What a Character


Forest Gump told us, “Mama always said life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Maybe you prefer, “All this happened, more or less,” by Kurt Vonnegut. If you’re a reader or a movie watcher, you probably have a favorite character. What about Atticus Finch, Holden Caulfield, or maybe your taste turns to characters like Harry Potter. We can’t forget villains like Hannibal Lecter or Darth Vader, those we may not like but still intrigue us.

It is an accomplished writer who can draw us into a story by the power of memorable characters. In the best writing, we may not love or admire a character, but a competent writer will make us remember a well-developed one. They build  notable characters layer by layer. No human is only one dimensional, nor are they only two. We are a complicated species with a myriad of thoughts, feelings, motivations and failures. It’s what makes us human.

Can you imagine if Herman Melville had told his readers Captain Ahab was a fisherman and said no more about him. As a reader, I want to know why the character gets out of bed in the morning. Why did he cheat his business partner and what made Emily join the army and volunteer to go to Iraq. Why does the protagonist always wear red? Don’t tell me the antagonist is a mean dude, show me the enjoyment he feels when he breaks the arm of his competitor. Make me feel something. Have me see something. Make me like, love, or hate a character. I want to believe in them. Don’t tell me the kid born in a Detroit ghetto speaks like a Harvard professor or the gazillionaire suddenly starts hating money. Make me cry or make me laugh out loud when I read your work.

I’m not sure anyone has an innate ability to create memorable characters. I damn sure don’t, it’s always a struggle to build a character from scratch. They often look and sound like a billboard image of the used car salesman trying to talk me into buying a rusted  1986 Yugo. I believe a writer has to know his or her characters intimately. He’s talked to her, he’s shared his fears, and she’s shared hers. He’s watched them reveal their most raw emotions. Mostly, a writer has to be honest. Not clever, not verbose (like that word) and not perfect, simply a believable human. The best advice I’ve received as a novice writer was being told I make characters “too good.” Not too good in the sense of being well written, but too good in the sense that they have no flaws. I listened to that advice.

“Show, don’t tell,” is a common refrain when talking about writing. Don’t tell me the sky was blue, the clouds were white, the sun was shining. Make my eyes squint when I look up, make me see an elephant in the cloud, make me gasp at the beauty of the sky. It’s damn hard, but it’s worth it.

I wish everyone the best in developing unforgettable characters or in finding them in their reading. I need all the friends I can get, finding Boo Radley, Ishmael, and Yossarian has added to my list of friends. I’ve grown to know them, to like them and to better understand them. Honest and lasting friends.

If you have a favorite literary character or movie character, send me a note and let me know why they are your favorite.

“You must learn to be three people at once: writer, character, and reader.”  

                                                                                                       Nancy Kress

Denni’s Wise Words

“Be a friend to everyone, even if your big brother tries to steal your treat.”

Validation – Reason Enough


          “Why do you write?” A question I’m sometimes asked, more often a question I ask others. The answers vary: “Fame and fortune.” (usually tongue in cheek.) “I have to write.” “It’s fun, a hobby, gives me something to do.” All valid reasons.

I have my reasons too. It allows me to create something tangible, it helps keep my mind focused on something other than bad news. In my more vain moments, I feel some pride when I see my books in print. Writing has allowed me to meet and become friends with some remarkable writers. I can live comfortably off my royalties. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch. Were I to calculate what I’ve earned from my writing, I can without doubt say I’ve spent far more money on printer ink cartridges and paper than I’ve made selling books.

In my graduate education as a social worker, I read and learned about the work of psychologist B F Skinner. His research regarding operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement for behavior) was monumental. Within his work, two terms were coined: continuous reinforcement and intermittent reinforcement. Simply stated, either positive or negative reinforcement is provided every time a behavior occurs, or it is given randomly. The interesting thing is behaviors become more consistent when the reinforcement is intermittent. This seems to be counter intuitive. So why am I saying this while talking about writing?

