The Reason I’m Not Writing

It isn’t laziness. It isn’t procrastination or a lack of clear ideas. It is fear.

Best face it direct. Best call it by name.

Fear steals days, then months, then years.

Fear keeps me sitting in the place where I do not belong.

Fear keeps me small, uncomfortable, frustrated.

And there is only one way out of this. The only way out is through.

There is mercy for when you are brave. There is reward for when you persist.

First the words. Then the sentence. Until a paragraph. Then another. And another.

Hard to Remember (Flash Fiction)

Prompt: “Lives” by Modest Mouse


Its hard to remember that life is short. It feels so long sometimes.

These thoughts curling like smoke inside her skull.

Christine lit another cigarette, trying not to notice the small but growing pile of crushed butts on the deck railing. She promised Mark she wouldn’t smoke again, but it was an unfair promise to make. It hadn’t started as a desire for the cigarette, the nicotine. What drew her at first was the little spark, that small, incendiary flash of light near her fingers as she struck another match.

Her hands shook, just a little, before that small ignition. Mark hadn’t noticed yet, that slight palsy creeping into her hands. When he did, she would tell him not to worry, that it is was just the usual anxiety setting in.

And there were times when she could let herself believe that was true. That the faint tremor at her periphery, minor really, was no concern. And the way her fingers steadied once the match was lit and the cigarette kissed with flame made it easier to trust.

But trust is not truth.Truth is more complicated. Truth is the way her right foot dragged the ground sometimes when she walked. Truth was the pins and needles in her toes, the way her entire foot sometimes felt like an anchor plunged in a dark, cold sea.

She hadn’t seen a doctor yet. Where was the point in that? They could only run tests. They could only place her somewhere on the mathematical spectrum of possibility.

Christine had been through it before with her father. She had carried him to every appointment, each visit a bit more to manage each time as the withering penetrated and ate him alive from the edges.

There were medications. Blizzards of prescription pads. Endless cocktails of pills, large and small. The Blue Chokers. The Pink Pukers. And the mysterious purple that always seemed to lodge sideways in the throat, refusing to be swallowed.

And between medications, the interminable scans and pictures. The intrusion of cameras and images as the team of technologists mapped and photographed her father’s interior self. She had seen her father turned into a ghost before his time. The furtive image of bone and muscle and sinew. The constant reminder of things inside that would eventually come out. And the feeling that the images and scans were all futile. So much useless espionage into the unseen corridors of her father’s inner works, each documenting a new stage, a new progression.

Perhaps it was better not to know. Christine thought of Mark. Some things are better hidden.

Except that everything hidden gets revealed some time.

This was the brutal truth of life. Everything hidden gets revealed.

Christine crushed the cigarette, lit another and inhaled, waiting for Mark to come home.

Star Wars Belongs to Everyone

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed being interviewed by a student at the college where I work about my interest in Star Wars and why so many people are so excited about the new film. His question: “Why is Star Wars important to you?”

Being an academic librarian, I immediately launched into a bunch of words about Jungian archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. We talked about the importance of mythology and where mythology comes from and where we find it in our own society and then I stopped and laughed, realizing that was all completely wrong.

It was true but it wasn’t the right answer to his very simple question. He had asked why Star Wars is important to me. I espoused a bunch of psycholiterary babble, which got toward the raw materials of what Star Wars is about. But the answer to his real question is simple and took a little work to admit. “Its the toys,” I said, smiling. I was thinking of the hundreds of hours I spent playing with Star Wars action figures from the ages of 5 to 13. I had a handful of figures, a few ships and, at one point, the Death Star complete with throne room and working trash compactor.

