Thursday, December 29, 2011

Captives of Ourselves

I received an e-mail the other day, in which the writer agreed with me that Congress could look to its own pockets when they begin reducing the burden on taxpayers. My correspondent then went on to imply that all the world’s problems would be resolved if only the man in the White House were replaced by almost anyone else. I’m not so sure.
While I am not really pleased with the way the country has been led of late, neither am I really keen on having a president who thinks getting the government off our backs and into our bedrooms, subject to a particular interpretation of a version of the bible that isn’t mine, is the kind of freedom our founders had in mind. In fact, I’m certain it is not.

There are real problems facing this country, and they are not what church you attend (or that you attend at all), what kind of partner you may hold dear, or who owns your body. And just changing the president isn’t going to make us whole again. And we need to be made whole.

Right now, all across this country, young people are being deprived of  the kind of education that will fit them for the world as it exists and will be. Some states and localities have realistic and relevant educational goals, but too many would reduce their schools to "readin’, ritin’, and ‘rithmatic" and the known world when the McGuffey Eclectic Reader was the textbook of choice. The current administration wants to change that. The challengers seem to want more copies of McGuffey.

Another issue that has been made the center of political argument is health care. Many people seem to have been convinced that the planned changes in how we deliver health care will kill us. The new plan has evolved because we now have the most costly and marginally effective health care of any developed nation. So why haven’t those who challenge the new health care program come up with a solution before now? And why should I have confidence in whatever would replace the program initiated by this administration? Did turning over part of our national security to contractors make Iraq and Afghanistan successes? Do you get your mail on time?

One more argument that I read regularly is that the current administration wants to "tax the rich," as if that were some kind of new idea that will bring down the country. The argument most often advanced against that is that the "rich" will stop investing in "job creation" if they are taxed at what most of us would consider a fair rate. Does that mean they have been investing in job creation and we didn’t know it? Oh, I mean here in our country, not in places where the prevailing wage and standard of living are in the dollar-a-day range.

And finally, who makes the laws? Not the president. Congress writes the laws (or their lobbyists do), and the president executes them. The courts interpret and enforce them. And we, the people, pay for them.

We are captives of ourselves, and we are being asked to pay the ransom.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


The great sadness isn’t that youth is wasted on the young. No, what is really sad is that old age is wasted on the old! When you’re young, regardless of your mistakes, you have the time and the opportunity to do it over.

If you make a mistake when you are young, it’s like correcting an essay before you turn it in to the teacher. And if you can’t erase what you have done, you can at least correct the spelling, change the font or the colors. Once you reach a certain age you no longer are limited to the essay, you’re writing a book. That’s a lot harder to re-write. It takes more out of you.

Besides, you aren’t turning it in to the teacher. You are the teacher. You should know better, not make stupid mistakes, not need to erase and begin again. And if it’s a long book, not just a short story, there are so many corrections to make, or that you would like to make. And of course, so much of it will be fiction.

So what starts out to be a short paragraph now covers many pages. It may be that when you began you had no idea where you were going, but now, as you get older, you should be able to read the timetables, the road signs and maps, and know where you are headed before you get there. Time to stop and change direction, take a detour, make side trips. Still, when you get to the end, there you are. Your manuscript is heavy, it has many words, but is it a "good read?"

You can fill your book with a lot of short stories, a collection of essays, even just paragraphs and one-liners, but even so, the words will tell the story of your life. If only you could know how it would read when you began, would you write it differently?

There is often real tragedy in the young mis-spending youth. But it might better if we didn’t have to waste aging on the old.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Living with it

I’m indebted to one of my readers for this week’s theme. He wrote: "Here's something to consider for your next blog: Do our ‘leaders’ in Washington really think that all of us will be fooled with inflation rates artificially suppressed with the omission of food and energy data? They must live in a vacuum to not have noticed the large increases during the last several years in grocery and restaurant bills, gasoline at the pump and home heating. Add those little things to the budgets of families with kids in college or with a member undergoing extensive medical treatment, and their inflation is run-away."

It isn’t hard to answer this. One only has to recall a previous election when one of the presidential candidates was totally amazed by the check-out scanner when he visited a grocery store "just like everybody else." What emerged wasn’t so much an encounter between the techno-present and the cash-register past, but rather a picture of the isolation in which our leaders live.

