Tag Archives: kids

Monday Musings: The Wisdom and Love of Friends and Family

Many years ago — decades, in fact — in a rare moment of precocious insight, I wrote the following in my journal:

“There is nothing like the wisdom and love of friends to remind us of who we are.”

Even at the time, I understood that I had, without any intention of doing so, stumbled upon some deep wisdom of my own. Because add to “the wisdom and love of friends” the words “and family,” and you have precisely the experience I have just enjoyed.

I have recently returned from an extended journey east and north, and I am feeling stronger than I have in some time, in large part because of the friends and family I encountered along the way. The trip began with Nancy and me attending a university event in Richmond, where she was the guest of honor and featured speaker. Seeing her excel at her job, watching her move among strangers with ease and poise, listening to her deliver remarks with the aplomb of a seasoned pro, brings me such joy and makes me so proud I can hardly find words to express the emotion. And so the trip began, as do all things in my life, with her, with us.

From there, as many of you already know, I went on to the Hampton Roads Writers Conference, which was well-run and professionally fulfilling. The highlights of the weekend, though, were the two evenings I spent hanging out with Edmund Schubert and John Hartness. Both nights, we talked business, we talked craft and market, we spoke of family, of life and friendships, we just shot the shit for hours. It was amazing.

I have spent too, too long, in my own head, dealing with uncertainties, with anxieties, with fear and grief, with my own emotional health issues as well as with the challenges life throws at so many of us. It wasn’t that these evenings with my friends made me forget all that other stuff. Rather, it was that these two amazing friends and I made room in our interactions for all that each of us is going through right now. We commiserated and supported, even as we also laughed and spoke of other things.

And that was a harbinger of the entire trip.

David and daughter AlexFrom Virginia Beach, I went to Brooklyn, where I spent two evenings with my older daughter. She looks beautiful, seems great, has a ton of energy, and was her normal, playful, thoughtful, intelligent, insightful, slightly acerbic self. Seeing her, having such amazing time with her, was reassuring to say the least.

I also spent an afternoon with two old friends from my high school and college years. We are, all of us, changed. How could we not be? But our affection for one another remains, as does our ability to joke and laugh one minute, and then shift gears into matters weighty and significant the next. Seeing them was a rare treat, one I have missed these many years.

I drove from Brooklyn to central New York State, where I stayed with my brother Jim, and his wife, Karen. They are two of Nancy and my favorite people in the world. Jim is my birdwatching partner and guru, not to mention my oldest and dearest friend in the world outside of Nancy and my girls. Karen, his wife of 35 years, is brilliant, witty, articulate, passionate about her work, and so much fun. She and I share affinities for good Scotch and teasing Jim. While I was there, we were joined for dinner one night by Jim and Karen’s daughter, Rachel, who is as terrific as her parents.

And while in the Albany area, I also saw my wonderful friends Alan and Karen. Alan was (along with our friend, Amy — more on her in a moment) my closest friend in college, my musical partner (also along with Amy), and my housemate. In the nearly forty years since college, he (and Karen, and Amy and her husband, Paul) has remained as caring and constant a friend as anyone could want.

I started home on Friday, driving into the wind and rain of Ian, and I stayed that night in the Charlottesville area with Amy and Paul. We drank Manhattans and ate pasta, they showed me photos from their son’s recent wedding, and we talked deep into the night. Or as deep as we of advanced middle age are capable of these days. Which is to say, not really that late at all. But it was a great evening.

The next day, I arrived home.

My trip lasted twelve days, and pretty much every one of them brought me to someone I care about, someone who knows and understands me, someone whose wisdom and love made for a special day or evening.

I am back home now, and I feel restored in some way. Yes, the anxieties and difficulties persist. Life continues to throw stuff in our paths, and much of what Nancy and I have struggled with for the past year and a half will continue to challenge us for a long time to come. But I feel more connected to where I come from, to the person I have long known myself to be. I am reminded that there is more to me than fear and sadness and struggle. There is strength as well, and worth and humor and, most important, the love of people I respect and admire.

“There is nothing like the wisdom and love of friends and family to remind us of who we are.”

Yes, maybe there is something trite to the thought. But at 22, when I wrote it, it felt like a valuable insight. And three and a half decades later, it still carries the weight of truth.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: Celebrating Nancy

David and Nancy
Us in Dublin, Ireland for WorldCon 2019. (Photo by Cat Sparks)

I mention Nancy on this blog quite often, yet, I rarely write about her. Well, she has a big birthday coming up this week (tomorrow) — a BIG birthday — and so this seems as good a time as any to sing her praises.

For those who have somehow missed the references, Nancy is my wife of thirty-plus years. She and I met at Stanford, when we were both getting our Ph.D.s. She was a first-year grad student in biology; I was in my second year in the history program. We met because one of her suite-mates in grad school housing, another history candidate, brought her to the department’s weekly grad student card game at the on-campus pub.

