#IntelligentCompassion or, #WhyISkippedFebruary


I’m rewatching the television series “The West Wing.”  That statement in today’s political climate is relatively on par with “I’m treating my depression with alcohol,” but it gave me a fair bit of insight in the first episode alone, so it did help, of a sense.  First, though, a background story so that you get an idea of its affect on my thought processes.

When my mother was in her last stages of cancer a whole collection of hospice nurses were in and out of the house to help (some were a help, like the lady I’m about to mention, but most were uncomfortable and I had to work for them to help them feel better; all part of that acute politeness and nothing bad should be acknowledged attitude the Upper Midwest is so good at), and one of them came in every other day to take vitals and answer questions.  My mother was pretty much unconscious at this stage, and the nurse new my parents; it was a small town, and everyone knew everyone, particularly in specific generations.

I liked this nurse, enjoyed her visits, but she had an odd assessment of my parents.  She told my brother and I that we were lucky; we had the perfect balance of intellect (supposedly my dad) and compassion (supposedly from my mom).

Something about that never sat right with me, because it seemed to add up to the following sum:  my mother, in being compassionate, must be missing some IQ points, and my father, smarter of the two, must be lacking in compassion.

Ever since then I have looked for smart and compassionate people to look up to.  Sadly, the nurse was mostly right…especially in today’s news cycle, it seems we have to “win” by being smarter than the other side, and “how are the Dems going to get the upper hand back when they are so nice all the time,” and “empathize with the struggle of the Right and you’ll win them back, ” (there’s that word “win” again), etc.

I’m seeing a lot of intellect right now, and no wonder…compassion is portrayed as, and is perceived as, a weakness.

My questions are these:

  • What if compassion could convince of intellect?
  • What if intellect could be used to find the compassionate way to lead us all?
  • What if one or the other weren’t celebrated and instead one could only happen with the other?

Enter “The West Wing.”

The scene pictured above is in the pilot.  I won’t explain the whole thing; you can find it and watch it if you are so inclined.  In the pilot episode, the communication staff and Deputy Chief of Staff meet with Christian leadership to smooth over a snafu that occurred on a talk show between their representatives.  One side is secular government, the other side is impassioned Christianity.  The White House staff are accused of being smart and not compassionate to the needs of the Christian Right, but the Christian Right wants the apology cemented with commitments from the administration to things such as school prayer, cracking down on the accessibility of porn among kids, and discontinuing distribution of condoms in middle and high schools.

Now, I’m all for school prayer, if you could be compassionate enough to do it and not make those kids of different faiths (or atheist) uncomfortable.  I’m all for cracking down on porn accessibility for kids, but…isn’t that a smart decision we should be compassionate enough to allow parents to make?  And no condoms in schools…the smart and compassionate answer for me seems to me to make them readily available.

But there are different definitions of compassion and intellect, aren’t there?

For me, finding someone who is equal parts compassionate and intellectual has become so exceedingly rare that I only seem to find it in art…and not the kind of art you would find in the movie Snakes On The Plane.  George Saunders, on tour for his first novel Lincoln in the Bardo, mentions the importance of kindness in every interview, and he learned that lesson from a critic’s review of his short fiction that expressed Saunders was a better writer when he wrote from a point of view of “love instead of hate.”  That review was before Saunders went on special assignment for The New Yorker to do an in-depth piece on Trump supporters.  In a recent Vanity Fair interview he conveyed that he still didn’t understand why Trump supporters wanted Trump, but he understood their working class frustration.

Working class frustration isn’t always thought of as cerebral.  Maybe, though, we should use our noggins to understand that frustration, and then find a compassionate way to alleviate it.

The challenge though, is finding the smarter, kinder way to do it.

*****

February got skipped in this blog for a few different reasons: the unreliable nature of my current employment, my changing living situation, the month is short enough to sneak past me, and my mother’s memory kind of takes over the first couple weeks.  But here’s the leap back into something stable, a run-down of the art I’ve been trying to stay sane with lately:

