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Monday, November 24, 2014

The Connection

YAllfest, y'all.

It was a huge event in Charleston a few weeks back, the biggest names in Young Adult fiction. I mean, the biggest--James Dashner, Veronica Roth, Gayle Forman, etc. And I was there, baby. I was there.

As a volunteer.

Photo: #YALLFest2014 this weekend. Veronica Roth, Michelle Hodkin, James Dashner...all the big names are in town.
Waiting for Dashner.
I managed long lines, took tickets, helped authors sign their books. Fans came from as far away as California and Canada and stood in lines for several hours. The authors were so very professional. They wanted to spend time with their fans, each and every one of them. But when you have 300 waiting for your attention, you can only spare 30 seconds.

My wife asked if that's the experience I wanted as an author. I answered NO. But YES. Then NO. I answered NO-YES. Which is no answer at all.

I recently heard Bill Murray say that fame isn't as much fun as you think. The money, well, the money is nice, but you don't need fame to have money.

I don't feel like I need 300 people waiting for my sloppy signature. That's the NO part. The YES part is the connection the authors were making with readers. Connecting with a reader is, without a doubt, one of the most gratifying elements of writing. When they have the same experience reading my stuff as I did writing it, that's the final door.

The YAllfest authors felt this, too. I know Michelle Hodkin did.

She was so personable that I had to point out, very diplomatically, she had a lot of fans waiting. "A lot," I said. "As in A LOT." She said, very sweetly, "I'll stay as long as I have to." We had to explain, very diplomatically, that's not the issue. If she continued taking 3 to 5 minutes with each fan, she would be there until midnight.

But the fans wouldn't.

The process of writing is one of frustration and exhaustion, but one of immense gratification. The experience of a story unfolding in my head, of navigating through the fictional maze to find a cohesive plot, of having gooseflesh when I type the last word...well, that's the stuffing.

But it doesn't shine without readers.

You can only dance in the mirror for so long before it becomes an absurd routine. The audience, at some point, needs to be part of the dance. The challenge is to get the story out of my head, to get it on paper for others to experience. That's the wall to climb, the maze to navigate. Readers aren't just a part of the process.

They're essential.

I don't need a line of 300. An email every now and then will do. Its all about the connection. Or maybe I'm drinking my own Kool-Aid, and I just want to hear how awesome I am.

That's quite possible.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

An Otherwise Hard and Dark Life

It started with an email.

It was polite and gracious. Not asking for anything, just a short note that stated how much she enjoyed reading my stuff. Heartfelt, it was one line that got me. One line that went:

"[Your books] afford me much pleasure in an otherwise hard and dark life."

I don't know her or her situation. Don't know where she lives, how old she is or what she looks like. It doesn't matter. That one line. A hard and dark life.

Darkness comes different shades.

I grew up in a stable family, a good home, and a safe community. I grew up with all benefits of an education and a capable body. Not disfigured, I maintained friendships and romances. With all of those gifts, why would my life become dark?

I don't know.

And that was the problem. I had no legitimate reason to feel hopeless and alone. Confused, scared and depressed. On paper, I was living the American dream. So why, then? Why would my life also feel hard and look dark?

There are children in this world suffering atrocities greater than the imagination. I recently read the confessions of a serial child molester and what he did to his 10 year old stepson for a year. Nightmares had nothing on that boy's life. What would he give to have my life?

And yet I still saw clouds, what I thought were clouds, for miles and miles. I saw no point to all of this, felt no value in life. Despite having a family and girlfriend-turned fiance-turned wife, I felt alone. I didn't have a right to feel this way.

And that made it worse. Because I did feel this way.

Depression has no bias. If someone hasn't experienced the weight of its gray sky, it looks like weakness, like petty self-centeredness. You just need to will yourself back to mental health. Right? Suck it up, pull up the bootstraps, get tough.

I got lucky.

I had good teachers, good counselors. I had good genes that didn't reach for an easy way out. I wanted to find a way through it. After years of  hard work--Zen retreats, group therapy, individual counselling--I slowly saw the sun. I realized, because of the work, that the sun was always there. I just needed to look toward it.

