48 posts

Tempted to Give Up? You’re Not Alone


It’s on everybody’s lips: These are dark days, especially between the pandemic and politics. I’m of two minds, torn between the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. One preaches activism, the other isolation. One says get more involved. The other says quit while you’re behind. Trouble is, I can’t tell which is advocating which.

By way of explanation, here’s a little context: Thirty years ago, my wife and I rented a cottage on a lake with our young children. A pine cabin, it stood on concrete blocks and was equipped with electricity and running water thanks to a pump drawing water from the lake.

When vacationing there, we did not bother with a television or newspapers. For two weeks, we simply read books, played cards and board games, had conversations, swam in the water, dozed on the sun-drenched dock, and listened to the occasional Red Sox game on AM radio.

In effect, there was no “out there.” The world as we knew it was put on hold. Instead, it simply consisted of lake, woods, and a cabin seemingly ignorant of time. No politics. No crime. No national or international news. This isolation was a balm for the soul – and what’s good for the soul is good for the body.

If stress is so bad for us, it can be argued that turning in and logging off is a great strategy for healing and staying healthy. Thoreau, I’m sure, would approve. Yet for all his walks in the woods and stays in a cabin by Walden, Thoreau was also an activist fighting hard for the abolitionist cause and a man who spent time in jail for civil disobedience.

That’s why, as soon as I get comfortable with the warm blanket of escapism, I wonder about being a better Citizen of the World. Or, even more difficult, about my own country. If the Republic we all grew up pledging allegiance to is in trouble, don’t we owe it to the Founding Fathers to get involved? To speak up? To do something about saving it before all hell breaks loose and we fall into “soft fascism” á la Hungary – and all because of one man’s untreated psychological problems and a cable “news” channel that is doing Russia’s dirty work by spreading misinformation and division (thank you, Comrade Carlson)?

It’s questions like this that invite cloud cover over memories of those halcyon days at the lake. On one side I get an earful: Wouldn’t it look selfish and foolish to make like an ostrich and bury your head in the sand just because you just can’t deal with it anymore?

Then, in the other ear, another: If Covid wars, culture wars, and history repeating itself to the refrain of the 1930’s are only shortening your life, don’t you owe it to yourself to pull back from it all and breathe, Zen-like?

I don’t have any answers. I hear both figures on both shoulders, but sometimes it’s unclear who has the halo and who has the pitchfork, who advocates for the light and who for the dark. Nothing is obvious, and on any given day, my thoughts lean gray as dawn and dusk.

Here’s a Maggie Smith poem that speaks, in its own poetic way, to our assumptions about right and wrong being as easy as light and dark. In a way, it reminds me of the light and dark plying my ears!

How Dark the Beginning

All we ever talk of is light—

let there be light, there was light then,

good light—but what I consider

dawn is darker than all that.

So many hours between the day

receding and what we recognize

as morning, the sun cresting

like a wave that won’t break

over us—as if light were protective,

as if no hearts were flayed,

no bodies broken on a day

like today. In any film,

the sunrise tells us everything

will be all right. Danger wouldn’t

dare show up now, dragging

its shadow across the screen.

We talk so much of light, please

let me speak on behalf

of the good dark. Let us

talk more of how dark

the beginning of a day is.


One of my favorite phrases from the Bible is “Through a glass darkly.” These days, I see a lot of things “through a glass darkly” because so much is sinister in a déjà vu kind of way.

Is it selfish to brighten my own life? Might I then be accused of contributing to the dark forces by failing to assist the various causes for good?

Smith’s poem seems to speak to things that have crawled out of dark sewers and into the light of day. They are the new normal, and they are decidedly encouraged by each other and by their newfound freedom to operate with impunity in fresh air and sunlight. They see each other and are emboldened by each other.

That may be far from Smith’s intent, but the reader-writer compact tells us that there’s a gray area between light and dark, not only come dawn and dusk, but come our daily deliberations over how much or little to be agents of change — and at what cost.


A Word to the Wise: Jim Harrison Goes Aphoristic

I am wending my way through the late Jim Harrison’s Complete Poems – almost 900 pages of them. A prolific writer, Harrison wrote before his death, “This book is the portion of my life that means the most to me. I’ve written a goodly number of novels and novellas but they sometimes strike me as extra, burly flesh on the true bones of my life, though a few of them approach some of the conditions of poetry.”

Here are a few of the aphoristic stanzas from one of the books, Braided Creek, included in this collection:

All those years

I had in my pocket.

I spent them,



All I want to be

is a thousand blackbirds

bursting from a tree,

seeding the sky.


On every topographic map,

the fingerprints of God.


The biomass of ants,

their total weight on earth,

exceeds our own.

They welcome us to their world

of small homes, hard work, big women.


When Time picks apples,

it eats them with the yellow teeth

of bees.


