Sweet Mystery of Life

Several times a year, I assume, the elementary school down the street where my daughter began her school career offers programs, pageants, festivals, performances, carnivals.  I assume.

I don’t pay attention, and I don’t participate.  Of course.  I have no connection to the tiny humans I see walking down the street, waiting for the school bus, holding up traffic as they cross at the light.  They are not part of my life, and haven’t been for a long time.  I acknowledge their existence and wish them well, but I don’t connect other than the stray memory of a long time ago.

Thus it is with Halloween.  Once I was an active participant, helping to assemble costumes and makeup, walking through neighborhoods, holding hands and prompting my kids to remember their lines, be polite, and understand the scary stuff was all pretend.  Been there.  Done that.  Done.

I don’t get Halloween, then.  I acknowledge it, and with the help of this new Internet thing I can see that many, many adults I know take it seriously.  It looks like fun.  I wish them well, too.

But the inference I take is that this is an understood thing, a “holiday.”  That’s how it’s referred to by many people, a holiday, which baffles me.  It’s certainly something, but so is Groundhog Day.

I’m also not opposed to making up holidays.  I invent pizza holidays all the time.  It’s Tuesday; time for pizza.  See?  Easy.

And dressing up, engaging with fake dark forces, going to parties, buying imitation blood, or even just getting drunk and acting slutty (one friend’s explanation) are all behaviors that I comprehend.  I’m not grumbling.  I just don’t do it, or relate, or get it.

Now, Thanksgiving is a holiday.  Christmas is a whole holiday season.  Fourth of July is a damn fine holiday, even with crazy neighbors.

But May Day, say, not so much, and that’s where Halloween goes for me.  Or Last Day Of School day.  I’ve grown past it, reluctantly sometimes, and that’s where it belongs.  So I watch all this activity and, as I say, just wish everyone well.  Unless pizza is in order, in which case I will dig in.












My daughter, prepared for Dia de los Muertos.  I had nothing to do with this.

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Send In The Clown

















We were jokey this morning, making each other laugh (and a nurse).  But a few minutes in the waiting room can take the edge off that.

So many damaged people.  Old, mostly, but some not.  It seems rude to be in a good mood, to have a curable cancer and a routine appointment with the oncologist, with so many serious faces.

And I was surprised at how strongly I wanted to do something to make them laugh.

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Locking Up, Now

It’s currently 36 degrees F. at my house, subfreezing in other places, which is a sure sign that our planet is tilted in the wrong way.  I may revise that in eight months.

This is a result of clear skies, I assume, not some sort of Canuck invasion, and it’s nice to see, just in case I forget about November.  The 11th month is my least favorite, saved only by Thanksgiving, by which time it’s almost Christmas anyway.  November has a nasty history in my experience, but better warned than surprised.

This particular November, though, I can imagine some warmth, particularly that Thanksgiving week, but I’m going to be cautious until I get a good glimpse.  Let’s just say that it’s been a long time coming, in fact 13 years, and I can wait a bit longer.  Others in this household might hold different opinions.

In the meantime, I can stay inside if I want, ride the stationary bike for a while until the slickness of the sidewalks recedes and the kids are all on their buses so I can walk in peace.  There are other routines, too, trying to find order in this weird world with its cockeyed stance and its summer that never quite happened, and at any rate feels long ago, now.


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I Know You Are But What Am I?

We’ve been having conversations about anonymity in this household lately.  Unsatisfactory conversations, in the sense that I expound on the subject and Julie says, “I don’t get it.”

I don’t get it either, not completely.  I believe in boundaries and filters, having strayed and paid.  I also live with a son who has no skills in either of those, although he’s smart enough not to blog.

And I’ve seen plenty of public sharing disasters in the past few years, things that make me cringe and dread the inevitable Google future, when some young woman is interviewing for a job and finds her Twitter feed lying on her prospective employer’s desk.  Did that boy break your heart and make you feel all sad?  Betcha you’ll feel worse now.

But my default position is to bristle at anonymous writers.  They make me feel as though I’m on the receiving end of bad poetry, wishing the poet would write to somebody else.  It feels like self expression, and there’s no “me, the reader” in “self” (there is “elf,” though.  Just noticed that.  Fun).

There are reasons to be anonymous, of course, but then there are reasons to shut up, and sometimes they’re the same reasons.  If your boss will fire you if he finds out you’re expressing passionate political feelings online, and you put on a mask and cape and express them anyway, it confuses me.  We all compromise, particularly when it comes to eating and having indoor plumbing.  But anonymity feels a little like cheating.

