Her aunt used to tell her that nothing was pure.  As a sophomore cop, she believed that her aunt, while sweet and well-intentioned and full of empathy (no one was “all bad” etc.), would not have a made a good law enforcement officer.  There existed boundaries and lines and rule books and that was how those charged with safeguarding the social contract were able to be effective—without the superstructure of hard lines, society would sag, the joists would snap, and life as everyone knew it would be gone in a poof of pink vapor in one day’s fucking time.  She’d seen it happen, or at least the aftermath: a driver run a red in the small hours of the morning and T-bone a tipsy teenager on a bicycle.  A past partner that had been distracted by a divorce who misfired his weapon and ended the life of a toddler nine months into his first assignment.  The ignored “check engine light” that presaged a slipping head gasket that occasioned a fiery wreck that ate the lives of her grandfather, a young couple in another car, and a dumb, valiant Samaritan that tried to brave the flames.  She had a whole arsenal of evidence for how not respecting rules led to disaster.  Her uniform was ironed and her ponytail was tight and her gun was oiled.  She drove the tension of her work into heavy bags three times per week to prevent a slip up with a defiant suspect.  She drank one glass of Merlot per day.  She wiped down her dashboard once per week. She met Leo on the first night of patrol in a new neighborhood.  She lived 15 miles north of the city limit and therefore found herself patrolling the grimy expanse of state highway a few miles south of the city limit—the department had rotated officers so they could claim they were honoring the idea of policing their own communities.  It was a place of decrepit fast food franchises, pawn shops, liquor stores, auto parts dealers, cheap motels, hardware stores serving as fronts for meth rings, strip clubs, dive bars, milling clots of day laborers and addicts and the like—a strip of urban American stereotype and she loathed it, the way it offended all of her sensibilities and indeed seemed to breed chaos and disorder, in the form of stumble bums and reckless driving and the palming to and fro of shadow things.  Leo stood with a straight spine on the sidewalk outside of a Jack in the Box, the bleed of the marquee coloring his high cheekbones with a rose hue.  He wore a beanie style hat that stuck straight up, a smooth black windbreaker, creased blue jeans and spotless shell-toed Adidas.  He was perfectly symmetrical, even how he held his hands at the midpoint of his chest, fingers intertwined, thumb pads pushing against each other.  He sported a pencil thin goatee and chinstrap and the long lashes on his sleepy, large eyes were long enough to curl upward.  As she circled the block the second time, he let his gaze slide over her windshield and softly caught her own.  She told herself her heart hammered as she cut rubber around the block again because he was a suspicious character and she watched her mind tick off the rationale for parking close in the restaurant’s lot on her next pass: young, male (omit Hispanic/poss African American), idle/loitering on public thoroughfare, 12:03 a.m., dress consistent with possible gang membership, drug trafficking activity, etc.  She watched her hand rise from the butt of her Glock to straighten her ponytail.  She felt her exaggerated cop-stride toward him, but felt within it the ghost of a hip switch.  She asked him what his business was.  He told her he was waiting for a ride home from his uncle.  She asked how long he’d been waiting and he painted the night sky with his eyelashes as he gazed up, blinking, calculating.  Two hours.  The way his eyelashes lifted as he blinked at her, painted her in a light sheen of sweat as he wondered if maybe she could give him a ride—it was a rough area, and he didn’t want to get into any kind of trouble.  An hour later, as her fourth orgasm receded in pulses through her thighs, her face pressed to a Formica table top on which her pistol and his pistol and a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue vogued in a tableau of vice, she would wish that she hadn’t requested his ID, hadn’t seen that he was just shy of his 17th birthday, hadn’t thereby eradicated any shred of pretension that the world wasn’t just as gray as her aunt had always insisted; she would wish that she could find a way to believe that she wasn’t all bad.




