Short Timer

The first post I made on my last trip to Guatemala was about waiting.  26 days before my next trip to San Pedro La Laguna, I find myself waiting again.  This time, I’m not waiting for someone else.  This time I am waiting in anticipation.

Short Timer is a term usually reserved for someone who is resigning or retiring from a job.  As their departure grows nearer, their productivity and focus declines.  In my youth, I gave two weeks notice at a couple of jobs, only to be asked to leave before the two weeks was up, because I had become virtually useless.  I have seen the same happen to other people.  When I was traveling frequently for McGraw-Hill a few years ago, I was consumed during the last couple of weeks before a trip by the desire to leave right away.  It wasn’t that I wanted to be away from my home or my family, but rather that I was so looking forward to the adventure that I wanted it to begin immediately.

Today I find my situation to be a combination of anticipation and productivity decline.  This trip is the culmination of years of planning and preparation for a documentary project featuring the Mayan elders in the community where I have studied Spanish for the last decade.

I still have a lot of preparation for the project.  I need to learn the ins and outs of my new camera.  I need to learn the program I will use to design pages for the book I am making.  I need to coordinate with the people I will be working with in Guatemala.  I need to talk to my bank about how I can transfer money down there without paying exorbitant fees.

My short timer status is getting in the way of all of this.  If I could leave right now, I would, even though I’m not prepared.  Even though I still need to work for the next three weeks to pay the bills.  I am ready to be there, making it happen.

So far, my procrastination hasn’t taken me to the point of urgency on any of the things I need to accomplish before the trip.  It is, however, taking all of my dwindling will power to keep on track, so I will likely find myself scrambling for something at the end of the month.

Stay tuned for posts from Guatemala beginning in April.


So, I wrote a novel

25358486_152740805492343_32617343341370539_oI began around the first of June, and I finished the first draft on Tuesday, December 12.  This was a brand new experience for me.  I have never written anything more than about 1000 words about anything.  I can’t think of any project in my almost 60 years of life that I have conceived and actually finished which might compare.  It was a marvelous journey, one which I heartily recommend to anyone with even the slightest inclination to embark upon it.

It began with a concept, not for a plot, or a character, or even a story.  It began with the notion that it would be interesting if humans landed on a planet where the entire atmosphere was an intelligent being.  (I’m not really giving anything away, you find that out pretty quickly.)

I sat down with my journal and a pen and banged out the first chapter in about an hour on the morning of one of my writing group’s biweekly meetings.  When they read it, there was a chorus of “more!”  So I kept going.  I had no plan, wrote no outline, did no character sketches, nothing that “they” say one should do when writing a novel.  I winged it.  I channelled the story from somewhere inside me.

For the first two thirds of the book, the only impediment was my own inertia when it came down to sitting at the computer or with my journal and banging out a chapter.  I just let stuff happen.  When I couldn’t think what to write, I threw a monkey wrench into the story, shook it up, placed yet another obstacle or mystery in the path of my characters.

Some interesting concepts came into play that I won’t detail here, but which engendered some fascinating conversations with people in my writing group and also in the cafes I frequent.  The owner of one of these cafes became my biggest motivator, reading the blog (now private) where I wrote the book, and pressuring me to keep going.

I used a smaller piece which I had written for the writing group to provide background for one of the characters.  This led to other plot elements.  Most of the book is the characters talking to each other trying to figure out the same things I was trying to figure out as I wrote.  Until I was at least 40,000 words in to the book (which would ultimately be just under 60,000,) I had no idea where it was going or how it might end.

Writing became more difficult at that point, as I not only had to figure out how to make the necessary events come to pass, but also how to make a satisfying ending.  It wasn’t until the last three chapters (of 46) that I finally knew exactly what I was doing.

Now I have this thing which I birthed, and I am reading it through from the beginning on paper, marking it up, making changes and corrections.  This part almost feels like work, but only almost.  It is still a wonder to me that I wrote this book at all.  I still don’t exactly know where much of it came from.

I suppose there is a parallel to the way I have lived my life.  I have always flown by the seat of my pants, just sort of writing it as I went along, never really knowing where I was going.  I wouldn’t recommend to anyone that they should live that way, although it does have its occasional rewards, but I certainly recommend starting with some neat idea you have, and writing a completely unplanned novel based on it.

