If Liberty Means Anything…

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell, the Original Preface to Animal Farm


I feel about political parties the way a cat feels about various packs of dogs. None of them are friendly, and none of them would ever want me as a member.*

I don’t like political parties because I don’t like gangs. I don’t talk about politics much on my blogs because you are either in a gang, or you are its enemy, as I have repeatedly found throughout my life. I belong to no gang, which makes me the enemy of all of them.

That being said, there is a political issue I do feel strongly about, and that is people’s right to express their own opinions. If you feel moved enough by a given issue to speak out about it, speak out. If you feel safer doing that with a large group of others, do it, that’s your right.

I won’t be comfortable around your large group, but I believe in your right of free opinion and speech, and free assembly.

In fact, I’ll probably be as far away from your assembling group as my noncomformist cat self can get.

I don’t like any part of political discourse that consists of trying to stop the other side from speaking. In fact, I despise it.  It can be right wing talk show hosts telling people to “shut up and dribble” (or shut up and whatever), or it can be left wing sheep saying “Four legs good, two legs bad”**.  All these tactics are reprehensible.

For those of us who live in the United States, we either believe in freedom and in government by the people, or we don’t.

And it’s the ones who don’t who are always the enemy.


* I used this image for a poem recently, but this was the sentence (and context) as I originally intended it.

** This is also from “Animal Farm”. You probably should reread it, eighth grade was a while ago.

Louise

I get all of that. But why was she there?

What?

Why was she there, with you? What was her story?


I was seventeen, and hanging out at a hospital waiting for my mom. They said it would be about three hours, then she’d be out and I could drive her home.

Restless, I decided to take a walk through the hospital. I passed a large waiting area, and saw a face I recognized: a blonde girl from my Analytical Geometry class whose name I didn’t know. Her foot was in a cast.

Walking back by again a few minutes later, she saw me, so I stopped.

“Hi. What happened to you?”

”I run cross-country, and broke my ankle training,”she said ruefully. “It’s Tom, isn’t it? Your name?”

“Owen,” I said. “And you’re — Sherri?”

”Louise,” she said.

“Louise — you’re the girl who finished 2nd in the state, aren’t you?”

”Yes. Although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to really run on this again. And aren’t you the guy who got into a fist fight with Charles in the lunchroom last year?”

”It wasn’t much of a fight, right next to the coaches’ table,” I said. “I think his one punch hit me in the shoulder.”

“We all hated you,” she said. “Charles would never hurt a fly.”

”Unless it was on my shoulder,” I said.

She laughed.

”The fight certainly wasn’t his fault,” I added. “Fights happen. Do you have brothers?” I asked.

”I have three sisters, and one little brother,” she said. “My parents stopped when they finally had a boy. What about you?”

”One of each, both older.”

”So you’re the baby?”

”We were all babies at one time, even my parents. We sort of took turns.”

She laughed again. “You aren’t at all what I expected.”

”Oh, and what am I supposed to be?”

”The angry, brooding, dangerous type, you know. The kind that drives the girls wild.”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “You’re not exactly who I pictured, either, for our State runner-up. I had no idea that was you.”

”I know I’m not exactly built like a runner. I’m a lot more top-heavy,” she added musingly.

I blushed. She certainly was.

We talked for two-and-a-half more hours.


So, I was easy to talk to, and I could make her laugh. 

You don’t think she thought you were good looking?

My mind doesn’t work that way.

You don’t think she thought you were good looking?

Yes, I believe she did. I had changed my look that summer, and I was feeling pretty good about it. I was a complete surprise to her.

How long was it after that you started dating?

Let’s see… that was June, and our first date was Homecoming, which was in October. I had never been on a date, at that age, although I went on my first one within a week or two of that conversation. We had Calculus together, although we still sat with our old crowds in class. Our friends seemed surprised we were friendly, or even knew each other. We would talk a little, some days, after class.

What did she see in you?

I wrote about that, you know I did. I was all wrong for her: an underachiever, a rebel. She was from a family of high achievers, and she was tired of always being a ‘good girl’.

So you were her ‘bad boy’?

I think so, yes. Funny, really.


“Are you going to Homecoming?” she asked me, as I stood by her locker while she exchanged one set of books for another.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” I said. “I’ve never been to a dance of any kind, school or otherwise.”