I might have been a welder,

kneeling at a fountain of sparks

in my mask of stars


Midday silence is different

from nighttime silence.

I can’t tell you how.


Between the four pads

of a dog’s foot,

the fragrance of grass.


What if everyone you loved

were still alive? That’s the province

of the young, who don’t know it.


I’m sixty-two and can drop dead

at any moment. Thinking this in August

I kissed the river’s cold moving lips.


A welcome mat of moonlight

on the floor. Wipe your feet

before getting into bed.


I was born a baby.

What has been



Treasure what you find

already in your pocket, friend.

Parlez-Vous English?

Thanks to Netflix, I’ve learned that I don’t understand English as well as I thought. I’ve seen more than one British-based show, but the one that’s taking it out of me is the darker-than-dark After Life, starring Ricky Gervais. I admit as much here: At times I’m completely lost and only picking up 40% of what’s being said. Maybe it’s English I speak well and British that gives me fits. Cornwallis’s revenge? I can hear him now: “Tea party that, mate!”

You Carry Your Breath Everywhere, So Why Ignore It?

Recently I’ve been making like George Harrison (one of two departed Beatles) by getting into a book about Indian spiritualism. As a break from reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ponderous Brothers Karamazov, I picked up Jay Shetty’s Think Like a Monk

Turns out, monk-like thoughts suit me well. Unlike most self-help books, this one didn’t come across as so much reheated claptrap. Shetty, a British-born Indian, disappointed his parents by passing on becoming a lawyer or doctor and instead flying to India to join an ashram. There he learned a lot about hardship and spiritualism thanks to one of the oldest civilizations in the world. 

Unfortunately, health concerns eventually forced him back to England, where he decided to parlay all he’d learned about himself from various holy men by writing a book. The spin? He shows how a few practices and a more Eastern mindset can be put to good effect in the hustle of modern Western life. Reading it, you realize just how much room for improvement there is when it comes to your spiritual side. First and foremost is dealing with the ego.

Sound easy? Listen again.


Into the Fray on Valentine’s Day

February 14th has never been my favorite day. I mean, really. A day to prove your love to someone? Shouldn’t that be every day? And to make matters worse, there’s the flower shortage to confound last-minute shoppers (the ones carrying Y chromosomes, typically). Be prepared to say it with chocolates, gentlemen. Or a backrub. Or a Covid-free restaurant (I’m almost sure one’s out there). 

Into clever word-play, maybe? Try saying it with flour!

Or you can do what I do. Take a page out of Hallmark’s book (and bottom line) by creating your own card. My wife has saved them since time immemorial (also known as “1982”). Not sure what will become of them when the prefix “im-” invades our “permanence,” but that’s OK. I won’t much care by then.

Is Poetry Dead or Just Playing Possum?

Ask any librarian or bookstore owner. The aisle (or Dewey Decimal number) less traveled by is poetry.

Why is that? You would think that readers would love to read all types of books alike — fiction, essays, history, drama, memoir, and poetry.

That’s how it starts, anyway. After all, little kids love poetry. They’re nurtured on Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes, children’s song lyrics, Dr. Seuss’s word play. But by the time they reach middle school, the love is all but gone. What happens? 

There’s no lack of theories. Some lay the blame at English teachers’ feet. As Billy Collins once wrote in “Introduction to Poetry”:

…all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

By this theory’s logic, teachers “ruin” poems, either by selecting inscrutable works or by making it work instead of fun to read. Thus we have teachers as keepers of the keys to meanings, while kids are left to play a dreary guessing game.

“Why don’t poets just say what they mean?” victims of this game might say. “Why aren’t kids intrigued by a poem’s unique slant on old truths?” an admirer of poetry might respond.

Matt Zapruder, poet and professor, has an idea. He thinks readers — including young people — need only one tool to fully understand poetry: a dictionary. Yes, online is fine. And no, not just to look up words they don’t know. Words they know, too. Especially common words with multiple meanings because, in poetry, words work in mysterious — dare I say “often very cool” — ways. Sometimes definition #8 works better than definition #1.

When a reader of poetry is intrigued like a detective who wants to solve a mystery or advocate for a particular meaning, it’s a new ball game. Poetry isn’t being “done to them.” They are “doing poetry.” The whole scenario is flipped. Both control and motivation is given to the reader.

Couple this with the appropriate selection of poems for each age group, and the situation shifts. Ditto adults. Every topic is fair game in poetry these days, and there’s a voice that will resonate with readers of every taste — if given the chance, of course. If readers who “left” poetry are willing to jump back in. And if they’re willing to mix it up and appreciate that reading poetry offers rewards both similar to and different from prose.

Next newsletter: How reading poetry is different from reading prose, and how it benefits the brain the way aerobic and anaerobic activities complement each other in exercising the body.