People, all people, seek positive reinforcement. We want to get what we want. That desire becomes a driving force. As writers, it’s good we respond better to intermittent rewards. I’ll let you in on a secret, not everyone is going to like what you write. Shocking, I know. Most folks will say something like, “that was interesting,” or “I liked how you didn’t use the word “like” so many times,” and the best, “since it’s a hobby, its good you enjoy your real job.” Ouch!

I’ll just say it. My most painful review for my first book, Running In, Walking Out, said, “The title should have been Stumbling In, Falling Out. Okay, in my defense it had come after I’d previously said something which hinted that I had week-old grapes with a higher IQ than that of the reviewer. I later apologized and told him his IQ was in fact a few points higher than a grape.

But there are also those moments when a few kind words make a writer feel like Superman, or perhaps Superwoman. They can be few and far between, but when they come, just like a Skinner box, we writers keep pecking that button, hoping one more compliment will fall out of the chute.  Recently one fell into my feeding cup and I’ve devoured its sustenance for the past week. A reader whom I’ve not met, read my second book, The Unusual Man, and said some nice things about it. A bonus was she mentioned it to a friend, who also bought a copy. Both events were nice. She then ordered my first book, and I told her I thought it was a good story, but also felt it was not as well written as the second book.

Perhaps I was subconsciously laying down a soft mattress for my impending fall. A few days after the second purchase, I received an email from the reader. It was the note from her that stoked my writing fire and created the grin which is now a permanent fixture. She said she had finished Running In, Walking Out, and she “loved it more and more as the story moved on.”  Very nice words, which I appreciated. Then she wrote what has made my smile and my heart sing. Her words –“Again, it’s how you cradle your characters in love and respect that moves me.” Those fourteen words made my day, my week, and probably the next six months. One intermittent reward and I’m back at the keyboard trying even harder to produce something to elicit my next feeding. It may come in a week, six months, or six years. It may never come. As B F Skinner knew, it is positive reward that will keep me trying.

For all who write, paint, play a musical instrument, cook, sing, or take photographs, be patient, I hope you get a healthy meal of encouragement on just enough of an intermittent basis to keep you trying. I wish you the very best in your efforts and persistence.

“Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.” Cormac McCarthy.

McCarthy, a personal hero of mine.

“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”       Hal Borland.

A personal note. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider following my blog. Also, I would love to have guest blogs. If you would like to write a piece, please contact me. kramer1234@comcast.net

Louie’s Book Bark!

Bird by Bird written by Anne Lamont. A wonderful book about the joys and pitfalls of writing. Lamont has a style that makes you cry from laughter as she speaks about the pitfalls of writing. Encouraging, she doesn’t sugar-coat the efforts needed to become an accomplished writer. In this book, she gives hope to novice writers while urging them to not expect to be the next J. K. Rowling. As a bonus to a fun read, Lamont gives useful advice and tips.

Louie gives this book a four woof endorsement.

Finding Passion


          The Dumas Demons won the 3A State high school football championship in 1961 and 1962. It must have been a city ordinance requiring every business in that small Texas panhandle town to have at least one eight by ten framed photo of both teams displayed at all times. If you were a football player during one of those two years, you were royalty. I became a student in that high school a few years later; I didn’t play football.

          One could gain some status of a far less lofty ranking by being the son or daughter of a wealthy rancher or farmer. Those students were identified by the new Mustang or Camaro they drove. The lowest of the accepted castes were those smart kids known as nerds. I fell within the bounds of the Untouchables. I didn’t play sports; my dad didn’t own the BAR_S ranch, and I wasn’t smart. I was an untouchable, a nothing.

          During the third or fourth week of my freshman year, I met Tommy, and we started creating a dream. Tommy surpassed me in many areas. He was much taller. His family was poorer than mine and he might have had three or four fewer watts in his lightbulb. But we were friends, and we shared a dream. We were going to start a band.

