Thursday, November 17, 2011

It’s Getting Cold Out There (Here)

Those of us who live in northern climes are starting to feel it. The chill in the air, the extremely early sunset, even some flurries beginning to fall.

It’s getting cold out there.

But it’s getting cold in other ways, as well. Cities across the country are starting to crack down on the “Occupy Wall Street” protests that have sprung up all over the country – and, indeed the world. It’s also true that the Arab League has suspended the country of Syria from their ranks for their brutal, murderous response to protestors in that country. That is a “cold” that I welcome.

Here in the U.S. we are in the early phases of the 2012 presidential election. The Republicans are trying to decide whom they are going to nominate, and having a tough time doing so. First Perry was on top, then Cain, now Romney, and now Gingrich is gaining traction. The most popular Republican candidate? Anyone other than those who are running. Can’t we have Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels or Jeb Bush? Not this time around, it doesn’t seem.

The current occupant, Mr. Obama, who will be running for reelection, is not enjoying great approval numbers in the polls. The latest one I saw indicated that 46% of the electorate think he’s basically doing a good job. But, it is also instructive to look at polling that indicates that Mr. Obama would beat any of the leading Republican candidates if the election were held today. The only contest he loses is against a Republican who is not running, some dream candidate who has yet to emerge from the woodwork.

“Obamacare,” as my friends on the right like to call it, is heading to the Supreme Court, and we all knew that would happen. Fine. We’ve had two appellate court decisions that upheld it as Constitutional, and one that didn’t. It will be fascinating to see what the Supremes decide on the matter. Either way, our country is going to face a clear – and, I suspect, a stark – choice in a little less than a year.

Will we decide to elect someone who wants to cater to the 1% or the 99% (to borrow the parlance of the Occupy Movement protesters)? Certainly, the Republicans are not going to be able to argue that Mr. Obama is soft on national security – after all, he has presided over more drone attacks than Mr. Bush, found and killed Osama bin Laden (and many other Al Qaeda leaders), and helped orchestrate the removal of Gaddafi from power in Libya. Mr. Obama is also fulfilling the terms of the Iraq withdrawal, negotiated by the Bush administration, and removing our troops by the end of this year.

Here’s where we are: The economy is growing – slowly. Too slowly. Unemployment remains a problem, and a significant one, but it is VERY slowly becoming slightly less of a problem. The Obama administration is trying to enact what it can to ease the burden on the unemployed or underemployed, on those who are severely burdened by student loan debt, on those whose mortgages are underwater, and on veterans who will soon be returning, looking for both work and adequate health care. Are these programs perfect? No. Are they a good start? I think so.

Many of us are hurting in our country today. I’m among them. I am fortunate to have work, but it’s not enough to make ends meet. I am “floating rope” – borrowing money from a credit card for one month to the next – in order to try to keep up with bills. There’s only so long that this kind of behavior can go on, and yet I am convinced that the answer is not to lower the corporate tax rate or to keep the Bush tax cuts in effect. How is that going to help those of us who are struggling? I keep hearing about these so-called “job-creators.” Where are the jobs that they are creating?

It is long past time to eliminate loopholes that allow corporations to park money in tax havens (such as The Netherlands, Ireland, and the Cayman Islands) to avoid paying taxes on income. No one wants confiscatory taxes, we just want fair ones. If you, corporation X, have earnings of one hundred million dollars in a given quarter, then you should pay your fair share of taxes on one hundred million dollars. I pay taxes on every penny I earn. And, I don’t earn anywhere near that much per quarter, as I’m sure will not surprise any reader of this blog.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’ve written above. I’m not about “soaking the rich” and I’m not interested in engaging in class warfare. I’m interested in our country adopting a more fair and equitable tax system. I find it alarming that when I was a boy, the average CEO made about 40 times more than the average worker at his company. (I say only his, because, back then, there were no female CEOs) Today, the average CEO makes 350 times more than the average worker at his or her company. This is obscene. Call me kooky, but is a CEO of a company really worth 350 times more than the sales staff, the very people who are ensuring the success of the company? I don’t think so.

I’m afraid I’ve gotten a bit riled up. Must be because it’s cold outside, and I’m not quite ready for winter.

The good news: I’m working. My wife is working – although for the past couple days, she’s been working so much that I haven’t seen her at all; we’ve been like ships hoping to pass in the night, but having to settle with passing in the briefest of moments in the early morning hours when we are both resting and about to get up. We are both grateful. We both love this country. We both want this country to succeed and to live up to its fullest potential.

