A PNW kind of day

It’s a typ­i­cal Pacif­ic North­west kind of day.
The sky is that over­cast grey that makes it dif­fi­cult to tell whether it’s 8AM, noon, or 3PM.
There’s a promise of spring, but not yet, just wait a lit­tle longer.
In the mean­time, have more rain.
Oh, and don’t get too excit­ed, in fact wor­ry, because those daf­fodils and cro­cus that are peek­ing up may get frozen if there’s a cold snap.
And every­thing that thinks it should be bloom­ing right now will be sor­ry.
But all those weeds? Oh yeah, they’ll be just fine. In fact, the cold will make them stronger.
And it won’t be cold enough to kill the slug eggs.
The babies are out there right now, march­ing to war on the daylily buds.
So in the mean­time, snug­gle up in a blan­ket with a good book, and a cup of hot tea.
Take a nap.


A New Hope


No, not that one, not Star Wars Ep. IV, though it qual­i­fies.

I’m talk­ing about the feel­ing that comes from expe­ri­enc­ing a sto­ry with a Hap­py End­ing™.   Not even a Hap­pi­ly Ever After™ end­ing, but sim­ply the hero­ine-pre­vails-in-her-quest end­ing, what­ev­er that quest may be.  It brings sat­is­fac­tion that wrongs have been right­ed, jus­tice pre­vails, and the wor­thy find love.  In oth­er sto­ries, some­thing intrin­sic to the human con­di­tion endures, and we, or those impor­tant to us, will be able to par­take of it.

I remem­ber how ter­ri­ble the last half of 2001 was.   The US was attacked on Sep­tem­ber 11th, and then we took war to the Mid­dle East.  So much pain and nation­al anx­i­ety.  At the end of the year, for the hol­i­days, Warn­er Bros. released Har­ry Pot­ter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It was a fun movie, I’ll grant you, full of good per­for­mances by actors I enjoyed.  But what hit me like a blow was how much hope it instilled in me at the end.  I wept as the cred­its rolled.  It was all out of pro­por­tion to the movie itself, but I felt that if Pot­ter could over­come his tri­als and tribu­la­tions, then we, as adults and as a coun­try, could sure­ly emerge from the pain and hatred and fear we were snarled in.  I felt hope again for our world.

That’s some good, heart-tug­ging sto­ry­telling.

Maybe at that time, I just need­ed to believe in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hap­py end­ings, and that–like young Sky­walk­er, and the hope he embodied–the sun­set would be fol­lowed by a new, bet­ter day.


Epic yearning!

Epic yearn­ing!

Hap­py End­ings aren’t an Amer­i­can inven­tion, but we do tend to eat them up.  I sort of blame Disney–or maybe Frank Capra–and I’m sort of not kid­ding.  They’re hard to get away from, and I some­times won­der if we do our­selves a dis­ser­vice by not embrac­ing more ambi­gu­i­ty as the cur­tains fall.  Ambi­gu­i­ty makes us dig for the hope we want, makes us exam­ine pos­si­bil­i­ties.  End­ing with uncer­tain­ty is less like hot choco­late and Milano cook­ies on a cold winter’s night, and more like a meaty borscht–complex and nour­ish­ing, but we have to work to get it in the bowl, and we often are unsure of the ingre­di­ents.  Ambi­gu­i­ty makes us won­der what’s next?  Hap­py End­ings rarely do.

All this is to say that I won­der about the sto­ries we, as a peo­ple, tell.  I won­der in our com­mu­nal psy­che demands the reas­sur­ance and cer­tain­ty of a Hap­py End­ing, even when we know they’re rarely “real”.  I won­der which sto­ries give us the tool to find our way through this crazy world, and if it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of hav­ing our Milano cook­ies along side our borscht.

What kind of end­ings do you crave?  Which ones sat­is­fy you?  What do you want from your sto­ries?  Inquir­ing minds wan­na know.


"Delicious ambiguity." -- Gilda Radner

Deli­cious ambi­gu­i­ty.” — Gil­da Rad­ner


Put On Your Red Shoes

My mantra for 2016.