  • Books – I finally finished Barbarian Days…sadly; what a great memoir.  I’m currently reading a book that I picked up at the San Diego Library Shop for “A Blind Date with a Book” for Valentine’s Day (the book was wrapped in plain brown paper–no, not porn again, heh–and a brief and enticing summary was applied to the wrapper), The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.  The novel is set in the former Yugoslavia and reminds me of the magic of She Unbearable Lightness of Being, without so much raw lust.  I am thoroughly enjoying my Valentine’s, still.  I am also enjoying the complete fluffiness of Jojo Moyes’s short story collection Paris For One, borrowed from the Carlsbad library, just because she is so funny and loving and light;
  • Other reading – still The New Yorker, still The New York Times;
  • Listening – a LOT of classical music, a LOT of Cassandra Wilson, a LOT of Melody Gardot…they are soothing, and, with minimal vocals, easy to write to.  I love Lorde’s new single, enjoying Sia’s work on film soundtracks lately (The Eagle Huntress and Lion, for starters), and I keep adding to my podcast stack;
  • Watching – TV – still with PBS’s Victoria (one more episode tonight), The West Wing, the second season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Last Week Tonight, Real Time with Bill Maher, and…it’s back…BASEBALL; ⚾️
  • Movies – Pretty much anything Oscar-related, which is typical for me in February.  Yes, I watched the Oscars, and came unglued at that magical ending with my love for Moonlight.  

Here’s hoping, until April, I gain compassion and smarten up, in equal measure.  â¤ðŸ¤“

#TheAwkwardInBetween or #EmpathyOnEitherSide

This is awkward me, a fish out of water in Northwest Ohio, in 1990:


I was a fish out of water because I read The New Yorker, my favorite author was Dorothy Parker, and I was a farm girl, although I tried to fit in by wearing acid-washed jeans and filling in as the school mascot at basketball games and wrestling matches occasionally. (Go Panthers!)

This is me, an awkward fish out of water in Southwest Missouri, around 1998/1999:


I was awkward in Missouri because I was an independent who mostly voted Democratic, because I was a Unitarian, because I loved literature so much that I was throwing away thousands in student loans to study it, and because between semesters I still worked in agriculture (cattle ranch), although I tried to fit in by bleaching my hair platinum and riding a scooter and not telling people what Unitarians believe.

This is me, an awkward fish out of water, in the Alamo Square neighborhood of San Francisco, 2005:


I was awkward because folks with less computer savvy than I had were calling me Amish because I was from the Midwest, because I didn’t know how to order a burrito, because I was white, because I still loved literature so much that it hurt (can’t seem to shake that one), because I believed in God’s love (Unitarian again), because I was an independent and therefore not Democratic enough, and because I was still a virgin at the age of 32.  I tried to fit in by dying my hair red and eating all kinds of exotic food and sleeping with men who didn’t value me.

In other words, I’m awkward everywhere.  I’m least awkward in San Francisco, but I’m still awkward.  I’ll not defend any of it; to Midwesterners I’m elite coastal, to coastal I’m a backward Midwesterner.

No wonder empathy is at a premium.

I make the joke on my Tumblr description that I don’t travel; I just up and move.  A constant pounding on my self-esteem has made that less of an action statement moving forward, but I read an article in The New York Times over the last week that restored some of my identity.  In the article, the reporter asked then President Obama about how books helped him survived the presidency.  He explained that books have always helped him in some form or another, because some settings he has found himself in have been “isolating.”  He described books as being friends when it was difficult to find the traditional definition.  He described an hour of reading nearly every night while he was in office as a way for him to slow down and gain perspective in a job that seemed determined to hit him rapid-fire.  He even spent a couple of years in college with only books as his social life, on purpose, and teaching himself how to write from reading great writers.

You don’t say, Mr. Obama.

Polarization is a given now, but I’m grateful for the chance to be awkward, to keep finding reading as an acceptable aspect of my personality, and to have that be something I don’t apologize for but encourage in others.  I’m a farm girl who loved the city, a city girl who misses singing Aerosmith tunes to the cows during round-up (beef cattle tend to prefer “Rag Doll” or “Dream On” from my experience; not big Armageddon soundtrack fans).  

I’m awkward in-between…aren’t we all?  Or am I the only one?

*****

Yesterday was the Women’s March series of protests around the world; and I have to admit I think we all needed that.  After all of the finger-pointing and polarization (see above) of the election, I honestly thought that maybe empathy wasn’t a part of the American fabric anymore.  But yesterday all kinds of folks showed up everywhere, on the coasts and in the rust belts, of all ages, ethnicities, orientations, genders, and all levels of awkwardness.  People who voted for Trump went, stating they wanted him to know he was on a short leash; people fighting all kinds of stereotypes went, voicing their distinction.  

