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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Why post now?

Because even though it's been seven months and I am going to forsake this channel in favor of a writer's website, this is just too important not to share. (Also posted on my Facebook page)

I promise soon to post the address of my new website.

Father's Day?

Father's Day.
Really? Usually a day of looking forward to calls from Daughters One and also Two, Mary suggesting a nice dinner, sitting reading and writing and scratching the dogs. In short, usually a really nice, relaxing day.
But not this year.
This is the year I can't avoid the admission that I am complicit in the incarceration of innocent children (innocent by any reasonable measure and yes, children!) in what amounts to gaily painted concentration camps.
We have become the people to whom we have always held ourselves to be morally superior. We have become the monster in the closet, the foul breath in the room, the scratching at the window. We have become every child's dread fear - separation from Mom and Dad, lack of the comfort of the familial cocoon, confirmation that never again - even if and when returned to their parents - can they feel truly safe and watched after.
One of the fundamental tenets of my belief system is that ANY child should be able to rely on ANY adult for protection and succor. Anywhere. Any time. Under any conditions.
I have failed to meet that measure. We all have.
History will record our failure. This will become part of our 'permanent record,' along with Nagasaki, Manzanar, the Trail of Tears and Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
But today is not about future history. It can't be. Today is today and what we see is what we must deal with.
Yesterday a candidate walked up our driveway on his canvassing rounds to make his pitch for local election. I scanned his brochure and noted no mention of party affiliation, so I asked. He visibly breathed in before answering, "Republican." I told him as politely as I could that I was a former life-long Republican who would not vote for any member of that party at any level for the foreseeable future. I shared that he could thank Trump, Ryan and McConnell and their minions for my defection. He tried to rally, saying this was a local election and didn't I care about car tab taxes? When I said yes, but I care far more about my country putting children in camps, he got it and instantly turned on his heels.
They say all politics are local and to some extent that's true.
It's no longer enough to plan to sweep them nationally in the mid-terms or to vote Trump into the dustbin at next opportunity. We must do those things but also we must be vocal at the local level so that every time they get together in any numbers as a party, they hear the stories of how this national horror is coming back on them. Politicians care about the next election.
As long as children are held in cages - even cages of drywall with gay murals - I am complicit in child abuse.
And so are we all.
Father's Day, indeed!

Sunday, November 5, 2017


I wonder how many other girls and women eventually paid a price for the lessons she taught the young boys of our neighborhood. She ran her school from her own bedroom; her advertising was all word of mouth and her admissions policy lenient. This was at a time when people simply didn’t talk about certain topics and would certainly never admit knowledge of a neighbor’s sexually predatory proclivities. So Beth was able to maintain her ‘salon’ for as long as they lived next to us.

Every pubescent boy in the neighborhood had experienced her approach. The second that maturation evidenced itself, whether through croaky voice or downy upper lip or even a sidelong look at female anatomy, Beth’s attitude would change from one of careless indifference to keen interest in your every activity until she got you alone.

We all knew about her. Boys eager to demonstrate their approaching manhood spend a lot of their time speaking of girls and women and the wonders that they hold but in Beth’s case, there was no wondering about it. She was expert at ‘accidentally’ exposing breast or thigh or more, then gauging the reaction so she could decide on her next move. Her grooming behavior – what I now know was grooming behavior; at age eleven it just felt creepy – involved leaving some of her husband’s ‘men’s’ magazines lying about, open to provocative pages. If a boy evidenced interest in the glossies, she would ask if he’d like to see the real thing. As an educational enterprise, doncha know.

‘Unripe’ children were not allowed inside her house. I never knew her daughter to have a friend over and her sons were themselves habitually banished while their mother’s school was in session.

Far from objecting, her husband seemed to encourage her tutorials. I recall one time going to collect (I was the neighborhood paperboy) and the husband told me to come in and get the money from Beth in their bedroom. I walked through the open bedroom door to find Beth, naked from the waist up, in bed with a teenager from a couple of blocks over. Let me tell you, this was not the way you want to see your first grown woman topless. (Okay, second – there was the incident with Mrs. O’Donnell but in that case it really was an accident.) My job as deliverer of newspapers could be very educational but Beth’s was a lesson I could have done without.

Beth’s two sons were the hellions of the neighborhood, the younger a thief and the elder given to unpredictable rages and physical attacks. One of his episodes involved hanging by his fingernails from the exposed skin of my back, an experience from which I can feel the pain to this day. We all learned to keep a weather eye on Danny. I often wonder whether either of Beth’s sons made it through life unincarcerated. By third and fourth grade respectively either of them could easily have won the vote as Most Likely to Spend Time in the Hoosegow. Their lives were preordained.

But it was the daughter, Kitty, about whose life I’ve most wondered over the years. I never knew much about her except that she seemed perpetually sad. I don’t recall her relationship with her mother but her father seemed to view her as an indentured servant. If – and this was a big if - clothes were washed or floors swept or a meal cooked and served, it was Kitty who did the work. She seemed to fill in for her mother in the roles of homemaker and husband pacifier.

Over the intervening five decades I’ve tried not to wonder in what other areas of domestic life she was called upon to serve as her mother’s surrogate. 

I wonder what price Kitty paid for the being born into that household. And I wonder how many other girls and women paid dearly for the type of education ole Beth provided for the boys of that neighborhood. Regardless the sex of the original miscreant, it seems like women and girls end up paying in the end. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Back to basics

Not much more than a year from now, we (and by ‘we’ I mean those of us with, you know, brains and souls) will vote in what could be the most important election of our lifetimes. We need to be ready.

I know it’s common for some folks to skip the off years but I hope we don’t. Not this time. The entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate stand for election every two years and this time, we really need to make some course corrections.

We really, really need to make some course corrections.

Because, face it – last time around we all failed, one way or another. There were qualified candidates on both sides and we allowed the noisiest to make it to the finals. And we got what we deserved.

I’m tired of Trump jokes, if only because they’re just too easy. And I’m tired of angry rants because I’m tired of being angry.

The only useful thing I can do is prepare to do a better job this next time. I bear the responsibility to be well informed. To think deeply, seriously. And to support only those candidates that I feel are likely to help us heal as a nation.