Election season is upon us. The cold us upon us – in more ways than one. Let us rise up and meet it with thought and foresight and compassion. Let us strive to be the best Americans we can be.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Thoughts Upon Starting a New Semester of Teaching

Those who are in college trying to earn a degree in order to better their lives are working hard. They are sacrificing. Some of them might not much like their classes, or at least some of the required classes, like the classes that I am very likely to be teaching. English. Essay writing. The research paper.

It’s hard for them, sometimes, to see how it’s going to matter in the future. I get it. And yet, I also know it is going to matter to them in the future.

This term, when administering a start-of-class diagnostic essay, I asked students to write about their previous experiences with English classes, writing, and/or reading (with thanks to Bob Zacny, who suggested the prompt). The results have been fascinating. Some students have written passionately about how much they HATE English classes and being told what to read and write. In fact, the finest diagnostic essay that was written was written by a young man who passionately and persuasively argued how much he hated English classes and being told what to read and write.

It was beautifully written. Passionate, clear, concise – all you would want in a well written five-paragraph essay. Now I need to figure out how to channel this young man’s passion into the assignments that he’s going to have to write on in this course. I can’t change the curriculum, but perhaps I can help make a connection, or help him make a connection to something that interests him. He’s a very good writer and I want him to learn and succeed.

Earlier this evening I was thinking about composing a blog about the “grotesque disconnect” between the Wall Street bailouts and the lack of jobs for so many in America today, and that is likely a subject I will return to, but, it seemed to me that this subject, this thinking about, “How do we effectively teach our children?” seemed somehow more important.

We need to teach our children. We need to meet them where they are, and we need to understand that they inhabit a world that is FAR different from the world in which many of us, or at least, I, grew up. I did not have the distraction of the Internet or the pleasure of the iPod when I was growing up and first enrolling in college. Nor did I have the beneficial parts of the Internet (research, hello?) when I was first in college. But, students today need to learn how to marshal these resources effectively, and they need to learn how to judge the reliability of what they are finding on the web. There are a lot of bogus websites out there.

At any rate, I’m rambling now, so should stop. I guess the point of this blog is that I think we all can write. It’s about writing about things or issues or ideas that we care about – that’s what matters. That’s what makes our writing worthwhile.

So, write. Express yourself. Even if it’s only for you to read in some distant day.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thoughts On an Early Autumn Night

A lot of my fellow bloggers write wonderful posts that celebrate blessings and things for which to be grateful, and I am very glad they do. I also have much to be grateful for and thankful for, and I often like to write about those things; but I can’t help but point out what craziness I see in our so-called national leaders when I see it.

The Minority Leader of the United States Senate is on record as saying that his most important priority is to make sure that president Obama is a one-term president. There’s simply something – a GREAT deal of something – that’s wrong with that. (And let me be clear, if the American people decide that Mr. Obama should be a one-term president, then they’ll decide that, fine. But for a legislator – a leader, no less – to say that that’s his number one priority is unconscionable. Why? Because he was elected to serve the people, that’s why.)

How about approving emergency aid for counties and states hurt by massive flooding or hurricanes or droughts? (All of which have occurred in the past several months.) How about closing tax loopholes that allow some of the largest and most profitable corporations in our country to pay NO taxes, while they are also creating no jobs? (Nope, can’t do that. Can’t tax the ‘job creators.’ – How can they be called job creators if they are creating no jobs?)

What we are hearing in these early days of the presidential campaign is discouraging to say the least. And it is – much of it – not very connected to reality. Mr. Obama cannot blame the previous occupant (with thanks to Garrison Keillor for the term) all that much on the stump, but the fact remains that the previous occupant started two wars that weren’t paid for and pushed through congress a massive prescription drug bill that wasn’t paid for. Are those nothing? No, those are billions – nay, trillions – of dollars! And, we wonder why we have such a debt problem now? Never before in the history of this country has our citizenry been asked to go to war without making a concomitant sacrifice. Never before.

But in the 2000’s, we were told to “go out and shop.” There’s leadership for you. We should go shop?

How about the people fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan? How about those soldiers who lack the body armor and other equipment they need? (Or, needed?) How does our shopping help them?