If this post was a car, imag­ine that I start­ed it up, and while I left it to do its engine-warm­ing thing, some­one hijacked it and drove it clear out of town.  The hijack­er was Life … or real­ly, her nec­es­sary-evil broth­er, Mor­tal­i­ty.

Last week was rough, and not just for me.   The world lost two icons, David Bowie and Alan Rick­man, and I lost a dear friend.  Almost lost my dog, too–no joke–but Alis­tair Rock­et Dog is one very lucky pooch.

Every­thing that lives dies.  We all face it.  Par­ents, lovers, friends, chil­dren, strangers, pets.  The deserv­ing and unde­serv­ing.  The old and the young and those in between.  We who are left behind–and every­one has some­one who is left behind–struggle with survivor’s guilt, tan­gled in the dark­ness pour­ing through the gap­ing wound in our lives.  We com­bat the dark­ness with only star­dust and mem­o­ries.  Frag­ile, intan­gi­ble things.

But this is the truth I hold to: We all get one life, whether it’s brief as a flick­er­ing can­dle or as long as a cen­tu­ry.  We don’t get to know in advance what our allot­ment will be, but we all get a por­tion of feel­ing air in our lungs, and hear­ing the susurra­tion of blood through our veins.  Some­times life sucks.  But we get one, and if we’re lucky enough to make it to some sem­blance of adult­hood, we get a say in how ours goes.

We have choice.  Some­times it’s not much of one, but it is choice.  And this is the ques­tion of all our lives: What do you choose?

To quote part of my favorite poem, “The Sum­mer Day” by the sub­lime Mary Oliv­er:


Doesn’t every­thing die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and pre­cious life?


Read the full poem.  Go ahead.  I’ll be here.

I think of Bowie and Rick­man and my friend.  Their day-to-days were very dif­fer­ent, and yet all were full of cre­ativ­i­ty and courage.  Despite what­ev­er fears crowd­ed their minds, what­ev­er lim­i­ta­tions were placed on them by oth­ers, they stepped into who they were from minute-to-minute and year-to-year.  They did what they loved, and sur­round­ed them­selves with the peo­ple and work which gave them joy.  Then they shared that joy with the rest of the world.  What a fan­tas­tic lega­cy!

I hope that’s what we do–step into our joy, and share that joy with oth­ers.  We only get a brief time on this amaz­ing ball of rock in this splen­did galaxy, and there’s only one of each of us.  Whether you’re a butch­er or bak­er or can­dle­stick mak­er, you’re the only you that will ever be in the entire his­to­ry of the uni­verse.  Live your life as rich­ly as you can, with all the love and pain and won­der as you can hold.

I know it’s eas­i­er said than done.  I do, I know.  But when my life is over, I don’t want to sigh and regret and think, “I could have, but I was too afraid.”  I don’t want to have mere­ly exist­ed, trapped in the shell that fear wrought.

Fear lies.  It tells us we can’t.  It tells us we shouldn’t.  It feeds us rea­sons to not.


Fear is a liar

It real­ly tru­ly is.


We don’t have time to “not”.  Don’t let fear win.

Shine on, my love­ly, glo­ri­ous friends.  Be brave with your­self, be bold. Remem­ber that every­thing starts small.  Take one step, then take anoth­er.  Shine your unique, weird and won­der­ful light, and I’ll do my best to shine mine.  I hope togeth­er we light up the sky for what­ev­er time is giv­en us.

My small step is to write every day, regard­less of depres­sion or mood or sub­ject.  What’s your small step?  What will you do with your one wild and pre­cious life?

Put on your red shoes.  Let’s dance.

Digging to Hell

Digging to Hell

Stu­dents stare into hole to Hell.

Heav­en and Hell. When I was younger, I believed.

I had a friend, Eri­ca, raised on fire and brim­stone. Eri­ca would come to school with ter­ri­fy­ing sto­ries from Sun­day school about del­uges, eter­nal damna­tion, glow­ing cas­tles in the clouds, and peo­ple with wings. We decid­ed to go see these things.

