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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The counter surfer

Zoey the Small and Annoying stole most of the pot roast off the kitchen counter last night and hid in my writing room to consume it.

When I die, and if there is anything to the whole heaven and hell thing, I want credit for not having strangled her.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m home today for Martin Luther King’s birthday and it occurred to me to offer these few thoughts:

It’s not about the man. Although, the man was courageous, thoughtful, brilliant, a consummate strategist, and more.

It’s about legacy. A legacy of works. Get a recording and a transcription of his speech on the National Mall. Listen as you read the words.

It’s about struggle. A struggle that continues and will continue long after everyone reading this missive is dead and gone.

 Ultimately, it’s about us. It’s about who we are and who we hope to be. More important, who we intend to be, who we will work toward being.

You don’t need to become an MLK aficionado to understand the message. You don’t need to read ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ or research his struggle to get then-President Kennedy to do the right thing.

Today is not about strategies or tactics. It’s not even about Martin, really. Or Harriett. Or the West End Computers. Or Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. Or even John Lewis and his opposition to our current Buffoon-elect.

Today is not about individuals or individual efforts. If today is to be meaningful, it should be about us.

Today should be about our aspirations.

Few works in our history have been more about human aspiration than that one speech. So if you want to take a break from political rantings (mine included) and Tweets and hateful jabs and counter-punches, you could do worse than to put ‘I Have a Dream’ into your Google search box.



Read while you listen to the voice. And remember what it’s like to aspire. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pleasures of the harbor (revisited)

(I was going through my blog posts as I try to decide what goes and what stays as I transition to another sharing vehicle (read: writer's website). This is one of my favorite things I've written and in the spirit of stepping away from political nastiness for a moment, I beg your forgiveness for recycling it. It's from June of 2013 and I wouldn't change one jot in terms of my feelings for 'home.')

Mary and I have been working on the yard this weekend. Weeding and leveling in 90 degree heat for Gawd knows what reason. Okay, I do know a reason. We’ve had unseasonably wet weather until just a few days ago so we’re using every non-waterlogged day we can to get the work done.

We were going to put in a new fence on two sides until Odin the Large and Lazy decided our disposable income should be shunted into the doggie surgery account. And the Boston bombers made it necessary for Mary to make an expensive unplanned Mom visit with Two. So now, we’re limiting our landscaping to jobs that cost no money. The trouble is, when you’re talking about landscaping, money and sweat are expended in more or less inverse proportion. Two’ s worth it; jury’s still out on the mutt.
I find manual labor prime time for contemplation and I got to thinking about our house and what it means to us. Just because it’s been our place of residence for twenty years does not make it our home, to my way of thinking. You can build a house but you have to make a home. And a home’s not made of framing and plaster. It’s made of comfort and familiarity and security and love and trust and a whole bunch of other attributes that have nothing to do with construction materials.

Nor is a home necessarily the place where you spend the majority of your time. It is the place to which you will always return, no matter what else changes in your life. When A.E. Housman wrote the words “home is the sailor, home from the sea,” they resonated with folks wherever the words were read. They’ve been repeated and paraphrased in so many ways and by so many writers not because we all go to sea, but rather because coming home is an experience we all know or at least wish we could know. Because while your home and my home might be leagues apart and entirely different in physical ways, home is a concept upon which we can all agree. We don’t all see a windowless cabin or an Italianate manse or a tract or row house or a mud hut. But we do all see ‘home.’ And that word carries more congruence than diversity in terms of the parts of it we care about.
When Phil Ochs wrote “The Pleasures of the Harbor,” it didn’t matter which harbor. It didn’t matter if a particular listener’s home is anywhere near the sea. “The sea bids farewell. She waves in swells and sends them on their way…” The traveler has returned home. It matters not one whit whether there’s a coastline involved. ‘The sea’ is where we go when we’re in and of the world. ‘The harbor’ is home.