          Jimmy, who we gave the nick name “Jock,” came along to add a third member to the unnamed future rock legends. Jock was three or four years older than Tommy and me. He’d dropped out of school long before graduation and knew how to play a half dozen chords on his thirty-dollar Sears guitar. Tim, our token popular kid, said he could sing and suddenly we were a band. The Avengers became the first rock band in Dumas, Texas history.

          We practiced as though we were training for the Olympics. Five, six nights a week, three, four hours each practice. Tim sang Louie Louie, I played Wipe Out on my three-piece gold-sparkle Ludwig drum kit, Tommy (who had quickly out-distanced Jock’s guitar ability) played lead and Jock played rhythm guitar. You may have noticed there was no bass player. Bill would come along a year later.

Equipped with one Gibson amp, two cheap guitars, a bullet mic, and my drums, we were booked to play our first gig at the YMCA. It was a hit. All thirteen songs we knew, we played at least three times each that night. We were on the road to the Dick Clark Show. A year later, far better equipped with a new drum kit, Tommy’s new Fender Strat, a real PA system and enough songs for three long sets, we rocked the YMCA.

For some unremembered reason, we changed the band’s name to The Echoes. After recording a record which sold at least twelve copies, we backed the Last Kiss one hit wonder J. Frank Wilson at a dance. We waited and I’m embarrassed to say, Ed Sullivan never called.         

          What began was the growth of passion. We’d found something which inspired us to work harder than we’d ever worked before. Yet we were not working harder because someone was making us, we were doing it because of the desire which had grown within us. One member of our band kept his passion for decades. In 2015, my boyhood friend and bandmate Tommy Shannon, along with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Chris Layton, were inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame.

          I left our band some months before I graduated from high school. I’ve played music off and on for many years since. It’s been fun but has never equaled the passion I felt when I was sixteen. For the next forty years I repeated many times, never having felt the same passion for anything.

          During my second year of university study, I started playing tennis. First it was with friends, then at a tennis club and eventually tournament play. It was fun, and I became a decent tennis player. I played more than a hundred tournaments over the next thirty years. I won a few tournaments, and I lost many more. It became more than a casual hobby, but never reached the level of passion.

          I also had a rewarding career as a social worker, therapist, and administrator. My work was meaningful, and I enjoyed it. I’m grateful for an opportunity to help people. It was a fulfilling career which I took seriously, yet it was never a passion.

          Six years ago, after my retirement, I began writing and joined a wonderful group of talented and supportive writers. I studied, I wrote a lot of poor stories and eventually published my first book. It is, a good story, poorly written. Two years later, I published my second novel. It is also a good story and written better than my first one. If I were to give it an honest rating, I’d say it is a C+ book on bad days and maybe a B- on my good days. I am my own worst critic. But I am also the most honest.

          Something else has happened. Now, when I sit on those days when words don’t come easily or on the days when they do, I am happy. I would dare say I have again found PASSION. I like to write. And like the time when I was trying to learn to do a faster single-stroke roll, or hit a better backhand, I’m working hard to be a better writer. It’s fun. I understand there’s a difference between knowing how to write well and writing well. I also believe anyone with an average IQ can become an accomplished writer. It takes an effort equal to learning any other skill.

          I have no illusions of writing as the giants of literature wrote. Maybe they had a special gift, but I believe what they all shared was a desire to be good and then better than good. A desire and a willingness to put in the work. To show up for life.

I’m enjoying and feeling grateful to have a sense of passion about something. It is like the feeling I had when I was sixteen and trying to figure out how to play the short, accented roll in Walk Don’t Run. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll again sit down behind a gold-sparkle Ludwig kit and attempt to learn the five-four time signature of Take Five. Maybe not, I’ll stick to writing.

“If you feel like there’s something out there that you’re supposed to be doing, if you have a passion for it, then stop wishing and just do it.” Wanda Skyes

Go Well, David

Denni’s Wise Words

“When faced with the choice of being a princess or a dog, always be a princess.”