Do you really think those people earning $180,000+ per year (with an equal amount for retirement for life even after one term) plus free health care, are really going to the grocery store for the milk? And do you wonder that they aren’t aware of the price of gasoline that they use in their Hummers and SUVs? Then you are the one out of touch with reality. They are not all like that, of course, but one can’t help but feel that the majority are.

In the beginning those who chose to offer their lives and sacred honor also pledged their fortunes to the advancement of our nation. If they received pay it hardly covered the cost of a room in a boarding house, much less transportation from the far-flung domains they represented (all 13 of them). There wasn’t a "shining city on a hill" to go to, only Philadelphia, and the roads from Savannah or Richmond or Boston weren’t even paved. (And before you take umbrage at what you may perceive as a disparaging remark about Philadelphia, let me state that it was my father’s birthplace, and the city where my wife spent her teenage years, and that I hold it in high regard.)

Anyway, the simple answer to my reader’s question is: No, I don’t think the people who govern us are really connected to us anymore. Somewhere in all that travel, over all the years, they have lost the map that guided them because on the same journey they stopped at private houses, not public houses, accepting the hospitality without admitting a quid pro quo, or even getting out of the carriage to acknowledge the horses pulling them along. And so many have forgotten how to make change.

That will be . . . Uh, Umm, I can’t figure out the change without my scanner/calculator/cash drawer. But that’s for another time.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Skewed View

Okay, I’ve avoided it as long as I could. I dislike politics, dislike politicians, and more importantly, no longer trust the people to make sound judgements about what our elected representatives are doing with our lives.

Could it be that I’m hot today because I just received notice from my "secondary payer" that my insurance premiums and prescription costs will increase (again) in the new year? Could that have anything to do with the fact that the economy is so stagnant that wages, interest, pensions and social security have not increased in two or more years, but the cost of health care insurance has? Does that have anything to do with the coming health care reform in 2014, so the insurance companies and drug companies and for-profit health care providers can set the baseline for cost control as high as possible? Could it be that the design I see is a mosaic of cheating and stealing and lying by those who profess to want to give us what’s best for us? Why is it okay for the people who "govern" us at the local, state and national level to rail against the government (that provides their salaries and health care and retirement) and tell us they know what is best for us, while at the same time telling us that their opponents only want to screw us?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the governors want to see the governed reduced to total helplessness by making us not only unhealthy but uneducated, so that we will not have the power to challenge their skewed and screwed version of the world until they have taken all they want from all of us.

There! Rant doesn’t pay the rent, but it sometimes makes poverty bearable.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thinking about thanking

This is the time of year when, encouraged by sentiment and commercialism, we are encouraged to think about what we are thankful for. Seldom are we encouraged to look behind those thoughts, perhaps to examine why we are thankful for the things we think we are thankful for, if you see what I mean.

It isn't that we aren't thankful, that we don’t appreciate the things we have, or even that we aren't aware of the good things in our lives. Most of us are; it’s part of being human. The reason we perhaps need to pause and consider is that so much of what we should appreciate in our lives we take for granted, depend on to be there, expect to have. Things like the sun being there when the earth turns to it, like water we can depend on, or green edible things poking up from the soil. Things like friends, and family and health we also seem to take for granted. For fewer and fewer people there is also shelter and clothing and a way to get from one place to another, and something to do when we get there (like jobs). There is always something for which we can be thankful.

What are the positive things in your life? Without getting too metaphysical, can you list them and relate them to something you have done to make them happen? The key words would be work, give, help, avoid, reject, accept, take, move, stop . . . on and on, the words that describe moving the world a step closer to good, a step away from evil.

I am most thankful for all those who work to make the world a better place.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

At my age the future is tomorrow

Looking ahead is really something for the young. I try to project, to see where I will be when I get older, but actually, I’m already there. Except that I will get older again tomorrow and the next day and so on. The only difference is that there are fewer tomorrows.

So what? Well, for one thing, it’s time to recognize that, to make sure that tomorrow not only comes (as far as one is able), but that I’m there to greet it. I like to say that I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to be when I grow up, but the truth is, I grew up a long time ago. Maybe when I was in my twenties, maybe earlier, probably not much later. I took on grown-up responsibilities, undertook adult tasks, even prepared for the future. But all the time I kept thinking, "I’m acting just like a grown up!" I just don’t think I believed it. I probably still don’t.

