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Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Internet

In my day job, I’m immersed in a project requiring input from, output by, and cooperation between a diverse assortment of departments, teams and individuals.  The percentage of them that I can count on to do their best work in a collaborative mindset is definitely in the high 90s, so you would think that the project would proceed fairly smoothly. But people are people, we each have our unique experience and lens through which we see the world, so frequently we have to stop and check to make sure we’re speaking the same language.

Usually, we’re able to repair the disconnect in fairly short order, in part because I work with a lot of very smart and reasonable people and also in part, because none of us has the luxury of a lot or spare time we can spend chasing rabbits down holes. Still, even with this group of people, misunderstandings can arise, tempers flare and we sometimes waste time and energy rebuilding relationships. It happens.

So it should come as no surprise that in dealing with a population of the general public, unfiltered by the effect of dedication to a specific mission, not everyone is always reading from the same sheet of music.

The Internet was created specifically to provide effective communication over long distances in real- or near real-time. Depending on what you read and who you believe, the first example of an Internet-like network took place at MIT, UCLA, Stanford or government labs, in 1959 or 1960, or maybe it was 1962 and was the brainchild of Kleinrock or Roberts or, or…(NOT Gore). But wherever it was created or by whom, it has turned out to be a great boon in some ways and an unmitigated disaster in others.

Folks my age or thereabouts are the last generation that will remember living our day to day lives without the Internet or anything like it. The knowledge base I built during my formative years came mostly from books. We learned early on to use card catalogues and the Dewey Decimal System. We had a set of encyclopedias in our front room and each year I was assigned the responsibility of updating the information, using the reference tabs mailed to us by the good people of World Book. 

Once a year.

It seems strange now to recall that in order to conduct research on just about anything required at least one trip to the library, hoping against hope that you’d get there before a more motivated kid from your class who was working on the same assignment got there and checked out the books you needed. And even if you got the hoped-for tomes your learning would unavoidably be shaped by the particular point of view of the author and authors’ points of view were skewed more often than not. Accordingly, we learned from histories that ignored the contributions of minorities and women, that told us more than we cared to know about Paris and Rome but nothing about the Great City of Zimbabwe or the Chinese dynasties.

From books I learned a great deal about how civilizations were formed over time. That is, civilizations based in Europe. We learned a lot about George Washington  and Junipero Serrra (sanitized version, that is) but almost nothing about the Mandan or Lakota tribes or the Mexicans or Athapascans.

With the advent of the Internet, we had the opportunity to level the playing field, to share the knowledge and experience and cultures and points of view of the whole world and not just those of the currently ascendant. It has done that but the very nature of the openness of the Internet, the fact that anyone can post anything means that, well, anyone can post anything. The unintended consequence of leveling the playing field is that it has truly been leveled. The collected works of brilliant scholars and deep thinkers share equal billing with the musings of the ignorant and uncaring.

It wouldn’t be so bad if we could count on the unworthy to self-identify through their tortured grammar or faulty logic. But many of the people whose contributions are less than dependable are well meaning and those whose motives are less cordial frequently take pains to seem knowledgeable and reasonable. And of course, the reader too often has no good way of judging the veracity of the ‘information’ they encounter.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about this problem, especially since our recent electoral disaster. I’m not sure how we reverse it, how we as a society can use the Internet as a boon rather than the cultural quagmire it is quickly becoming. After all, the Internet is just a tool that carries no moral weight in and of itself. A hammer can be used to build or to tear down. Choice is revealed by the hand that wields it.

We can’t rely on the level of positive intent that I enjoy in my day job. I don’t know that it’s even possible to keep ‘bad’ content off the Internet and not convinced we should try, given our inability to predict unintended consequences. But we should try to sort what we see there. Perhaps we could start by taking the time and effort we currently spend on ‘teaching to tests’ and instead teaching our kids (and ourselves, for that matter) to be smart and discerning consumers of content.

Seems to me, that would be a start.

Monday, December 5, 2016


The weather turned in the four minutes it took me to drive to where I board the bus. 

From rain to sleet, then to snow, which in the course of the next twenty minutes strengthened to a flurry of fluffy flakes (yes, I’m in an alliterative mood). All the way across the lake and up into the heart of the city, snowflakes. Lovely things, really, when they’re not melting on your shoulders or obscuring your eyeglasses.

I love snow. Which is not to say I love all of the effects of it having snowed. Driving can be a pain when our hilly neighborhood is covered in white. And far too many of my neighbors seem to take slippery roads as an excuse to play bumper cars. I don’t love the prospect of slipping and falling, the cause of a dislocated elbow years ago. And tracking slush into the house means extra cleaning.

Still, I love snow. I know blanket is a cliché but don’t some words or phrases become clichés because they’re true? It does feel like a blanket descending.

Of course, given where I live, it won’t last. In fact by the time I was settled in my office, rain had taken over.

That’s okay, I like rain, as well.

Go figure.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dear thief

Okay, so maybe not ‘dear,’ eh?

The fact is, I spent much of the day - since Mary called this morning to tell me to come home because the garage was broken into - thinking of you in somewhat less friendly terms. This is not the first time we’ve been burgled but I have to say it’s no less infuriating the second time around. So you’ll excuse me if my initial impression of you, sight unseen, is less than charitable.

I’ve long understood that there are people like you in our world. Which is not to say I understand why there are people like you in our world. I can’t comprehend a mindset in which it’s okay to break into someone’s garage and ransack the place. I’ve tried and tried to visualize you, to no avail.

Oh sure, there are some things I know about you.

I know from what you took and what you left that you’re not really very good at the thief business. Hint: You took a hobbyist scroll saw and left behind an air compressor, proving you’re either stupid or a weakling. You took the cheap plastic toolbox and left the good one, took the ancient Sears jigsaw and left the really fine and fairly new Black and Decker. The list goes on.

I know that you’re a coward. The dogs that scared you off are both small and eager to meet a stranger. But perhaps you were afraid I’d hear them and come out to pound your sorry ass. Which, now that I think of it, would be a reasonable fear.

You broke into the freezer and stole some of the food there. Which leads me to ask, ‘Really, Lean Cuisine?’ You took six Lean Cuisines and left five pounds of jumbo shrimp? And I know the barking Chihuahua probably made you color your culottes but leaving a stack of pizzas to thaw on the garage floor qualifies as a food felony. And the ravioli you left on top of the shop vac – really?

A few of the things you took were special to me. My Lion miter trimmer. My chip lifter. Tools that not one woodworker in a thousand owns and fewer would know how to use well. Those hurt. Because they were items I’d hoped to pass on. My antique block plane. With the chisel well sharpened and the breaker set just so, that plane could take a shaving you could read through. I used that one building my daughters’ ‘big girl beds.’   Please don’t let it be a doorstop. Please sell that one so it might find its way back to someone who will appreciate it – it’s needs a working life.

I could go on but really, why? There’s no point trying to reason with a cretin.

