Tuesday, January 31, 2017

No Idea

The sun shone in under the roof over the open-air dining area at the bar. It was one of those salad days in Arizona: January cool, but desert warm in the sun, aching blue sky, ruddy cheeks, sexy smiles. I faced those who had gathered to better see their faces as I went over the developments in the Prison Writing Project. A film-maker from Hungary with piercing green eyes drilled her gaze into me, a reporter from the SBS newsletter took notes, the head of the English Department looked over the top of his IPA and listened with real focus, grad students mused, under-grads sat outside the inner circle, my mentor took in the scene. I talked up the reasons for pushing ahead with both the workshops and a literature course at the prison. Heads nodded. There was much to digest: creativity, rehabilitation, humanity, rising rates of detention, the flaws and casualties of the criminal justice, mass-incarceration, prison-industrial complex. I had to pinch myself. Was this really happening? Who was this person talking to this august gathering? Certainly not bitchy little old, self-defeating me. The beers were tall and cold, the sun welcome, the music loud, the world spinning in ways I could never predict. I have no idea where this is going or what might happen. The ride is wild, wonder-filled. Faces appear before me. Men waiting, hoping that someone, somewhere, might hear their voices, the ones they are honing to perfect pitch.

Monday, January 30, 2017


The excuses are legion: my heel burns from the still mending tendon; I am tired; I need time to myself; trash is overflowing; my bikes need maintenance; and on and on. And there are things to do, things that are bigger than my little litany of complaints. Being small of horizon and low of ambition, those callings to something bigger than myself are recent phenomena. Mainly, the tug out of my little me-me universe happens on Saturdays, when I go to the prison to meet with men and talk about their writing. I have to sidestep all the Lilliputuan strings of habit and limitation and go for the larger life. Yes, I am a bit embarrassed to say, I believe in the power of creative self-expression enough to give up my Saturdays to go out to the prison to practice it. Now, it wouldn't have to be prison. I could just convene a writer's group and meet on the front porch. But that wouldn't have the urgency, the focus, the immediacy that the prison workshops have. We would be a bunch of comfortable individuals dabbling in our hobby, not hanging onto the hope that the key to freedom of mind might be found in arranging words, would not hold the pressure of life or death. It's sometimes hard to see the bigger picture. I have to squint as I head down Wilmot Road, to see the faces that wait for me down there. Well not me exactly, but the opportunity, the possibility, that a heart might find form for a wild hair of an idea, might discover a reason to carry on, to do the hard time living larger than the easy way. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Out of Whack

Again, I am up with the cat. Three hours before sunrise, and here I am in the dark, wide awake. When the rest of the world gets up, I'll be a zombie, dragging my heavy feet off to work. Where does this pulsing energy come from? Why won't it let me sleep? And what am I to do with it? I guess I could water the plants, mop the floor, clean out the toilet and the cat box. Then I would have less to do when the sun comes up and sends me rocketing into a cloud of fatigue. Maybe the ugliness of age has invaded my rhythms. It certainly has triggered hair to grow out of my nose and ears. Hairy man, awake, sagging, on some precipice of decline, I stroke the cat. She purrs.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Strapped to the Mast

The others are hard at work, wax in their ears. Salt spray showers the deck as our beleaguered vessel plows through the storm, swells crashing over the bow. Someone has to watch for rocks, witness the crippling call of lust and rut. The pounding heart alone is going to rend the ropes that hold me fast and anchored to the mast that tips with the rolling tub that keeps us from drowning. I would jump into the freezing chop if I could, in this possessed state; worse I am than a dog paralyzed by the scent of heat, the genetic imperative to spill seed. Estrus. Fulfilling a dream. The promise of consummation, deliverance, annihilation. The wiring of the flesh is stronger than my will. Thank God for the ropes, the cords that bind, and for the desire that quickens the sleeping soul. Only there can I awaken from this repetitious slumber, this plodding of the walking dead.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Information rains down like a siren song of distraction. Be this. Buy that. Your problems are because of them. The answer is the boot. Take what is yours. Listen to my rage, my way of thinking. And on and on. The critical question of what really is escapes scrutiny. Emotions replace critical thought. It takes a powerful bullshit detector to see through the fog, smoke, and ubiquitous voices of powerful interests. And they are interests, often contrary to those of most of us (wages, healthcare, clean air and water, safe products, a say in how policies are made). When the haze clears, what is apparent is that we live in a system run by giant corporations that want only to improve their bottom line. At any cost. We live in a corporate state. If money, power, influence, and ownership count for anything, the state of things is clear. Corporations have the money and means and buy the talent to shape the minds of all of us. That is just what is. True, there are a few semi-enlightened captains of industry out there, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, but mainly the big guys are out to get more by reaching into our pockets, by extracting the last teeth out of a nature already bled to exhaustion. The watch dogs are sleeping as the foxes of defense contractors raid the budget hen house, as they tweak the tax codes to further fleece the tax payers. There is no money in telling the truth, so the truth languishes on the roadside, hitching a ride to somewhere that gives a damn. The only work worth doing, if we are to save ourselves, our planet, our battered democracy is to study the way things are, to figure out what to do, and to organize, to freakin' organize, to bear witness, to act. It's that or take our turns beneath the wheels of greed gone mad. 

