Odds & Ends: “Bad Stories”

Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country  by Steve Almond, Red Hen Press, April, 2018. ISBN 1597092266 (ISBN13: 9781597092265)

Odds & Ends: A brief commentary on a book review on Goodreads.com

The Goodreads Review  BadStor (1 of 1)

“… Steve Almond spent the weeks after the 2016 election lying awake, in a state of dread and bewilderment. The problem wasn’t just the election, but the fact that nobody could explain, in any sort of coherent way, why America had elected a cruel, corrupt, and incompetent man to the Presidency. Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country is Almond’s effort to make sense of our historical moment, to connect certain dots that go unconnected amid the deluge of hot takes and think pieces. Almond looks to literary voices―from Melville to Orwell, from Bradbury to Baldwin―to help explain the roots of our moral erosion as a people.

“The book argues that Trumpism is a bad outcome arising directly from the bad stories we tell ourselves. To understand how we got here, we have to confront our cultural delusions: our obsession with entertainment, sports, and political parody, the degeneration of our free press into a for-profit industry, our enduring pathologies of race, class, immigration, and tribalism. Bad Stories is a lamentation aimed at providing clarity. It’s the book you can pass along to an anguished fellow traveler with the promise, This will help you understand what the hell happened to our country.”

My Comments

Without attacking author Steve Almond’s conclusion about the 2016 election results or the assertion that we elected “a cruel, corrupt, and incompetent man to the Presidency” (the Goodreads reviewer’s words, I presume) – on both of which I reach an opposite opinion – I strongly agree with Almond’s basic proposition that we have “eroded” morally as a people in the USA. I also agree with the points that establish his basic proposition (and could add a few of my own – which I won’t for now). Here are Almond’s points:

  • our obsession with entertainment, sports, and political parody;
  • the degeneration of our free press into a for-profit industry [a watered-down definition of rampant “fake news”]; and
  • our enduring pathologies [on both sides?] of race, class, immigration, and tribalism.

Almond  was recently quoted on the “Soapbox” page, August 2018 edition of Wall Street Journal Magazine. In that column, luminaries from various walks of life are asked to comment on a single topic, which for the August 2018 issue was “Frustration.” Here’s the essence of Steve Almond’s comment in his own words:

Frustration is the underside of desire. It’s an important part of the human arrangement because it’s the thing that makes us realize that we must use patience and persistence to get the things that evade us. Our frustration level in America is incredibly high, … a result of consumer culture dedicated entirely to instant gratification. … So as a result, we’re ready to murder each other because of traffic jams or punch each other out over a burger and fries. When we expect to get everything we want instantly, we become entitled. And that’s what the skilled demagogue and politician [dare I include “professor” or “Senator/Congress-person”?] plugs into, the sense that we should get what we want with no personal sacrifices, with no danger of failure or falling short.

The Wall Street Journal Magazine, August 2018, p. 18

He nailed it. It REALLY IS about our sense of entitlement (or DEMAND), isn’t it? Among many evidences, isn’t that what we’re seeing with the frustrated Left’s insistence on nullification of the Trump presidency, on cries for his impeachment despite the total absence of credible proof of an impeachable offense? Our entitlement malaise was in full swing long before the 2016 election.

Carpe diem. Vita brevis!



My Old Cap

Baseball caps have been part of me since I was a dirty-faced, sweaty little stick-kid on the block in Fort Smith. Sandlot ball on the Werner’s lot across the street, another lot across town. We usually couldn’t field two full teams, so much of the competition was “workup,” “flies and grounders” or some other customized invention of little boys’ imaginations to provide an outlet for the need to run, sweat, throw and catch a ball, be part of a team, and yell at – or with – each other. Part of the passage to manhood.

In 7th – 9th grades, there was church league junior ball with Leon Sparks, David Cone, Wayne King, James Walters and many others. Our hometown had a wonderful old ballpark, Andrews Field, where we played, and hometown was big enough to have over a dozen churches that fielded teams in uniforms every summer. Dads volunteered as coaches and umpires, and lots of parents came and rooted us on or harassed us in a playful way. I remember one dad, Robert Seaborn’s father, who routinely hooted and hollered at me, a catcher, that I needed an apron between my legs so that I could stop the pitches. All good fun.

