Monday, August 17, 2015

The changing of the blog

Well, isn’t this something.

Welcome to the new After nearly 10 years in Blogger, I have moved over to the WordPress platform.

Read the rest of this post here.

And thanks for visiting all these years!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

God in the land of the living

“I am still confident in this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalms 27: 13-14 NIV)

Because he is omnipresent, it should not be a long wait. You just need to focus a little and he is there.

You’ll find him in the land of the living. He’s not someone you don’t meet until you die.

I am still confident in this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living:

In a dog sniffing the ground for something to eat, then curling up in the grass near my feet.

In the white butterfly that jumps up and flies across the yard.

In the chattering of insects and birds 360 degrees around me.

In the flowers that spring here and there and everywhere from the ground, planted or not.

Even in the sounds from the highway of people on a journey, on their way to a safe arrival or return.

In the branches that sway in the wind. No one can see the wind; we can only see its effect.

God is not someone you don’t meet until you die.

When I had that thought, I remembered a song I had somehow forgotten for some time, by Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull … God’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The longest summer ever

Red and I are slowly finishing a project that we’ve wanted to do since we built our house three years ago: insulate the garage. We did the back wall last fall. The other day we committed to doing the biggest side wall.

First we pulled everything out of the garage, and then we set to work, Red cutting the pieces of insulation and I stapling, and it was all done in less than a half-day. Truth to tell the actual work was done in an hour or so – most of the time was taken up in moving the clutter out of the way and then putting it back.

There was still plenty of time in the day to do several other little projects – although I did have one contradictory thought: Is it really three whole years since we moved into this house? The time has flown by.

And yet it hasn’t – a day is a long time, weeks and months and years are longer. Remember how long ago it was cold? That was “only” four or five months ago. But look how much has happened since.

Time flies only in retrospect. Yes, it seems hard to believe that what happened five years ago was so long ago, but then think of what you’ve been through since. It’s enough to fill up 1,826 days. It’s a full life.

It’s one of those “Is the glass half full or half empty” things. Life presents us with so many choices that we will never see and do quite everything we hope to see and do.And yet the average life is packed full of things seen and done.

Sometimes it’s worth reflecting on what life was like before time “flew by” – how much you had not experienced yet, all of the marvelous inventions that people have invented, all of the new building or all of the land reclaimed and preserved.

That’s when you realize the hours and days passed at the same pace they always have.

I drive the highway to work and see the lush green cornfields and the clean clear pavement, and I try to imagine driving slowly through the same scene packed with snow blowing so hard I can’t see out the windshield very well. I have a flash of a long-ago time when I tried to imagine lush green cornfields and 65 mph.

It seems like a long, long time ago. Perhaps the four seasons are there to remind us that time passes, but that it takes a long time.

All things considered there IS time for everything. The day is just as long as it has ever been. 

Door County Advocate, Aug. 12, 2015

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A pilgrim arrives in the kingdom of Else

Once upon a time, there was a magic land called Else, which was ruled by a queen named Elsa. Some said Queen Elsa was wise and good; others thought she was cruel and heartless; still others said she was cruel because she was good.

It was a land where no one wants for anything – a land where no one wants for anything – where dreams come true … or do they?

When pilgrims arrive in Else, some discover they are still waiting and the dream was inside them, not in another place. For some, simply being somewhere Else is enough. For others, another journey looms.

“But I came to the kingdom of Else because I want another life – a better life!” cried the pilgrim who has just arrived.

“Yes, you did. Yes, I see,” said Queen Elsa. “Well, you have found another life. It’s up to you to make it a better one.”

“Up to me?” gasped the pilgrim.

“Why, yes,” the queen said kindly. “All we do is give you somewhere Else. ‘Better’ has always been up to you.”

“I traveled all this way only to find I could have stayed in my home and made the changes there? That’s not fair!”

“Meh,” said the queen, turning away. “It is not fair or unfair. It simply is. But now you know, and knowing, you can do what you must.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What to do first

“You want to what?” 

“Fly, Father. I want to fly.”

The wind across the water made a roar. The older man looked anxiously at the younger.

“Look at you, Bill. Look at you in that chair you’ve been sitting in all these years.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m going to fly.”

“Just like that. How? Why?”

Bill’s hair fluttered, just a little, sitting next to the window and all.

“I’m not sure. That’s not the point. I’m tired of sitting. I want to stand. I want to fly.”

“Now you’re getting somewhere, son. First you have to stand, and then walk, perhaps run – probably run. You’ll need speed to achieve liftoff and fly.”

“Now see, there’s where you’re wrong, Pop,” Bill said with a gentle smile. “First, first – first I need to dream.”

Monday, August 3, 2015

4 thoughts that generate better habits

A habit must be a habit, or else it is just a thing.

A habit has to be ingrained to the point where you just sit down and do it, and maybe you don't even remember whether you did it today but when you checked, sure enough, it got done.

You can't be coming back two or three days later to find out you skipped it. Nope, you have to do it and do it every day until it's second nature.

"Practice makes perfect" is a cliche because it's true.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

There's good news tonight

Yes, somewhere someone is dying. Someone is killing people. A fire has destroyed. A great wind has orphaned children. Someone is hungry, even starving. Their stories must be told.

But over there, someone is comforting a stranger. Someone is building. Someone is creating new beauty. A habitat is protected. A windmill is drawing clean, healing water for a community. A meal is being cooked to share. A disease is being cured, even prevented.

It has always been my experience that the impulse to to help a neighbor in need crosses social and political lines. The arguments, the differences, are about how to solve the need. If only the passions of the election season could be harnessed into solving and caring and helping instead of tearing and denigrating and hating.

The person who cries “look out” or pulls a child out of the way of the oncoming truck does so because there is a need. It is not a Republican need or a Democratic need. Need is need, and we all recognize it. We disagree only on solutions.