After long dis­cus­sions (includ­ing dia­grams), we deter­mined Heav­en was out of the ques­tion. Being up in the sky, we would need stacks of lad­ders, tied togeth­er one atop anoth­er. Lad­ders weren’t prac­ti­cal to acquire or hide from the recess lady. But for down, all we’d need were a few sand­box shov­els and pails. Hell it was.

Unable to con­vince the sand­box kids to give us their shov­els and unwill­ing to explain to the teach­ers that we need­ed shov­els because we were dig­ging to Hell, we used sticks.

The site of our dig was behind the school lunch­room in a chain-link enclosed area where the grass nev­er grew. Back in the cor­ner, away from tree roots, we dug in peace.

Occa­sion­al­ly we’d mea­sure our work. I’d lay down in the hole, and wig­gle around a bit. Then Eri­ca would lay in it and tried it on for size. Sat­is­fied, we con­tin­ued our fren­zied dig­ging. As we dug inch­es deep­er and deep­er, we dis­cussed what we thought Hell looked like and what we’d do once we got there.

Once we got there, we need­ed spe­cial flame-retar­dant out­fits to pro­tect us from Hell’s fire. On rainy-day recess, we designed paper­dolls to mod­el our patch­work asbestos jump­suits. We talked strat­e­gy for hid­ing from demons (the jump­suits had chameleon pow­ers). We made demon paper­dolls for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

At first, our activ­i­ties went unno­ticed. We were hap­py, con­tent, and stay­ing out of trou­ble. Two lit­tle kids dig­ging in the dirt, no big deal. Then one day Cindy with her blond pig­tails and pink jumper showed up at our hole. “What are you play­ing? I want to play.”

We lied. “We’re dig­ging for dinosaurs. Don’t need help. Go away.”

She tat­tled.

Eri­ca and I received a stern lec­ture about shar­ing, hav­ing more than one friend, and play­ing nice­ly togeth­er. With the recess lady watch­ing we let Cindy play with us as we pre­tend­ed to dig for dinosaurs.

Cindy talked con­stant­ly about her dinosaur. “Look at mine! It’s the biggest one! Big­ger than yours! It’s a new dinosaur. No one knows about. It’s pur­ple. My dinosaur is the best dinosaur. Bet­ter than all the oth­er dinosaurs. I’m going to be famous.”

That was it. This was our hole. Not hers. She didn’t get to be the best. So we told her the truth.

We’re not dig­ging for dinosaurs. We’re dig­ging to hell. Yeah. HELL. And you’re help­ing. When we get to HELL, we go first because we know how to fight demons. We’ll try not to let them eat you, but they might. Your job is to close the hole behind us, so the demons, from HELL, don’t come through and EAT EVERYONE YOU LOVE!”

Cindy’s lips quiv­ered. “Hell? Demons? Eat me?”

Cindy ran cry­ing to the recess lady. “They’re dig­ging to HELL and demons are going to eat every­one I love and Idon’twanttogeteaten!”

Sud­den­ly, half a dozen teach­ers stood around the hole star­ing down at as.

This was a semi-Catholic Montes­sori school. They couldn’t have their kids dig­ging to Hell! We could read about it in the Bible, learn about it in Sun­day school, but we couldn’t actu­al­ly try and /get/ there! They imme­di­ate­ly stopped all exca­va­tion.

At least at school.

Hell Exca­va­tion Site #2 at my house was a great suc­cess. But after a cou­ple months we real­ized Hell was a lot deep­er down than four feet and nei­ther one of us real­ly want­ed to dig that far. So we filled the hole with water and played in the mud instead.

Star Wars Sans Spoilers


Don't ruin it for others! I mean it!

The nos­tal­gia is strong with this one.



I was 14 when Star Wars: Episode IV came out in May of 1977.  My father took my broth­er and me to the now-demol­ished Val­ley Cir­cle The­ater in San Diego.  I remem­ber being dis­grun­tled at hav­ing to go to a movie that Sat­ur­day, as I had a book I want­ed to fin­ish!  I had no idea what the movie was about.  Star Wars?  I didn’t want to see a war movie.  What­ev­er!  It wasn’t even a mys­tery or a musi­cal!