I had friends who had more and better toys. I never had the Millennium Falcon or Slave I. It didn’t matter. The hours I spent playing with those figures — in my room, in the basement, outside – were my earliest kinds of storytelling. They were, I realize now, the earliest moments of my creative life. The fierce battles. The harrowing rescues. The improbable interspecies romances. A sprawling, intergalactic tangle of story. A glorious mashup of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and G.I. Joe. Whatever I saw on television, whatever books or comics I read, all went into the mix. A wonderous jumble of thoughts, ideas and experiments. My stories were borrowed things, mixed from a melange of sources and made new.

And now, at 41 years old, I find the raw materials of my childhood purchased by Disney, rebooted for a new age and I cannot be happier. Many of my friends are expecting Disney to screw it up. To get more of the prequel mess that some thought dampened some of the joy of their childhood. Doesn’t bother me. More stories are a good thing. An expanded, sprawling universe of new storylines and explorations, one new movie every year for many years to come, is only a good thing. Even if they miss the tone. Even if they completely step on sacred toes and butcher all the sacred cows. More stories mean even more material for the imaginations of even more people to tell their own stories. More childhoods like my own.

This is why Star Wars matters very much. It is permission to make stories from universal themes. Disney has a talent for capturing creative content, connecting it to the popular mindset and making a ton of money at it. They also have a knack for protecting their market with absurdly long copyright carve outs. An interesting paradox that the company best known for locking up intellectual property to keep it from the public domain will be perpetuating a line of stories that will generate more and better folk art. More and better stories. And as we tell them to each other, we will be reminded that even though it is a most closely managed licensed property, Star Wars really does belong to everybody.

Instant Memory Machine

My wife, daughter and I just got home from 10 days in Florida. We did the Disney and beach thing. It’s okay if you didn’t even realize I was gone. I didn’t tell you. I didn’t really want you to know.

I don’t post updates or vacation pictures on Facebook or Twitter when traveling. Part of this is a safety habit meant to prevent thieves, villains and sundry unscrupulous friends of friends of friends from targeting my house for mischief. It happens. Or, I think it happens. Or, if it doesn’t actually happen, it feels like something that should happen if it doesn’t. At the very least, it is something that is certain to happen now, since you will be watching my posts for pictures or absence of pictures. There’s no winning.

When I am traveling, you won’t see the picture of my 8 year old daughter waiting patiently at the airport, looking very much the practiced air traveler with her headphones, slightly bored expression and jug of chocolate milk. You won’t see the picture of me hanging with Rafiki or the dozen or so selfies of my wife and I smooshing face in some not-well-lit spot. You won’t see these things because I won’t post them yet. These are my memories. I want to keep them to myself a little longer.

Don’t worry. I will share them. I love to share them. I just get weary of the constant impulse to share pictures as evidence of Good Things happening while the Good Things are actually still happening. I want you to know something about my life but I don’t really want you there with me. Or, perhaps, I have it backwards. I want you with me but, when I share a picture of something that is happening while it is happening, it takes me away from the moment just a little. When I am sharing a thing to bring you all with me, I am making myself a little less there myself. I am a little less aware. I participate in that moment just a little bit less and and it belongs to me just a little bit less.

The ease of taking and sharing images makes is harder to protect the lines of genuine experience. Social networks exacerbate the situation, but they do not cause it. You may recall die hard photographers of a certain generation who would capture a moment on film and then miss out on the next several while gently fanning that precious scrap of self-exposing film called Polaroid.

When my wife and I married almost twenty years ago, my uncle rushed his photos of our ceremony through One Hour Photo so he could share the pictures of the ceremony that just happened at our reception.

I call this phenomenon the Instant Memory Machine. It is a very human thing and isn’t caused by technology, though I think our technologies increase potential for our actual experiences to get overrun by the documents of those experiences.

And so, kind friends, I ask that you wait. I’m going to keep these memories to myself just a little bit longer. I’m going to wrap myself in them like a suit of armor for my first day back to work. I’m going to marinate in them until I feel soft and well-saturated by the fullness of them. And just when the memory starts to settle, I will push them out into the world for the likes and the faves and the comments which are an important part of the Instant Memory Machine, that help me construct the narrative of who, what, when, where and why. The experience will be over and we can create something new out of it together. We can start the reminiscing, the storytelling and take the best parts of it all and latch them together to make something shared and useful.