Tragic that a man who makes his living reporting the news should be weary of news that frightens and alarms and disparages. The analytics show that people are drawn to bad news like moths to a flame. Why is there so much bad news in the news? We tell you these things because time and time again, you read or listen or watch these things with rapt attention and in great numbers.

Still …

“There’s good news tonight …” Who was the popular radio announcer who always led his newscast with that phrase? I want to be him when I grow up. (Google tells me his name was Gabriel Heater.)

When we fail to report something troubling, the outcry is sharper and more accusatory than when we fail to report something good. Yet I can’t help but believe that we provide a great public service when we encourage, not discourage; when we comfort, not terrify; when we shine a spotlight on reasons to hope, not reasons to despair or be appalled.

What’s the good news? Where’s the good news? It’s all around us. Perhaps that’s why the bad news gets so much of the attention: because it’s rare. Odds are overwhelming you won’t be the victim of something awful today or anytime soon.

The bad, the horrible is worth noting, because it presents problems in need of solutions. But darn it all, there’s good news tonight, and we ought to be encouraged as well.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The dream of the rhinoceros

Oh. A rhinoceros!

Just before waking Sunday morning, I was looking up a long dark staircase with random people sitting listlessly on a stair here or there. The dream was progressing in usual fashion when at the top of the stairs appeared a rhinoceros.

It pawed and looked down at the people. We were filled with alarm. Should we sit still and hope we weren't noticed or, as some contemplated, should we creep up and slam the door? What if that enraged the rhinoceros and it broke through the door and down the steps, trampling all in its path?

While we were contemplating, the rhino lifted its head, turned proudly and charged away, out of sight.

I awoke in the predawn and did some contemplating of my own. I've never dreamed of a rhinoceros before. I looked at the clock. 4:31. The alarm was set; I had thought of getting up at 5:00 on this Sunday morning and butt-kicking my writing career. I could settle back in for a half-hour's sleep or jump up and get to it.

The nap tempted me for a moment, but then I realized I wouldn't be dreaming of rhinos unless it was time to do some hard-charging.

I got up, made coffee, and sat down to write. I finished this little essay at 4:56.

Monday, July 27, 2015

On re-reading ‘The Rocket Man’ by Ray Bradbury

So sad – so beautiful – with a final line that kills.

Sometimes I read a story at random from the short-story collection R is for Rocket, my first exposure to Ray Bradbury, and think, no wonder I was enchanted for life.

No wonder Bernie Taupin and Elton John wrote a song about it – a beautiful, haunting song. So much wonder – no wonder. No wonder why we fell under the spell of the words.

Bradbury is a master weaver, a master magician, who knew instinctively (No! who knew after practicing his craft diligently for years) how to use his words to paint fabulous pictures in our minds.

“Come with me here,” he cries, “and I’ll tell you about a young boy on the cusp of adulthood and his lonely mom and his dad who comes home for a few days every three months and then disappears into the sky …”

P.S. Inside the parentheses is the most important point of this post for those who mean to be creative.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sunset electronica: Manifesto

“You see it now, don’t you?” he said, his eyes burning with the light from the glowing screen, the screen that was not as bright as a moment before and would never be this bright again. “When all the screens are shut off and all the networks are disintegrated, there will be no words in the ether and all of these words will be scattered to the winds. And all that remains will be the words committed to parchment and paper with ink and carbon. Yes, fire can burn the words if you burn long enough, but not as quickly and efficiently as turning off the power. That is why we have kept the printing presses running, why we keep scratching in our journals, every strike of the pen a revolution, every turn of the press a declaration of war against you who would silence the poetry and prose of the ages.

“You can’t shut every mind away from every other mind, not as long as we have words to share across time and space. The heiroglyphics mean something. The cursive represent an era. Those who can unlock the keys of written language are time machines. This pen I hold is a life giver. When the battery is dead, the words to cure the illness will still be on the page. Why the battery has died will not matter, because the words will fight on. Oh, the tyrant may triumph for a few days or years, but the words will be found, the books will sit and wait for the tyrant to die – here, in this quiet and peaceful library.

“Yes, the words will wait, and one day a child will find them and learn to read them and discover that we are all alike, all unique, the lot of us, and our uniqueness is our strength – all alike in desiring to be someone, all unique in a way that no other of us can quite be. The words in the books show us, and the books with their fragile, fluttering pages will outlive the electrons.”

And as he held the book high, he cried, “Hello, Dickens – you look as young as the day is long. Hey, Bradbury, my father, look! I found Charles D in your hair and spilling out of your ears. Did you know when Oliver walked the streets that he was sending Spender to Mars? Have you you seen my Wildflower Man? He walked the fields with Ebeneezer.”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Run through the weariness

All jumbled in a pile are all the thoughts of morning and left over from the night, and I pick up the pen and open the spigot and let them flow. Here is the memory of a dream about loveless lovemaking in a strange place – how weird dreams can be. Here are the tasks assigned to later in the day and a vague pledge to start those tasks a little earlier today, so they can be finished while the sun shines.

Here in my reading is the dandelion wine-making scene that so enchanted me and raised my spirits so many years ago, still magic, still pulling a thrill from a heart that is less tired than it pretends.

The fingers rebel – “We can’t keep going like this, we are old and creaky!” – or is it simply the rebellion of muscles long unused, called back to their rightful duty and purpose?

Run through the weariness, say the runners, and you will find the second wind on the other side. And sure enough the ache is forgotten when the rush of words is released in the end.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Who is to say when you might need to know?

“Do you know the capital of Portugal?” she asks.

No, and what’s the point? I have no need to know the capital of Portugal.

“Ah, need is such a big word,” she says. 

In the end, you need food and water and a modicum of shelter.

“Need for what? For what purpose?” she asks. “Need to stay alive? Need to accomplish your life’s meaning? Need to be happy? You say you have no need to know the capital of Portugal. But who is to say when you might need to know? Why not simply assimilate the knowledge and be content? Not all learning needs to be immediately practical.”

