Reasons for Not Writing

I’m not ready yet! I should

  1. Play solitaire until I win.
  2. Check the news (Have you ever noticed how, unlike what happens in that great Kurosawa film Rashomon , the more points of view you get on a topical subject, the more you feel you really don’t know anything?)
  3. Have more coffee, maybe with something sweet, so I can get that sugar rush and blurt out any old thing. (Even if the blurt fades and leaves you in a low mood)
  4. Go to the gym or go for a run so I can get more ideas and inspirations. (So I can be  too tired to write).
  5. Check e-mail (and see who has rejected my submissions, ignored my e-mails or used one of those cheeky automatic replies that is not a reply as much as it is another way to tell someone that they are not worth your time).
  6. Consult the I-Ching (Book of Changes). This ancient Chinese fortune telling system that I encountered in college involves a random series of actions that generate a pattern. You then read commentary on the pattern. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung especially enjoyed the I-Ching because it confirmed for him the interaction of theoretical archetypes that can act as metaphors for human conditions and possibly reveal hidden truths about situations and personalities. Like astrology, Tarot cards, palmistry and tasseography (tea leaf reading), the efficacy depends on the superstitious belief that all events are connected, that faraway incidents can influence local outcomes and—specific to the I-Ching—natural forces, visual images, family structures and royal hierarchies are equivalent and direct metaphors of human interactions. (This is fun until you notice that belief systems that encourage these ideals are very popular in tyrannical regimes because they reinforce rigid social order and repress dissent).

Counter reason: No one is ever “ready,” and one can argue that those who believe they are could be less flexible and adaptable than those who just jump in or “get out of the way” and let the creative impulse come through.

I still don’t know if any of this is good. I should show it to someone who is in the business–

Counter reason: The only thing they can tell you with any reliability and accuracy is what they think you’re trying to do and how they might do it if they were you. They’re not you. If they were, they would be doing EXACTLY what you’re doing.

But what if nobody likes this? Or, even if they do, they reject it becaise the publishing business has changed. The things considered necessary for publication have changed. Publishers no longer want a good story (one can argue that they never did). They want a story that can be sold as a souvenir of an encounter by someone who is already popular on the Internet. I am not popular on the Internet.

Counter Reason: There is another kind of success that has little to do with popularity. It’s based on kindness, generosity and a willingness to do “good.” Yes, good intentions may lead you astray, but it’s rather obvious that the writing that is meaningful, enjoyable and worth reading, is worth bringing into the world.

As a journalist, I’ve written about many popular people and I’ve seen what these people must do (or feel they must do, or resist doing what they feel they must do) to maintain that popularity. About the best that can be said about celebrity maintenance is that it is its own skill with highly situational values (what works for one audience does not always work for another). The worst is that you can get lost in it   and spend so much time and money on it that you forget who you are (this is a common theme of Hollywood success biopics), become a parody of what made you successful, or so ignore your gifts and talents that your performance (or whatever art you provide) loses its value.

As a critic I’ve learned that popularity is not easy for anyone to control. Even if the work is uniformly excellent, the artist’s image can change, sometimes without the artist doing anything different. Fashion also changes: different eras pick different artists to mirror their values, and the media just as eagerly tears down those who, not long ago, were so righteously built up. Celebrity may seem as a judgement of value, but it’s really about consumption. Fame eats people, places and things. At best, it changes them. At worst, it destroys them.

As an artist, I understand that nothing is guaranteed. You really have no way of knowing, much less being certain, how your work will be received. There is a joyous part of making art when you stop worrying about this and just let it happen. Reaching that joyous moment is not only possible, but likely, with practice. Practice isn’t about repetition. It’s about finding a different way, every time, to what matters about your art.

Finally, when popularity becomes the hierarchy of success, those at the top benefit at the expense of just about everyone else.


  1. It’s a beautiful day. I could walk the dog, run an errand, start cooking something that requires me to watch a pot.
  2. I like listening to music but my favorite tunes are tangled in a mess of music files. What if I clean up my music files, extract my favorite tunes, and listen to them for a while, hoping that inspiration takes hold?
  3. I want to find out something on the Internet but I need to research to make sure I’m doing it properly. Of course, researching anything on the Internet can take an hour or more and…now it’s time for lunch!