Yes, we met over a game of hearts, and we were both smitten that very day. Nancy later confessed that she saw me and thought, “Oh, this is the guy I’m going to marry.” Poor thing . . . . For my part, being a guy, I saw her and thought, “Wow!”

Wedding Day Photo 1
Our wedding day, 1991.

We were married in the Rodin Sculpture Garden beside Stanford’s art museum, and a year later moved to Tennessee so that Nancy could take an assistant professorship at Sewanee: The University of the South. Our plan was to stay for a couple of years, and if nothing worked out for me in the history department, we’d leave for wherever and start again with me taking the offered job and her trying to work something out. Rinse, repeat until both of us were employed. That was the idea. But at her urging I started to pursue my lifelong dream of writing fantasy professionally, and before we had to leave, I got my first publishing contract. Thirty years later, we’re still here.

Nancy provost installation
Our family, the day Nancy was officially made provost of the university. Erin is on the left, Alex is on the right.

In that time, Nancy has been assistant professor, associate professor, full professor, and chairperson of her department. She has been appointed to a named chair in the biology department (for those unfamiliar with academia, this is big deal). She has received research grants to support her scholarship from a host of organizations and agencies, including the National Science Foundation. She has been an associate dean, associate provost, university provost, and, for the past nine months, acting president of the university. She is the first woman ever to serve as Sewanee’s president.

I am a pretty confident person. I believe in my creative abilities, and I believe in my own intelligence. I like to think that I’m usually one of the smartest people in whatever room I’m in. And yet, when both of us are home, I’m not even the smartest person in my own kitchen.

Erin, Nancy, Alex
Erin, Nancy, and Alex.

Nancy is a creative thinker, too, though in an entirely different way. Her creativity, her brilliance, is rooted in her ability to approach any problem, any issue, at any given time, from multiple perspectives. This is what has made her such a successful scientist, and it is what informs her strategic thinking as an institutional leader. She is also a person of remarkable yet quiet strength. She is serving as president, coping with issues large and small, interacting with people in various university constituencies who, let us say, sometimes forget how to be their best selves. She is also, like me, dealing with the illness of her child. She recently lost her mother and, with her brothers, had to help get her father situated in an assisted living community. She is spouse, mother, daughter, sister, friend, colleague, community leader. She does all of this with composure, with grace, with her sparkling and mischievous wit, with an equanimity that humbles and dazzles me on a daily basis.

Nancy and Samantha
Back when we first started dating. Nancy is the one on the left . . .

Yes, I adore her. I would never claim to be a neutral observer where Nancy is concerned. But you don’t have to trust me on any of what I’ve written here. Others will say it as well, including many who don’t always see eye-to-eye with her. That is part of her charm. She can disarm with a smile. She can discuss without bringing ego to the conversation, and — something truly rare in today’s world — she can agree cordially to disagree.

And still I haven’t begun to scratch the surface when it comes to telling you about her. She is far more than her professional activities. She knits and gardens, she brews beer and makes AMAZING Indian, Thai, Moroccan, and Southwestern cuisine, not to mention gorgeous fresh bread and the best chocolate chip cookies anywhere. She has run triathlons and used to be an active rock climber. She loves to travel and to hike (and she tolerates my birdwatching interruptions when we’re hiking together). She plays cards and board games and is somehow really good at all of them.

I’ll stop now. Except to say she’s the love of my life, my partner in silliness, my best friend. And yeah, tomorrow’s her birthday.

Happy birthday, Sweetie. Love you.

Monday Musings: Taming My Inner Eeyore

The hard part of getting back into posting isn’t the first post. It’s the second, and the ones after that. In part, I retreated from social media six or seven weeks back because I couldn’t imagine carrying the emotional load I had shouldered while simultaneously producing essays about things that mattered less to me, which was pretty much everything else. At the same time, I also knew that I didn’t want to post every Monday about our family problems or my mental health issues. Nobody wants to read that guy week after week after week.

I touched on this a bit back in May, at a time when I was also struggling to come up with essay ideas for these Monday Musing entries.

So, what to do this time around . . . .

In truth, right now there is lots to write about. And the world is a far more promising place today than it was in May. Which makes this blogging thing a little easier. Consider:

Our former Felon-In-Chief is twisting slowly, slowly in the wind (that’s a Watergate reference, for those of you too young to remember), and I will admit that I’ve enjoyed watching him flop about like a hooked fish on a pier (yeah, I know, I’m mixing metaphors — deal with it), searching for any defense that might save his sorry ass. “The documents were planted! It’s a hoax.” “I declassified the documents ages ago.” (Quite a neat trick — knowing to declassify documents that would be planted on his property without his knowledge years later . . . .) “This is all legal under the Presidential Records Act.” (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)

At the same time, our current President (legally and fairly elected) is having a summer to remember. Tumbling gas prices, inflation starting to come under control, continued historic strength in the job market, Democratic voters motivated and mobilized by the SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade, voters in ruby red Kansas rejecting an abortion ban, one piece of major legislation after another passed and signed into law, rising poll numbers, surprisingly strong Democratic performances in special elections. It all adds up to a changing political landscape, and the realization that November might not turn out the way most pundits were predicting only a few months ago.