Ha, ha, there’s that word again, needs. Fine, I’ll look it up.

“With its central location, Lisbon became the capital of the new Portuguese territory in 1255.”

“New” territory? The territory was ancient as the Earth itself. No, this was not new territory, merely newly marked with arbitrary lines with which someone asserted, “This is my jurisdiction, mine, me – the king of the world. Well, yes, for now only the king of Portugal, but tomorrow – on the morrow – tomorrow …”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The boy who was and the boy he wished to be

A boy passed this way, looking and listening and testing the limits of the body he was given, and he found the limits worth stretching. He stooped and examined the soil and the leaves and the teeming life, he ran into the field and looked up and up and up at the sky, and he yelled to hear his voice echo back from the trees at the edge of the field and bounce back from the house not far away. It was all good.

Tucked away with a comic book was another boy, a gawky thing who didn’t keep trying until his arms could pull himself up on the rope, who couldn’t quite get the hang of hitting the little ball with the stick, and so he fiddled with numbers and words instead.

The strong and swift boy envied his friend’s ability to work numbers and craft images with words. The gawky one said, “Yes, but to know the joy of the ball clearing a fence – to catch a touchdown pass, just once …”

Monday, July 20, 2015

The futility and the value of the to-do list

Each day the list: What must be done every day, what must be done today, what could be done today, what should be done someday. Each day the list.

But then the day unfolds. And something else is done, and there’s somewhere else to go, things and places and actions that were not on the list but still needed to be done.

The list is a map, or a plan, or a guide, but life is not a list as much as an unexplored river with twists and turns and surprises and diversions.

Still, we make lists. We need lists to keep us on track or on mission or on point, but the list is “a” list and not comprehensive – no one can make a list that accounts for all of the variables as atoms bounce against each other colliding with purpose and purposelessness and joy and sorrow and beauty and horror and surprise and the expected.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mission statement

One could hardly find a better mission statement than this:

To explore strange new worlds.

To seek out new life and new civilizations.

To boldly go where no one has gone before.

P.S. We're still not sure how she got inside the fenced-in raspberry patch.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Behind the scenes: Our cast of characters

Willow is The Best Dog There Is™ - a sweet, loving animal who understands what makes us happy. She loves to snuggle and stays close when we need her to stay close.

And then there's This One, Dejah, the maniac who runs around the yard and eats things she shouldn't and seems at any moment to dash off somewhere dangerous.

The rebel. The untamed. Her own dog. We love her, too.

- - -

Dejah is the inspiration for the character of Goombah, the narrator of my Myke Phoenix story The Puppy Cried 'Murder.' After calling this dog a goombah, what I thought was an imaginary word meaning "crazy dog," it occurred to me that I should see if it's a real word. 

It turns out to mean "close friend or associate, especially a member of a criminal gang," more precisely an Italian-American criminal gang of the Godfather sort. I guess that also works; she certainly has a lawless streak.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Take up the tools of creation

He sat in his chair, trying to be creative, but the duties of his day job kept pressing against his consciousness. A memo left unfinished - a report left unread - It was difficult to concentrate on creating new worlds when the real world kept calling.

The doubt birds kept calling: "You can't - you shouldn't - no time for that - no talent - no discipline - you can't - you can't you can't you can't."

"No," he said, not sure he believed himself. "I can."

"You can't," chattered the doubt birds.

"I'm going to," he insisted.

"You'll regret it," said the doubt birds.

"Try and stop me," said he.

They swarmed. He screamed. All was quiet.

And the words appeared, one by one, slowly at first and then all in a rush, over the blank pages.

"It's crap," said the doubt birds.

"Of course it is," he said, "but it will get better - and I invented the doubt birds this morning, didn't I?"

- - -

Sit down to create. Put the tools of creation in your hands. Move your hands. Something will be created. If you're just starting, it may not be much. 

But it will be something, and something is better than nothing. A feeble effort is better than no effort.

Do it again tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and the many days after that. With practice the creations will be better, and at some point, as you keep it up, they will become so good you can say, "This is the creation I imagined - this is what I dreamed of."

"It's crap," the doubt birds will surely say. But it's not wasting away inside you anymore.

Sit down to create. Take up the tools of creation. Move your hands. See what happens? It's a creation.

"I made this!" you cry in astonishment. Yes, you did. Yes, you can. 

Is it good enough? Well, Theodore Sturgeon famously once said 90 percent of everything is crap (well, he said "crud," but he meant something more colorful than "crap") - but the corollary of that is that 10 percent is pretty good. You can't create that 10 percent by worrying about the 90 percent.

And maybe you can fix some of that 90 percent through repair and revision - at least 10 percent of it ...

Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy Independence Day

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Triumph over the squirrels or succumb to the cacophony

The images flashed at him, too many images, too many words, all at once, too many sounds, too many too many too many, his mind screamed, and the scream was another sound to go with the too many others.
“Stop!” and he suddenly realized he had said it out loud.
“Stop what?” she asked.
“There’s too much coming at me at once,” he said, reaching for his cellphone. “I guess I just can’t process it all.”
“You can start by setting that cellphone down, don’t you think?” she said.
He laughed and set it down. “You got that right.”
“I always do,” she smiled.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Turn the page. Start anew. Here's another month. Clear the slate.

Turn the page. Start anew. Here’s another month. Clear the slate.
Be not bedeviled by what came before. Make a new path. This time, knowing what you know now, no false steps, no wrong turns, no driving for miles in the wrong direction – this time, just straight and true to the destination.
And then, having secured what you needed, you can continue the quest. Reaching this goal will be a triumph, but a person needs new goals. “I will be happy when I have this.” Yes, for a moment. And then you will realize you need a new quest.
For the joy is not wholly in completing the quest – it is in the questing itself. It is in the having a quest. We are a questing species. We are questers.
Each quest is another step in The Great Quest, the reason for being. When all of the quests are added up, others will make a final accounting. We will be measured by how many we helped, and how much better the world is that we passed this way.
But it’s not a competition. We do all that we are able and will not be measured against other men and women but rather against what we could have been. “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
But the time of accounting is not today. And so for now, turn the page and do your best.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

If multitasking is impossible, and it is, how do you get everything done?

