America is Already Great. Let’s Keep it That Way.

I stayed up until 2am this morning watching election returns and woke up in a world that feels very unfamiliar to me. I’m not sure what to feel or what I’m meant to be doing.

This tweet from last night says it pretty well:

But the country isn’t all that different. Things haven’t actually changed that much. Yet.

Here’s Nate Silver’s take:

Something to remember: Whatever your feelings about the state of the country right now, it’s fundamentally not that different a place whether the final call is that Clinton has narrowly won or narrowly lost. Add just 1 percent to Clinton’s vote share and take 1 percent away from Trump’s, and she would have won Florida and Pennsylvania, therefore would probably have been on her way to a narrow Electoral College victory.

Apparently, the Canadian Immigration Services website crashed last night from heavy traffic. Last week I joked with my most liberal friends about packing go bags and digging bunkers. That doesn’t feel funny anymore.

I’m not going anywhere. I love this country. I am a product of what is great inside America. You are too. I’m staying because there is urgent, important work to be done.

Too many of us live in fear. We live in fear of violence in our communities. We live in fear of racial persecution. Some of us live in fear of the police and civil authorities. This is wrong. We can’t let this continue.

We urgently need leadership from the best among us. This includes women, people who aren’t white and homosexuals. We should judge people based on the quality of their actions and their ideas. We should find and follow the people with the ability to move us forward. We aren’t there yet.

Diversity makes us stronger. We are a nation that attracts and welcomes immigrants from all parts of the world. We need to keep our doors open to them. The people who move to America from other countries bring with them their best selves, their highest hopes and an eagerness to participate and contribute. When we allow them, they make America stronger and reinforce the world’s belief that America creates opportunity.

Abortion is a terrible thing. Nobody likes abortion. Nobody wants women to have abortions. But, women must remain in control of their own bodies. This is a most basic freedom. Doctors, lawyers and politicians should not be usurping the most personal, vulnerable decision a person can make. Restricting access to abortion and birth control will kill women and children. We should focus instead on increasing access to birth control and providing real support for women faced with impossible choices. We should provide meaningful help for children born into families that are not ready or able to give them a good start.

Oh, and science isn’t a belief system. Science is a systematic way of looking at the world to describe what’s happening based on observable facts. Climate change is happening and no amount of wishful thinking is going to blunt the effects for my daughter and the children in your life that you hold most dear.

Our worldview has darkened. The work ahead is daunting. I am very, very scared.

Its time to close our Facebook and Twitter feeds and actually start talking to one another while being brave enough to look each other in the eyes.

It is time to stop paying so much attention to the carnival of political personalities and start grappling with real issues.

There is a lot of difficult work ahead. We’ve got to focus on that.

If you are able to look me in the eyes and talk with me so we can figure out these things together, then we are on the same team. If you can’t, kindly step aside. We don’t have much time.

America is already great. Let’s remind each other of that in the weeks and months ahead. Let’s work together to keep it that way.


November 9

We need to talk about November 9. In just a few days, Americans will elect a new president and members of Congress. I used to look forward to Election Day and feel proud of our participation in choosing our leaders and helping in some small way set the direction of our country. Today, I feel sick with anxiety, dread and fear. I can’t stop myself from refreshing the 538 Election feeds and trying to discern what the numbers mean. I’m scared. You may be too.

Here’s the thing. You and I may be feeling the same way even while supporting opposite candidates. I support Hillary Clinton and desperately hope she wins on Tuesday. But, I have wasted so much time this election focused solely on my fear of Donald Trump and his message and not enough time articulating what I support in Hillary Clinton. Your doing it too. Its in our Facebook and Twitter feeds. Donald Trump scares me. Hillary Clinton scares you. Everybody is scared.

Our fear makes our world smaller. Many of my friends and family have become strangers to me. People I care about deeply. People I know to be good, thoughtful, caring people. From time to time, that fear becomes anger and those people feel like enemies to me. You may be feeling that too.

We are not enemies.

You and I have wicked problems to solve.We don’t know how to talk about race and gender. We don’t know how to talk about the role legal immigration plays in our country. Too many of us live our lives warped by constant fear of violence at home and abroad. For too many people, hard work and personal sacrifice no longer allows access to the American Dream. Job markets have changed. Despite the growing strength of our economy, access to economic opportunity is unequally distributed. Higher education is broken. Climate change is a real thing that is actually happening. The list goes on.