I, a self-proclaimed fiscally conservative social liberal, think it’s time we bring back the draft. If we had the draft, I doubt we’d still be in Afghanistan or Iraq. We – this country – are sending our poorest people to fight for… for, what? For ready access to oil? I get why we had to go to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, but isn’t it interesting that now that Obama has overseen the killing of Osama bin Laden and some 15-20 other Al Queda leaders, the Right still doesn’t give him any credit for that? Hell, we haven’t seen so fierce a warrior as commander-in-chief since Harry Truman, who, in case you’ve forgotten, dropped 2 nuclear bombs. (Not a bad reminder that we remain the only country to have ever deployed nuclear weapons.)

I wonder how we can stop this madness. I wonder how we can reset our course. I wonder why Warren Buffet’s staff pays more, as a percentage of their income, in income taxes than he does. (He wonders the same thing, by the way.) This is nuts.

It’s time for more change. More change. More change.


Thursday, September 29, 2011


Here we are – heading into a new election cycle, the Democrats against the Republicans, with perhaps a few Independents thrown in there for good measure. What are we arguing about?

National policy, to be sure. Tax policy? Check. Entitlements policy? Check. The Democrats seem to believe that heath care should be a right, not a privilege. The Republicans think otherwise, or at least that’s how it seems.

The Democrats seem to think that we should have a fairer and more balanced tax structure that ensures that the wealthiest among us and corporations are paying their fair share of taxes. The Republicans seem to think differently. Interestingly, a lot of the wealthiest Americans also think that they should be taxed at a higher rate than they currently are taxed today.

But are we to tax the so-called “job creators”? What will happen if we do? How will jobs ever be created in the good ole US of A? Well, the job creators, or at least a lot of them, are creating jobs overseas. Not here. They are also the same folks that the taxpayers have bailed out in the last several years, like Citibank and Bank of America and GE and General Motors. Where are the jobs? We saved these corporations, and what do we have to show for it now? Have you tried to refinance your mortgage lately? Good luck! (If you aren’t already facing foreclosure and potentially bankruptcy.)

So, was Obama untested, a little naïve, perhaps a little not-ready-for-prime-time when he was elected in 2008? Perhaps so. But, he’s no longer untested, no longer unready, no longer naïve. He’s learned the hard way. He tried to compromise, he tried to make nice with the other side, and they stymied him on nearly every turn. I am happy to see a more vigorous and combatant President Obama. I’m happy to see him threatening vetoes and taking his case to the nation. It’s about time, if you ask me.

We have a huge responsibility next fall: Are we going to elect another George W. Bush clone or are we going to reelect President Obama to finish the important work that he has started? Is it possible that this country would elect Sarah Palin, a woman who didn’t think it important that she completed her term as Governor of the state of Alaska, President? I don’t think so. This person doesn’t know how to finish something she starts.

I urge the American people to think long and hard about the choice facing us next year, and vote Obama.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It’s time to pay our bills…

The previous occupant took us into two wars without asking Americans to sacrifice anything, he instead asked us to go shopping. He also decided that that was a great time to enact a generous prescription drugs bill that wasn’t paid for and to cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, those that the Republicans like to call the “job creators” these days. Well, they got the tax breaks, but they stopped creating jobs. Instead, they shipped jobs and profits (that would otherwise be taxed) overseas.

These tax-evading companies are scofflaws. They know precisely what they are doing. It’s legal. But it is wrong. They are funneling money into Ireland and Denmark and the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes on their HUGE profits, and there is no legal recourse that the United States government can take, because it’s all legal. Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.

The United States Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 decision earlier this year in the Citizens United v. FEC case that corporations were “citizens”, and therefore entitled to the first amendment protection to free speech, specifically as it applied to political speech. Well, if they are entitled to the right of free speech as protected by the Constitution, then they are also responsible to contribute to the general Treasury.

Why is it that wealthy folks who earn most of their money from capital dividends pay only 15% on their income when most of us pay a good deal more than that, on a percentage basis? Why is it that Warren Buffet himself has balked at the fact that his secretary and the rest of his staff pay a higher percentage of they pay in taxes than Buffet (a billionaire) does? Because he thinks it is fundamentally wrong, that’s why! And, he’s right. Why should his secretary be paying 25 or 27 or 29 percent when Buffet is paying a fraction of that?

As President Obama said in his Rose Garden speech earlier today, “This is not class warfare… this is math!” Indeed.

