Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Review and Experience of The Book Thief

The Experience
Today I finished The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. In all my years of reading, my only memory of being moved to sobbing like this from a book or story way was caused by James Hurst's The Scarlet Ibis in 8th or 9th grade.

My wife was worried about me. My little daughter walked in and saw me in the aftermath of Himmel Street's destruction, and was concerned, but said nothing. They wonder why, and I have an answer. But how can I express it?

I imagine the questions. Or rather, I've heard the questions, and imagine the answers, if any askers ever had enough patience to hear them. The Question: Why read such things if they affect you in these ways?

Why indeed?

Because, my child, my wife, my neighbor, my friend... I am but a human, and being human, by definition, means being alone. We are all islands of Body cursed with the ability to see beyond ourselves, but never be beyond ourselves. This causes feelings of desire, want, hunger, jealously, ambition. We are plagued by our emotions, and they drive what we become. This happens to us all. But it happens to each of us alone.

If we were all as self-contained as our Bodies and Emotions would have us believe, we would never be able to share or express what we want, what we feel. We would instead go day to day doing what the powers that be make us think is the "right" thing to do. Enlist. Educate. Graduate. Employ. Marry. Procreate. Provide. Rinse. Repeat. Most of us are stuck in such a state, and I imagine most such folks are locked in some self-perpetuating cycle of confusion about why they might have landed in their particular life. More often than not, they bemoan it. Enter the existentialists.

It is for this reason that I believe there could never be such a thing as a true atheist. Who could imagine, let alone accept, that this is all there is to our lives? But I digress.

Maybe I'm alone in my answer to the Question, but I suspect not. The Answer: the reason I subject myself to such artisticly inspired depths and heights of emotion is because I refuse to be an island. I may not ever be able to be anything other than what sits in the chair as I write, but I can certainly reach and try to experience what else is here, what else has happened. Because I am certain to feel love, and desire, and loss, and when I do, I want to know what it looks like from the outside. I want to be able to recognize the smell of an experience when it comes my way. I want validation that those events that hurt and excite me are worth the trouble. I want to see someone else suffer, and love, and fail. I want to see how others deal with the tragedy and confusion of enduring the unendurable. I want to see it all because it will happen to me, and when it does, I want to be ready.

To refuse to acknowledge the experiences of others, shared through art, is to limit one's own human experience, and condemn oneself to being truly alone in an already lonesome existence.

So when I lay in bed sobbing over Liesel Meminger's loss, do not have pity for me; do not worry for me. Celebrate and recognize the bridge I've made, or rather, that I've found from my lonesome island to someone else's, in this case Zusak's. See that when I discover and cross such a bridge, I do so with every other person this novel has touched, and in this way, we all rise above the ocean that separates us. And know that for a moment, when the words on the page become more than dried ink on processed wood pulp, the story before me is transformed into real emotion handed directly from author to reader, and all I had to to was reach out and accept it.

Why, oh why, would anyone deny themselves such a gift?

The Review
The Book Thief is a beautiful novel, and true to its cover review, it will be life changing. It isn't an easy read, and though I know it's being assigned as middle school reading, it isn't for the unseasoned soul. Being narrated by Death, it becomes two stories, each intertwined with and dependent on the other. Though set in a familiar place for stories of love and tragedy, this is entirely new, and told in an entirely different way. It's not really possible to describe the novel beyond the characters and plot, because such a description doesn't even begin to say what the story is about.

If every other decent and common story you've ever read was a hamburger, you'd have a wide variety available. Most would equate themselves to McDonald's hamburgers, which are hardly hamburgers to begin with. The Book Thief, by comparison, is akin to the juiciest bar burger you've ever had the pleasure of biting into. It's thick and messy. It has lots of everything else you've ever had on all your other burgers, but something new too. There's a flavor you've never tasted, and it's almost too spicy to endure, but its addition to the whole makes this meal greater than any stack of meat and bread you've ever seen. This book demands to be read, and demands to be finished. In truth, you don't actually read this novel, you experience it. You let it in and offer it your chair. And though much of it is ugly and unpleasant, every page contributes to one of the most satisfying book experiences I can ever remember having.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Closing the book, I wipe away tears. My new acquaintance, Markus Zusak, has again brought me to such a state of reflectance. Such beauty in my hands, such tragedy. Such truth.

But I am alone in this houseful of people. There are none else who share this love. Not here.

T.S. Elliot and Emily Dickenson sit beside me, offering such treasures that no one else seems to recognize.

I am both enraged and ashamed. I am dumbstruck.

Poe sits above me and tempts my imagination, but I am the only one with enough patience to enjoy such a fine and delicious treat.

Milosz makes frames for my emotions. Dahl sits down to share an evil laugh. Hawthorne engages me in the finest depths of guilt. Buck reminds me what is just and good. Both Lewis and Carrol will walk with me along their separate paths. Homer and Virgil and Melville too, though most nights are usually too short to enjoy their company. Bradbury, Flaubert, Silverstein...when will there be enough time?

Figures crowd the room around my shelves, and only I can see. They smile silently at me, each knowing too well that part of my soul they alone have touched and spoken to. I carry them always with and within me, for the lessons and tools they have given have made me strong and rich.

Oh, how I am loathe to let those others be content without these gifts. But their time will come. They will find their way.

Or they will never truly know me.

Close Call

When I was little, my dad stood with his head in the linen closet. “Can’t you hear that?” he asked, but by the time all us kids were upstairs, it was impossible for him to hear the tornado siren.

Light years away, a tentacled arm wiped a sweaty brow. “Þ∩Ħפ∩∟ך○Ŧ!” [Translation: “Phew, that was close!”]

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FFF-55 Vol. XXVIII. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Monday, November 21, 2011


21 November 2011

We seem to be at an impass.

This situation has oscillated dozens of times by now from wildly convoluted to painfully simple. At each turn, there is a small moment of uncertainty when I feel anxiety about what's to come, and you revel in my apparent thoughtlessness. It is at these times when you believe me to be the most vulnerable, and while that isn't an unreasonable conclusion, you are sorely mistaken.

Right now we are at that latter stage of oscillation: painfully simple. I thought everyone's roles were well understood. I thought, for once, the bases had been swept clean, and everyone knew their place, and we could start a fresh inning. As an added bonus, I also believed there would be a relative peace about the whole encampment, which is not typical of our ups and downs, as everyone's weater-beaten shelter can attest to. Recent events prove that this time, I was sorely mistaken. There will be no such rest.

It seems we may be back on an upswing. Energy is being added to the system. Instability is being created which will lead to another inflation and inevitable uncontrolled reaction. We are tempting Entropy, Pluto's ever faithful hound, to come in and set things right all over again, leaving another giant mess we can all pretend to be surprised and regretful over.

But I have news for you. I'm no longer in the mood. I'm taking my ball and going home. I am reaching a level of self-acceptance that, while totally unfamiliar and anxiety-inducing, is increasingly comfortable. True, there are complications, but I'm learning to wear my scarlet letter well, almost proudly. I am branded, yes, but I am also free of the secrets that held me down for so long. I can no longer be hurt because the armory is empty.

So while I may not have the grace of Hester Prynne, I am still striving for the self-honesty of Reverend Mr. Hooper. Like both characters, I am surrounded by Puritans who display horror at such realities they deny any knowledge of or experience with. Like Prynne's community and Hooper's congregation, my acknowledgement of wrongdoing is repulsive to those around me. Like these two, one a blatant sinner who proves herself to be a good and worthy person, and one a pious minister who mourns the Weltschmertz he can't help but notice, I will experience expulsion and suffering, and be better for it.