For the most part in this election, we haven’t been talking about these things. We haven’t allowed ourselves. We haven’t known how.

You and I need to start talking about November 9 because, no matter what happens, we are going to need to find a way to start understanding each other again. Whoever is elected needs to govern. The President alone cannot fix these problems. Congress alone cannot fix these problems. Its us. We’ve got find a way to start fixing these problems.

So I want you know this. I oppose Donald Trump and the vision for our country he represents. But you and I are not enemies. I want to understand you. I want you to understand me. We’ve got to start talking again and trying to find our way forward.

I wish peace and comfort to all of us in the days ahead. Let’s work to help that happen.

May it be so.


The Secret Meaning of Halloween

Last night my daughter asked why Halloween is a thing. I made up some ridiculous explanation about the very human need to celebrate the darkness inside each of us, religious traditions of honoring the dead,  a social custom that reinforces our appreciation for our neighborhoods and then threw in something about psychological relief from pent-up stress.

This morning I realized its really just a way to gather together enough sugar to power through the first few days of NaNoWriMo.


I’m Still Here

A few friends have started asking if I’m still here, still writing. Yes. Thanks for asking. It feels good to be missed.

I haven’t been blogging much because I have been focused on Other Projects. Oh, and the election, which I don’t want to talk about except to say it has been consuming much of my attention. I have been gorging myself on a steady diet of podcasts, news articles and social media posts. The end result has been outrage, crippling anxiety and a sense of impending doom. Perhaps you can relate?

I have a lot to say but have decided to try and keep my mouth shut. Nobody listens anyway. Everybody votes from the gut and then looks for comforting shreds of information to placate their nerves and justify their bias. We are irrational creatures.

I try to channel this weird energy into something productive, like writing an apocalyptic fantasy that arcs across three books about a corrupt king, a broken hearted terrorist, and a orphan daughter who has tremendous powers she cannot possibly begin to understand. You know, the usual remedy.

I have been working steadily and feel good about where the work is heading. But now it is time to ramp things up. I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, which means I will need to triple my word count for November which means I will be focused on my Other Projects for a while. I’ll try to post from time to time, but for now just want you to know I’m still here.


The Woman in the Water | Flash Fiction

There was no way he could ever unsee the woman’s body floating at the top of the pond. No amount of mental health copays or bourbon shots squirreled through his novice, flyweight stomach would ever wrest the image far from his mind.

The fact that she was beautiful made it all the worse. Not that beauty in women was a thing he cared much about. Beautiful women never gave him the benefit of their glance or a free moment of idle conversation. He preferred women who were clever or hard working or talented in some useful way. Those women might happen to be beautiful as well but when they were ignoring him on a bus or avoiding him on an elevator or simply floating on a pond, you could never know if they were talented or hard working or clever just by looking.

The beauty of her had made it made awful because it had made her more real. She had been someone, recently. She was missing from the pattern of other people’s lives, but some of those people would not realize it yet. Not enough time had passed for the most terrible truths to settle in. She had not floated long enough to become a bloated, waterlogged pond treasure. She might be a missing person but she might not yet be presumed dead.

But she was. Dead. And Andy was drinking enough to blind himself and split his head as he stumbled across the treacherous path of his living room, the sofa and upright lamp and coffee table all in conspiracy to rap his ankles and pull him down. He fell three times on his way to the bathroom and then realized he had pissed himself well and good long before he reached the toilet.

He lay on the bathroom floor, looking up at the ceiling, trying not to see the memory of the way her face had looked up in that same way. Trying not to imagine what it had been like for her to gaze up through the tangled branches of the bog with flies laying eggs on your eyeballs.

He rolled and puked, his guts clenched against emptiness. Congratulating himself for remembering to roll over. That’s how Jimi Hendrix died. And Mama Cass. And Attila the Hun.

Random facts.

The police had questioned him for many hours. They came back several times, each time with the same questions or slight variations on the same questions asked in different tones of voice and at different speeds. Sometimes the tall guy asked the questions. Sometimes it was the lady. Sometimes the bald dude with the mustache that reminded him of walrus brush. They came at him from all angles, sometimes friendly, understanding, sometimes annoyed and curt.