It is math. Plain and simple. And, it’s about time we start realizing that we can’t get something for nothing. That’s what the last decade was about. We’ll fight two wars, but there will be no sacrifice. We’ll enact a generous new prescription drug benefit, but there’ll be no sacrifice. We’ll cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but there will be no sacrifice. Who is – or who did – peddle myths?

It’s time to pay our bills. And, we are all going to have to gird our loins and tighten our belts. There is an old saying, “To whom much is given, much is expected in return.” It’s time for those who have profited from our corporate-leaning tax structure and wealthy-leaning tax structure to pony up a bit more to help our country recover and rise like a Phoenix out of our current ashes.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Being Tested

We’re all tested from time to time in our lives.

The boss wants something extra quick, the kids need fill-in-the-blank, several torrential rainstorms follow one after another flooding your basement, or worse, you know, tested!

Well, it seems my wife and I are in one of those patterns again. Nothing like a hurricane or a flood, mind you. Just serious enough to demand immediate, urgent attention. The other day, one of our tenants called to say that she was smelling gas in her bedroom when she came home from work every evening, and that the back doorknob wasn’t working properly, and that the bathroom sink was draining slowly, despite their having tried Drano. “Okay, we’re on it,” I said.

It so happened that I had to teach for 8 hours the following day, so my ever-the-trooper wife took care of the drain and the doorknob and called the gas company. They came out. They found a leak. They told us that they’d fixed it, but also said that we needed to make sure that our tenants never hung anything on the gas line pipe in the closet where the meter is. So, we decided we’d install a closet rod to provide something for our tenants to hang their clothes on that wasn’t the gas line pipe.

Go to Home Depot. Get the materials. No problem.

But, while we’re installing the new closet rod we smell gas. A lot of gas. The day after the gas man was out and told us it was fixed. So, after successfully installing the new closet rod, we (my wife, actually) call the gas company again. “We’re smelling gas. Could you please come out and see what’s going on?” Turns out that there’s another leak, a second gas leak. They fixed the first yesterday and the second today.

Fortunately, no one got hurt; nothing blew up, no serious harm done. But it was a trying day nonetheless. Smelling gas while hanging a curtain rod is alarming. Knowing that there has been gas leaking into our tenants’ environments for some days, or, God forbid, weeks, is also alarming. But, here’s a shout-out to People’s Gas, who did a good job at solving the problem(s) this time. The last time we had to call them it was a nightmare, but I think I posted a blog about that then.

Meanwhile, we have been tested a bit, but we are passing. We persevere. Next up? The quickly heating up presidential campaigns. Who do you think should be nominated on the Republican side? Do you think there should be a Democratic challenger to Mr. Obama? I’d love to know!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Alex: The Life of a Child - You must read this!

Earlier this evening I finished reading an extraordinary book. It was moving, lyrical, funny, heartbreaking, instructive, inspirational, and wise. The book is Alex: The Life of a Child, by Frank Deford. Yes, that Frank Deford – the Frank Deford you might have read for years in Sports Illustrated or the Frank Deford that you’ve heard since late 1981 on National Public Radio. He’s also written novels and screenplays and essays and just about anything you can imagine.

In 1971, Frank and his wife welcomed a daughter into their home. She lived for another 8 years. She had cystic fibrosis, a disease that was not nearly as well known then as it is now. (Part of why it’s as well known as it is now is because Deford wrote this magnificent book.)

The book is notable for many reasons, but one of the things that stands out to me is that Deford manages to tell this painful and heart aching tale in a voice that is breezy, casual, and familiar. It is as if a favorite uncle is telling you a difficult story but his sense of humor and perspective is always intact. Deford obviously loved (loves) his little Alexandra, Alex, but he never falls into the maudlin and never succumbs to self-pity. The story is rich in detail and wrenching emotion, but always rendered with a deft, light touch.

This is creative nonfiction at its best.

I recognize that some folks wince at the term “creative nonfiction,” but if you read this book you might wince a little less. This is a book of nonfiction to be sure. And it has been rendered beautifully, lovingly through the techniques that our greatest fiction writers employ.

Deford is a master storyteller, and he is not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve when that’s what the story requires. While attending the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference last month, I had the good fortune to hear Deford speak and to briefly meet him. The man is no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is, AND bring your craft to bear. In other words, he’s a writer. He’s a writer’s writer.