Sneer at my scarlet letter and my black viel. Point and accuse. Curse me with your self-righteousness. And thank me. It is people like me, we scapegoats of accusation who bear the blunt ends of the shameful secrets you keep, who enable you to live in your pristine existence unnoticed. It is I who will stand by and publicly endure my own sin so that you can sit quiet in yours which is hidden.

You're welcome.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Busted II

It usually happens that I'm caught with her on my lap. Many nights, we're snuggled on the couch watching TV, and we'll see my wife's car pull into the driveway. Quick as a flash, she jumps down, leaving me cold. Usually, though, after that she's greeting the wife at the door, her tail wagging furiously.
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FFF-55 Vol. XXVII. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I looked sidelong at Pluto, who’d just handed me a key. He noticed I’d been standing at the door a long time looking in, and thought I might want to open it. “But I can’t,” I said, looking down my wide, chosen path. Nodding, he turned away. But he didn’t ask for his key back.
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FFF-55 Vol. XXVI. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mischief of One Kind And Another

I, like about a zillion other people, am an enduring fan of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are. The appeal of the book isn't just the story or the illustrations, it's a universal identity with the inner Max in each of us. Everyone's misbehaved without regard to the consequences, everyone's been pissed about the inevitable punishment, and everyone's fantasized about escaping the unpleasantness of real life. Sometimes, everybody wants to be king, regardless of how old or young we are, where we are from, or how we are raised. To me, the book's most important lesson comes right at the end, when Max finally decides to return home, and finds that he hasn't, in fact, been abandoned by his mother, and that his dinnenr is waiting for him, "still hot."

Isn't that the perfect ending to any story?

When the live action film was announced, I was ecstatic. I couldn't imagine how anyone would make the movie, but I didn't care. I couldn't believe a feature film could be adapted from a story that's less than 350 words long, but I didn't care. I wanted to see it; I couldn't wait, and I have to admit the trailer itself nearly brought me to tears, due in no small part to that song playing. I was hooked in the first five seconds.

When the film was released, I was surprised to hear negative or hushed reviews, and criticism that the film's story didn't follow that of the book exactly. Truth be told, I became even more intrigued. I was secretly happy the critics weren't raving about it, because it meant the film was made for its own reasons, not those for which it would be judged successful entertainment. When I heard about the parents who threw a fit because it wasn't a happy kid's show, I knew even better that it had been made for me, and nobody else.

I didn't see the movie in the theater; I couldn't get anyone to go, except when I could, and then there were always more 'entertaining' movies to go see. Finally I watched it on Netflix. I didn't know what to expect, but whatever I got was more than satisfying. I haven't had the experience very often of seeing a movie and not feeling some closure at the end, but this one came close. Sure, it has a conclusion: Max makes it home, just like he's supposed to. But unlike most stories that are neat and clean, that go around their story arc from beginning to end, Where the Wild Things Are kept turning around inside me, following the same arc over and over, just in the context of my own self instead of Max.

When I described the movie to my family, it was difficult. All I could come up with was, "it's a movie about growing up, and facing your fears, and finding out who you really are." Which is lame as movie descriptions go. The movie is different. Where as the book gives us a story of exploration that's fun to read, the movie is sometimes difficult to watch. The characters get into uncomfortable and unpleasant situations that are common, at least in my family, but nobody wants to see, and certainly nobody wants to deal with during an evening out. They fight. They call each other names and hold grudges. They hurt each other.

Today, for some reason, my mind went back to that story, the one on the screen, and I found out more about who I really am. I saw myself in every predicament the characters endure. This morning as I looked into the bathroom mirror, what I saw partly completed a picture I've been piecing together my whole life.

I could see my own wolf suit.

We all have a wolf suit, and we all do with it exactly what Max does with his. It changes us; that is its purpose. It allows us to become brave and reckless; it lets us present to the world that which we would like everyone else to see, instead of that which we know will be disapproved of, that which is weak. It lets us tame the wild things in our own lives, and gives us a barrier of protection against the terrible roars and gnashing teeth that would otherwise reduce our broken souls to tears.

My personal realization is that I have relied too much on my wolf suit. I have never taken it off, because I have never believed myself strong enough to live without it. I have hidden inside from everyone I've known. Some, a tiny few I could count on one hand, have been shown this truth. But no one, including myself, has a real understanding of who is inside.

This must be my quest: to do what Max does, and finally come home, still loved, and feel safe enough to start taking off my wolf suit. People will be hurt, more than have already been. I will be shamed, more so than I am already dealing with. But maybe, like Max as he sees his dinner, I could just start with the hood.

I am scared to death.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Interruption of Service

Dear Sir:

The Department for Internal Moral Upkeep (DIMU) regrets to inform you of a partial system failure which has resulted in an interruption of service. As a result, you may experience lapses of judgment including, but not limited to, lust, greed, apathy, wrath, pride, and envy.

We apologize for any inconvenience.

Kind Regards,
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FFF-55 Vol. XXV. Write a story with exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Dear Friends,

Big news: I may not be the man you think I am. I'm certainly not the man I want to be. If you've read more than two posts in this blog, you likely already know this. No, see, the man I actually am is not very respectable.

Maybe you've figured this out. It's possible you've been personally screwed over because of it, or that you've heard it through the grapevine. I probably won't come out and say it to you, not unless you're willing to commit a few hours to sharing a pair of barstools, and you might have to buy shots. But the list of people I'd talk to even if those conditions were met is very short. I am ashamed, you see.

So here's the truth: The real me, my True Self, took off 15 years ago or so, and left a shell that has been operated like a grotesque puppet by an Evil Twin on and off since. It's a lot like those movies where a guy is taken over and controlled by some entity, but occasionally breaks through to warn the people around him to flee before he loses control again.

Or maybe it's the other way around; maybe this has been the real me the entire time, and I wear my public perception like a garment so no one will suspect it. A wolf in sheep's clothing. I operate in this guise to manipulate those around me into thinking I'm a good guy.

Actually, both of these descriptions fit who I've become, but the key to understanding myself is that my True Self, the man I wish I could be, has been drowning, held under water by both the fearful and addictive behaviour of the Evil Twin, and the man driven by a desperate need to maintain a respectable public image.

Anyone who's known me any decent length of time has actually seen this True Self, this elusive man I'm struggling to free. You've each probably seen whatever little slice applies to our relationship, whatever that may be. Some of you have access to more slices than others. But I can't leave him out, you see, because he is both respectable and repulsive, both compassionate and cruel. He is not universally accepted, and so must be squelched in the name of social duties and standards.

This is a cruel fate, because this man, this True Self, is actually a good man. He's good because he will speak the truth even when it's offensive, but he is learning gentleness and tact. He's good because he speaks his mind, and is thorough and eloquent enough to do so in a way that even those who would be hurt by the words can't deny their truth. He's good because he honors his committments, even though he needs help learning how to say no, both to the people he should not cavort with, and those who pretend to like him but create unhealthy situations. He's good because he is willing to explore and develop himself in unexpected ways, and takes the risks necessary to realize change. And he's good because when he makes mistakes or misjudgements, he acknowledges them and pays his dues.

I do not know how I will manage these three identities: the pure deciever who lies for shame of the truth, the smiling neighbor and happy face at kids' school events, and the man in between, the one I really need to expose and become. I do not know who I will hurt or abandon in the process of revealing that man, first to myself, wholly for once in my life, and then to those who claim to love me. And then that love will most certainly be tested.

So whatever your relationship with me may be, consider this a disclaimer, but not an apology.


Monday, October 17, 2011


20 February 2006

to fuck
is to feel.
to rend the delicate fabric of gentleness
is to need
to shatter the innocence of naivete
to crush the hand of generosity
to pull the fragrant hair of beauty
to scream in the face of piety
is to LIVE

A life without beauty is only half lived.

To live--
Within that fabric of gentleness
Innocent and naive
Extending the generous hand
Inhaling the scent of beauty
Striving to understand God

is to LOVE

The Gardener

6 March 2006

What I've really lost is my humility.