Monday Morning in America

It’s another Monday morning in America and someone is blowing leaves.  They are soggy and heavy and so the diesel huff of the machine that must blow them labors like a foghorn through the filters of walls and windows.  The man or woman (let’s face it, it’s almost definitely a Latino man) no doubt wears large ear protection, flame orange or forest green probably, and he aims the snout of his laborious machine back and forth like a metal detector, creating little mulchy mountains of sopping, heavy, red, brown and yellow.  He thinks as he does this about his life.  He has the debt on the credit cards to move around—one pile to another.  He has the boxes of family memorabilia to move around—from one room to another.  He has the troubles in his marriage to move around—from one conflict to the next.  He has the physical ailments that move around—a tweaked shoulder heals to reveal a sore sciatic nerve.  Where the fuck do the leaves go?  Eventually, he knows, they disintegrate into sludge, a viscous liquid that can be washed down sewer drains to join the clearer runoff from the many deluges the city hosts in this season.  But, still, they are ultimately leaves, are they not?  Even if in miniscule particle and imperceptive to the eye somewhere out in the heaving black ocean, there is still something of the maple leaf there.  He can’t decide whether this notion gives him relief or despair.  There is the possibility of both—lightening at the thought of permanence, burdening at that same.  He finds a banana yellow leaf improbably propped by circumstances of wind and other leaves against the mostly denuded trunk of one young maple.  The leaf is nearly bone dry.  He cuts off his blower and unearths a Bic from his cargo pant pocket, holds the flame steady until the leaf catches and a cautious line of fire slowly defeats the dampness, curling the whole thing into a frail skeleton of ash.  He crushes this in his fist, wipes his palms together until all that is left of the leaf is a tiny ball of gray-black.  He doesn’t hesitate or fight the urge, just pops it into his mouth and swallows the acrid crumb.  He cuts his blower back on and goes back to work, feeling, from time to time, his guts working their acid to disappear forever what was just second ago a piece of the world.  Later, he will go home and step over the boxes of his children’s kindergarten art waiting for a home in the entryway.  He will smile at his wife and kiss her—to her surprise—when she greets him with a gripe about the lack of cooking oil in the house.  He will stretch out on the floor of his apartment and wait for one of his small children to climb on top of him and explore his face with her hands and eyes and tomorrow he’ll go to the next street on which leaves obscure the path.


Food Bank



I never shied away from the fact that I was a rotten shit in high school and I have tried my best not to hide behind the fact that all of my buddies were, too. That’s not any excuse—even our behavior had been due to peer pressure, that’s a bullshit copout, and I can’t even claim that. Just a kind of free floating permission to be as wild-ass as we could be, an unspoken game of one-upmanship to see who could push the envelope the furthest before the apathetic teachers or staff actually took action.


Solomon Brazier smoked a bowl in the back of Spanish class, blowing tokes into his sleeve. Polyester wrapped Mr. Abrams sniffed and looked confused but that was about it. Carlton Chivers tagged the door of every classroom with his Flash! nom du guerre, then moved on to every single teacher’s desk. He pulled this caper off within a week. Jenny Strongbow pasted the answers to a chemistry quiz on the back of geriatric Ms. Genevive’s suit jacket so that as she walked around, telling us all that she was “watching us like a hawk,” she delivered the answers to each student. Jenny stripped it off her back without any guile on the way out to lunch, just tossed it in the wastebasket, chuckling.   Avery Short chased a freshman down the block, blacked out drunk at midday, and slammed a metal garbage can down over him, told him not to come out till after school and the poor little dude didn’t.


Anyway, there is a lot to be said about the kind of public education that not only allows this type of behavior to be the rule, but that inspires it. I mean, looking back, I know we were rebelling against the busywork nonsense and radically outdated textbooks and crappy instructors and rain of asbestos. At least on some level. Not a conscious one at the time, to be sure. Shit, we were too immature to organize a house party (so we drank in the park nine times out of ten) to say nothing of some kind of political statement.