The Val­ley Cir­cle was a huge venue, and it was packed.  We stood in line for tick­ets, and stood in line for pop­corn.  The seats we found were about 3/4th of the way back in the cen­ter sec­tion, and over to the left.  I was cranky about that, too, because all the seats were on one lev­el, and I was very short.  Nat­u­ral­ly, a ver­i­ta­ble pil­lar of a man sat right in front of me.

The lights went down.  The now-famil­iar fan­fare start­ed.  The open­ing titles rolled.  The guy in front of me slouched, and I sat up straight, eyes riv­et­ed to the screen as a spaceship–A SPACESHIP–flew by, tiny lasers pew-pew-pew­ing back­ward at …


An omi­nous­ly dark behe­moth hove into view–a Star Destroy­er!

That was the moment my world changed.

Like many of my gen­er­a­tion, Star Wars ignit­ed some­thing in me.  A pas­sion for sci­ence fic­tion, fan­ta­sy, and orches­tral music lit up, and nev­er left. What’s more, there was a BAD ASS PRINCESS!!!!  I’d nev­er seen a girl kick-ass and take names the way Leia did.

Star Wars changed what I believed pos­si­ble.  A girl could be a princess and a spy and a rebel leader and a sen­a­tor and some­one who shot Storm Troop­ers with the best of them!  With one defi­ant look, Leia Organa rede­fined the roles women could have in any world!

The rest of the orig­i­nal tril­o­gy brought good fun, good adven­ture, and more of my favorite Princess, even though the ewoks made me a lit­tle crazy.  Then came the long, sor­row­ful years of the pre­quels.  Okay,  some of I and II were okay, but for the most part, wow, tru­ly ter­ri­ble.  I hon­est­ly tried to for­get III alto­geth­er as the end­ing made me furi­ous.

And now we have Star Wars, The Force Awak­ens.

Say what you will, I loved it.  Was it a great movie?  Hell no.  Was there great act­ing?  Mm-no, not so much.  Were there any amaz­ing plot twists?  Sor­ry, nope.  Worse, they used some old, crap­py tropes that could have been avoid­ed with just a lit­tle writ­ing.

So what did it have?

SW:TFA had a galaxy worth of nos­tal­gia. It man­aged to con­jure up that old Star Wars mag­ic despite (or because of) being most­ly uno­rig­i­nal.  It brought back old friends, and it set the stage for new adven­tures.  A woman and a per­son of col­or were the main char­ac­ters.  The cast­ing was more diverse than in almost any oth­er recent Amer­i­can-made show.  The CG wasn’t egre­gious­ly used, and I liked the action scenes (we can debate why in the com­ments, if you want).  More, it didn’t take itself too seri­ous­ly.  It was FUN.

And this time, a girl is hav­ing the adven­tures: a non-whiny, capa­ble, intu­itive, kick-ass, Force-sen­si­tive, prag­mat­ic-yet-com­pas­sion­ate GIRL.  This is huge.

I adore the char­ac­ter of Rey, and I’m delight­ed that she held cen­ter stage–right after Han Solo.  She’s been giv­en the cen­tral mys­tery as well as ample room to grow, and I’m look­ing for­ward to dis­cov­er­ing the secrets of the galaxy right along with her.  Thanks to writ­ers Lawrence Kas­dan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt for giv­ing us a young woman to go adven­tur­ing with, and for some­one a new gen­er­a­tion of girls can embrace as their own.

Now just give Finn his due, and we’ll be good.

For the rest of you, go see it, if you haven’t already!  Then come back and tell me what you loved or hat­ed about it.  I want to know what you think!!

Swanky -- in that 'the future is now' sort of way. The Valley Circle Theater.

Swanky — in that ‘the future is now’ sort of way. The Val­ley Cir­cle The­ater.


But please, do tell!!


