Be careful what you wish for

It has been raining for several days now in California. We have come out of drought with a vengeance. Floods, mud slides, death, destruction. A five-year-old boy, whose mother was rescued, is missing. Unthinkable–and yet every news update forces us to think about it. I sit at my computer, warm and safe, and wonder at the complexity of life, its twisty, tangled path, how tragedy bypasses one and descends upon another. Is there any reasonable explanation?
If I turn my head away from politics, as I am inclined to do after a half-dozen years of intense scrutiny, I am confronted by the philosophical, the speculative, the moral and even religious implications of our day-to-day lives. Perhaps that is why I write. Life is a mystery, and I am a small-town detective, product of the Midwest, seeking answers, explanations, solutions, resolution. For most of us, of course, there is no easy answer. Life is a “muddle” (I am recalling E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India) and we have not yet acquired the mental and moral tools to make sense of it.
Religion does not attempt to make sense of it. That’s why it succeeds where other explanations fail. If we can accept the concept of God, we can make everything fall into place. Faith has always been a leap, and not everyone can make that leap. To rest in the lap of God, one needs the courage of one’s convictions.
Philosophy is a worthy alternative. It is mind-bending and mind-expanding. It offers us answers and argues us into submission. It is good for those who can rise above the humdrum of everyday thinking. It requires not so much a leap of faith as a willingness to consider what is not obvious and/or tangible, but perhaps reasonable, or at least possible.
Skepticism is, perhaps, our most popular contemporary adaptation to the mystery. If there is no religious or philosophical explanation, then let’s go with no explanation at all. One could argue that this is a philosophy in itself, but I choose to give it its own category. It goes like this: “I have only this life and my few years on this earth, so to hell with limitations, screw any morality imposed on me by someone on the outside. I am my own best judge of my behavior, and I opt to live as I choose, to do what I want, to eschew those societal restrictions that are burdensome for me. I may foster an inner circle consisting of myself and those like me, to exclude anyone who does not look, think, and act like me. Some might call this extreme, but I believe it is defensible. It is my armor and they are my reinforcement.”
I believe I fall somewhere in the cracks between religion and philosophy. I wear the tattered remnants of the Roman Catholic religion, with which I was baptized and indoctrinated from birth through my undergraduate years. During those undergraduate years, I studied philosophy, and came to acknowledge it as a worthy pursuit.
And yet I remain, to some extent, wary of the easy answer, the inherited norm, the sometimes smug satisfaction that comes with having “solved” the mystery.
This is a long, rambling way of saying, I don’t know.  I accept that my philosophy is permanently tinged with faith. I want to believe.
Where is that five-year-old boy? Is he, by some miracle, alive? If he is, I will thank God, with the belief that God hears me. My faith will bob up, like a yellow buoy in the middle of a dark sea.
In his novel, Howards End, E. M. Forster tells us, “Only connect.” Howards End was published a dozen years before the “muddle” of A Passage to India. Had he found a philosophy in the former novel that he abandoned in the latter? I think not. A Passage to India was the mature mind of the master demonstrating the tragedy of the disconnect–or perhaps the impossibility of real connection–between people, cultures, norms, and beliefs.

Happy Holidays dear friends and family

It has been a quiet and peaceful year for me, with a great deal of loving support from my family and friends. For the world at large, it has been quite another thing. Ukraine is engaged in a mighty struggle to maintain its independence. Our country has been embroiled in bitter, sometimes vicious, political dissension. Our global health continues to be imperiled by “climate change.” And we continue to adjust our everyday lives around a viral infection that has become endemic.
And yet we carry on. What keeps us going and gives us hope, despite all that may be impinging on our happiness and our serenity? For some of us, it is our faith. For others, it is a sort of universal optimism. And for still others, it is a belief in one’s self and one’s ability to succeed in whatever one defines as achievement. 
My wish for you is that you find peace in this season of loving, giving, and remembering. Perhaps, in finding peace within ourselves, we will help to heal those around us, and that healing peace will begin to restore our global health.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!   

How will you remember 2020 and 2021?

Here’s a brief excerpt from my upcoming book:

April 28, 2020
I read an article today about how we will remember—or not remember—this pandemic. The gist of the article is that we will not remember much of what we’re experiencing during this time. The days, and what we do in the course of those days, will merge together. We’ll remember key emotional moments, but not the experience in its daily details. I believe this, intrinsically, which is why I’m keeping this journal, and becoming obsessive about recording what I do each day, from the most trivial details—perhaps a note about what I had for dinner—to my inmost feelings.

Imperfect Heart: A Journal, a Book Club, and a Global Pandemic is my personal chronicle of the 2020-2021 Covid-19 pandemic and the political chaos that our nation experienced in lockstep with the health crisis.