Then I get confused again, because I know people who seem to write better without a byline.  Wonderful, elegant sentences flow from them when they black out their names, in contrast to the stodgy stuff that appears when they sign off on it.  I don’t get it, or me.  Life hard.

These recent conversations are benign.  A writer whose ideas I admire, whose writing I enjoy, whose passion I envy, has a secret identity.  I don’t want to know what it is; I’m only barely interested.  It just began to temper my enthusiasm a little, and I scraped away at that until I expressed it, got a reply, and that was unsatisfactory, too.

Not the answer.  That was fine, polite, understandable, and completely unsurprising.

What happened – and it always happens – is that I was looking hard in the wrong direction.  You would think I’d learn, but you obviously would be wrong.

I hear from readers all the time.  I just got an email, actually, long-time reader, first-time writer, Sarah from Edmonds, thanks for taking my call, who touched me on a tough day.  Blessings.

And these good people always, or almost always, say the same things.  “You’re so honest!” they say.  “You tell it like it is, warts and all!” they say.  “You let us into your life,” they say.

So this is what I say, although not to them: I am a master secret keeper.  Please refrain from pulling the curtain.  And leash your little dog, too.

For a decade I’ve used my life as fodder for 800-word distractions, but I haven’t told everything.  No surprise.  As I said, boundaries and filters.  I’ve made mistakes and learned.  And I’ve tried to stomp on self expression whenever it rears its uninteresting head.  I like readers, not bystanders.

But I can keep a secret, and I have.  Not so much anymore, but I watch for red flags and now I’m looking.  Why the sudden interest in somebody else’s hidden stuff?

Maybe because I don’t want to think about my hidden stuff, and maybe I should.  And maybe our recent conversations wouldn’t be so unsatisfactory if I refocused, you think?  And reminded myself of a lesson I learned a long time ago, about secrets and keeping them close: If you find yourself musing on doing something dangerous, it would be a good idea to find someone who understands and tell them.  A good idea.  In an ideal situation.  If you can find him or her.

But you’d better tell somebody.


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The Love, Actually Project

It started as a Facebook question, just tossed out to friends and caught by me.  “Do you own Love, Actually?”  I raised a virtual hand.

I bought Love, Actually last Christmas, standing in line at Best Buy and looking over random Blu-Ray titles.  It was sort of a stocking stuffer, but it was for me, too.  How can you not like this movie at Christmas time?

But it provoked me, made me want to find a label and then fill it with stuff.  And also contrast it with another category, which would be Guilty Pleasures.  You know all about this; things we enjoy but are slightly ashamed of, knowing that they’re culturally incorrect.  They may just be so bad they’re good, that sort of thing.  I’m not interested in this category.

I was interested in the Love, Actually category.  Things – more than movies, although movies are easy here – that give me joy, make me smile, twist my mood in such a good way that I couldn’t care less what you or anyone else thinks.

So I’m busy making my list.  In the meantime, I watched Father of the Bride last night, on a Sunday whim.

This is definitely on the list.  I don’t care for Steve Martin or Diane Keaton as actors all that much.  The plot is contrived and predictable.  It’s a sitcom stretched out, and the broadness of all the characters produces a spontaneous burst of weirdness in Martin Short, who whips on and off the screen with an accent that comes directly from improv class.

Martin Short deserves to be on the list all by himself.

I love Father of the Bride because it makes my eyes twitch and my face hurt from smiling.  I don’t relate to the father or the bride but then of course I do.

Anyway.  More to come on this, probably.  There’s never enough joy.


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Margin Call

I have no idea how to recommend this film, or to whom, so I won’t.  I persuaded a friend to go with me, conscious clear, because I figured hey, it was Saturday afternoon and he probably wasn’t doing much, and I had a feeling it would be good.

But it’s not a blockbuster and it’s free of blood, guts, sex and CGI.  The subject matter is sort of arcane, or maybe uninteresting, even if in the big picture it really isn’t.

What it does have, this little movie, is some pretty big names, apparently all drawn by a fascinating script.  They include Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci and Zachary Quinto, and while it actually didn’t feel like an ensemble piece they all were on their game.  Spacey in particular.

“Margin Call” takes place over 24 hours in the fall of 2008, on this timeline, meaning that the financial markets are starting to show some dangerous volatility.  The above actors work for a financial services company that stands in, we assume, for Lehman Bros.  As it opens, the company is conducting a massive lay-off, summoning employees from their cubicles and bluntly presenting severance packages.

Stanley Tucci’s character, a risk management supervisor, is one of the layoff-ees, and as he packs up and heads out, and almost as an afterthought, he hands a flash drive containing some data he’d been working on to one of the young guys working for him (Quinto).  “Be careful,” he says.  And so it begins.

