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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gathering tables

Mary and I have begun thinking about retirement. Not that it’s going to happen this year or next but we tend to be planners. Okay, make that dreamers, for those who know us well and have smirks on your faces.

We watch a lot of home shows, particularly those that involve fixing up older properties. We have always been DIY types and as we get older it’s more fun to watch someone else do the heavy lifting.

One of the trends I’ve noticed over the last several years is the practice of ‘antiquing.’ And while that term used to refer to going forth in search of furniture that was actually antique, more and more these days it refers to the practice of taking sandpaper and screwdrivers to perfectly good wooden furniture and cabinetry, roughing edges and creating dings and gouges in the attempt to make the piece appear old and well used.

Which, of course it is not and the fakery is easily discernable to anyone who actually knows anything about woodworking or who simply appreciates old wood furnishings. I admit to being perplexed at this whole idea of ruining perfectly good finishes in an attempt to make the new appear old.

Anyway, all of the above is background to what I really wanted to share.

A book I was reading made reference to a gathering table and it reminded me of a piece I’d seen being built for the client on one of the shows we watch. True to form, the TV woodworker made this gorgeous table of reclaimed (old with gorgeous, widely figured grain) wood, really fine work. And then, at the behest of the designer – the TV host – he applied his tools of destruction to make it appear old and worn.

I just don’t get it and this gathering table is a perfect example of the reasons for my disquiet.

You can google ‘gathering table’ if you like but the first several pages of offerings will simply add to your confusion. You might be led to believe the term embraces a multitude of styles, materials, periods and price points. The offerings you’ll see are either high or low, round or rectangle or square, fancy or plain, ready-made or some-assembly-required. And of course, there’s the question of finish. Fine or fake, smooth or ‘antiqued,’ paint or stain or even (Gawd, I can hardly even type this one without cringing) anodized aluminum.

There are those who will themselves cringe at what I’m about to say – those who believe words carry the evolving meaning of the moment and that I should just get over myself. In the hope that you’ll forgive me, I admit to believing that words and phrases have inherent meaning and even though they change over time through usage they still retain the core elements of that meaning.

A gathering table is what it sounds like. It is a piece of furniture with a flat top around which people gather to do work together. Work such as assembling a communal dinner or sorting things. Or the more usual meaning, that of a table used for gathering signatures in books. They can indeed be quite different in size and shape, material and finish. So for example, a turn of the century (1800s-1900s, that is) farmhouse gathering table would be large and sturdy and working height (counter height rather than desk height in modern terms). A gathering table that served people signing guest books and dropping off gifts for a wedding reception might be lower, smaller, and more finely crafted. Still, they are gathering tables, tables for gathering.

The pieces that I imagine when I use the term may indeed show their age but if so, it’s from long use rather than artificial scoring. The bumps should be from heavy items set down awkwardly, not by application of screwdriver or peen. And the missing finish should convey the story of thousands of touches. Human touches, not sandpaper. I know, I’m an old Fudd and you can almost hear the ‘Harrumph’ following that last sentence. And after all, who anointed me the king of gathering tables?

I suppose I’m on this rant in part because of the penchant these days among politicos and others for egregiously misusing language. Where do we get terms like ‘alternative facts?” And no, this is not aimed at any person or group in particular.  

Emerging meanings and usages should add to the precision and beauty of language, not detract from it.

Antiques are old things, facts are demonstrably true things.

Words have meanings.


Harrumph!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Tall tales

Lots of things I could have been.

When I was a pre-teen and while the other kids on the block were playing baseball, I was dissecting preserved specimens. I guess at that point I might have become a mass murderer but my life has been about nothing if not twists and turns. I just had to know how guts worked and so I had a collection of dead things in formaldehyde on one of the shelves in my room. Thought I’d grow up to be a doctor but it turned out I didn’t have the right kind of studiousness for the formality of a medical education.