But, still, there is that urge. The desire to share even just a little. Because somewhere inside of me remains the feeling that perhaps none of it really happened unless I have made evidence and shared evidence with someone else. And now, I can’t get this idea out of my head and so, not because you asked, but because it is my very human nature and I feel a kind of responsibility to feed the Instant Memory Machine. Just a little. Just this one. For now. Just so you can know I didn’t make this up. This actually happened. I was there. I wanted you there with me. I came back to bring a bit of it to you.

Flash Fiction: The Day the Sky Fell

Prompt: “Pure & Easy” by The Dining Rooms


The thing about the end of the world is you never see it coming. It comes like a bad divorce or a crippling disease. Looking back, the signs were always there but you are always living one day away from complete catastrophe and standing in that slim, sanctified space, you let yourself believe things aren’t as bad as they might appear to be until one day you wake up and realized they are much worse.

It is like being pushed from a ledge, this sudden sharp shove from one reality, constructed for maximum comfort and soft confusion, into a hard, bright light that shines relentless, brutal with its honesty, generous with regret.

These are the things I think about when I am drinking too much, which is to say, pretty much everyday and all the time.

You can make yourself crazy looking backward for signs. You will see them everywhere, the litter of your life. Clothes strewn on a highway in the aftermath of a hurricane. The high-water mark on your walls after the flood.

I was never one for reading the Bible. I kept one. I carried it with me, of course. The one my mother gave me when I turned twelve and she realized too late that I might be ill-equipped to make the virtuous decisions when times got hard. It must have been like watching a cake bake after you’ve realized you forgotten to add the sugar to the mix. How awful to realize you have used the last ingredients in your cupboard and you’ve forgotten the most important thing. And to have to sit and watch cake batter that’s already been mixed, apply heat and take shape. There is none of that life-affirming anticipation stuff parents secretly despise in each other. Just marking time until the timer says it done and you can pull the cake out, watch it cool, all the time knowing it is going to taste like shit.

What was I saying? Oh yeah. My mom gave me a Bible and I carried it with me everywhere, especially in those early days after the sky fell down. But I never read it. Mom read it all the time and it never did her any good. The sky fell and she got crushed. She didn’t even try to hide. She just stood there and watched the collapse.

I think she wanted it to happen. That’s my problem with most of the Bible people. They didn’t really try to make things better. They just kept walking around with their eyes watching the clouds, waiting for the promised things to fall out so they could stop pretending so hard to care.

This is bleak. I don’t mean it that way. I’m a good person, I think. I try to keep a positive attitude. I haven’t had to kill anybody. Yet. There was that one guy I had to lock in the attic but I’m pretty sure he would have killed me and probably eaten me. He looked so hungry.

I should say a thing or two about hunger. Hunger is pain. Hunger is life. There is something my high school math teacher used to say about transitive property. You can probably work that one out.

I’m not a negative person. I like to stay on the bright side of things. Except sometimes there is no bright side and you just need to stay quiet.

I like people. In some other life, I could have been a sales person. Or a teacher. They are the same kind of thing, you know.

I should probably tell you about the day the sky fell. Or, as they would say it in whatever history books get written, The Day the Sky Fell.

That’s a joke. The part about history books. No one is going to write any history books. History is finished. Everything from now on is just one long day.

And that’s what I want you to know about Life After the Sky Fell. It is tedious. It is boring. It is all just One Really Long Day.

I was going to tell you about the day the sky fell but what’s the sense in that? You’ll just read it and wonder what’s the sky thing anyway. Besides, its pretty boring. The sky was there, up top where it belonged and then there was a huge noise, the sound of metal bending and it was so loud and so strong that it made us vomit and cry. And those who were fast enough and small enough ran and hid in the small, private places under rocks, inside trees, the basement of the earth. And everyone else, like my mom, just stood outside and watched it all happen.

