Silence and George Floyd

Two weeks of protests and no signs it will stop. I admit with a mixture of hope and fear that I did not expect protests to still be occurring. Hope comes from the possibility that something might actually change. Fear comes from the possibility that it still won’t. The end result is I have been uncharacteristically silent.

Silence, ironically, is a new entrant into conversations about race and oppression. Of course, those who oppose the protests want protesters to shut up. But that’s not the silence that has grabbed my attention. People of color are pleading for those who don’t understand to stop talking, to be quiet and start listening. It is the necessary silence that appears when someone puts down their defenses long enough to stop and hear what the other is trying to say.

Another silence is the one that screams from those who could say something but choose not to. This is the silence that comes from feeling shock, disempowerment, or futility. Can words make a difference? Obviously they can. Yet this silence comes from the message that our words can never be enough, so do we bother at all?

Silence stemming from the inability to do anything other than watch – even though this silence may reflect that some still have the choice, the privilege, to not do anything. I find myself stuck here, because I’ve stayed indoors and not put myself out there. I haven’t even mentioned it on Facebook. Have I become so skeptical, cynical, or jaded that I am silent because I don’t believe any of this will turn into lasting change?

In 2016 I took the punch in the genitals when Trump was elected – the ultimate proof to me that the “people” of the United States would rather have a rich, belligerent, racist, sexist, uneducated white man in charge instead of a woman or person of color. It has been the best example for white privilege ever, that a white dude can be disgustingly unqualified and land the most prestigious job in the country. Oh, what did Trump do to get famous? He starred in a TV show and sponsored fake wrestlers. What exactly about his C.V. made anyone think he would be able to handle real-life situations?

The years following (has it really only been 4 years? It feels like 50…) have been marked by a forceful reassertion that any of us who dare speak up about white supremacy, privilege, or oppression will be met with violence, bullying, “silencing” in essence because our demands for equality and fairness somehow have been labeled “oppressive” for calling out those who were engaging in all that oppression in the first place. The truth is that institutions have just gotten better at lawyering up. Everyone gets a publicist who writes the speech that is meant to hit all the right notes but says nothing of any real substance or leads to any noticeable change.

That’s why I was surprised by #metoo. That’s why I’m now surprised by the resurgence of #blacklivesmatter. Because both movements are movements that have been around for a long time, but maybe right now things have gotten so ugly, so disastrous, so totally ridiculous, that even the people who’ve held so much power and privilege can finally look around and say, “hmm, maybe this isn’t working.”

I’m tired. I’m silent because I feel I haven’t the energy to make noise. I want to be heard but I also want to just listen. I want someone else to talk, to feel the burden of carrying the message, to live with what it steals from you when you lose. I want to believe that you don’t need to go through all of that in order to erase oppression. But it is what I go through all the time, because just when I think it’s about to turn into something good, some dick comes around and shoves his boot on your neck.

Do you shove back? Maybe. Do you do more? You have to. I don’t know what it all looks like. I don’t think it is all so mysterious though as to prevent us from coming up with ideas. Some acts really are simple, even though they take courage to do them. Saying “no” is simple. Saying ‘no’ to your boss could cost you a job. Saying ‘no’ to police could cost you your freedom or your life. The word is easy; the act takes courage. Courage requires fear; they are two sides of the same coin. Fear lets us know what we are putting on the line. Courage remains when we act, knowing we can lose what matters most.

But fear by itself can be used to dominate. Oppression is an act of cowardice. Courage flies in the face of this, because even the simplest acts can require tremendous sacrifice. Maybe people with white privilege will realize that the worst thing that happens to you when you say you have it is that all the people of color around you will go, “thanks.” Because now you’re showing that you actually care and can be courageous, and you’re willing to make some sacrifices.


Coronavirus: The Phantom Menace

Sleepy dog
Week 1 of captivity…

Is my title too obvious a steal? Well if we can have baby Yoda memes teaching people how to wash their hands, I suppose I can exercise a little creative license with subtitles.

Last week we all learned our day jobs were going to turn into day, night, weekend, job non-jobs. In other words, everyone has to stay home. My kids will have to learn at home, and I’ll have to teach at home. It is a lot of home time. It struck me this must be some weird throwback to Little House on the Prairie days, except we have Netflix.

What does it mean to teach online…it means everything I have learned to do for the last 20 years gets thrown out the window. My one skill, the ability to talk in front of people, began from not being able to talk in front of people. Now returned to that origin state, I fear I will not be effective. The self that emerged as the Teacher doesn’t know how to exist if it can’t be in the same room with others.


I don’t have any pithy statements to make about COVID-19. This is unlike anything I’ve seen. Oddly, getting diagnosed with cancer already forced me to confront mortality. That doesn’t mean it’s easier now, it just means I haven’t had a break from having finitude shoved in my face.