So, in a sense, Trump did bring us all together; just not to back him.

Some media outlooks and cynics critiqued the events:  “What’s the point?  He’s still the president after you protest.”  All I could think of was the words of a Garth Brooks song from my Midwest years, right after the Oklahoma City bombing:


Sometimes that’s a good start.

Others ask us to “give the new President a chance.”  Fair enough, then my ask in return is this:  Where’s your line?  At what point will you be disgusted, too?  He’s bragged about sexual assault, he’s made fun of a prominent POW and a disabled journalist, he’s accused the last surviving leader of the Selma freedom march of “no action”…are you going to stop short of him assaulting puppies and children, or…you?  Where’s your line of “that was too far”?  He’s crossed mine; where is the one you’re letting him walk to so that I know when we’ll have your support?

Just asking…for a friend.

*****

Ok, if you made it this far, you’re ready for what I’m reading lately.  I’m still plugging away at the Finnegan memoir on surfing called Barbarian Days, and dragging out the last hundred pages because I am loving the narrative of this book.  You will still never catch me on a surfboard, but then I don’t need to surf to love this writing.

The New Yorker is still on the list, and yesterday the trains weren’t running so I visited the Carlsbad Library and checked out the latest Winterson book, even if it is Christmas-themed (I love her stuff just that much), and The Nix by Nathan Hill.  I shouldn’t have done The Nix; that one has holds and I only have it three weeks and the hardback is the size of a breadbox for Chrissakes, but…literature, shrug.  I’ll never shake it.  Me and the guy I voted for, finding friends in the pages.

In film I found some solace in the fight against a Holocaust-denier theme of Denial, a better understanding of Edward in Snowden, and I’m soaking up the last of Sherlock (ok, that’s not film, but close enough).  All the royal treatment on Netflix and Masterpiece/PBS lately has me hooked (that’s the history minor in college kicking in) as well.

And in the tunage department…still listening to Sharon Jones (because she’s alive as long as I keep her music playing, right?), Beyoncé, and Natalie Hemby.  If you don’t know Natalie go find her and listen to “Worn” from her Puxico album.  And there’s my Missouri coming up to the surface.

For now…doing my best to smooth in the face of my severity of awkwardness…take care.✨

#Post2016


Ah, yes, year in review.  I didn’t have such a bad 2016, although it was disappointing.  I took a chance and tried another job, one that pays better and has cheaper insurance and sits closer to the home base (would we really call it home?) and allows me to work from home occasionally for the first time, but…like the last job it isn’t the job description I was promised.  I was promised analyst, and I’m still Band-Aid girl for the agent statistics, making up numbers to cover up boo-boos, and a different set of leadership is scratching their heads wondering why desired results can’t be obtained.

There were other disappointments, too, but they were more of learning experiences.  I would go into greater detail on these little growth spurts, but they are probably going to carry into 2017 and some days I fall off of them like their surfaces got slippery.  Rome wasn’t built overnight and I’m sure they had to stop occasionally due to rain.

I’m about halfway through my own personal Colesium, you might say, and I had to tear down another parking garage before I could start building this thing, so I’m a bit behind.

But I’m getting more efficient at the brick-laying.

*****

To revert back to the standard updates in the posts…here is what I have been doing lately (the continuous nod to Jamaica Kincaid):

Books:  I’m reading The New Yorker, New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post, but never fast enough.  I’m also working my way through Barbarian Days:  A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan.  I’m reading this book for the same reason that people see the movie Raging Bull when they don’t like boxing; I am not a fan of surfing and probably never will be and yet this book kind of fills in the gaps like caulk.  Finnegan is one hell of a writer, and I love his stuff in The New Yorker, and occasionally he “diversifies” as he calls it in the text and you get less surfing and more of the rest of it.  It helps that I now know where most of these places are (minus Hawaii, and I’m not sure I want to take that one for a spin).  I think of Finnegan’s passion for surfing as comparable to mine of baseball; we can hold our own at a bar with our respective topics of expertise, but we will mute ourselves after a bit if a blow-hard steps in.

Sometimes humility is better, although it’s more and more seen as weakness.

Music:  For some reason I’m on a Florence + the Machine kick (blame the film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), but other stuff beats on–Miranda Lambert (damn, Jo’s back in country stuff!), Childish Gambino’s latest album, Beyoncé on shuffling repeat.  A week or so back I was on an “Angel of the Morning” kick (covered by various artists).