Final Counter Thought:

Everyone feels anxious before beginning. See it. Feel it. See past it and let go.


Play ‘Em

I found this Internet list of what were supposed to be the 100 greatest bands of all time, and, as you might expect, most of my favorite bands and musicians, and, most likely yours, weren’t on it. What can we do about this?

The list appeared to be based on Spotify followers and the anonymous list maker’s ability to link music industry awards and multi-platinum album sales to overall quality and significance. At the top was The Beatles. The Rolling Stones was there, too, with Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Led Zepplin (though the picture of Zep was some other band), ZZ Top, The Who, Metallica, The Beach Boys, REM, The Band, Credence Clearwater Revival, U2, Coldplay, Rush, Steely Dan, and The Police. Heart was on the list, The Pretenders and The Eurythmics,  so that bands with powerful female lead singers–whose recordings and concerts made a pile of money–could also be remembered.

I agreed that most of the choices were obviously popular and worthy of acclaim, with the exception of Grand Funk Railroad, a 70’s power trio so despised by my teenage friends and I that I made a movie about burning one of their records, they certainly earned their acclaim.

Few single musicians were on the list, unless you want to count Jimmie Hendrix (and the Experience), Janis Joplin and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Bob Marley, Miles Davis, Little Richard, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, David Bowie, Duke Ellington, Johnny Cash, Billie Eckstine, Sarah Vaughn, Hank Williams, James Brown, Billie Holiday, Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Tony Bennett or, perhaps the greatest musician of 20th century America, Louis Armstrong–are not there.

No songwriters were on the list, either, though their work may have generated piles of money just as big. Irving Berlin remains the songwriter with the most hits–far more than the Beatles. A day doesn’t go by when a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical is not performed somewhere in the world. Can we raise a Martini to Cole Porter’s bittersweet wit? How about Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Julie Stein, George and Ira Gershwin? Lest we forget, Bob Dylan became the first singer/songwriter to win the Nobel Prize, and his voice is STILL terrible. Though Randy Newman won an Academy Award for film songs–where would we be without “Sail Away,” as well as Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns”? How could a high school senior prom end without Elton John’s (and Bernie Taupin’s) beautifully gentle “Your Song”?

What about “crossover” artists from classical music, like Yo-Yo Ma, Glenn Gould and Leonard Bernstein (who also qualifies to be among the songwriters, for “Maria” and “Tonight” in West Side Story)? Folk artists like Woody Guthrie, Richie Havens and Pete Seeger whose work brought social change?

While we’re at it, why are British pop and rock bands on the list, when great Latin American, South American and African bands and musicians were not? Were the sales figures unavailable? Do Astor Piazolla, Hermeto Pascoal, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masakella, Tito Puente, Ruben Blades, Tom Jobim and Joao Gilberto not qualify? Could it be the fact that the American music industry awards typically ignore, or give only token attention, to world music?

Maybe. But, in making my own list, could I be guilty of excluding others just because I don’t know the songs and sounds of a particular region or culture? Easily. Absolutely. We live in a time of abundance. One person could never listen to it all in a lifetime.

So, how do we work off our lingering annoyance at lists that don’t include the artists we love, whose work changed our lives and whose music still is in our hearts?

Play ’em. Play them when you’re driving, cooking, going nowhere fast on a treadmill or a stationery bike. Play them when you’re working from home and you’re not on a teleconference.

If they’re not on Spotify (as with most of my favorites), buy a digital download and let it survive somewhere on your hard drive.

Don’t be afraid when an earworm crawls into your brain and you find yourself humming, whistling or croaking through a few notes in the shower. Singing when you’re alone must be done, and done often!

Because whoever might be listening might need to hear it, again.




Hooptie Heaven on the LeMons Rally Retreat From Moscow

“You feel differently about a road-trip,” said my son Stephen with steely reserve, “when you know the car you’re driving could die at any minute.”

The car in question was an ancient seaweed green “bubble butt” Infiniti J30, with 189,000 miles on the odometer, wobbly tires, rust blotches on the sun roof, a radio with a frozen volume knob, molding falling off the windows and dash, an exhaust leak behind the catalytic converter, and a check engine light that glowed ominously on the instrument panel.

