Wednesday, June 29, 2005


My family moved so often none of the kids is from where they were born. Even when we moved back to a place, enough time would have passed to make us strangers, even to the people we had known.

The adults had a bit of an easier time. Adulthood brings changes, but nothing like the changes of growing up.

We learned to pack up, let go and move on.

Over time, we accumulate friends that last a little longer, hanging on as correspondents. We're happy to see each other when we manage to visit. But what's the point of having friends all over the world if you can't get all over the world? It certainly seems to accentuate the fragility of life and the preciousness of our connections.

Ah yes. Our connections. Those things that now make it impossible to settle in any single place without pining for at least some aspect of another place, other people.

You might make it work if you lived almost forever and had unlimited resources. But then life wouldn't be a struggle. The shared struggle against what each of us considers the forces that need to be struggled against unites us in seriousness or in humor. You find the people who react the way you do or who react entertainingly, and you try to stick with them. You help the ones you think you should help and oppose the ones you think deserve it. Maybe you do it by making up your own mind. Maybe you do it by following orders from someone you let think for you. But the struggle is what unites us.

It's almost time to hit the road again, to leave a place where one set of struggles seems to have been pretty thoroughly lost, to return to a place where that battle may yet be won. But friends remain here to be missed. None of us can travel at will to bridge the distance at any instant the urge strikes. We have to hope we get to the next encounter, and many more.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The One that Gets Away

The unwritten novels are always more witty, gripping, brilliant, because the great passages just swim in and out of mind. The bulk is hidden in the murky depths, only hinted at by the quick shine of an eye, a fin, a patch of flank that shows the size and grace of the leviathan that never comes wholly into view.

All too often, when the monster is reeled in, it has ugly wounds, a big mouth and rapidly begins to stink.

Melville was writing about the Great White Novel: the one that always gets away and eventually kills you; the thing of awesome power that, if you ever did land, you would also destroy.

The pursuit must be undertaken, not with harpoons and lances, but with quiet boats, scuba gear, curiosity and persistence, to view the beast in successive glimpses, capturing its visage eventually while letting it roam free. The end result is the same: a bunch of words. Well connected, they will be read.

What are we waiting for?

Why are we so unwilling to elect a whole woman to be President of the United States? Time and again we elect a boob.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Wha' fo'?

Foyer is a strange word. We bathe in a bathroom, dine in a dining room, go to bed in a bedroom and live in a living room, but who foys? And how, exactly, is the foyer applied to the act of foying?

There is no act of foying, of course. Many people put a coat rack and a place for overshoes in the entryway of their houses. Indeed, the entryway is designed for such a purpose. Therefore, it's "fo' yer" coat and "fo' yer" boots.

Language is a wonderful thing. For instance, the word "pasta" derives from when it was the only food. No one remembers what it was called back then, because at mealtime they only got as far as saying, "Please pass de --". When another food was invented, pass de became the word for what we know today. The spelling was simplified.

Go ahead, ask me about something else.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Freedom isn't Free

It costs other people's lives. I mean, the hero of the battle of Bennington, General John Stark, who said, "Live free or die," said it years after he had survived the battle. And Patrick Henry got Liberty, not death, although he at least had the balls to throw down his statement before the fact.

Thing is, we have no way of asking the dead what they think. Maybe they'd say, "I wished I'd ducked."

"Freedom isn't free" seems to have been adopted by the armed intervention crowd to signify that if you're too lily-livered to face hot fire, you don't deserve freedom. But the real work in a free society is in the boring wrangling, the voting, the educating,the frustration and the general pain in the ass of putting up with people who might be different from you.

Or we could just fight to the death. Freedom isn't free, you know. And death, as John Stark pointed out, is not the worst of evils. Of course he was alive when he said it.


Porn star Mary Carey continues to publicize her support for the Republican Party and pursue plans for political office. That shows you what you have to be able to swallow before you can swallow their economic theories.

In response, the Democrats are going to release the Monica and Bill video as a fundraiser. There's even talk of a live show at the next $1000 a plate party dinner.


Who would Jesus execute?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Dreams and Logistics

A kindly family friend once said to me, when I was already over 30, "I wish you'd been my kid. I would have knocked that art shit right out of you."

I thanked her for the thought, but we both realized it was too late. Even though I was trying to convince myself I hopelessly lacked talent and should get a real job, the real world seemed to have less use for me than the creative one had.

As Joyce Carey's protagonist Gulley Jimson pointed out in The Horse's Mouth, the sufferer from art doesn't really have a choice in the matter. It has nothing to do with talent. It's basically an infection.

I use the term art loosely here, since cartooning is not considered art by the artistic, and writing, while it may be creative, is damned by that "thousand words to one picture" ratio.

Well sit back. I can bury you in about 17 pictures' worth while you're still squinting down your thumb at the canvas.

Cartooning is often a very verbal form, and merges well with writing. Look at Thurber.

The problem is that "art shit" takes time. So I've been working a minimum of two jobs since I started having jobs. When times were really tough and I worked seven days a week, my schedule was pretty full. Fortunately, that was also the time when I felt that life wasn't worth a fuck anyway, so the sooner I died and let my wife collect my insurance, the better for all concerned.

It was true at the time. Since then I have sprouted some redeeming social value, so matters get a bit more complicated. Some good causes find me occasionally helpful. A few nice people would miss me.

