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


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.


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 |; 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.

You Don’t Say

… or, I don’t, at least. Often.

Readers of this and the other blog may have noticed, on occasion, that posts will appear briefly, then disappear. This is a phenomenon I’ve observed with other people’s blogs as well, indicating what might be called “posting regret”. This is where the writer decides, upon further review, “no, I didn’t really want to post that.”

In my case, in virtually every instance, the deleted post is (a) angry; (b) about me; or (c) both. I’m not afraid of expressing anger, but, typically, rereading these, I think “there’s a better way to get that point across” or “no one is going to know what I was getting at, there”.

Like most authors, I want readers to feel, or to think, upon reading; unlike some authors, however, I do not really seek controversy (some amount is unavoidable). Fights don’t change minds, they just bruise bodies and spirits.

Understanding often comes, though, in less dramatic and more unexpected ways…

I went to lunch with a female coworker a few days ago.

She’s brilliant, in her mid-thirties, and we’ve been friends now for something like seven years. She’s also very beautiful: stylish, elegant. Born and raised in eastern Europe, and separated from the land and family of her birth, I’ve probably become something like a second father for her.

After we each ordered our meals, I asked her how things were going at home.

“Not great. We’ve agreed to … co-parent. [They have three children.] He’s a great father. When I get home, dinner is on the table. I get to spend all my time with the kids when I’m there.”

“Do you avoid him?”

“Yes, pretty much. I avoid him, and I avoid thinking. When we were on vacation during the holidays, and there would be moments of downtime, I read books. I read five books in a week. I can’t have time to think, or bad things would happen.”

I didn’t ask her what ‘bad things’ she meant; I thought I probably knew.  The only thing lonelier than being alone is being with someone you can’t connect with.

It had warmed up a little by lunchtime, so we walked in the tiny park behind the restaurant.

“What about you?” she asked. “This job has been killing you this last year.”

“Yes, it looks like they are going to move me.”

“What have you been doing for stress?”

“I work out, and… I write, as it happens.”

“I did not know that. What do you write a book, a blog, what?”

“A blog. I don’t really talk about it at work. Or anywhere else, come to think of it.”

As we entered the building where we both work, we stopped before going our separate ways.

“Thanks for driving to lunch.”

“And thank you for inviting me. It’s good to get out.”

“It’s nice to get a chance to catch up.”

“Yes, and it’s nice to have someone listen.”

“Even to what we don’t say,” I added.

“Especially to what we don’t say,” she rejoined.

Seal Lullaby

Rudyard Kipling is one of those poets almost every literate English speaking adult has heard of, even if they know very few of his poems. The poem “If” is probably his most often-quoted one, in my lifetime. I don’t know that many people could name more off the top of their heads. Here, however, is one I read for the first time today, from “The Grey Seal”:

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow;
Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.

It’s a lovely poem, really, but it was the following choral setting of it that had me absolutely transfixed. It’s worth a listen to with headphones if you have them.

Beautiful choral music had a way of bringing tears to my father’s eyes, I remember, and it does mine as well. This certainly did.

Trolls Do Not Need Reasons

“Sorrow knows no seasons,
Trolls do not need reasons.”

We had around eight consecutive hours together yesterday, mostly in the car. As usually happens when we get the chance, our conversation ranged over almost every conceivable subject. At one point we were discussing a couple we know whose marriage is rapidly deteriorating, even though their problems seem relatively minor.

“… they are each so anxious to prove that they are the more aggrieved party, neither one is really trying to fix their problems,” she concluded. “They look at counseling like it’s a court that can convict the other person, and prove themselves right.”

“So it has become a contest each one wants to ‘win’,” I summarized.

“Yes, even if ‘winning’ means losing everything.”

Her text message alert went off, so she spent a few minutes there as I drove along, thinking.

When she was back from that, I said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that’s why online trolls do what they do. They neither believe nor even care what they are saying, they just want the fight.”

“I picture people like that,” she added, “friendless, stuck at home, proving they can make something happen, no matter who it hurts. Like that guy who faked the 911 SWAT team call and got some poor guy killed.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That was horrible. What was that text about, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Remember Gary and his wife, Josetta? Her brother committed suicide a few days ago.”

I was stunned. “What happened?”

“They don’t really know, yet. I’d heard he’d had a lot of problems over the years. And the holidays can be so hard on people.”