The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

This is that rare book that handles both plot and characterization well. Diving into the publishing world, it tells the story of a writer/teacher who takes a student writer’s idea and runs with it. When it becomes a bestseller, he starts to get mysterious messages accusing him of plagiarism. It’s a quiet psychological thriller that Stephen King or Alfred Hitchcock would fancy. Book lovers will, too.

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

Green, the heralded YA author of such books as Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, takes a different turn with these mini-essays based on a podcast he does with brother Henry. Fans of trivia — and, let’s be honest, knowledge — will savor his quick forays into such disparate and odd topics as Halley’s Comet, Lascaux Cave Paintings, Piggly Wiggly stores, The Yips,” “Auld Lang Syne,” etc.) or, because of his expository efforts, became somewhat the QWERTY Keyboard, and the film Penguins of Madagascar. Like those rare teachers we remember best from school — both fun and entertaining — the book satisfies in 3-5 page morsels. Tasty!

Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry by John Murillo

Fans of narrative poetry that not only embraces the present moment but the history of Black experience in America will appreciate Murillo’s conversational free verse that recounts various episodes from his life and others in his circle of friends and family. The highlight of the book is a strong set of sonnets (Petrarch and Shakespeare need not apply) in the center of the book, each 14-liner going to the heart of America’s social woes from different angles. Thought-provoking stuff!


The Hidden Thoreau in Anton Chekhov


If you come to an Anton Chekhov short story looking for a plot, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you read Chekhov and fret that nothing happens, you’d best reconsider your definition of “nothing.”

These thoughts reoccurred to me as I finished the Richard Pevear / Larissa Volokhonsky translation, Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov. I found it good medicine, especially for a poet, to swim in the Russian master’s pool.

Chekhov is a perfect example of my pet theory about literature: almost all of it is a riff on Henry David Thoreau’s famous line, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I even used Henry’s line as an epigraph to my first poetry collection, The Indifferent World.

Less literary but surely related to Thoreau’s line from Essays on Civil Disobedience is a title from the Irish band U2’s song: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” To my mind, they go hand in hand. Man searches as if there is something — some source of happiness in life — missing, but it is always somewhere ahead of him, just out of reach. It is, in fact, the source of his quiet desperation.

This afflicts even the characters we least expect it from. Contemporary story writer Peter Orner considers “The Bishop” to be Chekhov’s best story, and it is the penultimate tale in the collection I just finished.

And yes, even the bishop, a respected and revered figure in the Russian Orthodox Church, is visited by doubt in the night. Even the bishop is bedeviled by both the past and the future while musing on the present.

It seems we can find a paragraph like the one below in most any Chekhov short story. The moment of truth. Let’s jump into the mind of the bishop, who is listening from his sickbed to the singing of monks in the church. As notes to the story explain, the songs he hears are “words from hymns sung during the services known as ‘Bridegroom services’ celebrated on the first three days of Holy Week.”


In the evening the monks sang harmoniously, inspiredly, the office was celebrated by a young hieromonk with a black beard; and the bishop, listening to the verses about the Bridegroom who cometh at midnight and about the chamber that is adorned, felt, not repentance for his sins, not sorrow, but inner peace, silence, and was carried in his thoughts into the distant past, into his childhood and youth, when they had also sung about the Bridegroom and the chamber, and now that past appeared alive, beautiful, joyful, as it probably never had been. And perhaps in the other world, in the other life, we shall remember the distant past, our life here, with the same feelings. Who knows? The bishop sat in the sanctuary, it was dark there. Tears flowed down his face. He was thinking that here he had achieved everything possible for a man in his position, he had faith, and yet not everything was clear, something was still lacking, he did not want to die; and it still seemed that there was some most important thing which he did not have, of which he had once vaguely dreamed, and in the present he was stirred by the same hope for the future that he had had in childhood, and in the academy, and abroad.

“They’re singing so well today!” he thought, listening to the choir. “So well!”


I love how the abstract musings are bookended by the actual moment of singing. And how Chekhov hits on our habit of laundering our own pasts of all its ills until childhood seems like the perfect world it surely wasn’t. And how a man of faith in a high office is left, like the rest of us, with stark questions about the afterlife and the purpose of our existence.

In short, this bishop still hasn’t found what he’s looking for and never will, because that, Chekhov seems to say, is what life is all about. That is the quiet desperation we each inherit and wrestle with when we dare engage our thoughts with such thoughts.

You might be tempted to brand Chekhov a downer and say all these desperate characters are the products of a decidedly cynical man, and yet story after story provides glimpses of life’s beauty (see above, where moments from childhood are called “alive, beautiful, joyful”).

And then the ends of the stories come, often with inconsequential, quotidian observations about the setting or with a banal point about goings on around the character. Life goes on, Chekhov tells us, but neat endings and bow-tied resolutions are rarities.