Mary and I are downsizing our ‘stuff’ just now (the same stuff of which I’ve written disparagingly in earlier posts) both as a de-cluttering program and also to prepare for the day when home will be differently located. We’ll eventually move to a different house, most likely in a different city or even state. But home will travel with us. It’s a place in one’s soul, not a spot on a map. We will know it as the place to which we and our daughters and others will always return.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Silence is acceptance

I had a brief exchange this morning with a highly valued friend. She shared a view that I know from our conversations and your Facebook posts resonates with several of you – that folks should not be judged by how they voted in the recent election. That people have a variety of reasons for voting for a particular candidate and that it is wrong to categorize them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ solely on the basis of this one decision.

I understand your point of view, really I do. I’ve even tried to embrace it. But I can’t.

Those who fail to understand history are indeed doomed to repeat it. And we have a history as a civilization of failing to stop despots, to our everlasting shame.

When I was studying ethics in college, one of my philosophy profs used to hit us with the old saw about ‘if you had the opportunity to kill Hitler before 1934, as a moral person should you do it?’  I know this one has become cliché but the thing about clichés is that frequently they become so because they hold an element of truth.

And yes, I know comparisons to Hitler and his minions are considered hyperbolic, so much so that when you make the comparison, folks tend to give you the benefit of doubt by assuming you’re merely exaggerating for the sake of dramatic effect. I get that. And because this is so frequently the case, I will ask you here not to make such an assumption or give me the benefit of a doubt that I promise you should not exist.

I DO believe Donald Trump and 2016 are the moral equivalent of Hitler and 1934. The thing is, I tend to take people at their word until they prove I can’t. And I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Trump was misrepresenting his core values when he invited the Russians to hack the other side, when he offered to pay the legal fees for any of his followers who assaulted protesters, when he spoke of assaulting women, when he said he could commit murder in broad daylight without losing supporters, when he mocked a reporter’s physical challenges, when he lied and lied and lied about every  aspect of his campaign, when he refused to follow the norm of providing his tax returns so voters could understand his allegiances, when he spent years attacking a President on the sole basis of race (and yes, the birther movement was about - and only about - Obama’s skin color and name), when he constantly used propaganda techniques rather than persuasion to keep his name constantly in the news, when he proved his distemper in countless rants on Twitter posts and in incoherent speeches, when he moved to install the worst possible collection of misfits and malefactors as his Cabinet.

As I’ve said before, Trump voters either knew for whom they were voting and didn’t  consider these things to be disqualifying, embracing the worst of the worst, or they voted from a position of ignorance. And if either condition describes you, it is difficult for me to think of you with respect.

This is one of those times. You believe that this is a country that embraces all, or you don’t.

I do NOT suggest that we commit violence against this new Hitler. But we do need to stop him from destroying our country.


And this is one time that silence truly is acceptance.  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Rachel Delevoryas

There is a song by Randy Stonehill out there in the searchisphere called Rachel Delevoryas that I hope you’ll look up and give a listen to. It’s all about a girl who didn’t fit in and was ostracized by her classmates, particularly boys, but who kept true to her inner voice and went on to become a concert musician.

I knew Randy (sort of – he was a couple years ahead of me in high school) but I knew Rachel better. She was a wonderful person with whom to share high school band and orchestra rehearsals and a killer French horn player. More than that, she was a friend to everyone around her.

It is not enough to say that I never heard an unkind word from Rachel. I’ll get closer to the truth in telling you that she consistently went out of her way to be kind and welcoming to everyone around her. And she had a wicked sense of humor, the kind that lays in wait until the perfect, unexpected moment and then springs forth to totally detour the conversation and then pulls back, so you’re left laughing but wondering why.

Rachel was a wonderful musician. That was a class in which we happened to have a great horn section and even among those four, she was a standout.

But competence and kindness aren’t always enough at that age. She wasn’t often invited to our reindeer games, as I recall. Or it may have been that she just wasn’t allowed to go. I think I recall that her parents were pretty strict.

Listening to Randy’s song, I have to admit I probably wasn’t a very good friend to Rachel. Not that I recall specific incidents of being less than charming (although, let’s face it – my high school career was a long series of other-than-charitable encounters so it would be difficult to identify my most egregious missteps) but I recall thinking of her as somewhat outside the perimeter of the in crowd, even among band geeks. Which is odd to realize now because I do recall being somewhat jealous of her. I wanted so badly to be accepted as a good musician and Rachel was one of the best.