It’s been a tough year for us McDermotts on a lot of fronts. We didn’t need this. On the other hand, having weathered an assault and several deaths in the family and with an ignorant, bigoted buffoon soon to occupy the Oval Office, your incompetent foray into burglary doesn’t even make the top ten in terms of stressors.

Still, we could have done without your attentions.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be you. Do you really not know how of little consequence you are? You choose to steal from those who’ve spent a lifetime working hard and frequently doing without. If it weren’t for sexual predators, child abusers and perhaps hagfish, you would represent the absolute lowest life form on earth.

I sent my afternoon blanking off the window to ensure you can’t come back for the compressor and the shrimp, a dull chore for a guy who can do what I can with wood. This weekend I will spend hours putting things right, cleaning up after you and cataloguing our loss for the police and the insurance company. And then, I will put you out of my mind.

There are people in this world who have nothing and yet don’t steal. They are worth my time and attention. You are not.

Congratulations on being nothing.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


It’s been a tough couple of weeks. I’ve found myself snapping at friends (sorry, Sindy!) and loved ones (sorry, too many to name here), staring into space, avoiding the news. Trying to make sense of some ugly truths that were revealed when 60 million people voted for this disaster. It’s been tough, as I’m sure it has been for many of you.

I got up this morning, did some house cleaning in anticipation of hosting dinner with friends, went to the gym and did my cardio, watched part of an even-more-insipid-than-usual Hallmark movie with Mary (confession: I love watching them but couldn’t tell you why). Ate a sandwich, showered and shaved and eventually found myself at my desk, trolling the internet while I revved up to do some writing.

I came across a video of the Obamas serving turkey day feasts at a veterans’ center and a homeless shelter. And I just watched. And clicked on the circling arrow thingy and watched again. And as I watched, I started to feel a bit better again.

For going on eight years, we’ve had the best. Barack and Michelle should be held up as exemplars of that the White House couple should be. What all couples should be.

As I watched them on the serving line, it occurred to me that these are people I’d love to have over to dinner. My one regret is the inability to get them alone with Mary and me and just chat about life.

We’ll go through some (expletive deleted) the next four years. Frankly, we have it coming because as a people, we took our eye off the ball. We’ll do better. I’ll do better.

Meanwhile, today I got to watch two people I respect doing a nice thing for people who deserve to have one nice day. As we sit down to dinner this evening our friend Susan will ask - as always - for what each of us is thankful. And I’ll know what to say.

All in all, a good day.

You have a good day, too. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A (Very) Short Story

Richard was having a great day, perhaps the greatest day of his life. From the moment he rolled out of his just-the-right-firmness bed and slipped his feet into his favorite slippers, he knew today would be special. He managed to put just the right time on the microwave to yield two soft eggs with melted Parmesan cheese. His coffee was rich and hot, just the way he liked it.

A cab pulled to the curb almost before he put his hand out to flag it. The driver was a friendly but unobtrusive middle-aged woman who greeted him warmly, repeated back his destination and then concentrated on her driving, relieving him of the duty of forced conversation with a stranger.

Richard sincerely enjoyed his work most days but today was better than usual. His ten o’clock meeting with a new client turned out to include Freddy, a friend from college with whom he had intended to keep in touch but lost track of when Freddy went off to the Peace Corps in (Lesotho?).  After a cordial and productive meeting, they had exchanged personal contact information and Richard looked forward to catching up.

Lunch was provided by the company as part of a ‘getting to know you’ campaign by the new CEO, who seemed like she would be quick on the uptake and might even make some much-needed changes. Rather than the usual hackneyed pizza or box lunches, the caterer covered a long table with a wide assortment of fixings that allowed each diner to build a sandwich, assemble a meat and cheese plate or make a salad according to individual preference.

 As the lunch wound down and people began to filter out the new associate brought him the progress report on the Statler account. He had been a fence sitter on hiring her but in the last few months, she regularly completed assignments competently and well before the agreed upon due date. Today, she was not only ahead of schedule but on glancing through the report he realized she had included several analytical angles he hadn’t thought of but that made the data come alive. And now he stood in his private office, feeling like the king of the world as he surveyed the city below and beyond.

Yes, everything had gone swimmingly and he thought this might indeed be a singularly exceptional day.

He held that thought right up until the moment when he realized just a millisecond too late how far he had leaned out of his twenty-fourth floor window. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

While we're here

Like many of you, I have spent much of the last several days in stunned disbelief. Not because I didn’t suspect this might happen, but rather because my yearning for a less hateful outcome was so strong, so visceral that the news hit me as a personal failure.

I haven’t known where to turn or to whom I can safely bare my soul. I’ve been snappy with folks who deserve better and suspicious of casual comments. This morning – intentionally my first with WiFi access since November 6th – I checked out the news and Facebook posts. My sense of horror swelled and threatened to overwhelm as I read of minorities being harassed and threatened. I had to stop reading the accounts of assault, invective, spewing of ignorant hatred (yeah, I know, as if there’s any other kind).

My shock was gradually overtaken and replaced by the realization that this wasn’t something that ‘happened’ on November 8th or even within the scope of a single election cycle. One candidate did not create the unreasoning hatred, selfishness and stupidity that has been unleashed upon us. Or I should say, among us.

The crowds of braying asses had to have been out there, waiting. Held back by a more reasoned majority until just the right moment for all the wrong people to step forward and lead them. The candidates did not create the bigots and perverts who now tear hijabs from strangers’ heads and tell Hispanic kids to ‘go home.’ They did not create the mob. They merely emboldened it.

The ones who write epithets on doors and then slink away have been with us all the time, lurking in dark corners, needing only figureheads to bring them out into the light of day. And along came Trump and Pence – and frankly, Cruz and Ryan and McConnell and Conway and Giuliani, et al – to provide them with a Nuremberg at which to rally. And rally they did.

But as much as I despise this President-elect and his gay-hating, woman-diminishing batboy, I can’t place all the blame for this catastrophe on the people who voted for them. I don’t understand it, and I will never be able to fully trust anyone who is willing to admit this affiliation. But neither can I whole-heartedly damn them. Because although it’s on them that they voted for these wannabe despots, it’s on all of us that some of them (please gawd, tell me it’s many of them) simply felt they had no other direction to turn.

Those of us who care about equal rights, an even playing field for minorities and immigrants and women, and just basic civility handed this election to Trump just as much as the haters pushed him over the top.

This election exposes a failure of citizenship. Democrats put forward a very deeply flawed candidate who proved unelectable even in the face of a demonstrably evil opponent. We could have done better.

We should have done better. We didn’t. We took the easy path of the known face and the existing machinery. And we lost.

More than that, many of us who are old enough to know better simply failed to engage. The non-voters, the sheer number of citizens content with the label ‘bystander’ to this train wreck is the knife that cuts the deepest.

So, I decided I would turn away from the news and the social media firestorm but then I noticed something. And it gave me hope.