I know that once I completed my "three score and ten" I was supposed to be an old man, but somehow that hasn’t stuck, at least in my own mind. I can’t speak for others. I have plans, and projects and ideas I want to get on with "when I have time." Well, when is that time going to begin?

I’m not really aware of my age most of the time. A doctor friend of mine (some 25 years my junior), said something recently about my approaching 80 (still a few years away), and changes I should anticipate. I laughed. Later I felt a bit of resentment because he had, with all good intentions, reminded me of something I don’t really want to contemplate. When I have trouble moving about for a few seconds after I get up from my desk, or getting out of the truck after I've loaded it with firewood, or some other sedentary activity, I blame it on the weather, or sitting still too long. That’s enough of thinking about how I feel for the time being. I don’t blame it on the calendar, but maybe I should. Maybe I should say, "No, I don’t want to do that. I’m not young anymore, you know." But somehow I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that years add limitations. They just speed up the clock, shorten the day, allow less time for thinking about what I haven’t yet done.

At my age the future is tomorrow.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Voting Right

"What do you do with your time?" is a question former colleagues often ask when we meet after many years of "retirement." I usually talk about writing books and short stories and essays, or cutting firewood or working on old tractors and other necessary accessories to life in the mountains. I seldom talk about politics because I think that is a private matter and I’m not really the confrontational sort of person that today’s political world seems to breed faster than the wild rabbits that pop up when the dogs aren’t out. But here are some things about politics I will talk about.

First of all, on Tuesday last, I gave up my day (and night) to the political process. I was an "election official" for a day. Actually longer than a day, if you consider the half day I spent in class learning about my duties and responsibilities, and another hour or so a couple of days later helping clean up some of the paperwork details such an effort inevitably generates.

I worked in the precinct where we live, so I only had to drive the two miles from the house to the firehouse, but I had to be there at five in the morning. Among other things, I was the only one of the officials who knew the combination to the door. The polls open at six, and we had work to do before one of us could go outside and announce in a loud voice, "The Polls Are OPEN!" Well, that didn’t bring anybody in, but we were ready. We had opened the packages of paper ballots, set up the electronic voting machine (we still offer a choice), got the poll book ready to check people in, set up the ballot box to receive their paper ballots when they had voted. And made sure they got a sticky badge saying "I Voted." We were ready.

Throughout the day we welcomed neighbors and friends who live in the precinct, made sure everyone got a chance to vote without being hurried, and generally watched to see that things were done according to the rules. 71 people made their choices between "The Polls Are OPEN" and "The Polls are CLOSED," 13 hours later. Then the work began. Until then it had been a kind of extended reunion, helped along by snacks and even chili prepared by the other four officials (I provided the coffee, it being the one thing I know how to cook). Once the door was secured, however, we really had work to do.

I never realized how much paperwork is associated with voting, even if you vote electronically. At least in our part of the world (admittedly a small part), we have to count (and count more than once) every paper ballot and report the results on two or three forms. We have to verify the electronic votes and enter that information on a form or two or three. If a count doesn’t agree with the previous one, we have to keep counting until we are sure our numbers are true. It is a long process. When I was ready to lock the door behind us, nobody said: "Wait. Can’t we stay a little longer?"

What impressed me the most, I think, is how we as a people follow a process that is the foundation of who we are. Whether you voted on paper or on a touch screen, there were no soldiers standing by to make sure you followed the right procedure. If there was a challenge to a vote, it was resolved by a civilized and civil process. And it happened not just in our little precinct, but in hundreds of others, large and small, and it will again and again across this land and beyond our continental borders the next time we vote.

It is an orderly (if sometimes noisy) process that depends on trust and respect and not on purple thumbs. It is America and it is the world we have made, here as nowhere else. It was along day, but one I would not have missed for anything. It’s what you do in the country.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Shovel-ready jobs for Writers: where is our stimulus package?

Spell-checker, grammar-checker, fact-checker. If only those were people-jobs and not computer occupations! Traditional publishers, self publishers, bloggers, commentators, letters-to-the-editor writers all seem to have arrived at a common place: enough words, often too many words, will get you between covers or between headline and deadline. On the net, in the paper, on bookstore shelves. So much of what one reads today in contemporary writing is not just poorly written, but poorly edited, both in terms of content and in simple sentence construction. My English teachers of several generations ago would never have let a 9th grader get away with some of the writing one sees today in newspapers, magazines and books, and on the Internet.