It's fairy-tale-like, remembering back. I had a healthy sense of shame. I knew what felt wrong, even if I didn't know why, and I just didn't do those things. And I remember the gratification that comes from decisions like that.

It took me years to learn to admit when I had misjudged, at least out loud, to face the people I'd hurt. But all honest mistakes...mostly. The seed was always there. Once, I decided I could be both things, be both kinds of people. I justified it by looking around and watching who was successful at this or that. The key thing I missed was that neither this nor that were the things I wanted to be successful at. None of those people were really the kind of person I was trying to be. But I sacked the Gardener anyway, and the Seed flourished.

Now look at the grounds: still with promise, silent with potential. Silent. And overgrown. The stone bridges over the brooks that once ran here are cracked and dangerous. The trellis that supported a budding vine in childhood is weather-beaten. The house, standing as alone as it always has, though still a home, is not the manor I once envisioned.

I call this life, and some days I am ashamed for it.

Step Four

16 March 2006

    I was thinking of that TV commercial where everyone wore signs on their backs revealing their financial problems. Like the older guy in the business suit's said something like "Can't make his house payment" and the haggard-looking housewife's said something like "Credit score: 752" and shit like that.

    If we all wore signs detailing our biggest secrets or sins, mine would say "ADDICT". I'm not proud of myself. Most days I do my best to stay on top of damage control, while allowing my addict-self to wreak havoc, much like simply cleaning up after an irresponsible child rather than teaching him the rules and enforcing them with punishment and positive reinforcement. I do not know what drives my addict-self, but I am very aware of the returns, and I will be the first to admit the instant gratification feels good. It's the damage control, and guilt, the hiding, and the constant fear that I hate.

    We all have signs, just like in the commercial. Some people's problems aren't really terrible, they're just embarrassing facts they'd like to keep secret. That's fine. I learned a little about real problems from a Chaplain that had served on a B-52 during the first Gulf War. They flew home from a sortie with an unexploded ground-to-air missile stuck in their wing, having gone right through and stuck in the middle. They didn't know if it was a dud or not; for all the crew knew, it could have detonated at any time, killing them all. They didn't know if they could even land with it. That, I agreed with him, is a problem. Rear-ending somebody on the way to work when you're already late is not.

    During lunch today I pondered what the others' signs around me might say. The wholesome girl next to me might have been paying for her burrito with money she got after hocking her mother's earrings. Thief. The lady with the twin girls, no more than 3 years old, might be on her way to meet a lover after dropping the kids at daycare, eager to taste forbidden flesh. Cheater. The older woman with the high school ID around her neck might have just taken advantage of a vulnerable student during a counseling session. Molester.

    Is it presumptive to think that everyone has issues, that we all carry burdens in our hearts we'd dare not share with others? Or is it naive to believe that some people are actually happy, that some facts about their lives are simply personal, and although potentially embarrassing, would not completely ruin their lives if revealed? I know the answer to this question, but I can't figure out how it might be. And so I deny that it is.

    The truth is I have more than one sign. Most are in the second category: I would not be happy to admit to some very humiliating things about myself, but if confronted with evidence, I would nod and say "yes, I did that" and nothing would really change. But there are a select few that would almost certainly ruin my life as I know it now. From a distance, I cannot fathom what would make anyone continue these behaviours given the risks. On the inside, I know it's the rush of pure gratification, it's the depression that sets in between fixes, it's the constant questioning of my identity and self, whether I am worthy, pure, good. It's fear of facing who I might become outside the context of the drug.

    I am an addict, I know. Some day, I will have to admit this to other people openly, with my voice, and acknowledge what I've done to feed the drive. That is a prerequisite to understanding the addiction and finding the source. Of all days, I fear this day more than any.


6 March 2011

Walking through the frigid air
The wind passes over me
Like your disdain.
I lift my feet as high as I'm able
In heavy boots
But the snow is much too deep
To clear
Without leaving some regrettable act

Still, I push on.

Every step takes me further
From a truth we both know
All know
Every day I'm another mile away
Every inch is an eternity I'll have to retrace
When it all comes pouring out.
Why was I ever walking this way
To begin with?

Into the ever cold night
Writing letters I'll never send
Because those feelings are too hot
For soft hearts to bear
Those words too sharp
They rend and tear
Gentle emotional flesh
Tender spiritual mesh.

No, these words I will hold within.

There they still burn, still tear
But only one person
The wrong person?
But isn't it right to carry this weight?
For you, for them, for everyone
To see?

But who is doing their best, for me?
Who will be their best

For me?

Friday, September 30, 2011


It’s always a good thing when the spiders’ silk has time to build up in the lanyard that keeps Old Glory held high. Unfortunately, the emails keep coming, and I keep walking to the flag pole, and inevitably evict some poor arachnid as I lower the flag to half staff for yet another fallen hero.
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FFF-55 Vol. XXIV. Write a story with exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Dedicated to Specialist Chazray Clark, age 24, a Michigan soldier killed in Afganistan. His loss is no more or less tragic than any of the dozens of others for which I've faithfully lowered the flag they fought under, the symbol of the reason all the rest of us can selfishly watch our TV shows and complain about our jobs instead of put our own lives on the line for the sake of others. No matter how you feel about our president, or the wars US troops are involved in, you can not deny the truth of the privileges you enjoy thanks to their sacrifice.

If you want on the Governor's mailing list so you, too, can honor Michigan's fallen, go here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord

Wikipedia says that "in physics, resonance is the tendency of a system to oscillate at a greater amplitude at some frequencies than at others. These are known as the system's resonant frequencies (or resonance frequencies). At these frequencies, even small periodic driving forces can produce large amplitude oscillations, because the system stores vibrational energy."

You don't need to be a physicist to understand this. Everyone knows when a kid is on a swing, pushing at the right time will keep the swing going, either adding energy or at least making up for what's lost to entropy, while pushing at any other time will probably result in a bigger-than-natural reduction in the swing's oscillation, and also maybe a hurt or angry kid.

Another easily understood example comes with sound waves; any musician knows this. When tuning a guitar, playing the 7th fret harmonic on the E string and the 5th fret harmonic on the A string should result in the same tone. Small variations in tuning make the combined sound 'bumpy', meaning that the sound waves no longer reinforce each other, but periodically negate each other in cycles based on how different the tones are. The more off the tuning is, the more frequent the sound waves kill each other, and the bumpier the combined tone becomes.

I submit that art creates a similar resonance that produces reactions in the people who experience it. Human beings are, after all, energy systems. There are sculptures, paintings, photographs, poems, stories, songs, and even architecture that have moved people throughout human history. Among these many media, however, music has a particular effect on me and many people I know.

Like every art form, music is created as an expression of some human condition. The audience that appreciates any music most is made of people who can identify with those feelings expressed in the piece by its composer. I heard it said once that sad songs are always more memorable and loved because they mean more to the people who hear them, which is, of course, because our sad life experiences always make a more lasting impression on us and always demand some kind of reconciliation, which can be partly found in song. In my opinion, this occurs because music, especially when created with a deep passion, carries with it some emotional 'resonant frequency' that strikes those individuals who are most 'tuned' to understand its message.

Sadness isn't the only emotion that touches people through music. My adolescent years are characterized by the many expressions of anger and discontentment found in my musical choices, many of which I still turn to when necessary (hence the FB nickname 'DamageInc' for all those people who asked). Happiness, too, can be conveyed via music. Throughout the history of Christianity, artistic works commissioned by the church were essential to its vibrancy, and still have an enormous effect on us today. Revolution and social change have been driven by music. In short, there is no variation of human emotion or experience which has not, in one way or another, been set to song in a moment (or a lifetime) of inspiration.