On the other hand, drought and floods and fires serve as constant reminders that despite the passage of the climate change bill — a significant and laudable achievement for the Administration and Congress — our planet remains gravely at risk. With that in mind, I believe when historians look back on 2022 decades from now, they will identify as the most significant moment of the year this week’s decision by the California Air Resources Board to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered motor vehicles after 2035.

Yes, it’s only one state. Don’t let that fool you. If California were a sovereign nation, its economy would be the fifth largest in the world, behind only the U.S., China, Japan, and Germany. Alone it accounts for more than 1/7 of our country’s GDP, and its citizens own far more cars than do the residents of any other state. Where California goes, the automobile industry will have little choice but to follow.

At long last, someone in this country has stepped forward and said, “This way to climate sanity. Follow me.” I expect Gavin Newsom, California’s governor and a Democratic Presidential hopeful for 2024 or 2028, sees this as good politics, which is also telling.

Look, anyone who knows me well will tell you I have a lot more in common with Eeyore than I do with Pollyanna. I am all too aware of the threat Trumpism poses to our republic, of the damage the Supreme Court has done to our society and the further damage it could very well do in its next term, of the precarious state of our planet and the limited reach of even California’s dramatic actions this week.

I am also aware of the tough road that lies ahead for my family, for my older daughter in particular.

As a part-time essayist, I can choose to dwell on the negative, or, as the song goes, I can accentuate the positive. For now, I prefer to do the latter. My hope may prove audacious, fantastical even. But I embrace it anyway. I can also promise you I won’t always be able to do this. My inner Eeyore is strong and persistent. For now, though, he is quiescent, and I’m glad.

I wish you a week of hope, good health, and good tidings.

Professional Wednesday: Writing Through — A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

#HoldOnToTheLightAfter running away from social media for six weeks, and ignoring publicity opportunities and the like, I feel a little funny offering any professional advice to anyone on anything. Which, I realize, is entirely wrong-headed.

Sometimes the stuff we write is completely divorced from our real lives, but more often than not, we draw upon personal experience and knowledge for our character work, our world building, our plotting, and our dialogue. Here’s a passage that is a case in point. It’s from The Fugitive Stone, the first book in the Celtic urban fantasy I’m working on.

“One of the insidious things about anxiety and depression—about all mental health problems, really—is the false sense that we’re the only ones who are like this. That we’re broken, and everyone else is ‘normal’”—she put air-quotes around the word—“whatever the hell that means. After all this time, you’d think I’d know better.”

The truth is, lots of writers struggle every day with problems and emotional issues that are at least as difficult as mine. Many have it worse than I do. I know this, and yet I still have to fight the tendency to think I’m the only one, that I’m messed up and everyone else is fine. There’s a little voice in my head that whispers shit like that to me all the time. I hate that fucking voice.

As I have mentioned here before, I find work to be a balm, a welcome distraction, a place I can go where my worries and griefs recede and I am free to create and thus escape for a short while. Sure, the stuff I’m avoiding is there waiting for me when I step out of my office, but the respite is the thing. It helps. Being productive, getting work done, helps me feel . . . [here’s that word again] normal.

There is no secret sauce to this. I can’t give advice on how others might find the same thing to be true with their work. Everyone suffers from mental illness in unique ways. Everyone’s challenges manifest differently. I know how fortunate I am to be able to work and produce and find solace in doing so. I know it’s not a path open to everyone.

But I will say this: Last year, when our daughter first received her cancer diagnosis, I gave up on everything, at least at first. I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to function. I called my agent and my editor and I told them both I was stepping back from all professional activities. I wouldn’t be blogging or posting to social media, I wouldn’t be attending conventions, I couldn’t imagine trying to write anything, and so I was going to stop working on the book I was writing at the time. I usually hit my deadlines, but that was one I was certain I would miss.

It didn’t take me long, though, to understand that sitting around worrying about my [adult] child and grieving for the terrible changes imposed upon our family by her diagnosis were poor activities with which to fill each day. I needed to do something that made me feel alive, that reminded there was more to my life than her illness.

This was in the spring of 2021, and the first day I tried to write was pretty much a disaster. I barely got anything written, and I’m not sure I kept a word of it. But the mere act of sitting down at my computer to work felt familiar and, thus, reassuring. I did it again the next day, and the one after that. By the end of that week, I had managed to write more than 7000 words — not close to my usual pace, but not bad at all. The weeks that followed were even more productive.

INVASIVES, by David B. Coe (Jacket art courtesy of Belle Books)In the end, I hit my deadline. More, the book I wrote that spring, Invasives, the second Radiants novel, turned out better than I ever could have imagined. I love the book, not only because I think it’s good, but because it saved me. It got me through that terrible spring and early summer.