They were interested in knowing exactly how he had found her. What he had been doing in those deep woods by that lonely pond on that overcast autumn day.

And the fact that he had been taking a walk in the woods, a long walk, because he was the kind of person who enjoyed taking long walks in the woods did not seem to satisfy them. No one does that kind of thing anymore, they told him. Which he kind of believed. Who among the people he had met would chance wandering out far enough to risk losing their precious cell phone signal and LTE internet connection? How could they post pictures of the wondrous things they might encounter? Who would be ready to like and retweet and pin their Instagram feeds?

This was why beautiful women avoided him. His mind had become strange. It was a thing he was only vaguely attuned to when he was in adolescence but now it was even more pronounced. He was weird. It was a thing so real and so true. His weirdness was an island he had made himself so far from shore that no one could see a way to bring him back.

But this was unproductive. The woman in the water had been dead but she looked as if she were only sleeping. Lost in deep repose. Her dreaming deep and dark and rich as the swamp shore loam.

He waited for the nausea to pass. Eventually it did.

And then, the familiar knock on his open front door. He groaned as he sat up, pulled himself to his feet.

He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror, and he did not like what he saw.

A filthy, slovenly, wasteful old man. A hermit. A recluse. A suspect.

More knocks at the open front door. Persistent.

He washed his face. Tried on another smile. Practiced saying slowly, “I’m just the kind of guy who likes to take a walk in the woods.”

He adjusted the smile until he was satisfied. Then, he left the bathroom and called out, “ Come in. The door’s open.”

And then he was standing back in the living room, aware of the overturned furniture, the path of his catastrophic collisions. Two uniformed officers standing at the doorway.

“Come in. Come in,” he said in his most inviting way. “I’ve been expecting you all day.”


Heroic Measures | Flash Fiction

Room 137 of the hospital’s Critical Care Unit is the loneliest place on earth. Life is precarious. All life tenuous. No where is that more evident than the small glass box filled with mechanical tubes, wires and diagnostic panels. The small, patient wheeze of the machine that breathes for her husband. The submarine ping measuring each frail heartbeat with a corresponding digital blip traversing the bedside panel like a steady, robotic sine wave.

And worse still, the orderly transit of nurses who no longer even bother enforcing visiting hour limits or pretending her husband’s care is anything more than mere watch keeping. And the faithful way of the custodian who visits twice each day to sweep this immaculate room and remove the already empty trashcan. And the way the custodial staff can not look her in the eye. Even they know what is very plainly evident. Her husband, Mark, was victim of awful circumstance and there was nothing more to be done. Her husband Mark had a bad heart, and he had come here to die.

It was a four day vigil. The crippling expense of it. The exhaustion of waiting for miracles that stubbornly refused to arrive. The chaplin who made the rounds every afternoon and every evening and seemed, each time, genuinely surprised to find them still lingering there. He had prayed but the words were just words. They went nowhere, failing to escape even the closeted curtained space of this little medical unit.

And on the fourth day, she thinks to pull out Mark’s cell phone to find the number of a longtime friend, to tell the news. But when she turns the cell on, the text messages arrive, landing like a plague of flies.

WHERE ARE YOU?

ARE YOU OKAY?

WHY WON’T YOU ANSWER?

HAVE YOU LEFT ME? ARE WE THROUGH?

She drops the phone. It is a living, offensive thing. Her heart and mind swirling as she puts the plain text of the text into view.

NoNoNo

But yes.

The messages are there when she picks up the phone.

ARE WE OKAY? DO YOU STILL LOVE ME?

This was the deepest kind of shock. She stares at her husband, the unmoving weight of his body, still athletic and seeming fit despite the extremis of wires and leads and intubation tubes.

Not fair. This fine, good, decent man who she has loved her entire adult life, grown up together, raised two kids, worked for charities, helped the neighbors. Good, decent husband. Good, decent wife.

And she knows without knowing there had been much, much more to the story of their life.

Who was she? How long had he known her? How long had this been happening?

A maelstrom of question that would have no answers.

And she looks to the phone, hoping to find some name or other clue about the hidden depths of her husband’s secret life. No name. Just a phone number. And scrolling back, no further texts. The history had been dumped, purged clean.

And that was the creeping horror of it. Exhausted from her four day vigil, hungry and tired and feeling diminished. Now needing to have the most difficult conversation of their marriage only to find herself with half an unanswered conversation with a stranger on her husband’s phone.