Go well, David

Don’t count your stories before they are published


          Sometime last year, I don’t remember the exact date; I wrote a short story that I planned to submit to a magazine, hoping for publication. It seemed a good story. I’d done my research. My story was quirky, which I thought made it interesting. A quick once over before shipping it, and I was ready for my future literary glory. As expected, it took a few months before I received the inevitable, “Thank you for your submission, unfortunately we are unable to use your story at this time. Please continue to submit your writing and best of luck to you.”  Signed, “The guy who rejected your story.”

          That’s okay I thought, mine is a long and distinguished career of rejection. My first coming during fifth grade, her name was Galen. Patting myself on the back several times, I attempted to stroke my ego. “It’s their loss, not mine.” “Their literary taste dates back to the age of Neanderthals.” I told myself, I’ll wait awhile and find a magazine that deserves my talent.

          After several months of delaying, I decided it was the perfect time to bring the reading world to its knees with my writing proclivity. Best to read over the story a bit I thought, add some luster to the well-aged tale. I read with the intent of correcting, improving two or three words. One can never be too perfect.

          The self-assured smile faded quickly. The incessant use of the word – that -became all I could see. A typical sentence might read–He picked up the ball that was lying on the grass so that he could throw it to his friend that was standing there.

          And that was not all that I found disturbing. Oh no, after fifteen minutes of editing, I had the need of a third red pen. The story looked like the battlefield at Little Bighorn. I changed, I rewrote, I moved paragraphs, and I drank two beers. Then the real impact of my efforts hit me. My imagination led me to the poor schmuck who had read my story many months before. I could all but hear him howling as he gathered his fellow workers around. One saying, “Tell him to buy a larger box of crayons, some additional color might help.” Another added, “I wonder if he lists toilet training as formal education?”

          So here I sit today, confessing that I sent in a half-baked piece of writing and smugly waited for the adoration to come pouring in. I’ve since gone over a second edit and possibly by the fourth or fifth, it might end up being a decently written story. On dark nights, my lingering embarrassment still rears its ugly head. I call out in the night, I’m sorry!

          Don’t mistake my vanity. My writing is far from what I want (and plan) it to be. As they say on the tweets I read, “What’s your current WIP. (Work In Progress) My answer,”it’s me.” I want to be a better writer, and I’m willing to do the work to accomplish that. Rejection is a common occurrence for writers and I’ve tried to accept that. During my tennis years, while playing a tennis tournament, I would think, I can win this. That’s a different view than I will win this. More realistic, more humble. But effort, confidence, and a willingness to accept rejection moves us down the path we wish to travel. I recently read what I consider a wise quote about writing. “The goal of writing is progress, not perfection.” I can live with that. Better is not perfection, but it is better than not caring or not trying.

          To all those writing friends of mine, and for those I don’t yet know, I’m wishing you progress. I’m wishing you better if that’s what you want. If not, then I know a magazine that might get a kick out of reading your short story.

From Denni’s Wise Words

“Uncover your old, buried bones, sometimes they end up tasting better than the new ones.”

Good writing, Great writing, Indifferent writing?


What song do you wish you had penned?

What painting do you wish you had painted?

What book do you wish you had written?

I just finished a book I should have read thirty years ago. Now, having read it, I’m not sure if I’m glad I did or not. John Steinbeck published Of Mice and Men in 1937 and some literary critics have said it was his best work. I’ve read, to the best of my account, thirteen of Steinbeck’s books and I have stated many times without hesitation that he is my favorite author. I wish I’d written Of Mice and Men.

Having now read this book, I feel it will take some time for the impact upon me to be fully appreciated. For those who have not read it, it is the account of George Milton and Lennie Small, two ranch workers who move from place to place working during the depression. I will say only this, George is a crude, but kindly man who has taken Lennie, a developmentally disabled man under his wing. They are friends in search of a dream of settling into a life in a place of their own. As Lennie often repeats, they are gonna “live off the fatta the lan.” It is the story of the deepest kind of friendship, trust, and loneliness. It is beautifully and tragically written as only Steinbeck could.