And truth? Why, it hardly exists beyond what some writer/blogger/commentator says is true. Nearly every week there is a mea culpa plea from some figure in public life or behind the cover of a book who admits (seemingly without lasting consequences) to shading the facts, or downright lying. "Who cares," seems to be the mantra most expressed by people who have a public ear or eye to play to, "I got it out. Deciding what to believe is your problem, not mine."

I read what I write, I ask others who are editorially more sophisticated, to read what I write, and I ask total strangers to pay to read what I write. I believe it is still important that what I write is not just honest. It must also be true and it must be spelled correctly. And I like it to be just a little artful, have a phrase or two that makes me smile with satisfaction, it must "sing," and make a reader say, "I liked the way you said that."

That’s a stimulus package for any writer

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's AboutTime

This is the last week of Daylight Savings Time (DST). It means, for me at least, a welcome re-setting of my daily schedule. I find it hard to sleep once the sky begins to lighten, but at the same time I don’t like to get up in the dark. With DST, for the last two weeks or so I’ve been doing just that. My usual routine is to get up, dress for the weather, take the two big dogs and make a circuit of one of the many trails on the ridge behind the house, or around the fields across the road. We are out for half-an-hour or more, depending on the length of the trail and the mosey-ness of the dogs. They both like to graze as we walk, and some of places can hold them for four or five minutes at a time. Teddy can also be distracted by something small below the surface, and will dig a significant hole trying to capture it. He will catch up (nose, chest and paws holding traces of the hole) most of the time. We stop and wait for him unless we are in sight of the house. Max, elderly and independent, will sometimes linger over a special bunch of grass, or a bush he finds interesting, and so we will stand and wait for him. If we move on too fast he’s likely to lie down and rest, or turn around and be at the front door waiting when Teddy and I get there. That worries me, because I like to know where my pals are.

But about time: If we get out too early we might surprise one of the bears that crosses from time to time, or jump a deer (that then runs off with Teddy in hot pursuit), or even run into a pack of coyotes. The deer are a good exercise for Teddy (he's fast but not that fast). Bears and coyotes are another matter. I wouldn’t want a confrontation with either. Neighbors insist that the dogs will scare off the bears, but I don’t want to take that chance. Coyotes, traveling in packs, can be dangerous for even two 80- to 90-pound aggressive dogs.

Time. We enjoy getting out just as the sun is starting to show itself over the top of the eastern ridge that defines the fields. I love to watch the sun rise above the horizon. At the flat angle from which we see it the movement to full exposure is rapid. Even on a morning like today, with the temperature around 250 we can feel the warming of the sun before we turn for home. In these last two or three weeks the sunrise has been appreciably later and later, which means the boys and I get out and back with only a little time in the sun. So we are looking forward to next Sunday, when we adjust to "sun time". It used to be that life was more-or-less tied to the four seasons. Now it seems we are working on just two: Spring (ahead), and Fall (back).

With the sun and the clock back in sync, winter can come. Re-setting everything to match some arbitrary standard doesn’t give us the gradual, natural easing from one season to the next. Time is something we need to value more than we do.

You can’t buy time, only trade it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Early Morning Maintenance Tasks

Despite the rain both of the big dogs were anxious to leave the house the other morning. Usually they are eager only to make brief forays into the wild if the weather is wet, but I was happy to let them out together while I pulled on my boots. Once outside, I understood their eagerness.

 Sixty feet from the garages, across the driveway, is the building that houses our furnace and at least some of the things we can’t figure out what to do with, if you know what I mean. Attached to the side of the building is a plastic bin, designed to hold and protect two garbage cans. Designed to, but hardly up to the task. That’s why the dogs were eager to go out: they knew the bear had been there (and gone). Left me a mess to clean up, strewn down the hillside and distributed among the trees and a bench nearby. While they won’t tell me in the middle of the night when the bear is feeding, they will eagerly romp among the leavings and ripped-off doors.

 So my early morning maintenance for that day was to clean up after the bear. The dogs helped of course, snuffling out the chicken bones the bear left behind, and further distributing orange peals and plastic detritus farther down the hillside where it will eventually be covered by the oak leaves and pine needles and wild grass. We didn’t walk. Soon after returning to the house I turned to another maintenance task: my daily journal.