Film:  I enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children more than I thought I would (kind of wary of Mr. Burton’s films, but this one and Big Eyes were pretty good).  I’ve watched a little Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, naturally, and a movie called A Dangerous Method that seemed a bit on the clinical side for being all about sex and Freud and Jung.  I saw Fences and was fine until Viola Davis got in Denzel’s face and my struggle with 44 years of men helping themselves to me made me cry.  That was nothin’ compared to Moonlight, though, which, for a movie that has very little CGI and no storm troopers was the best piece of cinema I have ever seen in my life.  No “probably,” no “in my humble opinion;” I’m owning this one.  Moonlight was complete genius.  We’ve seen film after film of minority communities, of drug culture, of LGBTQ issues, of feminist struggle, and then a director and a playwright from the same part of Miami get together and get it right.  They just effortlessly execute it and make it look like “Duh, this is what you meant,” and the pure, bald-faced news of the story was like Viola Davis’s speech in Fences for TWO HOURS.  There’s an introvert in Chiron, an unloved in Chiron, an observer in Chiron, and there’s a part of every life in him.  Someone finally got the engine streamlined.

Social media:  I’m present less and less on all of the platforms, and spending more time sitting in coffee shops, bars, and restaurants actually talking to people.  Yesterday was magical (magestical?  I saw Hunt for the Wilder People too) in that I took a Lyft (ridesharing as a microcosm) to a newish restaurant in Carlsbad called Campfire (recommended by friends in the East Village) and sat at the bar.  I have been sitting at the bar for years; bartenders are a wonderous lot to me, and not just for the booze.  As I was munching and imbibing, two little boys climbed on the bar stools next to me and ordered shots of milk.  One boy was 4 and the other was 6; the 4-year-old was from here and quiet, and the 6-year-old was from the UK and could speak the Queen’s English and Japanese.  These are the wonders I moved west for, and some days I find them.  

I find I have more time to read and write as well, being off the snark sites more and more, and at some point it’s probably just going to be my blogs and that’s it.  So…much…judgment on social media.  I’m reminded of high school, and I hated high school.  My happiest days were college, where my best friends were classmates and professors and a former Californian who told me I didn’t know anything from university and that I should feel lucky to have any friends or lovers at all because I wasn’t beautiful and took after my father in looks so I was just going to get worse.  “Not nice, actually,” Natalie from Love Actually would say, but in those days I thought she walked in water because of where she was from, as though California birth is a stamp of worldliness in itself, so I followed her around between semesters and after graduation hoping to meet her expectations.  I started losing myself when I lost college and lost my mother in the same damn 18 months; I loved college because I was working full time teaching and going to school for literature.  

People have suggested that I go back for my Masters, and I’ve thought about it.  It is time to write, though, and I would have to follow more prescriptions in going back to do that.  I feel depleted on the social platforms and remember reading and writing as my community at university; it’s been brought to my attention that I’m being anti-social in this aspect, but…social sites have turned anti-social.  One half hates the other half because both halves want the whole, and listening occurs less and less.  I have to admit that I would be shocked if more than one friend in my circle read this open letter to the world, but I’m the listener in the crowd of them; it’s not so much that I am more and more anti-social, but it’s getting too difficult to have a conversation or connection.  I don’t consider it giving up as much as finding out if there are people out there who think I’m worthy of a conversation instead of just worshipping folks for putting up with me.

It is possible…I have to believe that.  I cannot settle for less…less I don’t want to live for.

Dear reader, may you have a blessed and wonderous 2017; you are deserving of it. 🙏🏻✨🎉

#Gratitude and #GoodTaste


This isn’t a typical nightstand chronicle, although I’ll talk about books first and bury the lead for those who are fine with facing all manner of topics.

What I’m reading lately…Still working on The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro; I do not want this story to end.  This book and Alice’s rabbit hole seem to fit the year to a tee, and I want to make it last.  I have added a daily seasoning of The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times to my readings in The New Yorker.  All of this non-fiction/news is still in my bubble but is written in moderation…which I’ll dive into a little more here in a moment.