Funny how getting online is the best way to connect with others right now. On that note, gonna go immerse myself in a lot of Destiny 2. There is something oddly reassuring about blowing the crap out of an alien menace you can actually see.

the glass box…

Bat meet Bat

“How are you?”

As someone who lives with about a million words buzzing through my brain at any one moment, finding myself without words is an unusual and disconcerting phenomenon. Yet here I am, unable to answer that deceptively simple question. Even though social convention defines the answer for me (I’m supposed to say something benign like, “okay”), the words avoid me. The best I can do is offer a pre-emptive, “do you really want to know?” meant to inform the casual passer-by that this is no time for me to endure idle pleasantries.

I’m living with bad news, a life-challenging diagnosis that smacks me into reworking everything I thought I knew about myself and the world I inhabit. People ask me if the news is private; it is and it isn’t. It is a fact, a fact as basic as stating my name, and it is inescapable. The question is a curious one, as it begs the response of “why would it need to be private?” What about the circumstance requires it to be hidden, who is being protected by its silence, why would I need to become the guardian of this information? These questions make sense if we’re talking about a situation that was foisted on me, robbing me of voice or volition. True, I had no choice. But neither would anyone else (in spite of our society’s false belief that we can stave off such situations – we can’t. It is a roll of the dice, like so much else in life, and it says nothing about my worthiness or status as a human being. No – actually it says everything about my status as a human being, because it is an expression of our simple, frail, unknowing human nature that such things happen to us, seemingly at random). I do have a voice, as much now as before I had this news. I have a right to talk about the effect it has on me, in the ways I want to and with whom, but to state the fact of it – no one really owns that story, presuming it merits being called a story in the first place.

The privacy surrounding the news is more about whether or not I have the energy and resources at any given moment to share my condition with anyone else. I do not need to be private, but our talking about this necessitates an evaluation of our relationship. To speak honestly about me, I will need to let loose the unpredictable, scary looking, irrational intermingling thoughts and feelings because the condition takes away the energy required to filter, to present oneself in socially acceptable ways. Take that phrase, “socially acceptable” – is it really more a comment on the basic expectations in place that allow two people to interact? Break that social contract and you don’t know what you’re left with, other than knowing you have lost precious energy that you will not be able to get back.

The social mores connected to giving and receiving bad news seem to suggest the speaker needs to be calm, collected, full of answers, and positive. In other words, be fake, put on a brave face and smile, largely because the others in this arrangement can’t handle the possible alternatives. Given those requirements, I do stay private sometimes because I am not able or interested in making my news comfortable for someone else. Sounds harsh, but if I’m on fire, I don’t need to quietly and easily articulate, “excuse me, but I happen to be on fire, could you be so good as to perhaps, locate an extinguisher?” No, instead I’m going to yell,

“JEEZUZ I’m on FIRE! Isn’t it fucking obvious that I’m on FIRE?? Help me!”

And I’m not going to get into a pleasant conversation about all the good things that can come from me being on fire, or identify all the chemical processes associated with making and extinguishing fire, or philosophically explain what fire is and why fire happens. When you’re on fire, you’re concerned about not being on fire. My ability to provide answers and be assertive disappears because I might be dropping and rolling to no effect. What I do need is for someone else to step in, recognize that the fire is there and that fire is not my normal state, and my survival depends on them to move towards the fire, not away.

So, being private is expressive of a decision point, my assessment of whether or not I can drum up the energy to find the words, knowing that I will learn in less than 5 seconds wether not this relationship can accept me being on fire. I’ve already learned that a lot of people really don’t like fire and have no idea how to respond to it. Someday I’ll develop a more compassionate view towards those who can’t handle the heat. Right now, I’m still on fire so I need to find others who will at least try before I’m turned into a charred husk.

I am asked, “what is it like?” and the answer is, “awful.” Beyond that response, I struggle to find words. I can’t make sense of it, I just live with it. It is like being in a glass box, where I am asked to describe living in the box but I can’t see it from the outsider’s point of view, because I’m in the box. I only know it from the inside, and I would need to be outside the box to think about it. Fire steals my language, and when I am able to talk, usually it’s gibberish. The way I knew myself is no longer visible, and I have no construct to replace it with. Eventually it will be revealed, but not on my time scale or terms. That is life inside the box. A well-intentioned outsider asks questions about the box, but it is the one thing I can’t speak to, which reinforces that this box exists, making an invisible wall between us.