The House of Shattered Wings: Hark! The Fallen Angels Sing

Title: The House of Shat­tered Wings

Author: Aliette de Bodard

Ele­va­tor pitch: A mys­te­ri­ous young man of unknown mag­i­cal ori­gin, strand­ed in Paris and cap­tured by the most pow­er­ful fall­en angel fac­tion, is forced to hunt a super­nat­ur­al killer.

Why did I pick this book up? Typ­i­cal­ly, I don’t read angel books. But I was will­ing to give fall­en angels in an alter­nate real­i­ty 1930s Paris a chance.

Main Char­ac­ters: Philippe is for­eign­er strand­ed in Paris try­ing to sur­vive with­out call­ing too much atten­tion to him­self. Then he gets caught try­ing to main­line fall­en angel blood, a high­ly addic­tive a pow­er­ful mag­ic-induc­ing drug.

Isabelle has the most recent, but fad­ing, con­nec­tion to Heav­en. She is the newest fall­en angel who hits the pave­ment in the first chap­ter and near­ly becomes sav­aged for her potent blood.

Selene inher­it­ed a bro­ken fac­tion when their great leader went for a walk and nev­er came back. She is in over her head and is des­per­ate­ly try­ing to hold her fac­tion togeth­er.

Made­line is the most capa­ble alchemist in the city, but also a tor­ment­ed angel-drug addict try­ing to for­get the hor­ri­ble things that have hap­pened to her dur­ing her ser­vice to angels.

Thoughts and Mus­ings
Have you ever watched a movie where the two hours lead­ing up to the end­ing cred­its feel like pro­logue, and you think “This is where the movie should have start­ed. Right here. This would be real­ly inter­est­ing to see what hap­pens next.” This sto­ry begins after The End.

The House of Shat­tered Wings is an after­math sto­ry. It’s set in an alter­nate Paris dur­ing the 1930s where the fall­en angels of Heav­en have set up an empire, near­ly destroyed them­selves and every­one else in a civ­il war between fac­tions, and their great­est leader has dis­ap­peared. The main events lead­ing up to the sto­ry have already hap­pened, and now the char­ac­ters are deal­ing with the fall­out. It’s like read­ing about Rome in the imme­di­ate years after its col­lapse.

Start­ing here is a big risk for the author to take. What­ev­er comes next has to be at least as com­pelling as all the back­sto­ry. I think against the odds, it works.

At its core, The House of Shat­tered Wings is sim­ple who-done-it mys­tery. Someone/something is killing peo­ple and the char­ac­ters have to find and stop the killer. Com­pared to the back­sto­ry, this doesn’t sound near­ly as inter­est­ing. How­ev­er, Bodard sur­rounds the mys­tery with lay­ers on lay­ers of com­pli­cat­ed pol­i­tics, ques­tions of faith, con­flict­ing rela­tion­ships, and inter­sect­ing world mytholo­gies. And as the mys­tery begins to unrav­el, it inter­sects with sev­er­al pre-nov­el plot­lines. This inter­sec­tion helps keep the main sto­ry­line as com­pelling as the pre-book sto­ry­line.

House of Shat­tered wings is the first in a series, but it works as a solo nov­el. The end­ing has a sat­is­fac­to­ry con­clu­sion. When the next book comes out, I’ll pick it up.

December Nostalgia


Shiny and Bright

Shiny and Bright


Decem­ber is a rough time of year.  In Seat­tle, the days are dark and the nights are long.  It’s damp.  It’s cold–not cut­ting like Mid­west- or Cana­da-cold, just brisk enough for me to com­plain about.  It’s a time when dig­ging enthu­si­asm and impe­tus out from the base­ment is a bru­tal propo­si­tion.  My cre­ativ­i­ty grumpi­ly crawls back into bed, telling me to fuck off until Feb­ru­ary.  Suf­fice it to say, we’re deep into my least favorite time of the year.

It’s the light I miss most.  A qua­ver of pan­ic squir­rels through me come August when the sun­shine shades away from bright gold, and casts the world in a crisp sil­ver light.  That’s how I know the sea­son has tru­ly changed, when the qual­i­ty of light alters.  I strug­gle to con­vince myself that the slow­ly ris­ing dark is not a sign of immi­nent doom, and it will all turn out fine.   It’s not that bad.  No big.