She sits there, contemplating her next act when the doctor comes in. He enters the room with practiced determination. It is meant to be an act of comfort, this air of focused purpose when there is absolutely nothing left to be done.

“We need to talk about your husband’s wishes. He isn’t likely to recover. We don’t have to decide anything right now but we need to be ready.”

She looks down at the phone, trying to see the stranger on the other end.

ARE WE OKAY? DO YOU STILL LOVE ME?

She nods, tries to smile through the yawning sickness that has become her whole life. “I know,” she tells him. “Heroic measures.”


Anger is Useful.

I need to get political with you for just a minute. Stay with me. I’m not going to try to sell you something at the end. I just need to be heard.

I was raised in a loving, supportive family that taught me temperance is the greatest virtue. Somehow temperance has become avoidance of anger and an inability to talk about the most difficult things. I have become allergic to anger.

Sometimes anger is the only appropriate response. Anger has to be okay. Anger has to useful.

Jesus was angry. Martin Luther King was angry. Gandhi was angry.

Their anger was useful because they used it.

I am angrier than I have ever been in my entire life.

Our country is broken. I don’t need one more person to tell me it is broken because we have a black, liberal president or because gay people can get married or because transgender people suddenly need a place to pee or because another government official misused her email and tried to lie about it.

Our country is broken because we have been fighting the wrong wars in the wrong places for the wrong reasons.

Our country is broken because some police officers are afraid of black men and are using the authority we have lent to kill them.

Our country is broken because a black man targets and kills white police officers as an act of political speech.

Our country is broken because we answer the spreading problem of gun violence with more guns and an inability to study the problem as a social health issue.

Our country is broken because we can’t talk about income disparity as something that has more to do with accidents of race and geography than it is has to do with the willingness and ability of a person to do useful, meaningful work.

This isn’t a Republican/Democrat thing.

Most of our leaders are failing us. Some of them don’t want to help. Some of them don’t know how.

We have got to stop talking about other people needing to fix our problems. They can’t and they won’t.

This anger I feel is useful, but if I don’t start using this anger someone else is going to use it or me. If I allow someone else to use my anger, they are most likely to be using it against me.


Sobriety | Flash Fiction

A brutal passage through the desert. Merciless sun glowering, baking the earth’s withered heart. Punishing glare and scouring sands push every shade and shadow down into narrow fissures where the scuttling, hard-scrabble creatures clatter and crawl.

Not a drop to drink in weeks.

This was his experience of sobriety.

Miserable. Harrowing. Unending.

He had been walking for hours. Wandering the serpentine dunes in concentric circles away from the wreckage that should have claimed his life.

He had fallen from the sky, wrapped inside a screaming husk of metal. The flaming engines howling their death sirens as the airplane fell and fell and fell. Screams. Pleading. Prayers. But surprising how orderly, how calm they all remained as the plane plummeted from air to ground.

And the hammer punch of contact as the world erupted in flame and darkness swept over even as flame licked his face and claimed the bodies of those around him.

He woke up, battered and badly bruised but amazingly unbroken. For one terrible moment he thought he could not feel his arms or legs because there was no sensation when his hands reached out and then realizing the reason he could feel neither of these was that he was holding the charred and severed limbs of the passenger seated beside him. And then the recognition of what had happened and the realization that he had woken in a mound of burnt and broken bodies. He climbed through the molten crush of plastic, steel and flesh, found an opening nearly big enough to push himself through and emerged screaming and bloody like a howling infant from a catastrophic womb.

Emergence was hard fought. The narrow gash in the plane’s steel frame scraping his skin bloody and raw as he wriggled through. He wriggled through and, once outside, lost consciousness.

Thirty seven days. That was his first thought as he regained consciousness and struggled to this feet.

Thirty seven days. He touched the heavy brass token in his pocket, turned it over between his fingers, comforted only a little by the fact of it. Still there.

Which meant he was still there. Everyone else on the plane had died. He was still alive. It made no sense. He tried to comprehend the improbability of it. He looked up to the sky, expecting to see God. The sky was empty and very far away.

Everyone was dead. This was no time for philosophy.

It had been thirty seven days since his last drink. Thirty seven days of gut-wrenching sobriety.