In order to set aside the time to create, you have to feel you're worth it. That's why so many successful creators seem like stuck-up schmucks. And successful or not, to stake out the time to create one must forego a great deal of social contact, especially when you live your real life in your spare time.

Published or not, that cartoon you scan and laugh at in 30 seconds probably took at least a couple of hours to conceive, sketch and finalize. That glib little essay through which your eyes flowed so smoothly probably took a number of revisions to seem so effortless.

You only see work from people who found the time to produce it.

Meanwhile, life goes on. What seemed like just an okay place to live is, in fact, a beautiful little piece of forest, guaranteed to be mowed down as soon as I relinquish it. All the plants, animals and birds by which I've marked my seasons here can just go to hell. Some fatass needs a house. If I have to leave here, I will never want to come back.

We moved often when I was a child. I learned to let go of everything, the places, the people, because it was easier that way. They were going to let go of me. And while we lived in developed places, the changes, though cancerous, often took place on the fringes. Annapolis, of course, is now one giant, festering malignancy. But I saw that coming and moved here, beyond the battle lines, to stake out what I could.

I have dreamed of skidders and bulldozers almost constantly since I moved into the house I have managed to inhabit for 16 years. And now they're coming. Empty lot values have gone from about $3000 an acre to about $14,000, and that's just on my street. So even though I could technically pursue my ambitions anywhere I could set up a little studio and office, I would be leaving things I care about.

Meanwhile, my wife has discovered that she won't really do whatever she has to do to stay here. She won't teach general music or English, or work as a cashier. So she's off to greener pastures, to find a good orchestra job. New Hampshire spits out another one. She has too much invested in her career,and she's too good at it, to stay here and starve, despite the fact that she has produced a neat little youth orchestra from nothing at all in about five years. Logistics. There's just no money.

We discussed her chances before she made the leap. We knew it would be tough, but we hoped gaps would align and she would slip through them.

It didn't happen. This is the real world, where most success is fractional and dreamers need to give it up or die off. Or live apart so that some small gains may be kept and some small forests protected against that day when they might be more universally valued.


Reality is the most expensive addiction of all. You can do drugs and fantasize at the same time you're working your dub job or resting at home before going back to your dub job. But once you get hooked on really feeling good and really doing things, you have to devote time directly to that.

Really, from a standpoint of efficiency, you're better off with the drugs. Most occupations seem to prefer that you work yourself to death in them, squeezing every drop from you. Your more enjoyable occupations are generally invitations to slow starvation, except when they're invitations to rapid starvation. So you might as well squish your brain into a euphoric lump and poison your body quickly to end the protracted suffering.

To make matters worse, some people prominently and publicly manage to live their dreams. Gaps align through which they shoot, advancing to the takeoff point until they can hardly fail unless they really try to crash.

It's enough to drive you to drink.

Have a nice night. I'm going home and have a beer.

What Would Jesus Do?

He'd let them bang the nails. Then he'd forgive them. What would YOU do?

Good Advice

Never smile at a dentist or talk too much around a psychiatrist.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Love your Pets

NBC had a thing the other night about people's love for their pets. Al Roker went around interviewing pet owners with way too much disposable income and reported on the truly ridiculous excess showered on some pampered animal companions.

Supposedly, people love pets because pets give unconditional love. But that's not necessarily why the relationship works. My grandparents were absurdly devoted to a ferocious fat bitch of a cat that would shred absolutely anyone who came within paws' reach. I don't fault them for it, I merely report it.

The thing is, whether they love you back or not, pets don't break promises. They don't make promises. They don't let you down, because they never agreed to your expectations. They make great objects of affection because you can invest them with any qualities you care to imagine.


Each generation believes the next generation is going to lead the entire human race straight to hell. All those prophecies of doom in the Bible are probably only there because that was the first generation to write down what every generation had been saying since the dawn of human existence.

Friday, June 10, 2005

I suddenly wondered

When big bugs are flying fast, do they get smaller bugs stuck to the front of them?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Nonviolent? Me?

When I talk about avoiding violence it is as much a reminder to myself as a rebuke to anyone else.

Remember when Indiana Jones faced the final swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark? He got that weary, disgusted look on his face and hauled out the trusty Colt. Blam! Blam! Problem solved.

I feel that way at least once a week. It's a major reason I never renewed my handgun permit. That and the fact that I would have to buy a better handgun and I couldn't remember the three sure-fire reasons to carry, which guarantee approval unless you are an obvious blood-dripping felon.

Why worry about the tender legalities when one is contemplating blowing someone's head off? Because there might be extenuating circumstances. No point digging the hole deeper than it needs to be. But a moment's sober thought always brings me back to the basic impracticality of killing people you don't like. They always have friends, and they might not be quite completely in the wrong. Once you plug 'em, that's it.

So screw it.

Self defense presents some worries. Sometimes I transport bank deposits. I often travel alone. I've had a scary encounter or two in the dusk of a late fall bike commute, when a questionable pedestrian or slow-passing motorist worried me for a moment. But the only time I faced a gun at point-blank range I would have had no chance to use one of my own. Even to reach for it would have guaranteed I would be shot. Turns out the guy was just really nervous from his own previous bad experience, and all I had to do was be calm and wait for everything to work out.

And self defense does not really address the desire to do violence out of anger. That's a hot surge, maybe wrapped up with some righteous indignation to give it an aura of respectability. Addictive drugs to be avoided.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


What's the employee health plan like at the health insurance company?