We stopped a few minutes later to get gas and buy some salt water taffy. I carried her purse out to the car to warm it up while she spent a few extra minutes inside, and my brain constructed the little couplet affixed to the top of this essay, apparently encapsulating our recent conversation.

As she ate her Reese’s cup, I had some taffy.

“I didn’t even know they still made that stuff,” she said.

Photo credit : me, view from our hotel this chilly morning.

The Solace of Imagination

When imagination is the only thing in your life you can control, it can become everything.

Everything. And, anything.

When I was young, I first perceived “imagination” as a consolation adults offer to children when they’re unable to find other kids to play with. “Use your imagination,” they’d say.

“Think of ways to amuse yourself without bothering me,” they meant.

After a time, however, I realized that, even with friends to play with, imagination was needed. Otherwise, you play only the same old games, the same old way, which gets boring, frankly.

I started reading very young. As people who like reading instinctively know, a book is a like a friend, and one with a very good imagination, to boot. In addition, books spurred my imagination, although they also revealed a deficit in my particular imagination, namely, my inability to “picture” things in my head. Children’s books provide pictures, however, as do comic books, so for years — possibly including this year — children’s books comprise many to most of my favorite books.

It’s one of the reasons I use a photography service in my blogging. I’m inspired by the visual imagery of others, but unable to generate much on my own.

My sister had a collection of marionettes when we were growing up. Puppetry is still alive, of course, both as a practice and an art form. Still, in decades and centuries past, it would have been a necessarily larger part of the imaginative life of children.

When my sister left home for college, I temporarily moved into what had been her room; in it, I found boxes of marionettes. I didn’t remember ever seeing them before; being seven years younger than she was, it was quite possible she had enjoyed them most in times before me, or at least, my memory.

I remember that the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood show made extensive use of puppets. So did Sesame Street, of course; but somehow, I never thought of the Muppets as puppets. The Mr. Rogers puppets were more old school traditional puppets.

I remember trying out some of my sister’s marionettes, but I couldn’t seem to create any sort of life in my manipulation of the strings and wires. My father saw me doing it, and boxed the valuable marionettes back up before I could do them mortal damage.

Which I no doubt would have.

A year and a half after my sister left home for college, my brother left for the army.

Even though he was five years my senior, we had been pretty close; or, at least, we had a good relationship. Now he was grown up and gone, and I was thirteen and very unsure of how family life was going to go, being the only kid left at home.

Books and comic books (particularly the latter, by this point) were my great solace. I had a hard time making friends at school, because, bluntly, I was a jerk. Gradually, I met other jerks (just kidding, I met kids with similar interests who tolerated my misanthropy), but most of them, too, loved books and comic books.

I was interested in girls by that point, as well, but few of them that I could find had much enthusiasm for comics, or indeed, for me. So now, imagination started serving another purpose, one I couldn’t really help at first. I found myself beginning to imagine being with girls.

You’ll often hear superhero stories described as “adolescent fantasies”, and believe me, for me, they were. I wanted to be impressive to girls, but reality wasn’t permitting that. However, in the world of my imagination, I could be.

It was all I had.

I remember my favorite fantasy, although I’m sort of embarrassed to tell it. I would imagine having the power to stop the rest of the world, i.e., to freeze everyone except me and the girl. Somehow, in my fantasies, if the rest of the world was just “stopped”, the girl would fall for me.

A better story, of course, would be her immediate and passionate attempts to get the rest of the world turned back on so she could be continue her own fantasies about pop stars and football players. Because she wasn’t having them about me.

Real life rarely goes exactly like we want it to, but made-up stories can. This is one of the chief solaces of imagination. As adults, we are expected to understand the difference between fantasy and reality, however.

In real life, we don’t have superhero powers. We’re all just human beings, presumably dealing with each other respectfully and as equals.

Or we should be.

A young woman friend of mine asked me, just two days ago, if couples that had been together as long as my wife and I have been still have troubles. I laughed.

“Yes, we do,” I said.

“Somehow, I always imagined that, when you get past a certain point, everything kind of smooths out.”

“I like that picture,” I said. “Yeah, it was touch-and-go there for a minute, but I hit, like,  fifty, and, now, everything’s great.

Now, she was laughing. “Are you saying what I imagined was silly?”

“Nothing we imagine is ever silly. Not really.”

Not really, indeed.