Look at who is most outraged, who is posting and responding to posts. Look for those with tears in their eyes, tears of frustration and rage and fear. And be glad and hopeful. They’re our children.
I thought back to the Sixties when I was a young white boy in a lower-middle-class family comprising both emerging liberals and couldn’t-quite-overcome-their-upbringing bigots. I thought of the incomprehensible newsreels of neatly dressed black people pummeled by truncheons, pinned to walls by high pressure streams from fire hoses, bitten by German Shepherds cheered on by grinning cops.  I recall my dad, who was not what you would call a liberal by today’s standards, being berated by one of the other ushers at our church for suggesting that Mr. Harkins join their number. I recall with great clarity the Harkins and Loving families of Lake Hills in the Sixties although I could name relatively few of the other families. The Harkins and Lovings stood out and came to reside in my long term memory because human brains manage by exception. And those two families were exceptional – they were the only ‘Negroes’ I knew before moving to California for high school.

Speaking of my dad, I recall him frantically waving down another driver to prevent two little black girls from being run over and then sobbing in relief as the oncoming car screeched to a halt just short of tragedy. But I also recall him laughing along with racial stereotypes in jokes with his friends. My dad was a product of his background but trying his damnedest to be better. So when there was no time to think, when those little girls ran out into the street or Mr. Harkins needed a lift to the hardware store, it didn’t occur to him not to act. That’s the Dad I choose to recall as my mentor. The other parts of him I forgave long ago just as I beg the forgiveness of my children for my own darker corners.

In the Sixties, it was mainly young people who forced change. And it was a tough fight. Not just for those like Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney who gave their lives for the cause, but for those millions of young people who made lesser stands in smaller venues but were nevertheless part of the movement. Mike, who stood up in church to defend the preacher who spoke out against VietNam was part of the movement. As was the young man who put flowers in gun muzzles. And yes, the girl who brought home the non-white friend to meet her parents and even – make that especially – the ones who in odd moments simply frowned and said “That’s not funny” to the racist joke.

I remember watching the smoke from the burning of Watts from the top tier at Dodger stadium. I was a twelve-year-old bystander in flood tide pants but even then I wondered what would make people burn down their own neighborhood. And I remembered. And I like to think I learned.
So, how do my memories of the Sixties relate to our current national shaming? Directly, I would say.
We thought we’d won when the troops came home from Vietnam, when the schools and city buses were integrated and a woman’s right to control her own reproductive destiny was secured. We cheered the lions like Martin and Thurgood and we thought, yes, we are moving forward. And we were.

But what we didn’t realize then was the difference between progress and completion. And we left the work incomplete. We outlawed the worst of the Klan’s activities but left much of the hatred intact to arise again under other banners. We elected candidates who were good enough but failed to find true leaders. And so we ended up with Hillary instead of Elizabeth.

We can do better, and we will do better. The reason I know this is that my daughters are as disgusted with the failures of my generation as was I with the failures of the Greatest Generation.  

Progress has been made and so we have a better educated, more worldly class of young people than we ourselves could claim to be. Witness: while I can name and picture the one black kid in my high school in the 67-68 school year, my daughter’s minority friends are too numerous to recall individually. And although I’m not sure I even had a minority friend over as a kid (maybe Deborah Loving who I really liked  but probably not because my buddy kind of had a crush on her so that would have been weird in ways unrelated to race) I can’t recall any grouping of my children’s school mates that was uniformly pale. In my daughters’ generation, being non-white is unexceptional.

Thanks to the Internet, our kids’ generation is amazingly connected and this gives them two distinct advantages: 1) they can share information and organize actions in ways and at speeds we would have considered fictional because in our day, it would have been; and, 2) the bigots, creepers, bullies and bloviating a-holes just can’t keep their mouths shut (as always) but now that means they self-identify on a wide stage.

My daughters and their friends are already studying, buckling down, making plans, preparing to sally forth and that’s as it should be. This is their fight. Not that we geezers won’t lend a hand. But the current disaster is a product, at least in part, of our generation having been too self-satisfied with the progress we made.

And as I said above, progress is not completion.

There can come a day, and I believe there will come a day, when the denizens of ‘white-is-right’ and similar camps will be forced back into the suppurating pustules from whence they sprang. But it will take a lot of courage and hard work and even once they’re defeated, we will need to post a watch. Because hatred arises from fear and ignorance and those are two ills that seem to be DNA-embedded in the human race.

We have to start now. Can’t wait for two years or four years or someday. Have to start now.

I will wear my safety pin because while I can’t tell the good guys from the bad on the basis of appearance, I can at least self-identify as a safe harbor for those who might need it. And I will seek out opportunities to be my better self - visibly, audibly so.

We have to start now. Because we can only do it while we’re here.

 “And I won't be laughing at the lies when I'm gone
And I can't question how or when or why when I'm gone
Can't live proud enough to die when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here”

Excerpted from “When I'm Gone” by Phil Ochs

Friday, November 4, 2016


Tomorrow my brother flies in and the next day we begin our epic journey. Okay, perhaps not epic but fun, anyway. We will be trolling through the Olympic Peninsula and thence down the Pacific coasts of Washington, Oregon and northern California. We will hike and stare at stuff and visit at least one each of museum, rainforest and waterfall.

I can’t wait to spend this time with him and particularly because as much as is possible, we will conduct our journey in a news vacuum.

The first two nights, the places we are staying have no TVs and no WiFi and no cell phone coverage. And even as we work our way down the coast, the radio will remain off, cell phone likewise and newspapers unperused. We will avoid discussions with strangers that threaten to bring us up to date on happenings in the outside world.

Don’t know if we can pull it off but the plan is to try to get through election day without knowledge of how it is going. We’ve both voted and for the rest of the cycle we would just as soon not hear, see or otherwise acquire knowledge of the insanity that passes for an election in the year 2016.

Regarding the presidential decision, neither likely outcome is one I can in good conscience embrace, although I readily admit one outcome would be horrifying while the other would be merely disgusting. I hope the party that presented the horrifying choice will be soundly defeated up and down the ticket because a) a public and humiliating spanking is the only thing likely to finally get their attention, and b) I don’t want them to continue to block judicial appointments, etc.

So I’m not uninterested in the outcome, even though an outcome I find uplifting became impossible when the two major parties chose their candidates. I am indeed interested in the outcome, very much so. What does not interest me is the ongoing wrangling and name-calling, lying and buffoonery that has characterized the last one hundred or more news cycles.

Pat and I sincerely hope to spend a nice several days largely alone together, looking at things we’ve never seen and that can only be seen where we’ll be. Oh, and getting rained on.

Kindly refrain from killing each other while we’re gone. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Original Sin

I don’t believe in Original Sin as Sister Barbara taught it to us. It didn’t entirely make sense to me in first grade and certainly does not make sense to me now.

If we are to believe that a Christ lived for the purpose of dying in recompense for mankind’s transgressions, we must first accept several fundamental concepts:
·        that collective guilt transfers to the individual and vice versa;
·        that collective absolution transfers to the individual and vice versa; and
·        that attributes present at or before birth and wholly independent of the thoughts or actions of the individual are reliable markers as to the person’s worth.

I accept none of this.

And if I can’t accept Original Sin, then absolution earned by a stranger on a cross of course becomes moot and so on, and so forth.