What I’m listening to lately…Miranda Lambert’s new album, Leonard Cohen in little slivers (sure, want it darker occasionally), and…the Hamilton Mixtape.  This Hamilton thing has been a blessing compounded on a blessing; first there is the history itself, then the book written on the history (a wry wonder of a thing that brings old to a surface of new), and then a musical written by a rhythm based on the book, and then a mixtape produced by a love based on the musical.  The marketing folks are releasing the album in pieces; every time a new track drops I am back at square one, learning the whole picture, learning more about myself, loving life a little better.

What I’m watching…I started The Crown on Netflix.  The first couple of episodes were rough going (I struggle with the baser side of bodily functions in movies and television), but I’ve powered through and am head over heels for the history.  The current episode I’m on is talking about the record smog that hit London in December of 1952 and…I’m fascinated with the thinly-veiled comparison to the climate change denial of today.

Which brings me to the meat and potatoes of this Thanksgiving post.

*****

This election was hard on the lot of us, wasn’t it?  Some of us got into it, others of us just counted the days until it was over.  And then it was over.

Something in that win immediately created an ending for me.  I was tired of smoothing over wrinkles.  I was tired of making myself available in a world of screens where I worked so hard to be available to everyone and where I was still lonely.  So I backed up a little.  I put Facebook away.  I find I can’t get away from Twitter or Instagram, but it’s easier to find something hopeful there.  And I read and write a lot more.

Alienation.  I was raised on a farm in the Midwest where the overwhelming literature was Reader’s Digest condensed books and Good Housekeeping magazines.  I have a mistrust of intellectual elites and a mistrust of the cultural opposite of intellectual elites.  I love things in moderation, and things created in moderation.  I love food with flavor profiles beyond sugar and salt, but when the McRib comes back in town I have to have at least one.  I rest in the middle of a cultural road where both sides are the dictionary definition of extreme.

I voted for Clinton because she wasn’t Trump when the candidate I really wanted is still in the White House.  I was willing to settle for Bernie, but Clinton was better than Trump.  I fell in love with Obama, and still love him, because he was a writer first.  I fell in love with his writing first; the first black President was just icing on the cake to me.  If voting for him and supporting him means that I’m an elitist, then I’m an elitist.  A writer in the White House was my dream come true, even if they don’t always have the best qualities for leadership (the working alone, the measured approaches sometimes too slow for critics to accept as progress).  I imagine that an entertainer in the White House is a dream come true for others (Reagan, and now Trump).  I had eight years of possibility and hope.  That’s gotta last me.  And that explanation has to last me.  If I’m alienated for the next four to eight years, then that’s a definition of a culture shift I refused to see.  That’s my fault.  That’s what I live with.

Do I find Trump in bad taste?  Yes.  I find him in bad taste because of his wild mood swings, his lack of humility, his shape-shifting opinions.  I am fully tired of his extremes.  He is all sugar, all salt, in a world of diabetics and heart disease.  He serves as a great fix for the moment, an instant gratification, a McRib 24/7.  He serves as a fix once in a great while, but his extremism poisons me, and how he got here poisons us all.  I need my vegetables.  I need ice cream with hints of vanilla and cocoa.  I need pumpkin pie that tastes like pumpkin and spice, not sugar and lard.

On the flip side, I don’t want to be criticized for how I love what I love.  If I’m crossing a T wrong or dotting an I with a heart, I get to have that foundation.  If my contribution isn’t intellectual enough, then maybe we can assume I’m erring on the side of compassion instead.  I’m a safe zone.  If it’s no longer safe to wear a safety pin, I won’t; but don’t be surprised if I question other trends or keep them.  My goal is life in moderation, so not too much in the head, not to much in the gut reaction.  

Good taste isn’t elite.  It’s moderate.  It’s not normalization.  It’s balance.  I’m grateful for any good taste I can find.