I had a lot of time to think critically about my high school self and the retroactive politics of delinquency. The line at the food bank twisted around the front of the joint and down the alley, but before I even had gotten in line, I saw him—Mr. Greeley, junior year algebra, quivering in a frayed track suit, gripping a cane like with impossibly huge, white knuckles.


Because, see, what I remember most about Mr. Greeley is how soft-spoken he was, how much of a pushover—no, it’s what we did to him that I remember most. It’s another round of self-delusion to say it’s because of who he was—the garbage we dished out is on us.


Like when he got his small yellow Datsun painted with a local plumbing company’s ads to earn a few extra bucks, presumably, and eight of us picked it up during lunch 3 days running and dropped it in the middle of the intersection. He had the ads stripped away and we left his car alone except for breaking into it to smoke doobies.


We did shit like sell weed out of the door of his classroom like it was a dope house, stared him down when he got a tiny touch of indignation about it.


Like drink fat mouthed bottles of Mickey’s malt liquor openly, burping like frat boys while he tried to teach a formula to the four earnest kids listening.


Like the day that I came in half-cocked on Mad Dog and Mexi herbs and wrestled three desks over to and out of the third story window while he was dealing with Sam, a sensitive, tiny nerd that we all tortured, in the hallway.


That last one was what finally did it, I guess. He came back in, shaking his head, left hand out, subconsciously guiding Sam toward his seat. That impulse, I see now, of guidance, of the desire to share, actually, to help lead us toward knowledge and growth that we spit on and threw back at him because he was a shy, decent cog. Ah. Anyway. When he took stock of the fact that three of us were standing desk-less, he didn’t understand, then he did—but only that our desks were gone—and then he rubbed his head like he was trying to get a fire started up there and wordlessly pointed to the hallway.


I’d spent a lot of time thinking about Mr. Greeley, actually, as I worked my way through gigs grant writing and needed algebra to help me with Microsoft Xcel and didn’t have a lick of it. I came to arrange it so that Mr. Greeley stood in for all my crimes of the era—every diss of my mom or dad, every freshman shouldered or punched, every gram snorted, smoked or sold, every rotgut 40 oz of malt liquor hard to the liver that was still in the process of growing back then.


And at the food bank, 15 odd years later, an out of work grant writer wannabe rock star, I watch as ancient Mr. Greeley reaches his knobby claw out at the first station to the cocky young buck probably doing his community service for a DUI. I can barely catch the harsh whisper that Mr. Greeley lays on the young kid when he reluctantly leans in a few inches, but I hear the kid’s honk of a dumb young voice—nope, that’s it man, one onion per—and look behind the kid’s tribal-tattooed elbow and see the crate bursting with Vidalia yellows and the kid returns his moon face to his big smart phone.


I suppose I told that kid to give Mr. Greeley a Vidalia yellow and that I probably didn’t do it nicely. I recall that I was invited to leave the establishment by rubber-aproned ex-con types not too nicely. I hope that Mr. Greeley cooked whatever it was he wanted the extra onion for. I hope he didn’t somehow recognize me.


I hope he doesn’t remember me at all.

Splitting it Three Ways



The fan stirred the soupy air with none of the force necessary to transform it into a cooling agent. The A/C had clunked off again and hour ago with the sound of a drunkard falling down a metal staircase. Candles guttered on the mantle over the sealed up fireplace, my little piece of protest against the gagging efforts of the landlady over the antebellum charms of the split-level ghetto cottage. I’d left the door to the porch cracked for the prayer of a breeze off the Cape Fear, though I knew it meant there’d be a cicada or two to scare up from the filthy living room the next day. Also, open doors and windows were kind of like television—they could bring entertainment in the form of domestic quarrels or drunken sing-alongs or whispered plots. It wasn’t uncommon for the Wilmington Police to play a role in a production just beyond the edge of my rental property as they did this particular night.