It will present no surprise to those of you with whom I’ve communed for any length of time that I am utterly devoid of any moral, ethical or spiritual connection to the religion of my birth and raising, nor should you be shocked at my dismissal of the whole idea of a god or gods. So, no point continuing along those lines, what?

 There is a more troubling version of Original Sin playing itself out politically and socially in our time and place.

I have long been a member of a political party; therefore I must agree with and share responsibility for the actions and utterances of the ‘leaders’ of said party. A bit of transference and some deeply troubling assumptions there but basically, I accept that rap. Which is why I’ve recently renounced my party membership.

After all, my joining that party in the first place involved overt action. I have not been assigned guilt simply because of an accident of original position. (We could get into a whole discussion of Original Position and the Veil of Ignorance and so on here, but really, why? I joined the party, therefore any guilt that I accrued was through my own action.) So I accept the slam even as I move away from the association.

There are other areas of my life for which I have been assigned the latter day version of Original Sin that I decline to accept in any way, shape or form.

I do not accept 'white guilt' and I reject the idea that ‘white privilege’ has been a primary driver in my creation of the life I now enjoy. Yes, many others have suffered positional discrimination associated with gender, race and ethnicity, country of origin and cultural bias. This is one of the stains of our human society that continues today and anyone who believes otherwise is either ignorant or unobservant.

There are also others – many others – who from birth were endowed with much more than I and yes, I’m human. I do sometimes wish I’d had ‘more’ from the get go. But that does not mean these folks are guilty of a crime against me or that their experience is less valid, less a part of humanity than my own. It simply means that we don’t all start from the same initial position. That doesn’t make one or the other more or less holy.

Positional attributes carry no moral burden, in my view. The sole determinant of personal (worth, validity, choose your favorite descriptor) is the body of thoughts you entertain and the actions you take. There is no Original Sin. There is only an ethically neutral starting point and then, how you live your life.

Another attribute that some find damning of late is my gender. First, I have to say that having been born with both X and Y does not make me a sexual predator. Or a potential sexual predator. Donald Trump is a sexual predator. Brock Turner-Rapist is a sexual predator. But most of you already accept the difference between me and Da Drumpf, some of your Facebook posts notwithstanding.

In my reading and my social interactions and even my personal life of late, the evidence has been building that having been born male identifies me eo ipso as clueless, disinterested, and unconcerned with the lives, thoughts and reasonable best interests of women.  And to say I am uncomfortable with that moral assignment is, as they say, an understatement.

I could go on as the examples abound. People are terrorists because they were born in a Muslim culture, gays are by definition perverts, liberals care while conservatives don’t. So many of our prejudices are not recognized as such simply because we’ve had them drilled into us from birth – authoritatively, presumptively, even lovingly but from a position of ignorance and fear.

The whole idea of Original Sin is anathema to any attempt to see the next person as part of ‘us’ rather than as a suspect member of ‘those others.’

I accept my failings. I am at times self-centered, tone-deaf, impatient and (this is a BIG ONE) socially inept. I say things in ways that are easily and unfortunately misconstrued and this failing has cost me friends. And for all my noticing, I am frequently guilty of not actually seeing. But NONE of these failings arises inexorably from my having been born male or white or raised Roman Catholic or by older sisters or that my family was lower middle class. Each and all of my assignable failings arises from something I did or failed to do.

You see, I just don’t believe in Original Sin.

And I believe you shouldn’t either. Because this election cycle will end, women will continue to rise to the top where they belong, aliens will become neighbors, gay couples will be merely couples. But not if we cling to Original Sin. If we are to move on, if we are to build a society of compassion and caring and inclusion, Original Sin can’t be part of the calculus. 

(BTW: As you may have noticed, I've been busy with other writing of late. Sorry about that. More soon.)

Saturday, October 22, 2016


I voted this morning. Hope you will, too.

It's 11:54am where I live and since I got up at 7:30am I have answered four phone calls, every one of which turned out to be a recorded political pitch.

Sorry, annoying people. Too late for this hombre.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


I have a confession to make. It’s one I’ve toyed with making for many years but never got up the gumption to just out with it. But of late, my life has been laid open – or perhaps more precisely, flayed – as I’ve struggled to define my own personal narrative. Over the course of the last couple of years, through deaths and assaults against loved ones, struggles with understanding relationships with friends, missteps, learning moments and yes, the occasional small victory, I’ve come to know things about myself that I had never before grasped. Or at least, had never encouraged myself to understand.

I’ve tired of moving forward only to slip back. I have decided to try to ratchet my forward progress so that ground, once covered, need not be trod again. The best way I know to install this anti-slip device in my journey is through being honest with those who know me best. Or at least, know of me. So fasten seat belts because I intend here and now to expose to you a secret I’ve kept all these years.

Ready? Here goes:

I’ve never read Catcher in the Rye.

Now, you might be tempted to think this is a twisted joke, building you up for the great reveal only to have it be inconsequential. But I promise you, to me this is no small matter.

You see, the story of myself as writer and therefore presumably a reader of worthwhile literature has always rested on an unspoken assumption. Writers know writing, yes? Great writing. Writing by the seminal authors of our literary history. Writing that has shaped our lives, both individually and as a society. The assumption is that those who would have us take their own written work seriously have educated and informed ourselves through broad and deep immersion in the works of the masters, the classics of literature and commentary.

Yeah, well… For me, not so much.

I don’t know Holden Caulfield except as a reference made by others that I understand – or presume to, anyway – only in the context of the conversation of the moment. And this is not the only ‘great character’ of literature with whom my acquaintance is largely imaginary.

I have never read most of the authors, playwrights or poets that connoisseurs of great writing would recognize as worthy of acclaim. If there is truly a literary canon of the American experience, my knowledge of it is at best anecdotal. I have failed utterly to educate myself in the approved literary framework of required reading for writers of my day and age.

I am currently reading through some books I picked up at a conference. The one on my nightstand as I type this is Breakfast with Neruda by Laura Moe. I’m two-thirds through it and found it hard to put down this morning so I could get on with my own writing. And I do NOT apologize for choosing this book over one from the approved list. I’m enjoying it immensely.

I have read several Farley Mowats but very little of Hemingway. Okay, enjoyed Old Man and the Sea but not so much that I felt compelled to go in search of a Hemingway anthology. Maybe it’s the whole hard-drinking, risk-taking manly Papa thing that turns me off. I was never really drawn to Hemingway. But Mowat – there’s a guy who engages my mind. Never Cry Wolf was a delightful and fascinating introduction and it led me to several others, in particular Grey Seas Under. While other writers focused on battleships and bomber streams, Mowat told me about The War through the saga of salvage tugs. Yes, tug boats. Brilliant. But alas, not mentioned on any canonical registry.

My least favorite had-to-read-for-a-class book of all time has to be The Great Gatsby, the uninteresting story of unlikable characters in an ultimately fruitless search for a theme. I did enjoy a few of Fitzgerald’s short stories, read for the same class – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button comes to mind. But a master? Not for me. He always seemed to be writing for New York reviewers and not for, you know, readers.