Wanted to be a singer at one point and actually thought it might work out but it turns out you have to have the fire in the gut and I was more interested in filling mine with tacos and chocolate. But I performed in a lot of shows and sang in small clubs with my high school buddy and later with my erstwhile girlfriend. She went on to actually make a moderately successful solo CD and sing with John Lee Hooker and I went on to the next thing.

I thought I might be a woodworker at some point, actually had a small business making items for children’s bedrooms. Taught myself how to make dovetailed joints and built a few sticks of furniture. But then being a dad and needing to actually make a living wage sort of put an end to that aspriation. As a job, not as a hobby. I kept on building things but never again as more than a hobby. You can see evidence of my woodworking in our mantelpiece, in our daughters’ ‘big girl beds,’ and a few other items around our house. It was a fun diversion but as it turned out, only a diversion.

I was always interested in accommodating the needs of folks living with disabilities. Don’t know if that came from my mother’s polio or my own early leg deformities or the deaf friend of my early school years. I was just always comfortable around people living with differences and after decades of working small manufacturing startups, I settled comfortably into my current role as an adviser to nonprofits that train and provide jobs for people living with challenges. Love my job and I seem to be decent at it.

Tried taking up this and that over the years. But through it all, I’ve loved making up stories. Yarns. Tall tales. Charming fabrications and outright lies. It seems that no matter what else was going on in my life I’ve never been able to get by without pencil and paper. (Or typewriter or word processor or laptop, as both technology and the tremors in my hands progressed.) Wrote my first full length novel in my mid-twenties. Enjoyed the process of writing, of making up stories. I became an accomplished fictionalizer, much to my chagrin at times when my tall tales were exposed, but that’s another story.

While I could share a number of reasons why I like to make up fictions, I’m not sure I could explain why I need to do so. But I do.

To me, the two most promising and intriguing and exciting words in the English language are ‘what if.’

So, I’m a writer. Not because I’m literary or brilliant or even sharp-witted.


I just like a good story.   And I’m not above making up my own. 

Saturday, March 11, 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 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.

Other 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. Fairly mild.

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

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’ are seen as sad. But for me, there’s no phrase quite as damming as ‘I wish I’d known.’ 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Ana Vidovic

Yes, I’ve been listening to music again. (What else do you do for background while you slog through re-writing a book?) And yes, once again I found myself listening to Ana Vidovic, who is hands down the best classical guitarist I can name. Her expression, her phrasing, her mastery of every aspect of her instrument produce a listening experience that is simply glorious.

If you wonder what I’m going on about, please Google her playing Asturias by Isaac Albeniz. The clarity – the cleanliness of each and every individual pick and strum – is truly remarkable.

We could stand to have more people like Ana Vidovic in our world.

I’ve been trying very hard to stifle the temptation to allow the distractions of writing short stories and blog posts while I am on deadline with the book and need to keep shoulder to stone. But really, this guitarist just forced me to pop in here and share.

I readily admit this is a selfish exercise. Between Trump and MS and ailing friends and dogs and looming retirement for which I’m not fully financially prepared, I’ve found a lot to worry about of late. Seems like the world has been turned upside down and I struggle to find examples of good news. I do find them close to home in both my daughters of whom I am justifiably and immeasurably proud. But I sometimes have trouble finding such uplifting examples in the wider world.

Ana Vidovic’s music is such an example.


Seriously, Google this music video. It’s seven minutes out of your life and it’ll make you feel good. 
Perhaps even encouraged. Promise. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

People you see at the DMV

              I finally gave in to the demands of the fascists among us and went in the get my driver’s license ‘enhanced.’ Which entails proving my citizenship by proffering my passport and answering a series of questions that felt distinctly invasive. Ostensibly, this is all for our protection from terrorists. Which of course seems specious when one considers the number of terrorists currently residing in Congress.

              After wending my way through the entrance line and once I had received my ‘number,’ I decided to cease my reflection on the indignity of the situation that brought me there and began watching people. I love people-watching as a recreational activity and as I often do I pulled out my ever-present notebook and started taking notes.