 As often happens, being out with the older dogs (Max and Teddy) will start me on a path relating real life to writing. If we throw things away, things like the stories we live, there is no way to share them with others. If, on the other hand, we secure the stuff of our internal lives, the thoughts and ideas and reactions we experience every day, and if we also get rid of the things we don’t need and will never use again, then we have something to look at, to guide us, whether we are writing about life, or just living it.

 Everything I have experienced colors and informs my stories and essays. Writing, for me, is a way of remembering, a way of examining my life. That is a good thing, because it helps me remember where I have been, and see where I am going. Writing helps me keep direction in my life. It is where I find my compass.

"If we don’t change direction soon," a wise elder once said, "we’ll end up where we’re headed." Writing helps keep me oriented to the star I should be following. On this day it was Ursa Minor.

Monday, October 17, 2011

All Too Soon

I spend a part of each day outside, regardless of the weather. Some days longer than others, but every day, at least for a little while, I’m out there. Usually I begin my day about the time the sun is just peaking over Shenandoah mountain on the northeastern border of our land. I take two of the dogs (the older, bigger dogs) and we either climb the ridge behind the house or go down to the fields where we have paths to follow, always heading toward the sunrise. We walk for half-an-hour or more, exploring the daily changes in the land, the trees, the grasses, looking for signs of visits from the deer, the bears, foxes and smaller animals. As the seasons change, so do the signs. On cold winter mornings we’ll sometimes seek out a place protected from the wind and just stand, letting the rising sun warm us before completing the path we have chosen.

Later in the morning, I spend some time outside just stretching and preparing myself for a morning’s writing. In the afternoons, unless the weather is too bad, I will find something to do outside: getting wood for the winter heating season, cleaning leaves from the gutters, cutting what little grass we allow around the house or on the paths where we walk. Just now, in mid-October, I have become aware of the changes in the way the air smells.

Suddenly, long before I’m ready for it, the perfume of downed leaves, of mushrooms and toadstools, of damp earth is here. What happened, I wonder, to the heavy odor of boxwood around the deck? Where did the scent of lilacs and green grass, of hay and recently turned earth, go? Why, only yesterday, it seems, the air smelled of green growing things, of hot earth baked by the sun centered above us. Now the slanted light of Fall misses the earth it seems, but sharply outlines the falling leaves, instead. Oak and maple and walnut replace the signature of pine in the air.

I’m not ready for this! Not ready to have the smell of old wood burning in the furnace replace that of renewal and rebirth; certainly not ready to welcome the first snow (though in years past we had it long before now), yet I’m certain it will come and I will be prepared, if not ready for it.

"Stop!" I want to say. "Stop and just let me sniff the air and enjoy the fragrance of Fall," before that, too, escapes my senses. Then I remember Shelley: "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

[If you want to post a comment, "Anonymous" is perfectly okay!]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Worcestershire, the Missing "U" and Other Anomalies

We live in Virginia, birthplace of presidents, and in some ways, the birthplace of democracy in America. It is also the death of some words, even as we speak.

Our closest town of any size is the very heart of the Shenandoah Valley. It is the city of Staunton, pronounced Stanton. Strangers to the area are prone to vocalize the "au" sound in their first contacts with the city, but they are quickly corrected. What doesn't come so quickly is the explanation of the oral anomaly. So I have evolved my own theory.

Virginia, as you must know, was founded by the Brits. Even if you didn't know that, you could surmise it just from the pronunciation of Staunton. To confirm that, you only have to go across the Blue Ridge mountains to the east, to the town of Faber, south of Charlottesville. That’s where Staunton’s "u" has gone. It is pronounced "Faw-ber."

And then there is the family named Taliaferro, one of the FFVs (First Family of Virginia).

I grew up in North Carolina, and heard my father speak of his friend Taliaferro. He (and the rest of us) pronounced "Tally-a-ferro." When we moved to Virginia may years later, we learned that in this state the name is pronounced "Tolliver." Well, what can you expect from a state founded by people who call St. John "Syngine"? (And put their punctuation marks outside the quotation marks?) For that matter, what do you expect from a country that owns up to Worcestershire by calling it "Wostershire?"?

And by the way, it's pronounced "Cline," not "clean."