The people who have read the book say it’s good.  They all know me, however.  They are my friends.  I am too close to it myself.  I know I can throw words together fairly effectively, but I don’t know if I can craft a novel, especially with a satisfying ending.

Time will tell.  As soon as I have edited the manuscript, it’s off to TOR publishing.

Yeah, but…

I get good advice from friends all the time.  Quite often, I respond with “Yeah, but…” followed by an excuse or rationalization for not following their advice.  It never serves me well.  At the best of times, I eventually take their advice.  At worst, I miss a valuable opportunity.  I am resistant to advice, for whatever reason, so the latter, rather than the former, is the rule.  I even say “Yeah, but…” to myself.  For example, I have been debating the deletion of my Facebook account for some time now.  Every time I thought about it, I would think, yeah, but I will lose contact with my friends, or yeah, but I will lose exposure for my art, or yeah, but my Guatemala project is on there.  The thing is, none of those things were good reasons for not deleting my account.  Most contact on Facebook is shallow.  The benefit to an artist of Facebook algorithms is negligible, and I can, as I have done, start a new account just to maintain the project and share this blog. (Scrabble might have played a part as well).  My point is, all my “Yeah but…”s did not serve me.  They never do.

Senators McCain, Flake, and Corker all went on the record this past week with strong criticisms of the man who gets an extra scoop of ice cream in the White House.

Almost immediately pundits and others on the left began saying “Yeah, but…”  Yeah, but they created him by pushing divisive rhetoric for years.  Yeah, but they supported him in the election.  Yeah, but they still vote for his policies (not really true, as he has no policies.  They vote for the Republican agenda).  Yeah, but they are retiring.

My response?  Yeah, but what they all said this week was important, it was true, and it needed to be said by people from the right.  Yes, they created the environment which spawned Trump, but those are the very people who need to acknowledge that in order to convince his followers.  Yes, they supported him in the election, but they regret that now, and why would you not want them to say so?  Yes, they still support the Republican agenda, but they have also resisted attempts to push it even farther into extremity.  Yes, they are retiring, but what they are saying is still the truth, and needs to be heard.

Saying “Yeah, but…” only diminishes the power of what they are saying.  Why would you want to do that?


The Eve Of The Eve Of The Eve Of Destruction, Maybe.

Barry McGuire wrote this song in 1965, when I was 7.  Young men were dying by the thousands in Vietnam,when they weren’t massacring villages of Vietnamese peasants.  We watched it on TV every night for the next 8 years, and students rioted in the streets only to be shot down by the National Guard on their school campuses.  I made plans to run to Canada rather than sign up for the draft.  The war ended when I was 15 in 1973.

10 years later, Ronald Wilson Reagan was president, and threatening to put nuclear weapons in Europe, so close that The Soviet Union would not have time to verify an early warning, and would thus have to retaliate instantly.  That was probably the most terrifying time of my life.  I had dreams of nuclear war, missiles flying in to Tucson.

20 years after that, George W. Bush, previously the dumbest president ever, took us on a war for profit in Iraq, making Dick Cheney and Erik Prince filthy rich.  I was on my way to a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon on that Eve Of Destruction.  Some hippies in a school bus at the gas station told us the world was going to end.  My reaction was to say I’d be in the Canyon and happy when it happened.

Now, Trumpiwise The Clown is pushing all of Kim Jong Dumb’s buttons and antagonizing Iran, staring at his dwindling approval ratings and wondering if tossing that nuclear football for a Hail Mary will get him another term as Tweeter In Chief.

I have to say I am not nearly as frightened as I was in 1983.  As bad as it is, the likelihood of complete annihilation is not high.  Then again, would it be worse to go out in a blinding flash with everyone else, or to survive and witness the aftermath of a presidential temper tantrum?


Journey Down Memory Lane

Back in the very early 80’s, when I was a student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, bought nickle bags of pot from Rastas at a corner store, marched with a million people against nuclear power and the weapons which at that time were actually threatening to destroy life as we knew it, and spent two years walking the streets of New York barefoot, there was a sea change in the music world.  Overnight, a sound which was dubbed New Wave appeared on the scene, combining the edginess of Punk with the danceability of Disco, and, naturally, stealing from African traditional music too.