Is it time management or distraction management?
All of the organization in the world flies out the window in the fact of constant distraction. Like the dog sidetracked by squirrels, the constant beep and bells and whistles of the electronics bombard us with Other Things To Do.
Multitask? No. Better to do one task at a time and get it out of the way, then move to the next task, than to try to “do two things at once,” which is impossible in practice.
How, then, to stay on task when the day and everyone around you conspires to pull you off track and call your attention to another task? Is there truly a way to prevent distractions, or is the solution merely to find a way to ignore everything except the task at hand, to harness enough willpower to stay on task?
There’s a multimillion-dollar do-it-yourself book waiting for the writer who solves this challenge: Fight the Squirrels: How to Harness the Willpower to Stay On Task.
Possible approaches – Remove the clutter. Turn off the alerts. Sit. Sift. Listen. Convince others to sit, sift and listen. Somehow hear the messages you need to hear in priority order, one at a time.
Concentrate. Stay focused while the world about you is in chaos. That’s the main task. Don’t try to multitask; there’s not such thing anyway.
Triumph over the squirrels or succumb to the cacophony.

Monday, June 29, 2015

W.B. as couch potato: Marvel's Daredevil

Over the closing credits of the television program Marvel’s Daredevil is a “thank you” to Brian Michael Bendis, Gene Colan, Klaus Janson, Alex Maleez, David Mazzucchelli, Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller, John Romita Jr., John Romita Sr., and Joe Orlando.
And appropriately so: The series oozes with the imagery those creators pressed into the classic comic book stories that pushed the envelope of what comic books stories could be.
I needed to pause after watching three episodes of the 13-episode first season (available since April via Netflix) because of the over-the-top violence of these TV stories, which were faithful to the original. When I moved on, I had to watch alone because my dear companion does not have the tolerance to watch such scenes of simulated butchery and inhumanity, no matter how compelling the overriding story is.
After watching that third episode, “Rabbit in a Snowstorm,” I wrote:

A story that begins with a man’s head being crushed with a bowling ball concludes with the murderer killing himself by jamming his eye into a sharp spike. The fist fights are graphic and prolonged and quiet save for the grunts, shouts and screams of pain and the sound of bones cracking and snapping. This is entertainment?
The mystery and intrigue are extremely well done, but the violence is over-the-top graphic. Perhaps this is good – too often comic book violence is sanitized to the point where it looks like inconsequential fun – but one has to ask whether the well-told story is worth enduring the extreme realism of the violence.
When what passes for entertainment crushes the soul, is it entertainment anymore or some variation of pornography? I need to decide whether the story is worth enduring the ugly parts.
This is certainly not the kind of story I want to create – I need to consider whether it’s the kind of story I want to finish watching.
The awful violence of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (*the Swedish version) served the story of that outstanding film. To this point the awful violence of Daredevil seems gratuitous to me.
On the other hand, the show’s creators dare to be out on the edge – they know this won’t appeal to everyone but choose to tell this story this way.

And so I soldiered on through episodes 4-13, slowly because I had to find times both when my beloved wasn’t around and when I was in the mood for watching a violent TV program. In the end, I’m glad I stuck around to watch.
The cast must be applauded. Charlie Cox makes Matt Murdock/DD the role of a lifetime, conveying incredible emotion with his eyes hidden almost all of the time. Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson bring to life characters who are astonishingly faithful to those we followed on four-color pages all those years ago.
(Wally Conger says this may be the most faithful interpretation of a comic book series onto the screen ever. I don’t disagree.)
When I first saw the words “And Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk,” I knew the show had the potential for magic. Few actors portray disturbing characters with the depth and humanity that D’Onofrio brings to the screen, and my highest expectations were met. D’Onofrio’s Kingpin (Wilson Fisk) is true to the vision that those 10 comic book creators crafted through the years.
Although his name is on the opening credits from the start, D’Onofrio does not actually appear until that third episode, in a stroke of creative genius. And even then he only appears in the final sequence, a scene that only hints at what is ahead. My desire to watch Fisk unfold may be the reason I decided to proceed to the fourth episode and beyond.
Daredevil – especially as reinterpreted starting with the Frank Miller issues and most especially starting around issue #170, when Miller reinvented the Spider-Man villain as Daredevil’s nemesis – inhabits the darkest corners of the Marvel Comics universe, and so this is a dark, dark show. No one gets through this fight unaltered or unhurt. It’s often painful to watch, but ultimately it is a spectacular triumph, one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever seen.

Friday, June 26, 2015

1,000-mile journey via a phrase

"... bees which were, no more, no less, said Father, the world humming under its breath." 
- Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

In the first town where I lived, there was this field, and in the field were flowers and grasses and breezes that rustled rabbits and bees and little boys who ran and sang and whistled. 

The field was tucked between this street and that street and this church and that apartment building, and the path through the field was the shortcut to downtown.

For a minute or two each time, the field was an oasis from the concrete.

There is the power of words: When I read that phrase in Bradbury's book, I became an 8-year-old boy strolling down that path through a field that no longer exists, and I heard the bees hum among the flowers.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sunset electronica, entry 3

He stepped away from the glowing screen, picked up his pen and his journal, and sat down to write.

The whirr of the computer taunted him - "Here I am, I have the world here waiting for you, come over and sit down with me" - and the device next to his chair joined the chorus - "Here I am, everything you need in the palm of your hand."

But that morning, he heard the rest of it: the woman he loved playing with the dogs in the other room, the songbirds calling their music, the passing traffic from the road above.

It was on that day that somehow he sensed the computer's whirring would be silenced one day. He foresaw the cataclysm that ended with rationing of electronics, and he knew that in the end he would have to depend not on electricity but on the power of his fingers' ability to scratch thoughts and concepts across a piece of paper.