Standing next to us, Dominick, a young guy in jeans, a dark hoodie and a white, google-eye cap, put it best: “The LeMons Rally is like nothing else you would ever do involving a car. Basically, you find a car you wouldn’t drive across the street, and drive it 3000 miles across the country.”

No, this wasn’t LeMans, the chic automobile endurance race in France, but the very American LeMons, a gathering of truly dreadful cars and motorheads with a sense of humor.

Dominick, with his wife Julie and their 16-month old daughter Elizabeth, had already driven their rusting Buick Roadmaster station wagon 256 miles southwest from Yardley, PA to the parking lot of the Cumberland Maryland Historical Museum.  From here, under chilly, overcast winter skies, the annual LeMons “Retreat from Moscow,” one of five cross-country rallies sponsored by the California-based junk-car fan club (

Named for Napoleon’s humiliating withdrawal from Russia, the Retreat would take my son and me, and 80 other drivers in 39 cars on a four day, seven-state road trip, extending from Moscow, Maryland to one of two Eiffel Towers in Atlanta, GA, and concluding at the Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama. Neary all the travel would take us down rural lanes, scenic by-ways, notoriously treacherous mountain passes and the occasional dirt road, far from cell phone reception and farther still from emergency services.

Which meant if our cars broke down, we had to fix them ourselves.

Like our car, Dominick’s was filled with tools and spare parts. If he couldn’t do the repair, he could beg a ride until he got cell phone reception and call for a tow truck. Or he could do what my son did last year when the transmission of his LeMons car fell completely apart in a hotel lot–sell the car to a junker, get a rental and continue the Rally.

Two of the cars came from as far away as Missouri and Quebec. Most were hideously decorated, like the “Lawn Dart” Dodge Dart encrusted with darts, a lemon yellow Toyota Privia printed over with green slogans (e.g., “When life gives you lemons, drive ’em.”), a black Ford Galaxie “Men in Black” sedan, a “Bratmobile” Mercedes with a Cuisinart grill bolted to its trunk, and “the Dude Arrives” Cadillac with working chandeliers mounted on its front and a disco ball hanging from the roof.

You could also drive an ordinary, reliable, undecorated, new or merely used car on the Rally. The cars that got the most attention were furthest from that, such as the midnight blue and red rust 1953 GMC pick-up from Deptford, New Jersey.

Wandering about in a white hazmat suit with a clipboard was a bearded, somewhat intense Eric Rood, the planner and overall supervisor on the Rally. With his assistant, John Pagel, Eric awarded starting points for team costuming and overall “hooptieness” of the vehicle. Stephen and I were given points for the bad radio, the check engine light, the bad tires and the fact that I lost my made-in-Philadelphia cheese steak hat on the way to the rally when it flew out of the car while we were adjusting our CB radio antenna.

But we lost points because we were driving a Japanese car that has a reputation for reliability. If we had arrived with any French car, or, better yet, an “Eastern Block” Yugo or Trabant, we would get extra points.

John tallied our points, made sure out vehicle was licensed and insured, and then gave us our bright yellow and green LeMons Rally sticker, and told us to go into the museum for a meeting. .

The museum staff generously provided us with free coffee, donuts and a local, cream-filled pastry so good I momentarily forgot how crazy I was to go on this trip with my son. Stephen works in analytics but has loved cars all his life. He took his wife, and high school friends on previous LeMons Rallys. Now it was my turn.

At the meeting Eric then warned as that though portions of the Rally were to go along the Blue Ridge Parkway, sections of the historic roadway have been closed for the winter. We should check the Parkway’s web page, or travel the alternative routes.

He explained that a road rally wasn’t a race. There were no prizes for those who finish first. We earned points for how many check points we visited along the way.

We were to obey all federal, state and local speed limits, and behave in a respectful manner. “Most of the check points are on public property, with places close enough for you to park, get a picture and get back on the road. Some are on private property that is closed for the season. The last thing we want is someone calling the cops on a bunch of crazies in stupid cars causing trouble.”

We were given a printed book of list of check points, but no map. We would have to use our cell phones, a portable GPS, a road atlas or get lost to find the checkpoints.

Because my son had done previous LeMons Rallys he found the fastest routes easily on his cellphone, using Google maps and Roadside America, a website listing unusual tourist attractions.