But, in the meantime, there is the work. There is always the work. And in the middle of the long, dark night--when the work is gritty, is sweaty and nasty and filthy--its nice to know someone else is out there, someone else has been there, and understands.

Understands the sun in behind the clouds.

It always has been.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Let It Be. And Then Some.

I learned Zen from Joko Beck in the early 90s. I had sat meditation with other teachers, but Joko made practice accessible. No wacky koans, nobody getting smacked with a stick. With Joko's practice, I understood how to do it. And why.

Kyosaku: the stick of enlightenment stings a bit.

The bones of her technique were thought-labeling.

An emotion, she described, is simply a bodily sensation tied to a thought. When we sit on the cushion, when we practice during daily life, we label our thoughts and experience the bodily sensations that accompany them. We rest in the moment, whether it be pleasurable, painful, angry, or happy.

We let it be.

This was life changing. Instead of running from uncomfortable experiences like embarrassment or shame or fear, I allowed the moment to unfold, remained present with the sensations and identified my thoughts. It wasn't easy, but for me there were no alternatives. Life, at that time, was not working.

I've always been resistant to the practice of positive thinking, of using meditation to feel good. It struck me as self-centered. The point of our life shouldn't be to feel good, but to serve life--allowing the moment to be what it is, to be present with the yuckiness, if that's what's there, instead of steering  toward something we like...those yummy feelings.

Rick Hanson's book The Enlightened Brain approaches practice from a unique perspective, tying spiritual practice to neuroscience. The physical structure of the brain, the way it's wired, affects how we think and feel. It colors our perceptions, forms our life. And our brain is neuroplastic. It can change, reshape.

Our mind can change our brain which can change our mind.

Hanson's guide to meditative practice.

We must be aware of thoughts and bodily sensations, to let down our defenses and allow the present moment to unfold. This is still the first step and, for most of us, very difficult.

I often find myself, in times of stress, ruminating on my misfortune, wallowing in self-centered thoughts. When I feel mistreated or wronged, whether justified or not, I spend a lot of time clinging to thoughts of anger and revenge.

Of being right.

But the active process of letting go of these attachments, to stop clinging to thoughts and feelings of vindication or self-centered sorrow, is as equally difficult as the first step. I like my little stories of power and revenge and victory.

Because they're all about me.

Let it in refers to filling the void, the emptiness that is left behind after letting go with something more productive. That's the key word, productive.

When I'm in a good space, I tend to have more space for all of life--the good, the bad, the ugly. I have more ability to use all the crayons.

This, in a way, is how I see "positive thinking" as a beneficial practice.

If I am practicing with a particular situation, let's say a difficult person, I can BE present with that experience. I can let GO of my reactions, but thirdly, I can fill that void with thoughts and feelings of compassion, of love. This, Hanson says, is the neuroplasticity of the brain at work.

Neurons that fire together, wire together. 

Practice is simple. And, for most of us, the hardest thing we'll ever do. But, honestly, what else are you going to do?


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The "Free Will" Question

I once asked Elihu Smith, dharma heir of Joko Beck, if free will exists, or are we just a series of chemical reactions, an identity formed and programmed by our past experiences and memories, enslaved by our DNA?

Elihu answered, "Who's asking that question?"


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Brainiacs Included

"You listen to really smart audiobooks," my wife told me.

I had just finished The Future of the Mind and had started into The Elegant Universe. The chapter on string theory was playing when she used my truck.

"It doesn't mean I understand it," I replied.

I had a chemistry class in college. This was the late 80s. The professor was this stuffy Alfred Hitchcock doppelganger that lectured with authority to an auditorium of 300+ undergraduates. If he caught you talking he'd hold up his piece of chalk and ask with a booming voice, "Do you want to teach? Mmm? Do you?"

And he'd hold that piece of chalk up until all 299 undergrads were staring at the offender. The silence would drag out and then he'd say, one more time, "Do you? Mmm?"