              So, what did I see?

              First, I have to say the Washington Department of Licensing has really improved the customer service experience. While I was there, on a very busy Saturday morning, the system was efficient, the workers competent and friendly. This is NOT my father’s DMV.

              The folks in the long line when the door opened were mostly patient and polite. I say mostly because the guy in front of me clearly thought he’d pulled a fast one when his girlfriend cut the line, although they arrived in separate cars and she showed up some time after he did. What are you going to do?

              The oblivious texter was well represented, including an immaculately coifed and expensively dressed woman who was clearly not impressed with the replies from the person on the other end.

              Children with electronic games added to the background noise. One little boy stomped about, fascinated with the little light that flashed on his sneakers in time with his footfalls. He drew quite an audience.

              Boyfriends and girlfriends – not sure why this would be seen as a dating opportunity. You don’t see older husbands and wives coming together to renew a license. Must be a young thing. And of course, I’m making assumptions as to the relationships involved.

              So many teenagers getting their first licenses, proud and worried and impatient. And several proud younger sibs, “My (brother/sister) is getting a driver’s license today!”

              The guy with the yard-long dreads and multiple piercings. I don’t get it. Don’t mind, really, but don’t get it. In much the same way I don’t get sagging, stretch pants or dressing up like furry animals. And that’s okay – they probably don’t get me, either.

              One guy was online and on his phone, purchasing a used set of wheels while he waited to apply for his driver’s license. Now, that’s confidence!

              If you’ll excuse me a bit of profiling, it seemed to me that the most patient customers were recent immigrants. I guess they’re accustomed to being inconvenienced by bureaucracy. I’m glad to report that they were treated with respect.

              One mother / daughter pair cracked me up, the daughter leaning almost out of her chair every time the lady at the take-your-photo-and-pick-up-your-temp-license window called out a new group of names. The daughter was on toes and chair front for each new list of names, only to sag back deflated upon not hearing her name, making her mom laugh each time this sequence played out. I was sitting next to them and we got to chatting. Turns out they had been watching me watching people and the mother bet the daughter I was a writer of some sort taking notes on the people I watched. Then they mentioned they were listening so intently for the name to be called because they have a French surname - the mother having grown up in the Alps - that is frequently mangled by English-speakers. Just then the daughter's name was finally called and as we wished each other well, I told the Mom to say hello to Jean Claude Killy. Turns out, the mother is Killy’s daughter’s friend. Small world.

              I got a lot of noticing done this morning. The DMV turns out to be a rich well for a writer.


              Who knew? 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Trust

This question: Who do you trust most in this world and why?

Mary. My wife and best friend and life partner.

I suppose this seems a bit too Hallmark for some of you. Fair enough. But it’s true, nevertheless.

She is the one person in this world of whom I can say without reservation that I would trust her with my self-image. Oh, I know the standard measure is a person you would trust with your life but for me, there are too many of those. My siblings, several close friends, my daughters, perhaps a few others.

Self-image is another thing entirely. Wholly personal and closely held.

Although you might not know it from my posts here, I am a very private person. Perhaps to extremes. And I learned early and have confirmed again and again over the years that Mary is the person I can trust with my most private thoughts.

We’ve been married going on thirty years and there has never been a time when I was unsure she had my emotional back. Which is not to say we haven’t had our fair share of brouhahas, we have. But through all of it, the thick and the thin, long and short and in between, Mary has been my go-to person for feeling secure.

She is trustworthy. And that is – has to be – the foundation of a good marriage.

I learned the hard way when and whom to trust. And of course, in meeting Mary I was lucky. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What do you say?

What do you say to your daughter who has just been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis?

‘Everything’s going to be all right?’

Probably not. Because the thing is, it won’t. It will be what it will be.

Over the last few weeks she has dealt with an episode of paralysis, blood tests, scans, pokes and prods and through it all, uncertainty.

And of course, expressions of hope and love from folks who mean well but don’t get it. Because they can’t.