Alex: The Life of a Child is a slim volume, weighing in at just slightly more than 200 pages, but it packs a powerful emotional punch and it contains a story about love and loving that any person can benefit from experiencing. Deford’s little girl Alex had an enormous impact in her eight short years of life – impact on many people beyond just her immediate family, and reading this book is a potent reminder of the potential we all have to make a difference in the world, to make an impact.

I recommend this book without reservation. It is beautifully written and the story contained within is simply and truthfully, heartbreaking and lovely.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Time to Act

Yesterday on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, regular commentator David Brooks, a conservative columnist for The New York Times (I understand that some of my right leaning friends might think that previous phrase an oxymoron, but he is conservative) said that he didn’t understand why the Republicans would be walking away from a deal wherein this so-called Socialist leaning Democratic president is offering 1.5 trillion dollars in spending cuts, including cuts to Social Security and Medicare that are sure to upset his base.

The aforementioned is part of a 4 trillion dollar deal that president Obama is pushing for, a combination of deficit reduction, significant spending cuts, and some revenue enhancements, most of which would come from closing corporate tax loopholes and repealing George W. Bush’s tax cuts on those making more than $250,000 per year.

What are the Republicans thinking? Do they think they are going to get more spending cuts out of this president, or any Democratic president for that matter? Do they not care about not raising the debt ceiling and allowing our nation to go into default? No, of course not – that’s why they have Sen. McConnell’s (R-KY) cynical suggestion to give the president the authority to raise the debt ceiling on his own, so they don’t have to take any responsibility for the issue. And yet, wait a minute…

Who was it that approved more spending than Mr. Obama asked for? The Congress. Who was it that approved spending for a prescription drug plan that was never paid for and two (arguably three) wars that were never paid for? Answer: the Congress.

It is far past time for this nonsense to stop. Perhaps Mr. Obama overstated his case yesterday when he said that 80% of Americans favored a balance approach to solving this problem, with a combination of spending cuts and increased revenue. The latest polls I’ve seen peg it at about 69%, which is still pretty significant, and which includes a significant number of folks from the other side of the aisle.

It is time to fix this problem. It is time to get control of our fiscal situation. It is time for legislators to do what we sent them to Washington for, namely, to legislate. And, it is far past time for everyone involved to come together and work for what is in the interest of the American people – not the republicans, not the democrats, but the American people.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the present situation, but the time to act is upon us. It’s far past time to end senseless subsidies to oil companies who are pulling in record profits. It’s far past time to end senseless subsidies for ethanol, which is a net loss when it comes to attempting to alleviate the emissions of greenhouse gases. And, it’s time to get real about cutting our spending and sensibly increasing revenues so we can get our fiscal house back in order.

It is, in short, time to act. Not to posture. Not to grandstand. It’s time to act.


Monday, March 14, 2011


Sometimes, every now and again, an event occurs that causes us to hit an internal reset button, to reassess our own troubles or struggles or disappointments or difficulties. Such an event occurred last Friday, March 11, in Japan.

That day, Japan was struck by a huge earthquake and then a far more devastating series of tsunamis. Even now, we don’t have a clear picture of just how devastating these events have been. We know that at least 1,500 people have died and Japanese authorities are estimating (as of now) that the death toll will likely exceed 10,000 people. There are multiple nuclear reactors that are in danger of melting down or overheating to near meltdown conditions, and there remain threats of additional tsunamis.

This is an enormously difficult time for the small island nation of Japan. Earlier today, Japan’s Prime Minister said that this was the worst crisis they have faced since World War Two. That’s saying something.

(At the end of WWII, in case you don’t know, the US dropped Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only times that these particular weapons of mass destruction have ever been used.)

Since those horrible days in 1945 the Japanese have become close Allies, close friends. I was relieved to learn earlier today that a friend of mine who interned for me when I was at American Theater Company several years ago is safe and sound. She made it through the earthquake and did not suffer from the tsunami – she was in Tokyo, and, thankfully, on high enough ground.

Others are not so fortunate. Now is a time for us to think about and pray (if that is part of your personal ethos) for our friends in Japan. They are facing an extremely difficult time right now. They need all the help we can provide. Money, gear, support, prayers, and thoughts.