I’m a nutter for Amy Tan, although admittedly her books take me a while to get through. But then, I’ve shared that affinity in an earlier missive.

My point here is that I tend to emotionally cower when I speak of writing and writers with folks who might recognize me as non-cognoscenti. I live in fear of the disdain sure to follow my response to the simple question, “What have you read lately?” Because while I won’t lie, I also don’t want to admit that my intake is less, well, high-toned than the interrogator might expect. Which is why it always feels like interrogation.

I recently attended a writers’ conference. Loved the content and the people but I have to say I spent the whole two days feeling like an impostor constantly on the verge of being found out. After all, I can’t quote lengthy passages from recognized gurus, nor was I familiar with the works of most of the people there. Every session included at least one casual reference to the works of an author I was presumed to know and love. But for the most part, I understood the references only in the context of the presentation and so, can’t be certain I understood them at all.

I will soon be submitting a major piece of writing to a professional editor for review. I have to tell you, this might be one of the bravest things I’ve ever done. Because so much of my self-image is wrapped up in my sense of myself as having something worthwhile to say and being competent in communicating that message through my writing. And this is a smart woman who’s been doing this for a couple of decades. I’m afraid she’ll find me out.

She might identify me as an impostor.

And if she does, if I’m forced to face the house of cards that my self-image might well be, what then? What can I do at my age to undo the damage of years spent reading non-literary literature? I’m sure I don’t know.

Two weeks from right now as I write this, I will submit myself to examination by a Person Who Knows Real Writing. And I am haunted by that dream we all have of coming to class - or a business meeting, or a wedding, or, or - woefully unprepared. Except in my case, I fear it's not merely a dream.

Can’t wait. Dread the day. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

In memorium

The bird eventually left the safety of the piano to make a mad dash for the Great Outdoors. Unfortunately, his navigation was faulty, taking him on a path that terminated when his beak came into contact with the kitchen window at full (might I say, breakneck...ahem!) speed.

There will be no service.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Best laid plans

So, I am now working to deadline on Da Book and in order to reduce sidetracks, I shut down my Facebook account, cleared the decks as to work travel for the next several weeks and planned a nice, full day of editing for today.

You know what they say about plans.

The current distraction involves a small bird that flew in the back door and has taken up residency under the piano, the better to avoid any interaction with the dogs, who are driving me to distraction with their whining and pawing at said pianoforte.

Since I am not likely to be able to catch-and-release the bird without Mary’s help and she is currently at her sister’s watching football, I guess there’s nothing for it but to wait for her to return. Meanwhile, I am not about to move the piano, thus potentially setting off another mad flurry of bird and dogs around the mid-level of the house.

Zoey the Small and Annoying is doing her best Lassie impression, wearing a path up and down the stairs, trying to get me to follow her to the scene of the musical bird sanctuary. Cleo, the Smaller and Annoyinger follows close on her heels, trying to act dog-like. It’s a difficult mien for a Chihuahua to pull off so mostly, she just looks like something caught on Zoey’s foot, following along in jerks and jags everywhere Zoey goes.

Up the stairs, bark-and-sniff, down to office, stare at Dad, up, bark-and-sniff, down, bark at Dad.

Yeah, I’ll get some editing done. You betcha.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Twitter status

Today I was asked a question I did not entirely understand. One of my bus buddies asked me my ‘Twitter status.’ And of course, I gave that most erudite of responses, “What?”

I could have saved face, I suppose by allowing my friend to go on believing the problem was one of bus noise or unclear pronunciation.  But no, I couldn’t take the easy way out. For one thing, it would not have been honest and for another, she would merely have repeated the question and little would have been gained by my coyness. And anyway, she’s someone I like well enough to be straight with her.

So the next few lines went something like this:

“I don’t know what that means,” said I.


“Twitter status.”

“You don’t know what Twitter means?” So now, maybe it was becoming a problem of misunderstanding rather than ignorance on my part but too late, because heads were turning.

“I know what Twitter means, I guess.”

And now, the younger-somethings in the next two rows were making knowing faces to each other. “Old Fudd alert!” I could hear them thinking. (Which may well be a valid assessment but was, in my estimation, totally beside the point.)

She stared at me, backed up by a rapidly forming rogues’ gallery of what I can only assume were Twitter cognoscenti. I could have gone back to my reading or gotten off at the next stop or pretended to give up my seat to someone more in need of butt compression so I could move to another part of the bus.

I could have. But of course, you know I didn’t.

“I don’t know my Twitter status,” I admitted. I felt this was a perfectly reasonable response, and was not at all prepared for the next comment, delivered in a particularly snarky tone by a young (expletive deleted) a couple rows away.

“We do!”

Which sent several of his cohort into gales of laughter. Even my erstwhile (I’m reconsidering) friend couldn’t hide a knowing smirk.

Now, I know when I’ve been had. So I let it go and did, finally go back to my reading, hoping the matter could be closed, if not forgotten. The coup de grace was delivered by a young lady who I’m sure was trying to let me off the hook.

“My grandfather doesn’t use it either.”

She even patted my shoulder.

Please kill me. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

And on a more pleasant note...

I listen to music while I write (or try to).

Just listened to Yo Yo Ma playing the prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No. 1.
Is there any piece of music more evocative or any rendering of it more sublime?

Please, no!

What is it that makes some men think they’re allowed to act this way?

Please note that I say some men. It’s not all men; if it was, then Larry and Joe and Steve and I would act as atrociously as do Donald and Billy.

I was raised by a mother and older sisters who never, ever would have allowed me to even glance curiously down that path, much less turn and run joyously along it. Who raised these monsters?

Donald seeks to excuse it as normal by referring to ‘locker room humor.’ I admit that the locker rooms I shared during the days of dressing out for gym class did reflect the curiosity and yes, braggadocio of young males not yet competent to control their hormones and frantic to be seen as manly. But even in that setting, the tone was different. It was more like “I wish I could…” or at most “I’d like to…” but never, NEVER “Grab them by the XXXXX. You can do anything.”

Perhaps these guys inhabited different locker rooms than my friends and me. Or perhaps, oh, what the hell… Truth is, I can’t imagine from what suppurating pustule these guys emerged.

Please don’t think this latest revelation changed my thinking about Donald in any way. He had long since shown himself for what he is. I’ve been shocked and horrified by the crowds of people who seem to blithely accept, even celebrate his bigoted, narcissistic excesses. But even if you allow for ignorance – perhaps that guy grinning and waving behind Donald has never known anyone with a disability or has grown up in a mystical town without a racial divide or has never met a person struggling with their gender identity – even if you allow for the fact that each and all of us have some built in centrism that allows us to see others as Other, I’m not sure how you avoid the message this time.

If you are the son of a mother, brother of a sister or father of a daughter, then surely, finally you can see where Donald’s message takes us. His entire approach to life and living begins and ends with ‘Me.’  He believes not only that he can do or say anything, but that his primacy is so obvious, that he is so clearly anointed that the rest of us are somehow irrelevant except as some demented Greek chorus.