A blue loop of light went round the ceiling at a quicker clip than the fan and a red one chased it. Radios squawked and tires chirped on curb; other clichéd sounds of The Man arriving. I listened. Car doors heaved closed, muffled protests, young men’s voices raised in timbre (which, I once read, is an inheritance of ancient survival tactics, like dogs showing their bellies or avoiding eye contact). I slipped out from under the damp sheet, clicked the dog shut in the bedroom with her peaked ears and ready bark, slid out to the balcony and beheld the quotidian sight of three young black men cuffed on my curb with two white policemen standing practically on top of them. One cop was advising them to divulge or produce anything that could hurt them.


Boys, he drawled, I’m tryin’ to help y’all here. If y’all got something in that car I should know about, go on ahead and let me have it before my partner digs it up? Much better idea.


The young men chose to remain silent, which they had not been made aware was their right. Silently myself, I congratulated them, lit a smoke and leaned over the railing. Good cop let his veil slip as he scowled at me through my smoke; I waved lazily like I was on his side and he, no doubt divining my skin tone, eased his scowl into a tight-lipped smile. Presumable bad cop emerged from the Nissan Maxima with a Mag Light trained on his opposing palm. He slammed it down on the cruiser’s hood like he was at cards.


Which one of y’all shitbirds owns the crack?


Soft curses, almost like prayers, puffed up from the young men on the curb. I felt my own crawl up my throat with an exhalation of Marlboro. Stay silent, I implored them, three times over, catching myself as my voice almost became audible across those impossible ten yards. They did as I wished. Good cop paced like a professor, hands at his lower back.


C’mon now y’all, he cooed, I can split this rock three ways and charge all of y’all or one of you can man up and take it.


The filter burned my thumb. Now I didn’t know what to implore them to do. My memory scrambled over legal knowledge—wouldn’t the driver just automatically get it? But if he did, and it wasn’t his, what did that mean for these men?


Y’all got ten seconds to get smart, good cop sighed.


Bad cop took up a position behind them with fat fingers that tickled Glock grip. I dropped my smoke in the grass accidentally, grateful for the first time for the humidity of the night that would extinguish it. My mind raced: could I call out advice without getting arrested myself? What would I say? Stay silent? Someone claim it? Should I at least let the cops know I was watching with the eye of a critic and not some smug white interloper in this blacked-out block? Time ran out. Bad cop hoisted the first young man one and folded him—bam!—on the hood. Bam!, two, bam!, three. Three distressed, bruised letter L’s with cheeks pressed to the hot hood of a Caprice. Good cop flipped a blade open and sighed again, snapping that rock in three. I went inside to try for sleep.





The light of the carousel is not kind. It’s the kind of light you’d expect in a dentist’s office, not searing down onto the fantastical hoop of painted ponies bobbing on brass poles and delighted, red-nosed toddlers. It seems that every carousel I’ve ever seen has one sleigh on it—a flat bench that might fit a small family, just in case someone not able or willing to scramble up the slick plastic side of a horse wanted aboard. I stand between two ponies, my palms on the lower backs of my son and his friend. We are directly behind the sleigh. After the first couple of revolutions, a few dozen squeals of joy from my kiddo and the dozens around us, I finally notice the woman on the sleigh. She’s wide, white-haired, somewhere amid a rocky seventy-something years. Her jacket is cheap flannel and a dusting of what might be flour rides her right shoulder. Her hair has segregated itself into greasy clumps. At her side are the rumpled, hard-held bags responsible for the ugly title that pops in my mind as flashbulbs pop around us: bag lady. She crosses one leg over the other and leans back, her slab of worn face aimed out into the night, over the heads of all the whooping, waving parents. No matter what scape the carousel presents her with—damp wall of a department store, squads of bike cops massing for an impending protest, the sixty-foot Evergreen the mall has garishly decorated, even Macy’s brilliant North Star—her expression never shifts, nor does her gaze. She takes what she’s presented with, every once in a while lifting a thick, ragged thumbnail to her teeth. She’s spent three dollars for this sleigh on this carousel. She’s spent three dollars to go around and around wrapped in cruel light with children’s laughter spilling around her. The thought that she represents the inverse of childhood, of joy feels ugly, but there it is. Maybe the carousel is a reminder to her of a long-lost child—her own, or herself. Maybe her cloudy eyes are seeing something after all. She’s a reminder, maybe, to us young parents to not just let ourselves and our children be carried round and round and round until all we are left with, like her, is memory.