Reading of what’s going on in Japan right now and watching snippets of coverage on CNN makes it clear to me that this is going to be a long, hard battle for our friends on the other side of the world. They need to know that we support them. And, we need to understand that it could just as easily be we who could be going through such a disaster. California has the San Andreas fault. It’s really not a question of if, but more a question of when. It’s coming. No one knows when, but California is going to experience a big earthquake in the undetermined future. As will Illinois. Illinois? Yes, we are also on an unstable fault. Earth’s tectonic plates don’t care where we live, or what language we speak, or what sort of government we have. They move. They shift. On their own. They don’t discriminate. Nor should we in our aid for our friends. And today our friend need to be the Japanese, who need our help immediately.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Transitions, Part II

Sometimes what’s in our heart is not worth public consumption, so what do we write about then?

Well, here’s trying to answer that question. Of what do we write when we are feeling so down or lost or blue or sorry-for-ourselves that no one would possibly want to read what we have to say?

Well, I suppose the first thing we’d do is not blame anyone else for what we are feeling. I suppose the first thing we’d do is say, “Well, here it is. Here I am. I feel what I feel. And perhaps the only reason that there’s any worth in writing this is that there might be others out there who are also feeling just a little bit lost, or at-sea, or flummoxed with this difficult job market and all the rest.”

Okay, that’s not too bad. That’s not blaming anyone; that’s just admitting that I’m feeling like I’m in a rough spot right now. At the same time, I also must say this: I’m among the lucky ones. I have a good, solid roof over my head. I have a good education. I have a wonderful, terrific, spouse who is immensely supportive of me – even when I’m a little off of my game.

Last year I published (thanks to my dear friend and great supporter Katerina Stoykova-Klemer) my first chapbook. I’m deeply grateful. Katerina went on to nominate the second chapter of that book for a Pushcart Prize, for which I am also very grateful. Last year, I also earned my MFA in Writing, for which I am ALSO grateful. And yet… and yet… here I find myself in a sort of limbo, a sort of haze, a sort of . . . lost feeling.

I’m applying for jobs, although I’m not sure I’m doing the best job of it. I’m continuing to work, sporadically, but not enough. I’m not writing nearly enough as I need to. It’s as if I’ve lost faith. In myself. In my voice. In my work.

Boo-hoo, stop feeling sorry for yourself, you over-educated, self-indulgent asshole!!

Yeah, those are my sentiments exactly. There is no time to feel sorry for one’s self. There is no time to wallow in self-pity or to endlessly engage in “what-if” questions. Therefore, the time has come to move the f**k on. As a good friend of mine likes to put it, “Get on with the bitch!” Indeed. And I shall. This I vow, with this blog post. It’s the only reason I’m posting this. So anyone who reads this can, perhaps, be helpful in holding me accountable to moving on and getting on with it.

When I graduated with my MFA, Tori Murden McClure, the newly named president of Spalding University discussed in her address to our graduating class how these newly graduated MFAs might be emotionally vulnerable for a while, but she assured family and friends that we’d be okay eventually. Well, that eventually has come for me. It’s time to get back to work. Time to turn the page, so to speak.

Thank you for your indulgence.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Momentous Times

We are living in momentous times, I think.

Look at what’s happened in the past few months in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and other North African and Middle Eastern countries. Look at what’s going on in Wisconsin and Indiana and Tennessee and Ohio and, likely, in other states, of which I am not yet aware.

People are rising up. They are demanding that they be heard. Legislators and Governors are making demands, some of which make sense and some of which seem to feel like an over-reach, a power-grab, or choose your adjective.

The exciting thing is that people are being heard. Voices are mattering.

A couple of days ago, I was at a rehearsal for a corporate gig the I was directing, and a right-leaning friend of mine asked me as we were coming off of a break, “Would you be willing to wait a year or two for your Social Security benefits to kick in if it would help take care of the current national deficit?” I thought for a moment, and then said, “Yes, absolutely, no question!”

He said, “You know? I’ve asked that of my right wing friends and my left wing friends, and everyone has had the same answer: Yes!”

So, why can’t we get it done?

Why won’t this Congress do what they need to do and pass legislation that begins to slowly raise the retirement age? When Social Security was first enacted the life expectancy in the United States was 62 (or something close to that) and one didn’t qualify for SSN until you were 65!! It’s STILL at 65, and yet we are living longer and longer. Where is the sense in that? (Okay, full disclosure, it has started to rise VERY incrementally for those who are my age… I may have to wait until I’m 66 1/2 … oh my!) It needs to rise more. I would happily add another 2 or 3 years in order to help this country, MY country, OUR country, deal with our fiscal mess.