This is not news to anyone who's ever seen a favorite band in concert, or had to close his/her eyes at some point during a song in order to take in more than just the sounds, or been moved to emotion hearing a singer perform a certain way that speaks to his/her core. These experiences are deeper and more meaningful than sound waves travelling through some transducer to a listener's eardrum that results in neural impules in a familiar or desirable synaptic pattern. Of course, in the biophysical world alone, that's all that's happening, but another purely biophysical result is the release of endorphins, adrenaline, testosterone, etc. Such a hormonal release isn't a routine reaction to hearing just any old song.

I do realize, of course, that psychology also plays a role in how we feel about some music. That song that was played during our first kiss or dance, or at the funeral of a loved one, or the moment a car accident ruined your life, always becomes linked to that experience and all those emotions and hormones that went with it. I don't discount that. In fact, I think what happens during such an experience is that we become 'tuned' to that song in a very specific way. This emotional resonance can then be perpetuated by anyone who uses such an experience as inspiration to create their own artistic work. And the cycle continues.

Though the origins of my thoughts on sonoemotional resonance came earlier in the week, Tuesday I had an experience which only confirmed every word that was forming in my brain. I heard Jeff Buckley's cover of the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah (this version in particular) on Pandora. It's beautiful, of course, but I found over the next 48 hours that I could not get the tune or that first verse (atop this post) or any of the chorus out of my head, and I don't mean in the annoying, earworm way. I mean in the way that I had to hear the song again. So today I found it, and listened to it more times than I'm comfortable admitting. Then I clicked to hear another cover by an LA singer named Kina Grannis. Yes, it was partly because she's pretty (what can I say; I'm only a man), but her rendition put my emotional resonance with this song at a new level. Her cover is here. In the hours since, I've listened to other versions of the song, including the original, so that I can not only fully appreciate the song's meaning, but learn to play it myself.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Drunk with lust, I beg your attention. Let me fill you, let me [expletive] you. Let me show you the ecstasy I bring. Allow me to slide into your night and give you a ride. I will make you beg, I will make you whimper, I will make you scream. I will make you mine.
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FFF-55 Vol. XXIII. Write a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Looking out at the horizon this morning, while sitting at the intersection waiting for the red to turn green, I saw a wall of clouds squeezed between the tops of the cars and buildings and a vast expanse of sky. I imagined I could drive five or so miles down the road to reach a railing, at which I could stand and look down a deep dropoff, seeing the lower altitude towns below, and see straight into the rest of that wall of cloud as it extended below me, and still marvel at the top contours and curves at eye level.

Friday, September 9, 2011


One silent moment
Is never enough
To remember the thousands of lost

Lives that were taken
Not only the dead
But the living have suffered the cost

Of all that has changed
Destroyed on that day
The things we will always regret

Having not said
To those dearly loved.
We swear we will never forget.

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FFF-55 Vol XXII. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.
Remembering the 10th anniversary of the tragic attacks of 9/11/01. Honor the fallen: take a moment on Sunday and find your own way to remember.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Every time I see her, there’s a pain that slowly stirs in deep places. I catch myself watching her simplest movements: the way she reaches to greet a friend, her smile at each stop through the room. I have to turn away before my memories overtake my emotions.

She remembers nothing from before the accident.
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FFF-55 Vol. XXI. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Friday, August 19, 2011


He sat at his desk, elbows on either side of the keyboard, fingers clenching hair above each ear. Ideas and inspiration sat atop his head, but did not sink in. Clever strings of words assembled themselves, but could not be knit together in any logical or respectable way.

“I’ll write one next week,” he grumbled.

* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol XX. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On Marriage


11 March 2011

I was thinking today about marriage.

Marriage, the legal union between two people who've decided they're done searching the world for a good partner with which to share their lives, is one of those social institutions so embedded into our culture that it means something a little different to everyone who engages in it, but also has solid legal, historical, religious, and traditional meaning as well. 

So now's your chance to move on; go for it: hit that 'Next Blog' button up there. I'm  warning you.

Still here? Okay, you asked for it.

What I was thinking is this: all the things we grow up thinking about marriage, all the things we read in books and see in movies and on TV, all the stuff your pastor and parents tell you about marriage, is all a joke. The idea of marriage, presented in the context of all this fluffy crap, is just plain silly. And I'll tell you why.

Marriage is this: dirty, heart-breaking, scandalous, exausting. It's a social and legal construct that forces us to act out expected behaviors that may or may not be agreeable to who we really are deep down, and hide those behaviors that are contrary to ideals held primarily by those around us, in particular the marital partner. 

Now wait--I'm not necessarily knocking the whole package. Most of that silly stuff we grow up expecting is based, in some fashion, in truth. Marriage can be rewarding, fun, and satisfying in so many ways life as a single person could never be. At its greatest, a couple's marriage is the keystone of their household, the foundation for the family they build. And that's just the practical part. The most ideal part of marriage, the part which produces that bliss people talk about, is that you can be all done pretending for the rest of the world. I told a friend that once youv'e found a true mate, you are free to remove all your social filters and be your True Self. Your partner becomes a sanctuary. Likewise, you're expected to reciprocate and provide equal sanctuary to your partner, but in doing so you are able to further delight in your partner's True Self, that person who only you have priveleged access to, because you alone are the person s/he feels safe exposing it to.

Any married person reading this will now be shaking his or her head. I realize that marriage means different things in different cultures, and all those cultures have ideals and silly expectations regarding marriage unique to them, but I'm willing to bet that in all these cultures, most actual marriages deviate significantly from those ideals and expectations.

That's because none of what you learn about marriage beforehand can prepare you for the actual work of being married. Keep in mind that, while being your partner's sanctuary, you also have to make sure the bills are paid, shopping gets done, dinner is cooked, dishes are washed, laundry is done and put away, and--hold on a second, somebody better put away this box right now or the TV will not be turned back on the rest of the weekend! In short, there's a whole lot of work to be done in addition to all the work of marriage. Typically, there's so much other stuff that the marital work is taken for granted, put aside, postponed, or simply dismissed as unnecessary. 

Friday, August 5, 2011


“Jesus Jim, what were we thinking?”

“We discussed this; it’s the only way,” I told her. I opened the chamber and started filling the magazine. “Besides, wasn’t this your idea?”

She smiled, a little embarrassed. “Yeah, I guess,” she admitted. “Let’s do it then.”

Together, we walked calmly through the doors and into the bank.

* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. XIX. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Colin and Christine Weir, winners
of the EuroMillions jackpot

A Letter to my Future Admirers

Dear All,

First, let me thank you for the heartfelt congratulations offered by so many. Despite the fact that none of you ever paid much attention to my existence before I hit the jackpot, I am sure each of you is sincere in your regards. I'm sure you can imagine that this has been an extraordinarily busy and confusing time for me and my family as we try to sort out and secure our financial affairs, so all the support so generously offered has been much appreciated.

Now then, let me address those of you who have asked for a share of my winnings in the most concise possible way: NO EFFING WAY. Please take a moment, before your undoubtely angry reaction to my statement, to reflect on how you've dealt with (or not dealt with) your financial woes up to this point in your lives. I encourage you to continue this course of action--or not. After all, it's likely your personal financial habits that got you into trouble in the first place. (I know that--until last month--my own family's habits with money were what kept us from building wealth.)

Anyway, you've been satisfied with your existing arrangement for God knows how long; I can't imagine what sort of thing would change that would suddenly require my intervention, and I refuse to believe that, whatever thing has changed, the timing of this recent turn of events coinciding with my redemption of a winning lottery ticket is a random happenstance. I know you've probably described how your situation differs from my assumption wholly in all those letters you've been sending, but I admit I haven't read a single one of them. Be comforted, however, in the knowledge that I will be forwarding your letter in one of the many bundles I'm preparing to send to various charities, along with a check for some donation I'm making to each organization. Enclosed is my working list of the charities I'm considering; maybe they'll put you on their list of recipients.