"Preserve the code, preserve the written language," a warning sounded in his mind. "The words will have no meaning to those who cannot read. The storage is useless to those with no key to the storeroom."

Armed with that knowledge, he understood that all you need in order to read the book is the book. The book is the ultimate device.

He feared the fire that could consume paper and snatch centuries of words away, but he feared more the silence of the machines - devices meant to pull the world together reduced to useless bits of plastic and silicon that no longer held what they were designed to hold.

He picked up the obsolete device and found nothing.

The seemingly magical device that once glowed and cooed and gave him books and sounds and games and pictures was silent now, replaced by the songbirds and the sunrise and the rustling of leaves in trees. There was no charge, and the words and pictures were trapped inside the device.

Good thing someone preserved the words on paper and parchment. He pulled a book off his shelf and found a voice from 500 years ago. 

"Have faith. Here they are, the words," the book whispered to him. "Here is your wisdom. Here is your past, delivered by a time machine of bound paper."

The man still could not bear to set aside his device, but he slipped it into his pocket, opened the book, and began to read.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The persistent pursuit of The Stuff

"A place for everything, and everything in its place."

Have you had this feeling? You want to accomplish something, but your mind and even your physical work space is such a jumble that you can't even figure out what it is you want to accomplish. Many mornings I'm there.

Tumbled piles of books and phonograph records and toys and even a rock or two - where is their place? Surely not in this mess.

On the other hand, there is that little plaque in the corner: "Creative Clutter is better than tidy idleness." Yes, but why does my work area look so much like idle clutter?

Still, I keep at it, spilling words onto a page at the appointed hour every morning, and at some point I find that among the nuggets in my careless pile of stuff is the stuff of dreams, the stuff of magic, the stuff of capital letters:

The Stuff, not just the stuff. The Stuff.

When you find The Stuff within you, or resting on a branch, or soaring with the pelicans overhead - ah, The Stuff and its magic spell will lift you - there, where The Stuff is waiting to be discovered, there is when it becomes Creative Clutter.

Keep creating - just digging and building from the stuff that's inside you. It may take a while to happen, but if you keep at it, eventually The Stuff will begin to happen. Don't quit now; keep creating.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A closet full of universes

Technology is freedom. The toaster changed the universe. The boat opened worlds. Clumping-style kitty litter saved continents. Tissue-paper handkerchiefs saved lives.

Every picture tells a story - but words expand the picture - and every person who sees the picture sees a different story - and every person who encounters the words hears a different story.

How many novels did she write? One - and several million.

I built bookshelves into what would be the clothes closet if we were using this room as a bedroom. It is a closet full of universes. A shelf packed with lifetimes. Each book a unique miracle, a collection of rare gifts waiting to be unwrapped.

We each pass this way just once, and forever. What miracle will we unwrap today? The joy of discovery is endless when we open ourselves to joy. The pain is endless when we focus on the pain.

Choose the joy, overcome the pain - open the closet and discover another universe.

Monday, June 22, 2015

How to overcome the restrictions of time and space?

He was helpless to be anywhere that this mobile vessel of a soul carrier, this container of flesh and blood, was not.

If his soul needed to be 20 miles away in a half-hour, he had to transport this soul carrier to that location. If it was better to be 1,500 miles away, well, then, he was helpless to do anything - although he could transmit his image and his voice to that far-away location, and that worked almost as well. And there, in that fact, was the reason for the technology. If the tech failed, how would he get the message across the miles? 

Even with the tech, how would he sense the how would he sense the feelings in the room when only the image and voice could be experienced? And how would he understand the community he was talking to, without walking its streets and among its people?

No, to be real, he needed to move the body into those other places. Or ...

Or else ...

He pulled a book off the shelf and was on a riverboat chugging down the Mississippi River a century and a half ago.

He was a young girl hiding from insidious forces that wished her harm because of the accident of her birth.

He was a scientist traveling to the moon in the faraway future of 1962. He was the captain of a submarine plying 19th century ocean watsers.

Each book a time machine, a moment captured in amber to be preserved for the ages.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Another scene from Sunset Electronica

He thrust a small sheaf of paper into the other's hand. The papers were bound together at the top, and the last sheet was of heavier stock - cardboard, in fact.

"This is what we used to call a tablet," he said, next handing over a box of small, thin sticks. "And these are pencils. Bring the wood and the graphite inside to a point, and you have a writing instrument."

"Writing?" said the other. "Where's the keyboard? How do you attach a screen? What about the batteries?"

"There are no more batteries and may not be ever again. We must relearn how to write with these utensils. We must relearn how to make paper. We must relearn how to make pencils and pen and ink."

"But why?"

"You weren't listening, were you? Because there are no more batteries and may not be ever again. Your tablet is now a useless slab of glass. Well, not useless. You might be able to use it as a hard surface for your paper as you write."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


In time she came to understand that she was different from others. It took longer to understand that everyone was different, and that that was the the only thing everyone had in common.

Some would look almost like someone else, some would act almost like someone else, some would think almost like someone else, but like snowflakes no two were exactly the same, and therefore the loss of one was like the ending of a universe.

The arbitrary groupings were so absurd - attempts to find commonalities based on hair color, skin tone, religious beliefs, even birthdays, proved futile and absurd. After all, what do William Shatner, Bob Costas, Reese Witherspoon, Werner Klemperer and w.p. bluhm have in common anyway beyond a shared birth date, the rich diversity of human experience and variety?

"I've never met a woman named Jennifer who wasn't attractive," one man said. It never occurred to him that all women are attractive in some way or another, because all life is beautiful.

Drawing conclusions based on any grouping of people is laziness to avoid the hard work of discovering the individual.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Random scene from an unfinished romance

He whistled a melody, a random series of notes that reminded him of nothing. He was just feeling the need to whistle something.

"What is that song?" she said.

"Nothing," he said.