We spend too much in this county. Too much on defense, too much on health care, too much on energy, too much on… well, I suppose, just about everything. Only discipline and a new way of thinking is going to change that. I know a lot of my Republican friends think that the answer is to get rid of social spending and to bust the unions, especially the teachers unions, but, honestly, why should teachers lose the right to collective bargaining while we keep that right for firefighters and law enforcement? I don’t understand the distinction.

Have there been abuses? I imagine so. Are there areas where we can improve these negotiations? I imagine so. But, let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Let’s all be adults and deal with the situation. The relevant unions in Wisconsin, for instance, have already agreed to all of the wage and pension concessions that the Governor has requested, why does he have to do away with collective bargaining?

Returning to the question my right-leaning friend and colleague asked me about being willing to delay retirement a couple or a few years if it would help our nation. I said, “Yes,” and he told me that everyone else he asked said, “Yes.” We are not so far apart as it sometimes seems. I think we share more in common than we might always know. Let us stop attacking one another over trivial things like: Who’s more patriotic? Or, Who’s got the best interest of our country at heart? We ALL have the best interests of our country at heart, and that’s precisely the point of our political process – we determine the policy directions of our country (and our states and our municipalities) through the political process. But there is simply no need for anyone in this country to demonize another. We are strongest when we work together and when we understand that even if we disagree, we can do so agreeably.


Thursday, March 3, 2011


Yesterday I posted a blog entitled Discouragement. Tonight I want to visit the flip side.

Twenty-nine years ago, in the spring of 1982, I was a student at New York University and Ronald Reagan was president of the United States. He was pushing for massive cuts to student loans and grants and what-not, and several thousand students decided to mount a protest to Reagan’s planned cuts. At the time, my brother Scott was living with our natural father, Bob Jaycox, in Joppa, Maryland, not very far from Washington, D.C. Once I knew I was going to be going down to D.C. to protest Reagan’s proposed Draconian cuts, I called my brother and asked if he might want to meet me in Washington for lunch or something.

He said, “yes.”

We met on the steps of the Capitol building one March afternoon, almost precisely twenty-nine years ago. It was the first time he and I had ever chosen to see each other, to spend time together. As I recall, we walked around a bit, took in some sights and eventually had lunch somewhere – I have no idea where. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was with my brother. It was great.

I just got off the phone with my brother a few minutes ago. We talked earlier this evening for nearly ninety minutes. We talked about our lives, our hopes, our worries, our concerns, our joys.

We recalled that day twenty-nine years ago that we decided to meet one another on neutral turf, by our own choice, and I couldn’t help but tear up. It was a pivotal moment in both of our lives, and a joyful one. It was the first time that we decided we wanted to see each other, to visit, to spend time with one another. It was – and remains – a gift. A gift that we gave each other. We decided that we were brothers, we embraced it. It was always so, of course, but it meant so much more after we embraced it.

And so while last night I mused about discouragement, tonight I write of encouragement, because the meeting that my brother and I had twenty-nine years ago is one of the most encouraging things I can imagine. And the conversation that we had tonight was just what the doctor ordered.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011


None of us is eager to embrace the title, to admit to being discouraged. And yet it happens in most of our lives, or at least many of our lives. Sometimes, we get discouraged. We might lose hope or feel like we aren’t getting anywhere or feel like we are aimless or restless or lacking the sort of clear guidance that we might prefer.

Perhaps you’ve placed a call to an old friend or a trusted colleague and left a message and it’s been days without a return call. Perhaps you’ve reached out to someone who assured you that they would always be there for you, but this time that’s just not quite the case. What do you do?

You soldier on. You find your own strength. You hold your head as high as you possibly can and even when you feel like you don’t have a damned clue as to what your next best move is you keep on going. You resolve to do what it is you want to do, you resolve to be better at communicating with your friends, you resolve to go after each and every opportunity you can find, you resolve to NOT be dragged into the morass of self-doubt and self-pity. You resolve to tell yourself, “It’s time to stop wondering what life is going to bring me and time to start determining what life is going to being me.”

I’m writing – of course – to myself. It’s time for me to stop wondering what life is going to bring me and it’s time for me to start determining what life is going to bring me. I’m applying for jobs, yes; I’m working (too sporadically) on my manuscript, yes; but I need to embrace that no one can determine more what life will bring me than I can. It ain’t easy. And it often isn’t much fun. But there we are. There it is.