You see, I'm not completely heartless. I'm not even partly heartless. I care a great deal for my fellow humans. Please understand that it is my personal belief that our creator gave each of us unique gifts and talents with which to sustain ourselves. The extent to which we have worked to discover and develop those gifts and talents is directly proportional to our personal success in this physical existence. It is not within my means, or anyone's means, to support those who have yet to discover his/her intended Path. Just ask the government; they've been trying it for decades, and their annually budgeted aid comes to a three-digit multiple of the amount on the check you've seen me holding on TV. Money, you see, cannot fix your problems, regardless of how much there is or who it comes from.

Also, please consider the fact that I myself have endured a solidly middle class, blue collar existence for my entire life excluding the last handful of weeks. I made the best of it. I was resigned to the fact that I would continue in that existence until the end of my days, and I was okay with that. Sure I had meager investments and a 401k and some plans to borrow on behalf of my children so they could educate themselves above such a life for themselves, but that was it; that was the Master Plan: to go to work every day, to take care of myself and my family, and spend a little and save a little. I admit there was a time when our family needed assistance--we swallowed our pride and asked for it. And got it. Then we were okay again, and it went to someone else. It's not exactly the American Dream, but it's a close version of it, and it facilitated my efforts in the meantime to discover aforementioned gifts and talents in the hopes that they could be used to increase (slowly, if need be) the material means by which I made my daily life. When I say to you "reflect on how you've dealt with" and "encourage you to continue", I'm saying that, whatever arrangement you have at the moment, you've got to find a way to make it work the same way 99% of the population, including me until last month, have always done.

I know not all of you who read this will agree or understand. For those people, who would send me hate mail for not sending them money anyway, I have just one thing to say: [explitive deleted]. To all the rest, as I said before, I appreciate all your well wishes and congratulations, and thank you for your support and understanding in my desire to be left the hell alone.

Fond Wishes from Barbados,

Me and My Family

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Discovery

"Dance Me To The End Of Love"

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We're both of us beneath our love, we're both of us above
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I'm gathered safely in
Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love


Friday, June 17, 2011

Doing It

She didn’t know it, but I built the pantry cabinet with this exact purpose in mind. It was just distracting entertainment to build the cabinet to be “f*** proof.” I never imagined I’d get the chance to test it, but I needed some standard for how strong it should be, and went with that.

* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. XVIII. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fountain Building 101

Here is where I started. I looked over the plan and thought, "sure, I can probably do all that stuff." It was mostly easy, though very labor and time intensive. Here's a little record of how it went with my 20/20 hindsight included, just in case you decide to build one, too.

I bought two extra bags... just in case
Step 1: Go shopping. The list on the source web site is pretty comprehensive:

Necessary tools:

  • cordless drill
  • tape measure
  • circular saw
  • bucket (I assume this is needed for mixing the concrete. Also may be useful for sitting on.)
  • safety stuff (dust mask, glasses, hearing protection, etc.)
  • straight edge, at least 4' long
  • pliers and wire cutters
  • sawhorses/work surface that will fit a 4x8 sheet of foam
  • utility knife, box cutter, etc. to open paper bags
  • tapered trowel to pick up and smooth the concrete as you pour it
  • scrap 2x4 on which to form the hardware cloth
  • hammer/tools with which to form the hardware cloth over the scrap 2x4
  • some way of mixing the concrete. I bought a large tub and used a garden tool to mix it. A real mixer will save your shoulders the weekend you choose to pour your fountain.
  • a cup to measure each quart of water required for the concrete, and
  • a container to hold all the water once measured (5 quarts per bag)
  • flat, sturdy scraping tool (such as a multipurpose paint tool)

Required materials:

  • one 4x8-ft sheet of 2" extruded polystyrene foam insulation
  • four 80-lb bags of concrete mix (or five 60-lb bags)
  • four 10-oz bottles of Quickrete Cement Color or equivalent (one bottle per bag, I chose the "buff" color and mine is the same color as that in the source site photos)
  • 2-ft of 1/2" PVC pipe... or less. You only need enough to come through the top piece and attach your hose. See the section on assembly to read specific challenges with this.
  • 2-ft of 10-gauge coated copper wire... or not. I couldn't find 10-gauge (used 12-gauge instead), and its use in this project is difficult to manage and of questionable necessity. Again, see section on assembly.
  • 3" screws (I used coarse thread drywall screws)
  • duct tape
  • 20 minute setting-type joint compound (1 bag). I found nothing like this. I ended up using quick setting 'repair' concrete, and used most of a 55-lb bag.
  • flower pot or bucket, at least 10" in diameter and 12" deep (a five gallon pail works great)
  • 3" ABS toilet flange?
  • hot glue/caulk?
  • 9" or 10" play ball
  • something with a 3" diameter to place on the ball to form a 'collar' at the bottom of the top piece. The source site wants you to use the empty duct tape roll, but I hadn't used it all yet. As it turns out, we had Bush's baked beans with dinner that night, and the can was exactly what I needed.
  • 1x3 lumber, and screws to hold them together, to reinforce foam forms
  • 1/2" galvanized hardware cloth
  • river rocks/stones
    and, last but not least, 
  • A PUMP. In my opinion, it's preferable to buy this before you begin. I bought a 425 gph and it's perfect, but I had to guess at which pump to get. I find it odd that nowhere on the source site does a pump appear as a required item.
  • hose. Go to any big box store and there will be this black plastic tubing in the fountain/pond section. Don't buy this. It isn't flexible enough and it's overpriced. I got 1/2" clear tubing from the plumbing section. It was cheaper and I could buy as many feet as I wanted, not the whole roll of 15 feet or whatever. Thinking about it, I should have got the fiber-reinforced tubing used for faucet supply lines, as it won't kink or bend easily. I also bought...
  • PVC fittings to make sure your hose will go on the end of your 1/2" PVC pipe. In my case, I bought a threaded adapter and a brass fitting that was threaded on one end and had a hose barb on the other.

Step 2: Cut and build the forms

My super awesome cutting diagram
Cutting the forms was the easy part. Get your sharpies or dry erase markers and just take your time. I divided the foam up into large basic sections first (in red on the drawing), and then each of those was cut into individual pieces. I worried about my blade ruining the foam, or vice versa, but shouldn't have. Just have your shop vac handy for cleaning up all that pink powder. If you don't care to make your own cutting diagram, feel free to download mine (click the pic).

The only alteration I'd make to this cutting diagram is to ensure part B (that 4" square that creates an opening at the bottom of your column) is tall enough to fit your pump. If it isn't, make it fit, changing the vertical dimension (leave it 4" wide).

Once the pieces are cut out, it's a simple matter to assemble them all with (as described on the source site) 3" screws and duct tape. There are, however, some special precautions I should have taken along the way:

1. Reinforce! goldengolfball, who left the comment on the source site, is right: you can use a mile of duct tape on this, and if you don't reinforce it somehow it will bulge. It's about 1½ bags each for the column and the base; each bag weighs 80 pounds and needs 5 quarts of water (almost 10½ pounds). This is why I put the 1x3's on my materials list (though I didn't take goldengolfballs's advice and had to make 'adjustments' to my finished product...using a hammer). Specifically, reinforce (a) around the column form, and (b) the bottom of your base form (which ends up being the top of your base). With the column, it didn't matter much because I just got slightly curved lines instead of straight, but with the base, when those part G's start separating from part H, you get a jagged, irregular concrete lip projecting up around the edge of your project.

Also, don't forget to reinforce the bottom of the forms as they sit for filling. Heaven forbid you tilt your filled form to move it and the weight of the concrete rips the bottom away from the side. For only sliding around the garage floor, just duct taping it should work fine.