Monday, January 23, 2017


Not that I saw him all that much much while he was still around. He lived two thousand miles across the broad backbone of the Rockies and the sweep of the plains way up there in Wisconsin. I don't get out that much, what with my teaching schedule, my house building project, my general lethargy. I need more sleep than I used to. But now that he is gone, I find myself wanting to tell him things. Hey Dad, it snowed on the mountain and the big wash down from the house is running. You wouldn't believe the waves. It looks like a chocolate surf break down there. I got an article published in a literacy journal. Nobody really reads that stuff, but it felt good. My life has turned out better than I hoped. This writing thing has not been the most lucrative, but it has given me direction, passion even sometimes. I am slowing down. My aches and stiffness remind me of you and your crutch after the car accident. How are you doing with all that? And I can't think as clearly as I used to. There are times when I am so lost I can barely stand it. Sorry I haven't been better about staying in touch. My boys are grown. They are beautiful young men. You would be proud of them. I am. Are you there, Dad? Are you there? I don't quite know what to do about the heartbreak of missing you. How did you deal with that? Being away from the ones you loved for years at a time? I know I have to get up, get out of bed, put one foot in front of the next, do the work I was put here to do. I want to tell you about it, Dad. I want to tell you about how I keep moving, even when the weight of this feels like it will crush me, will press me so deep into a leaden immobility that I will never rise. I want to tell you. Are you there?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

An Un-Ordinary Day

Rain drips from the skylight onto the towel set there to soak it up. A winter storm has the washes running with thick, foamy chocolate whitecaps. Our wash, the Rillito, is running bank-to-bank, first time in a while. Chimes ring from their suspended sentence over the porch. Wind and rain. Yum. Good thing I am up a few hours before the sun to dress in my bike togs for a 20K time trial fifty miles up I-10. Arm warmers, leg warmers, rain jacket, wool socks. Check. Pump up tires. Check. Bring license. Check. Out the door and into the storm. Wipers dancing. Stop for coffee. Listen to smart people on NPR. After the time trial, I will go to the prison for the writing workshops -- seventy miles in the other direction. I need to pick up a grad-student who is visiting the workshops today. I'll meet him down on campus, back in Tucson. We won't be done with the prison until about five or so, twelve hours from now. Then I'll take him home before heading back home myself. Sound crazy? Yeah, I agree. You wouldn't catch that guy called me doing a day like this. I'm too needy of rest and down time. But the spirit that moves within this crazy body doesn't care about that. It just does and does. It is not my anger, my fear, or my sadness. It is, however, my joy. Only miles to go. Yahoo! Just a day. One day.

Monday, January 16, 2017

What Might Be

For starters, the brain might align with the body to put into action the thoughts that point the way. You know what to do. You just need to do it. You might see through your fear, your habits, your self-imposed limits. You might take steps toward happiness. You might learn to live with less. You might take care of yourself. You might take better care of others. You might find something bigger than yourself to believe in. You might take a chance on a dark horse and a light touch. You might dance instead of fight. You might accept your losses, cut the string holding what can never be. You might pick up your instrument and find the song hidden somewhere in the ventricles of your heart. Nights might serve up directions for how to live your days. Walls might fall and surprise might replace the certainty of never and I don't deserve. It is not about deserving or not deserving, anyway. All that is passing might burn off, leaving what endures in its place. You might find and hold the gift given with no hope of anything in return.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Gap and Other Damage

Now that we have a Trump as Commander in Chief, it's time for a few predictions. The biggest and most obvious is that Trump, his cronies, and policies will widen the already monstrous gap between the super rich and the rest of us. Billionaires have their man in charge and will come after the whatever table-scraps the rest of us are fighting over with all their power and all their goons.

You wait. Those poor suckers who are out of jobs and voted for this guy are going to have to mortgage their homes to get life-saving health care because they are working at convenience stores with no benefits for minimum wage. Their real wages will continue to fall after decades of stagnation, thanks to the long line of Trump, Reagan, Bush, and, yes, Clinton.