That isn’t what I came to write about, though.  The cafe I frequent had a 70’s classic rock station playing this morning.  The playlist was full of Toto, Journey, and the like.  It reminded me of WLIR radio from Long Island, which I listened to back in my art student days.  Sometime around 1981 or 82, WLIR announced that they would only play new music (read New Wave), and ran a promotion in support of the change.  Anyone could call in and give the name of their most hated 70’s band, and the DJ would destroy it on the air, scratching the needle across the record and smashing it.

Now, I am sitting here enjoying a Jackson Browne song that I likely delighted in the destruction of  35 years ago.  It strikes me that Donald Trump, our Rancid Mango Tweeter King, is doing to our Nation what WLIR did to 70’s music.  He is smashing all the hits to pieces to the delight of his fed up and jaded audience.  The difference is, WLIR didn’t smash the master discs, or even all the copies of any record, and we can still listen to them any time we want.  They also had a new, exciting, and wonderful replacement for the music they were getting rid of.

It’s not surprising that WLIR’s ratings went up, while Trumps are plummeting.  He isn’t New Wave, he is the garbled noise you hear when you get put on hold.

Soup Of The Day

For the past several weeks, my writing group has been doing an exercise at our meetings in which one member brings a mystery object in a bag, and we write a brief vignette after feeling it without looking.  This week’s object turned out to be a pelvis of some sort.  This was my piece:

Hamid ran down the dusty street, clutching his prize to his chest. Despite not having eaten in almost a day, his legs somehow found energy to propel him at a remarkable rate. Mama was going to be so happy! For days they had been dividing a baguette and a moldy onion each morning and not much else all day. The bombs had destroyed every shop within walking distance, and the buses no longer ran. Mama had come home this morning beaming, holding up two carrots and a wilted bunch of celery that she had pulled from an abandoned garden. Now, with his added find, the family would have soup. Just a few years ago, he had played in the park with the neighbor’s dog. Today, after the dog was killed in an air strike, he and his friends had divided it up with surprisingly little wrangling over portions. Tonight they would feast!


Totem Or Not Totem


I call ravens my “totem animal”.  I suppose the use of the term might be considered “cultural appropriation” by some.  I am areligious, and not particularly spiritual, and am not pretending to any shamanistic knowledge or ability.  I have simply identified with ravens for a number of years, and have had what felt like significant contact with them at various times.

I first took notice of ravens in the late eighties, when I was invited to crew on a Grand Canyon river trip with friends.  That trip was one of the most powerful experiences of my life, and led to 8 more river trips and 5 hikes into the canyon.  My friend warned me to keep an eye on the large black birds, telling me that they were cunning and often worked in pairs to try to steal food from campsites.  We were a large group, so we didn’t have any difficulty keeping them at bay.

A year later, I made my first multi-day hike into the canyon, down Hermit trail.  I am lucky to have survived unscathed.  I carried far too much and had inferior equipment.  Fortunately, I was young as well as dumb.  I did stay both nights at Hermit rapid, however, instead of hiking over to Boucher for the second night.  As was my wont in my pre-photographer days, I carried a little disposable film camera with me.  During the one full day I spent at the river, I watched river trips negotiating Hermit rapid, which, in my opinion, is the most fun of the canyon, even though Lava Falls is bigger.  At high water, Hermit sports a series of haystacks, or standing waves, that are relatively easy for a boatman to negotiate, and thrilling for passengers.

As I was hanging out on the beach, a pair of ravens came down to investigate.  I decided to try to get a picture of one and began stalking it.  It would wait until I was almost in position and then squawk and hop away.  I followed it for a bit until I suddenly remembered my friend’s warning.  I looked back, and, sure enough,  the other raven was trying to get in to my pack.  Laughing, I chased it off and sat down with a new respect for the birds.