Within minutes we had started our engines and headed for the hills. A half hour later, we stopped at our first checkpoint: a copse of old American Victorian houses in reasonable condition nestled near a single railroad track. A sign proclaimed this the site of Moscow, Maryland, established in 1868. My son posed for a picture. We turned around and headed south.

A hooptie is motorhead-speak for a car or truck so old, ugly or wretched that you have to be crazy or in love, to drive it. LeMons Rally competitors are advised to spend no more than $500 purchasing a vehicle (the owners of one confessed that the Salvation Army gave it to them without charge because they didn’t think anyone else would want it). You can make safety improvements to the brakes and wheels, but anything in the cabin, engine and drive train should be left intact.

You could make decorations and team uniforms as silly as you wanted as long as they were inoffensive and apolitical. I saw cars sporting Texas longhorns on the front grill, a rubber alligator stuck on the top, inflatable green aliens hanging out the windows, the eye-searing orange shag carpeting covering the dash of Dominick’s Food Monster Buick–and costumes (the inhabitants of a lemon yellow van were dressed as lemons; a husband and wife wearing Nascar regalia in a “Fig Newtons” car referenced characters in the “Talladega Nights” Will Ferrell film.

As we rolled into small towns in West Virginia and paused at checkpoints (you earned points when you posted a photo to an Instagram page of yourself with the car in front of the check point), we were greeted by the locals with shock, awe and a lot of laughter. None had heard of the LeMons Rally, but some of them had owned one of the cars in their past, or knew someone who did. Conversations arose about cars, following questions about where we were from and where we were going. Some eagerly shared local history and lore.

In Independence, Virginia, site of the “Grand Privy Race,” a local marveling at our cars informed us that, every October, people did, indeed, mount outhouses on wheels and race them down Main Street. He also told us his love for mountain music. He attended the fiddle competition every year, and boasted that the famed acoustic guitar maker Wayne Henderson lived nearby.

Other spectators suggested restaurants and places worth visiting along the way. At no time on this four day adventure did my son and I encounter the antagonism, or exploitation, that road-tripping tourists can get when their license plate announces that they’re from another state.

The January weather was also kind to us as we drove through snow and fog in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, crisp sunshine along Tenessee’s sparkling Ocowee River and a light rain that followed us through Georgia.

With barely ten hours of daylight and eight to ten checkpoints each day, we did not have time to linger or explore the shuttered roadside attractions (Sylva, NC’s American Museum of the Cat, Ansted, WV’s “Gravity Defying” Mystery Hole), odd monuments (to Ann Hodges, the first American woman struck by a meteorite),  and roadside sculptures (a flying VW “Hippie” Bus outside Sam’s Burger Deli in Rome, Georgia).

The rally took us through back country roads and small whistlestop and factory towns, many of them showing the grim effects from being ignored by the last decade’s economical revival. The train stations that had brought prosperity to these aging, abandoned examples of small town America were shuttered, or converted to museums that honored a distant pass, or craft and boutique shops that hoped to capture a latent automobile tourism of the future.

As Eric had warned us, most of the Blue Ridge Parkway–a 470 mile two-lane scenic drive connecting Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park with North Carolina’s Cherokee National Forest, was closed, so Stephen and I visited the alternate checkpoints, including a stop at the Odd, West Virginia post office, and a house whose fence, front door, garage and facade was covered in souvenir coffee mugs.

One mountain pass that remained open was “Moonshiner 28,” which we took to a section of US Route 129. Known to motorcyclists and sports car fiends as “the Tail of the Dragon” or, more simply as The Dragon, this 11 mile two-lane paved road links North Carolina at Deals Gap to Tennessee through the Great Smoky Mountains, and features 318 turns and no guardrails. A website memorializes the numerous fatalities and accidents the road has claimed.

Stephen had “done the Dragon” enough times to invite me to do it. And so, the son I had taught how to drive and parallel park in tiny Toyota Tercel, handed me the keys,  and told me to “stay inside the yellow line, don’t look at the scenery, keep your hands on wheel and ease into the turns.” I joined a convoy of LeMons cars swooping and swerving down one of the most dangerous roads anywhere. And lived!