It is unlikely I’ll be voting for any Republicans; they have long since become too dangerous. But that does not mean the Demos get a free pass. I will vote for individuals in each and every case, dog catcher to grand poobah.

Here’s what I’m looking for:
·        Honesty
·        Straight talk
·        Understanding of and dedication to the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights
·        Ability to work across party lines
·        Dignity – and my standards will be high: Michelle Obama, Betty Ford, Colin Powell
·        Clearly, genuinely likes people    

In the interest of breaking up the Old Boys Club, extra credit will be given entirely at my discretion for:
·        Non-attorneys
·        No allegiance to the NRA or Wall Street
·        Not being male
·        First generation American
·        LGBT
·        Classroom teachers
·        Vets

Points will be deducted for the following:
·        Too much emphasis on  religion, including ‘prayer breakfasts’ and such
·        Overt uber-patriotism that doesn’t ring true
·        Inherited wealth
·        Political family
·        Inability (or refusal) to give straight, coherent answers

I’m going back to First Principles. And I hope you will, as well.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


The other day I was trying to figure out how to re-install the toilet in the utility room downstairs. This is a combined use room with a toilet and sink and small shower in addition to the laundry machines and some storage so it will be an important factor when we sell the house. Mary had laid down a new floor and together we repaired the new drywall. It was one of those jigsaw puzzle rooms that had been modified – badly – by at least two previous owners, so it presented its share of challenges.

One of the challenges we faced was figuring out how to install the new toilet. I’ve installed several toilets over the years but the closet flange for this one was covered with decades-old lead and sat at a non-standard depth. So Mary sent photos to the plumber recommended by the toilet store who upon calling back promptly went into his ‘little lady’ routine. You know the one: “Oh, that’s going to be a big job, we’ll have to jackhammer the concrete and use a splinkfragit connection and of course, those are special order…”

Mary, she of the long experience with folks trying to put one over on her politely declined the major remodel this character insisted was the only way and off we went to the big box store to see if we could figure something out. I was digging through all manner of exotic fittings, connectors and whatsits and was about to suggest we call the plumber back when Mary picked up an item I had already passed over and asked The Question, “Why wouldn’t this work?”

You know where this is going, right? Sussed it out about halfway through that last paragraph, didn’t you? Yes, dear readers, the toilet is indeed back in its proper place and fully functional because Mary figured it out. I figger this $26.00 dollar fix saved us somewhere on the order of $400.00. Perhaps more since we would have been coming back to this guy hat in hand, so to speak.

There are well meaning friends and family who marvel when we tell them Mary does most of our drywall work, our finished flooring installation (I do the underlayment) and in this case wrapped her mind around a plumbing issue to figure out a solution I had already looked at and discarded. They will make comments to the effect that her ability to do ‘men’s work’ makes her somehow remarkable.
She isn’t. Remarkable, that is.

Well, truth be told, she is remarkable, quite stunningly so in many ways. It’s just that figuring out a plumbing connection isn’t the proof of it. In order to consider this incident remarkable, one must first accept the premise that womenfolk are somehow genetically incapable of figuring out things on their own.

I have been as guilty as the next person of assuming capability – or lack thereof – on the basis of unrelated characteristics. But I like to think that over the years and with accumulated experience and some inspired noticing I’ve learned a thing or two. My wife and daughters and other women friends, the gay friends who have always been part of my ‘normal,’ the folks I work with who live with myriad disabilities have demanded that I either learn and embrace or walk away in silence.

It is not remarkable that Mary frequently is the first to figure out how to do things or that she is more adept at some of the tool-using activities than am I. Or that our family managed to get through our gay friend’s wedding (note: not a ‘gay wedding’ but a wedding which happened to join people who are gay) without any lightning strikes. It is snooze worthy that people living with disabilities are able to do what they set their mind to, sometimes with reasonable accommodation and sometimes just through being given the opportunity.

I know we generally consider congratulation a positive thing. But sometimes, methinks, it is more accurate and even more human to simply accept competence in others as normal. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Let's invade Puerto Rico

People are hurting. Buildings are collapsed, infrastructure is broken, communication is spotty at best. The situation in Puerto Rico a week after it was devastated by a hurricane is desperate. These are Americans suffering. More to the point, these are human beings – mothers, fathers and children and aunties and grands without the necessities of life. Butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers without the infrastructure and supplies they need to help their communities get back on their feet.

The airport went days without flights and still isn’t up to snuff because of problems with the radar and traffic control equipment and yet, we have the capability to invade a foreign land and stand up a brand-new airport from jungle in a few days’ time. But we wouldn’t have had to do even that – the runways in Puerto Rico were intact, we just needed to bring in the machines and a mobile power plant, of which we have plenty.

People are starving while our warehouses are full of MREs. People have no safe drinking water while we have air-deployable water plants sitting on the ground. 

Hospitals struggle to keep their pre-hurricane patients alive and then to deal with the newly injured and yet, a week later the largest hospital ship in the world – 1000 beds, capable of operating independent of shore power, with a helipad and its own boats for moving patients and caregivers in and out- was not authorized to move for several days and only now is getting under way for the island.

Emergency services are overwhelmed in large part because the first responders are at home caring for their own families. And yet our reserves of military police have not been mobilized to help.

Trucks full of relief supplies sit unmanned at the docks even though our Army and Marines have organic transportation units with qualified equipment operators who could be there driving within a few hours.

We invaded Grenada six days after Maurice Bishop’s death and that involved planning and practicing an armed attack. Does it not seem we could have ‘invaded’ Puerto Rico – our own sovereign territory, with no need for artillery preparation -  even more quickly?

When you have all the materials and capability standing at the ready and you fail to respond, it’s not ‘good news’ as our DHS Secretary said. And the problem isn’t ‘big water, ocean water,’ as her idiot boss proclaimed. It is unconscionable that Puerto Rico might have been better off had we invaded rather than being hit by a natural disaster and then depending upon us for assistance.

There was a way. We just didn’t have the will. And we should all feel ashamed. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sad words and phrases

I came across an item in the webisphere today with the morbid title: “10 of the Saddest Words (or Phrases) in the English Language.”