“They’re fun,” she said. “You should try it.”

Some silence as we headed towards her next class.

“Would you like to go to Homecoming with me?” I heard the words, but didn’t realize my mind had formulated them. The next few seconds were agony.

“Sure,” she said.

I can’t believe that just happened, I thought.


Why couldn’t you believe it? I mean, she was a girl and you were a boy, and she obviously liked you…

I don’t remember it being obvious. It all just kind of seemed surreal.

When did it become real?


Driving her home from the dance, we turned into her neighborhood. I will never know what question I intended to ask.

“Is there –”

“Yes,” she interrupted. “Go straight here, past my house, and then turn right. There’s a place down by the water.”

This is happening, I thought. This is really happening.


Another magical night we spent was out at the beach, a few miles from where my wife and I are staying as I write this. That night, during winter break after graduation, was our last night together. I had set up a fire and a picnic out on the beach, with wine and music. We were shielded by dunes on three sides. I had friends watch it, then move off as they heard us coming, so as we climbed over the crest of the last dune, it was like a fully sprung nighttime picnic has showed up on the beach, with blankets and a fire. But that was the end. She went back to school and got with the guy she’s still married to almost forty years later.

Did you love her?

Yes.

Did she love you?

Yes.

Why didn’t it last, then?

Love… married love is about building the other person up. We couldn’t do that for each other. She found someone with whom she could, and so, eventually, did I.

So, no regrets?

If you have no regrets, it wasn’t really Love.

Sugar Makes Me Sad

Sugar makes me sad, and I’ve had WAY too much today. I know I shouldn’t do it, but I do it anyway.

I’m not a diabetic, which is serious, but I… have found I can depress myself with just a slice of pie. Sometimes, to fritter time, I’ll eat a thing I should not eat; I’ll think it’s just a morsel, just a little something sweet…

And hour later: crash, and I am worried and dejected. It’s stupid, it’s my own damn self from whom I need protected! It’s sad to choose wrong things, and end up like Rehoboam — like trying to write an essay, and then finding its… a poem.

To A Future that Never Was…

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Here’s to the future that never was:
From a wide-eyed boy by the shining sea,
And a place of forgotten expectancy,
Where miles to travel were galleries seen,
Like a page from a modernist magazine.

With an unfolded map in the passenger seat,
Down on Union or Lincoln or Jefferson Street,
In a town that would grow till it reached the moon,
Like our astronauts would on a day pretty soon.
We would all of us join in exploring, because…

We would, in that future
That never

Was


All photos from : Pleasant Family Shopping

Her Name Was Grace

I’m in my bed, reading, about 10:30 at night, when my twenty-three year old daughter pops her head in. She’s so beautiful, in her glasses, smiling to see me still awake.

“Has it been a long day, Dad?”

“Yes. What about you?”

She grows a little more animated as she starts to tell me about how the work day went. Her image and her voice grow blurry within my dream, as I desperately try to hold on to what she is saying, what she looks like. But I can’t – she’s fading.

She’s gone.

Her name was Grace. She died six months into term more than twenty-three years ago. But she still visits me in my dreams, some nights.

I always know it’s her.

My ex-wife and I had a son after that; the doctor figured out why it happened and we got a baby to term. We then split up about three and a half years later. I remarried a couple of years later, to a woman who had three daughters, ages 10 to 16. That was eighteen years ago.

But still she makes these visits. Because every child we have, and every child we don’t have, aren’t just part of us, they are us.

The best part of us.

The eternal part of us.

I wish I could have held her once, and told her that her Daddy loved her.

So I tell her in dreams, and in whispered prayers before I go to bed at night. Even after all these years.

Her name was Grace, you know, and she was my beautiful daughter.

And she always will be.

Ashen

I’m out here, in the one place where uniformity of opinion makes sense, that is, by myself. And I still can’t manage it.


The air is ashen with the smell of woodsmoke, floating over from distant chimneys. My skin is ashen from the unaccustomed cold; it’s 17 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 degrees Celsius). It is supposed to warm up rapidly later today, rising above freezing by around noon.

This being the southern United States, and the roads being frozen, my workplace was closed yesterday, as was the local government. I had a few conference calls that went on, but otherwise, I stayed inside, writing poetry for the other site.