As someone who is striving to be a better writer, it is daunting to read something as simply and majestically written as this book. I played tennis for thirty years and repeated many times, “I want to hit just one backhand as well as Roger Federer hits seventy-five times a match.” Except now, I want to write one glorious, satisfying, kick you in the ass, make you gasp in wonder sentence before I croak. A simple sentence, without flourish, that captures the same emotion as Steinbeck did routinely. Mine a vain desire from an old man. I want to write one page that makes a reader somewhere out there in the universe cry as I did while reading the last page and a half in the book Of Mice and Men.

So I will keep writing.

I follow a writing group on Facebook whose members post dozens of entries daily. Most of the posts involve questions of how can I sell lots of books? Others say they’ve written a ‘can’t miss’ book and after two months of effort, they are frustrated that no publisher is beating down their door to get to publishing rights. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say most (if not all) writers want to sell a ton of books. A confident writer who has put heart and soul into a manuscript can become enamored with his or her work. Perhaps most of us who hesitantly call ourselves writers long for notice and success.

I admit without shame that I’ve daydreamed about talking about my newest book on NPR. Still, I have no illusions that I have written the next War and Peace or Grapes of Wrath. I give myself a’ C- for my first novel and perhaps a C+ for my second. Some might say I’m being too critical; others would argue that I’m being too generous. I am critical of my own efforts, still I believe one never gets better at some task without a healthy dose of self-criticism and an unhealthy dose of self-doubt.

Often, I hear people say those who were among the most prominent writers: Dickens, Tolstoy, Austin, had an innate gift. That they had something the rest of us do not hold. This may be true to some extent, yet there is sufficient evidence to suggest that those literary giants also struggled in their craft. Every genius be they a musical, writing, art, or dance master have had to put in the same effort to reveal that gift. Ernest Hemingway is reported to have said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Nothing great comes without great effort. Nothing good comes without good effort. If I want to be better, if you want to be better, we must do the work. The writing craft is neutral. The pen, the keyboard, the paper does not care if we write rubbish or the next New York Times best seller. It is left up to us to care. It is left up to us to make the needed effort. We either will or we won’t.

This ends the sermon for today.

I hope to be a better writer, if for no other reason than to please myself. If you wish to be better at writing (or anything else) your personal reason is sufficient.

A while back I read a line in the Writer’s Digest that has stuck with me. “The goal of writing is not perfection, but progress.” I wish this progress for myself, for my writing friends and for all those unknown others.

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it has not been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison

Go Well, David

Louie’s Book Bark!

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, a 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner. A beautiful and brutal book written about an event in our country’s history. The Dozier School, a Florida reform school that operated for 111 years. A brutal place to be sent, a place many never left while alive. This book was named one of TIME’S best books of the decade.

Louie gives it a four-woof endorsement.

Walking A New Path


March, April, May, June, July and now August. Still staying home, still wearing a mask, still social distancing and wondering what comes next. Actually, I’ve decided what comes next, at least in those things where I have some control. My intent is to walk down a new path which I choose to travel. A year-long experiment and two new writing projects are in the works.

The experiment. I worked for over thirty-five years as a social worker and as a therapist. My career was based on a belief that given the tools, the support and the motivation, people could change for the better. “the better,” a somewhat subjective concept. Here I’m talking about changing their lives so they might live a more healthy, satisfying, productive, interesting, peaceful, happy, non-destructive, fulfilling, loving life. The list is almost as endless as the desires of people. I had to believe this was possible to do my work properly and honestly. I saw success, and I saw failure.

Now I am retired and have more free time (a nonsensical thought) to try on new ideas, considerations, and activities. There is an old saying – “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I will put that saying to a test. I think you can teach an old dog new tricks. I’m just the old dog (Okay, more accurate to say the ancient dog) to try on the idea.