No point in really talking about that.

So, I should probably tell you about the thing that happened the week before. That’s where my mind goes when I think about the end of the world. The Saturday morning my dad called to say he was coming to visit and could I make a place for him to stay for a few days. I said yes. Of course. My dad is a neat freak and always brings his own groceries. Except this time he didn’t and he was an actual awful mess. His clothes were wrinkled and grubby. His hair unkempt. And there was a light inside his eyes that wasn’t tied to anything else inside of him.

“I’ve seen something I cannot explain,” he told me. Those were the words that brought to me the End of the World. It was a prophecy in reverse. Useless to prevent what followed, but maybe what gave me that head start I needed when the main beams of the universe cracked and the whole entire sandwich collapsed.

Fiction: He Isn’t Here (section 3)

More words on the short fiction I started last week. You can find the first parts here:


It was hard not to tell mom what I had done. I felt very proud of myself and powerful but also a little bit afraid. My brother was a brute and a pig and he might be a little bit insane but he was also my mother’s child and I did not know how she would react to his being gone. Also, I did not know if he was gone only for me or if he was really, truly gone for everyone else too. The only way I could know that was to wait and see what mom saw or did not see.

I went back to bed and waited for mom to wake up. It didn’t take long, maybe twenty minutes. I didn’t get bored. There were so many things to think about. When she woke up, she seemed a little bit confused but smiled when she saw me lying in bed beside her, watching her face.

“Hi. Happy birthday.” She touched my hair and, for a moment, I felt like I slipped into an entirely different world, a wonderful, kind, happy place where I was my mother’s only child and had always been her only child. It was a good feeling but it could not last.

I looked up and found my brother standing at the foot of our bed, looking confused and frustrated and very, very far away. He was the gray smudgy thing still and, again, I could only see his face when not looking directly at him.

“How was your night?” I asked mom, still looking at my brother, waiting to see if mother would notice him. My brother was watching her, perhaps waiting for this himself.

“Oh, it was fine, I guess. I had to work extra late. I hated to leave you so long last night. But I guess you took care of yourself just fine.”

There was a pause where I waited to see if she would mention my brother. Where he was. Where he had gone.

“Anything interesting happen for you?”

That was an interesting question to try and answer.

“No. Nothing. Not really.” It was a lie but the kind of lie we told each other often about the things that aren’t there and the things that are there that we wish were not.

My mom watched me for a while, maybe expecting some other thing I might say. I watched my brother, expecting her to notice and startle at the sight of him. She glanced in the direction I was looking but did not notice my brother’s faded shade.

She seemed a little lost in thought for a moment and then, “So, I’ve got the morning and most of the afternoon. What do you want to do for your birthday?”

“I found my muffin,” I told her, smiling. “It was delicious.”

“Good.” She was laughing. Seeing my mom laugh was like a little patch of blue sky through super dark rain clouds.

“We could take a walk. Maybe go to the park. Or a movie or something.”

“Sure,” she said. She could not see my brother staring at her from the foot of the bed, his face twisted with frustration. Once again, he was trying to say something but no sound came from his mouth and I could not recognize the words made by his lips.

“Do you notice anything different?” I asked. “Anything weird?”

My mom studied me, checking to see if I had gone mad and pierced my nose or found some criminal mind to tattoo me. She was careful to check everything. “No,” she said slowly, afraid to admit she had missed something that should be obvious. “What did you do?”

“Oh, nothing. Not me. Just anything different or weird about the apartment or anything?”

She looked around, nervous. “Is this a game?”

“No. Nothing like that. Never mind. It isn’t a big deal. Let me make you breakfast,” I told her.

“But its your birthday.”

“Its okay I want to.”

And it was true, I was usually happiest when I could do something useful for my mom.

“Eggs then. And bacon. And toast.”