Our sleepy neighborhood has had more than its share of excitement this week, with one of my neighbors being shot at (seventeen times) and a car having skidded off the road yesterday uphill into our yard and back down again, which left an interesting set of tracks. Neither my wife nor I heard it when it happened; I was in the back writing, and she was one room over, watching a movie.

The gunshots I had heard the morning before last, a little after 5:30 in the morning. Our neighbor interrupted four or five men robbing his truck and was shot at for his trouble. He hit the deck in his carport, and his wife closed the carport door from inside; luckily, no one was hurt.

The real world is violent, ugly, and messy. So I write a couple of highly stylized blogs, and use exquisite watercolors like the one attached to this essay (© Maryna Kriuchenko | Dreamstime.com); I also listen to beautiful music, and spend a certain amount of time hoping the outside world won’t impinge on my world of escapist fantasy.

But it always does, in the end; for me, and for everybody else.


In my twenties, I developed the following theory. I ask for some indulgence from any of you who may have heard this before.

There are two types of people in the world: those for whom life is boring, and who therefore seek excitement; and those for whom life is stressful, and who therefore seek peace.

For reference (although most of you will know this already) I am in the latter category.

These categories do not exactly correspond to extroverts and introverts, nor to night people and morning people, nor any other division I know of under some other name.  There are, however, some large areas of overlap.

Because I was frequently looking for dating opportunities at that age, and because the proportion of people in each category seemed to be roughly 3:1, I came to the same conclusion that other young people like I am had come to; namely, that I needed to go where the excitement was if I wanted to meet women. The most popular of these types of place was, where I lived, dance clubs and bars. So I went there.

There was just one problem — I hated being in those places: too loud, too competitive, too stressful. I was self-conscious as a dancer and no good as a drinker.  I was extremely unconfident about my own appearance, or, rather, I was confident that my appearance would win me no contests among women. While I did occasionally find someone who’d dance with me, I got no phone numbers, and, essentially, met no one.

My therapist then gave me, at around age twenty-eight, some really good advice. He said to go somewhere where I could meet women and men, and which involved an activity that I wanted to do in and of itself, regardless of whether or not I met anyone I could date. This resulted in me getting into community theater as a pianist or musical director. I like theater and love to play, and I’m decent at it, so I was actually there for a reason and not just hoping to hookup with somebody.

I made a number of new friends and met some people I ended up dating, including the woman who became my (now ex-) wife.

To people more advanced, socially, than I was, the advice I got might seem obvious. But it wasn’t obvious to me, and so, it was good advice. It got me out of situations where my concentration was on how uncomfortable I was, and into a situation I was enjoying for what it was.


A few years ago, when probiotics were first introduced to the wider market, my son made the joke that he thought

“… we could at least all agree on being antibiotic. I mean, has the pro-bacteria lobby really infiltrated our society to such a degree that people and products are now proudly displaying their probioticism?”

Which I thought was hysterical. I’ve often repeated the joke since.

When the Internet first came into wide use, its proponents touted its capacity for “bringing people together”. This has no doubt been true, in many senses; politically, however, people are as polarized as ever, and, arguably, more so.

Because of the oddities of maintaining a fictitious identity as a writer, I have two Facebook pages under my real and pen name. Between the two pages, while there is some overlap, two diametrically opposed views of the world are dominant, and neither even acknowledges that the other view exists, accept to parody and vilify it.

All views are accessible to all. Yet, I find that many people have no real idea of the reasons (where there are any) that political figures they admire are criticized.

And this goes for both sides.

The conclusion I draw, oddly enough, has nothing to do with politics, which is, to my eyes, as it ever was. The conclusion I draw is about technology. Tools, of whatever kind, are not intrinsically good or bad; its their use that makes them so. All power to do things can be used either way. The Internet is neither good nor bad, except insofar as how it is used.

Another way to say this is that the Internet has made both facts and propaganda more accessible, and contains no better mechanism to distinguish the two than we had prior to the Internet.


I was notified a few minutes ago that my office is opening this morning in spite of the roads still being frozen over, because it has been long enough, I guess. Being the cautious type, I may wait a little longer before venturing out, as my two-wheel drive bumper-car would probably go straight off the road the first block.

But I’m kind of two minds. Even when I’m by myself.