Road weary drivers could eat and overnight anywhere they wished, though some places were recommended by the rally organizers. Stephen and I missed the first informal “meat-up” at a Boone, NC barbecue restaurant because a jaunt down a rock-strewn dirt road punctured a rear tire. The Infiniti did not have a spare but a nearby Mr. Tire did. In Atlanta, Stephen took me to Mary Mac’s Tea Room, the famous soul food restaurant, where I had iced tea, cornbread, collard greens, black-eyed peas the best fried chicken I’d ever tasted. The sweet potato souffle was enough to be a dessert.

Though our car held up rather well–“You must have the faith that the car will fix itself,” Stephen said when our Check Engine light mysteriously winked out–we heard stories of other cars that suffered. The Dude Arrives Cadillac gradually lost its fourth, third and reverse gears. Two cars hit deer and survived (the deer did not). Another car blew a water pump along an open stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The driver spilled water on the engine to keep it cool until they found a motel, whose owner gave them the keys to his car so they could find a new pump.

As a relief from roadside hotels, we followed the organizers’ suggestions and spent a night at the Historic Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel. Though the registration desk, inside the city’s railroad station hall, is a long walk from the hotel rooms, you could drink beer and sleep in staterooms on some of the passenger rail cars, work off muscle cramps in the fitness center, and have your picture taken on the cow catcher of an old steam locomotive.

On Friday afternoon in Alabama, about an hour from the finish line, we saw a LeMons Rally camper truck stricken beside the road. We pulled over and the drivers told us transmission had died completely. One driver had to wait for the tow truck that would take the vehicle to the finish line. We invited the other to come with us.

Of all the cars and trucks that began the rally, only this camper truck failed to finish. The 1953 GMC pick-up was one of three cars that got special awards. Domnick won “Most Heroic Repair” for two frantic hours swapping out a starter in an Ashville, NC hotel’s valet parking lane. Eric invited us all to attend the LeMons endurance race, a 24 hour event with different but no less ridiculous cars, that would begin at noon tomorrow.

Having had our glimpse of hooptie heaven, my son and I began the long journey home.



Hooptie Do

In a few hours I depart with my son on a 1500 mile cross country, un-Interstate LeMons road rally driving the worst car we could possibly find.

It’s called the Retreat from Moscow, one of more than a dozen “hooptie” events happening this year in the United States and around the world.

What is a hooptie? Try this link:

Or imagine a car so old, rusted-out and banged-up that you either have to be crazy, or in love, to drive it. The car may also be blatantly ludicrous: a stretch limo with slanted, Titannicky smokestacks thrusting from its cabin, a sportscar “reverse engineered” to drive upside down, or a jalopy so unbelievably ugly that it’s…really ugly.

Created by a California-based group of hooptie heads, ( in the spirit of the famed LeMans endurance race, but with a sense of humor. The Retreat from Moscow salutes Napoleon’s humiliating trudge from Russia. Previous Retreats left from eastern American cities named Moscow (Moscow, Pennsylvania, a popular burg of departure, made a Best-Places-to-Live list: This year’s flees from Cumberland, Maryland, though we’ve been promised that the first checkpoint will be in what remains of that state’s version of the Russian capital.

Checkpoints make this different from a road race. We must observe all local, state and federal speed limits. The goal is to complete tasks required at numerous checkpoints, which, my son assures me, are wonderfully stupid, such as having to stop in ten different Tennessee Waffle Houses and by a single waffle in each, in a single day!

From Maryland, we go south, driving 300 to 450 miles a day down back roads and scenic by-ways, among them US 129, a two-lane road in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains notorious for its switchbacks and hairpin turns. We overnight in Roanoke,  Asheville, and Chatanooga where I’ve booked us a room (and not a train car, though the train car was available) at the Historic Chatanooga Choo Choo Hotel.

The Rally ends Friday in Leeds, Alabama, where prizes will be awarded for Random Acts of Stupidity and Hooptiest Vehicle.

Our hooptie is an ancient Infiniti sedan, reputed to be one of the ugliest cars ever to come out of Japan. To qualify for LeMons hooptiness, we must spend no more than $500 on the car (my son has a receipt). The seats still heat, the radio works but the volume knob is frozen, the automatic transmission groans slips a little and one of the rear tires makes a bump-bump-bump sound that I’ll just have to get used to. The car is licensed and fully insured, but we’ll have points taken off because Japanese and German cars, no matter how visually hideous, have a reputation for reliability.