And yes, we will be forgotten soon after we’re gone. And yes, others will experience the same joys and quiet desperations we did, but how many would trade the journey away?

For Chekhov, ultimately, life is worth its tribulations. It was also the wellspring of much of his art.

Random Thoughts, Election Cycle


It’s been a while since I’ve given the green light to one of my occasional random thoughts posts, probably because I’ve been preoccupied by things political, and this blog is supposed to be more about writing and poetry and (insert British accent) LIT-er-a-chuh. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum, then, but if you are a fan of orange mold (as in forgotten refrigerator leftovers or tenants in the Accent-on-White House), you might want to skip on to the next blog.

  • First things first, WordPress, my longtime host, has switched their software or something, and count me as a definite NO vote for the new methods of posting. Supposedly clicking CLASSIC makes it like the old set-up, but who are they kidding? It’s a different animal. A wild one. Showing signs of rabies.
  • My daughter is encouraging me to jump to my own site with my own name as the domain name. All the writers are doing it, she says. Well, then, if all of them are doing it, who am I to walk to the beat of my own drummer? (Just don’t tell Thoreau I said so.)
  • Meaning: You’ll be the first to know if I move to greener (and more self-absorbed) pastures.
  • Speaking of self-absorbed, Amazon sales statistics turn authors into so many paper towels. They can’t absorb enough of those lower-is-better numbers on the statistical sales tabulations.
  • Pitiful, no?
  • Yes.
  • Good news: my third poetry book will be out in the summer of 2021.
  • Bad news: the pandemic fall and winter will be long ones.
  • Every time I read about Trump’s campaign for “Law & Order,” I add an asterisk and the words “* Except when the laws apply to him.”
  • Writing is not for the faint of heart, true, but it’s REALLY not for the elderly of heart, as in 80- and 90-somethings. “The wait,” one octogenarian told me, “on submissions will be the death of me.”
  • That’s dark humor, by the way.
  • Wasn’t it delicious to see the Snowflake-in-Chief run away when he stepped onto the Supreme Court steps to supposedly honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg? A chorus of boos from the crowd followed by chants of “Vote him out!” sent him running for the exits ipso fasto, so used to screened audiences of adoring enablers is he.
  • Purple and pink. You might consider them a little girl’s favorite colors, but I stepped outside and noted purplish clouds with pink tinges at the edge due to a light fog and a rising sun.
  • As Ernie once said: “The Sun Also Rises.”
  • Nota Bene: He stole that from Ecclesiastes.
  • Spark Notes hint: God’s favorite colors? Sometimes purple and pink!
  • Grammar maven hint: Do NOT italicize the book title if it happens to be the Bible or any of the books within the Bible. (I should know. I just looked it up.)
  • In the last great pandemic in 1918, the second wave — so much worse than the first — came in October. It can’t be good that today is September 27th.
  • One good thing — no, two good things — about October in New England: foliage and apples.
  • Trump has announced that he will not observe the peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. I figured that would about do it for those saying they’re voting for him, but the polls haven’t reflected that.
  • So I said to a Trump supporter: “Doesn’t it alarm you when, for the first time in American history, we have a ‘man’ who says he will not follow democratic norms, but instead will seize power from the winner? What’s more important to you: your country or your party?”
  • The answer I got: “My party is my country.”
  • You see the problem. And if you once wondered how so many Germans could fall for the likes of Hitler, wonder no more.
  • When patriotic Americans tell me, “If this tinpot dictator wins re-election, I’m moving to Canada,” I have to remind them that Canada won’t have them. No country will, anymore.
  • Book idea: Sartre’s No Exit.
  • Say… isn’t that the book where Hell is other people?
  • This is why you have to lie down, breath slowly, and don earphones to listen to Ravel’s Daphnis & Chloe, Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam, Benjamin Britten, or Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. (Just remember to get up in time to vote.)
  • Writerly goal for Oct. 1st: Get through the upcoming month without paying a single reading fee. If you have to pay people to read you, you’re not writing very well.
  • Readerly goals for Oct. 1st: At least two uninterrupted hours of reading daily after at least 30 minutes of exercise (walking is fine!). And keep a pen and journal by your side as you read. Good writing often gives birth to good ideas!
  • Final thought: Town police forces and national military budgets soak up a lot of taxpayer revenue. Therefore, as a taxpayer, you should never trust a draft-dodging tax evader who refuses to share his tax returns, especially when he claims to love the police and the military and the flag (but is too cheap and venal to pay the taxes required to support them). Follow his actions, not his words, and you’ll get the real story.
  • See? That wasn’t bad. Only one or two political thoughts. Or three. Or four maybe.

The Hazards in Speed Back or Feedback for Dollars


Submitting your work for publication? You and a few million others, it seems, and with increased submissions comes increased response times comes new ways to separate a writer from his or her money.