And so throughout the next night, as the pieces are put together, and as progressively higher up higher-ups get involved, a mission forms: This company owns a large amount of equities that quite possibly are soon going to be worthless, and when that happens the entire corporation will cease to exist.  So they need to dump them before anyone else figures this out.

If you’re interested at all in what happened three years ago, you know all about this.  If you’re not, you wouldn’t like the movie anyway.

The actors drew me to this one, although I was curious about the story.  What I was left with were some interesting what-ifs regarding ethics and small cogs in big machines.

And what I found out later, after I saw the film, was that it’s also being offered on demand over a lot of cable systems, not to mention iTunes and Amazon.  Something we’ll probably see more of, particularly with the non-blockbluster films.

So you can see it now, if you want.  Again, I can’t say that you’ll want.


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Some Rapture, Rain

So, the Rapture didn’t arrive but the jet stream did.  Six of one.

We have to get used to rain up here all over again, just like everybody else.  Yesterday was our first steady wet day in months (it seems) and it felt weird and completely personal.  I had plenty of errands to run so there was no hiding, but it annoyed me, having to use windshield wipers and feeling moist all the time.

And it occurred to me that autumn in the Pacific Northwest, as elsewhere, is about surrender, from which we can hope for serenity.  I can’t stop it, stop the dripdripdrip or the darkness or the roof that crumbles a little more every day and I can’t afford to replace because THESE MEDICAL BILLS KEEP COMING…

You would think I’d be pretty good at surrender by now.  You would, actually, be right.  The transition period is always a little dicey, though, so yesterday I sat in waiting rooms and looked at a lot of old, sick people and wrote a couple of emails I didn’t really have to write, mused a little about fairness, and then had some Mexican food.




















I didn’t make this margarita, I only marginally paid for it, but I sure as hell drove this lady home afterwards, marking the completion of one aspect of a troubling year and glowing from a little tequila and a nice meal.  This is the best part of learning to give up, changing what you can.  I am a full-fledged designated driver, an awkward husband and an unfinished product, but I can get her there and back some days and that makes the rain manageable.  We have been left behind, and that’s a good thing.


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The End

This the last day of radiation therapy, six and a half weeks of focused energy in an attempt to persuade wayward cells to go away and not come back.  It’s been a breeze.

From where I sit, of course, and have been sitting, which is usually right here.  The treatment has been done at a local hospital, a few minutes away and conveniently on the way to Julie’s work or other destination, usually, so I’ve stayed at home, drinking coffee and reading status updates.

I don’t feel guilty about this; on most days, it would have been stupid for me to go with her; she needed to keep moving south.  Some days I could have easily gone, though, sat in the waiting room for her few minutes of zap, been part of the oncology picture.

None of this is important, though, or as important as the attitude we’ve reached and maintained for over a year, now: Get it done, get it over with, get on with the rest.

I can tell you that it hasn’t been easy at all.  Not only the exhaustion and discomfort, which is to be expected and was.  She’s been upbeat most of the time but there have been moments.  This is an incredibly busy autumn for her, and it feels unfair on those few mornings when she could grab a little extra sleep that she needed to get up and head for the hospital.

And the residue is obvious, like a bad sunburn.  Live with that for a few weeks, Coffee Man.

We’ve had conversations lately about the other timelines, the alternate universes in which this was worse.  Or just the very real timelines of other lives, when it is worse.  Chemotherapy would have been worse, surely.  As were the other potentials, but mostly it’s the people we know and have known who have suffered and battled, won and lost, and continue to fight, the fortunate ones.

So we’re just glad it’s over.  In a few minutes I’m heading out with her for the last treatment, then a meeting with the oncologist to discuss what comes next.  That’s a funny thing to write: What Comes Next.  We have some experience with the concept, after all this time.


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Dancing With The Future

New column, in which I attempt to bounce off Gene Roddenberry:

In a pretty troubled era, “Star Trek” presented a picture of humanity’s future that was optimistic. Mankind had been through rough times, but by the 23rd century apparently we’d worked out some bugs (although in watching the show now, it looks like floppy disks are making a comeback in the future).

What I’m really stumbling around, trying to get at, is this:

I’ll have more to say about “Dancing With Eternity” by John Patrick Lowrie later, but in the meantime you can order a copy here from Amazon if you’re inclined; it’s a great read by a first-time novelist. And if you’re also so inclined, ask about it at your local bookstore, maybe ask them to order a copy or five, and buy something else while you’re there.

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