Happy Thanksgiving. 🦃🙏🏻

#NightStandChronicle #TwentyThree #NewShortcuts


I was going to knock this out during my visit to San Francisco for Litquake, but time got away from me there, or my passions for all kinds of things NorCal got away from me there, and what I accomplished wasn’t a blog post but getting through a really good novel in three days (“Today Will Be Different” by Maria Semple; heartily recommended by this reader), drinking and eating great food (that I can still taste past the age of 40, so age isn’t always a sentence, folks), watching baseball in bed, hatching all kinds of new plans longhand, and listening to people talk about books without apology or in clandestine tones.  Ok, maybe they don’t talk about books in clandestine tones in San Diego, but I would be hard-pressed to discuss books in San Diego unless I lived in close proximity to Warwicks (which is where I got the Semple book, btw, and at the airport location; San Diego airport knows how to define the city in its airp0rt, delightfully) or the Central branch of the San Diego Library, and I don’t live in close proximity to either of those.  There are so many wonderful second-hand bookstores in San Diego, but only one of them seems to have an optimistic proprietor; the rest of them I love more for ambiance than the dialogue I have with the cashier.  I wish San Diego was less comic and more literary, but I suppose that wish fulfilled would bring about a copy-cat culture more than distinction, and, roaming about today after a month-long banishment to Carlsbad because of rail construction, I found I missed San Diego almost as much as San Francisco.

The San Francisco trip was a little marred, too, by how continually the tech giants up there continue to polish the turd.  Some of us liked our City slightly foul, worn, or bohemian:  as Anthony Bordain would say, the hipsters are great about bringing back the dark meat in chicken salads, but the gentrification of neighborhoods might not be worth the trade-off.  Whether this was an authentic refuge or not, I sought that refuge in museums.  I thought I would find it in the Litquake panels, and, while I have to stress that I love Litquake because there’s a discussion about books, something didn’t sit right in the content.  Then I got back home and read Marlon James’s Piece on why he’s done talking about diversity, and when he got to the explanation of cities with the most issues having “festivals” where panels talk about this stuff but local governments do nothing with the panel content, I knew I had reached across to an understanding in my discomfort.  Is this going to keep me away from Litquake?  No.  Will it keep me away from San Francisco and Oakland?  Hell, no.  But he named what I couldn’t, and I have to seriously consider where my own work goes, and how women’s literature interacts with the mainstream stuff and how it interacts with the literature of other minorities and how we have to make it ALL mainstream, and make these panels, as James says, obsolete.

Enter Steinem.  What I’m reading right now, that is; while in San Francisco I bought other books besides the Semple novel; but to save on space in my urban version of Monster (a lovely Timbuk2 duffle that converts to a backpack; yes, I’m enough hipster to get the irony) from the movie/book “Wild” I packed most of the souvenirs into a UPS box on the last day and sent them home, which included all of the books but Semple’s.  (Side note:  Semple stayed behind in the hotel room on purpose with my monetary tip for housekeeping; seemed appropriate given the reason for the trip.). I figured on two things:  I have the New Yorker as a Kindle subscription on my phone and Compass Books is in SFO (more book shopping!).  So the Compass Books find was Steinem, a choice I only regret in that the guy I had to sit next to on the plane called her a loon.  Vacation’s over, Jo, I thought when he said that, and felt sad.  I took a women’s history class at university as a history minor, and I understood that she was considered a radical, but so far everything I’ve read in the memoir “My Life On the Road” is pretty mainstream these days for more of the population than when she was promoting it.  And…as I pointed out to the guy on the plane, she might be considered a loon, but…she’s a damn fine writer.  At the end of the day that’s what it boils down to for me; this book is less propaganda than lessons in how to listen; learning that she learned most of her approaches to equality from leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. makes me wonder at why she’s still insisted to be a “loon.”

Perhaps this lack of understanding makes me a “loon,” too.🐒

*****

Since I’m a baseball freak you have to know that there would be coda on the World Series on this post.  This is probably the best World Series I’ve seen in years, and that’s saying something considering I’m a Giants’ fan.  These teams are so evenly matched that when you do mistakes in play you see humanity; I just watch these three- to four-hour games barely breathing.  Pitchers are my weakness; when the scores are within hairs of each other I find myself strangely wired and exhausted after the game, wanting more.  Pitchers Miller and Chapman are mostly responsible for this reaction, and while it feels like a cross between drunk and high I can’t complain.

Who am I rooting for?  The Cubs, a-course.  That drought is serious.  ðŸ»âš¾ï¸ And, National League, people.  

#NightstandChronicle #TwentyTwo #AfterYou


It happens more than one would think:  writer stands in shower or sits at table with toast and Twitter and starts the potter’s wheel of a blog post in her head, all detailed and neat and maybe with little strands of sparkle in it…and then someone comes along and bumps the camera, jars the table.  C’s become G’s and hearts flip.

‘Twas me, this morning.