"No, I've heard it somewhere."

"It's just random notes, really."

"It was a sad song, but I can't remember the words."

"I'm in a good mood," he insisted.

"Then why are you whistling a sad song?"

"Didn't feel sad to me."

"What's wrong, honey? Whatever it is, we can work it out."

"How did we get here?"

Monday, June 15, 2015

W.B. at the Movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron

There is something that Joss Whedon said during an interview about Avengers: Age of Ultron that rings true to the way his work progresses: "I have a contract with my audience - that I will do better, that I will give them a reason to come in again that is more than the reason we gave them last time."

We finally got to the theater this weekend to see Whedon's latest effort, a sequel to arguably the best comic book superhero movie ever, Marvel's The Avengers. He was hard-pressed to come up with something "that is more than the reason we gave them last time," but there were indeed moments in the second film that exceeded the first.

Most significant - and I write this carefully to avoid "spoilers" for those yet to have experienced the film - there was the moment when "the cradle" was opened. Long after the film came out, I saw an interview with Paul Bettany, so I knew what was in the cradle. The anticipation of seeing this character emerge was almost as good as, I imagine, was the surprise of movie-goers when Bettany's character was revealed - a gleeful moment of recognition and awe and the certain knowledge that the villain Ultron was going to get his now.

Then, too, was the "OMG Wash" moment of this film (a little Serenity reference there), a sacrifice sudden and poignant and unexpected that also made the villain's demise inevitable. Those two moments fulfilled Whedon's contract to provide more, even if the overall film could not match the original simply because the original was so, well, original.

The folks behind the Marvel Studios films have envisioned a sprawling adventure story that is taking hours and hours of screen time - and close to a decade of real life - to tell. It's an ambitious project and a keen lesson for storytellers regarding how to spin a tale. Can the payoff (Avengers: Infinity War Parts I and II in 2018 and 2019, respectively) possibly be worth the buildup? It's an ambitious goal, but if they pull it off as well as they have so far, they'll be the two best adventure films ever created.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Saturday, June 13, 2015

What am I doing

On the morning of April 15, I tried something different. I read a couple of short stories, grabbed a pen and a semi-neglected journal, and wrote my brains out instead of immediately turning on the computer and wandering around the Internet and finally writing with the keyboard if I had any time left after surfing.

It worked out so well that I came back the next morning and did it again.

Now it’s a habit: From 5 to 6 a.m. each morning, my pen and I have a date with the journal. (This blog entry began life as scratchings on paper.) Sometimes I reflect on life, sometimes I map out a project, sometimes a scene from a short story or novel bursts out, sometimes I just write nonsense until my brain gets traction, but every day I sit next to the window in my room and write, eschewing the desktop computer.

On Monday, May 11, I typed out one of these random musings to post on this blog, an observation about the promise of a new week, a new beginning. I attached a photo of Willow romping through our field on the first day we had her. Completely unexpectedly, I had forged a template, and now here we are every day, you and I.

I didn’t plan to do any of this. As I wrote a couple of weeks later, sometimes a new idea is discovered in hindsight – you just start doing something and see where you go. It doesn’t matter what you do, just get started. Just do something because it’s better than doing nothing. “Ready, fire, aim.”

So what I’m doing here is sharing some of the fragments I’ve been writing during these early morning hours, and photos of my adorable companions. Sometimes they come and sit and/or sleep while I scribble; often they slumber with Cj, who gets up an hour after I do.

Where is it going? I think we’ll discover that together. In the meantime I hope you find some entertainment, some encouragement, some insight, some whimsy.

One day (May 26) out of curiosity I counted to see how many pages I had filled during these mornings and I found I had 50 blank pages to go before I filled the book. Now (June 12) there are only 11 pages left. As I wrote at the end of May:

The first 50 pages (of this journal) took us from Oct. 26, 2011, to Jan. 17, 2013. This is the 90th page my pen has touched since April 15, 2015. The difference is in the decision. The difference is in the habit. The difference is in the discipline.

Of course, quantity is not quality. But in the quantity is something more than emptiness. I have scattered carrot seeds, and some are turning into carrots and some are turning into nothing. But the soil is being turned and the pages are being filled.

If Sturgeon is right and “90 percent of everything is crud,” then in six weeks I have created nine good pages (10% of 90) – in those first 14 months I created merely five. More or less.

Eighty percent of the job is just showing up, someone said. Will I keep showing up for 50 more pages, so by midyear I can finish this journal and start writing in the new one I got for Christmas 2014? We shall see. How many journals like this have I filled in a lifetime? None so far? How many do I have left to fill? Let’s see.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Each day belongs to itself

Look at the calendar. Remember? Today is the day when – but no, it isn't. It's 365 days later, or 730, or 3,652 more or less.

This day has nothing in common with that day, except for the name we give it, and even that name is different by a year or two or 10.

Today is a day all its own, and while it's wise to remember and learn from the past, this is NOT that day.

What beauty can you create today? What wrongs can you right today? How can you make today one where a year or two or 10 from now, you remember, "THIS is the day when . . ."?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sunset electronica

"This is the dawning of a new age," said the wise old woman, "not an age of hypnotized, mesmerized empty heads, but an age of being and doing and looking alive." She took the now-silent device from his hand, examined it, and dropped it to the ground. "It will not harm you anymore. The Web has gone quiet."

"But it wasn't harming me," he protested.

"Wait a few days for the fog to clear," she said. "Then you'll see where the hurting is. The trouble will come from the trolls. They thrived under the Web. They lived to be in the magic electric land, and now they're lost. They won't be happy, and lord knows they won't be kind. We'll have to be prepared for them."

He blinked and stared at the sun as if seeking information there. No phone? No contact with the outside world? No answers to questions? How would he live?

"You'll be fine," she said, as if reading the questions on his face. "That wasn't a magic helper, young man, it was a mesmerizer. It granted you wishes and kept you pacified while it was sapping your will, infecting your brain. It's a marvel you have any gumption left to walk and talk. You can walk and talk, now, can you?"