Anyway, this morning her picture popped up on a Facebook reunion site so after my umpteenth listening to Randy’s song about Rachel I finally Googled her. I am overjoyed to note that like the girl in the song, the real Rachel has continued and excelled in her musical journey. And whatever we did during high school and however we made her feel, she seems to have gone on to define her life by her own lights.

I am proud to have known Rachel. I wish I could say with confidence that I’m proud of my contribution to that life. Truth is, I just don’t remember.

Memories can inform but you can’t change them. All we have is today and whatever piece of tomorrow comes to us.


Rachel, in case you ever read this, please know that you taught me something. And I’m applying your lessons to today and to those pieces of tomorrow that come my way. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Wanting to believe

This morning I was reading a blog post about a well-known quasi-military club for boys and their struggles with inclusion. They have a long history of excluding gays but under intense pressure from you know, progress, they have decided that gays are people, too. The rub is that even though this organization will now officially sanction openly gay members and even adult leaders, they also allow each local group the freedom to follow their own beliefs regarding inclusion. And since upwards of 70% of these local units are sponsored by religious organizations, this means that de facto exclusion of gays continues over much of the country.

As a kid, I was a member of one of those local units, sponsored by and meeting on the premises of the Catholic church to which my family belonged. So I saw no problem with the 12th requirement in the organization’s Law calling for reverence - specifically, reverence to a god. Since god-worship was part of my normal at that morally unchallenged point in my development, I had no problem with this alignment with religion. Frankly, I’m not sure I even noticed it. At monthly meetings we all stood and recited the organization’s oath and laws and dutifully recited the Pledge of Allegiance and (if Father Holland was on the scene as was frequently the case) received his benediction.

I’m not sure I was ever aware of anyone being denied admittance to good ole Troop 641 on the basis of sexual orientation. Which is not to say it didn’t happen. Lake Hills at the mid-century was not what you might call progressive. So, possible. And I didn’t think of my troop leaders or my parish or my friends as bigoted. But of course, in those days they wouldn’t have called it bigotry. They would have called it ‘protecting the normal boys.’

Okay, back to the present situation.

Most of the posts were the typical back and forth until a particular comment gave me pause. One commenter in support of the organization’s position said, “People should be free to believe what they want to believe.” 

No, they shouldn’t.

(I’ll pause for a moment here while you re-read that three times and spent a moment wondering if I’ve taken leave of my senses.)

Please understand it’s not people’s beliefs with which I take issue, it’s how they came by them and the extent to which they advocate to make their beliefs a part of my life.

“… want to believe.”

Seems to me that wanting and believing don’t properly belong in the same sentence.

You should believe because all the evidence points in a certain direction and no credible evidence speaks to the contrary.

Too many people in this last election cycle based their votes on what they wanted to believe. Their jobs were outsourced so they wanted to believe it was the result of skullduggery rather than just market pressures. They wanted to believe that our country’s woes can reasonably be blamed on recent immigrants, as though we’re not an almost entirely immigrant population.

Some people wanted to believe that all men talk that way when women aren’t around, because otherwise, they had to admit Trump is what he is.

When we want to believe we start down a path of illogic that leads inexorably to moral ruin.

Believe because the information available to you supports the proposition. Believe because you’ve no reason not to and the kind and respectful thing is to assume the other person is both honest and knowing. Believe because empirical evidence leaves you with no alternate explanation.

Just, please don’t believe because you want to believe. The world is littered with folks who wanted to believe their abuser would control his (or her) impulses next time. And youngsters whose parents wanted to believe the minister or priest had their children’s best interests in mind. And decimated populations that wanted to believe their country was ‘better than this.’ And religionists who really believe in the Christ or Muhammed or Yahweh, or, or, or… but cannot accept that the beliefs of other folks are not morally repugnant.

Believe if you must but please don’t pretend your beliefs are compelling or that I should share them just because you want to be right.