Finished forms. I later added so much
duct tape to the column form it was
covered in silver. And it still bulged.
2. Level! When building the base form, pay particular attention to the height of your part G's. Make sure the top edges, as the form sits for pouring, are all even and level with each other. My edges weren't all aligned, and so I had to guess about what would be level. After I used my level to try and flatten it, I realized my garage floor is somewhat sloped, and my finished product shows it.

3. Forming the top piece The source site has a brilliant plan for making the spherical top piece, but again goldengolfball points out an issue: you must tamp this. A lot. Mix your form material too wet, as it will fill better and, later, break apart easier. Also, when first placing your play ball into the wet stuff, give it an inch or so beneath it. Mine sat pretty much right on the bottom of the bucket, and before I actually poured the cement, the very thin layer of filler cracked and had to be taken out, leaving a nice gaping hole which, again, had to be fixed with a hammer and a delicate touch. I also had some voids on the inside of my form, but decided to pour concrete anyway and see what happened. Fortunately, when I broke open the form a few days early to 'repair' before it cured too much, those 'fins' that filled in the voids broke off with the form. Something else: I recommend using a copper pipe. I tried spacing the end of my PVC from the bottom of the form and that was nearly a disaster. Copper is the right color, and even when it's oxidized, will probably look better than a thick white ring at the top of your sphere. Finally, think about a way to ensure the end of your pipe is in the exact center of the bottom of your form. Otherwise if the collar part isn't allowed to move a bit, you're stuck with the water shooting up and falling at the angle at which your pipe was sitting when you left it.

4. Those copper wires The specified place for the wires on the inside of the column works out just fine, but when the source site tells you to put them into your part H, notice in the picture that the wires should be placed inside that 4" square. I didn't see that and put mine right on the line, which is where the inside edge of your finished column will sit. Now is a good time to get your chosen pump and make sure it fits between these wires, because if it doesn't fit now, it sure won't when the base is finished.

5. THINK about how you're going to get the form apart. For example, cutting a removable section from the bottom part F while assembling your base form will make it worlds easier to get both F's out.

Step 3: Mix and Pour
Finished pieces, *finally* out of the forms
This part was easy to figure out, but took most of an afternoon to do, and made me sore to boot. Mix two bags at a time, if you can. Pre-mix the color with your water before adding it, as this will help ensure the color gets evenly spread around. Also, I'm not a concrete expert, but I'm guessing it's best to just plan on the whole 5 quarts and add it in bulk, as opposed to eyeballing the consistency for each batch and potentially getting mixing differences from the top to the bottom of your fountain parts.

I used a triangular brick trowel to scoop up the concrete and fill my forms. It worked great, and thank God... I can't imagine trying to do that job with anything else. As you fill, TAMP the form, especially at first as you're filling those bottom edges and corners. I used the side of my hammer. I filled my base form first.

Smooth the top surface of your poured concrete any way you know how. The brick trowel is all I had so I made do. If you have a tool to do this job, super. It may or may not matter, depending on what kind of surface your base will sit on. Also, re-check your leveling on the base. NOW is the time to make corrections. Finally, if you think it might be cool to put your kids' hand prints (or a date, or your initials, or anything) in the concrete, do it here and now (/facepalm for not thinking of this myself in time).

When filling the column, I put a trowel-full of concrete down each side, then tamped it. I repeated these steps over and over again until I was a little less than 4" from the top. At this point, I put my part B into place. Remember, this is the piece that leaves the recess at the bottom of the column inside which the pump will sit. If you put this in place while assembling the form, you'll only have access to three open sides when filling, and there's no guarantee the space underneath it will be nice and uniform and pretty. So slide it in just before you're done filling the form, screw it in place, and finish filling. Making the concrete nice and flat at the open end of the column form is a relative no-brainer after you've done the base.

The suggestion to leave the forms intact for a week is a good one. I read one site on curing concrete that said to cover the exposed concrete and form in plastic to prevent evaporation. Although I waited a couple days, I eventually did this and my pieces are pretty solid.

Step 4: De-form and Assemble
The finished product... so far
Removing the forms was probably the single most frustrating process. The source site says "you can reuse the outer form parts to cast several fountains." This is bull, because by the time you've managed to get all the form parts off, most of them are mangled more than a little, and some are broken beyond recognition. The foam inside the column is the worst. Have a flat scraping tool handy, as you'll be forcing this down the concrete surface to break off pieces of your part C's 4-6" at a time to remove this form completely. I later thought the 5-in-1 (or 7-in-1 or 14-in-1) paint tool I forgot I had would probably have been perfect. In any case, however you de-form your fountain pieces, it's a good idea to have a garbage bag/can and the shop vac handy. "Clean as you go" is definitely good advice during this process.

When removing the top spherical piece from its form, I overturned my five gallon pail until the form slipped out, then set it on the driveway and hit the corner with my 5-lb sledge. I was fearful of the inside piece, but after twenty minutes of trying everything else I could think of, this was my last option. After a few well-placed, not-too-hard blows, the form split nice and easy with the sphere perfectly intact.

Once out of the forms, inspect the pieces. Knock off any protrusions you don't want, straighten those green wire loops, etc. Then drag everything to your chosen location. Plan to be able to plug in your pump somewhere nearby.

Level the base at the top so that when it's filled with water, the water's surface is equidistant from the top edge of the base. Lay the column with the bottom end inside the (empty) base and carefully lift in a way that will leave your copper wire loops safely inside the bottom cavity of your column. This may require a friend to either lift or guide the bottom into place. If you're using the copper wire to secure those loops together, cut your wire and get to securing now. You will be scraping your knuckles, so have some bandaids handy. Also, recheck how your pump fits into the cavity after you're done.

Say what??
Putting the top piece into place is tricky business. I have no idea how a 3" toilet flange is supposed to fit into the 8" circular hole part D is intended to make. I'm convinced I either misunderstood the directions or bought the wrong thing, and the source site has absolutely no description on assembling this part. It's something I'm still working out a solution for. Everyone says my fountain looks fine the way it is, et cetera et cetera, but I won't be done until I find a way to support that sphere, seal around the edge, and fill the space with pretty black rocks. For now, it's there, but looks sunken. Maybe I'll update later.

In any case, when placing the top, I recommend instead of leaving your pipe at its original 24" length and cutting hose to reach your pump, that you cut the pipe and make your hose longer. This is because you'll have to hold the sphere in one hand while fishing the pipe/hose down the center of the column, somehow figuring out how to slide it over the hose barb on the pump (another process best suited for having a partner). In my opinion, it'd be easier to place the pump, fish the hose up, then attach it to the pipe, holding the two as close as possible. Any kinks or sharp bends in your hose will render your pump ineffective, so a little more slack might be a good thing.

Final Thoughts
I filled my base with water and plugged in my pump, set the top so the water went straight up, and proceeded to enjoy it as-is. I still intend to figure out that top piece; as it stands, more water falls down the center of the column than goes over the sides, and it makes an echo-ey/drippy sound, as opposed to the Zen/tinkly sound I'm after. I may or may not form my hardware cloth into the cage for the bottom. Most likely is I'll form it and cover it with rocks, and then decide whether or not to leave it there depending on how I like the way it sounds.

Considering the fact that running the pump dry can ruin it, it's not a bad thing to be able to see how much water you have in there. Depending on ambient conditions, I lose as much as an inch per 1-2 hours of running due to splashes and evaporation.

My pump is sitting on its side just outside the 4" square hole it's intended to sit into. That's something else I'll be working on. It's intriguing how the pump itself doesn't need to be in the water at all, seeing as how I can attach a fitting (and therefore a hose) to the inlet and pump out my water for recirculation. Maybe, in the next fountain, I'll put this fact to good use.