I guess what I’m saying is this: We are all coping with something. Life is hard. Life throws obstacles in our paths all the time. Life is a book and we are its protagonists, and just as we writers love to rain shit down on our characters, life rains shit down on us. My tendency, when the shitstorms grow too wild, is to run and hide. I did it in March of 2021. I did it again just a month or so ago, when our daughter suffered a setback in her fight with cancer.

But in 2021, and again this summer, I found that work helped.

Work might not be the answer for you. Maybe knitting is. Maybe photography is. Maybe music or birdwatching, cooking or cleaning, painting or gardening, reading or watching old movies. It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is recognizing that something might help, that looking beyond the pain might well be just what you need.

Be well. Take care of yourself and the ones you love.

Monday Musings: Wading Back In (and Why I Left)

Yes, I’m back, dipping my toes cautiously into the social media waters, gauging my mental state. I have a lot going on professionally right now, and I need to write about it, to boost the signal (as the market phrase would have it), to shout it from the virtual rooftops.

And so, I’m venturing back out into the digital world. But you, who have put up with me disappearing now and again, deserve a bit of an explanation for my sudden withdrawal back in early July.

The short version is this: Our older daughter, who has been battling cancer since March 2021, had an unexpected setback. “Unexpected” as in out of the blue. All (or at least almost all) the indicators had been looking pretty good, pointing toward slow but measurable progress. And then one scan — a formality, dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s — came back with unambiguously bad results. Bad.

We were devastated, and I needed time. As it happened, at that point in the summer, Nancy and I were preparing for a long stretch of travel, and I would have needed to write several weeks worth of blog posts in advance and schedule them for our time away. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to write a bunch of happy, chatty posts when I was shattered.

Hence, my pull-back.

Our daughter is back in chemotherapy. We’ll find out before too long whether it is working as we hope or if her doctors will need to try something else. In the meantime, she is doing remarkably well. The side-effects of this particular drug are, mercifully, not too terrible. She is working as usual on non-treatment days. She is seeing friends, going to parties, having fun. She is a wonder. A force of nature. Her courage and strength and resilience and determination humble me. I am embarrassed by my own fragility. But I’m a parent and my kid is sick and I can’t do a damn thing to make it all better. Isn’t that what dads are supposed to do? Make it all better? I feel helpless.

But given all she is doing for herself, how can I do any less than step back into the world, be a professional, and live my life as best I can?

So . . . .

I am currently working on my new contemporary Celtic urban fantasy. I have recently revised the first book, The Fugitive Stone, and am now about to submit for editorial feedback the second book, The Demon Cauldron. The third book, The Lost Sword, is about two-thirds written. I’ll be resuming work on it soon.

The Kickstarter for the new set of Zombies Need Brains anthologies is live and it needs your support! We have four anthologies in this year’s set, including Dragonesque, an anthology of stories from the dragon’s point of view, for which I will be writing a story, and Artifice and Craft, an anthology of stories about magical or supernatural works of art that I am editing with my wonderful friend, Edmund R. Schubert. We are halfway to our funding goal, but that leaves us with some fundraising distance to travel in the three weeks we have left. Please, please, please help us out.

I am also continuing to edit on a freelance basis, as I have been for about a year now.

And I am preparing for a couple of upcoming professional events. I will be a guest at this year’s DragonCon, my first appearance at the con since 2018. I can’t wait to get back to our genre’s version of Mardi Gras — it’s always a highlight of my professional year, and it’s been too long. DragonCon takes place in Atlanta, the first weekend of September.

And later in September, I will be an instructor at the Hampton Roads Writers Conference, leading workshops on Point of View, Character Development and Character Arc, World Building, and Pacing and Narrative Arc.

Busy times. Difficult times. But I think that’s true for all of us. We all struggle. We all find ways to cope, to overcome, or at least to distract and scrape by.

I mentioned our travel — Nancy and I went to Colorado, where we had a wonderful visit with our younger daughter and her partner. From there, we went to Boise, to see Nancy’s family. And finally, we spent nearly a week in the area around Bozeman, hiking every day, looking at birds and butterflies, the brilliant hues of wildflowers and mountain vistas that stole our breath. Maybe I’ll post a few photos in the weeks to come.

Thank you for your understanding when I needed to step away from social media. Thank you for the warm, welcoming embrace of your friendship as I return. Going forward, I will try to do better.

Monday Musings: So Many Of Us Just Coping — A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

#HoldOnToTheLight

So, I don’t know where this post is going. I feel it’s important to make that clear up front. And I also want to say that, all things considered, I am doing pretty well right now. Our older daughter’s health is stable, and she is active, happy, enjoying her work and her friends. Our younger daughter is settling in to a new life out in Colorado with her love. She has an interesting job, a nice apartment, and the excitement of beginning a new chapter. And Nancy and I are solid as ever, partners in all we do, as always able to laugh and talk and enjoy each other’s company.

But I have been reflecting on the simple truth that life is just hard. Yeah, I know: quite the revelation.

I remember when I was younger, and I would go through a rough patch and think, “I just want life to get back to normal,” by which I seemed to mean a place where things were easy and smooth and not filled with heartache.

The naïveté of youth.