Their list included: back to school, goodbye, heartbroken, if only, might have been, lonely, love (in reference to the unrequited variety, one might assume), melancholy, terminal, and perhaps my fave, ‘what party?’

I’ll admit that some of these words and phrases do seem unalterably sad. Melancholy, for example. Not sure how one might put a positive spin on melancholy. The sheer Eeyoreness of the word condemns it to the realm of the other-than-mirthful.

Some terms from the list require context to frame their claim on misery. ‘Back to school’ is not always and evermore a sad concept, is it? I said, is it? Might-have-been’s position depends on the nature of the ideas immediately preceding or following – the ‘this’ that might have been.

Anyway, there certainly are sad words and phrases in our lexicon. One of the saddest for me is ‘I wish I’d known.’ While I suppose there are less-sad contexts for it (If I’d known you were coming I’d have baked a cake), in my world this phrase is usually associated with missed chances to do better, be better, find better.

I wish I’d known then what I know now. Okay, fairly mild.

I wish I’d known (s)he liked me. Less mild, heading for heartbroken.

I wish I’d known in time to stop him/her.  Ew, let’s not go there.

Sometimes ‘I could have’ or ‘I should have’ can pull my strings. But for me, there’s no phrase quite as sad as ‘I wish I’d known.’

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Da haps, today

I spent an hour or two today going through some of my old attempts at writing. Essays, stories, some poetry, what have you. Some of it was good, some less so but I was a bit taken aback to realize how long I’ve been writing on a regular basis.

Mary is down in the laundry room / downstairs restroom laying a new floor. I wonder how many times I’ve marveled at the fact that I lucked into marrying a women who’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. She really is a good egg, but don’t tell her I said that. I wouldn’t want her to get a swelled head.

Daughter One is recovering from a medical procedure and thankful for a boyfriend who hovers by her to make sure she has what she needs.

Two and Da Boy are planning their wedding.

One of my friends is have her hard work directing a play validated by critics. Those of us who have known her since Gawd was a baby always knew she was a director at heart.

The new front lawn goes in tomorrow and I don’t have to do the grunt labor – score! Okay, I did have to dig and fill the French drain to reroute roof water from the new lawn but I did that last weekend so it no longer counts.

Onshore breezes have finally driven the clouds of smoke from fires to the East away from us.

Two dogs asleep within nine feet of where I sit.

I can’t complain.

Sunday, September 3, 2017


Brigitte passed away last week ‘after a long illness,’ as they say. Leaving behind Bruno, two daughters and a granddaughter.

The daughters and the grand left for home yesterday, so now Bruno is alone in his house. Alone with her clothes and toiletries. Alone with the dishes and gardening tools they used together. Alone with the car they drove to church together each Sunday morning.

Mostly, alone with the memories they shared and of which he will now be sole caretaker.

They met in Germany during the time of Hitler and fled to this country to make their lives, he as an engineer for Boeing, she as mother and wife and matriarch.

Their offspring had moved away, landing in Oregon – far enough but still within reach of a day trip. The elders maintained a vacation house near the Washington shore which they hadn’t visited so often of late as she became increasingly ill.

He kept bees and she her garden, two halves of a whole. They enjoyed our annual Christmas light extravaganza; Brigitte really enjoyed one particular piece, so we always placed it facing her kitchen window.

I built a custom entertainment center for them once, to his wildly over-engineered drawings. The thing weighed a ton and moving it from my garage shop to his living room was a neighborhood project. In payment, he gave me a wonderfully figured, richly colored board of walnut for which I’ve yet to find the perfect use. When we had the van with the misbehaving tail light switch, he would notice during his nightly rounds and call so we could turn it off and thus avoid a dead battery in the morning. I gave him some of my cut up dead-fall wood for his stove from time to time.

We lived across the street for (twenty-four?) years and we were comfortable with but not especially attuned to the rhythms of each other’s lives. We were good neighbors, if good means mostly respecting privacy.

This is pretty much all we know about Bruno and Brigitte. They were the neighborhood watchdogs who did not care for being watched, themselves.

And now, she’s gone and his life is so changed while ours goes on pretty much as before. 


I’m having jambalaya for lunch.

I’ve never had it before, at least, not that I can recall. (I know, I know, what have I been eating all these years, right?)

Seems that of late I’m eating lots of things that are new to me. Not necessarily because I’m suddenly overcome with a yen for gustatorial adventurousness. No, it’s more because daughters mine have been stretching their horizons and encouraging Mary and me to join them in their explorations.

I’m sort of screwed by my own parenting style. We always encouraged our daughters to expand said horizons. I just never thought their explorations would come back on me like this.

You see, I’m sort of your standard meat-fish-poultry-taters-rice-bread-chocolate kind of guy. Not big on most veggies and particularly non-fond of too much spice or peppers of the hot varieties. And not a fan of trying new recipes.

Our daughters are changing all that. Especially One. She has become quite the chef and Mary and I get to reap the benefits.

I’m having jambalaya for lunch.

Can’t wait.

I think…

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Staying home

Counting from last Thursday evening’s arrival back home from a business trip (technically, Friday morning, thanks to some misdirected luggage but I’m not bitter) I have at least the next seven weeks of no business travel. Last time I had such a home stretch was at least three years ago.

I don’t have the words to convey how happy this makes me. Don’t get me wrong here – I truly love my field work with the nonprofits and workers living with disabilities. It’s a wonderful job if ever there was one. And next time I hit the road I’ll enthusiastically throw my go bag in the car and head for the airport.

But I do get tired of living out of a suitcase, eating restaurant food and figuring out showerheads. And you’ll likely not be surprised to learn that regardless of the satisfaction I derive from my day job there is nothing I like quite as much as returning to my nest for a spell.

I love being with Mary, especially when, as is the case tonight we’re not doing anything special. We went to the store for milk and a new wireless mouse, ate dinner together and now we’re sitting in our family room watching a Law and Order rerun. As I said, nothing special. Unless you’re what my company calls a ‘road warrior.’ I am one, so being home on a Sunday evening with no need to pack a bag is a treat.