I can’t imagine what went wrong in his formative years that allowed him to embrace a world view in which everything and everyone around him is a tool, a toy, a stage prop. And I can’t imagine that this horrific man-child might actually be anointed leader of our land.  

It is no longer about this tax plan or that, or even which jurists should occupy the federal bench. I wish it was. Our deliberations should be about such things. I truly, longingly wish we had a real decision before us. Sadly, we do not. The choice now is binary – we are or we are not who we pretend to be.

“Grab them by the XXXXX. You can do anything.”

If we allow this guy to be elected, we will have to consider that perhaps he can, indeed, do anything. And that we will do nothing to stop him.

Please, no. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Adventures in Writerland

I spent this weekend past communing with the muse, so to speak, in the form of attending my first ever writers’ conference, Write On The Sound in Edmonds. It was quite a positive experience, as evidenced by the fact that at least once during each session I found myself torn between the desire to stay and hear more and the need to get someplace quiet where I could start applying some of what I had learned. For me, this is the best form of cognitive dissonance and I enjoyed it even as it threatened to drive me bonkers. I felt like the kid at Halloween who has stumbled upon the house hidden at the end of the cul-de-sac where the lady lets you take as much as you want – should I cherry pick or go for volume?

I will be some time processing the writerly lessons I’ve learned and so will refrain from an attempt to enumerate them here and now. But as you might surmise, the weekend was chock full of opportunities for noticing, of which I shamelessly availed myself.

Do you detect a list in the making? Good, because here for your reading enjoyment, I offer my (incomplete – sorry I didn’t write everything down) list of things I noticed over two days in Writerland.

Trees in the central courtyard, observed while waiting for a session to start:

·         The maple with leaves just turning – I could spend my writing life describing them and ultimately prove unequal to the task.

·         Another deciduous tree, windblown so that over time all the growth has been to one side, in profile suggesting the classic banshee with arms extended in the chase or perhaps a young child reaching for the solace of mother or even a timid or superstitious person fleeing (what?)

·         Folks arriving for the conference, representing both individuals and archetypes but each and all sort of writerly in affect (or was this just a projection on my part?), and many seeming to carry questions: Do I belong in the company of REAL writers? Will I be found wanting by myself or others? Will they understand my work? Will they even take an interest?

·         Or, in some cases: Are they worthy of me? Are they teachable?

·         But mostly, probably: These are my people? Yes? Please!?!

Folks aggregating in the rooms and halls: old friends catching up; rounds and rounds of from-where-do-I-know-yous; newbies casting furtive glances or sometimes studying in frank appraisal; the greeters; the leave-me-alone-I’m-just-here-to-listeners. And thankfully, mostly just people being friendly and reassuring each other we were in the right place and running with the right crowd.

The view of the Sound while realizing I showed up wa-a-a-ay too early on the first day:

·         Clouds spanning the passage between two distant land masses (Point No Point and Whidbey Island, methinks?)

·         Auto traffic heading for the ferry dock while beyond, the ferry heads in to meet them

·         People walking on the sidewalk below, never stopping but never scurrying

·         Overcast with breaks of pale blue – it will pour rain later but just now, tranquil skies

·         Brilliant white chalk cliffs which I will realize later were just sun glare on landslid (Slid land? Landslided?)  bluffs – I like the  white chalk imagery better and may use it sometime, who’s gonna know?

Writer/presenters generously stumbling over themselves to engage and bring us the best advice because in the end, they are readers, too and so desperately want us, each and all, to write well and often.

A young presenter who starts out in ‘deliver the paper’ mode, even rebuffs a couple of audience questions (nerves?), heading for a crash-and-burn, then seems to just sort of unlock, hits her stride (perhaps buoyed by the positive vibe in a room in which every person is rooting for her to be comfortable and interesting) and ends up providing quite a bit of usable advice.

Questions from the audience reveal that this truly is a gathering of writers, not just wish-we-were writers or want-to-be-seen-as writers. Writers. People who write. And I’m one (Really? Yes! Well... Oh, shut up!)

One  should never be the guy who volunteers to read your final two paragraphs out loud because the silence at the end seems to confirm worst fears but then, wait, here comes a woman to tell you it resonated (RESONATED! THE SECRET TALISMAN!) so maybe you’ve found an audience and if it’s only one, still, it’s one. (Yahoo!)

One should always be the guy who volunteers to read…

Stop to talk to the guy who corrals you after the last session when you’re mostly desperate to find a restroom because it will turn out to be a truly nice conversation with someone who is also a writer.

Did I say, ‘also?’

Wow! Imagine that!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

My Life, Here and Now

One’s reach should always exceed one’s grasp.

It is entirely possible I misunderstood this adage for, say, the first forty years of my life. I now know that in common usage ‘reach exceeding grasp’ implies extending aspirations as far as possible - and then perhaps a bit further - in seeking the next idea, the perfect relationship, whatever. I readily admit this realization was rather slow in coming. And by slow, I mean glacial because for most of my life an impartial observer might have been forgiven for believing I was ignoring the concept entirely.

On the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology there is a long hallway known as “The Infinite Corridor.” Traversing it, one walks a perfectly straight line through several main buildings of the Institute, past windows and open doors and side corridors revealing a profusion of diverse departments and labs. Its decoration comprises – in addition to the inscriptions and statuary - a helter skelter assortment of announcements, maps, illustrations and other communications, the better to allow the traveler to find items and ideas of interest. The Infinite is at once highway, meeting space and constantly morphing informational kiosk, directing the traveler to repositories of brilliance that branch out along its tributary hallways and up and down stairways. The metaphor is extended by the twice per annum alignment of corridor to sun angle, a coincidence (or perhaps not) of architecture and the plane of the elliptic giving the impression that the light of knowledge and truth blasts in through the western portal and radiates down the length of the passage, illuminating all within.  

I was never destined for MIT except as parent of a student (are all daughters smarter than their fathers?) and anyway, no arrow-straight Infinite Corridor could have led me to Truth. This is not, I tell myself, due to an insufficiency of intelligence but rather, to an overabundance of curiosity. Not the steady and insatiable curiosity of the researcher who pulls at a single thread over a career dedicated to a well-defined discipline. I’ve never been attracted to provable answers so much as to the next interesting question. I am afraid my curiosity has always been of a more unruly sort.

I used to worry about this. It seemed to me that through the sheer dumb luck of having been born in a when / where that offered me unlimited access to learning, I might have capitalized on my good fortune by sallying forth in dogged pursuit of a great discovery or a special insight of profound import or even just personal wealth and stature. Alas, I never found reliable footing along any such path. Instead, I eschewed both the well-worn thoroughfare and the road less travelled in favor of simply taking off cross country. I stumbled from road to trail, mostly rambling sans itinerary and always intrigued by the things I saw along the way.  But enjoyable as this was, I worried that without a marked map my life seemed to have no point, no laudable raison d’etre.