It also takes you on a month-to-month journey with a fictional book club. The book club consists of four friends who meet on Zoom to talk about books, the pandemic, their personal lives, and whatever political crisis is in the news.

Intimate journal, contemporary chronicle, sequential fiction, Imperfect Heart is familiar in its elements, yet unconventional in its juxtaposing of those elements. It follows an unprecedented time in our nation’s history –- a time that has touched everyone –-and a time that we cannot afford to forget.

I’m looking forward to telling you more about my new book!

Don’t let the bastards grind you down

If you don’t recognize the subject line, it’s from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood—a translation of a faux Latin phrase scratched into a closet wall by a woman who has mysteriously disappeared.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a high value for privacy. It’s not easy to protect one’s privacy these days, but it has just become exponentially more difficult.

Today we lost a privacy of inestimable value. The Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, a constitutional right for almost 50 years, attacks our very existence as private citizens in the United States of America.

How did we get here?

During the height of the pandemic, I wrote a book in which I considered this question, among others. The book is called Imperfect Heart: a Journal, a Book Club, and a Global Pandemic. It will be published in December by Adelaide Books.

Imperfect Heart follows the pandemic and the political scene in the months between March, 2020, and December, 2021. It is very personal as to my life and my opinions, but it also details the concurrent domination of a global pandemic unprecedented in our lifetimes and a president who challenged our most fundamental moral imperatives.

It was the confirmation of three Supreme Court justices during the former president’s term of office that enabled the overturn of Roe v. Wade. And this is just the beginning of a massive invasion of our privacy.

The overturn of Roe v. Wade signals the seep of surveillance and control over every aspect of our lives, but especially our most intimate and private decisions. It will impact our health, our physical safety, our mental stability, the decisions we make concerning our bodies, and our right to privacy. It may well lead to arbitrating who we choose to love and marry, and ultimately who, in our right of self-determination, we choose to be.  

The habit of writing, or what Indi taught me

Recently, my dog, Indi, tore open the corner of a plastic garbage bag that I had sealed and temporarily left on the kitchen floor. She smelled some loose flour and was chugging it down when I got to her. Unfortunately, she spent some time choking and gagging on the flour stuck in her throat.

Since then, she has become a hardened criminal. She got into a grocery bag (just delivered by Instacart) and pulled out a plastic bag of tomatoes. She tore open the bag and was feasting on a tomato when I caught her in the act. She is now on the lookout for scavenging opportunities.

In case you’re wondering, Indi is an older dog, a gentle, lovable terrier who has never before engaged in criminal behavior. She’s wild about tomatoes, the crispy ends of iceberg lettuce, apples, hard-boiled eggs and, of course, anything made with flour. In my establishment, she has little access to meat, other than her dog food.

The point is, Indi picked up a late-in-life habit after one rewarding lurch into criminality. She was almost instantly habituated. And my question is, can we as readily pick up (or resume) the habit of writing?

I kinda think so.

My writing habit has always been to write in the morning. At one period in my life, for a long period of time, I got up at 5:30 in the morning to write, before I showered and dressed for work. For a couple of hours each morning, I wrote by hand, sitting cross-legged on the floor, at a coffee table now in the living room of my California family. I wrote my early novel manuscripts that way.

Mornings work for me. Sometimes I continue into the afternoon and evening but I like to start my engine in the morning–the earlier the better. I got up at 3:30 a.m. recently and wrote all morning and into the afternoon. I was, surprisingly, not at all sleepy that day, probably because I was on a creative high.

I have, of course, gotten off track many times. That’s when the writing is hard—-hard to come back to, hard to write when I do come back to it.

Writing on a regular basis is a homely habit. It’s simple, modest (a few pages a day, maybe?), and only rewarding in itself. It’s like housekeeping. You do it; it lasts for a day or so; you do it again. It’s both satisfying and frustrating, since you know it’s only good if you repeat it on a regular basis.

Still, I highly recommend writing as a habit. The more you do it, the better the results. Indi picked up a (bad) habit almost instantly, because it was rewarding. My reward, as a writer, is words on a page, and more words on a page, and so on, until–voila!–it’s a finished draft, on its way to becoming a story or a novel.

Speaking of which, my latest novel, Only Yesterday, is now available both in print and as an ebook. Look for the print and ebook editions at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Other ebook destinations are Scribd, Smashwords, Kobo, and Apple Books.

“You never have to change anything you get up in the middle of the night to write.”
― Saul Bellow

“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”
― Ray Bradbury

“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
~ W. Somerset Maugham

Happy New Year

Warm holiday greetings to you and your loved ones, and best wishes for a healthy and happy new year.