This leaves two choices for the other, to be in the box or to stay outside. Others who know life in such a box don’t ask questions about the box. They just ask questions about me. The box is taken as a fact, one that isn’t worth us spending time on. We might have a common, temporary curiosity of, “is yours a cube or a dome” but we already know the box to be as present as the air we breathe. These boxes are not common, thus more people will be outside the box – but that means the other has to recognize that they are outside, and this is not a personal deficit. This is again an acceptance of fact, of condition. You can’t be inside it, and you wouldn’t want to be. No one should be. Don’t try to smash it, cover it, put a pretty picture on it, or think you can free me from it. All that is a waste of time and energy. I am learning to live in it. Odd as it may seem, I don’t have a need to fight being in there. It is making me into someone else, in ways that I will and won’t like, but I don’t know who that is yet. Don’t try to step inside, or run away. You might be afraid that being outside this box changes us, and it probably will. But I’m inside, and I can see you; I just need you to stop long enough to see me.

Write it out…

Not long ago I listened to a radio interview. This was one of those entertainment pieces, the kind of thing you listen to because it isn’t about politics, murder, or other such real-life nastiness. Asked to make sense of a recent experience, the guest offered the simplest of replies:

“It’s hard to say…I haven’t even written about it yet.”

This little gem caught my attention so much I didn’t really hear the rest of the interview. The details didn’t matter; what stood out was this tiny, piquant glimpse into how meaning gets made – the process of coming to terms with an experience. It also likely grabbed me because here’s someone else suggesting they have to write about something in order to make sense of themselves.

Admittedly it lands a little close to home because I’ve found myself trying to make sense of several things lately but lack the words to describe it. This blog has been the place where I write “randomly”, letting words fall out in order to see what’s rattling around in my head. But with recent events, that hasn’t happened. The words don’t seem to land on the page and continue floating around in space, morphing into other shapes or sometimes disappearing altogether.

This is your brain…if your brain were an egg talking to itself

I’ve guessed it’s because the events are happening too fast, too quick for my brain to fully pull together. Or maybe it’s not a brain thing – maybe the issue is that these things are all too visceral, too emotional, for the brain to catch them. There are feelings and motion, but sometimes the event demands a reaction and the brain just has to respond to what is there without having the luxury of making sense.

Curiously the events I’ve been thrust into lately are brain related in other ways – a relative expressing a high degree of neurocognitive disorder (that’s dementia to everyone else) and my own battle with migraines. The brains have gone on strike, it seems.

Attempting to reign mine in, we tried medication that resulted in me having a great deal of difficulty completing sentences. Try writing a book in that condition. Anomia (inability to remember the names of everyday objects) makes it kinda hard to complete a paragraph, or at least construct one who anyone other than the author can understand. I couldn’t even remember the word “anomia,” which meant when I tried explaining this to my employer, I sounded something like this:

“It’s sort of like you are coming up to what you know is supposed to be there but you can’t quite find it so you skip over it hoping you can come back around to it and it’ll slip into place, but it doesn’t really happen so you’re just left looking at this empty hole knowing something is supposed to be there but you’re the only person who knows what it is.”

And then your employer tells you to go home because they think you’re drunk. My brain had a great laugh at me that day. It also gave me a migraine.

The fact that I can write this suggests a change occurred; deciding the cure was worse than the problem, we discontinued that particular medicine. But this is a continued experiment – and gets into that euphamistic “lifestyle change” thing. I’d have loved it if taking a pill were the only thing one needed to do to conquer something like migraines. But as with most chronic health problems, the treatment isn’t a 45 second commercial promising bliss and small-print debilitating side-effects. It’s a long process of discovering what could work along with what doesn’t – which means learning a lot of what you thought was okay about how you live your life falls in the “doesn’t” category.

For the short time my brain was on holiday, I took a brief walk into my relative’s dementia land. I am not in any way claiming I had the experience of someone who is falling into a cognitive decline. What I am claiming is that as the medicine’s side-effects starting taking away my ability to think, react quickly, solve problems, and use words, I realized that the me I thought I knew was disappearing like a ghost. It was terrifying and I had no idea what was supposed to be in its place. An athlete who loses their leg, a painter who loses a hand – it is an experience of being confronted with our primal fear that without what we can do, we become no one.

I’d like to say that I plowed forward and found myself, but the truth is I called the doctor and said “I can’t handle this.” A 3-day migraine attack was better than disintegrating, and at least I know how to survive the migraine. So I don’t have a pithy answer for how to deal with that harsh look in the existential mirror. But I also don’t think there is a pithy answer – it is something that takes time to figure out, presuming it can be figured out.

When I sit with my relative, we have conversations that follow no chronological, or any-logical, order. The bedroom we sit in morphs into a type of Tardis as we travel across space and time:

“Are you here to help me pack?”
Where are you going?
When do you leave?
“Any moment now. We have to get on the plane.”
How long have you been here?
“I just got here.”
Why  are you going to Ohio?
“For work. Shouldn’t you be in school?”
I don’t have school right now.
“Did you pass all your classes?”