And it was great fun to get out of bed and walk to the door, stepping right through the shape of my brother who was no longer there and my mother not even noticing the way his shadow shivered and fell as I made my way across the room. And his face, which was silently screaming from some other dimension right there in the room with us but also an infinite number of miles away.

Fiction: He Isn’t Here (section 2)

Here’s the second part of “He Isn’t There”. You can find the first part here.


When I woke the next morning everything felt different. My mother lay curled up beside me, gently snoring, in the bed we shared. As usual, she had not woken me when she came home from work. She must have had a hard night because she was still wearing the clothes from her night job at the hotel. She was snoring and restful and I decided not to wake her, even though it was my birthday and I wanted nothing more than to have her awake so I could found out if she understood yet how different our lives had just become.

I woke up bruised and sore. My arms and legs ached and it hurt just a little bit when I breathed. And yet, I also felt alert and better rested than I had in a long time. The apartment was silent except for my mom’s breathing. I listened for the usual sounds of my brother’s morning routines. The television was not blaring, unwatched, in the living room. There was no yelling or cursing at Call of Duty on the Xbox. There were no scorched smelling things coming from the kitchen toaster.

I imagined myself an astronaut crashed landed on an alien planet. Carefully, I left the safety of my ship and stepped out into the strangely hospitable atmosphere. I slid from the bed slowly, careful not to let the bed shake and wake mom. I watched her for another minute then made my way out of the bedroom and into the unknown space of our apartment.

It hurt to walk, but I managed just fine. I was tough and had learned how to keep moving normal even when things hurt. Our bedroom door was open, which was good because it usually squeaked when you opened it. The light in the hallway was on but that probably just meant that mom had left it on. She was always leaving lights on no matter how many times I explained what I knew about energy and global warming.

My brother’s bedroom door was open. I peeked inside, not expecting to find him there. I had developed a kind of psychic ability to feel when my brother was and was not around. I didn’t feel him anywhere.

His room looked the same. Piles of dirty clothes. Monster truck magazines with girls in hot pink bikinis. Food wrappers. Broken DVDs. I looked at his bed from my safe perch at the doorway. His bed had not been slept in. His backpack from school was laying right where it had been the day before with sweaty gym clothes spilling out like a weird volcano. He wasn’t there. He had not been there.

There was a weird, metallic smell in his bedroom. Weirder than usual. It was like the smell of gunpowder after a bunch of fireworks went off. Or the smell of a place where lightning has been.

I went to the living room. The TV was off. The cards from our Go Fish game were still on the floor, exactly as they had been. I found the broom stick pieces and picked them up. They were small but pointy with sharp splinters. I liked the way they felt in my hands and carried them with me to the kitchen.

The kitchen looked totally normal. The bowl I used to cook macaroni and cheese in the microwave was on the stove. I forgot to put it in the sink, which was one of my main chores. I put both sticks in one hand so I could carry the bowl. Then I noticed the big chocolate muffin on the counter beside an envelope that had Happy Birthday written inside a great big heart. Chocolate muffins are my favorite kind of breakfast and sometimes mom brought them home from the corner gas station as a special kind of surprise.

I put the sticks on the counter, knowing I would not need them. If my brother were here, he would already have eaten my birthday muffin or smashed it up inside the package just for meanness.

Suddenly, I wondered if my brother was really, truly gone or if he had just left the apartment for fear of mother finding out what he had done. I had to consider both possibilities, unlikely as they might be. Mother never found out about the things he had done or, if she did, never seemed to know what to do about them. Though last night had been different. He would have been in a whole lot of trouble. Bruises make mom scared and when she gets scared she can be a holy terror.

I opened the birthday card. It was puppy making goo goo eyes over a birthday cake. Too young for me but I secretly liked that mom went for the mushy stuff.