ABC_capitol_car_chase_2_ml_131004_16x9_992 imgres 250px-WashBullets90s


I’ve never come across a document of any kind that reflects upon the incredible irony of the Washington Bullets NBA franchise.  Ok, so team owner Abe Pollin saw the light and changed the name to the “Wizards” in 1995, claiming the assassination of his friend Yitzhak Rabin as the final straw in scouring overtones of violence from his team’s name.  First element of irony: the final straw was not the ridiculous level of inner city violence in DC., but the death of an Israeli politician. Second element of irony: The Clash put the song “Washington Bullets” on their bestselling super anti-imperialist 1980 album Sandinista! possibly to shine the light on U.S. policy emanating from DC, though The Clash have claimed innocence about that.  Third element of irony: this is what passes for gun reform in America: changing a basketball team’s name, versus, say, passing legislation or addressing the root causes of conflict in the inner city. 


I got to thinking about this, of course, because of yesterday’s supernova ballyhoo about the depressed, unarmed mother who drove her car to the White House and got smoked by volunteer (thanks to the shutdown) DC Police and Secret Service Officers.  I half-watched the colorful wheels of CNN and MSNBC spin while I cooked dinner.  Every congress member interviewed regarding the shutdown of the government was first asked where they were and what they saw of the violence yesterday.  The shooting took most of the time of each segment.  And no doubt in the days to come we will hear the depths of Miriam Carey’s life and the composition of her demons spelled out with the flair of prime time inquiry.  This offers the possibility of a look at mental health treatment, so there is a silver lining to the prurient blender we’ll be watching. 


But I couldn’t help but think if I were a black or brown inner city resident of DC, I’d be a little cynical about the intensity of coverage.  I imagine I might say to myself, Can you believe this shit, self?  A shooting right HERE in Washington DC!  Then I’d cackle but it wouldn’t feel funny and I’d probably want a drink. 


In 2011 there were 78 homicides by gun in Washington DC.  Of the victims, 2 where white.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Miriam Carey has gotten more attention than any other black victim of gun violence in our capital.  I wish for her and her orphaned child that somehow her death might at least light that up on our collective radar.   






Being a media junkie often sucks.  Far from prurient, sensationalism-seeking, soulless, pale geeks shoveling celebrity joys and miseries into their slack jawed maw, many people I know who might be accused of this moniker are actually deeply empathic—to say nothing of deeply political.   They feel a responsibility to know what is going on in the wider world from day to day; for some, it’s simply a commitment to keep watch on what our tax dollars do to other peoples; for some, it’s a passionate desire to stay on top of the latest versions of oppression (think NSA wiretapping); for some, yes, it’s an unhealthy sort of addiction to tragedy and injustice that produces less catharsis and more stagnation.  I’d like to think of myself as the prior—a privileged white American male who feels some responsibility to know day in and day out what the vast majority of people in America and the wider world are experiencing.  Call it peeling an eye for where and how to be an ally.  And the argument can be made, too, that simply being aware of what’s going as a member of privileged class that doesn’t “need” to expose himself to such quotidian sorrows as the death count on Chicago’s south and west sides (500+ YTD), is being an ally.  If only because it gives you something to verbally punch the idiot at the hardware store with if he gets going on sanctity of the 2nd amendment.  Especially in this era of jacked-up, super-fueled right wing smack talk and draconian legislatures (hi, NC!), to many of us “junkies,” I think, it feels important to stay tuned in the same way it’s important to stay warm before boxing match.


