Today, I lived the life of a retired person. I ignored the writing that calls to me for attention, and attended to the writing, acting and directing of others. I talked on the phone with my nephew and friend about planning projects, the excited flush that comes when one project takes you over, and the horrors of rewriting. The worst of it is that the project being reworked awaits finishing while the new idea wants to push it aside. Logic tells me to finish the one first, attend to the next, and the next, in order. Emotions tell me to drop the current one and jump head-long into the idea for as long as it lets me ride and as far as it takes me. Instead of giving into either, I fall in-between them in a sort of lumbering limbo. Then I watch a movie.
Through talking with both Diane and Erik, I realized that the new project tugging at my brain might be a sort of salvation. Without revealing too much about it, mostly because at this stage it is still only an idea worth researching, and the step after that will be getting someone interested in it before I write, I am hoping that it will provide me two crucial things: discipline, and deadlines. I lack discipline. I really do. I love distractions and seek them out. I do not set a specific time aside for the work (as I like to call my writing), or even a set amount of time per day devoted to the work. But if I had a very specific format to fit my words into, that I knew was due at the publisher’s within a specific time, I think the structure would help me focus. That focus would extend beyond the project in immediate mind to the rest of my potential ouvre. It would be like being back in college with essays to write for three classes, due in the same week.
What I have to do is create a structure like that regardless. But I have a very hard time sticking to deadlines I set for myself.
I also have not blogged since I wrote my list of causes worth dying for. At this point my lovely bride of 38 years might ask me to include on the list “Grammar Preservation,” but I’m a writer – what do I know of grammar?
The truth is, my mind has been wandering down paths laid out by others, and in my current state of mind any distraction will do. Yesterday, for example, on the Today Show, I saw something that made me cringe to realize how out of touch I am – or everyone else is – with what matters. It seems that more and more people seeking potential life partners online are using credit scores as a major screening tool in picking someone to date. Credit scores, of course, represent one’s ability to earn lines of credit and pay their bills. To get a credit score you virtually must have and use credit cards. How you manage them is becoming a criterion for dating. This seems foreign to me, on the edge of absurd. How anyone can argue that your credit score is romantic or sexy has lost my attention from the get go. Don’t worry about being pretty or cute or handsome or witty. Just use your American Express.
Not that what I think matters here. My credit was erased in one fell swoop two years ago and Diane and I have not taken on a credit card since. Oddly, my credit score is still within fair range and the number has not changed up or down in two years. We have gone to cash only in our house. But, then, neither of us is dating. But could this be a cause worth dying for? Reversing the credit report disclosure clause in online dating systems? The debate rages.
All I can say is, with distractions like this, who has time to write?
Today is a difficult day, but not for any obvious reasons. On the contrary, a few of the things that have been hanging over our heads long enough to cause stress and its resultant paralysis, have been settled. Moving forward again is possible, and I am relieved about that. But the distraction of that wait is also over, and I again fond myself thinking about bigger things.
I look around myself, see my loving wife and my very relaxed pets on the couch next to me, see all the dust collectors under glass (to slow down the collecting) and the CDs and DVDs here to entertain me, and remember the nicely filled refrigerator in the kitchen. I realize I have so much. 99% of the world has less. I am fortunate, yet I despair. I realize that there remains so much bad out there about which I can do nothing. I realize my limitations go as far as my own fear to try, my inability to finish, my ability to distract myself, my penchant for doing nothing and thinking I am endlessly busy. I know I am no Mother Theresa living among the impoverished, and I do not want to be a Barach Obama with the power to effect change on a massive scale if only he has the courage to ignore bipartisan politics.
Once upon a time I was a Catholic, and I tried very hard to live a solid, loving, sharing life (I still do). When my wife and I taught Baptismal Catechesis, we took away more lessons than we imparted. Chief among them, we learned that each of us is charged with the responsibility of taking care of our own back yard. It’s just that some back yards are very small and some are as large as the planet.