Friday, June 3, 2011


She walked toward me and into my arms. They wrapped effortlessly around her waist. The sweetness and subtlety of her scent overcame me. I felt her hair on my cheek and the warmth of her face on my neck. She kissed me softly and whispered in my ear.

Then, reality: “What? Sorry, I got distracted...”

* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. XVII. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Friday, May 27, 2011


I’d never been a violent person, aside from a few holes in drywall. I’d certainly never threatened a person before. But when he said it, I couldn’t help myself.

He seemed as surprised as me, held in a headlock with the blade against his neck.

“You’ve ruined me,” I said. “And now, you’re ruined too.”

* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. XVI. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Friday, May 13, 2011


If it hurt when I drove my fist through the wall, I couldn’t tell. I would have done it again if she hadn’t screamed. I only noticed something like pain when I opened my hand to pick up my keys, and even then it was only a vague counterweight to my rage.

It was over.
* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. XV. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Wish

This wish was no different than a million that came before it, except it came true. One night I went to bed, pissed, and the next... well, needless to say people noticed. Mom cried, Dad called missing persons. After I freaked out our old neighbor, I learned to keep my mouth shut.

I'd become invisible.
* * * * *

FFF-55 Vol. XIV. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

BLJ: Big Life Journey (or Through the Fog)

An essay in three parts.

1. It happens often enough that we hear some trite phrase that compares life to a journey. Not trite because it's untrue, and surely not because it doesn't fit whatever context in which we may find it, but only because we've heard this comparison a million times before. But have we ever really considered the truth of it?

I'm sure everyone has, to some extent, though not all have pondered it long. I know many who've peeked above the rim of everyday life and been thoroughly frightened permanently back below, and a few who've been traumatized by their first glimpse beyond the daily grind, and therefore are loathe to ever look again. I don't blame anyone in either of these camps, and I both pity and envy anyone who's never had need to consider those forces behind the life that is projected, as if onto a screen, before their faces.

I've spent many thousands of words and hours considering my own journey, but like everyone else, my view is skewed because it's impossible to see it objectively since, well, I'm still on it. It happens often that I (we all?) am more able to say definitively what I'd do in any situation presented to another human on his/her own journey, but for some reason find myself stymied by my own, even simpler, circumstances.

So because there really is no other choice, I just keep on moving, making each decision with the wisdom at hand, and hoping I always see it as the good choice I believed it to be at the time. This happens to everyone... right? I know this is true of many whom I have surrounded myself with for years, but for some reason all of us, every one, believe we are the only people dealing with this or that trouble at any particular time. And because we either don't want to bother anyone else, or we're too embarassed by our inability to handle something (or the fact that we have to deal with it in the first place), or a bad memory of trusting the wrong person, or some other stupid reason, we fail to reach out to those who may be able to help, and thereby create for ourselves a perpetual lonliness.

2. When I drive from Detroit to Milwaukee, a trip of roughly 370 miles, I do so with such severe limitations I am surprised sometimes that I even get into the car. For one thing, when I'm driving, I can only see a few miles ahead on a flat, straight, relatively empty road, or less than 1% of the total distance. Wouldn't it be preferable if I could see the destination before starting the trip? Usually the road goes up and down hills, is curved, and is crowded, and this of course limits visibility even more.

If I happen to see trouble ahead, it's usually a good enough distance away that I can avoid a collision or any other bad news. It isn't always far ahead: sometimes it appears right in front of me, and I have to make a quick decision. And it isn't always apparent what the trouble is: sometimes I just see the orange barrels or slowed traffic and know something bad is up the road without actually knowing what it is or what to do about it.

What's worse, if I make the drive at night (which is most often the case), I have a maximum visibility of only a couple hundred feet with good headlights (or about 0.01% of the total distance), which is not much further than the minimum stopping distance at highway speeds with good tires and road conditions. If there is something ahead of me that would stop or slow me down, I don't know it's there until I very quickly need to make a decision about how to handle it, and though the roads are typically less crowded at night, I still have the other factors to make the situation even more complicated.

To make matters worse, there are occasions when conditions aren't favorable for travel. It's inevitable that there will be rain, or fog, or snow, or ice, or mud. I can also count on the chance that something from someone else's vehicle will fly into my path, or hit my windshield, or be left on the road for me to avoid. With other cars out there, this is just a given. Though it's many long years ago, I still remember the minor panic I felt when I realized that, although my driver training was complete and I was fully licensed and such, I would eventually have to contend with less-than-ideal travel conditions.

Why on earth would I want to even consider such a trip? First and foremost, because of the people I'm travelling to visit. A close second is that I've been a passenger on the trip enough times to believe I can do it on my own. (Still, the first solo attempt was nerve-racking.) Also, I have maps to guide me: I know which route is the most reliable. What's more, I have experience that will help me make decisions when something goes wrong, even with only seconds before disaster strikes. And finally, I know my vehicle is up to the trip: it's been maintained well enough that I don't have to worry much about the transmission, battery, tires, etc.

3. Every day when I get out of bed, shower, dress, breakfast, drive, work, lunch, work, drive, school, cook/help with dinner, do/help with homework, give kisses and hugs goodnight, rinse, and repeat, I'm on that Big Life Journey, and it's not much different than when I'm on westbound I-94. But beyond that basic similarity, things get very, very different.

For one thing, I have only a vague idea of what my destination is, and I've certainly never been there before. Therefore, I have only ideas about what the best route is. Consequently, I sometimes find myself on a road I suddenly realize I've traveled before, which is not always a good thing. Also, visibility is limited to days, or weeks, or until the next paycheck, or the end of a lease. At best, I can see only 1-2% ahead of myself on a trip that I hope will take in excess of 80 or 90 years. And this road is nothing like I-94. Crappy Michigan road conditions aside, the routes available to me are never straight, never wide. Though some appear to be, it's usually only they're toll roads, and I'd therefore be forced into conventions and directions that might not always suit me--that may, in fact, be detrimental.

Troubles are common and cruel on the BLJ. I never go a day without the need to circumnavigate some pothole or debris, sometimes left there by someone else, more often thrown into my path by my own ignorance or stubbornness. Usually I can see things coming, but this doesn't always mean they're unavoidable. When I can't anticipate them, they seem to come out of nowhere, and I end up not only trying to drive and navigate but clean up the mess I've made. Sometimes it even happens that I find something's been behind me a good while, trying to get my attention, and I've been ignoring it, and that makes the cleanup a bitter task. It's rare that failing to avoid or deal with some such hindrance does not have consequences that affect other people's BLJs. It's also true that making a hard choice to take the right path for any given leg of the trip has potential to hurt others.

Also, it's rare that a dry, sunny day presents itself along the BLJ. I've spent a majority of my own in considerably bad weather. Some people would say this is a matter attitude, and I wouldn't argue with them. That translates into where you choose to be traveling. Unlike a real road trip, if you don't like the current road conditions, the BLJ lets you consciously choose to "relocate" to a place with better weather. This of course, is not easy, and learning how is a journey in itself. And, you do always have to start out from where you currently are, which makes it difficult to realize relocation is possible in the first place.

Finally, I am never sure of my vehicle's travel-readiness. Each morning, I risk some kind of breakdown. I have known issues with particular things, which I treat, but they all have root causes that have yet to be fully diagnosed. Also, many parts and systems are either wearing out for lack (or ignorance) of replacements, or are completely untested, and therefore I have no idea how much they can take. I fear situations that will push them beyond their limits, and I won't see the failure until it's screwed everything up and I'm mired in the conquences. That has happened more often than not, and typically I'm not the only person who ends up screwed or mired. In fact, thinking about it now, I realize that every known issue has been discovered by an unexpected breakdown, usually with accoutremental embarrassment and/or shame.