Eh.  My opti­mistic self is a liar.  It is that hard.  Every year.

With my deep and abid­ing antipa­thy for our night-filled months, I find it odd my most pow­er­ful feel­ings of nos­tal­gia are stirred by some­thing that only occurred in deep­est, dark­est Decem­bers.

My fam­i­ly cel­e­brat­ed Christ­mas when I was grow­ing up, and we were lucky enough to always have a tree.  This was a real tree, that gave off a piney, foresty scent for days after we brought it home.  Our lights were the big, fat, translu­cent ones of gold, green, red, and blue, that came out before safe­ty reg­u­la­tions and ener­gy con­ser­va­tion was the norm.  Some  flashed, some glowed steadi­ly, all burned hot and bright.  Tin­sel, paper chains and gold gar­land decked each bough, and the old glass orna­ments gleamed even in the day­light.  We didn’t mess around.

When I was small (and even not so small), I used to wrap up in my bathrobe and sneak back to the liv­ing room in the mid­dle of the night.  I remem­ber hug­ging the wall as I descend­ed the stairs–I’d read in a spy nov­el that the mid­dle of the treads were what squeaked–and extreme qui­et was called for, you see, or I’d wake up the dogs, who would then wake up my mom. My pre-teenaged brain was cer­tain that would be bad.  Nav­i­gat­ing the black-on-dim sil­hou­ettes in the liv­ing room, I’d find the switch to the Christ­mas tree lights.  Then, when they were shin­ing like sun­lit jew­els in the dark­ness, I’d curl under the tree, nestling amid what­ev­er presents were already there.  I’d look up through the boughs at the dance of col­ors and shapes.  I’d smell the resin, and feel the warmth of the bulbs, and gaze in sleepy bliss for what felt like a small for­ev­er.

And that was it.  It wasn’t antic­i­pa­tion of Christ­mas Day and its var­i­ous cel­e­bra­tions.  It was the sen­sa­tion of being cocooned in warmth and col­or, light and shad­ow.  That was the mag­ic.  That’s what I remem­ber.

So now, though I don’t cel­e­brate Christ­mas, per se, we still find a way to get a tree.  We haul out the flash­ing lights along with the mem­o­ries that come with thir­ty-years worth of orna­ments.  Every now and then this rit­u­al con­jures the child­hood mag­ic of won­der and com­fort, beau­ty and light in the dark­ness, dri­ving away the gloom beyond the windows–and in myself–just for a lit­tle while.

Or maybe it sim­ply proves that I’m more like my cats than I want to admit.  At least I don’t knock the orna­ments off the tree.


What is your bright­est mem­o­ry of Decem­bers past?



Do these 3 things to rebalance your mind

I have a the­o­ry.
The hol­i­days at end of the year are like the uni­verse wash­ing a cos­mic load of laun­dry.
Projects that stalled, ideas nev­er exe­cut­ed, sto­ries unfin­ished, high emo­tion encoun­ters.
Every­thing becomes an imme­di­ate pri­or­i­ty simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. You didn’t think you were going to have to deal with it, but here it is in your face, and it needs your atten­tion right now.
This is a good thing.
It’s the oppor­tu­ni­ty to resolve the year and start fresh in Jan­u­ary. All this dirty chaos laun­dry will fin­ish its wash­ing, but right now it may feel like you’re caught in the spin cycle.

How do you rebal­ance when the uni­verse is try­ing to spin you sense­less?

One: Qui­et your imme­di­ate space
Sit in your qui­et place.
If you don’t have a qui­et place, find one.
Your qui­et place should be some­place com­fort­able where no one will both­er you for 2–3 min­utes.
Close your office door. Sit in your car in the dri­ve­way. Step into the near­est clos­et.
Maybe your life is so crazy right now that the only place you can escape is the bath­room.
What­ev­er your qui­et place is, go there.

Two: Close your eyes and breathe
Close your eyes.
Now breathe.
Inhale through your nose to the count of six.
Exhale out your mouth to the count of six.
Do this ten times. Breath­ing is good.

