An Unfamiliar Voice

An unfamiliar voice stabs at my heart

Begging me to drop everything and run

Faster than a bullet to my son’s school

 

Or quicker than automatic guns can

Deaden the life of a beautiful girl

Or before the innocent smiles fade

As they face down into hot pools of blood

 

I drop the phone, my fingers numb, and stoop

To make sure I’ve heard correctly the news

That sears into my brain, stripping my soul

 

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Why Ask About Motive Instead of Means?

Another school shooting, too many to keep track of. At least three deaths so far in Washington State, and news reports tell us what we’ve heard before: “Authorities are still trying to determine the motive.” Our “authorities” are so convinced that trying to track down the motive behind a senseless act makes sense that they studiously avoid the much more important question: How did the killer find the means to enact his crazy fantasies? How did the gun get into his hands? Who manufactured the agent of death? Who sold it? Who profited from its manufacture and sale? Who made it available to a murderer, wittingly or unwittingly? What do these manufacturers, retailers, and owners owe society for fostering death and destruction?

Our “authorities” ignore these critical issues, because to do otherwise invites the umbrage of the National Rifle Association and its supporters. The religion – the extremism – of the gun lobby is much more of a threat to our society than the ebola virus. Guns breed violence.

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Sandy

It’s hard to avoid sentimentality on the evening before putting down a beloved dog. Something there is that wants to explain, but all of us who’ve ever owned such a pet know what it’s like, which doesn’t bear repeating.

Sandy at this moment has no idea that she’s within her last 24 hours of life and, ironically, seems happy enough, having lain outside for most of the day because it’s cool, quite good dog weather. Nor does her friend, our other Belgian terrier Danny, understand he’s about to lose his best friend, and even if he could understand, he’d hardly comprehend why. Tomorrow at 1:15 pm we’ll walk Sandy the three blocks to the neighborhood vet and there say goodbye. Amazing, we don’t think she’ll be unable to walk the three blocks if we take our time, although she might have some pain in her hind quarters.  Her back legs hardly work at all anymore, and she suffers when she tries to get up and cannot, legs splayed out under or behind her. It’s something no pet owner ever wants to see.

Danny will probably be jealous that Sandy’s getting a walk and he’s not. The three of us – Laurie, our daughter Jean, and I – will come back without her, sad of course, and Danny will think that Sandy’s just coming later; then, over a period of days, Danny will adjust to Sandy not being around (we hope), and soon he may recall her only in his dreams. Would that her owners be able to adjust as readily.

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Why a character with so little redeeming features?

I’ve been working on a story entitled “Key West” and sharing drafts with my wife and daughter and a friend. Little did I expect that these three important people in my life would so uniformly tell me that my story “wasn’t my best effort,” as my daughter tried to put it tactfully. It seems that my main character, Eli, is not a very nice person, and the story stays in his head throughout its 3700 words. I have been taught that stories about unpleasant people can be good stories, but that the protagonist must have some redeeming characteristics, something that will make the reader care about him even if he’s not the type of person one would select as a companion. Well, I thought that’s what I’d done in my story, but apparently not.

So now what? Either I need to invent all kinds of additional redeeming characteristics for Eli and work them into the story or have the other main character, Eli’s son, put his father in his place. Or, as my wife has asked, “What’s the point of this story, anyway?” The point was to try to entertain. Instead, in all three readers, I have evoked feelings of anger or disappointment. Why anger? Because the obnoxious main character has a dim view of poor people and those without a college degree, because the well-bred son uses the term “ain’t” when talking to his dad, because Eli tries to push his son into moving towards a more middle-class role in the world. Why disappointment? Because the story doesn’t end with a bang but with a whimper. 

The great thing about having people read your stories who will be honest is that it gives you a chance to do better before releasing the story to the unforgiving public. “Remember what the reader wants,” I need to keep telling myself and then applying my energies to that end.

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Why are dogs …?

Why are dogs?

I’m not looking for the scientific answer, although evolutionary biology is certainly part of the puzzle. I’m thinking, rather, of the emotional answer.

Our ancestors needed close friends of different species. They needed scavengers to pick up and eat their garbage, thus keeping other, more dangerous, carnivores away. They needed fuzzy little companions to pet and to talk to without threat of being answered. They favored the cute ones who wagged their tails. They wanted some extra warm bodies around on those cold nights.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. That’s an expression that wasn’t meant to explain why dogs, but it works. We invented dogs because we needed them. On a larger scale, our needs helped to create life.

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When Is Long-Distance Running Like Football?

So when is long-distance running exactly like football? Well, never, except when the weather is terrible.

 I’ve just started running road races this past September, most of them with my daughter. It’s been a brutal winter, yet a scheduled race is almost never postponed because of the weather. Let it be freezing, raining, snowing, hailing, sleeting … whatever. Still, there will be hundreds of people of all ages who appear, ready to run, the elements be damned. Now, if that isn’t just like football, what is?

 It started on Thanksgiving weekend at the Turkey Burn-Off Five Miler, where there was ice to run over. Then it continued in mid-December in Rockville at an 8k race when there was even more snow and ice to avoid … except that one couldn’t avoid it at all, except by running in the street and subjecting oneself to the risk of dismemberment by car. Then, cold and ice continued to flummox me at the New Year’s Day 5k. It warmed up a bit in mid-January for a four-mile race in Silver Spring, when we only had to dodge the incessant rain. That was actually one of my best races. (I will skip the five-mile race in Olney when the only problem was cold.) Then the cold continued for the 12k at Lake Burke on March 2 (one could see parts of the lake frozen), except my daughter tells me it got nice near the end. Sure, but how many big puddles did I have to run through first and how many times did I need to run on slippery mud to avoid those puddles? That was 82 minutes of bliss, I must say.

The corkers, however, were this past weekend. I ran Sunday morning’s 10k at Seneca Lake State Park entirely in the rain — and at my speed, that’s spending almost an hour and ten minutes in the rain, not counting all the time before the race — and with a strong, biting wind in my face for half the race. However, that was nothing like the ten-mile race my daughter ran yesterday afternoon in Frederick, with rain, snow, and hail, the temperature dropping to 34 degrees, the wind picking up in ferocity.

Yes, the runners I encounter seem to thrive with adversity. They’re going to run regardless, and the worse the weather is, the worse all the running conditions are, it seems the happier are the contestants. I just have to bend my mind towards that.

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Music in Life

How does one convey the genius of a world class pianist in a review? It’s not easy, but I’ll try. Umi Garrett’s second album, “Music in Life,” exudes a spiritual freshness that reflects the combination of her deep passion for the piano combined with her uncanny ability to convey that passion. I was particularly enamored of her rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, in which the Adagio Sostenuto sang as movingly as I’ve ever heard it performed, the Allegreto: Minuet sparkled, and the Presto Agitato articulated so beautifully, with so much feeling, that I wanted to cry in response. Ms. Garrett tells us in her program notes that she has “had passion for music throughout [her] whole life” and that she wants her music to mean something, to help people make “strong connections” with each other. She has succeeded in bringing that passion to her listeners, who will be forever grateful to have discovered such a depth of humanity, feeling, and talent.
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