I got up early because I’m in charge of the diabetic cat this weekend, ministered to him, made my bed, padded out to the living room with the Writer’s Almanac and a cup of green tea, threw open the doors and windows to cool the joint before hell visits us around noon.  I curled up in my wide chair with a soft blanket that the cat likes to make love to and turned on CBS Sunday Morning, which was a tribute to Charles Osgood.  I figured on poignancy.  I figured a few tears.  Sunday Morning got me through the transition from Missouri to Cali twelve years ago, homage to Charlie.  Ads were on, pre-trumpet.  I opened my Twitter app.

The first thing that hit me in the death of Jose Fernandez is what hit many:  to question a logic the universe doesn’t possess.  Why?  Well, shit, if we could answer that question, then we could answer why the Syrian photo boy lost his brother in the shelling that he was famous for…we could answer for Orlando, Zika, this ridiculous political season.  Still, it’s hard to dislodge from asking, over and over, why Fernandez?  Why kind of sick joke is that, fates?  The man attempted to defect from Cuba twice before he finally made it in 2008, but getting here involved him saving his mother from drowning in the passage and saying goodbye to his grandmother.  (If your sinuses need clearing, Google his reunion with his grandmother when he was first signed with the Marlins.). He was expecting his first child with his girlfriend.  And, probably how most of us became aware of all of this (because how else would we know stories like this of each other, particularly of the masses of individuals struggling to get to the United States?), he was an impressive starting pitcher, with a good humor that some other starting pitchers could use (Bumgarner, I’m trying not to look at you).  There is a GIF floating around the net this morning of a pitch to Tulowitzki in which Tulowitzki hits the pitch back to Fernandez, and Fernandez fields it so quickly and neatly that Tulo asks, “Did you catch that???”  “Yes,” Fernandez says around that grin of his (only one better was Tony Gwynn’s), “Yes, I did.”  But of course, Tulowitski; why are you asking?

So that bumped the camera lens.  I shut off the TV.  I sat with all the player condolences on Twitter, the news of the cancelled game (was Fernandez supposed to start today? No matter), and then the beginnings of people using this death as a reason to talk about a life in the evils of illegals…and that’s when I turned it off.  The polarization started, I knew what was coming next, and I needed to remember that grin.  The grin, the pitching, the fielding, all of which I wouldn’t have known without the rest of his efforts.

*****

Time to remember that guy by talking about other loves and passions than baseball.  

I finished Fates & Furies last week, and I normally mourn books that are written that well.  I normally don’t read for a while afterward.  But I thought I would try something new this time, read something I knew wouldn’t live up to the amazement I felt for the Groff book, so I picked up the Moyes sequel to Me Before You, a word play of a title in After You, and it’s been the best thing.  I think this “rebound read” has been even more enjoyable than Fates & Furies BECAUSE of Fates & Furies, like a literary pairing of two great tastes that taste great together.  (Huge fan of chocolate and peanut butter.  Huge.). It’s the best thing for several reasons:

  • It’s no Fates & Furies, and if it were I would probably off myself from the intensity;
  • The book is about the experience of being changed/challenged by someone and then of them walking away, leaving you with the judgmental/unhelpful majority of folks in your life.  I’ve experienced this twice since 2011, and it’s nice to have a novel that I can sit with and sort out this stuff with in some way;
  • Moyes has the capacity to make me laugh in some pretty unorthodox ways, like most British authors.

Hence, the “fluff” piece becomes the help piece.  I don’t know what’s after After You, but it may well be Olive Kitteridge, as that’s the story currently dealing me my morning compassion during breakfast on HBO after I finished Sonic Highways.

In writing, I am hashing out a short story of a strange collection of pedestrians called “Afoot”–we’ll see what becomes of that, but I’m losing myself in writing it, which I haven’t done since university days.  Regression ain’t always bad.

Movies lately have been re-runs, comfort viewing of flicks that I know won’t assault me with vomit but will help me believe in some kind of romance again, but for new stuff I’ve rented the original Magnificent Seven and have my sights on the remake.

Music is a hodgepodge of favorites lately…with the new Springsteen memoir I am listening to him a lot, with the recent binge-viewing of HBO’s/Foo Fighters’s series Sonic Highways I found my way back into New Orleans and country music (Nashville and Austin episodes), not to mention a dabbling of Nirvana (Seattle episode).  One of my favorite podcasts, All Songs Considered, has been drifting into a lot of hip-hop lately, so I am hooked on a British dude called L.A. Salami (that’s his real name) and Frank Ocean.  I found a video of the Dixie Chicks covering Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons” in London, and have been abusing Lemonade and Not Ready To Make Nice because of it.