I used to joke that a job was ‘the penance you do so they will give you the money you need to live your life.’ As a result of welcoming this thought into my mindset, it seems that over time I assembled quite the resume of penance jobs. I frequently found myself regretting the current situation, questioning whether my life did justice to the wealth of could-haves with which the accident of my birth had endowed me. And so I occasionally sought self-betterment in the form of sojourns in academia and I made a disconcerting number of career turns. Each of these attempts at improvement felt well-conceived at the time and each would ultimately meet its demise on the rocky shores of practicality. It bothered me greatly that I never seemed to find a respectable way forward and reach-versus-grasp felt like a personal condemnation.

As it turns out, I should have worried much less all those years about the wisdom and validity of my life course.  I was always reaching, just as the adage insisted I should. It’s just that my reach was never linear and certainly not always directed forward. My arms reached out in more of a sweeping – okay, make that, flailing - motion, touching without intending to the oddments that added to my knowledge but more importantly exposed me to unexpected ideas, different approaches, parallax views. I could not have predicted where or when the next learning would come, nor could I have identified in situ the great teachers in my life. The lesson asserts itself only over time.   

I recall the week before I reported for my stint in the Navy expounding for my friend’s father on my plans for a Life Well Lived - so much time in the service, then college followed by a brilliant career - laying out for him the roadmap I had drawn for myself. He grinned a bit as he told me that my best bet might be to try to make a good first decision, then see what life brought before making my next course correction. It turned out his was probably the best advice or at least the truest prediction of how my life would unfold that I would ever receive, although at the time I didn’t recognize it as such. I did enlist in the Navy, learned from that experience and long before my plan called for the next step, life happened. My friend’s father had been right. And although I didn’t exactly listen, I could not help hearing and his advice has stuck with me these many years.

My life has been about turning toward things I noticed in peripheral vision, my feet following where my eyes and ears had been invited. I sampled and touched and observed and I would have been hard pressed to confidently claim that I knew why. Why look at this or try that, why the fascination or the delight or dread? Why? It was compulsion, pure and simple, fueled and steered by the need to understand things that I could not have predicted would ever interest me.  It was curiosity without mindful direction but I believe this apparently random journey has served me well. In the end, I never attended an MIT but I have learned a few things.

I am married going on thirty years to my perfect mate, although she was not the person I would have thought to seek out. My current work is neither an amalgam of my earlier positions nor is it in line with any previous trajectory. But I love what I do in this, the sunset engagement of my career and finally, I finally have a job that is not penance. And of course, I find myself writing, which seems to be what I might have done all along had it not been necessary to collect so many decades of experience and insight before I would have something to say. I have become a writer, a seeker if the cliché may be forgiven, an explorer not so much of that which lies beyond but of what may be learned from each new here-and-now.

In the end, my grasp has exceeded anything for which I might ever have thought to reach. For all the twists and turns, stumbles, falls, and downright dead ends, this is my life and I regret none of it. Because circuitous as my path may have been, no other course could have led me here. My reach may not have taken me far but I happily report it seems to have taken me wide and sometimes, even deep. My travels have been about neither journey nor destination, and not so much about what lies on the other side of the hill but rather about viewing it from all sides. My attention has been taken rather than applied and the sights and sites I’ve come across have informed a life that I would not have given up for a king’s ransom. I never attended an MIT but I have learned. My resume does not reveal a career, per se, although there are evidences of affinity if not a logical progression to be found in reading it. At any point in my history, I am best defined by the here and now.

My life has brought me here, now. And this is where I would always have striven to be, had I known then what I know now. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Good people

Teaching at a conference this week. The folks in my sessions are so engaged, so thoughtful and full of thought that I'm a little ashamed to take my pay this week (which is not to say I won't cash the check).

Back soon.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A woman of her own creation

“Life is not about finding yourself. It is about creating yourself.”
(For the record, I found this quote attributed to Carrie Davis in the Disability Sports USA Challenge Magazine for Summer, 2014.)

It was one of those ideas that had me pulling out my short term memory – er, pocket notebook –and writing it down, which happens frequently when I find someone stating a truth in a way I wish had sprung from my own mind.

Through three deaths in the family, a daughter’s long road to recovery after an assault, another daughter’s reconsideration of where she wants to go with her career, a dear friend’s restructuring of her living situation – you get the trend – this has been a time of deep and soulful thought about things that matter.  

Last night, I watched two theatrical performers talk passionately about their lives on the boards – one mostly recounting memories fond and not so fond and the other projecting a future based on hard won lessons. I found myself wondering how these two women, one my daughter and the other my sister’s lifelong friend, had found the courage to leap instead of shuffle, to seek their dreams, craft their own self-creations.

Yeah, all right, stumbles. Sure. But then standing back up and looking about for the next challenge. Gazing to the peaks rather than running for the tree line. One starting over and the other seeking a comfortable finish. Each taking charge of her direction even – or maybe, especially - when the outcome can’t be predicted. Too many unknowable factors, too many twists and turns but always, self-direction.

One made her life on Broadway and in touring companies and the other is still shaping hers, having spent several years as a Disney performer. And last night in my favorite Italian restaurant, I got to watch them interact, talking to and with and over each other. It was Dad Bliss to witness.

Mary C. made a life for herself that would have crushed a less self-directed woman. By a stroke of luck and phenomenal talent got her Equity card when cast by Tommy Tune in Nine and hasn’t looked back, except maybe to make sure the seams were straight.

Angela has reached a crossroads and chosen a next direction. Which is not to say her life plan is mapped out. As we’ve discussed here before, life is what happens. But she is nudging it in the next positive direction.

Last night she met a woman-of-her-own-creation. It was wonderful to watch. It was a night about creativity. And who among us couldn’t use a bit of that in our lives?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Comparative literature

Emma Lazarus, 1883:
“…and her name Mother of Exiles…
Keep your ancient lands, your storied pomp…
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Donald Trump, 2016:

“As a President… I would be very, very tough on the borders, and I would be not allowing certain people to come to this country without absolute perfect documentation… People are pouring across our borders unabated Public reports routinely state great amounts of crime are committed by illegal immigrants.  This must be stopped and it must be stopped now. We’re going to build the wall, and we’re going to stop it. It’s going to end.” 

Friday, September 9, 2016

I haven't been abducted by aliens

I try not to bother you when I’ve little or nothing to say; at the same time, I don’t like to leave too much ‘dead air’ that might encourage people to think this little corner of the semi-literary world is no more. Today I’m caught between those two imperatives so I thought I’d just do a little catchup.

I’m a helper, it’s how I see myself. For a long time as a young adult, not so much. But lately – say, since becoming a dad – I can’t help when I see someone struggling wanting to jump in and make things right. Occasionally, my natural exuberance for all things helpful is misdirected. Such was the case this week when I insisted that Mary and I come and help out a friend post-surgery. I was deaf to the message being sent that my friend wanted nothing so much as to cocoon until past the worst of the painful recovery. It took Mary to remind me to just listen.

Okay, I get it now. So I am the pup who has retreated to behind the couch, tail wagging frantically and ever watchful for the vaguest invitation to re-engage. Sometimes puppies need to be taught that their loving approach becomes a burden when overdone. Message received.