We’d get 100 added points if we showed up in a Russian Yugo!

What happens if we, or any of the competing vehicles, break down? You fix the car on the spot, which my son did on a previous Retreat. Failing that, you get a tow to a garage, or call Enterprise for a rental and asked to be picked up.

I haven’t asked my son if he suffered that on a previous Retreat. Our first stop is a Walmart, where I intend to purchase radiator fluid, extra flashlight batteries and duct tape.

A lot of duct tape.




I Thank You Kindly

I saw a recording of a speech given by Dr. Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania professor and founder of the positive psychology field of study. I want to share an idea he suggested.

If you haven’t heard by now (and it’s surprising how many people haven’t), positive psychology differs from much of what was studied in the 20th century in that, instead of examining and devising therapies for mental illness and psychopathology, positive psychology asks such questions as, “What really makes people happy?” “Why do people stay happy?” “What has to happen for people to feel good at about who they are, the work do, the place where they live and those who surround them?”

Among the many things that came out of studies led by Dr. Seligman is the importance of gratitude as a practice, a habit and an expression of value.

Many religions incorporate some kind of gratitude practice in prayers, ritual, and regular worship. The effect of sacred and secular gratitude practice might as well be the same: you look around and acknowledge that who you are, where you are and how you’re feeling right now have a lot to do people, places and things around you that you tend not to notice that often.

Do this often enough and the grumbles and grievances and, perhaps, inconveniences, if not downright disasters and unforeseen losses, are complicated by a certainty that, even in the worst conditions, things are not as bad as they seem.

I’m reminded here of Dorothy Day, the journalist and social activist who, when asked why she could remain so positive through a life of challenge, conflict and struggle, she merely replied, “Too much beauty.”

It can be hard to see the beauty when you’re seriously ill, you’ve recently lost a loved one, you’re fired from a job for no fault of your own,  you’ve made a mistake that has harmed someone or you’re just plain lonely on a Saturday night. Gratitude practice reminds you of that beauty not only exists but that it is possibly more varied and prevalent than you thought.

Seeing beauty, even in the worst circumstances, doesn’t hurt and can provide a moment of relief that can give us the strength to find our way to a health, healing and happiness.

Gratitude can become a habit through practice and daily affirmations. A positive psychology study in a nursing home revealed that residents lived longer, had better social lives, were better at coping with change and needed fewer doctor visits when they kept a diary, or used some other daily reminder of the things for which they were grateful.

G.K. Chesterton, a witty English writer best known for his Father Brown mystery series, linked gratitude to the identification and appreciation of the sense of wonder, which, he believed, was the essence of the religious experience.

For Chesterton, the sense of wonder was a great, big, continuous wow! The path to this wow wasn’t as easy as looking up at golden sunlight or fireworks in the sky because, as Chesterton often acknowledged, the English sky is mostly overcast, wet, gloomy and gray. He advised that we should accept gray skies and other kinds of limitation with humility and rediscover our childhood innocence in the warmth of a room, the glow of a candle, laughter and the joy of good food and friends.

Gratitude as an expression of value is not about what makes us special, unique or worthy of privilege and good fortune. It is the recognition of the importance of gifts, obvious and subtle, that sustain us, whether or not we have done anything to deserve them.

Which brings me to an exercise Dr. Seligman mentioned, the gratitude testimonial. Students were asked to think of a living person who made a significant, positive contribution to their lives. The nature of that contribution was open to broad interpretation. What mattered was that the students’ lives were made better because of what that person did.

Students then composed a speech about how this person changed their lives, thus compelling them to review that event and bring forward from the past a moment (or more) for which they were grateful.

That was only part of the assignment. After completing the speech, students found the address of that person’s residence, office or place of business, and (presumably when classes weren’t meeting), traveled there. Without making an appointment or warning that person in any way, showed up, asked politely to see that person and then, when that person was within earshot, read their speech to that person.

What did this accomplish?

First, students had to do a gratitude survey in which they usually came up with more than one person, thereby enriching their appreciation of the many people who had helped them, or had been a gift in some way. They had to prioritize their selections and choose one that was reasonably accessible.