So where am I going? I am becoming an old man, and I want to use the time that remains to me, however much that is (I am shooting for a record here), wisely. I want to belong to a cause. But there are so many worth my energies. I just finished watching the PBS three part series on “The Abolitionists” and came away with admiration for the tremendous dedication these people had. In particular, William Lloyd Garrison devoted his entire life to this one cause: the eradication of slavery in America. His devotion was based on moral grounds and a firm belief in human equality. He lived outside the mainstream but slowly and gradually helped change his country. He very much would have appreciated the words of Woodrow Wilson: I would rather fail in a cause I know someday must succeed, than succeed in a cause I know someday must fail.
This, then, is my top ten list of causes worth dying for, in no particular order::
Abolishing Slavery across the planet. 26 million people are still in slavery.
Eradicating Poverty. In the US, one in six people live in poverty. Worldwide, two billion people live on two bucks a day or less.
Abolishing all standing armies, starting with ours.
Universal Health Care
Freedom of Belief, not just religious.
Revising the tax code in America
Preserving Social Security and Medicare
Writing meaningful blogs on all of the above
I will be brief. I am not your constituent except that I am a citizen of these United States which you profess so greatly to love. In fact, I have been a citizen of these United States for well over three generations. I have observed the political scene with keen interest since I was a boy. Like most Americans, I am appalled at the break down of Congress. An institution of change has become one of stagnation.
Today our President outlined a frightening scenario regarding the so-called debt ceiling. He wants it raised, telling us that unless it is, the government may not have the fubds to pay its bills already incurred or promised. He more than intimated that among the obligations that could be placed in jeopardy would be social security payments. Red flag! Whether I choose to believe that his side of the aisle is being honest or not, I address yours. The fact is that the majority of the American people are under threat of being held hostage by a minority of very wealthy men and women. Millionaires stand to decide our fate. If, for example, my social security check were delayed or withheld, that would be half my income for the given month. To you, losing that amount of money would be insignificant. Losing half your income for a month, you would still be comfortable. If I lose half my income for a month I will have to choose between paying my rent and my heating bill, and eating. That is no overstatement of my reality, and I am not alone. In fact, I am far from badly off compared to a great many other American citizens.
My point is that you, Mr. Boehner, who probably will never read these words, are the main controlling force behind what has become a tyranny of the minority. You have led your party and its members in a continuous fight to obstruct. It hardly seems to matter what it is you obstruct -- it is the obstruction that feeds you. In my opinion, this is akin to treason against the will and best interests of our country. And to most observers, it seems that you do not care. In fact, it is getting harder and harder for someone like myself to argue that loyalty to one's country will be rewarded in that country's loyalty to oneself. The country takes and takes, but when it is time to give, the country doesn't care. At least, those the poeple entrusted with the task of governing the country do not seem to care.
I do not want to believe that. Prove to me that you care about all Americans, not just the handful of wealthy ones who keep forgetting that their wealth depends on a healthy, prosperous and spending populace. That populace includes everyone within our borders, young and old. We all still contribute. We all still participate. We all still love our country. But I fear that our country does not love us. Certainly the members of Congress have grown too far apart from mainstream America to even notice.
Today, I feel like giving up. I don’t mean in some cataclysmic or permanent way. There just are days when all I want to do is stop for a while. Knowing me, you would laugh at the idea. I never sit still for more than ten minutes at a time, let alone do nothing for a day. My mind can’t rest for five seconds. I write stories in my sleep. As this day progressed I found myself shoveling three inches of fresh, heavy, wet snow off the porches and driveway. Then I had to deal with the frustration of getting AAA to follow through on its obligation to Diane and myself. Now it is evening and growing dark and the vague thought I entertained to work on the novel has done a runner, as they say, while kicking around up here in my gray matter, my encumbered garret, is an old story begging new attention. I could add the worries of living day to day to the mix. But sometimes all that energy seems useless, pointless. I look around myself and realize that this may be all I ever have. Is that bad? No. Is it enough? No.