But there is also far too often a gap between empathic pain/outrage and any reasonable possibility of action.  In other words, far too much of what I consume about the suffering world is not properly digested.  I try to find ways to speak out or take action or, at the bare minimum, incorporate what I’m learning into my worldview so I might sometime serve someone with a connection or understanding that they don’t expect.  And sometimes I write. 


So I’m taking the chance today to write in a celebratory vein.  In the last week, the United States crowned its first ethnic Miss America. Nina Davuluri wore the tiara at the end of the day.  And in the last week the United States saw its first transgender person chosen as homecoming queen.  Cassidy Lynn Campbell wore the tiara at the end of the day. 


The fact that both Davuluri and Campbell immediately were assaulted with hateful backlash is not surprising, nor does it mean very much.  I’m saddened by the focus of much of the media on tweets toward Davuluri that suggest she is a terrorist infiltrator, or commentary direct at Campbell that she is just a boy playing dress up.  But then again, maybe focusing on the tone and content of that backlash is wise.  Maybe by casting the depth of that ignorance into the limelight along with the beautiful young women wearing those tiaras, the juxtaposition will move someone, somewhere in middle America who’s just not sure how they feel yet about such radical change. 


But radical change it is.  Gay marriage is sweeping the nation, marijuana prohibition is finally eroding, gun control is flaring as a debate at least, some healthcare reform is coming despite the blood surging through Boehner, and  in terms of foreign policy, at least it is now, more than ever, also under the flashbulbs.  It must be a horrible time to be a xenophobic, homophobic, militant fundamentalist.  We ought not be surprised if we hear many explosions of ire from that quarter as a result.  But we ought to listen to just how dumb and tired they sound and know that they’re loud because they’re losing. 


Even at corporate beauty pageants and football games.   





Dialectics: 1. The art or practice of arriving at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments;


Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: ….DBT combines standard cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotion regulation and reality-testing with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness largely derived from Buddhist meditative practice.  


DBT is a burgeoning mental health treatment model that is fat with interventions and techniques for use with a host of disorders and issues.  I will be super lucky to spend four days immersed in intensive training come November.  But I’m already using pieces of it here and there with clients, in conversation with distressed friends and family and also with my own damn self.  The main thrust is this: that two opposing facts can exist at the same time and both remain true.  For example, if my client says to me, “my mother doesn’t give a shit about me,” because her mother has been ignoring the mounting scores of lacerations on her thin wrists, I might say, “could you consider the possibility that your mother is acting as if she doesn’t care about you and at the very same time loves you very much?”  Or, more to the point, “can you consider the possibility that your mother is a terrible mother and, also, she loves you very much?” 


Of course, most people blink at you and furrow their brows and/or laugh derisively.  But then sometimes they also grow pensive.  Ideally, of course, this opens up the space to talk about the reasons why his/her mother became a terrible mother, what influences and causes piled up to prevent her from doing well.  This increases empathy, in theory, and pushes on the door marked reconciliation or forgiveness or maybe just forward motion.  And another central, related tenet of DBT comes in: “I care about you and admire you and accept you exactly as you are and I also will support you in changing things about yourself.”


Lying in bed under the skein of a new moon’s light and a heavy dose of nighttime decongestant and red wine at some small hour this morning, however, I was not thinking about dialectics in terms of clinical work.  I was thinking about dialectics in terms of language and meaning and Buddhism and life and the possibility that embracing wholeness presents.  I remember reading Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein when I was 20 years old, on a hot night in urban Venezuela and coming across this line (paraphrase): “Can you feel the difference between ‘I am angry!’ and ‘I am experiencing anger.’  Through that small distinction flows a whole world of freedom.”


It strikes me that an entire world of possibility flows through the distinction between


“I love my wife but she’s so fucking stressed out by her job all the time”




“I love my wife and she’s so fucking stressed out by her job all the time.”