I can’t know what it’s like to be a twenty-seven year old woman absorbing this diagnosis because I’ve never been a twenty-seven year old woman absorbing this diagnosis.

Believe me, being the father of the twenty-seven year old woman sucks enough.

MS is a bully that we can’t have kicked out of school. It is a condition of life that will now become part of my daughter’s normal.

She has us on her side. Mary and me and her sister and a large family. We will never step away from her, never abandon her, will always be with her.

Still, the fight is hers. And for this reason I am thankful today that she is who she is.

Angela will find her new way of being. She will adjust, she will fight, she will persevere.

Because she is Angela. It’s a hard thing but my daughter has dealt with hard things before.

I am, of course, frightened on her behalf.

I’m also proud beyond belief. Because she’s Angela.


What do you say? You say, ‘I love you and I’m here, no matter what.’ 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Organized

My ‘organized’ probably looks different from yours.

Many of the folks in our office keep their desks so neat and tidy I’m tempted to be jealous. Which is not to say my work desk is a pig sty, it’s not. But there are stacks, if you know what I mean.

My writing room at home is an unused bedroom, small by bedroom standards but for a writing room, bordering on palatial. Okay, perhaps palatial is a bit over the top but certainly plenty big for the purpose.

Most of the things I use on a semi-regular basis are within arm’s reach of where I sit and I can grab my Webster’s or Roget’s without turning to look. But that’s not to say the space is all orderly spic ‘n span.

For me, it’s all about comfort, about feeling at ease in the space where I need to be able to let my mind go on flights of fancy without feeling adrift.

The shelving immediately above the desk space is largely taken up with what Two would call my Whimsy Corner. Lots of doodads and keepsakes from times I enjoyed and people I love. Items related to my daughters predominate. A wreath-decorated tin box still holds the index cards that comprised my parents’ Christmas list. A clock shaped like a drum set looks just like the set I played for years.

My guitar sits in a corner and on the wall, the crew photo of USS Columbus from 1947, with my dad grinning out from the back row. As I said, lots of ‘me’ stuff in that room.

I don’t know how many hundreds (thousands?) of hours I’ve spent sitting in that chair, the scene of our backyard beyond the window and all my stuff arrayed around me. I love working here.


It’s a great work space. But organized? Maybe not by your measures. But it works for me. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Prokofiev

Sick as a dog with a nasty bug and trying to balance getting enough rest with preparing for my next business trip (I fly again tomorrow), here I sit in my writing room answering emails, sorting last week’s ‘go’ materials from those for the coming week, and just generally making sure that my fog brain won’t cause me to leave behind anything I’ll really need.

I love to listen to music while I work, especially on days like today when my concentration is so easily broken. The background music de jour is the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of Peter and the Wolf with Bramwell Tovey performing double duty as conductor and narrator. He’s fantastic, by the way.

I won’t pretend to be much of a musicologist. In fact, the reason I started listening to Prokofiev is that a flautist upon whom I had a short-lived and utterly unrequited crush in tenth grade expressed her love for his music.  And while I will listen to several of his works today, I readily confess that Peter and the Wolf appeals to me in large part for the same reason it’s so frequently used as the vehicle for bringing your children to concert music – it’s accessible. It tells a story on several levels so it speaks to an assortment of learning styles. And – let’s face it – it’s fun.

The arts – or at least, funding for them – are under attack of late. I won’t get into that except to say I truly hope we prove to have the convictions and the fortitude to continue to encourage future Prokofievs to develop and bring forth their work.


I would hate to try to work on a sick day without a Prokofiev to keep me company. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Friends

I had a wonderful day today.

Took part in good series of meetings that were collegial and productive. 

Met up with a dear friend and her wife who I’ve not seen together since their wedding. Living where they do (Texas), their freedom just to love each other became a bit less assured of late and it was wonderful for this one evening to see them having a nice dinner with a crowd of people who valued their smiles more highly than their differences.