The quizzical look on her face was funny, and he wanted to take a picture of it. But the camera had been in the device. He longed for it, and he had a notion in the back of his mind that the longing was the reason he needed to be rid of it. The back of his mind – he realized it had been some time since he had used it.

The apocalypse had been happening all these years, and they had been too spellbound to realize it – but now the fog was lifting, and he saw that post-apocalyptic life would not be brutal and chaotic, as people had feared for years, but alive and well. The devices had been the agents of the fear they had all felt.

He was anxious – chalk it up to fear of the unknown – but something in her words assured him that everything was going to be all right.

Except for the trolls ...

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why is holding a book not holding a Kindle?

Finishing The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman took all of my reading/writing time this morning. I guess that's OK. I highly recommend the book – and, if you have no idea what it's about, that's OK. Neither did I, and that was part of the adventure of it.

I'm glad I read it as a paperback. (And by the way I never may have heard of this book without visiting and browsing through a bookstore one day last winter.)

I haven't picked up my Kindle or tablet since I started reading Dandelion Wine about a month ago.

There's something in those facts that I know but can't quite understand how to say. It's more than "paper books are more real." But that's a starting place.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Moving beyond listlessness

It is better by noble boldness to run the risk of being subject to half the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what may happen.

— Herodotus

Monday, June 8, 2015

The wakeful joy of everyday living

One day, you just wake up.

Everything looks sharper and clearer, everything sounds crisper and crystal, and the smells, from the must of the furniture to the lilac flowers, waft from your nose straight to your brain and embed in your soul, as if they were there all along and freshly created for the moment when you. just. wake. up.

You remember that you have been here before and held on like a drowning man, clutching at wakefulness so as not to let it slip away. Still, you never sensed when it went away, just as you never remember the moment you fell asleep - you only realize that you were sleeping and dreaming and not noticing until the day when you just wake up. Again.

Will this be the day when you stay awake?

It must be something you can practice until you reach a point where you are awake all the time.

It must be a gift from Some One, to appreciate one at a time.

It must be a chemical reaction that occurs when the enzymes and hormones and blood are mixed just so.

It must be a spirit that sails across the field and envelopes you in sharp-eyed wonder.

It must be a seed planted in your heart that germinates and grows until one day your chest bursts with wakefulness - an explosion of awareness so bright it’s almost scary.

“I’m alive!” It feels almost like a supernatural force except it’s completely natural, coaxed out of the air around us by some everyday magic of everyday life.

And that day, you just wake up.

You remember previous rebirths, awakenings that came and went before, and perhaps you realize the awareness is like a smooth stone in the water, slipping from your grasp if you clutch it too tightly.

A deep breath to exhale the poison of the quotidian and drink in the nectar of the now. Tension you forgot was there loosens in your shoulders and in every other muscle you never realized was clenched, settling through a series of little aches and nips of pain into a glorious undoing. The tightened sinews relax and open psychic pores to drink in the day, and it’s full and it’s clear and it’s life.

“Don’t let me forget this feeling,” you cry to no one in particular and everyone. “Don’t let it slip away again.” And in that fear and that anxiety lies the beginning of sinking back into not-life, for fear is the enemy of life. Death comes to us all, but not when we’re awake like this. Even the pain is more vivid in these wakeful moments, which is why some turn away, no doubt.

One day, you just wake up. And the word that bubbles to the surface is gratitude. Thank you for this waking awareness, you whisper softly, not quite knowing whom you thank. You want to believe it is God, but all you know for certain certainty is that you have awakened and see and feel and hear and taste and smell it all, wondering where these five senses have been while you passed this way in dormancy.

Was it waking a few minutes before the alarm that did it? Is the air more full of life those extra minutes before the sun rises? Do the alarms corrupt the natural awakening cycle and should you always asleep until you wake? What, you wonder, causes this special sense of being alive?

And in the questioning and the wondering, the muscles tighten up again, and the feeling begins to fade …

Until you snap back and realize no, the answer to being is simply to be - something that is not simple at all is the simplest answer of all. Be. Don’t think too hard about it, but think just enough, and Be.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Keep talking happy talk

Lambeau Field, Sept. 17, 1989.
Happy talk, keep talking happy talk ... Talk about things you'd like to do.

You gotta have a dream!

If you don't have a dream,

How you gonna have a dream come true?

Thanks, Mom.

Hilda Elwell Bluhm, Dec. 14, 1923-June 6, 2006

Friday, June 5, 2015

Too many gone all at once

[My column for the June 3, 2015, Door County Advocate]

Any day that begins with digging a grave for a cat is probably not going to be a good one.

We accepted Codi into our home when she was about three years old, in 1999. A baby had been born into the household of one of Red’s co-workers, and the cat had an unnerving habit of trying to sleep on the little one’s face. So they chose between the baby and the cat, and we gained Codi.

She was stand-offish even for a feline. For a time my nickname for her was The Cat Who Hates Cats. But she settled onto my old dad’s chest when he came out for a visit and cuddled there for all the days he was here. Even a cat who hates cats is a sucker for a cat person.

Codi never appeared ill, just slower and thinner. She was still making the four-foot leap from the bed to the easy chair this past weekend, with no sign of pain, just weariness perhaps. When I found her Monday evening, it was like she had simply slowed to a stop.

“Well, doesn’t that just take the cake,” I said as I confirmed she wasn’t moving, weary myself – weary of saying “I’m sorry” to stranger and colleague alike, for our family who gathers each morning at 235 N. Third Ave. has lost a father and a father-in-law in recent days, as well as one of our own, Cheri Harris, last link to the Advocate’s founding family who was still contributing, compiling our To-Do List and At the Galleries listings every week without fail until last week. This past winter we lost two mothers too soon.