My mother lived only thirty-one years, my grandmother lived one hundred and three years. I’m somewhere close to the middle of both. I may have an hour, a week or perhaps another thirty-one years so I too can pass a century of life. I keep having this nagging feeling that whatever time I have remaining; I want to make it count.

To paraphrase General Douglas MacArthur, Old social workers never die, they just fade away. (In my case they get fat and bald.) Before I fade away, I intend to see if I can learn some new tricks. I plan to develop an experiment to see if I can make my life more healthy, satisfying, productive…  I will work, play, learn and write over the next year to see if I can accomplish this goal. I will write daily concerning my progress and at the end of a year, I intend to complete a non-fiction book that lays out my success or my failure. One hope I have, is to provide some motivation and prompt others (regradless of thier age) to make their lives more of what they want them to be, and less of what they don’t want them to be. That book will be one of my writing projects.

The second project will be to publish a book of short stories, essays, and poetry. After completing two novels, I’m eager to learn the art of writing worthwhile short stories-essays–and poetry.

So you see, I’m making an open confession of my desire, my hopes, and my plan for the coming year of writing.

 I also intend to use this blog platform to share thoughts about living our lives without hesitation, writing our stories, and reading good books. I intend to gain the perspectives of others by including guest bloggers. Lastly, my two dogs have requested that they be allowed to take part in this blog. Denni will be periodically adding her two cents worth under the heading of Denni’s Wise Words. Louie will share his interest in literature under the heading of Louie’s Book Barks. Both have assured me that they will keep politics out of their writing.

Here is the first offering from Denni.

“Life is too short to not stop and smell the poop.”

Thoughts on Memorial Day


          Yesterday, Memorial Day marked one more day in this sad and uncertain time for our country. In Arizona where I live, it was a sunny, hot, and glorious morning. I spent part of the day wandering around a large Catholic Cemetery. Yes, it may sound an odd thing to do, but for some unknown reason it seemed comforting to me.

          After leaving the burial grounds and for the rest of the day, I continued to think about what I’d seen and felt. Because it was Memorial Day, there were many people visiting. Most solemn, respectful of the moment. Some stood quietly, looking down at a specific grave, others like Suzanne and I, moving about looking at names, photographs, and the mementos placed on the tombstones. Several giant pine trees are spread around the grounds. Each casting vast shadows over several graves. I thought what a beautiful spot to be. Shaded from the hot Arizona sun and serenaded by happy Spring birds hopping about in the branches. A good place for a final rest.

 I was particularly interested in the graves of military veterans. Most of the markers identifying the final resting spot of veterans told of the branch of service, the rank of the person and in those cases where the man or woman served in a war, the specific war was named. One man had been involved in what was noted as the “Mexican War.” Many markers showed service in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and one or two in our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Privates and Majors lay silently beside each other. Small flags waved near many of the markers.

          I was moved to tears in reading about and considering the sacrifices made by so many since the inception of this country. And I admit, some of my tears were shed in my sadness for the current state of our nation and the rest of the world. Millions around the planet are ill, starving, displaced from their homeland and dying. Collectively it seems what we are doing about these tragedies is making little impact. My intent in these words is not political, it is realistic. And yet, the political divide in this country is immense, and I fear for our future.

          Many of the graves were those of people of Hispanic descent. In part I suppose because it is a Catholic cemetery. I was struck by two things. A great number of the Mexican American men buried were young. I counted a dozen or more where the man was only twenty or twenty-one years old when he died. Why, I questioned. In a perfect world there should not be such disparity in deaths at such an early age. I also saw a large family, also Hispanic, having what looked and sounded like a party. The group had set up chairs around a grave and were talking, laughing, and had music playing. I’m reasonably certain there was some sadness, but it was clearly a celebration. And as I thought about it, I knew it was exactly what it should be. I’m not sure who they were visiting, but I would have bet the person would have been happy in knowing how they were being remembered.