About 10 years ago, I worked for about three months on an old adobe farmhouse north of Saddlebrook, next to the Canyon Del Oro wash.  It was a wonderful job.  Every day at lunch, I would take my camera (by then I had a DSLR) and head out to photograph birds and wildlife up the banks of the perennially running stream.  A pair of herons nested on the property.  So did a pair of ravens.  The first time I saw one of the ravens I tried to photograph it.  The moment I raised my camera, it flew off cackling.  The next day I tried again with the same result.  Then one day I was working inside and I heard “CAW!”  from outside.  Then again “CAW!”  I went out, and there was the raven photogenically perched on the power pole right by the building.  I went back in, got my camera, and slowly walked to within eyesight.  The bird watched me all the way, unmoving.  I switched on the camera, took off the lens cover, and slowly raised it to point at the raven.   “CAW HAHAHAHA!” he flew away before I could snap the shutter.

This became an ongoing game between us.  He would call me out (it might have been a she, who knows?), wait until I was almost ready to shoot, and then fly off laughing,  I never did get any more than a blurry shot of the bird diving down from the pole.


In those days I had a 1987 Toyota pickup which I had painted in a multitude of colors.  It was probably the most recognizable vehicle in Tucson.  It now resides in Carbondale Illinois, and I would love a photo of it.  Here it is around the time of this story.


It is sitting in front of the house I owned at the time, which was equally colorful.

Not long after I finished the job north of town, I was sitting in my house and I heard a “CAW!”, and then again “CAW!”.  I knew immediately what was up so I grabbed my camera and went out front.  There was a raven, sitting on the power pole in front of my house.  I raised my camera, and, sure enough, “CAW HAHAHAHA!” off he flew, making a loop across the street and heading back north, laughing all the way.  I am convinced that it was the same bird who followed my truck or found it 20 miles south of the ranch.  The opening photo of this post is the best I got that day.  I never saw the bird again.

A couple years later, I met my ex wife, who also considered ravens her totem, and used to call herself “my raven girl”.  Sadly, unlike ravens, we did not mate for life, but we do still have a strong bond and friendship, and ravens still have a special place in my world.

Heliocentrism And Questionable Assumptions

Three days a week, I get up at 3:45, have coffee, and get on my bicycle for a half hour ride to the gym, where I am put through my paces by a trained instructor, swinging kettlebells and other strength inducing activities.  Then I get on my bike again and ride back.


When I first started riding my bike rather than driving, it was the middle of December, and damned cold, as well as pitch black out.  The street I ride down is a main thoroughfare of Tucson.  It’s quite busy during the day.  When I was riding during the first couple of months, however, I rarely saw more than a dozen cars on my way to the gym, and maybe two dozen on the way back.

About a month ago, the hour of sunrise moved back into my ride time.  This is where heliocentrism comes in.  I know I am not using the word in its traditional sense, meaning the belief that planets orbit the sun.  I am using it to describe the powerful effect the sun has on the way we live our lives, or how we individually orbit the sun.

P1010531smAs it began to be brighter and brighter on my trip home, I saw more and more cars, even though the hour was exactly the same. Some of this traffic was construction workers and other trades.  I know from personal experience that, in Arizona, where we do not abide by Daylight Savings Time, but rather switch time zones twice a year, start times for construction jobs often fluctuate over the year, to take advantage of cooler morning temperatures in the summer. A significant percentage, however, was just ordinary folks, adjusting their day to the sun.  Heliocentrism.

I am very fond of Guatemala.  I have traveled there more than any other country, I have friends there, and I may move there some day.


On my last visit, I bought a Guatemalan futbol jersey.  I have little or no interest in sports, but I thought I would wear it to my workouts.  A couple weeks ago, I did.  It has warmed up enough in Tucson that I no longer need to wear a jacket when cycling to the gym on most days.  Normally, cars are very polite to me as I ride down the bike lane, moving over when they can, even giving me a full lane of space.  The day I wore that jersey, however, I noticed what seemed like a majority of drivers buzzing right past me without moving over an inch.  Tucson is pretty bike friendly, we even got an award for being the most bike friendly city, I believe, but these people were far from friendly.  At first I was taken aback, but then it occurred to me that I was wearing a white shirt with “GUATEMALA” emblazoned across the back in blue.  My immediate thought, in our current political climate, which has emboldened racists and xenophobes, drawing them out into the open, was that drivers assumed I was an immigrant, and probably “illegal” and were taking out their frustrations on me.