Let’s start with the ironies of time. We all know how tempus has a habit of fugiting, especially when it comes to that person in the mirror you see every day. You know the drill: a few gray hairs here, a few wrinkles there.

Wouldn’t it be nice to slow time down for yourself? Hey, I’ve got an idea! How about redefining your body as a poetry submission? Voilà! The process of aging slows to a turtle’s crawl.

Business being business and mankind being mankind, there are always ways to cut the long line when submitting your work. But it’s going to cost you, of course. Like everything else in our times: Be prepared to pony up some money (or, in some journals’ cases, more money).

Which leads us to the world of “expedited responses” where your disappointment arrives much quicker and your wallet grows much lighter. My advice? Unless you’re 99% sure of acceptance (and who is?), don’t do it.

Like the reading fee, the expedited response temptation is a drain best defined by tracking it. Trouble is, most writers don’t. It’s similar to coffee drinkers who stop to buy a cup of java on the way to work each morning. Considering these drinks can cost $3-$5 (especially the iced variety with sweeteners), most people wisely leave their purchases untracked. Imagine that “little” cost multiplied by working days per year! Nice money if you can get it! (And to think, you actually had it, but at least you can argue you got some satisfaction from it.)

The other pocket hole to watch for is the feedback fee. Though I’m guilty of a few “expedited dice rolls” (all turning up “snake eyes”), I’ve never done the feedback option. In this scenario, a journal offers a critique on your work for a reasonable (in itself) but sizable (when multiplied by the habit it feeds) fee.

The problem here? There’s no telling who is offering the feedback and what his or her credentials are. Sure, if it’s a name-brand poet doing the reading and feeding, I might pay for my church supper and take a seat. But the responses are mostly from folks like us… people who like poetry, read poetry, have opinions in poetry. Sometimes an intern. Sometimes a reader. Or even an editor (which you or I could call ourselves if we decided to throw up an online zine tomorrow and open a Submittable account).

When it comes to feedback, then, mileage may vary, quality-wise. For the offering journal, however, mileage will surely accrue. It’s Finance 101 come to the Arts. In a numbers game (even one based on words), both speed and opinions translate into dollars made and dollars lost.

As for the market for such practices, it’s primed and ready due to the flock’s size. After waiting from 6 to 12 months for responses and receiving boilerplate rejection notices that give no clue as to any of the thousand reasons “why” work is rejected, writers with a little cash (or plastic) are remarkably vulnerable.

Proceed with caution, then. And repeat this pithy aphorism after me: “Unless there’s an extenuating circumstance guaranteeing more than free disappointment, patience is a virtue (not to mention a savings strategy).”


Ben Franklin trying not to be Poor Richard

Of Masks, Poetry Contests, and the Quarantine Fifteen


It seems I’ve been missing dates with this blog lately. You’d expect that in the busy season of summer, but not in a Covid Summer where one is supposed to be holed up in the heat (or ac) more than usual.

Thing is, summer this year is conflicted in its way. On the one hand, a lot of people are doing the same things they do every summer. “Bubbles” have expanded to Herculean size. Friends and family are considered safe by dint of the simple fact that they are friends and family. This is less science and more Fox News in logic, but it’s part and parcel of “Covid Exhaustion,” which takes more chances than its more reticent cousin, “Covid Fear.”

On the other hand, going to the supermarket is strangely unique from past summers. Everybody looks like they’re ready to stick up a bank or perform open-heart surgery. Masks, masks everywhere. There’s a certain comfort to wearing a mask when everyone else does, too. After a few minutes and the usual confusion of “choice fatigue” in the cereal aisle, the masks become invisible.

I live in a Jekyll-Hyde state and travel between the personalities fairly regularly. Maine has but two districts — the heavily-populated small one to the south (color it blue) and the sparsely-populated one to the north (color it red). In the southern towns, you can expect near universal compliance to the governor’s rules regarding Covid. In the more conservative, Trump-friendly north, the record is spottier.

District 2 compliance depends on the store. Many smaller ones do not require masks, so if you walk in, some folks are belligerently mask-free so you can better see their belligerence (they’re like walking, all-CAPS Tweets in that sense). For all I know, some of them think Covid-19 is a hoax and fake news, two of their fearful leader’s favorite terms. If anyone has masks in these stores, it is more likely women, the fairer and more intelligent sex. The men, apparently, feel threatened by it, as if wearing a mask were akin to donning a tutu.

So, yeah. Similar but different. Meanwhile, waiting for a vaccine is like waiting for Godot, at least for now, no matter how  you pronounce the word “Godot,” which apparently sounds different in French and English.

Poetry-wise, life goes on. Are the markets slower to respond? Yes. This summer, I’ve also pondered the merits of poetry contests. I’ve tried a few, but am beginning to see them as mirror images of the regular submission process.