I’m not trying to get all existential, nor do I wish to say I think life is nothing but a slog through grief and worry and difficulty. Because I don’t. Life is wondrous. I have spent the last thirty-plus years (and intend to spend the next thirty-plus years) living with someone who is my best friend as well as the love of my life. I have two incredible daughters. I have the privilege of writing stories for a living. I have family and friends whom I adore. Life is good.

But it’s hard. Everywhere I look, I see friends and family — people I care about — dealing with loss, grief, tragedy, heartbreak. And, perhaps because I’m older now, and a bit wiser, a bit more jaded, I understand that this is life. There is no normal. The easy, smooth moments are the exceptions. In the last week or so alone, I have learned of one friend heading into a messy, difficult divorce. I have word from another that they are sick with a serious illness. And still another is dealing with as-yet-undetermined health issues. Less than a month ago, Nancy lost her mom. Our family — immediate and extended — have ongoing medical issues to deal with. Moreover, quite apart from all the other stuff, the pandemic has taken its toll. So has the ongoing right-wing assault on our democracy. And the epidemic of gun violence. Etc., etc., etc.

I could go on, but I actually don’t mean for the litany to become the point. Nor do I wish to extract from my readers expressions of sympathy. This stuff is happening to all of us, and I really am doing all right.

The point is not the difficulty, but rather the coping.

And I believe this brings us back to where I started, because I think dealing with the challenges life presents begins with acknowledging them, with having compassion both for ourselves and for those around us. I am part of an online writing group that keeps in touch via emails in which we share news, ask one another for advice, offer and seek moral support in times of difficulty, and even ask for word-of-mouth help in publicizing new releases and such. Recently, activity on that mailing list had slowed to a trickle and someone sent out a message asking if, after many years of activity, our group had finally given up.

No, came one reply. I’m still here. Just struggling with career issues, and pandemic exhaustion, and some personal problems.

Me, too, said another member. Still here. But I have a lot going on.

Same.

Same.

Same.

Before long, a bunch of us had checked in, reaffirming our enthusiasm for being in the group, but also confiding about all we had been through over the past few years. It was simultaneously warming and chilling. So many of us happy for even this small opportunity to reach out and reconnect, so many of us struggling with life issues that threatened to overwhelm.

I believe our tiny online community is reflective of something going on all over the country, all over the world. And I think my point in writing today is this: Life is hard. Life right now is REALLY hard. It’s all right to reach out. It’s all right to make ourselves vulnerable in that way. More, it’s all right to reach back, to be compassionate, to share and confide and commiserate and try to make others feel better. That, it seems to me, is a positive way to confront life’s challenges.

Twice now I have said I am doing okay. The third time makes it true (at least that’s how stuff works in the Celtic urban fantasy I’m working on . . .). I am.

And I hope you are, too.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: Being a Dad in the NRA’s America

This past week, I moved my younger daughter and her boyfriend out to Colorado — the Denver area — where they will be beginning a new chapter in their lives. They have jobs lined up, a very nice apartment with a gorgeous view of the Rockies, and big plans for what their future together might hold. (People ask me how I feel about them living together. Nancy and I lived together for nearly two years before we married, so even if I minded, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on . . .)

It was a very Dad week for me. My younger kid and her beau wanted to drive in the moving truck together, with him doing most of the driving and her navigating, keeping him focused and awake, etc., etc. One of their cars was on the truck trailer. The other . . . well, the other I drove. 1250 miles in two and half days. And then we moved all their stuff into their third floor apartment (no elevator).

That’s what dads do. It’s the sort of thing my dad might have done for me. I thought of him a lot this week, as I dispensed the sort of advice he would have given my siblings and me, and did my best to be the calming, reasonable voice when things grew fraught, as they often do with moves of this magnitude. As I say, very Dad.

I am kind of exhausted from all the driving and from carrying stuff up all those freaking stairs, but I am so glad I did it. I loved being there to help, to see their new place and the wonderful neighborhood around it, to give all that advice, and to buy them a nice dinner when the difficult work was finished. I wouldn’t trade this past week for anything, even though while in the middle of it I wouldn’t have said it was fun. Because dads are supposed to help our grown kids begin their adult lives. We’re supposed to do that sort of hard work. I was lucky to have the opportunity.

As we all know — painfully, tragically, sickeningly — too many dads in Uvalde, Texas (this time), had a very different week.

Dads are not supposed to worry about their kids being shot dead in their schools. Dads are not supposed to mourn in elementary school parking lots. They shouldn’t have to wonder why police didn’t do their jobs, why so many “good guys with guns” let a bad guy with a gun run amok in that building for so long. Dads shouldn’t have to ask why an eighteen-year-old kid had access to a weapon of war and all the ammunition needed to take so many lives, or why the leaders of their state are so concerned with “promoting a culture of life” that they turn a blind eye to the dangers and sins of an industry of death. Dads shouldn’t have to worry that their child (or their partner, or they themselves) might be shot in a grocery store or a movie theater or a mall, or any of the dozens of places that have been the scenes of horrific shootings over the past couple of decades.