It’s time for me to get back to work; to my work. To writing. Of course I have to pay the bills, and I will – whether that be through writing and directing corporate training work or teaching as an adjunct wherever I can get the work, I’ll do it. But I also need to do the real work, the writing work that I’ve trained for and worked for and that I… ultimately, love.

My late birth father had a phrase that he used a lot. He would say, “Well, good enough.” His saying “good enough” meant so much more than what those two words instantly imply. It meant, “All is well.” It meant, “Now we can proceed.” It meant, “Full speed ahead.” It is high time for me to heed my late father’s words, “Good enough.”

Damn whatever torpedoes might be waiting in the wings. Full speed ahead.


Monday, February 7, 2011


Change is often difficult. We are often afraid of the unknown, of the what-will-come-of-our-current-efforts.

I'm in that sort of place right now. I'm applying for a bunch of teaching jobs. My wife is about to leave her job, which has provided us with health insurance for the past three years. We are in transition.

I've applied for jobs here in Chicago, but I'm also applying for a number of jobs that aren't here in Chicago. Michigan, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, among others. We might experience significant change. We might not. But, here we are. We continue, we persevere. We do what must be done.

I'm not afraid to admit that I'm concerned about what comes next. Will I finish my book? Will I get a good job? Will I get anyone interested in publishing what I'm writing? All of these questions lurk, and yet... and YET... one must do what one can to carry on, to keep going, to keep working. On what matters. Chicago has been hit hard in the past week or so by a major blizzard. The snow is still overwhelming. Tomorrow morning, I will dig out my car (again) for the first time in more than a week because I have to be somewhere for auditions for an upcoming project.

It's okay. It's alright. Solutions don't appear overnight. They come when they do. I missed being at AWP this past weekend. At least my book was there. (Thanks Katerina!) I wish you all, whoever might happen upon this - strength and courage and stamina to go on, to face the world as it is, because it isn't always as we might wish it to be. It is what it is, and we must soldier on, trying to find our place in it.



Monday, January 3, 2011

On Not Blogging Much Recently…

It’s been more than two months since my last post and much has occurred in that time – I’ve been blessedly busy with work for the past two months (needed the money big-time after months of underemployment); a chapter of my chapbook Meeting Dad: A Memoir was nominated for a Pushcart Prize (thank you Accents Publishing and Katerina Stoykova-Klemer!); and, I’ve been cooking… a lot!

Recent dishes include: Linguini with White Clam Sauce, Filet Mignon and Fettucine Alfredo for Christmas Eve (2nd annual meal for that night); Sloppy Joe’s from scratch; tacos from scratch; various and sundry one-pan-wonders with meat (pork or beef) and an assortment of vegetables; Spaghetti and Meatballs (veal and pork); and, on New Year’s Eve, authentic Buffalo Chicken Wings. Perhaps I’ve been putting more creative energy into cooking than I have into writing? Perhaps. Perhaps I also simply needed to take a break, to take some stock, to recharge my batteries, as it were.

On New Year’s Day, I spent some time with some friends (old and new) and was fascinated to discover that there were several of us who either hold (or are close to earning) an MFA in Writing. It felt good to connect with the writing vibe again and I realized that it is time for me to get my butt back into the chair and to finish my memoir-in-progress. I’ve been stymied for several weeks because of my old demons “self-doubt” and “second guessing.” That, I suppose, and simply being exhausted from the pace of work and other vicissitudes with which we all deal, pretty much every day.

There’s been another thing at work however. I think I’ve grown weary of the din, of the constant noise with which we are so often bombarded – pundits and prognosticators making their oh-so-self-important proclamations about Obama and the tea party and Congress and Palin among many other subjects. I suppose I’ve been less eager than other times to add my voice to the din, at least not unless I thought I had something interesting to say, and, frankly I don’t think I’ve had anything too terribly interesting to say about recent political developments. Honestly, I think we all need to take a collective breath and calm down. So maybe that’s it? Maybe I needed to give myself a timeout? Perhaps. Maybe I simply needed to spend some more time in the kitchen – mixing, stirring, inventing, interpreting, exploring.

Now, it’s a New Year. 2011 has arrived. The economy is showing slow signs of recovery, the 112th Congress is convening, next month Chicago will elect a new Mayor, Jerry Brown is once again governor of California and Ahh-nold is likely headed back to Hollywood, given that he can’t run for president.

Here we go, then. A new year, a new decade, and – I hope – a new chance to embrace the work of our lives.