I never talked again.

But this professor taught us that atoms operated like billiard balls, bouncing off each other. And the more energy they had, the faster they collided. Seemed easy enough, until I learned somewhere else that the billiard balls metaphor had been disproved decades ago.

Someone forgot to tell Alfred.

In the 70s and 80s, we learned that protons, neutrons and electrons were the fundamental components that made up reality. Turns out that's not even close. Now there are gluons and quarks and gravitons. In fact, the smallest fundamental particle is debatable, although string theory suggests that the fundamental particles aren't point particles but strings. Tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny tiny strings.

The crazy thing is that the laws of physics operate differently on this tiny ass fundamental scale than they do on the macoscopic, or universal, scale. Einstein's theories didn't apply to the microscopic, one the reasons he didn't buy into quantum mechanics. But physicists continue to create theories that are bridging the differences.

But here's my second level of fascination when listening to brainy audiobooks: physics isn't just for calculators. To most of us, it seems like physicists are nothing more number crunchers with minds that process faster than Deep Blue. But intelligence shouldn't be measured only by one's ability to calculate. Creativity is an essential ingredient, to imagine, to see beyond our constraints, to fearlessly open ourselves to the unknown. Many of Einstein's groundbreaking work started as thought experiments.

That means he dreamed them up.

There are physicists that spend an entire lifetime cooking up theories to explain reality. These theories have to be mathematically sound and, if possible, experimentally verified. If the theory warrants enough attention, it will be dragged through a gauntlet of criticism, of peers poking and prodding and doing everything to tear down their creation. If it's still standing after the last bullet is fired, then maybe--maaaaaaybe--it'll be accepted. In the beginning, Einstein was scalded for casting doubt on Newton's gravitational theory, a theory that had been a cornerstone of physics for hundreds of years.

Turns out Einstein was right.

But that's not always the case. Watch Particle Fever on Netflix. It's a documentary on the Geneva particle collider. You'll see a community of off-the-charts brainiacs behaving like middle America does on a Sunday afternoon. Instead of rooting for touchdowns, they're placing bets on bosons and upquarks and shit that resembles fireworks. The results of these historical experiments could verify theoretical physicists ideas. Or disprove them.

Imagine a lifetime of work, everything you've conceived of, your legacy, proven wrong beyond-a-doubt in one fell swoop of the particle accelerator. There's no consolation prize for 30 years of effort. And yet physicists work this way, a lifetime effort they may never live to see realized. Einstein was still working on theories on his deathbed because creativity exists only in this moment.

Brainiacs included.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

How to Fall

I didn't create this story. I heard Joko Beck once tell it. I don't think she created it, either.

But nonetheless.

There once was an enlightened man who climbed a ten-story building to repair a roof. He admired the flow of traffic, how the roads curved and the streetlights glowed. Before he began meditation, he recalled how life was like standing in the middle of the road where cars whizzed past and life felt so harried and confusing. Now he understood where the cars were going. He had space.

The work he needed to do required that he dangle halfway over the edge with one leg. It was very dangerous work, so he followed all the proper safety precautions. With a tool belt around his waist and a harness keeping him firmly secure, he went about the repair.

But despite his efforts, the safety harness that kept him clipped to the roof failed. Through no fault of his own, a strap had frayed and the enlightened man began his fall. Being a ten-story building with pavement below, his death was imminent. Down he plummeted past the ninth floor.

The eighth floor.

The seventh.


Somewhere near the fifth floor, a resident was watering houseplants on her balcony. As the enlightened man plunged past her, he could be heard talking.

She heard him say, "So far, so good."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

My Tomorrow

One is too many, a thousand not enough.

This quote is usually reserved for AA meetings, but not necessarily exclusive to booze. As humans, we all want something, whether it’s another cigarette, a larger slice of pie or our children home safe. Naturally, we want to feel to feel good. It’s built into our instinct, our sense of survival. Written somewhere on our DNA is the need for a happy ending, that when this is all over the narrator of our life will announce in classic Disney tone, “And they lived happily ever after.”