You’re not. You can’t prove a God, much less a Word of God, so don’t tell me our laws should bow to your unprovable religious mythology. Embrace your religion, love your god but please keep all of the above out of our politics.  Because the end product of wanting to believe leaves us with Pence and Ryan and Trump. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Resolute

So, I’ve committed to this revision of Da Book and also registered for an event in July at which I’ll be pitching it to multiple agents and editors. I always seem to work better under the pressure of a commitment to another human, so there it is - the work shall be done.

Not that this is what I would call a dreadful chore, since I actually love the whole process of revision. Which is not to say I look forward to it. Making a start is the hardest part but that’s behind me now, so off we go.

I said, off we go…

Hmmmm…

(Was I rambling there? A bit? Sorry.)

While we’re on the subject of things that are more likely to be accomplished under the pressure of a deadline, I do have several of the genre in my life just now:

I’ve been going back and forth about the prospect of dumping this little vanity blog in favor of an actual writer’s website and now, with a book submission looming it’s time. Don’t know how to build a site or where to have it hosted but the research is in progress. If any of you have thoughts regarding the best way to go about this for an Old Fudd with very little in the way of IT chops, please feel free to drop moi a line at mcwordsmith@comcast.net. Seriously.

I need to be much better at communicating with friends. It seems that the first thing that comes into one’s head is not always the best way to express one’s thoughts and feelings. No harm intended does not always mean no harm done. Damn.

The ideas residing in my noggin for future writing are many and diverse. And the only way to get them out of my head and onto paper is to do the work. This means having the time to do the work. Which in turn means I have to get serious about planning for retirement from my day job, yes, but more important, I need to take steps to be around long enough to get the work done. Which in turn, means a slimmer, more health-conscious version of me. And the clock is definitely running down on this one.

Speaking of health, I need to get all those nagging last projects done around our house and yard. Who knows how long I’ll be able to climb ladders and dig post holes and at some point, Chez Us needs to be attractive to potential buyers, so… (Kindly refer to preceding paragraph.)

I need to be better at being a dad. It was much easier when I could rule by fiat and expect with reasonable certainty that Daughters One and also Two would obey my decrees. Which of course means it was much easier to make decisions when the decisions were mine to make. The thing is, they grow up and gradually at first but then with gathering and eventually breathtaking speed they pull the rug out from under your standing as ‘font of all wisdom and truth.’ They will make career and personal and life decisions that are not mine and, more and more, without the need to consider my preferences. And the sole decision that is left to me is whether or to what extent to make my feelings known. Which means – usually - not. Anyone know where I can find a comfortable muzzle?

I can’t control national or even local political stuff. All I can do is model the behavior that I wish I would see in the people with whom I share the world. And the time is definitely now for this one.

Time to leave off here and get to Da Book.


Meanwhile, I hope this finds you well and happy. I hope and intend to be the same. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Decisions

I’ve a few decisions to make this morning. It’s 9:30am December 23rd and I took the day off work to get my pre-festivities chores and errands done. So here I sit in my writing room with my cup of coffee going tepid, trying to decide what to do first and next, and next…

Should I write a blog post in case I don’t get back to it before the Big Day? (Okay, I guess you can tell that one has been decided.)

Should I go to the gym, and then come back to do the house cleaning or vice versa?

I should probably run out for those last stocking stuffers but do I go now and avoid much of the crowd or later and revel in the holiday bustle?

Wrapping. There’s always wrapping.

I’ve about two hours of sorting-shredding-reorganizing files to finish before I finally begin the (last? One hopes) rewrite of the book. Do it now or after the gym? If I work out first, I tend to be able to put up with a longer period sitting in my office chair. And once I’m ready to begin, I know – knowing me – that the rewrite will consume me and everything else will come to a screeching halt for a couple of months. So, there’s that.

I can’t decide whether or how to reach out to the friend from whom I’ve become estranged.
Okay, friends, if you must know.

And what about getting a haircut? If I do, it should come before the gym so I don’t gross out the barber with sweat stink. Also, so showering after gym will wash away the hair detritus.

So many decisions to make.

Here are some decisions I won’t have to make today:

How to feed my kids with no money.