          We left after an hour or so of walking. Many people were still tending the grave of a loved one, the family laughing and enjoying the beautiful day and the sweet chirping of birds. I’m not the praying kind, but I left my highest thoughts for all who rested there. I felt I owed a special thanks yesterday to those men and women who have served and died for this country. And again I say, thank you.

“In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.”    Herodotus.

“The Earth laughs in flowers.”    Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Go well, David

Unlikely Heroes


Last night I watched the finals of American Idol. I wasn’t particularly interested, but I watched. Then Kelly Clarkson sang a new song, and my interest changed. As they say on NPR, in full disclosure, I’m not a big Clarkson fan. It was two lines to the song I Dare You that sealed the deal.

You may not have the stage, but you still have a voice

You may not have the strength, but if you have a choice

I, like most people, have been watching far more news about the pandemic than is good for my mental health. I obsessively watch as the number of cases and death toll rises daily.

There has been something other than the grim statistics and the freely expressed political side taking, where I’ve paid attention. I’ve watched, listened, and cried with the stories of the superhuman bravery of those who are without visible power and yet have stood tall to the challenge. Thanks, has been said many times to the health care workers, food production workers, bus drivers and countless others. An honest out-pouring of gratitude can never be overdone. It needs to be honestly repeated millions more times. Beyond thanks, I believe we also have a responsibility to learn from, and act upon that bravery. We all want this country to thrive. It is not the proprietorship of one political party over another. We all want the United States to be the country in which we are proud, and to know in our hearts it is a place where compassion, honesty, and good will is the norm rather than what sometimes seems to be the exception.

In a few days we will recognize another Memorial Day. I read a Facebook posting today from another vet that said something like this, “Memorial Day is not a day of celebration or a holiday that lets us go to the beach and party. Memorial Day is a day to stop and remember the millions of lives that have been lost in war. A day to mark the sacrifices of the men and women who have given their lives for this country.” I agree completely with this idea.

I would hope that not only on Memorial Day we acknowledge those brave men and women but also stop and honor all who work, suffer and in all too many cases die for their efforts. As Kelly Clarkson sings, “You may not have the stage, but you still have a voice.” We all have a voice, no matter how large or small our stage, to speak truth, compassion and understanding.

I try each day to practice those thoughts, often I fail. I find it difficult to express compassion and understanding towards those in which I sometimes adamantly disagree. I bristle when someone throws out a “Thank you for your service,” like a passer-by mouthing a quick hi and then rushes on to get a Starbucks latte. I know in my heart that it is meant at some level, but there are many times it still stings and rings hollow. Some of the most profound moments in my life have been when I’ve stopped to pay attention and chatted, even if briefly, with a stranger. Some have been vets, many have not.

So, I hope that this horrible disease passes soon. I hope our lives resume to a more normal stance. But just as 9/11, Katrina, the Sandy Hook murders and so many other events have altered our lives, this too will remain forever in our hearts. I also hope that we will stop and pay attention to others, to show a moment of kindness and to thank others for their efforts to make this a better world.

Go well, David

How Would You Vote?


            Have you noticed more kindness, more tolerance lately? No, it’s not a seismic shift, maybe more like a soft breeze that feels refreshing. I’ve felt it, not always, but it’s there if you watch and listen for it. At the grocery store, “You go in front of me, you only have a couple of items.” It’s happened on desert trails while I’m hiking. “Great day to be outside, stay safe.” There’s no question it’s something I need and desire. That symbol we often see on bumper stickers in Tucson says it all–BE KIND.

            I wonder if this phenomenon is enduring, or if after this strange and trying period has ended, we will return to our “I was here first, tough luck buddy,” posture. I hope not. We have a national election coming up in November. I believe it will be one of the most important in my lifetime. But maybe we could consider a different election. One that is not partisan, one that does not require hateful bickering and boasting of I’m better at this or that than you. I’m thinking a more private, personal election that involves everyone.