The implication of “but” is that while I might love my wife, I can’t enjoy her or appreciate her or really be in possession of that love until some later time when she’s not stressed out.  “And” represents the possibility that even in the midst of horrendous stress I might enjoy my wife and celebrate the love I have for her. 


Or a kid might mourn the mother she wish she’d had while also knowing she did the best that she possibly could.  


Or maybe I’m just under the influence of daytime cold medicine.  






Saturday afternoon at Café Racer, my son tasted a chocolate covered grasshopper, proffered by David George Gordon.  I tried to take this as evidence that he was growing up, finding new stores of bravery for the art of experimentation and adventure in the world. 




Dr. Daniel Siegel is a giant of a thinker, theorist, researcher, psychiatrist and therapist and you can’t attend a single course in applied psychology or family therapy without hearing the instructor make reference to him and in many cases take you on a glowing oratory tangent.  He’s impossible to hate and so far as I can tell, he’s impossible to question.  He’s on the cutting edge of neurobiology, memory, child development and about six other related fields.  Also, for the record, he writes for the layperson so anyone can scoop up one of his fascinating books like The Whole Brain Child.


One of the things that Dr. Siegel writes and speaks about consistently is “implicit” memory.  To put it simply, these are memories that happened before we were conscious and able to develop “explicit” memories.  You can’t call up an implicit memory by sheer cognitive ability.  There are ways that implicit memory gets called up or “triggered.”  Many people don’t understand this but it can govern your emotional life, nothing less.  Have you ever found yourself inexplicably furious or inexplicably sorrowful at the drop of a hat?  Chances are that something triggered your implicit memory: a dead cat on the side of the road, for example, or a father reading the paper at a restaurant where his young daughter sits across from him clearly waiting for his attention.  And it doesn’t have to happen instantly—you could glimpse something like this and not be walloped by it emotionally for hours, or days. 


Since learning something about this, I have found myself gaining a great deal of ground.  I was extremely fortunate in that my education around this coincided, more or less, with the birth of my son.  Because everybody gets knuckle-balled with implicit memories when they have a kid and if they aren’t aware of the way the brain works (which most are not), they are going to be baffled and scrambled by their emotional life for a while. 


So when my infant son cried out at night and my own chest got tight and anxiety went up, I understood: I was left alone to cry myself to sleep when I was his age.  When my son gets pushed around the playground, my rage is so hair-trigger that I start looking for a dad to fight: I was a sensitive kid told to “use my words” and was not the Lord of any Fly.  So as the time approached for Pax to start preschool (today), I was not as confused as I would have been about my emotional state—but I’m still struck by the intensity of it. 


Pax told his mother the other day, “I’m going to cry so much they won’t let me stay at school,” which made me want to hyperventilate.  My own mother’s response was amusement that he had learned to be “manipulative” already.  My mother did step up and offer herself as the courier to preschool for the first week, which was tremendously kind.  What my mother did not do was actively recall under what circumstances she left me alone in a preschool classroom.  I can only assume from my own anxiety and blues during the days preceding Pax’s entrance that I was terrified and felt abandoned.


My son left the house with his grandmother this morning in a shark-print raincoat twirling and chattering.  He came back dirtier but in a similar state.  I don’t know if my mother is executing a “re-do” of her own style of parenting 33 years wiser, but she’s doing something right.  I doubt that Pax will lose his breath when his own child’s lower lip quivers at the notion of striking out into school—or anything else in life. 


But maybe each time he sees an insect eaten, an implicit memory of his father will warm him from within?   

SOUR GRAPES (& a good point or two)



I’m so powerfully tempted to write this in the third person and distance myself from it in order to keep from sounding bitter.  There are few sounds more distasteful than sour grapes being chewed—I’m aware of this.  For better or for worse, it would also be disingenuous and wildly irrational for me to try to pretend like this was about some “other” independent-press published author. 