The losses go beyond our walls – Ducky Diefenbach, the cheerful old soul who frequently visited here to tease our sports guys and share his smile. The flowers left last Wednesday at the corner where he served years as a crossing guard were just the beginning of the outpouring.

Doug Blahnik, the familiar face of the Gibraltar Historical Society; Harold Wolf, a fixture at veterans ceremonies for years and years; John Maring, Nancy Keehan – so many familiar faces gone all at once. So many sad faces wherever we turn.

Yes, we celebrate their lives and all they gave to us, and we remember them with laughter and happy stories, but they’re still gone. Their journey with us has ended. And that still hurts.

A person gets tired of mourning when so many are lost at once. And so burying a cat, even a 19-year-old cat, is placed in perspective.

I’ve just finished rereading my favorite book, Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury’s spectacular tribute to the summer of 1928, which begins with 8-year-old Douglas Spaulding coming to the giddy realization that he’s alive in all that that means, and ends not long after Douglas realizes that all lives come to an end and that his life will be no exception.

This is a grim realization if you let it be. Better to relish the gift of life while we have it, take the best of those we’ve lost and incorporate it into the way we live our own lives.

In a poignant passage, Douglas’ great-grandma talks about how only the vessel he calls Great-Grandma is dying, and that she will continue to cook and shingle the roof through the work of the family members she leaves behind.

Thinking of it that way, it won’t be long before the loss doesn’t hurt quite so much. Knowing that doesn’t help much at the moment, but it’s a promise to cling to in the dark.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Where to find a hero when you need one

Where are the heroes of yesteryear when we need them, we wonder?

We wait and search, asking, "I remember a hero and he/she saved us all, or at least saved enough of us to prove themselves a hero. Where are they today?"

These pretenders who step forward and declare, "Let me be your hero" – none of them are adequate. In the end, waiting for a hero to arrive is a fruitless enterprise.

Better to reach inside and do the things a hero would do if there were a hero here. In doing so, you might just make yourself a hero.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The lesson of the Jetstream pen

Another pen retrieved from the cache at 6:45 a.m. Sunday, May 31, 2015.

I have been writing with these pens for quite some years now, ever since I first found them. Gel ink so you don't have to press too hard, a sleek design that sits comfortably in my smallish (for my size) hands. A bit of cushion where my fingers clutch the pen for comfort's sake.

I felt I never needed to buy another model of pen again – the Uni Jetstream was the be-all and end-all. And then of course they discontinued the model. I was heartbroken and emptied the clearance rack at Office Max.

That wasn't enough – that's how much these pens meant to me. I went on eBay and purchased a case, and so I have gone nowhere without one of these pens ever since. At some point the case will run out, of course. I will have to find a way to get refills, replenish the supply, or find another pen.

Common things do attract loyalty when they fit the customer's needs. Consider that when you sit down to create. And as for my dilemma, no one at Uni knows they built me the perfect pen. I never told them, so how would they know?

Lesson learned: Tell people when they do something you appreciate, or else they may never do it again.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Seasoned sentinel still stands ready

The 1941 Philco sits behind my desk, waiting. Ancient buttons baked in the sun, long-ago-woven cloth speaker settled behind solid wooden pillars formed by a proud artisan likely at rest now, electronic works strung together with wire and glass and vacuum.

Turn on the power and wait while the electricity warms the works, and hear the sound of 20 miles away. Flip a switch and travel many more thousands of miles. The world packed in a box, 75 years since it hummed daily but still waiting to serve.

Not called into service as much as when its world was new and fresh, perhaps not as efficient as newfangled devices made of plastic and silicon, but it remains solid and dignified and sturdy. And able to perform its task.

Monday, June 1, 2015

W.B.'s Book Report: Dandelion Wine

Two of my favorites
For the last couple of weeks or so, I have been slowing savoring a book I first discovered as a teenager, and I found I am still under its spell.

It is a gift, to know with some degree of certainty that should anyone ever wish to know me - "Who are you, really, in your heart of hearts?" - that I can laugh and hand them a copy of Dandelion Wine and say, "Here, read this and know me, for this is my favorite book. Who am I, really, in my heart of hearts? Read Dandelion Wine and know what touches my heart. I am not any of the specific characters, I was not really a boy like Douglas Spaulding or any of his friends, but Ray Bradbury in describing his boyhood summer of 1928 weaves words that charm me like no other book, that recreate sights and sounds and aromas that he felt as an 8-year-old, and with words he plants those experiences into your own soul, woven with the summers you yourself have known in a way that helps you appreciate your own summers while assimilating his summer of '28.

For Bradbury - or at least for his fictionalized Douglas Spaulding - it was a season of realizing the miracle of being alive - and a season of suddenly and slowly realizing that life comes to an end - and such adventures in between.

Who am I, in my heart of hearts? I am someone who loves books, and this is my favorite book. I am someone who loves, like an old friend or favorite uncle or even a cherished lover, this book. These stories. These turns of phrase. These memories.

It's all there, the summer of 1928 as experienced by a boy in Green Town, Illinois, captured in glass bottles of yellow wine and transformed into succulent words.

Oh, there must be better books. In my lifetime I will read a fraction of all the books that have ever been written. All I know for certain is this book that delighted me as a teenager charmed and thrilled me again in my early 60s, like no other book each time.

This time I read it in bursts, a little at a time, over more than two weeks, although it is a short novel as novels go these days - 184 paperback pages. I remember picking it up once in between, a few years back, and starting to read but not being touched the way I was the first time. I wonder if it was winter then. I wonder if this book needs the soundtrack of the birds calling outside the window, the warmth of spring and music in the air, to come alive. It certainly enchanted me again this past half-month as it did more than 40 years ago, when I devoured it in a rush.

And so I declare it my favorite book - perhaps not the greatest literary triumph, although perhaps it is, because what it literature if not an attempt to capture the human experience in words? No matter. I am grateful Ray Bradbury lived, that he set the summer of 1928 to music, and that I encountered this masterwork at two of the moments in my life that I was most receptive to its beauty.