Three: Open your eyes and look at a kit­ten pic­ture
Open your eyes.
Look at the kit­ten pic­ture below.
Say to your­self, out loud five times, “This kit­ten is okay, and so am I.”


Leave your qui­et place. Go back into the world. Rinse and repeat as nec­es­sary.

Village People



Over The Town. Marc Chagall, 1918

Over the Town. Marc Cha­gall, 1918


It takes a vil­lage to raise a child.  We’ve all heard the proverb.  I think it takes a vil­lage to do almost any­thing, whether that vil­lage is defined by geog­ra­phy, pas­sion, blood­line, pro­fes­sion or adop­tion.  Our cre­ations always require the touch of oth­ers some­where along the line, whether it’s rais­ing a small human or putting a new sto­ry into the world.  Any­one who says dif­fer­ent­ly is sell­ing some­thing.

So why is it that one of our deep­est myths is that of Sin­gle-Per­son-Makes-Good?  What is it about that sto­ry which turns iso­la­tion into an anoint­ment, and the soli­tary fig­ure into some kind of demigod?

The indi­vid­ual as savior/fixer/developer/creator is a sto­ry old as time, but it’s one that is inher­ent­ly untrue.  Its roots can be found in enti­tle­ment and iso­la­tion­ism, and it’s a par­a­digm the U.S. has embraced whole­heart­ed­ly.  It’s the same “go it alone” machis­mo which birthed the myth of the Starv­ing Artist, the Lone Wolf, and the Man With No Name.

Some down­sides to the sto­ic iso­la­tion­ist sto­ry are that the Lone Wolf remains a bro­ken man–I’m look­ing at you, “Out­law Josey Wales”–unless he accepts the com­mu­ni­ty gath­er­ing around him, the artist almost always dies of tuber­cu­lo­sis (or mad­ness), and the Man With No Name always leaves a trail of dead bod­ies in his wake.

As an artist, neigh­bor, and coun­try­man, I’m all for embrac­ing a more flex­i­ble mod­el, one that makes it accept­able to ask for help, to lean on and learn from those across the aisle, to acknowl­edge the con­tri­bu­tions oth­ers make to what we build, and to help them in return, as equals.  I want my coun­try to learn the gift of col­lab­o­ra­tion, not sim­ply dic­ta­tion.  My hope is that we–especially the suc­ceed­ing generations–ditch the tox­ic, fear­ful con­cept of “oth­er” and embrace being an open and equal mem­ber of our glob­al vil­lage.

Here at Ink in the Veins, we’re try­ing to be the change we want to see.  I’m unwill­ing to accept the strug­gling, lone­ly, tuber­cu­lar writer in the freez­ing gar­ret as my par­a­digm.  Our tribe–other pen mon­keys, gamers, artists, dream­ers, visionaries–stretches up the West Coast and extends around the world.  We embrace a glob­al fam­i­ly.  Sure, the act of putting words on paper is often soli­tary, but fre­quent­ly (and in Simone’s and my case, repeat­ed­ly) cre­ation is col­lab­o­ra­tion.  No artist exists in a vac­u­um.  I don’t think any cre­ative per­son does.

Our stories–the ones we tell and the ones we take in–are how we con­nect to our world.  They’re our bridges, our explo­ration, our way of open­ing the door and let­ting in some­thing new.  They’re our way of embrac­ing life’s dif­fer­ences.  They’re also our invi­ta­tions to you.

Ink in the Veins is our vil­lage.  We hope you’ll join us, sit by our camp­fire and share in the sto­ry­telling.  Our vil­lage is your vil­lage, our yurt your yurt.  Please share your thoughts.



WPA 2012: Jail Time




An old view through old bars.


The first evening of Writ­ers Police Acad­e­my, I was lucky enough to draw one of the lim­it­ed spaces for the tour of Guil­ford Coun­ty Jail.  It’s a new facil­i­ty, and much need­ed.  The pre­vi­ous facil­i­ty expe­ri­enced extreme over­crowd­ing, to the tune of  two hun­dred-plus inmates who were bunk­ing on the floor.