Words matter, and most especially when the words are you.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On the Beach

As I walked the beach this morning I paused to look at the thick white foam gathered in sudsy piles along the water’s edge. Some floated back out to sea, as if it were being recalled to its home in the water. Some seemed to struggle against the motion of the tide, trying to be part of the land. I reached down and scooped up a handful only to see nothing there. All that and only a little dampness on my skin. Salty to the tongue, but otherwise leaving no trace. Does the sea own the foam, only sharing it briefly with the land? So much of it riding the waves, in and out. A private show I could share with no one: there was not another soul on the beach.

I stood looking out to sea, watching the ebb and flow, the push and pull against the sandy shore. Had it been warmer I probably would have stepped into the waves as they washed up to my toes, but already being of a winterset in my mind, I stepped back, just out of reach. Powerful pull, the sea. I admire it, respect it, love the sound and strength of it. Do I like it? Not enough to want to be here all the time, I think. I still like my mountains. But there is so much more sky here!

In the end it comes down to comfort. The quiet solitude of my mountains brings me peace, lets me hear my inner voice, the voices that tell me stories, that fill my head. The sea clears the voices, opens new vistas, tells me new things to think about. If I could live on a mountain above the sea, hear it, see it to the horizon, knowing the mountains have my back, I would go no other place.

Today the sea is in my ears, before my eyes, against my skin. The saltiness is in the air and everything tastes of it. The words I write come from the senses. The sea is so elemental, like the wind, like the sun, like the smell of earth and grass and trees. When we let ourselves we all respond to the natural world from which we evolved. The man-made elements weaken us and take away our sense of what we are, if not who. Who we are, if not why. Why we are, if not where. The sea talks of all of those. Listen. Listen.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Oldest Dominion

Each of us has an accumulation of stuff and things we feel is important or valuable and we want to see passed on. Some of the things are physical: tools, toys, collections of books or art or - - - toys. But there are other things I want to believe I will pass on: my love of words, the thrill of learning something new, the satisfaction that comes with doing something well, or for the first time, or both. And my sense of purpose, the "why" if you will: leaving the world better than I found it.

It seems to me that one of the things most important in life is understanding "why." Some basic questions we should confront in our lives: Why we are alive? Why do we do what we do? What is our purpose in being alive? Who are we to decide the fate of others? Should we simply go from moment-to-moment, day-to-day, without purpose, without direction?

This is my core belief: that the real difference between mankind and all other living things is our ability to see backward and forward and correct as we go, to ultimately leave the world a better place than we found it. Otherwise we are simply taking up space, breathing air, absorbing moisture, eating plants and animals, just to keep doing it again.

We have a responsibility to all other life forms as well as to ourselves. This is not some "green speak," some New Age idea. It is as old as Genesis. There is beauty and ugliness in every garden. How we deal with it measures our level of civilization and our understanding of reason and purpose. It is, I believe, the true meaning of the biblical charge to exercise "dominion."

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Like most men, I like my scars. They mark a life lived, if not to the fullest, at least closer to the edge of that place. I have marks on my body that reflect some of those I carry in my mind, and I have others I can only vaguely recall adding, but they all tell me that I haven’t sat in an easy chair as my life has moved along.

There are other scars: lines resulting from worrying, from trying to see in poor light or too much sun, from smiling or grimacing as I’ve struggled to move something heavy in my life.

Scars are not beautiful on a woman, but they are "interesting" on a man. Women have them, I know, and hide them, I’m certain, and it isn’t something you study and say. "Tell me how you got that." For a man it is a roadmap of his encounters with life, with the losses and the wins, the symbols of overreaching or oversleeping, but never of just hiding out (though that can probably cause scarring, too).

Encounters with machines, fights, wars, stumbles, surgeons, all contribute to the upholstery pattern of the human body. I have them on my face and hands, knees and elbows, a curious depression on one ankle, and on places usually covered.