So, why would I choose to make the BLJ? First and foremost because of the person at the end of the journey: ME. To be more specific, it's not just one single journey, but many smaller ones; and it's not one single person that is the goal, it's just some improvement on the version that began that particular leg. A close second is the chance to make a difference in other people's journeys. Large or small, anything I can do to help someone along their way puts me further ahead in my own. It's about filling buckets. There are some people in particular for whom I strive to be a positive influence, whose BLJs are a main focus in my own. It is for them that I choose not to turn off onto a road I know will end abruptly, when that is my inclination.

I know so little about how to conduct the BLJ it's a wonder I even stay on board, but what I have learned, or what I think I've learned, is that there is no 'end' destination. There are desirable ends, yes, but no Milwaukee in this trip. I've also learned that reaching some desirable end will require a lot of circular travel: many roads will be taken again and again as a necessity; indeed, the sub-goal of any day's travel may be just to reach a familiar road. Finally, I think I've learned to take risks: to take roads that are unfamiliar, or even unpaved, because when taking these roads, like a path in the forest, the point is not to get somewhere, but the experience you have along the way. Usually you end up right where you began, but as a better version of who you were at the first step. Sometimes, you end up somewhere different, and having found that place--somewhere you never would have seen if you hadn't taken a risk--always makes dealing with some other leg of the trip that much easier.


Friday, April 22, 2011


Naliene did everything she could think of for fourteen years. Finally, she’d had enough.

She knew his old doctor was nearing retirement, and that he thought of her very affectionately. She was careful to make sure everything was ready: life insurance and malpractice policies.

Minor surgery was scheduled. There were complications. Now Naliene’s a widow.
* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. XIII. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I do believe in angels.

A couple days ago, the wind picked up my baby child and she was thrown into the air, holding on for dear life to the thing the wind had caught. She was moved at least six feet vertically and ten feet leeward. She was dropped onto this giant pad, then fell to the ground, after which the pad landed on top of her.

A vendor search tells me a typical pad is 7'2" x 16' x 30", and that's about the size of this one. It took three grown men to move the pad off her shoe, which had come off when I pulled her from the ground.

She suffered a scraped ankle, and a couple bumps on the head, and was scared so badly she barely cried with any real abandon. But that was all.

I held her the next few hours, looking for signs that mean a head injury's gone bad and praying I'd made the right decision by bringing her home instead of to the ER. I saw many futures in which that day was pivotal. I tore my insides apart asking myself why I hadn't made her stay off it, like some other parents had their kids, or at least been closer when it happened. I came up with no answers.

This was a freak accident that could have ended tragically, and given the physics of the event, probably should have. But there was some Intervention that protected my little girl. I don't care what anyone calls it; I am infinitely thankful.

I do believe in angels.

Friday, April 15, 2011


The idea was simple: four million dollars by the end of the year, tax-free; then we invest it and live comfortably off the interest while slowly getting rich. With my brains and Jim’s contacts, we couldn’t lose.

That was a year ago. I hope Jim is enjoying Anguilla. I’m in federal lockup. I got caught.
*  * * * *

FFF-55, Vol. XII. It seemed fitting  for tax day. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

You wouldn't know it by my writing, but I've been losing weight lately. Okay, those who know me in person may scoff and say "as if" because I've never been a heavy person... but to me, small changes have made a real difference.

I had a 29" waist as a teenager. I'm nearly six feet tall, so you can imagine I was pretty lanky. Add that to my nerdery, my social ineptness, my inability to get (and keep) any popular girl's attention before post-puberty, and my lack of athletic skills, and you could accurately imagine my teen years as being cruelly unremarkable.

Being super skinny did, however, not go without its benefits. Among them is the fact that twenty years after graduation, I still look mostly the same as I did back then. Yes, I've put on 40+ pounds, like most of my classmates probably have, but I really put them to good use. I haven't beefed up or anything, but I look like a normally slim guy now, not a beanpole with arms. Also, I haven't lost my hair or gone completely grey, and I've lost enough of my social ineptness to function well, so at the reunion this summer, I ought to have a darn good time, if for no other reason than seeing many people who were more popular and better looking than me in '91 as bald, fat slobs.

However, this past fall I noticed a little change. My clothes were fitting differently, and worst of all, I could see a difference in the mirror. I was gaining weight. Statistically, I was the 2nd heaviest I've ever been in my life. I wasn't large by any means, but I knew that if, in my future, I became a heavy man, I would look back at Fall of 2010 and know that that is when it all started. So I resolved to do something about it.

I couldn't, and wouldn't choose, to repeat my previous weight loss method, so I was forced to think in healthy terms. I went with something simple, which was just to reverse the thing that seemed to make me gain in the first place: I'd just eat better/less. I didn't starve myself or go on any formal diets, I only ate when I was hungry, and stopped eating when I was full. I asked myself each time I put something in my mouth if it was a thing a healthy person would eat. Sometimes the answer was "no" and I ate it anyway, but just having the thought made a difference. I actually, at one point, lost the desire to eat unhealthy foods. When I stopped getting heavier, I stopped sweating it, but kept up with my good habits.

Then, six months later, I found I could fit into pants I hadn't worn in years. I really only put them on as a desperate last resort: my regular (34" waist) jeans were all dirty, so I would be forced, for a day, to suck it in and go with the...wait a minute, these 33"ers actually fit! Really well!! I know they make TV commercials about this, so sue me if I'm being dramatic, but I really did feel the way the women in the Nutrisystem ads appear to, all without the yucky shakes or prepackaged foods.

The Wife gives me a dirty look every time it's come up in conversation. Her body type is different than mine, and so she and my middle son (who inherited her body type) will always have a harder time managing their weight than me and my oldest son and daughter (who inherited mine). Them's just the breaks. It's really of no consequence anyway, because she's so damn fine as-is, even if she wouldn't agree. And besides, she's known throughout our many years together that no matter what she looks like, or how she feels about herself, I always think she's gorgeous, and would do her in a heartbeat. To be, well, blunt.

So here's what I've noticed: the last month or so, the groceries coming into the house have had the distinct and increasing characteristic of having more sweets and goodies to my liking. More and more, she's bringing stuff home that defies that question: "would a healthy person eat this?" And more and more, I'm falling prey to it. My recently new habit of stepping onto the scale (keeping it in the kitchen REALLY helps) has shown me that this eating more Swiss Cake Rolls is not such a great thing. It isn't even really a change in the numbers or my pants size (the 33"ers still fit marvelously, thank you very much), but in how I feel.

Maybe that was the biggest change of all: how I viewed my health. You see, since I started this process, I've always allowed myself a little flexibility (because who can give up chocolate milk completely? seriously...), but I've also always kept the big picture in mind. The things I've come to believe have an effect on not just my weight, but my overall health in general, have grown on me, and now I've found myself breaking my happy new rules in just the tiniest of ways. None of these little things would break my healthy cycle on its own, but the combination of them would have me moving decidedlly in the wrong direction.

Look: I'm not suggesting she's doing it on purpose, but you have to admit the coincidence is strange. I know she's trying to take good care of me and all, but it brings to mind a story I read once (content warning on the link! and grammar warning: it's not prefectly transcribed. Bukowski is phenomenal and would never make those mistakes.) It would be a lie to say she's never told me she's jealous, but I never imagined her to be vindictive. It has me wondering: should I be worried?

I suppose I'll have to settle for a happy medium until my gustatory discipline gets back into shape. It's just the right thing to do. After all, I've got my eyes on those 32"ers I've kept around, and summer is coming, which means I'll have to be publicly shirtless at least part of the time. And, just in case, it'll keep me from falling victim to any weird schemes some people might have in mind that involve feeding me delicious sweets or other bonnes bouches.

"Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead." -Charles Bukowski