Second, the act of putting a person’s contribution into words had the same effect as writing a journal or memoir. It brought a memory into the present and framed it in light of the student’s current understanding and education.

Third, the pilgrimage introduce an element of risk. We can imagine many ways in which gaining access may be problematic, and reciting the speech may lead to confusion, embarrassment, impatient foot-tapping from the person’s nearest and dearest, and that disquieting moment when this person admits to having no memory of you, and can’t recall ever doing what you’re grateful for.

Seligman said that the exercise ended up being beneficial for both the student and the person in ways that neither could predict.

And it made both rather happy, for a few minutes and more.

This said, I want to thank you for reading this. I believe that kind attention paid to another’s efforts furthers that effort in vital ways. This happened when I was a young writer and couldn’t wait to show my girlfriend what I had come up with that day.

Today, that girlfriend is my wife and I still show her what I’ve written. She is my muse, my inspiration and my best friend.

What if the reader and the writer never meet, or share a word across cyberspace?

For a moment, let’s be grateful for those whose words, however we found them, were exactly those we needed to read.

Thank you very much.






Hard Soles

Put on my hard soles today

Don’t remember where I got them

Black leather shoes like the boss used to wear

When he put his feet up on the desk and fired people.


Put on my hard soles today

They’re in better shape than me.

I don’t walk easy in them

More like a plod.


Put on my hard soles today

Trudged through newly fallen snow

Not much traction in the heels

The cold came in too soon.


Took off my hard soles today

Put on the running shoes

Bounced around the block

Two inches off the ground.





Reasons For Not Writing Poetry #6

Let me tell you straight

What we have here is a business

We provide poems for some of the world’s biggest corporations

The wealthiest people

You’d think celebrities could do it themselves.

But they don’t.


An hour ago we had a rush order

From the head of a car dealership

Who gave us the first two lines.

“There was a young cowboy in Texas

Who dreamed of owning a Lexus.”

Want to finish that?


We get a ton of job applications

Not all of them English majors with student loans

We hired a guy who does elegies in church yards

And another who watches woods fill up with snow

And a gal who doesn’t leave her house and never stops – at all.

Boy, can she produce.


If you hear America singing

Listen on your own time.

Our clients don’t like downbeat content

Mighty Casey never strikes out

Of that sort of Dramatic Poem that is tragedy–



We fired a computer that wrote sestinas

You’d think it would make changes

And show up for meetings every once in a while

Be more of a team player

And take a little criticism

But it didn’t.


We turned down this Yukon type

Who couldn’t have cremated Sam McGee

We don’t want anybody raging against the dying of the light.

We said no to this smug little playwright.

Who, when in disgrace in fortune and men’s eyes, thinks of…

Somebody. I forget.


We’re a business

That walks in beauty, day and night.

Sometimes for a breath we’ll tarry.

We’re still waiting on a sonnet

Something about love.

How long does it take to count the ways?












Just You Wait

The doctor will be with you soon,

Or so you’re told.

You find a chair in row of chairs

With perfect Feng Shui,

Backs against the wall

Not too close to anyone else,

Where you can narrow your gaze

At the door through which we all must pass

As long as we have insurance.


You ask yourself

If you’re the first person who

Noticed the carpet’s infinitely repeating gray pattern.

Definitely not M.C. Escher.

More like…Escheresque.

The pale, Mission green olive walls and blond wood chairs,

The wall-mounted flat-screen showed smiling people

Stop smiling as they were told they should not despair that

More than a hundred bats

Were living happily just behind the dry wall

Of the house they just bought.


You ask yourself

If the red-faced sniffler,

Or that guy in the camo jacket contemplating gastrointestinal urgency,

And that bleary-eyed parent who had probably stayed up half the night

With the child beside her,

Were members of a secret society

Who only pretended to be ill

So they could explore the

Many fascinating and unique waiting rooms

And behave like those who are humbled

By stained glass, stone columns, clerestory windows

And the bird that flies in and doesn’t quite know what to do with itself

As a medieval cathedral reveals itself

As the house of the God

Who doesn’t have to make things right

Because they already are.