All of a sudden I felt weird in my tummy. I looked up and saw the shape of my brother standing beside the trash can at the other side of the kitchen. He was there and he wasn’t there. He was a dim gray shadow. It took me a minute to bring him into focus and find his face. I could see him best when I wasn’t looking at him and had to learn to unfocus my eyes and look just to either side of him. Once I learned the trick of this, I finally found his face. I grabbed my sticks, expecting him to be angry and ready to attack. Instead, he looked sad. Pathetic. Like he might actually cry.

“I see you,” I told him. He could not answer. His mouth did not work. He opened and closed it like he was talking but no sounds came out. I couldn’t even read his lips because the words they seemed to be making were not real words that I knew.

I smiled, gripping the broken broom sticks. Stepping toward him, I said, “You can’t hurt me. I made you a ghost.” He twisted away in fear and I lost the specific shape of him. He was just a dark smudge, trembling behind the clothes washer.

I took another step closer and he became even less real. Just a shadow inside the darkness of the laundry closet.

I put down the sticks and opened my great big chocolate birthday muffin. I ate while he watched.

It was so delicious.

Flash Fiction: He Isn’t Here

The night before my eleventh birthday my older brother beat me with a broom stick. My mother was still working three jobs then and was working second and third shift, which meant there was no one to notice, no one to tell. It was just as well. Mother was always so tired and, though it would hurt her now to admit it, she often needed us kids to pretend things were better than they actually were. It was the way we got through life. Pretending and not telling each other about the things over which we had no control.

We had been playing Go Fish, my brother and I, and I asked him if he had any twos and, instead of saying “Go fish” the way you usually do, his face went all still and weird, and he said, “Go to hell,” and cracked me with the broomstick, the nearest thing he could grab, until the broom stick actually broke and my guts felt bruised and busted and completely mashed up inside.

I tried not to cry. I was already old enough to know that crying never makes things go easier, the way bleeding never makes a hungry wolf’s meal die any faster or better. But it is a hard thing to do when you are eleven and you are trapped inside an apartment living room with a psychopath who is also your brother and is who is also the person who is supposed to be watching you.

And it was harder also because I was scared. This was a new kind of thing. My brother had beaten me before. He had twisted my arm until I begged for mercy. He had punched me in my breasts and pulled my hair, but he had never hit me so hard with a stick before. And it was awful, the heavy, thick lash of it already raising bruises like giant fingers on my skin.

And it was hard also because his face had gotten so awful. So still. So quiet. Not my brother’s face at all but a mask like one of those guys in the movies mom never let me watch. The guys who moved with long knives through dark shadows.

I hated crying. I hated seeing the shifting medley of joy and contempt on my brother’s face. And because I could not look at him seeing me like this, I looked down at the scatter of cards on the ground. The hands we had played fanned out like twisted rainbows. There were several twos in his hard of cards. And then, the Queen of Spades and I discovered the thing that would forever change my life. I realized I could pretend my brother was not alive, that he did not exist, and if I wanted it badly and pretended hard enough, it could be true. My brother could disappear. He could no longer exist for me.

And that is the moment I gained control of my whole life. I closed my eyes, fixed my mind and when I opened my eyes again, my brother had vanished. I made my brother a ghost.

My handwriting is terrible. I’m okay with that.

I have terrible handwriting. My penmanship has never been great, though I made good marks in that column on my grammar school report card. I abandoned cursive in high school for everything but my signature, which, let’s face it, has become a few letters with long trailing lines spilling out from them.

example of my handwritten note

This is a handwritten note. Can you read it? I can’t.

My wife and coworkers cannot keep themselves from pointing out how astonishingly, eye-achingly cramped, stunted and crippled my handwriting has become. For my coworkers there is a kind of mirthless joy in the show of trying to decipher my hieroglyphs. For my wife, there is the stone cold embarrassment of my abortive signature on documents and the inscrutable mystery that is my handwritten grocery list.