And, the fact is, in most of the world, certainly in most of the wealthier nations to which we in the United States like to compare ourselves, dads don’t have to worry about such things. Mass shootings of the sort we’ve seen this month in Uvalde and Buffalo are far, far, far more common in the U.S. than they are in any of the countries we consider our international peer-group.

Why? Republican politicians, who fear the electoral retribution of the National Rifle Association more than they do news of another mass killing, tell us this is a problem of mental illness, not guns. So is it their position that Americans are more prone to mental illness than are people in other countries? Are they saying we are more likely to be murderous psychopaths? Is that what they mean by American exceptionalism? There’s a winning platform. I can’t wait to see them put that on a bumper sticker.

Or is it possible, just maybe, that we have way, way, way more murders and suicides by firearm — per capita as well as in absolute numbers — than, say, Italy, or France, or Spain, of the United Kingdom, or Australia, or New Zealand, or Japan, or Ireland, or Finland, or Sweden, or Denmark, or Canada, or Belgium, or Greece, or Germany, or Poland, or Portugal, etc., etc., etc., because we have way, way, way more guns than they do? And because our guns are so readily available. And because our state legislatures are constantly passing laws to make them easier to conceal and carry.

Yes, the right to bear arms is in our Constitution. Everyone knows that. Far fewer people give consideration to the meaning of the exact wording of the amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

If we’re going to keep the damn amendment (and there is zero chance we’ll ever get rid of it — the Founders saddled us with a culture of guns and death that will forever haunt our nation) can’t we at least honor its complete wording? Is it so fucking hard for people to admit that we have a gun problem in the United States? If tightening laws surrounding background checks, mental health checks, gun-show sales, and the availability of ammunition can save even one life, can spare even one dad the gut-wrenching horror of going through what those parents in Uvalde have endured this week, wouldn’t it be worth a little inconvenience?

Or are we too much in the thrall of the gun lobby even for that?

Have a great week. Stay safe.

Monday Musings: Baseball, Opening Day, and Childhood Dreams

Baseball season opens this week. That might not seem like a big deal to you. And in truth, it’s far less of a big deal for me now than it used to be.

But once upon a time, Opening Day was Christmas morning and my birthday all rolled into one. It was the best day of the year that didn’t involve me getting presents. It was a day of possibility, of dreams deferred finally having their day in the sun. And, yes, quite often, it was also the day those dreams and possibilities were doused with icy water.

When I was a kid, baseball was everything to me. Sure, I had other interests, but I lived and died with the Yankees (mostly died, for the first twelve years of my life) and I dreamed of being a major league baseball player. I remember a first grade class assignment in which we were supposed to draw a picture of ourselves in whatever job we expected to do when we grew up, and then write a few sentences about that job. I drew myself playing center field for the Yankees.

I should pause here to say that I must have been truly delusional. I was a TERRIBLE baseball player as a kid. I was terrified of getting hit by the baseball. My little league at-bats were panic-inducing affairs that saw me swinging at any pitch within four or five feet of the plate so that I could strike out more quickly. The strikeout itself was a foregone conclusion, right? So why prolong the encounter and risk devastating physical injury? Every once in a while, I would screw up the courage NOT to swing and would manage a walk.

And as I trotted down to first base, marveling at the mere fact that I was still alive, my father would clap from the stands, calling “Nice going, Charlie [his nickname for me — he did, in fact, know my real name]! Walk’s as good as a hit!”

Kind, but untrue. Walks are great — on average, players who walk a lot help their teams far more than players who walk infrequently. Still, hits are better. There are stats to back this up. But I digress . . .

What about my fielding, you might ask. Well, I was already a birdwatcher by the time I was playing little league, and I spent a lot of time out in right field, watching for interesting fly-overs, and running after hit balls that were safely on the ground and decelerating, and therefore far less of a threat . . .

[I did get a little better as I grew older. I spent three summers at sleepaway camp when I was eleven, twelve, and thirteen, and during my last year there had a pretty good season. I batted over .300 — yes, I kept track; yes, I still remember — fielded well, and generally acquitted myself quite well. But I should also say that this was a camp for well-to-do Jewish kids. Not exactly the training ground for future Major Leaguers. The pitchers I faced were more likely to wind up as orthodontists than as professional athletes.]

And still, I insisted year after year that I would someday play for the Yankees. And not just at any position. I would play center field. The realm of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. As I said: delusional. My parents tried, gently, to steer me away from this dream, pointing out that baseball players — and most professional athletes — had certain skills and attributes that I lacked. Like hand-eye coordination. And height.

Joe Morgan, 1974 Topps“Aha!!” I was able to reply. “What about Joe Morgan? Two time Most Valuable Player, perennial All-Star, World Series champion. He’s five foot seven!” Besides, I assured them. I didn’t expect or need to be six feet tall. I would be perfectly happy with five foot ten, like my hero, Roy White.