Dystopia reveals the light of our lives by walking through the dark. It explores the true nature of our predicaments, the tragic adventure of the human experience. At times, it shows how dark we can become. How brilliant we are.

But no story really ends. It simply transitions into another. One ending begets another beginning. When we look back on our lives, those catastrophes that seemed like mountains are merely anthills that made us tougher; those eye-high hurdles made us stronger. We loved deeply and fought valiantly. If we’re lucky, we achieved our dreams: our children are safe, our grandchildren are healthy and our vast wealth, the proof our successes, the currency of our value, is inexhaustible. Happily ever after.

But when the time comes, when our ending nears, will we let go so easily?

We’ve worked so hard to become who we are, to build our castles and protect our young. Is it not unfair to walk away from what is rightfully ours? Especially when so many people in this world waste their lives, those moments that now—lying on our last bed counting our remaining breaths—seem priceless. It seems ludicrous—from our old, decrepit vantage point—that anything should die.

But death is our ending. Happily or not, it comes. It is part of life, we say, but those words leave our lips much easier before we’re sucking our numbered breaths, when we’re clinging to our last moments. Those moments that seemed endless and inexhaustible slip away as we draw our last breath. When the last one arrives, will we grasp at it, or let it go freely?

Is one too many, and a thousand not enough?


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What Tomorrow May Bring

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Trigger Happy

6,500 languages in the world. I only know one.

It's the language I learned. In kindergarten, it was Dick and Jane and their dog Spot. In grade school, please and thank you. By high school: shit, ass, fuck. (Full disclosure: that was middle school.)

Joko Beck had a story about rowing a boat on a foggy day when another boat smashes into your stern. You're furious with the careless dipshit that just scratched your paint job, but you discover the boat is empty.

Where does the anger go?

The boat didn't cause the anger. It was the thoughts about the dipshit driving it. The boat simply triggered our unconscious beliefs about ourselves and life. In some teachings, the boat is a Buddha graciously showing us where we're stuck.

It is not the anger.

This past week, my Buddha has been Bobby.

Bobby is a lap dog I'm babysitting. At his house, Bobby has the life. In the morning, his owner prepares him cantaloupe. At night, it's a scrambled egg. He gets three walks a day and has run of the house.

Bobby's not cool with our house. Bobby doesn't like wet grass. He wants to pee on the deck. I carry him into the yard to pee-pee. But Bobby's smart. When it's time for pee-pee, he runs away. When I get him, I stand in the yard with a handful of doggy snacks singing, "Pee-pee, now. Pee-pee, now" and watch him sprint for the door.

Trigger, meet anger.

I'm angry because he won't do what I want, like stop pissing on the deck and come when I call. Those are my thoughts, my beliefs...that he should do what I want when I tell him. And they're irrational. I know this because I have friends that work wonders with horses and dogs. They understand a language that animals understand. I'm floundering in Dog Speak 101.

Recently, I began reading Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg and discovered a whole new language. Over the last 16 years as a college teacher, I've come to realize how my words affect others. What I say and how I say it can trigger reactions. When there are 30 students, there are a lot triggers.

Choosing my words and actions carefully can prevent unnecessary reactions, bridge impasses, and can stimulate growth. Just as importantly, it can shine the light on my own triggers and what lies beneath my actions. What is the true nature of experience? Where does the anger go?

Here in a minute, I'll let Bobby outside. He will graciously show me my belief systems.

Pee-pee, now.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What I Wasn't

Flash fiction: a story told in a few words.

By some accounts, the shortest story ever told was by Hemingway:

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Six words is all it took. Six. I never get tired of rehashing all the possibilities, all the heartache and complexities that come along with selling baby shoes, never worn, via a Want Ad.

Recently, I submitted a story to a science fiction website, 365 Tomorrows. I had 600 words to tell a story. They ran it. It goes like this.