Make that fun-house mirror images of the regular submission process. You’re more likely to be rejected, as is true with competitive markets that attract the work of established poets (who have a scorched-earth policy when it comes to taking up bandwidth in paying-market presses), but the contest game is more expensive by far.

What does this mean? It means you’re really making a charitable donation. You’re supporting the purse which will eventually  go to the winner, and you’re paying the poor staff that has to wade through all of these submissions, many of them poor.

Do you feel noble doing this? Maybe you do, but do it enough and you will no longer be a member of the noble class. At $25 to $50 a pop, these contests will bleed you like George Washington’s doctor (who many think killed the father of our country — and you thought the butler did it).

What you want, then, is a contest with less competition. One fewer poets have heard of. But just try finding one. You put your ear to the ground to hear its hoof beats and all you get is crickets. If a little-known, well-paying poetry contest falls in a forest, does it make a sound? That is your koan for the day.

Finally there is the issue of weight. Everyone keeps talking about the “quarantine fifteen,” the trouble being that quarantines seem forever ago yet the fifteen remain quite current. I’m lucky in this sense, only carrying around a no-longer quarantining (or rhyming) five. Getting rid of it is doable, if more difficult during ice cream season.

Did you know that New England is the number one ice cream consuming area of the country? You might expect the South or the Southwest, but if you did, you’d be sadly mistaken. This is the place to be if you are addicted to ice cream and have a phobia about bathroom scales, so enjoy.

Then write a poem. Then write a weighty poem about it. Just don’t enter it in a contest. Your wallet will lose a quarantine fifteen. Or twenty-five. Or fifty. Ipso fasto.

Just Another Random Thoughts Saturday

will shake

What? Time for another “Random Thoughts” post? I thought so.

  • Just finished James Shapiro’s Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future.
  • The answer to that title? A lot. Starting with race, moving on to gender, class warfare, immigration, marriage, same-sex marriage, adultery, and left vs. right.
  • I loved the chapter on Lincoln, who loved Shakespeare over all else. I was probably attracted to the fresh air of a president who not only reads, but memorizes vast stretches of great literature, which he wanted to discuss with people.
  • President Lincoln’s Top 5 Favorite Shakespeare plays: King Lear, Richard III, Henry VIII, Hamlet, and especially Macbeth.
  • Being a fan of effective repetition, he liked to recite the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech from Macbeth.
  • John Wilkes Booth loved Shakespeare every bit as much as his eventual victim, only JWB was partial to Julius Caesar and loved playing the role of Brutus.
  • Can you say “foreshadowing”?
  • No surprise: Booth was a white supremacist.
  • Around 10 days before his assassination, Lincoln told close friends of a dream he had: he got up from bed, walked to the East Room of the White House, and found a corpse guarded by soldiers. When he asked who it was, he was told, “The President. He was killed by an assassin.” A burst of grief from mourners woke Lincoln up from his nightmare.
  • Can you say “foreshadowing” twice in one day?
  • It’s May and states are slowly opening up, depending on the state. Here it amounted to barbers and hairdressers, but my hair had already met its match in the form of the Good Wife with clippers.
  • I hope crew-cuts are back in style.
  • On the plus side, I’ve read a lot of books since Pan came to demic all over the place. On the negative side, I’ve also watched way too much Netflix.
  • In a word: “Overrated.”
  • Watching prime time news for my daily dose of depression, I came to this conclusion: “Imagine the money we’d save on prescription drug costs if Congress banned Big Pharma from airing these #*&$%*&@ drug commercials.
  • You know, the ones that include, in rapid-fire voice-overs, warnings about that little side effect known as “death.”
  • For sanity’s sake, people need to get out of the house, apartment, condo every day, even in the rain (which is kind of fun). Nature is behaving the same as it always has. The bonus? You don’t have to antisocial distance yourself from it.
  • Unless you choose the same “nature” (e.g. the beach on a sunny and warm day) that a thousand other cabin-fevered sorts have.
  • Have you memorized a poem or a slice of Shakespeare (ring on deli) lately? If not, why not? As good as remdesivir, I swear.
  • I know weekends and weekdays have jumped in the smoothie together, but if you’re out of work and reading this at home: Have a great weekend!
  • For old time’s sake, I mean.