What about the ones that don’t show? Not the ones that will eventually, as increasing hair loss might reveal. The ones you can never see, never run your finger over or cover with clothing. We have those, too. All of us. But those are the ones most of us do try to cover up; show only at times most intimate perhaps, or most emotional. Life leaves us unmarked only if we sit still in one place and that place never changes. It is the place we think we would be happy, but only in times of stress and strain and pain. But in the end, we know, there is no such place for most of us; no place where we can hide from the things that give us scars. Still, they remind us we are alive, remind us we have lived. Scars are chapter headings for stories we tell.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


We were checking out of the motel in Caribou that morning. My wife was sitting in the car, listening to the radio, as I paid the bill and chatted with the manager. She asked me if I had heard about the plane hitting a building in New York, and I told her I had not. "Come into the office," she offered, "I have the TV on." We walked into the room behind the reception desk, and there on the small TV, I saw the first pictures. I remembered another plane hitting the Empire State building sometime after the war, and mentioned that, but the young woman didn’t know about it. I thanked her for letting me see the accident (as we were sure it was), and I left, rejoining my wife in the car. "A plane flew into the World Trade Center," I said. She said she had just heard that on NPR, and as we drove away, heard about the second plane and the second building.
       I think about that morning ten years ago today, and I think about other tragic days I remember.
       The earliest I recall was a sunny Sunday afternoon in December. Our house was full of college girls and boys (yes, that’s what they were called then), and my sister and I and our parents had just returned from that American institution, the Sunday Drive. As we got out of the car and walked into the house the young people were all quietly talking (unusual for such a young group). They told of the interruption to the radio program announcing the attack on Pearl Harbor. My sister and I (she was ten, I was six) understood, without really understanding, that something momentous, terrible, exciting had happened to our nation.
       Then there is the day in April, four years later. I can still see myself standing outside our house (another house by then), considering what the death (sudden, unexpected) of our president really meant. Thinking about the changes my world had already witnessed in such a short time.
      And a day in November. I was in an editing room with my director and the editor. We were working on a first-cut of a short film our boss wanted "soon." The phone rang, and I answered it, heard my wife saying what I thought was the beginning of a joke: "The president’s been shot." I walked home to Georgetown, going by my boss’s office there in the White House, but not stopping, only taking in the quiet crowd gathering outside the fence on Pennsylvania Avenue.
     And September 11, 2001. As we headed back to Virginia, through the lovely New England fall, I was torn between getting my wife home to the safety of our farm, and diverting to New York or perhaps Washington, where my training and skills as an EMT, and the jump bag in the trunk, might be needed. We stopped for the night in New Hampshire, saving the longest leg for the next day.
      Finally, I remember September 12, 2001. Car after car, from New Hampshire to Virginia, seemed magically to have sprouted American flags: on windows, on trunk lids, from radio antennae. Any anxiety I might have felt, for my family, for my country, for my world, began to recede. It wasn’t just the flags, of course, but they marked a determination, a resistance, a strength I knew we, as a people, had. It was something I knew from December 7, from November 22, from September 11. America, standing tallest among nations, would always be a target for those grasping ideologies that would suppress and destroy what only America could offer. And they, regardless of who and where they lived, would themselves be overcome. Our flag will still be up long after they have fallen.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Every Moment

"Every moment of your life, you’re writing. Even in your dreams, you’re writing."
Frank McCort in Teacher Man

I sometimes feel as if there were two of me: one living life and the other observing me living life. It’s what being an observer, a recorder of life demands and delivers: seeing your world and you in it. That’s the writing life. Everything that happens to you or around you is something you can (and probably will) use in telling your version of the story of living. I realize, often in the middle of something I’m doing, that I’m also collecting, storing, synthesizing the life I am living. Sometimes it is hard to separate myself from myself, but even then I know it is happening: I’m seeing me living, and figuring out how I can tell that story, or use what I see to tell another story. There is, certainly, a disconnect between the living me and the observing me. They come together when I tell a story. Sometimes I can write the ending even before I know the beginning.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Out of my mind!

I’m very fortunate. The summer before I graduated from college I sold my first script. Since then all or part of my income has been from writing. In the best of times I have had a life in which I researched something I didn’t know, then converted that knowledge into a form I could share with others, and went on to the next subject. Through it all, I have been able to do what I love best: play with words. I love the process of writing, the sense of discovery as I let my mind chase a topic till it comes out my fingertips as they press keys. The best class I ever had, I think, was typing! I can’t write legibly as quickly as the words form, but I can type them. I’ve tried dictating, but that is such a self-conscious act for one who started as an actor and "announcer" in radio, that I get lost listening to myself. No, I have to put the words on paper, and I must do it in the mind-to-fingertip continuum. I do write with a pen, but only in one of the pocket notebooks or chair-side/bed-side pads I have strategically placed around wherever I am living. Still, those are only notes, not full-blown essays or stories. Truly, when I write, what I write is "out of my mind."