Whether I should try to run the (government / rebel / warlord) gauntlet and get my family to safety at risk of having them killed in the process.

Whether to come out in a time when we’ve just elected the King of Bigots, with the resulting emboldening of every hateful yahoo in the land.

Whether to make the store run wearing my hoodie or just be cold because for a young black man, wearing a hoodie in public can be fatal and being caught running will only make things worse.

How to help my dying (mother, brother, lover, child…) have one last good Christmas that (s)he can enjoy and we can remember.

Whatever the nature and gravity of the decisions you face today, please know that my best thoughts are with you. This is a time for pulling together and that can only happen person to person. You know what to do.


In case I don’t get back to you for a few days, have a happy holiday weekend and please, let someone know they’re loved. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

America

I wanted to get this said before the electors cast their votes and we’re off on another round of impassioned argumentation: I’ve decided there’s an upside to the fact that a lying, ignorant bigot won the election.

Which is not to say – and I hope this is obvious from earlier posts – that I’ll be glad to see him and his cronies in office. Not a day has gone by in which I didn’t feel a sense of doom regarding this horrific turn of affairs. But it’s time to take the long view.

The fact is, some of us are getting a badly needed wake up call.

We’ve been guilty of complacency. We’ve allowed the Internet to become a de facto propaganda machine for the ignorant and for those whose evil designs depend upon enlistment of the ignorant.

We continue to tune in to ‘News’ outlets that are little more than conduits for partisan rants. And yes, I mean MSNBC and NPR just as much as Fox and Breitbart. When we stopped demanding ‘fair and impartial’ and accepted news-as-entertainment we surrendered our right to be informed. That has to change or nothing else will.

Four years after Sandy Hook, we have a President-elect who is in bed with the NRA. And we – all of us, red or blue or in between – helped put him there.

I could go on but what’s the point? Those who elect to read this journal are already shamed by the recent electoral outcome.

But I believe there is an upside. I see elements of it every day. I see it in the North Carolinians who protested and accepted arrest rather than let a brazen, anti-democratic power grab go unchallenged.

I see it in my fellow bus riders who go to lengths to smile and chat and reassure each other.

I see it in the outrage and the disappointment and, yes, the fear of people of good will who seem to have found a renewed dedication to the cause of true democracy.

Yes, this is a scary time. But we’ll get through it. We’ll survive him and them.

Because we’re America. We pull together when the chips are down.

And they don’t get much further down than they are right now.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

This is real

For more than two decades I’ve had this story rattling around in my noggin. It started as a love story and then morphed into a coming-of-age story and characters came and went. I went at it in fits and starts. Meanwhile, over the years I wrote other pieces in a variety of forms and for an assortment of channels and audiences. I wrote essays and short stories and very short stories and shameless doggerel. I’ve had – and still have and will develop – other book ideas. But it was to this story and these characters that I always returned.

Because I couldn’t not.

And so as you all know, I finally wrote the thing. And when I had the first full draft in hand, I sent it out to a few trusted, smart friends for comment. And then I worked some more.

Eventually I reached a point at which I knew it wasn’t where it needed to be but couldn’t for the life of me decide where to go next. I knew… I know this is a story that people will want to read, will love reading and it’s up to me to bring it home.

So, I took a bold step. I engaged the services of a developmental editor. I watched her teach and I read her own writing and I met with her face to face and I came to believe she was the one to whom I could entrust my literary child.

I was so right. I received her edits and notes yesterday. Every comment she made was spot on and I have a red mark where I repeatedly slapped my forehead whilst reading her notes. And what I discovered was that it was all there, but the forest had been hidden in the trees. Some trees need to be pruned and others to grow some more.

My blinders removed, I’m ready. I can’t wait to get started on what I believe will be the final draft before the book goes out to the wider world. I’m terrified and overwhelmed and confident and truly thrilled to reach one more time into these lives and see what they have to tell me.

Because I want you all to know them and that means publishing.

This is real.


Please send me your best thoughts. I’ll need them. 

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

Snow

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

Thanksgiving

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

Incommunicado

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

Vote

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

Impostor

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?”

“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!