It started with a flash.
Like the Big Bang, an explosion that swallowed everything. The pain sunk deep into my head, and then was replaced with blurry colors. There were no edges to the blobs floating before a background of gray. The pinks and the browns and the silvers and the blues shifted in silence that was so deep and perfect, like floating in a pristine ocean.
And then the silence was gone, obliterated by the sounds of a tapping keyboard and a young man talking. His name was Ben. He just broke up with his girlfriend, said he was ready to spread his wings. You know, fly a little.
“What’s wrong with her left eye?” Madeline asked. 
She was the one making the keyboard rattle. A colorful blob merged into my line of sight and then—SNICK—my left eyelid slid up. More colors.
“Hand me the drops,” Ben said.
The drops were cold and slippery. They burned my eyes. I blinked the world into focus. Ben’s hair hung over his ears and he hadn’t shaved in days. His eyes were green, like the green of new growth. The white collar of his lab coat was pulled up.
He flashed a bright light in my left eye. “How’s that?” he asked. “Can you see me?”
He spoke like I was deaf or old. I was neither.
“Give me something. Sing a song, belch…something.”
“Stop badgering her,” Madeline said. “She’s not ready to talk.”
An argument ensued. I was left staring at a gray ceiling with an attached rail that encircled us with a heavy plastic curtain. I realized, not until that moment, that I couldn’t move. My body was like wet metal shavings, the table hard and cold. Madeline made the keyboard dance while Ben fiddled with a tray of medical tools.
That’s when the memories came.
I remembered Christmas and my dog and the time Simon brought flowers to work and sang and I blushed. I remembered all the little good things and the little bad things, how they hurt and how they pleased. That’s when I smiled.
“There,” Madeline said. “Give her the mirror.”
Ben stuck something in my hand. He lifted my naked arm, wrapping his hand around my dead fingers. I saw my red hair spread over my shoulders. My skin was fair and my eyes were green, like emeralds.
“Heather.” I watched my lips move. That was my name.
Madeline kept tapping the keyboard. Ben danced around the table and rubbed my hands and legs. The feeling came back with pins and needles. The sensations came in dense waves, as if my body had fallen asleep. Ben massaged my arms and shoulders and feet. I sank into the incoming tide of memories to escape the discomfort, each one a jewel that reminded me who I was.  
There was sledding and the time I learned to drive and a funeral and my first kiss. I remembered my life.
Ben was rushing to the other side when he slipped. Falling, he grabbed the curtain. The metal rings pinged as the plastic ripped away. We weren’t in a small room, not like I thought. I let my head roll to the side. I saw more tables like the one beneath me. On them were nude women with red hair spilled over their shoulders and fair skin. Their eyes were closed, but I knew they were green.
“Damn it, Ben.” The keyboard clattered at high speed.

And those sweet, sweet memories went away.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What Tomorrow May Bring

Our potential for good is matched by that of destruction. At any moment, change can fall on the world, people fight and die, and our comfortable lives can be lost to corrupt leaders. These are circumstances we can’t imagine, but places like this exist in the world today. 

What if tomorrow brings that grave reality to us, and we wake to find our lives in flux, poverty and confusion? Perhaps humanity’s insatiable appetites drive us to the brink of survival where sanity is redefined and life, as we know it, changes forever. 

Tomorrow, our lives could be very dark. 

Dystopian tales take us to these lightless places where suffering is a daily chore. But they also show us that in the deepest part of the night, pitched against a backdrop of despair, a beam of hope will shine brighter than ever before. And in our darkest moments, it can show us the way back. 

On May 1
Follow 11 authors into 11 dystopian tomorrows, where the dark portions of our humanity have taken hold of today, where the fabric of society is torn and greed consumes us all. Follow us down a dark path.

And find out what tomorrow may bring.