And on it goes…in the same sentence I am a working adult, a grade-schooler, a parent, a teenager. Dead relatives are resurrected, and last night’s baseball game is recalled play by play. My children’s names are forgotten.

I’m living in the sandwich of my generation, but I can’t tell you anything about how it tastes. No one really asks for this, but resentment seems pointless. How do you hold a grudge if the mistakes of the past no longer exist? The way you knew yourself in response to this person must also become someone else, because the person before you floats trans-dimensionally and you’re just trying to not get lost. There are many people living in this, and information exists to explain it. And yet, if you ask me to make sense of it all…

I haven’t even written about it yet.

Wild horses…

This morning while having my head shoved in an MRI, I decided to rethink my life. After all, I wasn’t going anywhere for a while and I needed something to distract me from the panic crawling up my body, generated from watching too many sci-fi films where the person in the machine gets atomized or turned into a giant faceless evil glob. Why not make use of my idleness and sort out life’s problems.

That paragraph likely brings out the problem, but in case it isn’t obvious – one shouldn’t be discovering “me” time in a tube designed to identify potentially life-threatening conditions living in your head. While it is true that having an MRI to diagnose migraines is good practice, I am disturbed by needing to go through it at all. First is the fear that maybe there’s more going on in there than just migraines; second is the suspicion that these migraines are my mind’s claxon, signaling the brain’s meltdown because it can’t contain all this nuclear waste anymore. (Or maybe there’s no brain left at all, having scampered off in “take this job and shove it” style.)

Migraines began visiting me a little over 3 years ago. I’d had a couple when I was younger, but not like these. Now I get possessed-by-the-devil headaches, the kind that make me want to rip out my own eyes and set fire to anyone who makes noise. They’ll last for days and once gone, I have to take a few more days just to recover. The only joy comes from unexpected precursors springing up Harry Potter style, such as the time I was in a meeting and everything in the room turned yellow. The pain stops me freight train dead in my tracks. Shop’s closed, phone’s off, don’t leave a message.

Seeking treatment is a good thing, but I do wonder if the cure will take more than a pill. For much of my adult life, especially after having kids, I accepted the temporariness of stability. Basically, life changes in ways that it just will, and part of creating stability is learning to adapt to what is not known. Once you get to the point of predicting what you do, something in life will change, necessitating a new response. Try to force or control this process, and we often find ourselves tossed about in the tornadoes we never could anticipate. Maybe our problem is that we like to control what we don’t understand – and there is so very much we don’t understand.

catch me if you can

Recently, my life has been hit with new things – new job, new phase of life, new family circumstances…and I am just now figuring out that these are not temporary changes but permanent. That’s what I found myself figuring out while ignoring the jack-hammering noise of the MRI machine. What once made sense as a “transition” is no longer a transition – it has arrived, but I’m still treating it like it is going to go away. They are here and are forcing me to examine how I live my life and where I put my energy, which up until this point has been spent trying to wrangle this herd of wild horses.

I’m no horse-whisperer though (even though I think it would be cool to do that). But I think, in between the hums and bangs of the MRI, I have been trying to throw ropes around those mustangs to force them into a pen. It won’t work. I didn’t catch any in the first place, even though I convinced myself I had. Those horses have to run, buck, do what they’re going to do, and I need to stand still and learn to see the paths they make.

Ok someone who really knows horses might say that’s a stupid thing to do but I’m not really talking about horses, it’s a metaphor, deal with it.

Admittedly, I’m sad at the thought that these new paths may well take me away from things I once wanted. But I am not sure if that will be a loss since the endpoint of these new directions can’t be seen yet. I am hoping regardless that changing course reorients me towards what is meaningful, valuable. At the least I’m hoping it means a few less headaches. In the meantime, could someone get me out of this fucking machine before I jump out of my skin…

Stuck in the noetic with you…

Living in the moment sounds great until you’re forced into it. Knowing that a phone call, email, or text could arrive and flip the day upside down gets to be a bit draining. Experiences like these become fast reminders of why a little boring predictability is a good thing.

We often presume news out of the blue is a good thing. This likely expresses our fairytale tendency to Disney-fy life’s grimmer moments. We don’t talk about when news twists your head backward and proclaims, “nope, you aren’t really going in that direction after all.”

I’ve been pre-occupied with existence and meaning these days. Frankl talks about asking of life’s meaning is not the real question, but instead to recognize that life is questioning us. These days I wonder how that questioning changes when life is nearing the end – I am not responding as I live the rest of my life, but as I near the end of my days.

