh when at first I told him he resembled himself. Many of my taxi episodes have provided me with material for numerous subjects to write about.


I garner much of the rest from my early passion of being an avid reader and through observing mannerisms, quirks and personalities of the diverse people I have come in contact with throughout my life. The greatest boon to stoke my imagination has been my natural curiosity about many things—ranging from the trivial to the sublime.            


Although my formal education consisted of attending Stony Brook Prep in Long Island for five-and-a-half years during the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, I finished the last half- year at that level in 1954 by graduating from Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C. I too came close (2 credits short) to obtaining an associates degree in accounting from Northern Virginia Community College, plus in 1969, I attended a few courses at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

My father, a writer, had also been the Consul General from Latvia to the United States before and during the early part of WW II, previous to Russia annexing that country by force. After the war, the U.S. didn’t recognize Communist Latvia as being its legitimate government. Subsequently, my dad composed a monthly bulletin at the Latvian Legation in Washington—then its embassy in exile—to be distributed to the many expatriate Latvians living in the U.S. Kiddingly, I called it his anti-communist propaganda manifesto.


Probably subconsciously, I never desired to follow in the wake of his journalistic prowess. Partly, my reasoning was that I’d been turned off by what I perceived as all writers’ hindrances. Through observation of him and various movie scenarios, I believed it was too exasperating an occupation for me to pursue. He spent hours at the typewriter; very often wrenching a sheet of paper out of its roller, crumpling it, tossing it into his overflowing wastebasket and using various swearwords to express his displeasure at what the machine had done to his brilliantly conceived inspiration. Who the hell would want to get involved with such an aggravating career, I thought?


Consequently, at 59, when my last marriage broke up and I relinquished my rights to our parrot breeding business in Brooksville, Florida, I wrote my first book; actually my first of anything excluding a few incoherent and spastic letters. It was penned (more like penciled) amateurishly in 60 days, on 175 pages, longhand on lined yellow legal paper and had nothing to do with the breakup. Ultimately, I realized writing this pseudo-novel served me well as a catharsis and enhanced my way of dealing with this life change.


I’ve been told I have learned to write adequately at last. Two things spurred me on. Since I no longer work—surviving on Social Security—writing has become my foremost interest, because I am no longer able to pursue many of my former physical activities. Shortly after completing that initial nonsensical, driveling blather—disguised as my masterpiece mimicking a Hemingwayesque novel—in 1995, an AA friend gave me his old 286 Wang desktop computer when he acquired a laptop. It came with a word processor. If I truly desired to become a novelist, no more would I have to squish page after page and fill the can with literary boo-boos. “Cut and paste”, plus mostly “delete” supplanted my perception of Dad’s eruditely flawless, but primitive (to using a computer) methods.


So far, it seems as if the main purpose for me to compose prose is to keep a seat warm at my writing critique group—Advanced Writer’s Workshop of the Palm Beaches. In fact, they are the biggest reason I have progressed as well as many persons tell me. To date, I have written thirty short pieces and stories—those which I consider to be my best are on the site—six poems, one long short story, Misplaced Passion and two completed, but unpublished books, The Toys of God and Someday My Turkey Will Fly. In progress and sporadically being worked on are The Self-Esteem Institute (a sequel to my second book), Diocese of the Damned and Dry at Last, my autobiography.

I’m pretty sure the world doesn’t care and I have no living relatives, nor any progeny scattered about this country, or in Latvia who wish to speak with me that would be engrossed in what I’ve done over the last thirty years. But after such a mentally apoplectic and caustic existence as I led in my early years, today I have come to terms with my sordid past and have become somewhat of an asset among my peers. At least, I’ll now be able to compile and exhibit my endeavors and have them be available to all in possible perpetuity. Many persons who could accidentally or intentionally visit my website might consider it interesting and a revelation, plus a hint of proof of my truly redemptive soul.


I’ve composed a lot of stories siphoned from the noxious mixture of ravaging relationships, personal despair, lack of self-esteem and frequent bouts of remorse. Conversely, my healing non-fictional concoctions of redemption, thoughtfully immersible didacticism and joyful subjects sandwiched between occasional smidgens of humor and sanity might serve to balance those other tales of woe. Though I’m not salivating to become nationally known or published—the process is too exhausting and frustrating—I can finally look at myself in the mirror and like what I see—even with all the wrinkles, blood thinner facilitated blemishes and baggy eyes.


As an added and indispensable bonus to my literary accomplishments, my significant other, constant companion and most influential inspirer has served me well as an editor and is quite adept at honestly critiquing my body of work. Sometimes I’m not thrilled with her penchant to tame my verbosity, but I mostly grin, bear and acquiesce to take heed and carry out her suggested deletions, fixes or sensible additions.


Today, I write for my own pleasure and to stave off boredom. If any of my work finds its way to a publisher after my passing, it will only be a satisfying exclamation point in this life.

A Brief Snapshot of Latvia 1

As a Latvian of German descent—my grandfather emigrated from Wiesbaden to Riga in the middle 1800’s—my original last name before his relocation was spelled Schiller. All Latvians at that time had their surnames end in s and there is no c in the language, thus my name today is spelled Shillers. Purportedly, according to my father, the lauded German writer Friedrich von Schiller was a distant cousin. Among his most famous works was the play William Tell.

Latvia is small, flat and largely boggy. Its environs stretch between its Baltic neighbors—Estonia and Lithuania. The inner landscape beyond its largest city, Riga is dotted with photogenic castles, and scenic river valleys.

Today’s Latvians are as zealous on reinvigoration of the land and rebuilding their realm as any newly independent nation. Visitors can witness first-hand the rapid transformation of a country that has only recently crept from under the doormat of its belligerent neighbor—the former U.S.S.R.

Those who dub Latvia the ‘Switzerland of the Baltic’ need a geography lesson. For a start, a tenth of the country is below sea level, sometimes up to 50 meters. Riga, its vibrant coastal capital, is a chief visitor magnet. From there, it’s an easy daytrip to the coastal resort of Jurmala, the Sigulda castles overlooking the scenic Gauja river valley and the Rastrelli palace at Rundale.

About 57% of ‘Latvians’ are actually Russians, having displaced many real residents. Stalin shipped most of the missing to Siberia to shovel snow or dig salt in the mines. When my father was recalled for reassignment after WW II from his post (Consul General to the U.S.) in NYC, he took that telegram to the U.S. State Department. They granted him diplomatic asylum. When the Communist Latvian regime heard of this, they rounded up all of our relatives (about 30) and shipped them to Siberia, never to be heard from again.

Even in Riga, ethnic Latvians are outnumbered by Russians. This identity crisis hasn’t prevented the rapid transformation of one of history’s frequent victims of conquest. Actually, it has given the situation a certain shudder of positive emotion.

Full country name: Republic of Latvia

Area: 64,589 sq km
Population: 2.34 million
Capital City: Riga
People: Latvian 30%, Russian 57%, Belarusian 4%, Ukrainian 3%, Polish 3%, other 3%
Language: Latvian, Russian
Religion: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox
Government: parliamentary democracy
GDP: US$20.99 billion
GDP per capita: US$8,900
Annual Growth: 3.6%
Inflation: 2%
Major Industries: motor vehicles, machinery, household appliances, pharmaceutical, food, textiles, agriculture
Major Trading Partners: Russia, Germany, the UK, Sweden, Finland
Member of EU: Yes