Did you hear a heavily accented guide,

Begin a bouncy little spiel

About the waiting room’s unique place and function in history of

commercial architecture and interior design?


Did you observe the gently enclosing,

But not confining

Effect of the coffee-colored blinds on the window overlooking the parking lot?

Now, come,  marvel at how the warm earth tones

With the the vibrant, if slightly worn covers of magazines

And the crucial absence of clocks,

Combine to evoke an institutional calm,

Suggesting that sickness and discomfort

(and a home infested with bats!)

Were all momentary aberrations

As we make our gentle, loving progress

On God’s green earth?


No? Well, then take these few minutes

While you endure the agony

Of bats screeching under your skin,

To be thankful that you have insurance (and the co-pay!)

So you can walk through that door

And be a child again

In front of the grown-up

You’ve been waiting for.





To Go

When you drive a car in my neighborhood

You don’t notice

What’s between you and everyone else



You’re stopped behind a light for so unbelievably long

You wonder what will happen to the garbage rolling across the road.

And when will they mow the median strip?

Or arrest whoever shot holes in the stop sign?


You realize that you are surrounded by people who just shouldn’t be on the road.

Banged up cars, smelly trucks, farting motorbikes,

A cyclist in the shoulder so everybody has to veer away

And look at that guy strutting across the crosswalk, like one push of a button makes him royalty!


And when are they going to plow the gray snow and salt the sheets of ice

That’ll kill you if you don’t watch out?

You want to change lanes but that creep won’t let you in!

And when are they going to fill the potholes?


It’s been two weeks and that streetlamp is still dark.

When are they going to stop raising the the tolls

Or finish the construction the tolls are supposed to pay for.

Stop slowing down like you’ve never seen a smashed car!


Where are the cops? That jerk in front doesn’t know how to drive.

Ever hear of turn signal?

Turn your high beams off and

Put the damned cell phone down!


I’m sure there are places where no one is in front of you, moving too slow

And no one is in back, flashing headlights and bearing down on you for going too slow.

Places with mountains, lakes and trees, and perfect weather

And city blocks with restaurants and shops and gleaming streets where


You can pretend you’re in a car commercial

Confident, smiling and admired from afar

For being the only person in universe

Absolutely certain that nothing ever ends.





The Hero

They say you should never meet your heroes.

But you’ve met a few

None were what they were cracked up to be.

Some had merely cracked.


Not like a statue.

More like an egg.

You didn’t want what was inside

To seep out.


Because you didn’t know the right way to mop it up

And put it back in

And search for in that drawer marked Emergency Hero Repair

For the glue that would make the crack disappear.


But you tried with one.

You had seen him in his glory

Quiet, dignified, drinking beer:

A published author who wasn’t worried about who was paying.


Then you found him broken and

Angry at those who shunned him

Who couldn’t understand why

Partial paralysis and brain-damage had prevented him from being a hero.


He swore he would recover someday, and

He sensed that everything around you had lost its meaning.

He invited you to visit him. He promised beautiful sunsets.

He said he’d put you back together.


The sun sets were beautiful but his maid had quit months ago. The kitchen sink held a leaning tower of dishes and his referigator reeked from spoiled food.

You cleaned his house, mowed his lawn, cooked the food, fetched the mail and marveled how he had learned to drive a car with one hand.

You weren’t speaking properly, he said. He hated your writing.

He told you that you knew nothing about old cars, model airplanes, Swedish furniture, German beer, history, Puccini’s operas, Sibelius’ symphonies, science fiction stories and Raymond Chandler novels.


Could this be why,

You asked yourself as you watched the sun set,

His wife and children

Left him?


Then, before you had to leave, you saw his car slide down into a lake

You went in, freed him from the car, pulled his head above the water, put his one functional arm around your neck, dragged him to the water’s edge and carried him out.

He said you saved his life, then he yelled at you for not being as astonished as he was,

That you had done something right.


A few weeks later

He said he’d dedicate a book to you.

He was writing again.

You thought you found the glue.


You wrote letters.

He told you the sunsets were even more beautiful and

That book was at the publisher

And would come out, soon.


So you bought a hardcover edition

Opened it.

Saw it was dedicated to someone else.

Closed it.


After a while you read it.

It wasn’t his best.

You decided not to meet any more heroes

Until you became one.