Taking Stock: What the Pandemic Hath Wrought


Covid-19 is all-encompassing. Every aspect of every person’s life (country borders matter not) has been affected. Some of it I see reflected in newspaper articles, some not. Some of it everyone would agree upon, some not. Let’s take stock:

  • Long hair. The 60s are back, man, as all the barber shops are closed. Men all look like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo (think: shaggy Hair-Doo with a little chin music).
  • Weight gain. Try as you might, or try as you did until Easter treats, you just can’t keep the weight off. You are walking static to the pounds’ lint. The bathroom scale is either overworked or banished. Meanwhile, you employ rationalization to finish that ham, mac and cheese, chocolate bunny and, God save us, box of Peeps.
  • Time amnesia (or “timenesia,” as I call it). No one’s quite sure what day it is, anymore. Tell me, quick. You had to think about it, no?
  • Insomnia. Move over, Seattle. The whole world is sleepless these days. Perhaps it is that lack of movement and physical exercise? Stress? Unemployment?
  • Dreamy. A corollary of being sleepless is the increased amount of REM sleep. This means everyone’s dreaming more. Weird dreams. Really, really weird. But you won’t remember a thing unless you keep pen and pencil bedside and write it down.
  • Back to school. More than one parent feels like they are going through middle school again, small thanks to “online learning,” a term that once seemed harmless. Once.
  • Food, food, food. People are thinking about food too much. What are we having for lunch? How about dinner? What about tomorrow night? When are we going to the supermarket again? Who’s going this time? Are we really having tuna sandwiches again?
  • Bathroom, bathroom, bathroom. A corollary of food, food, food. Some people are actually hitting weird stores like Walgreen’s and Staples and Target in hopes of scoring some toilet paper. Some newspaper articles love to excoriate shoppers for this obsession, saying everyone should switch to bidets, but hey, a good bidet is expensive (including the plumber, if you want warm water), and who wants a plumber in the house?
  • Masks. Overheard at the supermarket this week…Husband: “I hate this f–‘n mask. I can’t breathe wearing it.” Wife: “So take it off and shut up, why don’t you?”
  • Moral of the Story: Family members are driving each other crazy, and the next exit is 156 miles away. (“Are we there yet?”)
  • Skin problems. Hands especially. Rawer than steak tartare. All together, now: Clean, rinse, dry, repeat!
  • I see the light! Blue light, to be exact. It’s a corollary of insomnia, the way people are logging so many hours on their screens and wreaking havoc on their circadian rhythms.
  • Crazy-ass politics. Politicians, in their entirely predictable ways, are shamelessly using a world health crisis to consolidate their power. In the U.S., a president is looking in the mirror and seeing a king. He is also, per usual, pointing fingers for everything gone wrong while claiming credit for anything gone right. Also, in case you’re wondering, every move he’s made has been perfect. None of us claims to be perfect. Ever.
  • Logic None-Oh-One. If a Trump voter’s kid acted like that, they’d send him to his room and tell him not to come out until he’d smartened up. If a Trump voter’s spouse claimed to be perfect and blamed the wife or husband for every thing that went wrong, they’d be thinking divorce. But for Trump to do it? That’s OK, seems. If you don’t believe it, watch the spin doctors on Fox “News.”
  • Creativity. For some, a burst of coronavirus-related creativity has bloomed. Covid-19 stories, poems, books, (ahem) blog posts. Some readers are anxious to read it, others are sick to death of it.
  • Guilt and reading. What to read? Some feel guilt for reading dystopian books (too similar to current events) while others feel guilt for reading escapist books (too selfishly oblivious to current events). Let the guilt go, people!
  • Rising stars. I imagine this is true in many countries. Here in the States, some superstar governors are emerging as the voices of sanity. Of course, contrast works to their advantage (enough said).
  • Social distancing. Some are very good at it. Others not so much. Some talk a good story, but don’t really apply the moral of the story to themselves because (here we go again) “bad things happen to other people, not me.”
  • Opening the economy. Anyone’s guess. Start a pool with dates, why don’t you. Make some money.
  • Vaccines. Somewhere over the rainbow. Sitting next to Dorothy and Toto.
  • Hope. Remember Pandora’s box? Remember laughing at Bob Hope?
  • Socialism. The perennial big, bad wolf of American politics is looking pretty good along about now as Covid-19 continues to expose the rigged economy of the wealthy.
  • Charity. CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey donated one billion (a third of his wealth) to the cause. Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg? The equivalents of a dollar, given their extreme wealth.
  • Celebrities. Anyone else sick to death of TV ads with (also wealthy) celebrities telling us to “stay safe” and serving up clichés like “we’ll get through this together” from inside their swank homes? These ads are little more than self-promotion at the worst of times.
  • Ditto to the networks and cable channels serving up their “stars” with these concerned commercials, which always include the title of the star’s show somewhere on the screen. Bad optics. Really bad.
  • Ad for our Times: You know the one. It resonates now more than ever. Punchline: “What’s in your wallet?”
  • Answer: “Not” and “much.”

A Little Good News in a World of Bad News


Talking to friends and family on the phone (and neighbors outside—at a distance), I hear the same refrain: These are awful times.

Of course we state the obvious with these four words, but there are two things to consider: These could be worse times, one. And there are silver linings even in the worst of times, two.