I sat with another friend who was one of the first people to make me feel welcome in this company and who embodies the best of what we do. She’s one of the people we need in this world.

Okay, I’m coming down with a cold but in the grand scheme of things…yeah, so?

My daughters are fantastic people who belie their upbringing. Or perhaps (I’d like to think) validate it.

And before I hit the sack, I get to say good night and love you to a woman I’m still not convinced I deserve.


I know we’re going through some stuff right now. But I wanted to remind myself and share with you that life isn’t all bad. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The frog is boiling

The frog is boiling.

We should have known better. Some of us saw parts of it coming but I don’t believe any of us were sufficiently astute and observant to predict the events of this week.

We should have been, but we weren’t.

I’ve known for a long time that – freed of restraints – the ultra-Christian Right would put people like me in camps. The trouble is that they are backed up and given credence by their presumed association with the much more vast population of people who identify as Christians and believe in the teachings of their prophet but can’t see where unexamined sectarian belief inevitably leads.

Them vs us.

I’m not writing to slam Christians. I once thought I was one. And I believe I would have nothing to fear from those who truly embrace the overall intent of the teachings of the Christ.

I also thought I was a Republican and I thought that meant something. I believed (still do, actually) that the best government is the least government. Personally, I would take the funding away from Planned Parenthood and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the welfare state. But not because I think those are bad things (okay, we can talk about the welfare state) but rather, because when you accept funding, you give the federal government a de facto interest in how these programs are run.

I don’t want federal bureaucrats or the likes of Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi to be able to dink around with a women’s health care choices or determine what I can hear on the radio. And it’s through this lens that I view government in general and the federal government in particular.

The framers of the Constitution had a tough nut to crack. They had to provide both the rigidity and the flexibility that would be needed to have this document serve the reasonable best interests of all citizens, but they could only know what they knew in 1787. They couldn’t know how twisted the interpretation of their document would be after two centuries-plus of finagling.

And so, we sat there in the pan of water, comfortably back-stroking. We didn’t notice the water getting warmer. Not when the religionists gradually established belief in their dearly held fairy tales as a prerequisite to holding office. Or when drivers’ licensure was co-opted to create a de facto national ID program.

To be sure, there were times when we stood together to beat back the insidious creep of hate and division. The sixties and seventies saw many citizens standing united to resist the hob-nailed advance of bigotry and Big Brother.

We fought the big fights and meanwhile, the little ones went right past us.

We railed at Nixon but then forgave Clinton for lying famously, egregiously, to the detriment of the country. Watergate was denounced, as it should have been. But not wag the dog.

And the water got warmer.

We cheered W for his bold statements atop a burned out fire engine at Ground Zero, but failed to notice when he and Cheney used the that upwelling of national defensiveness to allow terms like ‘Homeland Security’ to slip unexamined into our lexicon.

And now, a bit warmer and we’re starting to yawn.

We became so accustomed to the various, ridiculous attempts to repeal or defund the ACA that we failed to be frightened or repulsed by the McConnells and Ryans and Cruzs behind the curtain. In fact, we allowed them to take the soap box without recognizing and responding to their insertion of their hateful agenda into our daily lives.

Almost asleep now…

In our collective self-satisfaction at having elected a minority president – twice – and the warm glow of eight years free from scandal and with unprecedented openness we took our eyes off the gathering dark. Some of us felt the bubbles start to form in the water around us but not enough. So we let Bernie pass by and instead nominated a lesser (and yes, fundamentally dishonest) candidate with plenty of handles the haters could grab onto.

And they did. Gleefully.

Recognizing their moment, they turned the heat all the way up and the water, already hovering just under 212, broke into a boil. And it was too late for us amphibians.

It wasn’t just the political landscape or the dampening effect of hijacked religion that got us here. It was those things but so much more. Our culture has changed, sometimes for the better but with progress came challenges that we haven’t recognized, much less worked to resolve.

We assumed because we can each name a black friend and Martin has a holiday that the racists were defeated.