Next weekend both daughters will be here. Mary and Daughters One and also Two will spend a good part of the three days shopping for stuff de wedding, owing to Two’s newly betrothed status. I will hold down the fort, keep the dogs happy and complete a few items on the get-the-manse-ready-for-sale list. NO, I won’t be accompanying them on their shopping spree. But that’s okay; they’ll be home evenings and we’ll have sit back time together.

MY life these days consists largely of contemplating how truly fortunate I am. And of course, working on the website, which I swear to have up and running soon.

I’m home and as always, that is the best place to be. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

She died for us

Heather Heyer was 32 when she became one of my personal heros.  

Heather was the young woman who died when a Trump-inspired wannabe Nazi plowed into a peaceful group of protesters, then backed away at high speed, like the coward he was.

I didn’t know her and now I never will but she died doing what we should all be doing, facing down the ignorant, the bigoted, those who claim to represent the best interests of the ‘white’ majority in this country but who fail utterly to comprehend what this country is all about. She went there to lend support and to raise her voice. And I wish I’d been there beside her.

I won’t name the criminals here because they are beneath mention. The people who deserve mention were sprawled across this miscreant’s car hood, writhing on the pavement and in Heather’s case, lay dying. 

For those who said last year that Trump couldn’t be worse than Clinton, please take notice. This is what happens when a person like Trump is elected to the highest office on our country. It is precisely his ‘presidency’ - and that’s a tragically loose use of the term - that has emboldened the worst among us.  They’ve always been out there, hiding in the cultural sewers and cesspools and now, they have a figurehead around whom they can rally.

Shame on all of us until Trump and his ilk are sent packing.

Heather Heyer stood up for us. And now, she has died for us. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Best weekend ever

Got my first rejection on da book.

Someone I love is going through tough times.

It was hot when I left Michigan and even hotter when I got home.

I keep noticing new things that I hadn’t realized the burglars took.

The arthritis in my left thumb is flared up and I keep moving it wrong.

On the other hand (okay, yes, pun intended):

We spent much of the weekend working on the house, fixing the things we need to get done before we put it on the market. I felt I accomplished something.

That someone I love will be okay and has never stopped being one of the people I admire.

Mary and I both got ugly sweaty and dirty as a result of our labors and I was reminded of putting in the landscaping at the first house we owned together. Those were good times, smelly bods and all.

Started main writing (I think, we’ll see how it goes) on the next book.

I threw away half a package of cookies because I didn’t gobble them before they got stale. Score!

I spent the week with wonderful people and in a solitary road trip over the top of Michigan – beautiful state!

This week, I’ll be in conference with a lot of people who work to make the world a fairer place.

As is often the case at Chez McD – life is good!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Stories from the bus

               When you ride the bus as often as do I you tend to see many of the same people over and over, day after day.  And for the most part, you tend to see them doing the same things each time.  Some are readers, some talkers, some gazers (out the window), some gazers (at others) and some just stare at the seat in front of them. A few knit, more in winter than in summer seems to me but I have no data. Some talk incessantly and loudly on their cell phones, as though everyone around them would be interested in the details of their lives even if we could hear both sides.  

               I’m a reader. Occasionally a chat-with-one-of-the-regulars-er but mostly, a reader. I’m sure some of the other riders consider that boring.  The lady with season tickets - and how do we know she has season tickets, you ask? Because during football season she feels we will all benefit from her play by play recapping of the most recent football contest – once asked me what I found so interesting about ‘words on paper.’ This from someone who considers high drama to involve grown men running around on a big lawn, throwing and kicking a misshapen ball and pushing each other down.
               I suppose, to her, I am boring. But not, I tell myself knowingly, not as much as the guy staring at the seat cushion in front of him for twenty-five minutes each way, five days each week. And of course, my judgment of him is no more valid than my own inner comments about Football Lady. Or hers about me.  Because we can’t know what the other is thinking, can we?

               Of course, as a writer of novels – which is to say, a fashioner of stories from whole cloth – I enjoy imagining what the stranger might be, you know, imagining. So sometimes, when confronted by a Seatback Starer I find myself taking off on a flight of fancy based at least in part on unmerited judgments I make about the fellow rider. One Seat Starer in particular has actually provided kindling for several stories because he’s truly that rare combination of Everyman and Unique Soul that we all imagine ourselves to be. His could be almost any story, albeit with a few obvious caveats. The ample waistline probably rules out competitive body builder. And the well-embedded wedding band most likely eliminates gigolo from the realm of possibility. He walks with a cane, so I’m guessing not a pole vaulter. But he’s something and therein lies the rich loam in which my story will grow.

                 I wonder about the lives of the people on the bus, wonder what shapes their day. Their lives. With a few, I’ve become friends of the sort you see regularly but not for long and never privately. I know Marsha teaches maritime subjects to mates and captains. Andrea is the CFO who recently survived a takeover to beat out their CFO for the spot. The tablet guy is a lawyer. But for the most part, I don’t know their true stories and that’s the way I like it.

               I like making up their stories for them. Not to worry, I’ll be gentle.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fast pitch

              I wish you all could have taken part in the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association conference this last weekend. It was far and away the best time I’ve had outside of family in longer than I can remember. Lots of great sessions, good presenters and panels and I learned so, so much. Made some new friends, enjoyed soulful conversations with people who understand the monkey on my back because they have their own simian riders.

              I filled a notebook with my scrawls, purchased several books written by folks I’d actually met and had lunch with a gentleman in his seventies and a woman of forty whose commonality of passion erased the thirty-year experiential gulf. I joined - quietly and somewhat guiltily - in group speculation as to the motives of the guy who showed up dressed as a (Harlequin?), complete with jester cap, mask, robe, lighted wand and a noisemaker. It was a great time because these were my people. Except for maybe jester boy, that was weird.

              Okay, so some of it was stressful. Doing timed cold pitches to four editors and six agents over the course of three hours is not something I would choose to do as recreation. Something like the stress interview I had to go through in the Navy those decades ago. Except that in this case, the interviewers are rooting for you. They truly want you to bring them a manuscript with which they can fall in love. And better yet, sell. And they want you to be someone with whom they’d like to work.

              I prepared for this thing like an Olympic runner. Write and edit and practice and edit some more and practice some more and then get there to learn that a four minute pitch actually means telling the story of your book in ninety seconds so as to allow time for questions. All that prep and training and it’s over in a minute and a half.