A dear friend put it this way, speaking for himself: I am not unhappy, I’m just not satisfied. I know how he feels. When I was growing up my parents gave me the middle initials “NS” for Never Satisfied.
My goals in life were never large or elaborate. I did not expect to win the rubber game of the World Series with a walk-off home run, or a Superbowl with The Catch. I did dream of writing bestsellers but the goal was more concrete – to write. I wanted a family and have a beautiful one. I wanted to travel and got the chance, and took it whenever I could. I still hold onto those goals: to write, to travel, to bask in the warmth of my family and friends. I have added a goal in connection with the writing: to finish. I am not good at finishing. I get to a point in the story – usually during the dreaded re-write – and that active mind finds a new idea to play with – with which to play, I should say, in deference to my grammatically correct editor-in-chief. It took me three years to finish AMBER WAVES, but I did it, and I published it. Not many people know it’s out there, but it’s out there waiting for them. Now I’m trying to finish the next book, while others are begging me to play.
Maybe that is the key. All I want to do is play. Play on the playgrounds, inside the museums, at the concert halls, in our national parks, in foreign locales, with you all. Play inside the canyons of my mind. It’s just that some days I need a nap.
It is January 6, Epiphamy Sunday, the day the three wise men came to visit Baby Jesus and bring him the gifts that signaled his humanity and his mortality. It is also the day that we traditionally take down Christmas. We did that yesterday, putting the season away for another year. Jumpy the Squirrel was not happy with me when I got the plastic storage tubs out of the shed -- he had built himself a cozy little nest inside the shed for the winter and I disrupted his temporary home. He ran off in a frenzied huff and up a neighboring tree. I don't want him in the shed to begin with, bringing in small branches from the trees and shredding whatever cardboard or paper he can find. Come spring we will find a way to transient proof the building. Not that Jumpy is a transient. He has a home, several in fact. He is not poor or unemployed. He is industrious, clever, and entertaining, all good qualities in a human being, let alone a rodent.
This blog is not about rodents or discarded Christmas trees, although the images apply. It is about two movies.
When we were done putting away the Christmas decoratiuons last evening, we sat down to watch a 2005 film we had not seen for quite a while: "The Girl in the Cafe." It is a bittersweet romance set against a G-8 summit. By chance, a young woman gets the opportunity to bend the ears of crucial policy makers from the top eight countries in the world. They want to argue and compromise and equivocate. For her, the issue is simple and direct. Every three seconds -- one one thousamd, two one thousand, three one thousand -- a child dies as a direct result of poverty. As Bill Nighy's character points out, the tsunami that killed 250,000 people in a matter of minutes was a major and horrible tragedy, but just an ordinary day for the poor. Another way of looking at it is the Holocaust claimed eleven million lives, six million of them Jews, by planned mass extermination over the course of a decade. That many poor people die today IN A MONTH.
The second film is one we rented a few days ago: "Beasts of the Southern Wild." It is a remarkable film about community and love, but its backdrop is abject poverty shown in unblkinking, unsentimental realism. It is not a comfortable film to watch, for many reasons, but the main reason is its wallowing in reallife conditions that most of us never see, nor want to really conceptualize. As our economy struggles to regain its footing, and as millionaires in Congress argue and debate about fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings, our memories are growing short. There is poverty in America. There is widespread poverty throughout the world, and people are dying simply because they were born. We can accept poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. It is far away, does not impact us directly, and most of the victims are people we do not care about at least in part because of the color of their skin. But here? In the United States? We do not recognize poverty even when we're the ones suffering from it.
All this is hard for me. It plagues my mind on a daily basis, and yet there appears to be nothing I can do about it. I cannot make the members of Congress realign their priorities. I cannot even propose suitable ideas for the kinds of reform, spending reallocation, and heightened national awareness to those Congressmen. I certainly cannot make the decision makers around the world more responsible to the plights of the billions when the billions they think about are not people, but dollars. I can only scream. I am preaching to the choir here, I know that, but I have no power to evoke change.