His first coherent thought followed by the overwhelming desire for the kind, always forgiving oblivion of his next last drink.

He started to walk. Wandering without direction. There was no orientation. There was no direction. He did what the program had taught him. Get moving. Keep moving.

There had to be a drink for him out there somewhere.


Where it Starts and Where it Ends | Flash Fiction

It is hard to know where it starts and where it ends. This lying business. The first one is for self-preservation, an awkwardness avoided, an inconvenience dodged. And then you put two together which is a kind of story, the most basic lie a person ever tells. And by the third, you are well and truly lost, entangled in a web, struggling to remember which parts of it are real and which parts are the ones you made up.

And then you stop struggling. The story has weight and pleasure all its own. And even if it isn’t exactly the truth, it is a version of things the way you wish them to be and who can fault you really for wishful thinking. We are all liars. Some of us just don’t know enough to relax and go with the flow of it. You can remake the world anyway you wish it to be so long as you don’t concern yourself too closely with the costs and consequences.

Bradley pressed the cigarette out, letting the lush gray smoke wreathe him with long, lingering arms. He hoped to never become one of those people who quit smoking. He loved the decadence of it, the strong alchemy. He breathed in anxiety and fire, breathed out cool, detached intelligence.

“Are you finished yet?”

She was starring at him, impatient. He had forgotten she was there. It was an unfortunate fact. He wished he could breathe her in and dispel her with a strong, single blow.

“Almost,” he said. Which was another lie. He was already reaching for another cigarette.

“Another? God in heaven, what is wrong with you?”

Bradley lit the cigarette, real slow and casual. Her question was fair. What was wrong with him?

He shrugged.

“We are already twenty minutes late. We were meant to be there at seven thirty.”

He shrugged again, keeping his face still so she might not see the pleasure he took in her consternation.

“I should have gone without you.”

He nodded. “You could have.” As if to say the whole thing had been her fault all along.

“Honestly. I don’t even know why I bother.”

“Do you? Bother?” Now he was just provoking her, prodding to get a few extra minutes to enjoy this one more delicious cigarette.

“You’re an asshole,” she said.

“Okay.” He couldn’t disagree.

She stood up, smoothed her skirt. She stepped across the porch, her feet almost tangling on the rockers of the chair. She stumbled for a moment but caught her balance.

“Do you even remember what started all of this happening? Do you remember what you did?”

And that was where the lying had complicated things the most. If pressed, he wouldn’t be able to definitively say what had caused these latest skirmishes. Some perceived slight. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Forgetting to call. Forgetting to rinse off the lingering ghost of a lover’s perfume. Forgetting to properly button his shirt in the rent-by-the-hour hotel room mirror.

He smiled. That sly, incorrigible rogue’s smile. She hated it and she loved it.

“Honestly, love. I truly don’t.”


Note to Self: Keep Writing

Once you step off the path, it is difficult to step back on. There are ten thousand satisfyingly specific reasons not to write. You are tired. You are busy. You are distracted by the events of the earlier day. Or maybe you are worried. Or you don’t have the right ideas. Or you are confused a little bit and waiting to figure things out.

This is what I have come to know about writing. Don’t stop. Not for earthquakes. Not for hurricanes. Not for the fiery wrath of God. Your life will always be busy. You are always going to be tired. People are going to continue disappointing you. Keep writing.

You are going to have to let yourself become weird. It cannot be helped. You are already weird. This urge you have to write things is not a normal condition. You are going to have to let yourself get even weirder. You are going to have to allow yourself to believe in things you know are not true. You will need to converse with people who are not there. You are going to cry about things that did not happen and fall out of touch with the things that are happening all around.

One day soon, you will listen to the news or read it or watch it on TV and you will wonder what strange creatures inhabit this planet. And then you will realize it is no real matter to you because you have work to do. Your home is not your home. You are unfit for the life people think you lead. You have made yourself strange and you are swallowed up entirely by the beauty and the wonder and the sheer, brilliant futility of it all.

You are meant to keep yourself writing. Do not step off the path. Don’t waste this delicious weirdness, these delightful quirks which have accumulated over some many minutes, hours and days.

Go down deeper. Get weirder. Stranger. More ferocious. More fierce.

And then, one day, look up and show the world this thing you have made. And give it to them and let them do with it whatever they will. And get back to work. Do it all again.