              But time after time, thanks largely to the warm generosity of the folks across the table, it was a really good four minutes. It turns out this is my tribe.

              As a kid, I was far and away the worst player on my little league team. Never could hit to the fast pitch. This time, I think I made the team. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

He must go

"It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it's very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out. And I said -- and now they want to buy more aircraft carriers. I said, "What system are you going to be-- "Sir, we're staying with digital." I said, "No you're not. You going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it's no good," Trump said.

This is the Commander-in-Chief discussing the aircraft catapults aboard the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier. You see, the USS Gerald R Ford incorporates an electromagnetic launching system to replace the steam catapults that have been in use since the 1950s. As is often the case with new technology, the new system has had its share of failures in early tests. And as is also usually the case, improvements are underway.

 Trump heard of the early failure rates and jumped to uttering the words quoted above. I’m not surprised but I am horrified.

Forget (if you can) the lies, the misogyny, the racial bigotry, the playground-bully attitude toward anyone who incurs his wrath. Set aside his demonstrated belief that it’s okay to mock persons living with disabilities or other challenges. Give him a pass, if you must, for the nepotism and cronyism that brings a wide circle of incompetents and malefactors into his sphere of advisers and employs a cadre of liars and frauds to provide a defensive ring around this Klown Kar collection of self-righteous nincompoops.

At the bottom line, this is a person who has no sense of his own limitations, which are profound. And this is a person whose reactive temperament has already created a rift between our nation and our longtime allies. He is the embodiment of the old saying about ‘he who knows not and knows not that he knows not.’ This is a man (term used loosely here, but that would be another whole essay) whose deficits are both legion and utterly unimportant to him, so long as he can continue to feel powerful.

This is a person who knows no more about electromagnetic propulsive technology than he knows about international diplomacy but who makes and tries to enforce his decisions with the confidence of a fool. And there is no buffering effect to be found in the people around him. He surrounds himself with sycophants, the same crowd of nodding, guffawing buffoons who can be seen in photos of the worst despots of the modern age.

He must go. But for the moment his position is protected by the calculating, agenda-focused enemies of the people who have taken over the Republican Party. Now, many of you know me as a lifelong, fairly conservative Republican. I don’t apologize for that – you vote where and when you find yourself with the information then available. But my allegiance has been to ideas, never to the party. And the party has become a cabal that put Donald Trump in office and continues to shore him up so long as he provides cover for their agenda. And make no mistake, they are using him as a stalking horse – the true horror is in the machinations of the party power brokers.

I’m not a fan of many of the actions of Democrats over the years. But I do consider myself a pragmatist. And I always go back to my first aid training when responding to a crisis: breathing, bleeding, bones. Concentrate first on the things that can kill. In this case, that means depriving Trump-Ryan-McConnell-Breitbart of their stranglehold on policy.

I don’t like either party having total control. We have a lot of repair and rebuilding to do – in our social policies, education, infrastructure, international relations and our treatment of the environment in which our grandchildren will live their lives. The Trump-Ryan-McConnell cabal has done obscene damage to us as both state and symbol. We have to fix this, for ourselves and for the world. And we can’t make a start when one party shamelessly deprives all others of a seat at the table. We can’t make things better for all when the people who decide who gets a seat and what gets discussed are driven by selective, misinterpreted readings of the Constitution and the Christian Bible.

As a recovered former Christian and a recovering Republican I readily admit to having my own agenda. But whether we agree or not as to policy, surely we can agree that the current trajectory is not leading us in a direction the framers envisioned or that we should embrace. In the 2018 Mid-term elections, 33 of 100 Senate seats and ALL 435 House seats will be filled by the voters. Please, if you’ve a soul and a brain, vote Democrat in the next round of congressional elections. Deprive the evil giant of his legislative power and Ryan-McConnell of their rubber stamps.  

And whether you agree with me or not, keep in mind Trump’s own words: “What is digital?” This guy has the launch codes. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017


I’ve been busy this week, working with the folks at a non-profit in Boston, which involved a great deal of preparation, three long flights, nights in a sub-par hotel (sometimes you guess wrong but what the hell, the sheets were clean) and working on some editing evenings in bed.

My mind has been well occupied with my day job and also my writing. Even so, my thoughts keep returning in idle moments to the day last weekend when our whole family was together for an hour paddling kayaks on Lake Union. It was one of those mornings when the water is calm, not much traffic and the weather perfect for paddling. And of course, the really perfect thing was all of us being together.

I know everyone has their own favorite pastimes and each family has those special things they do together. But I can’t imagine any better memory than the one I’ll have of that morning on the lake with four people about whom I care deeply and in whose company I feel at home.

Thursday, July 6, 2017


While da book is out making the rounds of folks who are able – and might be willing – to help it find an audience, I am turning my sights to the next one. The challenge for me is never finding something about which I’d like to write, since I’m curious about most things and dearly love lying… er, making up stories. The problem is choosing a next plot and character set. Too many floating around in my noggin and if I open up my ‘Writing starts” folder in the old confuser, I am led to recall too many possibles.

When I started my second book back in (1980?) it was based on an apocalyptic vision of what would happen to the world and its organisms in the months and years after a major nuclear exchange. ‘Nuclear exchange’ was a ridiculously benign term in vogue at the time for describing the detonation of many thermonuclear weapons at various locations in the Northern Hemisphere. I had written my first full length book, By Other Means as a cautionary tale of the ramp up to nuclear war and this follow-on with the working title Winter was to be the tale of life in the aftermath. But since BOM was never published I was not pushed to finish Winter. Then with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, it seemed moot and I moved on to other writing projects. The current political and international climate have convinced me that the time is ripe for just such a cautionary tale. So-o-o-o, one of the books I’m considering for my next major project is an updated version of Winter.

Another plot crying for attention in my pea brain is a story about two young people, one male and one female who are aging out of the social welfare system (read: foster care) and how they face life without a safety net or really, any support system. This is a major problem in this country and with the catastrophic shift toward a less caring society – yeah, don’t even try to argue – the future prospects for kids caught in this situation will be less than deluxe. So, anyway, that’s another idea that really wants me to listen and give it voice.