I therefore withdraw my name from nomination for the Presidency of the United States in all future elections. I realize that I could never make any decison that would sanction, encourage, or even allow the murder of one single innocent life, either as a biproduct of war or the result of choice. Both political and military leaders make decisions daily which result in the deaths of inocent people, including the choice not to act.
In "The Girl in the Cafe," Bill Nighy's character has a dream that he interprets as telling him that he is not the man he imagined he would become when he was a younger man. This is true for most of us. The pain we feel is what we call regret. "I could have been . . . I could have done . . ." I feel that regret deeply when ever I think about my work and what I have not finished. But I feel no regret that I am not a major player in the political world. It would be just too frustrating to have to compromise and compromise knowing that every decision I do not make, or ammend into oblivion, costs even one life. We put away the manger and the creche, but the image of the baby remains, and when I hear him crying I only hope to God that it is not from a hunger that cannot be sated.
Good Morning, 2013, and welcome! Yesterday we ushered you in with a midnight boom and our traditional New Year’s Day celebration. January One has always belonged to Diane and me. We used to tell our kids not to bother us unless there were copious amounts of blood or broken bones involved. Otherwise, sort it out for yourselves, because we’re going to have Champaign (or Method Champanois), or lots and lots of coffee, and watch twelve hours of some sort of marathon TV event. One year it was all of “Brideshead Revisited,” once it was all the Harry Potter movies in a row (as many as existed at the time), once it was all of “Firefly.” This year it was Season One of “Homeland,” although the kids still in the house mostly curled up on our laps and purred or – in Meg’s case – looked up at us plaintively saying with those big brown eyes, “Keep me warm.”
I haven’t written a blog in several days. This usually means I have been busy with family and/or am working on a large project that demands most of my attention. In this case, both are true. Besides that, life always finds a way to intrude, with its exciting mixture of tedium, treasures and trepidations.
Now it is January 2. The real business of the New Year begins for us, just as Congress finished theirs for 2012. Wasn’t that exciting? We actually did jump off the fiscal cliff, but somebody managed to hand us an umbrella on the way down. I think it was someone named Biden, but I can’t be sure. So we managed to slow down the fall and find a narrow ledge to stand upon while Congress takes a short recess, then dies and is reborn on January 20 with very little real change in its composition. This means more cliff jumping. Keep your umbrellas handy.
On the home front, Diane’s recovery is progressing beautifully. She no longer is experiencing any pain from her injuries. We are enjoying the cold of winter in our cozy warm house, and loving the Big Sky. There still has not been much snow here, and I suspect the winter will continue to be mild. I saw yesterday that the draught conditions that are plaguing southwest and eastern Montana and Wyoming and more, will continue. Here our precipitation levels are about normal, though there is less snow pack in the higher elevations. They haven’t even started draining Flathead Lake yet, which they do every winter so the lake can handle the springtime runoffs. But for us, it is ideal and tranquil and beautiful, we have family to keep us warm, and we have love in our hearts for all of you so far away.
The Memorable Year 2013 is filled with promise. All new things are filled with promise, and in order to encourage us to hope and endeavor, we create lovely arbitrary and real starting lines, with finish lines off in the distance that are never the end, but just the finish of one start and the start of the next. It makes life fun, because promise and hope are what keep us going. There are 364 days left in 2013, this one included and better than half over. There are 363 new days, each with promise, eleven more months, the seasons, the holidays, our birthdays – all with promise, all offering hope. I see no harm in any of this. Therefore, my New Year’s Resolution is a simple one. I promise to hope.
Winning the lottery wouldn’t hurt, either.
I was born in Holland in 1950. My parents immigrated to the US when I was two. I have many close friends and family on both continents. My wife Diane and I have been happily married since 1974. I have four children and one grandchild (two more are on the way). I love writing and sharing what I wrote most of all..