That said, at the close of our second year of living in proximity with a deadly virus and its various offshoots, I sometimes feel, as you may, that “normal” life is somewhere over the rainbow, and that even the Wizard of Oz can’t make it come back.

I tell myself it’s okay to be both hopeful and skeptical. In the work I’m just finishing–a personal chronicle of the past two years–I’ve tried to frame and to make meaningful the events that began in early 2020 and are still seriously impacting our lives. I’ve called on story in several forms–current events, fiction, memoir–to give some shape and rationale to the ways in which we’ve changed course–and why.

Meantime, it’s good to have you on my mind and in my heart as we close out this year and move onto the next. As E. M. Forster so famously reminded us: “Only connect.”

It’s in print!

Only Yesterday

I’m pleased to announce that my new novel, Only Yesterday, is now available in print at Amazon.

Only Yesterday, published by Adelaide Books, is a novel about passion, remembrance, and acceptance. In the last few days of his life, Pete Cameron (Cam) engages in a final struggle with self-doubt as he deals with memories of his past. The story takes place in the Midwest between 1961 and 2003, moving back and forth in time as Cam looks back on his life, his love for Maggie, and the choices he made.

Both print and ebook editions will be available soon through your local bookstores and at online sites.

Here’s to good health, good spirits, and lots of creative energy after our 16-month (and still counting) pandemic experience.

What were you doing a year ago?

A year ago, my stay-at-home lockdown date happened to be Friday the 13th. I went out in the afternoon, stocked up on groceries at TJs, filled the tank with gas, ran a couple of errands. Then I went home, and there I’ve stayed ever since—with some limited in-car excursions.

I’ve now had a first vaccine, and it looks as though my get-out-of-jail card will be good by about the middle of next month. That’s hopeful.

Was it worth it? It was, although it has been a long and lonely year. What has helped to get me through it? Writing, of course. That’s my oxygen. I have a manuscript that might grow up to be a book. I have supportive family and friends. A routine that gives me focus and a plan for most days. A regular dose of yoga. FaceBook and Zoom. A cozy nest of a home and, within that home, a canine companion who is a good listener and doesn’t seem to mind my off-and-on approach to housekeeping. As to that, I keep the kitchen and bathroom clean, the bed made, belongings in mostly orderly condition, and let the dust fall where it may—until I’m motivated to launch a vacuum/Swiffer attack.

In terms of following politics, I was addicted for most of the year and am only now moving away from hourly and sometimes minute-by-minute reading, listening, watching. The news was often, for me, terrifying and horrifying, and I use those words deliberately. There was a steady flood of “breaking news” from lockdown through January 6 and beyond—much of it generated by an out-of-control pandemic and an out-of-control president.

As we recover from multiple political tsunamis and, with a new administration, begin to experience a day-by-day calming of the waters, I have returned to a more normal news infusion. I know what’s going on but I’m not in perpetual crisis mode. It’s quite a relief.

We have all been subjected to the same political turmoil, and the same life-sucking pandemic. It’s not over, but it’s better. We’re not coming together politically, but we’re coming back to relative health and freedom of movement.

May God watch over the families and friends of those who lost their lives during this pandemic, and keep us safe as we carefully and with deliberation return to our blessedly “ordinary” lives.

Greetings from my island to yours

Garland with lights

Your island may be small and confined, or larger and more populated, but this year we’ve been more or less beached and isolated.

In this year unlike any other, my heart goes out to all those personally affected by the pandemic—and that includes most of us.

Warm—and I mean California warm—wishes for a healthy and peaceful New Year. The vaccine is here. A new administration is gearing up to turn our topsy-turvy world right-side-up again.

As I said last year about this time, all life is precious, especially yours. Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Dancing in the streets

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme. 
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)
Irish poet, playwright and translator
1995 Nobel Prize in Literature

This is a favorite Joe Biden poem, which I heard recited moments after he was announced President-Elect, on Saturday, November 7.

When I heard the news, at 8:25 that morning, I cried. I couldn’t stop crying. The feelings of relief, thankfulness, exhilaration, joy, were overwhelming. I had been waiting to exhale for months. Now, at last, we as a nation could do just that.

The street and neighborhood celebrations throughout the country showed me how many of us felt as I did and do. At the same time, I realize that, while 77 million Americans feel as I do, 72 million do not, are not celebrating, are frustrated in the way I’ve been for the last four years. 

I believe in the two-party system. I think it’s a good and necessary balance between political, social, and personal beliefs. Since Donald Trump’s election, the Republican party has become, in many ways, unrecognizable. Hopefully, it is still, in its essence, viable.

Throughout this election process, I’ve been cautiously optimistic. I hope we are able to get past whatever lies in store for us between now and January 20, when Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America.

The last four years were an aberration. I look forward to returning to an era in which qualified candidates engage in a fair fight for political ascendancy.