Instead, Mary and I are taking a couple nights at a bed and breakfast out on the peninsula. We need the solitude and quiet time together after all the crapola of the past year-plus. Leaving the manse in the capable hands of One and significant other. Can’t wait to hit the road.

Two and significant other are settling into their place and jobs and life in Chicago. The new dog is working out famously.

Most of my writing energy is still focused on Da Book. The closer I get to final draft, the more I realize this character or that needs more of my attention, this or that transition is too abrupt or too elephantine. The beloved chore continues.

Love my work, and especially the people with whom it puts me in proximity.

All is well at Chez Me. More soon. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A letter to fathers regarding Brock Turner, Rapist and members of his tribe

Dear Dads:

Okay, between Facebook and conversation and postings herein some of you might think I’m going too far with the whole Brock Turner, Rapist thing. I can live with that.

If BROCK TURNER, RAPIST had admitted his wrongdoing, accepted the horrific nature of a sexual attack on anyone, much less a semi-comatose girl he’d lured away from any expectation of safety in numbers, had he told the truth from the beginning and not enlisted family and friends to petition the idiot jurist on his behalf, if he had not sat there looking tritely woebegone while his father spoke of ’20 minutes’ as though the blackness of soul that allowed him to attack that girl was just a passing thing, if he had hung his head and indicated true remorse and just taken his punishment…

…if he had done all of this and more, he might have done his time and slithered back into the nether regions from which he arose without his name becoming synonymous with filth.

He did none of those things. No full-throated apology, no acceptance of the magnitude of his guilt, no believable remorse, no expression of respect for his victim, nothing to indicate that he understood and was appropriately ashamed of his own actions.

He was able to pull off his obscene charade because our society protects perpetrators, not victims.

As long as colleges won’t stand up for victims of sexual assault on their campuses, cities and towns put the victims through more shaming than the perpetrators, society views perpetrators as misguided schoolboys rather than the monsters they are, as long as the Internet is filled with privacy-invading photos and videos of women and girls taken and posted by creepers with cell phones and no accountability, as long as we fail as a society to cure the gender apartheid that is a hateful feature of our culture, we will continue to spawn the likes of Brock Turner, Rapist.

What can be done? In the near term, very little, I’m afraid. This is a ship that will take a long time and a vast, concerted effort to bring about. But we can make a start. I have some suggestions:

If you are the father of a young woman whose sexual assault was ‘investigated’ in-house by the university with the predictable result that the perpetrator received barely a hand slap, please write a letter to the university president detailing why you can never recommend to another father sending his daughter to that school and provide a copy of the letter to the most vocal feminist reporter or columnist on the local newspaper.

When your friends make jokes, recount stories or make claims of prowess that you would be uncomfortable recounting in front of your daughters, cut them off, display your disdain loudly and pointedly and let them know that this is the reason they are no longer welcome in your house.

When a long-time friend posts inappropriate comments to young women on Facebook, cut him off like the dead appendage he is and let him know why. And then do some soul-searching about the people you may have harmed by your silence over forty-odd years of being identified with him. And ask for forgiveness. Theirs, not his.

When you see a young woman being ogled at the bus stop, intervene. You don’t have to make a scene but it can’t hurt to step between the young woman and the slug and stare the a-hole down. Turns out, it feels pretty good.

Speaking of ogling, when you encounter a young woman being subjected to wolf whistles and worse from the rogues’ gallery of construction workers, catch up to her and apologize on their behalf. You can’t cure stupid and it might be unwise to take a stand against a band of bullies but you can try to bring some balance to her experience in the moment.

Here’s the thing: Brock Turnerites are, one and all, cowards. There’s never been a rapist who didn’t cower in the shadows. And there’s never been a victim who would not have benefited from having someone stand between them and the darkness.

We can’t deal with the miscreants as they really deserve – they’d still get the wrist slaps and we’d all end up in prison. But we can strip away the shadows in which they hide by recognizing them for what they are and applying the label publicly.

Brock Turner, Rapist walked free the other day in part because of a failure of language.  He richly deserves to have titles indelibly applied to him that adequately describe him. Titles such as rapist, coward, scum, vermin, criminal, (expletive deleted). He should never be allowed to see his name in print without the modifier ‘Rapist’ attached. He should never be allowed to walk down the street without folks giving way – not as a courtesy but rather because it would disgust them to get any of him on them. He should never be allowed to escape language that accurately and adequately describes the blackness of his soul.

It does no good and perhaps some harm for women to post screeds about ‘white men’ as though we were some monolithic tribe of perpetrators. Point: the creeps don’t care and the non-creeps feel as assaulted as do you.

This is not a problem of men or a problem of women. It is a problem of our society that has let the canker grow. Time to cut it out. Leaving the victims to craft their own solution is cowardly, inhuman and ultimately, ineffective. We all need to be invested in curing this immense societal ill.

No ‘man’ should ever be able to make a woman feel trapped without an actual man stepping up in her defense.

There are more real dads in this country than Brock Turners. I just know it. And while we won’t turn the ship overnight and making a start means taking some uncomfortable stands, it’s the only thing that will make a difference in the long run. If we want to defend our daughters, we have to start with the men we know and demand of them respectful and respectable attitudes. And failing that, we need to expunge them from our social circles and make sure they know why. We cannot afford to let the cruel, sexist joke go unanswered or to allow the potential perpetrator to be emboldened by our silence. The time for our silence is long gone; in fact, never was there such a time.

Brock Turner, Rapist is a foul, wretched shadow of a human being who deserves our condemnation.

We all know Brock Turner, Rapists and potential Brock Turner, Rapists. Time to weed them out. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


There’s a young woman on the bus whose face is scarred from burns. Long since healed but still, there it is. I like to share smiles with her. She does a good, honest smile. I look around and people are averting eyes or even grimacing at this image of ‘beauty destroyed.’

Except it isn’t. Destroyed, that is. She’s lovely and even if she wasn’t in any classic sense, what of it? There is nothing ‘destroyed’ in this face or the person behind it.

There is an incredible calm about her as she climbs the steps, taps her pass on the reader, looks about for a seat and then walks and sits as though there was nothing unusual about a person with scars on the bus. Which of course, there isn’t.

Lots of bus riders have scars. Trust me, there are some scarred people to be found on the afternoon 212. People with demons, with fears and dreads and resentments and the whole plethora of burdens that twist the soul. Folks with memories they’d rather not have and habits they’d like to break and losses from which they’ll never fully recover. And they look away from this lovely girl whose scars are at least honest.

I looked away for too long. But then one day we caught each other’s eye. I like myself better when I just smile. I really like that she smiles back. At 63, a young woman’s smile can make my whole day.

Sometimes, she even smiles first. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Zaevion William Dobson

I've been hella busy this week and don't have a missive ready to post. I need a break. We all need a break, methinks.

Here's my suggestion: Turn off CNN. For twenty-four hours, don't think about Trump or Clinton or LePage.

Instead, if you need someone to read about, Google the young man whose name I've used as a title for this post. I guarantee he'll make you happier than any politician.

Sad, too.