            What if we held an election that had our citizens vote YES or NO to one simple basic concept? Something to the effect of this statement:

I am voting Yes ______ or No______ to the United States being

a more kind, forgiving, less materialistic, less greedy, less polluting,

and less competitive country. I’m voting that we actually view and treat

all people as equal. I’m voting that we treat the planet respectfully.

I’m voting that we have a Department of Peace.

I’m voting that a smile and a have a nice day my friend, have a

higher value than a new Porsche or diamond ring.

I’m voting that equality for all means equality for all.

I’m voting that our power comes from unity and not from division.

I’m voting that there is enough for all if we only take our equal share.

            Pie in the sky, you might say. Perhaps I am naïve. Perhaps we are too far gone down the road to turn back. I’ve seen and felt changes in my life and in the lives of others since we’ve become swept into this crisis. I’ve found that having a new shirt is far less important than a quick note to my sons or friends. I’ve found that a home-made meal tastes better than a quickly eaten meal at Chilis. I haven’t suffered any by using far less gas than I did before this happened. I have good books on my shelves that now are being read. I really didn’t need to drive to the library five or six times a week. Watching a funny program on TV with Suzanne and Denni on the sofa with me is just as much fun as a $8.00 cup of popcorn at the theater. Seeing a rattlesnake, a wild turkey or a Bobcat during a walk in the desert is more rewarding than obsessively watching the news.

            So, I wish we would hold this special election. Not in November, but maybe tomorrow and no later than next week. I know how I would vote. Maybe we should hold a national protest demanding that we want a kinder country. If the powers that be resist, then maybe we just do it, anyway.

Take care my friends, be safe and go well.


As Things Seem Today


I’ve found during the past few weeks that it’s been harder to focus, to stay connected as close to things as it was before. Life at times seems a blur, or perhaps it’s more like a vague dream that I want to forget. But when I stop to mindfully consider other matters, they stand out crystal clear.

A week back, I wrote about the sight and sounds of two small birds that had latched onto my brain and glued my attention tightly to them. They seemed to have no cares other than filling their part of the world with the joy of a beautiful song. Then there was a second event of serendipity. I came upon a YouTube video of a Nurnberg flashmob in 2014 playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. I remembered back to 1971 when I first heard the beautiful piece just after returning from Vietnam. My happiness at being home with my family and hearing that music had made me cry. Today in these trying times, each night before I retire, I put on my headphones, watch and listen to that YouTube video. Yes, each time I watch it, I again cry. I cry because of the joy of the music, but also at the joy of seeing the musicians and the crowd gathered to witness it. There is no other word to describe it other than JOY.

Yesterday Suzanne and I hiked at Catalina State Park. Hiking is something we’ve taken to doing twice a week as this self-imposed isolation has become our routine. Only after the first few yards of our hike, I spotted a bobcat making its way through a field. He or she seemed to have no concern about us or Coronavirus. The animal seemed to be only enjoying the warmth of the sun and softness of the earth beneath its paws. The animal stopped a couple of times to glance back at us as it made its way to its desired destination.

Later I wondered why we seem to live our lives as we do. Why do we fret, complain, curse and rage against those things we cannot change? Why do we pay more attention to a fancy $100,000 sports car than we do to a desert poppy? Why do we whine about not being able to go into Chili’s and have a steak when millions go to bed each night with nothing to eat? Why do we wait until we fear possible impending death before we decide to live?

I have come to better see the value of my friends and family. I must confess that in part it’s because I suddenly can’t be close to them. I can’t hug them or shake their hands. When millions now worry about jobs and paying rent, I catch myself being grateful that I don’t have that worry. The little dog that I love seems more friendly today. The sky seems more open and spacious. The touch of Suzanne’s hand on my shoulder seems more precious. The sight of a hawk more exciting.

Take care, be safe and the best to all.  David.