Amazingly, it was this statement that my father couldn’t abide. God bless him, he was willing to put up with my elephantine blind spot when it came to my playing ability. But me growing to be five foot ten? No. This was the bridge too far. “Charlie, I’m sorry. But you are never, ever going to be five foot ten . . .”

Spoiler alert: He was right.

I did eventually get over my baseball-playing dreams. Mostly. But baseball’s Opening Day still elicits from me a different sort of dream. “This is the year!” I tell myself, literally every year. “This is the year the Yankees will dominate the American League. The Mets will dominate the National League. The two will meet in an epic seven game World Series! I won’t even care which team wins!”

So maybe I’m still delusional.

But did you know that in 1991, when the Minnesota Twins faced the Atlanta Braves in the World Series, both teams were just one year removed from last-place finishes in their respective divisions? True story. In 1969, the Miracle Mets won 100 games and the World Series, after spending their first seven years of existence at or near the basement of the National League.

And while we’re at it, did you know that Freddie Patek, shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals, three time All-Star, was only five foot five??

Anything can happen!

And that really is the point.

Look, baseball is no longer the game I worshiped as a child. Games have gotten too long and boring. Batters swing for the fences in every at-bat. Pitchers try to strike out every batter they face. The nuance and strategy that I loved — it all seems to be gone. And yet, with Opening Day approaching, I find myself dreaming of a season in which smart baseball returns, in which the obsession with power-hitting and power-pitching fades, and this amazing game returns to the subtle brilliance I remember so fondly.

Call me delusional.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: “Time, Time, Time, See What’s Become of Me…”

The other day, as I was shaving (yes, I shave, despite the beard — I like to keep it trim and neat) I paused, taking in how very white my beard looks these days. There is almost no brown left in it. My temples are graying, my thinning hair is frosted with more white than I had realized. I am grizzled. That’s the polite way of saying it.

I suppose I should pause here to make a confession: I had a birthday last week.

To be sure, I am feeling my age. But this post is about more than just a guy of advanced middle age staring down the barrel of his sixtieth trip around the sun (my next birthday is A Big One). Time seems to be rushing past in an alarming way. We’re more than halfway done with March and I have no idea where the first two-months-plus of this year have gone. Each week, I set work goals for myself, and generally speaking I meet them. But then I have other things I want to get done — personal things; a song I want to learn on my guitar, photos I want to process from a recent shoot, a walk I’d like to take — but the week is already gone, and I am no closer to getting those things done.

I remember when I was college I spent a lot of time fighting the passage of time, which is a losing battle if ever there was one. I don’t know if I was hyper-conscious of how brief those four wonderful years would wind up feeling, or if I was struck by a growing awareness of my parents’ aging, or if I was merely anxious to get on with my life — with my search for direction, for love, for confidence and contentment. Whatever the reason, I struggled with a sense that my life was speeding past me, and I needed to slow it down somehow.

I have that sense again now, but it’s my own aging that has me thinking this way. Life is hard right now. It’s hard in a macro sense — the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the existential threat our own actions pose to our planet. It’s hard in a personal sense — my daughter’s health, end-of-life issues impacting Nancy’s parents, the difficulties of maintaining a writing career in this publishing climate, my own struggle with anxiety.

And yet, despite these difficulties, I am enjoying life as much as I ever have. Nancy and I are empty-nesters and, as much as we love our daughters, we also love our life together. We are deeply proud of the adult human beings our girls have become, and we savor our time with them. The literary landscape is fraught, but I love the stuff I’m writing, and I have been enjoying my new career as an editor. Nancy has just reached a career milestone and is finally receiving the recognition and attention she has deserved for so long. Life is good. But it is speeding by. Again. Still.

When I was a kid, I would express impatience for one thing or another — my next birthday, a baseball game for which we had tickets, a family trip in the offing — and invariably my mom or dad would say, “Don’t rush it. It’ll be here before you know it.” Years later, I found myself saying the same thing to my girls. Each successive year of life represents a smaller percentage of the time that has come before. Of course the years feel shorter and shorter. Put another way, time snowballs. It is relentless, immutable. It is the advance and retreat of the tide, the rotation and orbit of the earth. Sunrise and sunset. Waves upon sand. Pick your cliché.

The title of this post comes from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter” — Paul Simon is a musical hero of mine. James Taylor, another of my musical heroes, famously sang “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” He may well be right. I wouldn’t know. It’s not a skill I’ve ever mastered.

I’m just back from a week in Florida with Nancy, Erin (our younger daughter), and Erin’s boyfriend. I’d been looking forward to the trip for weeks, months even. As my parents would have warned, it was here and done before I knew it. I have learned nothing. Erin is preparing for a move westward. She has a job waiting, the promise of a new life with her love, the anticipation of the unknown, of something new and different and exciting.. She is counting the days. I can’t blame her.

Time, she likes to tell me, is a human construct. Like money. It doesn’t really exist except in our own minds. It has units and meaning and definition because we give it those things. And yet, it is the defining characteristic of life, of existence.