Mary suggested a book based on my own life experience of having achieved adulthood late in life and by a rather circuitous route. It would be fiction-based-on-real-life-experience and would be a hoot to write. But it would also be a rather difficult trick to turn, as it would involve a series of metaphorical vignettes describing a journey with no real plan. Hm-m-m…

The trouble is that either of the first two ideas I could probably have editor-ready in less than a year, while the third seems to me more of a two year job. And agents and editors being pitched by first-time authors (they care only about what I’ve actually, you know, published so in their eyes I’m a virgin) want to know that a new client’s writing prowess has legs. That is, they want to know that having worked hard for relatively little return to get your first book published, there will be some hope of you actually producing a next book and a next after that, of building an audience over time, and thus earning them money. A reasonable concern but creates more cognitive dissonance than I might have hoped for.

I don’t know which I will start but will likely be deciding before the month is out. Meanwhile, building the website, getting the house ready for sale, hosting visiting daughters, traveling for work. And that’s the haps in Michael World. I hope this finds you well and happy. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A perfect word


I looked it up while editing a piece, just to make certain I’d used it correctly. So happy to confirm I have because I lo-o-o-ove onomatopoetic words. And if any word sounds like what it means, judder is one.

I recall the time years ago when the front landing gear of my plane locked up before reaching takeoff speed. Shook the bejeesus out of the plane and contents, yours truly included. And you can reproduce the sound it made if you say judderjudderjudderjudder… really fast over and over.

It really is a perfect word. 

Of course, the sounds the passengers made that night were of a different nature. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017


I’m reading Bag of Bones by Stephen King just now. I’m about halfway through and already dreading the moment when I fall off the end of it. It’s literary and intelligent and engaging – a ‘good read,’ as they say. It’s so good that I found myself this Sunday morning lingering over it when I should have been working on my own writing projects. Hard to strike that balance between my own writing (the dance) and reading (the one who brought me). Especially when the reading is this much fun.

That’s not the only area of my life requiring balance just now. My day job is taking up a lot of my mental resources and I love my work but I’m also very aware of the need to get the writing off the ground if I’m going to make anything of it in ‘retirement.’ And I come home each night of late with my brain fairly well wrung out. What you gonna do?

We’ve begun the process of prepping the house to go on the market. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this place from the beginning. We bought a trasher and gradually rebuilt it over the years. I admit I’ve sometimes resented the family and other time I’ve lost these last two decades-plus as we tore into walls, built new ones, reworked plumbing and electrical, the works. The thing is, now that the time is at hand – we’ll probably sell in the spring of next year – I feel like I’m deserting an old friend. Every nook and cranny from the rooftop to the sub-basement is familiar to me. Much of it built or rebuilt by me or Mary or both. We raised our daughters in this house, hosted family, argued, loved and sat around. A couple dozen Christmases, six Cookiethons, birthdays, new pets, dying pets… It’s been home to our family and now it will serve us one last time by relinquishing it’s equity to our cause. But I can’t help the feeling of deserting an old friend.

I’m in the process of relocating my writing space, having donated the old one back to the common cause as the guest room it was originally meant to be. Relocating forces one to look at stuff. And stuff, I have. Lots and lots and lots of stuff.

Maybe I’ll strike a balance by just ignoring the stuff and continuing my writing. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer solstice

Today is the summer solstice which means that where I live, we will have a minute shy of sixteen hours of sunlight. Exactly six months from now, we’ll have only eight hours and one minute.

I love living here. I love the trees and water and mountains and rivers and four seasons and the seasonal changes in length of sunlit days.

I continue to be tied up with other writing but I promise as soon as the website is up (soon, I swear) I’ll be back among the living. Meanwhile, I hope you are one and all enjoying your days as I am mine.


Monday, June 12, 2017

The haps

Not much going on these days.

Copy editing the book while it's out to a fresh group of readers. 'Copy editing' being a polite way of saying hunting down typos, missed words, redundancies, continuity errors. Rewriting compound sentences, of which there are entirely too many. You know, all the fun stuff.

Helping Mary renovate  the last unimproved room in the house, just in time to put it on the market. And by 'helping' I mean, of course, doing her bidding.

Working on setting up the website that will replace this little blog.

Listening to lute music while typing this. Don't know why you should care about that but every now and then I really enjoy a dose of John Dowland.

And as always, looking out over the green of our backyard and realizing once again how fortunate I am to have made my life here. Alas, time to move on. Not tonight but soon enough.

Dreading my doctor's appointment this week at which this wonderful, caring woman will tell me in her pleasant but firm way that I am fat. Damn! Really?

Marveling at the fact that I somehow convinced Mary to set up housekeeping with me and have managed for thirty years not to drive her away.

Wondering why there's a clothespin on my desk next to my backup drive.

Not much happening in the abode except life. Always, life.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Stepping over the line

A famous comedian is in the news for holding up an effigy head of D. Trump covered in blood. For this she is being castigated not only by Trumpets but also by many moderates. And she deserves to be.

A commentator is in hot water for using the term ‘house n----r’ during an interview. He deserves all the blistering he gets.

We – and the ‘we’ to which I refer is all of us who are horrified at the current presidency and the insane comet tail of unpleasantness that follows – need to be better than this. Michelle was right: let them go low; we need to continue to go high.

The comedian should have known better. Her career has been made on the edge, barely skirting the boundaries of good taste and fair play in order to get a laugh. I understand that and I get that good satire is necessarily edgy. But if I have to explain here why what she did was over the line, then perhaps we’re no better than Billy Bush.  

I would hope we can agree that the gleeful display of severed heads is the province of terrorists. Beyond that, while the orangutan in the Oval should be able to take his lumps, and richly deserves them, can’t we agree that there are certain lines we don’t cross?  The comedian, missing the message as former supporters and employers back away from her, tearfully attempts to portray herself as the victim. She is not.

The commentator, hearing negative reaction from his live audience made a quick aside identifying it as a joke. And when the reactions heated up over the next hours, he issued a week apology for ‘using that word.’ I agree with the folks who are calling for his firing. Your time’s up, goodbye.