We allowed the indoctrination of our youth into a world of violence and misogyny under the cover of harmless game playing.

We railed at sexual assault but ignored the assumption that women are somehow less qualified.

We fought the ‘great evil’ that knocked down our buildings but ignored the dead child at the tide line.

In so many ways, we chose not to notice the rising temperature until almost too late.

But it’s not. Not too late.

We need to get smart.

We need to look at consequences. And we need to examine the motives and beliefs of the people into whose hands we put the reins of power.

It does no good to rely on the teachings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John if we give power to the cretins who only read Leviticus.  You want to use the Bible as your guide, fine by me, but read the whole thing. Understand the aspiration and not just the anachronistic rules.

We need to read more than headlines, react to more than just the most obvious trespasses.


We have to start paying attention. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

One thing

I wanted to fix it all.
Wanted so badly to roll back the horrible.
Can’t do it. Can you?
Didn’t think so.
I can’t unwind all the malicious, destructive and just plain wrong-headed things happening today, this week, this month.
I just can’t.
And neither can you.
And that’s okay. It’s okay to say can’t. It’s actually sort of liberating. And even necessary.
Important note: I did not say won’t. Said can’t.
You need to say can’t to clear away enough of the haze to see your way to can.
Because – and please believe this - there is a path to can.
It doesn’t wend its way through dozens of issues beyond my control.
The path to can runs straight through clarity and commitment.
One thing.
I can choose one thing
I’ll make it my thing. The one ship I can turn. (Okay, help turn.)
One really important thing. Yes, yes, they’re all really important.
But I’ll choose my one.

And get started.  

Friday, January 20, 2017

Today, I am thankful

As I write this, a new president has just been sworn in. And this presents me with a choice. I can hang my head in mourning or I can thank my lucky stars that I’m alive on such a historic day. I choose the latter.

Because today, they’re all vindicated.

Frederick Douglass when he said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Harriet Tubman, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

Mahatma Ghandi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Nelson Mandela, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe with all my heart that the new president will prove to be an unrepentant despot, that he will continue to reveal himself as a bigoted buffoon, and that at the end of his tenure, we will have taken a huge step backward in so many ways. By the simple act of elevating him, we already have.

I get that. But I choose this morning to concentrate on another threshold crossed, one that I can celebrate.

Today, I thank fate that I was alive to see the Presidency of Barack Obama. This has been an administration opposed at every turn by the haters who drew a line in the sand as he came into office and continued to obstruct right up to the last minute. This man’s right to hold office was challenged solely because of the color of his skin. His ability to exercise his constitutional duties was forestalled by the opposition’s atrocious refusal to even consider his proposals.

And now, the haters will tear down his signal achievement, one that has benefited many millions of our citizens. Make no mistake, they do this not because his plan was flawed. If that were the case, they could just set about fixing it. No, they are tearing it down because mostly, it worked. They cannot have such a glorious achievement stand, associated as it is with our first minority President.  

There’s symbolism in the fact that it began to rain at the Capitol literally as his successor stepped up to speak. But if I’ve learned anything in my years, it’s that eventually, the storm passes and we can begin again.

As horrified as I am by the now-incumbent, as saddened as I am by the willingness of so many of our citizens to either embrace or overlook his shortcomings and his perfidy, as fearful as I am of the things to come, I still can’t help feeling uplifted as I watch President Obama go through the ceremonies of the transfer of power.

Barack Obama, by his intelligence and incredible calm in the face of mindless opposition-for-the-sake-of-opposition, by his grace and courage, by his respect for the people he represented and the absence of even a suggestion of scandal, has vindicated the aspirations of so many generations who demanded their opportunity to contribute. No matter what the haters do going forward, a standard has been defined. It is a standard of competence, of goodwill in the face of viciousness, of perseverance in the face of mindless resistance. It is a standard by which we should measure our leaders from this day forward.

And we got to see it all.

I got to see the Obama years.


And for that, I’m thankful. 

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