On a recent trip north, I spent a morning with two close friends from high school, guys I hung out with, was in theater with, got high with, played music with. We three hadn’t been together in probably thirty-five years. We had a great time. Truly. The years melted away. Except they didn’t. We were, all of us, wiser, calmer, kinder, more tolerant, less competitive. Time is a cudgel, but also a balm. It tests us, but it also smooths our edges. When my friends and I were making our plans to get together, the time since our last encounter felt like a chasm. It turns out it was anything but. Maybe Erin is right, and it doesn’t exist except in our heads.

I honestly can’t tell you what my point is. I’ve had a few posts like this recently. There’s a reason I call them “Monday Musings” . . . This is what I’m thinking about right now. Time. Age. Life. And I wish the flow of days and weeks and months would slow down a little, especially with spring coming. There are things I’d like to do.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: The Things We Care About, a #HoldOntoTheLight Post

#HoldOnToTheLight

I honestly don’t know where this post is going, and so please bear with me as I work through my tangled thoughts.

I am struck today — as I ponder a life that is both fraught and wonderful, complicated and strikingly simple, weighted with deep worries and buoyed by simple yet profound pleasures — by the oddity of the things we choose to care about minute to minute, day to day, year to year.

As many of you know, last year our daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Her initial treatments went well, her maintenance regimen has been harder to pin down and she recently had a small setback — minor, but with cancer nothing is truly minor.

I suffer from anxiety anyway, and so any change for the worse in her situation can send me into a tailspin. The truth is, lots of things, big and small, can send me into a tailspin, but I am hardly unique in that regard. And when it comes right down to it, I am not convinced my anxiety explains the emotional phenomena with which I’m grappling in today’s post.

Perhaps an example will help me clarify my topic and allow you to follow along as I muse and ponder. I find — and this is nothing new — that one moment I can be focused on my daughter’s health, or something else of equal importance and solemnity, and the next I can be completely put out by my inability to solve the day’s Wordle puzzle in four guesses instead of five. A frivolous, even absurd, example to be sure, but I offer it in all seriousness. The frivolity is kind of the point.

This has been a difficult couple of years to say the least. I often begin my morning walks mired in dark thoughts, consumed with worry about my kid, or the state of the world, or, for a long time, the persistence of the pandemic. And then I will spot a hawk along the trail, or a warbler will pop up and start to sing in plain view, and I will be filled with happiness. Fleeting perhaps, but not any less powerful for its brevity.

We can be resilient creatures, we humans. And I do think some of what I’m writing about is resilience. Part of it might be as well the simple reality that our emotions demand respite. It can be exhausting living with worry or with grief. Many of us, myself included, live with anxiety or depression or other mental health issues, and these conditions can compound that weariness. Many of us struggle to find those moments of pleasure, those glimpses of resilience.

But the fact is, our minds — or at least my mind — seem to seek out breaks from the toughest issues. How else can I explain being consumed with the threat of global climate change one moment, and truly caring who wins the Tottenham v. Manchester City soccer match the next? How can I worry about my children, or the health of my in-laws, and also care whether I solve the puzzle on my phone in the allotted sixty seconds?

Do our minds do this to preserve our sanity? Ophthalmologists tell us that we can ease strain on our eyes when sitting in front of our computers by taking a few minutes periodically to focus on something farther away. Isn’t that what our brains do, too?

Okay, so I’m nearly six hundred words in to this post, and I still haven’t figured out what the hell I want to say. I suppose I am trying to explain to myself how my own coping mechanisms work. I know that for me, constant worry is debilitating. The intrusions of the frivolous save me from myself. I care about Wordle not because it matters, but because in making it matter, I force myself to look elsewhere, to focus on something other than the hard stuff right in front of me. I allow myself the pleasure of a bird sighting — or a song well played on my guitar, or a successful photograph — because without such pleasures my world would be a bleaker place.

I suppose I am merely describing distractions, which all of us have. And perhaps what I’m actually doing, in public, and in a roundabout way, is giving myself permission to be distracted. Because, I have to admit, in the depths of my legitimate worries, I am embarrassed by the trivial things I care about. Resilience. Distraction. Fun. Pleasure. Joy. When we confront serious matters — including life and death matters — these things can feel wrong, like violations of self-imposed gravity. How dare I take pleasure in a new music CD when my kid is dealing with cancer. How dare I care about a soccer match, or a Wordle puzzle, when the world is in crisis.

The thing is, though, without all those pursuits that delight and distract and bring joy, why does anything else matter? We help no one when we deny ourselves simple pleasures. Because they not only are born of resilience, they also promote it. And without resilience we are of no use to the people who need us, to a world that demands our attention and our compassion.

Perhaps this post is one long rationalization, a way to convince myself it’s okay for me to have fun now and then. But I think it’s more. In the depths of difficult times, I believe we need to remind ourselves to take joy when and where we can. Life is hard. We face no shortage of excuses to be sad or frightened or angry. Our humanity demands we also create opportunities to find happiness and peace, even if just for a short while.

Wishing you wonderful week.