People generally assume that my handicap is a symptom of my strong digital bias. I don’t like making or receiving notes on paper. Other than printed books, which remain a precious joy, words on paper are generally a tedious obligation. I write something down and then I am obligated to figure out what to do with it. Worse, someone else writes something down and I am obligated to figure out how to do something with that. It frustrates me and makes me sad.

So I opt out. I generally don’t do paper. I take notes in several cloud-based apps or in the notepad on my phone. These notes file easily, are indexed automatically and can be searched on demand.

Still, it saddens me a little to realize that my poor handwriting isn’t simply a matter of inattention or disregard. It isn’t just personal preference. I can’t write as well as I used to. Writing by hand takes more effort than it should. I have to really pay attention and think about what I am doing. Contrary to what the research shows about effective information transfer, for me, writing by hand is generally more distracting and frustrating than useful.

As I said, people who know me are likely to assume my handwriting has suffered from disuse and inattention. The truth is very different. I ruined my handwriting through overuse. About 15 years ago, I wrote the better part of a novel in longhand on the back of scrap computer paper. I wrote so much so fast that my fingers learned unfortunate short cuts they now refuse to forget. During that time, I would write my pages and then share what I wrote with my wife. Increasingly, I realized that I couldn’t easily read or puzzle out entire sections of words I had written just minutes before. I stopped writing that way. Keyboard for me, please.

Now, when I try to jot out a simple to do list or make a note, my hand feels stupid. There is anxiety there that does not when my fingers are on the keyboard. I’m not particularly proud of my poor penmanship. I worry about the effect of the coming digital dark age when a mass black out or electromagnetic pulse renders my devices useless and I find myself reduced to remedial communication, like a chimp learning sign language. Still, it is useful, I suppose, to acknowledge one’s shortcomings, even if there is no active plan to make them better.

So, I am wondering, how is your handwriting these days? Do you still write things out by hand the way you used to do? Can people read your handwriting? Can you? I can’t be the only one. Can I?

Polite Dinner Conversation

Tonight at dinner, I overheard two couples talking about Important Social Issues. I’m a writer, so eavesdropping isn’t really considered rude. It is actually a kind of professional obligation. The couples were talking about gay marriage and transgender identity. What struck me wasn’t the content of the couples’ conversation. I was amazed, rather, by the tone — friendly, civil and challenging. The privileged white upper-class man was being rude and sarcastic. The privileged white upper-class woman answered his sarcastic jibes with earnest, polite, unapologetic replies. She answered every joke with a “Imagine how you would feel if…”

The conversation had a pleasant, enjoyable rhythm. They were rising and falling against one another’s reply. There was thoughtful, quiet spaces in-between each retort. There was civility. There was respect. There was friendship.

The conversation captured me not for its academic merits or it rhetorical riposte.  The conversation caught my attention because it felt so unusual. Somewhere along the way, disagreements have become forbidden. When friends disagree with one another, we keep it to ourselves. We learn to avoid the discomfort of discord. We pretend that silence is agreement, that tranquility is concert. And yet we once were a country built on public debate, a great laboratory for ideas, where a kind of intellectual survival of the fittest sussed out the best, most powerful ideas through argument and disagreement.

I don’t want to make too much of it. Maybe it is just me. But I find myself increasingly talking to people who agree with me, nodding my head to acknowledge things I myself might have said.

And then I see how other’s practice constructive disagreement in such a polite, friendly and constructive way. And I see how important this dinner time conversation might become.

In a few weeks, the United State Supreme Court will announce decisions on some majorly Important Social Issues. The decisions will help establish or reinforce legal and political precedent for how we want to live. The decisions will impact social norms and will help govern the ways we organize ourselves inside our communities. And yet, for all the importance of the Supreme Court decisions, I can’t help thinking that it won’t be enough. The future won’t be made by legal pronouncement or proclamation anymore than it will be made by news commentary or podcast. The future will be shaped over a thousand pleasant meals with friends gathered together disagreeing through polite dinner conversation.


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