There are lines we don’t cross if we want to be who we claim to be. Holding up the head was not merely a bad choice in an unguarded moment. It took time to plan and prepare for that shot. Time to think about what that imagery would conjure. Time to say, ‘No, that’s not us.’ Apparently, no one in her camp had the good sense to stop and think.

And for a professional talker to use the n-word on air, even in the flow of repartee, is equally unforgivable. Did he think that his position as a national television commentator makes him immune to the constraints we would apply in a local school board meeting?

These two people – and others we could mention but these are the two in the news just now – are intelligent people. They are both professional communicators who cannot claim they don’t understand context, semantic burden, emotional weight, restraint.

In both cases, they deserve all the vilification we can muster. Because they both knew where the line was, and they chose to step across it. Because in a war for the soul of America, they gave our worst enemies some very ugly ammunition.

Lesson for today: If you stand on the edge, better be sure of your footing. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

(There is no) Golden Mean

               And so, brethren and sistren, down came I from the mountain bearing Truth and Beauty (or such Truth and Beauty as is to be found in my new book, The Patent Desk), fully intending to bestow this cultural gem, this magnificent gift upon a world waiting in eager anticipation of the glories to be found therein.

               There I stood at the last turn, the final promontory and I looked out over the assembled multitudes, drank in their eagerness and love…  And then I turned around and went back up to my cave to go through the damn thing One. More. Time.

                Kindly refrain from asking how many times I’ve repeated this cycle of there-I’m-done-here-it-goes-ready-set-wait-did-I-remember-to… I’ve done it enough times that I’d be embarrassed to admit even if I could accurately figure the sum. The truth is that I’ve been living with these characters, this story, this hopeful/troublesome project for so long that my mental processes have all become skewed in favor of just one more pass. The road to improvement is deeply rutted and not by wagon wheels that rolled smoothly along behind faithful draft animals. This rock-strewn track was ground out one bleeding footfall at a time.

               I’ve lost count of the number of revisions, large and small. At one time this hog ran to 148,000 words and now it’s settling somewhere around 85,000. (After careful thought and excruciating editing, I decided to go with the advice of the agent who said ‘whatever the count, make sure they’re the right words’ over that of the agent who said 60-83,000 was a magic target range.) I’ve added, subtracted and revised so many times that the number of individual taps on the keyboard is lost to the ages. Average 5.5 taps per word – you do the math, I’m afraid to. And through the earliest and longest and now shortest versions of the book and all the revisions in between, every tap was accomplished by one of three fingers, arthritis be damned. Turns out not taking typing when they offered it in high school was a less than stellar decision.

               But, regardless of the work I’ve put into past revisions, regardless how sore my butt or strained my eyes or tortured my hands, up to now I just couldn’t stop. There has always been one more ambiguity to resolve, a run-on sentence to reset, a paragraph to trim.  Does the reader need to know this random fact about a secondary character? No, out it goes. Wait, now it’s not… Back it comes.

               At some point, I can either resign myself that this is not so much a book as a never-ending writing exercise, or call a stop and put it out there. Because there is no Golden Mean in writing, no perfect word count, voice, pace, or anything else that will guarantee people will want to read it and having read it, recommend it to others. In the end, it’s all about the story and whether they care about the characters. I  believe this story is good and these characters compelling. And so…

               Enough, I say.

               But then, there is that problem with Cort…

               Enough, I said!

               Perhaps, if I just…


               And so, I send it out. And IF this agent takes it on, or the next, or the next, and IF they find an editor at a reputable house who’s willing to read it and IF… and IF… and IF...

               And while I wait, and while I make the edits suggested by philistines who just don’t understand but through whose hands pass my ability to publish, and while I fend off the questions of the friends and family whom I foolishly let know of my position as literary supplicant and the oh-so-compassionate expressions of those who truly don’t believe I'll ever be published but want to seem to be in my corner just in case they’re wrong…

               While I wait…

               I begin writing the next one.

    Because I'm crazy. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Sometimes, things just seem to come together.

I am preparing to submit my book The Patent Desk to agents and editors. The folks to whom I’ll be sending it have varied submissions requirements but mostly, they want to see a synopsis and first fifty pages. So, off I sent the fateful fifty for review by Corbin, the developmental editor with whom I’m working.

I received her edited, comment-strewn version back the other day and planned a four day weekend to make a (final?) pass before beginning submissions. But I glanced through her cuts night before last and I have to say, I was appalled at the very first cut she made.

Doesn’t she understand, I asked my inner self, that this paragraph is essential, that it establishes Max’s love for his craft? That he is lost in the rhythm and timbre of the work? How can she say this paragraph is confusing and too long?

I didn’t read further, steeling myself for what promised to be a teeth clenching, head shaking session of disagreement with my editor, a battle royale to preserve the integrity of my magnificent prose.  The voices of my internal Greek chorus shouted their dismay. How could this heretofore brilliant editor fail to understand how rich, how necessary was each and every one of those golden words?

Then, yesterday, I listened to a couple of TED talks while I ate my lunch. Andrew Stanton was talking about movie making and he said this:
(The opening) makes a promise that this story will lead somewhere that’s worth your time.

 His words made me stop and think. I rewound and listened again and then, again. And I wrote them down to share with you here.

This morning, I returned to Corbin’s edit but I disabled the review function so that I would not be distracted by angst about what she had cut or reordered. And I read what was left behind. And what I read was a promise of something to follow that would be worth the reader’s time and attention. And then I read her comments but still not the cuts and I saw her love of writing come through. My writing.

My words are there, but fewer of them. The best ones.

For anyone who wonders at the true meaning of serendipity, seems to me this is it. As I sat unwrapping my sandwich and TED surfing I wasn’t looking for that quote or even for Stanton, and certainly was not looking for advice that would help me past my writer’s ego. But there it was.

The voices in my head are still arguing, one faction saying read and accept and the other side asking what other gems the evil Corbin might have cruelly excised.

I’m leaning toward read and accept. Turns out, Corbin knows a thing or two. And I have a new personal definition of serendipity. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Respect the experts

                Attending a writers’ conference last week, I was reminded of the importance of respecting the knowledge and skills of the experts in a field. Allow me to explain…

                I started the day nervous about the pitches I’d be making to a couple of literary agents but otherwise pretty confident in my own grasp of the writing game. I understood the roles of writer / agent / editor, the paths to acceptance of a manuscript for publication, my own responsibilities in the process of bringing a book to market, etc.