Open Minds, Susan Kaye Quinn
The Moon Dwellers, David Estes
Prison Nation, Jenni Merritt
Daynight, Megan Thomason
Stitch, Samantha Durante
The Girls from Alcyone, Cary Caffrey
The Narrowing Path, David J. Normoyle
The Rain, Joseph A.
Virulent: The Release, Shelbi Wescott
External Forces, Deborah Rix

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What Tomorrow May Bring

Monday, April 21, 2014

Reality is Relative

We map the universe with five senses
Interpret reality with our mind
We rely on this body
What a poor vessel it is

Get the sequel to Halfskin for 0.99 
until the end of this week. 

Clay has arrived.

The Halfskin series

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Moderation is a Bitch

I don't have to lose weight. But I should.

In my mid-40s, things don't work the same. I need glasses to watch a movie and I read notes like Redd Foxx. I don't sleep through the night without a trip to the bathroom. If you're 40+, you know there are other things.

My son could eat lard for breakfast and still be a rail. He'll  burn it off with 19 year old metabolism and a weekend of skating. I exercise five days a week, but I can't eat lard. In fact, the older I get, the less indulgence I can afford.

I was listening to the audiobook The Mindful Way Through Depression that introduces the practice of mindfulness by eating a raisin. By engaging all the senses, he transforms the simple act of eating one raisin into something exquisite. I eat my food like a desperate wolf. When my wife made vegetarian burritos, I stared at the lone burrito on my plate, aware of my thoughts.
  • This isn't going to be enough.
  • I need chips.
  • I just want to be happy.
What was interesting was that these thoughts were non-negotiable. I WILL eat another burrito. I WILL eat chips. And, later on, I WILL eat dessert. This, by the way, did happen.

I had lunch with a friend who recently got into shape. He described his process of slowing down when he makes decisions, pointing out that we tend to rush our actions when we know they are compulsive so we can't change our mind.

Eating is challenging, no doubt about it.

Things like cigarettes or booze, we can cut those out. Not eating. Eating presents the challenge of self-deprivation and self-control. It's not just being fully present with my dull oatmeal, it's being fully present with hunger. Saying no to an awesome dessert. It's one burrito, not two. It's being fully present with life as it is, regardless of how I feel about, with no guarantee I'll lose weight or reduce my nightly trips to the bathroom.

Moderation is a bitch. I think the Buddha said that.

Clay (Sequel to Halfskin coming this spring!)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Who is the Teacher?

I've learned more as a teacher in the past 15 years than I did as a student.

It's the moments that I stop being a student that I fail as a teacher. I feel less like an authority, more of a messenger. I don't have anything special, I've just been doing it longer than most of my students.

When I first started, I handed out a lot of I don't knows to questions. But as the years accumulated, I found answers and passed them along. Now, fifteen years later, I look like an expert (to some). However, it doesn't seem special any more than walking or running, which, to a toddler, might seem quite impressive.

The challenge, as I see it, is to find a way to connect through the embodiment of beginner's mind. What's it like to hear about a concept for the very first time? How can I present this information, this experience, in a way that someone can digest?

This is assuming that all students come with sharpened pencils and shiny apples. If they did, it would be like sailing across glass. But they bring with them the messiness of life--the emotional hardships of home, the confusion of identity and the conflict of survival. They bring with them everyday shit that makes the waters choppy.

For some, it's quite stormy.

Can I find a way to cut through the wind, to be a beacon in darkness, to share with them direction? Not if I have no light to show, no direction to point. But if, every day, I arrive at work as a student in front of the class, I might do so.

But if I am a student...who is the teacher?

Clay (Sequel to Halfskin coming in March!)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Ticket to Dignity

Let's be honest, it's a speed trap.

The road had recently changed from 45 mph to 35 mph when the town decided to just pull the 45 mph signs. It still FEELS like it should be 45. Ask the people getting busted on a daily basis, they'd agree.

My ticket in the process.

So I head down ticket alley and see a car pulled over on the right shoulder. I follow the two cars ahead of me into the left lane, giving the officer plenty of space to get back to his car. Twenty seconds later, I've got lights in my rearview.

I find the nearest side road, wondering if he's going to bust me for going 38. Or maybe my speedometer is broken, or there's a taillight out, or he doesn't like blue pickups.