Ok, don’t panic, I’m not dying. Well, not today at least. Death isn’t looking at me, but it is hanging nearby watching another. Death stands in the corner, tapping a patient finger on its crossed arms. I’d offer it a cigarette, but that seems a little too cliche`. Maybe death prefers Swisher Sweets?

Life questions us. Death, on the other hand, doesn’t really entertain questions. It has a firm grasp on certainties. We’re the ones who futilely expect it to offer answers, platitudes mainly, and fall prey to creating the very frustration we seek to avoid. We circle it, plead, joke, make deals – and all the while it just carries on, knowing it can go wherever it pleases. We just wish it would clue us in on where that destination happens to be.

Not too long ago, I couldn’t tell if it was around. I’d catch a glimpse here and there but would lose sight of it. Maybe it left, or maybe Death is just a really good hide-and-seeker. Now it’s out in the open, making itself a regular fixture in the room like a skinny floor lamp or one of those 1980’s landscape paintings you’d buy out of a trunk from a roadside starving artist sale. You know it’s there, but you’ll scratch your eyes out if you have to look at it all day.

It’s funny though how much time we spend pretending it’s not there. But the truth is, you get to a point where you don’t want it to go away. It needs to be there because the person it’s staring at is slowly running out of ways to answer life’s questioning. Their stuttered half-truths reflect this teetering between question and answer, and you realize the answer that is coming is only meant for their ears.

How is it this person becomes a time traveler, visiting friends from past, present, and future, often at the same moment? I can’t see these people but they are there, conversing as though nothing has changed. These characters parade in and out of the room, and Death winks at each like an old flirt. Maybe Death prefers Gauloises after all.

I don’t know when this stage play will come to an end. I’ve been assured it will though, whether I’m there to see it or not. Oddly enough, I’m not angry at Death for these theatrics. They make their own absurd sense, and it’s the only thing Death will talk about with me anyway. Smoke away, Death, your lungs can take it. Mine, on the other hand, are waiting to take a deep breath…

On Chefs, Suicide, and Connection

(I wrote this a while ago with the thought of getting it published somewhere. That didn’t happen so here it is.)

Following news of the suicide of another high-profile figure, we have been flooded with stories related to suicide, depression, and mental health. Questions of why this happened, how it could be prevented, and what we should do next abound. These reactions are expected and necessary, but I find myself reaching for connection in the midst of my grief-induced loneliness.

I never met Bourdain personally. But I, like many others, was introduced to him through his work. He stood out, often referred to as the “bad boy” of celebrity chefs due to his brash, straight-talking persona. Yet it didn’t take too much effort to see behind the act. His shows and writing were filled with thoughtful reflection, insight, and personal accountability. He spoke the truth of what he saw even when that could have ended his career. But more importantly, he revealed his shortcomings and his errors, and allowed himself to be changed by what he learned. A raw curiosity, a desire to learn from mistakes, and putting himself out there for all to see is what drew me to him. Bourdain could do what many seasoned counselors can’t, and he inspired me to regularly step into that which I did not know.

As I look at the tributes and comments many have made, I can see how many people from all over the world are affected by this loss. Those who were closest to him request privacy, as they rightly should. Friends and acquaintances share stories with sadness tugging at their throats. But there are many people with stories like mine – people who never met him directly, never shared a drink or a handshake, and yet we feel as hollowed out by this experience as if we had lost our closest friend.

Is it so strange, though, to think we could be deeply affected by the presence of someone we did not physically meet? Is this feeling just the surface reaction to the shock of suicide, or is there something more to this? But perhaps the question to ask instead is, why shouldn’t we be affected by an inexplicable loss of someone who influenced our lives?

I wonder if our tendency to dismiss the grief associated with the loss of a public figure is rooted in a cultural stance driven by rugged individualism, the spirit that says one person can withstand anything. And yet, we easily forget that the one cannot stand without the many. While we look at our personal successes and failures, we tend to ignore the many people who came before us, those we needed to become who we are today. We can see the people we know directly, but we lose sight of those whose influence worked in the background, the many people we may have never met who helped shape our understanding of ourselves. Thus, when we lose someone who has shown us something about who we could be, of course it is devastating because we are left wondering who is left. But in a society that prizes the individual above all else, admitting our need for others gets redefined as a weakness instead of a strength.

Our social-media interaction style gives us the illusion that we are together, a mere Instagram away from the next person. The exposure someone like Bourdain gets means we have more access to the figures who influence us. It becomes possible to find people all over the world giving us a sense that we are not alone. Yet it also makes the divide greater because our posts, tweets, and shares are one-dimensional snapchats of ourselves, preventing us from engaging in the risk of vulnerability that is also required to be known and to know others. I am left knowing that Bourdain made an impact on my life, but our relationship will always be one-sided. His death confirms that there will never be a chance for me to know more.