                Right? I got this, right?

                Turns out, not so much.

                Turns out, the publishing world has changed while I’ve been off living my life and writing my little blog posts. And if I am to be successful – assuming that ‘successful’ means a book published so that real people can read it and then does well enough to make my next submission attractive to the people who decide whether I get another turn – it behooves me to learn a few things. Facts of life, you might say. Things like the tighter word count limitations, platform, shifting genres, methods of submission… the list goes on.

                Never fear, I will learn these things and more. Because when you come into someone else’s world intent on fitting in the smart money is on, you know, fitting in.

                I think this is a lesson that needs to be learned, and soon, very soon, by the new guy in the Oval Office. He came there assuming that what he already knew would be enough and further, that his presumed great cachet of being this business mogul with a popular TV show and a series of trophy wives (as ever, more a statement about the man than the women he married) would make all bow down before him. He came to the halls of power with neither a road map nor a trustworthy guide. He brought lackeys and minions and miscreants to a team sport.

                He needs to learn the lessons of the field.

                He won’t.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017


                In the old days, which is to say when I still had red hair, it was customary to use the code ‘-30-‘ to signify ‘end of message.’ It was used by the newspaper industry and in some telegraphy codes. The origin of this bit of shorthand has become clouded as the Internet and wiki-compilations encourage anyone with an opinion to sound authoritative. Ah, well… A discussion for another time, perhaps.

                As a young writer (and I do mean young, as in grade school) I was intrigued by this particular custom. Couldn’t tell you why but on many of my early school papers and especially my personal essays I used the ‘-30-‘ mark to signify that a piece was finished. And yes, it annoyed some but not all of my teachers.

                Why not just write ‘The End’ as did everyone else in those days?

                I’ve thought about this quite a bit and especially now, when I’m approaching completion of the final pre-submission edit of my current book, The Patent Desk. For this book, it is particularly appropriate not to say The End. To understand why, you’ll have to read it.

                ‘-30-‘ seems to me a gentler sign-off. Not so much farewell as see you later. End of message but not the close out of our conversation together.

                Thirty – the number, not the copy editor’s shorthand – is in my mind for a wholly different reason today. Exactly thirty years ago as I type this, I was leaving a hotel room with my friend and best man Mark, on the way to the Asian Gardens for my wedding. Mark’s sister, Mary was at our house with her sisters and Mark’s wife (also one of my buddies from our musical theatre days) finishing up her own preparations.

                Thirty years ago today Mary and I embarked on our life and lives together. And looking back from this vantage point, I can assure you it is not The End.

                The conversation will continue, perhaps in new dialects as I transition from my current career to life as a writer and Mary plans (yes, she is in charge) our life as a couple after raising and educating offspring.

                Perhaps in the sense of the contrast between our family-creation years as opposed to our denouement together, ‘-30-‘ is the appropriate symbol of our completion of the first thirty.

                And, maybe I’m just stalling with odd thoughts while I try to figure out how to fix that one pivotal chapter in the book.

                You be the judge. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Imaginary people

The characters that inhabit my book are selfish.

On this rewrite, one gets a new love interest (but no explicit sex, na-na-na-na). A couple of others get hugely expanded parts. One stays about the same as to word count but becomes (gosh, I hope) much more interesting.

One bad guy becomes more baditudinous (my blog, my grammar – get over it) and yes, I do believe some people are simply irredeemable. Another becomes more forgivable or at least, we can better understand how he got to be who he is.

Each and all of their stories and sub-plots are improved, or so I believe.

The thing is, while each of them is probably happy with her/his enhanced position in the story, none of them seem to give a thought to how much work I’ve had to do to give them what they needed.

I took out several scenes and others I scaled back - I want to say sharpened but we’ll see what the readers think. One major story arc is gone completely. Lots of my many months of hard work hit the cutting room floor. Okay, so it’s the archive file in my computer but same concept.

All this sweat and tears by yours truly and do you think the characters appreciate my labors? Not on your tintype!

I think I’m beginning to hate imaginary people.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Alan Branch

I’ve been away from these pages much of the last month or two while I finish editing Da Book but while checking the news feed during a break I came across an item that caught my attention and drove me to offer this.

In an interview for CNN this week, football player Alan Branch expressed why he declined to go to the White House with his team to be congratulated by Donald Trump. Apparently, it has become traditional for the winning Super Bowl team to make this pilgrimage. But Branch is the father of three daughters and a son and it seems that his duty as a role model for his children is more important to him than a photo op in the Oval Office.

“I’ve got to go back home and look my daughters in the eye,” he said in part, “and I don’t want them to view me in a different light because I did that. I would miss two softball games with my oldest daughter to meet this person. So for somebody to have me miss family time, which I don’t have during the season, that’s somebody I would have to respect. I don’t have enough respect for him to take time away from my kids and my wife just to shake his hand. That’s not me.”

Mr. Branch, thank you. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Home Friday

I’ll be home Friday and when I walk through the door – okay, make that when I’ve unpacked my go bag and put away my travel stuff – I will officially be on leave.

Lots of things I intend to do over those nine days.

I have to get the book in final shape for submission because I have my first round of agent / editor pitches in early May. In narrowly selfish terms, this is a big priority but not the only thing I’ll be focused on.

 I’m working on the concept for my new website, which I need to have up and running by the end of May. Speaking of concepts, I’m working on planning the next book and a couple of other things.

I will be spending time in the gym, but that’s not a new thing.

Daughter One is moving into a new apartment so I will likely be helping her prep for the move. Over the last two years a lot of her ‘stuff’ has become intertwined with ours.

I will spend time with Mary. Some of it active, as in going places together, maybe doing some yardwork. And some of it more passive, just being in the same room together. Nine days of being able to look over and see her there.

Coming up on thirty years and I couldn’t dream of a better way to celebrate our lives – our life in common. When we first got together, all I needed was time with her. And next week – 1500 weeks later - that’s still all I need.

I’ll be home Friday, and I can’t wait.