Then I noticed that most of the vehicles buzzing me were construction vehicles full of Latino workers, probably Mexican-American, and I realized to both my embarrassment and amusement that they were probably futbol fans who simply hated the Guatemalan team.





Goldilocks For President


A friend on Facebook asked which would be better: too much government, or too little.  The title of this post was my glib response.  Facebook doesn’t lend itself to complex answers.  The question itself is a bit simplistic.  To be fair, my friend was fishing for material for his writing.  He likes to prompt discussions and then use the ensuing arguments in his books.  Regardless, after some thought, this is my response.

The decision shouldn’t be about quantity of government, but rather about the targeting and goals of it.  For example, would you prefer to ensure that everyone who needs unemployment gets it, even if a few people game the system, or would you prefer to restrict it so that the system can’t be gamed, but a few people who need help don’t get it?  For me, this is a clear cut moral choice.  I am willing to pay the tiny amount extra to make sure everyone who needs help gets it even though some freeloaders get by.

Another example: Would you prefer to prevent all pollution of the nation’s water supply even though it might make some companies less profitable, or would you prefer to protect the businesses even though some lakes and streams might be poisoned?  Again an easy choice.  The short term profits of a coal or chemical company can’t compare in importance to the very ecosystem which sustains human life, even if we have to pay more for their products.

Both examples above illustrate situations where I favor too much government over too little.  Here are a couple where I swing the other way.  Should the government regulate the recreational use of drugs, including narcotics, because there could be a cost to society from their abuse, or should drug use be uninhibited by adults with  clear consequences borne entirely by the user in cases of abuse? I favor less government in this case.  There is no reason why any drug should be treated differently from alcohol.  Prohibition simply creates, enriches, and empowers a criminal class.  We have dozens of Al Capones terrorizing Mexico and Central America because of our draconic drug laws.  We need laws against doing certain things while intoxicated, and treatment for addiction, no more.

Another example: Should motorcycle riders be required to wear helmets and drivers and passengers in automobiles be required to wear seat belts in order to save lives and lower the societal cost of accidents, or should people be able to decide for themselves the risk they wish to take.  In this case, I am in favor of mandating the installation of seat belts in cars, but not their use, nor that of helmets.  Fairer would be allowing insurance companies to charge higher premiums for people who don’t use them.

The one issue I have the most difficulty with is abortion.  I absolutely believe a woman should control her own body and have the option to terminate a pregnancy up to a point, and that her life should always take precedence over that of the child unless she chooses otherwise.  I am uncertain about abortion on demand after the point at which a baby can survive if it is born.  Religion should have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on this, unless it is the religion of the mother.  Science, on the other hand, complicates the issue.  At viability, with no life threat to the mother, should caesarian or induced labor be required, with the baby given up for adoption?  I don’t know.

We live in a nation of 350 million unique, thinking, feeling people, who have to coexist within a governmental structure that serves all of them as well as possible.  We will never reach Goldilocks’ “just right”, but we have put in place a system of deliberation, checks and balances that has, for two and a half centuries, managed to evolve to meet our needs.  The key is to make sure the stewardship of that system is in thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate hands.  Let’s remember that next election day.

PS, that beautiful girl in the photo is my granddaughter, who would make a fabulous president, and may someday do just that.


Buses, Not Busses


When I was a young boy, living in Montana, I had a recurring nightmare.  In it, I was driving a sports car, something like an MG convertible, and was being chased by a school bus full of stereotypical whooping and befeathered wild Indians.  We swerved back and forth up a winding mountain road in the woods.  At the end of the dream, I would always turn suddenly to the right and the busload of Indians would drive off a cliff.

It is unclear where these images came from.  For my entire childhood, I was restricted to one hour of PBS programming a day plus news and special events like the olympics or the moon shot.  My home town in Montana was so small that I’m not sure we even had a school bus, except maybe for the kids who lived on outlying ranches.  Nobody drove sports cars, and, in northeastern Montana, a convertible would be exceedingly unlikely.

My favorite thing about the dream is that I always escaped, surviving to dream again.  My least favorite thing is that I did so by killing all the Indians, or at least by leading them to their deaths.

