Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue: It’s Time for Poet’s Corner

Hello dear readers, you few, you happy few, you.

The site has been moribund for a few reasons, not least of which is it just wasn’t working. I don’t know how it first happened nor how, after some random clicking behind the scenes, it suddenly righted itself. However it came about, all posts on this blog are now accessible again, which makes updating it seem tangentially more worthwhile.

Early this year, while trying to write a YA novel that seemed to refuse every opportunity to be written, I found myself revisiting some old poems stashed in an obscure corner of my hard drive. I thought they weren’t so bad, and that it might be fun to write a few more. Fast-forward to roughly now, I have been firmly bitten by the poetry bug and so the energy that might have gone into pithy blog posts has mostly gone in that direction.

Will I be publishing poems here? Probably not. I’d rather let a journal (with, you know, an actual audience) have first shot at anything I produce. And speaking along those lines, my first accepted piece can be reviewed online in the e-zine Crack the Spine. My poem “The Air of the Room” can be read for free in Issue 195.

In addition, Hypertrophic Literary published two pieces, “I Love This Woman” and “New Red,” in their Fall 2016 issue. You’ll need to shell out for this. Totally worth it though.

And there we are. I have a couple more pieces forthcoming but I’ll post more about that when I have something to link to.

Police State

The pictures that have emerged from Ferguson are the most shameful images I have seen of American life since our first glimpses of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina drowned it.

Click to continue reading “Police State”

Misunderstood at Christmas

I am assuming you’ve seen the ad. If you haven’t, it goes like this: a teenage boy goes away with his family to visit relatives at Christmas. He appears to spend the whole time glued to his iPhone. Come Christmas morning, he commandeers the flat screen TV and streams a beautiful home movie he has spent the preceding few days shooting and editing, right under his family’s loving noses, and they are delighted by the surprise.

It struck me as very heartfelt, and a good exemplar of the human-centric values that Apple has always espoused. Naturally, many people can’t stand it:

The problem is that while he was creating, he wasn’t really living the day, he was a mere voyeur during it. The message? Life is better through video. Don’t live life, tape it.

(Jennifer Rooney, Forbes.com)

I was initially not without sympathy for this view. Smartphones certainly have eroded some of the one-on-one interaction from life, at a time when manners seem to be growing coarser. And when faced with people with antisocial tendencies — teenage boys chief among them — a smartphone is a pretty high barrier to establishing any kind of conversation or eye contact. But the more I read these responses, particularly the piece linked above, the angrier I got.

First of all, if the boy in this commercial had been seen with his nose in a book rather than an iPhone, it would have prompted none of this high-handed moralizing. “These kids today, and their reading.” Smartphones are the bogeymen of our time, the way Walkmans were in the ’80s and comic books were in the ’50s. These things are nothing but a lurid distraction obscuring a universal truth: to most kids in their mid-teens, adults are boring. Look at the kid’s family. He has a baby sister, a lot of younger cousins, a bevy of aunts and uncles and grandparents — and no one his own age to talk to and hang out with. No competent child psychologist would blame this kid for spending his time posting to Facebook or otherwise communicating with friends who actually understand him and like the same things he likes. Except, of course, that’s not what he’s doing.

You see, some of us in this world are observers. Not that we never get into the thick of the action, or that we don’t love spending time with people we care about. We just function better when we can operate with a slight buffer around us, especially when not at our ease. His family gets him; when granddad lobs that mitten at him, he’s being playful, saying in effect, “I’m not going to bother you over there, but don’t forget I’m thinking about you.” And if we’re creative types, as this boy certainly is*, we’re apt to express ourselves best through whatever our particular gift may be.

What we see this unnamed boy doing is, quite simply, an act of love. Cookie-making and sledding and snowman-building were all well and good, but he had an idea for something special he could give to his family, something only he could do. Who else but the kid who doesn’t quite fit in — neither adult nor child — could show his family who they really are, and what they really mean to each other?

And I’ll make one last point, at the risk of taking a little holiday commercial even more seriously than I have already: I’ll bet he was having fun making that video. I’ll bet when his granddad threw the mitten, he was thinking Aw man, that’s gonna look great in the final version. I’ll bet he had just as much fun watching his family sledding as he did sledding himself. And I’ll bet his family will remember that particular Christmas lump in the throat for many years to come.

By all means, let’s be vigilant about the effect that technology has on our lives. But let’s not get so cynical, so priggish, that we assume that the addition of a smartphone automatically renders an experience mediated, detached, invalid. Sometimes this technology really does bring you closer to the people around you.

*I’m not discounting that the Harris Family Holiday video is actually the work of a professional director (though it really was created on an iPhone), but it’s not beyond the abilities of a perceptive and capable teenager — if it were too good, the spot wouldn’t work as well as it does.

We Allowed This to Happen

That is all I could think as this horrible story unfolded. Sure, some of us speak up every time a new outbreak of violence occurs while others of us make excuses. But we all settle down afterwards and, in effect, shrug our shoulders. Yeah, there’s some nutcases out there. What are ya gonna do? We’re horrified, and then we get over it, and then it happens again, each incident somehow more senseless — and in an appalling way, less surprising — than the last.

We have decided, as a culture, that these endless massacres are an acceptable price for what we choose to interpret as “freedom.” We’ve decided this because a substantial number of us feel that without free access to weapons, our liberty is not guaranteed — and that any effort to restrict gun ownership is, ipso facto, a direct prelude to enslavement.

We as a culture have to un-decide that.

There are legal remedies that would help prevent these incidents, were they properly enforced. But laws can only go as far as the culture will allow. There is a faction in this country — and yes, I am shifting from first person to third at this point — who have long ago made some kind of accommodation in their hearts to the mass murder of their fellow citizens. I have no problem with hunters who want to be able to take out the occasional deer or pheasant; it’s not my thing, but I don’t begrudge it. I have a huge problem with Second Amendment absolutists who talk tough but who are consumed with fear: of their neighbors, of other races and religions, of their personal existential powerlessness, and most of all, of their government.

It’s dark moments like this that lead me to think the American experiment has failed, and that there really are two distinct and incompatible cultures striving for dominance in this country. One is pledged to the values of the European Enlightenment, embracing one of mankind’s finest inventions — secular representative government — as a means of expanding the potential for success, happiness and progress for all people. The other is permanently stuck back on the frontier, believing that man is essentially ungovernable and that the only liberties you have are the ones you can defend with your own hands.

“We have met the enemy,” satirist Walt Kelly once said, “and he is us.” How is it that the thought of the government taking away your assault rifle is more frightening than the thought of another group of kids being senselessly cut down? How do we stop choosing to let things like Newtown happen?