The new jail is clean, bright, state-of-the-art, but grim.  That last sur­prised me, though I’m still not sure why.  I haven’t spent much time in pris­ons (read “any”), and what I’ve seen in the movies and on T.V. didn’t seem to touch the real­i­ty.  Hol­ly­wood builds with an eye to view­er reac­tion.  Real jails are built with an eye to security–bottom line–and you can feel the loss of options the fur­ther you go into the facil­i­ty.   It’s there for only one pur­pose: to house poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous peo­ple secure­ly.

One of the first things I learned–and again, it’s some­thing I thought I should have known–is that jails are for peo­ple await­ing tri­al or who have been sen­tenced for a short dura­tion, typ­i­cal­ly less than a year.  Pris­ons are there to hold peo­ple with longer sen­tences.  Jails are run by coun­ty sheriff’s depart­ments.  Pris­ons are run by by the Pris­ons and Cor­rec­tions office in each respec­tive state, or by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

Anoth­er thing I hadn’t con­sid­ered is the type of work the offi­cers han­dle as part of their assign­ment to the cor­rec­tion­al facil­i­ty.  There are no “light duty” assign­ments, per se.  You’re pro­cess­ing peo­ple in or out, or walk­ing the lev­els, or over­see­ing the inmates dur­ing their “free” time.  It’s a full-time, on your feet, always-on-the-alert gig. The only per­son who gets to sit a desk is the offi­cer assigned to the Con­trol Room.


The Control Room

The Con­trol Room
Cour­tesy of Tri​an​gle​.News14​.com

From there, the entire jail is mon­i­tored, the ele­va­tors are con­trolled, and the cell doors can be oper­at­ed.  As you can see, the walls are made of secu­ri­ty glass.  It’s a fish­bowl in there.


Cell Row
Cour­tesy of Tri​an​gle​.News14​.com


The pop­u­la­tion isn’t housed accord­ing to what they’ve been charged with.  They’re housed based on behav­ior or need.  So the can­dy bar thieves are cheek to jowl with the child pornog­ra­phers and the mur­der­ers.  Four to a room.  All just wait­ing for their court date, or their sen­tenc­ing date, or for the case to be dropped, or to be trans­ferred to a prison.

It’s clean.  Spot­less, actu­al­ly.  It needs to be.  With an enclosed pop­u­la­tion, dis­ease spread­ing would be a dis­as­ter.  For all of the off-white paint and bright over­head lights, it’s bleak.  The sense of wait­ing is pal­pa­ble.   It’s full of the pass­ing of time.  Time weighs heavy, press­es against the walls.  It’s an accu­mu­la­tion you can feel, and not only because of the pris­on­ers gath­ered in the com­mon room, or pressed up against their cell doors watch­ing through nar­row win­dows, but it’s also car­ried in by the fam­i­lies and friends in the lob­by, wait­ing for their 15 min­utes of glass-par­ti­tioned vis­it­ing time.

Sher­iff BJ Barnes gra­cious­ly allowed us to tour the facil­i­ty as part of WPA, and I’m grate­ful he allowed us to dis­rupt his exceed­ing­ly pro­fes­sion­al staff for an hour.  As a writer of crime fic­tion, it was a invalu­able expe­ri­ence to see the offi­cers work­ing on the var­i­ous lev­els, learn­ing the intake process, hear­ing an inmate hoot and holler and bang clois­tered behind one of the “inci­dent room” doors, and see­ing how direct con­tact super­vi­sion worked in real­i­ty.  As a cit­i­zen, it was even more valu­able to learn the real­i­ties of cor­rec­tion­al facil­i­ties.  It’s not some­thing we, as a gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, know any­thing about … out­side of fic­tion.

I will admit to being glad when we left, relieved to step out­side into the fresh, soft North Car­oli­na night.  It felt good to look up and see some­thing oth­er than stark white ceil­ings, to smell the dense green veg­e­ta­tion and not the faint-but-lay­ered aro­ma of old gym socks, bod­ies and dis­in­fec­tant.

The out­side is a good place to be.


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