Here we come to the tragedy of suicide, the act where only those who have done it truly understand it. We who remain can only get so close to making sense of it and usually have to settle with angry acceptance. We want to be able to prevent it, yet it is the fact that it has already happened that reveals our powerlessness.

I will make no claim regarding why Anthony Bourdain ended his life. He alone in that private moment knew the reason. Perhaps I refrain from speculation because in Bourdain I recognized a familiar interior struggle, the desire for authentic relationship shrouded by the angst of isolation. We fear that if someone knows the real us, they will leave us and we will be alone. Yet it is not perfection that breeds genuine relationship; the experience of being disappointed by another means we have shared our humanity. Imperfection becomes its own beauty because it is through our flaws where we find our common humanity. Our limitations create the need for each other.

Loss ironically reveals the significance of our connections. While we may need to accept that the physical person is gone, we seek the ways in which we can hold on to what mattered. Bourdain meant something to me, and I want that meaning to go on, to find a way to flourish. It is a way to keep those connections valuable, even though the person is no longer there.

I wonder if Anthony Bourdain had any idea about all the people who felt connected to him, who now see emptiness where he once stood. If he had known, would it have made a difference? Would I be writing about something else, hopefully something mundane, if he had been given a glimpse into how much we need his risk-taking, his plain-speaking, his mistakes, his foibles, and his passion – how much we simply need him?

I am tempted to provide comfort and say this will all get better. But that seems disingenuous to the memory of someone who easily called “bullshit” when he saw it. The truth is, this hurts; we will find few answers and more questions. We may want to say that if suicide can claim Bourdain, it can claim any of us, so why bother. But maybe this is what Bourdain has given us, a final demonstration of his own humanity so we can be affected by it. Instead of retreating from those we do not know, we can sit down, reach across a table, and share a meal. Maybe his absence can continue to remind us how we need each other’s presence, and it is the risk of being ourselves that leads to togetherness.

Good travels, Tony. I will miss you.

When not writing is writing…

necessary distractions

I find it ironic that my last post was meant to rejuvenate my blog, get me back on track, and increase my writing volume. Here it is, one month later, and I’m now composing post #2 about my writing journey. That’s about the same pace I was on before I “rebranded” my blog, and also a great example of how rebranding is a big lie, directed mostly to ourselves.

Curiously my lack of blog posting is not an expression of a lack of writing. Since my last post, I managed to 1) finish my fiction novel, 2) finish and submit an academic article, and 3) finish and submit academic book proposal #2. That’s not bad, really. I did not make much progress on academic book #1, the one I’m supposed to be writing. But it is fair to say I had to get #’s 1-3 dealt with so academic book #1 could move to center stage.

That seems like another great lie, that we have to clear off the plate in order to start the next meal. I have told myself on plenty of occasions, “after item X is done, I can start the next thing.” It’s just that “item X” can become anything, from preparing a syllabus to weeding the windowbox full of old, dead flowers that I don’t like in the first place. Over the last several years, I’ve slowly learned to make item X be more relevant and less distraction, but I have to admit that sometimes distraction is a good thing. Sometimes I really can’t clear my head unless I complete the deluxe enhanced expanded expansion pack for here unnamed Xbox epic dystopian role-playing game. Sometimes I need to know what will happen if I pull up the loose, flappy sliver of wallpaper. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night unless I binge-watch all 12 seasons of senseless crime drama-come-sitcom-com-secret sci-fi romance thriller show. I must scroll to the end of the “now trending” Netflix column or life will be incomplete.

And whoever invented the “autoplay” default setting on YouTube should be beaten about the face, or given a huge raise.

What was I saying…oh yeah, distractions. Anyway, I imagine most writers suffer from self-induced ADHD on a pretty regular basis. In actuality, it probably is a good idea to include some distraction time in the writing schedule. As some famous neurologist probably said, the brain never stops working. Many times an idea has worked itself out during these periods of nonwriting, and it appears later on the page.

Of course, one does need to make oneself write. The idea that writing just springs forth like a geyser is the biggest of all lies, the dumbest of all “ideals” to live up to. Writing comes from writing. Admittedly I am not as scheduled as some of my peers, although this does not mean I am not as disciplined. My life circumstances mean I can’t hold a fixed timeline, but I can designate which days of each week are devoted to any particular project. Sometimes on that day, I write; other times I research, and other times I doodle. Each of those activities moves the project forward (including doodling, my brain’s best way of working through abstractions). When words do appear on a page, I don’t concern myself with whether or not they are the “right” words. Sometimes I have to write some pure shite in order to figure out what I meant to say. Other times I look back and wonder what the hell was I thinking. But it all progresses, and most importantly I can feel and see that progress, which makes my next designated project time feel worth it.