"Do you know why I pulled you over."

"No, sir."

"You are required by law to slow down 10 mph below the speed limit when passing flashing lights."

This, I did not know. Apparently, switching lanes isn't enough.

I give him my info. My driving record is spotless and I wasn't going unreasonable fast, so I expect a warning. I get a ticket for $165 with no points. He tells me I could've gotten a $500 ticket and 6 points. This feels ludicrous, but I politely take the ticket.

I'll go to court in February. I'll plead guilty and, in most cases, the judge will knock the ticket in half. I'll pay the $80 and leave and never, ever, ever pass flashing lights without slowing down.

But here's the thing.

I want to plead my case. I want to pay $0. I can afford the fine, I won't get the points, but I want to win. I want to plead not guilty and explain to the judge that there was an entire lane between me and the officer and that, in fact, I wasn't speeding. I could even claim to be going under the speed limit. He didn't have a speed gun on me.

But all that's not true, and I know it. I wasn't an entire lane over. And I know exactly how fast I was going because I use cruise control on that stretch. All I have to do is lie and, maybe, I'll get the fine reduced even more or, hallelujah, have it thrown out.

How common has dishonesty become? We see it practiced in courtrooms, in politics, and everyday life. We teach our children to be true to themselves and others but, when it comes right down to it, we sometimes knowingly lie, even if it's tiny, insignificant self-deceptions for our own benefit, because it's not the truth that matters but what you can prove. I'm guilty of this. Sometimes, it happens so automatically, I don't catch it until later. Am I really going to sell my dignity to beat this ticket?

The measure of a man is what he does with power. --Socrates

Here's what I hope happens: the judge looks at this ticket and reads the officer the riot act for such misjudgment. Here's a citizen with a clean record and, by switching lanes, was clearly observing your safety. The fact that he didn't slow down to 25 mph does not warrant a ticket. Now give me your badge, you are relieved of duty.

Here's what will happen: pay the fine and leave.

And from now on, Mr. Bertauski, slow down.

Clay (Sequel to Halfskin coming in March!)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Get Broke

The car is in the shop. Again.

15,000 miles and it's in the shop for the third time. The steering linkage broke in the Target parking lot. At least it didn't happen on the Interstate at 70 mph.

Blessings counted: 1

But this is the third time in six months. Come on, now. At least, we discussed, it's still under warranty, but, you know, we should get something for our troubles, right? A little payback for pain, suffering and general hassle. It's starting to feel like a lemon. There's no chance we can get a new car out of this, but maybe we can haggle for an extended warranty to restore our confidence in Nissan.

I show up with speech rehearsed when the service technician says, "Yeah, we're not paying for this."

"I'm sorry. What?"

Larry the service technician goes on to explain that that part can't break unless there's been an accident, in which case the warranty is null and void. We haven't been in an accident and there's no indication of an accident. If you have eyes, you can see that. Larry has eyes.

"Here's what happened," I explain. "We backed up, it broke. That's all I know."

"Something could've bounced under the car," Larry says. "So, no warranty."

Now, here's what I think. Larry is generally a good-spirited guy. After all, we've been to him twice already. He smiled, helped us out, even hooked us up with a loaner the last time. Larry, however, doesn't return phone calls in a timely fashion. Say, for instance, he tells you he'll call later today. You might hear back from him tomorrow. In that respect, he was consistent.

My wife was none too happy with Larry's phone habits and had called the service manager. The service manager couldn't have cared less what she had to say about Larry and his spotty track record.

I tell that story to finish this story. Larry wasn't not happy to see me this time. I don't mean someone-drank-the-last-cup-of-coffee unhappy. It was the sort of I-show-you-whose-phone-habits-blow sort of unhappy. Paranoid? That's possible. But Larry didn't go to bat for us. And now they want $1000 for the repair. Well, guess what? I'm towing it somewhere else, so who got the last laugh now?


Clay (Sequel to Halfskin coming in March!)