I’m not going to attempt to give a full sketch of the state of the publishing world.  That would be tedious and complex and too long.  Most people recognize that the foundations are shaking.  Self-publishing through electronic means and the zeal and dexterity with which many small and midsized presses have snapped up the leverage and power offered by e-publishing has cast the mainstream industry into frightened disarray.  Much like CDs, physical books are stacked on a precipitous downward slope that tips toward relative irrelevance (unlike music, I will always prefer a physical book to a file). 


Part of me—and I suspect part of many indie authors—cheers this transcendence.  After enough years of disrespect and betrayal and dishonesty at the hands of literary agents and mainstream presses, I can’t help but cheer the rapid entropy.  I can’t help but smirk when they bring lawsuits against Amazon and Apple and whatnot, trying to get their manicured fingertips in the dike.  I almost kissed the self-published author who recently told me that not only had she made the NYT bestseller list, but was enjoying turning down mainstream editors when they called her to buy her book out from under her. 


Another part of me, of course, is nostalgic for the days that ended long before I ever published anything—when it was the author’s job to write and the agent’s to sell and the editor’s to edit and the publicist’s to publicize.  And that was that.  The emotionally complex, right-brained artistes could rest easy in the cool shadow, wait to be trotted out après martini or two for a well-attended reading now and then.  Or perhaps it was never that way and it’s just a bittersweet dream some of us share. 


But we can’t have it both ways, I realize.  So I swallow my panic at the mandate to “self-promote,” my discomfort at “marketing” an elegy/memoir/love story that is so intimate and meaningful to me.  I swallow the daunting, unhelpful knowledge that I have no idea how to do this and…well, I just start doing it, because the book and what I hope it transmits means that much to me.


And I can’t even begin to claim the same duress of solitude that a self-published author can.  I have a mid-sized Canadian press putting my book out, and a team of PR Angels from the Neocom Group that have taken on my plight with tremendous heart because they, too, believe in my work.  But still, it’s a grind through a very dark wood with many moments of temptation to lie down in the snow and go to fucking sleep. 


One such moment is what I intended this essay to address.  Let’s say that there’s a certain bookstore in a certain city in Oregon that has gained a great deal of traction as a sort of indie lit clearinghouse and has earned a reputation as ground zero for independent literature in the city and the region.  This store is proudly northwestern in addition to being proudly indie. 


My good friend, an affable, well-spoken law student approached this store for me regarding Clearly Now, the Rain, and after following up once or twice, received this response:


“I looked into Eli’s book and our buyers elected not to carry that title in stores.  We don’t bring inventory into stores through events, so we would decline a request to host Eli….We just can’t carry every title that gets published each season.” 


So, an independent-press published regional author with excellent blurbs (quotes), a kick-ass Kirkus review, and a memoir that takes places majorly in the northwest who’s grinding hard to get some traction isn’t suitable for this store.  (This is the point where I am concerned about the sound of the grapes, but fuck it.)  This does cause one to wonder what is suitable for this store, does it not?  A quick visit to this store’s website evidences no shortage of mainstream press-published, bestselling author, front-list type of titles spotlighted. 


If a giant independent bookstore features these titles and turns down…Christ, let’s just say it: turns me down…what precisely does “independent” mean anymore?  And more to the point, how do brick and mortar bookstores expect to survive if they don’t demonstrate any particular interest in, solidarity with or affinity for independent authors?


In case I’ve been too harsh on the anonymous J bookstore described above, I should probably add that myself or people working on publicity on my behalf have been simply ignored by all of the bookstores in New Orleans, the University Bookstore in Seattle, and others.  I suppose the question I’m arriving at is: why do bookstores matter anymore if they don’t persist in being locales for literary life and allies in the struggle against corporate domination of art? 


And, of course, every single vendor online can indeed “carry every title that’s published each season” if they wish. 


(Of course this same Oregon bookstore is selling my book online)