Next up is outlining Chapter 1 of academic book. That means looking at what I’ve compiled and determining what else I need. So not sure if I’ll write a paragraph that day, but the work of the project continues. Note that focusing on these little steps keeps me from getting distracted by the big fear that no one will want to read the book. So far, that’s been the real bulwark to working on the project. While finishing the other 3 projects did provide an excuse to stay away from the book, their completion also gave me something to bolster against that fear – namely confidence. I don’t know if anyone will read academic book #1, but I do know I can write it.


(and a shout out to R. Keith Sawyer and Paul Silvia, two authors whose work on creativity and writing has helped inform my writing. Ok, reading their stuff was also a distraction, but one that continues to pay off.)


The Business of Writing…

This blog, like many creative things, has evolved since I started it 6 years ago. (Six years! Did that happen? You’d think I’d have more followers. Maybe I need to post more kitten and puppy pictures. Here’s one:)

kittens and puppies

Anyway…I’ve found having a journal of sorts lets me work out all kinds of bumps and wiggly bits clattering inside my head. It’s sort of a mental massage; occasionally it’s of the soft, fluffy Swedish type – other times it’s a full-on deep tissue-come-rolfing battering session. What results from this written free-association sometimes helps me organize my ideas, other times process complicated emotions, and occasionally make avant-garde garbage. I don’t claim to be an amazing artist (which is probably good if we get back to that lack of followers thing). But writing, in general, helps me do stuff, whether it is providing a simple creative outlet or a sounding board for generating ideas that turn into other things. And yes, it has also been a place for me to rant on about crap because if I didn’t do that here, I’d be screaming in the middle of a bridge on a pretty regular basis.

My intent at this point is to use this platform to maintain some sort of personal accountability as I’m embarking on my first book. I’ve always had a creative writing streak; as such I have stacks of incomplete short stories littering my home office (and basement, attic, bookshelves, and just about anywhere else writers store their half-baked creations. Are there others out there who can’t seem to find a way to end the story they started, but also couldn’t dream of throwing it away?). But now I have an official contract, one that says at a specified date I am to deliver a finished book some 70,000 words long.

70,000 words?!? Am I insane? Why did I sign up for this. What was I thinking – now I have to write and FINISH the damn thing. Giant OMG in supercaps, what have I gotten into?

This is exciting, and it means a publisher and hopefully others want to read it. Yet in the middle of exciting sits scary, because 1) I have to get it done and 2) once it is done, all the critics will get a chance to rip it apart. It may seem premature to fear rejection before the book is completed, but it is likely because I’ve been down the rejection road that fear looms in the background. I’ve had my share of bad critiques and I can accept that criticism can make your work better. However, that doesn’t mean I like going through it; you don’t really want your partner to tell you how fat you are when the clothes come off.

I do believe I will learn a lot about this process, and likely myself, before this is all over. That’s part of the motivation to do it; I grew tired of asking myself if I could and decided to just do. So in some ways, I can live with it if the book flops. But I don’t want to find myself years from now asking why I never finished it, or worse, why I never started it. In that way, I’m already on this journey, and I don’t know where it ends.

So back to writing and this blog – I hope to chronicle the process (that’s so meta, to write about writing) so later on when I feel discouraged I can look back and remember what I’ve done. Plus, it’s an old trick – invite others into the process so it’s no longer me alone with my thoughts; the project is in the open for others to be aware of and ask questions about. And I’m sure I’ll write about other things as well since my brain will continue to fill up with clutter and need some occasional clearing out. But for now –  on to the business of writing. First – I should make a list of what to do. I should make a list of what not to do. I should make a list of lists about what to do and not to do. Oh look, puppies. What was I saying? What am I supposed to –

(I suppose if any other fellow story-makers, book-writers, or general project-embarkers happen to be out there and want to know someone else is out here freaking out with them, feel free to “follow,” or drop a comment from time to time. )

Diving into Parts Unknown


Dear Anthony Bourdain,

You’re gone. You already knew that, but I found out this morning. I am sad and angry, and I’m writing to you when it is too late. Maybe you have a way of knowing what is in my thoughts, or maybe you’re cosmic dust. Regardless, I’m writing down what I never had a chance to say and what you will never hear because this is the reality I am left with.

You never knew the impact you had on me. I “met” you through watching A Cook’s Tour, in the days long before you swam in Top Chef-style cash. Since then I have watched, read, listened to your words and found comfort – yes, comfort – in the brutal honesty you threw around. Why? Your version of honesty wasn’t about showing the ugliness of others. Instead, you invited us to look at the honesty of yourself, including all your uncertainties, unpleasantness, awkwardness, and absurdities.