The saddest thing here is that the new generation will have to kowtow to an economy that wants them only as soldiers and lackies of the investment class rather than creative contributors to vibrant, diverse economy that supports innovative people looking to make a difference.

I hope they get really pissed off and vote these wingnut reactionaries out when they get a chance.

Then there is the global climate crisis and Trump's short-term, rapist views of resources. You know what that looks like.

Power has been cemented in the hands of the greedy, bigoted, sexist bullies.

Fasten your seat belts.

It's going to be quite the ride.

A wave will build that even they won't be able to control if people have so much as two brain cells to rub together. Those unemployed steel workers and rust belters might wake up, and, if they do, there will be torches in the night, tar heated in a carbon-encrusted cauldron.

Grab your pitchforks.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

From Scratch

The walls were crumbling, borders fading, gates opening. It was slow at first, but then an avalanche. Where before there had been only routine numbness, there was now an open, blinding field of light. It no longer mattered what he felt or how much he wanted to rest forever hunched over like a fetus waiting for labor contractions. He would stand up and walk no matter what others said, how much he made himself a fool in their eyes. That he could not deny. And it all began with a simple utterance, a few words that took form in the here and now as deeds done. That was all it was and it was enough.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Liftoff (A Tribute to La-La Land)

"Men," she said, when he made a comment about the man in her life, her emphasis on the plural. She wasn't going to let love be limited in that way. If only, he thought, he could be so free and strong. It was a love thing, you see. More than anything, he wanted her to be happy, to live whatever dream it was that filled her, sent her into a swoon of yes. And, mostly, she wanted that for him too. About as much as anyone, she pushed him to chase after what counted as poetic. There was overlap in that way, wanting so much the best for each other that it showed up in wanting it for themselves. The path there, for some reason, was blocked with doubts, tangled with fear, booby-trapped with anger and grief. A spiritual companion made the travel lighter, even if that, too, brought its own price to pay. Hope that it would somehow be less hard, though, refused to die, even as the weight of the body gave way to earthly delight.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Workin' the Plan

As a dreamer, I tend to be fully alive only when I am asleep, in the dark, unthreatening world of private hopes and desires. I know that's cowardly, the easy way to deal with crazy hungers. Lately though, I have been entertaining the possibility of moving those secrets into this life-world; I have been trying to actually do something, to act in concert with what I want, with taking steps toward a life that I can love and respect. It's a scary thing to do for someone who has lived fully only in the safety of imagination and sleep dreams. How to move into what has only been conjured out of the ethers of thought has become the big conundrum, the already always persistent heart's desire. I, for better or worse, am the agent of my destiny. The weight of that sits welcome as I tighten the straps and pick up my staff.

Monday, January 9, 2017

First Light

Symptoms crept in from the corners of awareness at first. The off-kilter blur of vision, the dullness of edges, the balkiness of a mind in the face of new ideas. Then, there were the emotions -- the continual hardening irritation at it all, the whole mess of this effed-up world. He was a hair-trigger when it came to anything stupid or mean. The overall effect was a dimming, a gradual slide toward shut-down. He tried to hang on, to keep the brain fresh and sharp, but the tenacity of plaque was unrelenting, dousing the light of synapses. The fire was going out, whether he liked it or not. He had to face the hard truth: it has begun. Of course, he wanted proof, so he got the genetic test. For weeks he waited for the hard data to confirm his suspicions. In that interim, the world still wanted its pound of flesh from him. He ran his classes, attended his meetings, tried to stay on top of the avalanche of petty details, of cyber pyranha that nibbled and gnawed away the last vestiges of his peace of mind. Enough already, he said. Enough.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Simple as That

With the heart as your guide you listen enough to find what you desire, but then, as is the way of things, an obstacle drops between you and it: a monster, a block the size of those of those holding the weight of the Great Pyramid of Giza, or a running rapid full of hungry crocodiles. Your work, should you choose to accept it, on your path to becoming fully human, is to fill in the rest of the story with the wrestling match between your courage and your fear, that and the actions you take to win happiness. You know that a thread lined with gold runs under, through, and around the heartbreak, turning fear into joy. The trick is to sharpen your attention enough to see it, even in the darkest midnight of no moon, and then to leave the comfort of what you already know, usually into the teeth of a howling wind. It's the only way, sorry to say. And you're the only one to do the deed. Your curriculum was printed at birth, tucked neatly behind your dreams, and lost to memory. It left a clue that waits in the mystery of the right note, the right word, at the right time.