Let’s start with the first. As any reader of dystopian fiction can tell you, a pandemic could be much worse than what we are presently experiencing. While Covid-19 kills at a much higher rate than the usual flu viruses (Types A & B) that infect people each winter, imagine where we’d be if the coronavirus were more lethal still.

In Emily St. John Mandel’s novel, Station Eleven, for instance, 99% of the world population is wiped out in short order by a virus. Before we leave that sobering number, consider how ill-prepared we were for the present pandemic. Will nations of the world learn their lessons once a vaccine is found for Covid-19 and be better prepared for the next crisis, or will they slip back into complacency and cut programs designed to stockpile and ready ourselves for something even worse?

Now that I’ve depressed you (I fear we each had the same answer to that question, given the “leadership” we’ve seen in the present pandemic), let’s move to the silver lining.

One of the eeriest memories I have from 9/11 is the empty skies. I looked up and it was nothing but God’s blue. No silver specks slowly moving across the celestial vault. No contrails stitching sky. No distant drones of airplane engines.

These past few weeks, I’ve noticed something similar but much less eerie. I go out on long walks and our street, typically semi-busy, is all but empty. Completely empty, if you go out between 6 and 8 a.m.

The dog and I walk the middle of the road like it’s a wide pedestrian path. Instead of the sound of tires on tar, the sounds of nature are magnified. The cardinals, nuthatches, and flickers. The chickadees. Ducks from the pond. A red squirrel chittering. Spring peepers from the bog.

The lack of competition from man-made sound has gifted us with the sounds of nature our forebears once enjoyed, sounds with no competition from human invention. The quiet, even interrupted by the tapping of a Pileated Woodpecker, seems so…gentle. And lovely, too.

Maybe it’s not much, but in awful times like these, we have to reach for “not much” and cherish it. Humans hunkered down means nature unleashed, as if our surroundings have, overnight, become game preserves and nature conservancies, all magnified by the rites of spring.

That’s right. Spring. A budding branch of normalcy populated with “life is as it should be” actors who go about their usual rituals.

Take it, I say. It’s good for the soul and nourishes the body. Silver linings like that shouldn’t be passed up.

Getting Mad as Hell and Not Taking It Anymore


One weird development (of many, trust me) in this Year of Living Virally is what people are doing with extra time at home.

Yes, you’ve read a lot about people Netflixing but not chillin’. Eating. Taking up a hobby. Eating. Painting a room and ceiling. Eating. Reading War and for the hell of it, Peace. Eating. Getting in touch with one’s “Who’s a Nerd Now?” spirit and riding one’s overpriced Peloton bike. Eating. Baking, and even though it hasn’t gone in the oven yet and there’s egg in the dough, eating.

But I’m talking about getting mad as hell about something that’s disappearing like sand through our fingers: money.

Let’s start with the elephant on your television: cable TV. These clowns pretend to offer savings via “bundles” (as in “bundles” of money into their coffers and out of your wallet), but they take home some $180 a month or, in many cases, more.

And for what? Hundreds of channels, of which you watch, maybe, eight. Oh. And there remain dozens of channels STILL that cost EVEN MORE because you have to pony up more lucre comma filthy if you want to see them.

But the big driver in the piggish profits of cable companies is sports. Pity the non-sports fan paying for cable. All that money to watch a sappy Christmas Hallmark movie in April (recently ruled “cruel and unusual punishment” by the World Court at the Hague).

Major league sports, with their major league player salaries and their major league millionaire / billionaire owner profits cost a lot of money to broadcast. They are Culprit #1 behind bloated prices in the cable industry.

But what about now, with no live sports to speak of being televised and none scheduled for a very long time (unless you want to watch close-ups of Covid-19 viral proteins jousting with the armies of people’s immune systems)? Has cable television responded to the complete absence of sports by lowering your monthly bills?

That would be a “no,” as in big-time “no,” as in “it is to laugh” no.

I remember years back when a landscaping company sent notices to all of its customers saying it was raising prices on lawn-cutting jobs by $10 because of a horrific spike in the cost of gasoline.

Guess what happened months later when the gas prices went back down? You got it. Nothing. Telling us that, in this country, what goes up does *not* necessarily come down.

So, yes. Some of you sheltered-in folks have smartened up, become mad as hell, and called your cable company to tell them they can take their bloated cable box and…

Oh, wait. This is a family blog. Let us draw the curtains of courtesy over the remainder of that line and start streaming stuff on our TVs with something cheaper and a little less greedy and sports-driven.

Moral of the Post: Now that we’ve lost our jobs and the social fabric as we once knew it, it’s high time we think about ways to save ourselves a little money, starting with the most bloated offender in the house, cable television.

Cut the cord, then celebrate your savings by having something to eat.