That’s some beautiful shit, man.

I know a lot of people were drawn in by the “coolness” of hard-talking swagger (although I don’t think I ever saw you really swagger – people just think they saw you swagger). But it wasn’t the Ramones t-shirts and tattoos, the fountain of alcohol, or the reckless 4-wheel driving that made you stand out. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff was fun and made for much more interesting TV than say, a meals-in-5-minutes cooking program. But it was your words that caught me, every time. You saw things and you said things, and many times you spoke what someone like me needs to hear.

You were excelling at the one thing so many people have such a hard time doing: you were living as yourself. And that means you irritated people, you ruffled feathers, you put your foot (as well as other things) in your mouth. But you didn’t stop there – you let us see how that affected you, how you made sense your fuck-ups, and how you learned so you could do better next time. And you did keep getting better – better at being you.

I need people who do this, who work to be only themselves. Most people try to be someone else. Even when the facade gets pulled away, many still try to get us to ignore the fact that they wear no clothes. Being someone else is easier; becoming yourself is the harder, less chosen path. Authenticity is difficult because it takes you into the parts truly unknown. The mirrors that flash up on that journey will sometimes reveal the nasty bits, especially when we would prefer to see greatness.

Which is why, when I encounter someone who by all reckoning shouldn’t be excelling the way you were, someone who knows their success is based on a pure second chance at life – I cling to them, because knowing someone else out there is embracing the struggle gives me some sense that I can struggle too.

I am angry at you, Anthony Bourdain (can I call you Tony, yet?). I am angry that you leave me with this, forcing me yet again to confront the existential dilemma of isolation and connection. The void you have left implies the tie I had, even though we never shared a face-to-face conversation.

I’m also angry that I have to listen to the multitude of platitudes expressed whenever someone dies in this way. I get that there are a lot of people who don’t know what to say. But eventually, you would think people would at least stop saying some of the dumb things. Are you in a better place? Who knows. I don’t even know if you would say a better place exists. Maybe you’re stuck in a perpetual line, waiting forever behind some guy trying to order a latte at McDonald’s. Did depression overtake you? Who cares. It is like suggesting this is all just a character flaw – oh look at poor tony – which really just becomes a great way to pretend the rest of us have no pain. And if depression did play a role in this – then fuck depression and everyone who thinks depression picks on a select few to inhabit. That’s bullshit all the way – especially when we live in a time when depression might be the healthiest response we’ve got to all the ridiculousness going on.

I don’t know why you did what you did. No one will ever have that answer, except you. I would like to think that if I could’ve done something to stop you, I would have, but I also know that sentiment is only meant to make me feel as though I have control over something like this.  I don’t. And in some ways, neither did you.

I’m sad, Anthony Bourdain. I’m hurt that I’m now left trying to make sense of this and I won’t have your poetic ranting to provide that beacon of light in the chaotic darkness. Racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia – you called it what it was and when it got crazier, you got louder. And in those moments I knew I wasn’t nuts because at least you saw it too.

I was inspired by you, Anthony Bourdain. There were several times I used clips from your shows in my courses. I didn’t use them to gross people out or show how “weird” other cultures can be, which is where a lot of travel/food shows gets it wrong. And that’s why your work wasn’t just a travel or food show – you were doing something that I have been encouraging my students to do for years. You moved outside of what is comfortable for you and tried to step into the world of someone else. Someone you may never truly understand but you will attempt to, even if it means making a fool of yourself. You could recognize that the repulsive to you was appetizing to someone else; you knew that it wasn’t the custom that was “backward” or uncivilized, but rather you were too clumsy to get it right. You embraced what you did not know, and you allowed yourself to be affected by the people you met.

You did what hundreds of highly educated, trained, even seasoned professionals in my line of work struggle with. Some can’t even begin to approach the kind of generosity and curiosity you demonstrated just by being you. Being yourself can make a difference, and you showed us that. Damn you for taking that away from us, from me. Damn you for making me face again just how bad we can be.

Look, now I’m ranting. Do you see what you bring out in me? Do you know how much I loved the fact that you bring this out in me? Do you know how much I will miss you bringing this out in me?

I’ll close my letter by telling you one more little thing. For about 10 years, I kept having a reoccurring dream where you would appear. I don’t know what it meant because I’m not that kind of therapist. Anyway, the only other person who knew about this dream was my husband, who laughed every time it happened, prompting me to convince him that it wasn’t a sex dream. Really, it wasn’t a sex dream (I’m not that kind of therapist either). But you would just show up, and we would talk, and laugh. And I woke up, and would feel better. You made a difference to me.

See you in my dreams, Tony. And you’d better have a fucking good story to tell.