I didn’t actually ride in a school bus until junior high school.  We waited for the bus on a corner at the base of a steep hill.  A ways up the hill were a couple of apple trees.  We would pick apples and roll them down into the intersection to be squashed by cars.  At one point, someone had the clever idea of lobbing them at cars in the air.  That stopped as soon as he got “lucky” and the outraged motorist slammed on his brakes and gave us all a dressing down.  Then we started smuggling them on to the school bus and dropping them out of the windows on to passing cars.  It is amazing that we never broke a windshield or got anyone hurt.  One day, I sat in a seat that a bully wanted.  When I refused to get up, he slammed the detached seat cover in front of me on to my fingers, breaking one.  This is the only bone I have ever broken, and the school nurse didn’t even believe it was for several days.

I rode the public bus to the YMCA once a week for swimming lessons.  I made it all the way to barracuda, which I think was the highest level.  A bus ride cost $0.20.  I would give the driver a quarter, and he would give me back an Indian head nickel every time.  (Indians again)  I don’t have any of those nickels.  I probably spent them on candy.

I went to a boarding school in Vermont, which had some school buses that we used for field trips and the like.  I once got kicked out of the back of one by a jerk as it was driving away.

I took the bus to Des Moines, Iowa once, thinking I might live out there.  It was incredibly boring, although I did get amazing seats for a Yes concert.  We decided the day of the show that we would go.  We got there 15 minutes before the doors were supposed to open and bought general admission tickets.  There were only a few people outside, so we walked straight up to the doors and were among the first people inside.  The venue was still filling as the band took the stage.

I also took the bus all the way across the country to Portland, Oregon, to stay with friends.  This was supposed to be the first leg of a trip around the world.  I was in Portland for four months.  I left one week before Mt. St. Helens erupted, and took a bus to San Francisco.  Little vials of volcanic ash were selling for a dollar on the streets in California, and my friends in Portland were shoveling it out of their driveway.  Bad timing.  Two months later, I took another bus to LA.  The driver got lost entering the city and a passenger had to help her find the bus station.  I caught a local bus from there to Seal Beach, where I spent a couple months working at Taco Bell and sleeping under a lifeguard tower to avoid being chewed up by the machines which cruised the beach at night picking up trash.  That was as far as my round the world trip went.  I hitchhiked home.

Back in NJ, I rode the bus back and forth to Port Authority in NYC to go to shows, and later on to get to the subway which took me to Pratt Institute, In Brooklyn, where I went to art school.

In 1983, I took another cross-country bus trip, this time to Tucson. These trips were back in the day when I smoked cigarettes and you could smoke in the back of the bus.  There was always a core group of people who got smellier and friendlier by the day.  We smoked more than tobacco, and drank a bit too.  There was even a bit of hanky panky (busses).

I’ve ridden the streetcar in Tucson, but never the bus, except one time when I was courting a girl who lived on the south side and I took the bus to Laos Center and walked from there.  She moved in with me shortly thereafter, and I haven’t been on a local bus since.

Since then, my only bus trips have been almost exclusively tour buses in other countries, ranging from the luxurious, high security buses that are wise to take in Honduras, to the second hand, colorfully painted American school buses in Guatemala and India.  In India, I took the bus from Badami, where I had seen spectacular cave temples and accidentally eaten some bad meat, which made me sick.  On the trip to Margao, I could only eat the occasional potato chip for fear of nausea.  At the end of the day, a few miles from our destination, the bus got a flat tire.  Coincidentally, it happened right next to one of the many used tire stores along the roads of India.  The driver got off the bus and talked to the proprietor for what seemed like an hour.  In the end it was evident that there were no tires available of the correct size.  Fortunately, because the buss had dual tires on the back, we were able to continue on.  Unfortunately, the other tire on that axel went flat 500 yards down the road.  We were stranded in the middle of nowhere, at dusk, with no hotels or bus stations for miles.  I began to panic, but then the other passengers grabbed their bags and started flagging down passing buses.  When one stopped, there was a crush of people trying to get on it, as is the way in India.  I stood back as it pulled away with about three quarters of my fellow passengers jammed into it and hanging off the side.  The next bus that came by easily accommodated the rest of us with seats.  We weren’t even charged for the ride.

photo taken in Antigua, Guatemala