My next post may very well come from San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival, so I’ll part with this:  I’m cutting my hair today.  I’m also burying the lead on revealing that in case anyone who has met me or knows me in real-time reads this (unlikely, but ya never know), but it’s taking on its own symbolism:  a cross between a Tess of the D’Urbervilles reason and a method of starting over, a promise, a helping hand gesturing through a door held open by a beautiful man with a grin all over his face and a pitching arm of steel.

After you, Jose. ⚾️✨

#NightstandChronicle #TwentyOne #Meditation


I seem to be hooked on British stuff lately judging from the Nightstand, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  They may have Brexit, but we have Trump and a shooting by a cop every other day, so it’s six of one, half a dozen of another in my book.

Ishiguro is virgin territory for me–I’ve never read him before.  Get it out of your system and chide me now for the lacking in my literary exploration; as is my way, I don’t read books anymore unless they have a vitamin or mineral missing in my soul that I’m craving.  As to the Samuelsson memoir:  I’m working my way through Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” on Netflix and I’ve reached Ethiopia.  Bourdain may be a food god, but he’s got his cultural and literary prods as well.  (In other news, Bourdain wrote an intro to an excerpt of “Down and Out in Paris and London” in the latest issue of Lucky Peach, and when I found that out I felt a little more than validated.  Everyone likes Bourdain for the food–I stay with him for the writing and the relating to the world.)

*****

I’ve been playing chicken online for a couple of weeks or so; Jo tends to do this when she isn’t loved unconditionally.  I had been coasting through my morning meditations and that means letting the app play while I closed my eyes.  Sometimes I woke back up when I finished the session.  You don’t sleep through meditation; that’s the deepest form of resistance.

And then this afternoon I watched a baseball game batter by batter instead of “getting through the innings” and I realized the meditation was working.  Meditation, for me, is going to be like my thyroid meds; I am stuck doing it for life, and if I don’t do it then there may not be much life left.  I had coasted through baseball, work, waking hours in general for months now, and suddenly, this afternoon, watching a game that may not mean anything in October, I found the beauty of each pitch.  I stopped holding my breath through the ninth.  

I hesitate writing about this, but the other option is to give up social media until Lent, or through Lent, or in general.  I found I’m lousy at that, and I’m tired of self-censoring.  I also hesitate to write about this because then the adage bursts through in comments:  “If I hear one more person endorse or evangelize meditation I’m going to throw up.”  “Mediation doesn’t work for everyone.”  And other unrelated comments that will be designed to make me into an ogre.

You’re right, dear skeptic:  meditation does not work for everyone.  It does work for me.  It has taken 75 days of doing it daily to admit that, even though every day has not been a gem.  It has saved my life like it will never do for anyone else, because meditation is not designed to “fix” anything.  It’s my form of prayer in reverse.  I can breathe through so much of the judgment and ambivalence laid in my lap with meditation.  And I realized that I have been doing it my entire life, and when I deviate from it, I am not me.  

When I was a kid, I would do a lot of staring into middle distance, and my mother would leave me to it.  I was a bright kid and got good grades and the practice of checking out occasionally throughout the day worked for me, so she left it alone.  Once a friend in Missouri pointed it out as an aggravation, and my mother came to my defense:  “That place where she goes…that’s where her stories are.”  That’s still true, whether my mother is here to defend me or not.

About a week ago a similar point was made; someone confessed to me that they didn’t know “how I did” solitude so well.  The answer for me is simple and lost on most everyone else:  I’ve had to at various periods in the past.  When you are on the farm wanting and wanting of a city, wanting of a certain kind of music, wanting of a certain kind of connection…when you are in an apartment just off campus and wanting of a story, wanting of a belief, wanting of a culture…when you are in exile in a desert wanting of a relationship, wanting of an experience, wanting of a love…you stare into middle distance during these times and make peace with the wanting.  You find a memory to anchor you, and sail around it in that middle distance, and you use that little anchor to write better, be calmer, trust change. 

Baseball is better.  British literature is better, for now.  I needed Vitamin See and Iron Mineral and the same dosage of middle distance every morning, dispensed with water. ✍🏼