We boys spent hours in side yard “catch” with a neighbor buddy or two, and in later years on hot, dusty Sunday afternoons there would be occasional country games when Jim King and his older brother Tommy, both of high school age, would let their little brother Wayne and me pile into their un-air-conditioned car after church, then drive us to Bloomer, Branch, Charleston, Paris or other nearby towns to watch them play. Those forays into the rural countryside created a lot of pleasant memories in my mind.

The cap in this photo is one of the reminders of those memories. I can sometimes feel the dust and hear the raucous banter of sweaty summer baseball. Cap (1 of 1)The cap has served me well for five years now, though not in baseball, and like me, it shows more than a little wear and use. There are permanent wrinkles; it’s faded from the store-bought vibrancy of its new days, but it still can shed water and sun, wind and dust as I wear it. Over the years, it has conformed to my head shape. It ‘rolls with’ me as I go about life’s daily activities, so much so that I sometimes forget it’s there. And it bears a few stains that repeated washings have failed to remove, each representing some pivotal moment when the cap’s presence on my head was timely, helpful, useful. Stains, the ‘scars’ of clothing.

The faded area that covers my forehead is bleached by my sweat, yet the Arizona flag embroidered in that space has maintained its true colors. Arizona is a place I love. The colorful flag of blue, red, and gold reminds me that blue and gold are the colors of Arizona. The blue is “liberty blue” identical to the color in the United States flag field of stars, and it also symbolizes the Colorado River, which runs through the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. Red and gold symbolize Spain’s influence through the early explorers and missionaries who impacted the territory, like Coronado’s Expedition of 1540 to the Seven Cities of Cibola. The single, center star is copper-colored and represents that metal, of which Arizona is still the largest single producer in the United States. The thirteen red and gold rays in the top half represent not only our stunning sunsets, but the thirteen original colonies of America.

My granddaughter Nadia recently said to me, “Popop, I love your old cap.” There was a gleam in her young eyes that showed her sincerity. I gulped, when she said it, for two reasons. First, I could feel the love in her vulnerable expression to me. And her remark immediately recalled my love of the tan military garrison cap, World War II vintage, that I also wore as a young kid. My mother gave it to me when I was about 10 and I wore it proudly in play in remembrance of her youngest brother, who was killed at age 20 in that horrible war.

Baseball caps, military caps – all caps — fade, grow threadbare and ultimately go the way of all things, as do their owners and users. But the symbolisms retain deep, emotional and mental significance to those who come in contact with the history, and the people who created that history — the blood, sweat and tears behind the symbols.

Carpe diem. Vita brevis!

© June 16, 2018, by Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved.

Father & Lawyer: Mercy beyond privilege

A friend and I had a brief conversation yesterday, via email, about lawyers and the lawyer-client privilege. We could seamlessly have included the doctor-patient relationship, the priest-confessor relationship, and the husband-wife relationship, all of which enjoy a special status in the eyes of the law.

But my friend’s interest was in the broader context of the comparison of lawyers with Jesus. Hardly an apt comparison, you say? Take a look at a couple of descriptions of Jesus in ancient scripture.

1 John 2:1-2 (NIV), where the Apostle John wrote:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

An advocate with the Father — that is, a lawyer who represents us in the presence of God. Not only does he represent, but he advocates on our behalf. That’s the job of a lawyer. But look at his status — the Righteous One. Know any other lawyer in the world who can claim that title? I don’t. Oh, some have tried, but they all fall short of the glory, don’t they.  law

This Righteous One, our advocate, is and has been for all eternity “the atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the whole world.” Wow! Now want to compare worldly lawyers?  Yet, he — the Righteous One, the Atoning Sacrifice — is our legal representative who goes before the Father, deals with the facts and implications of our case and advocates on our behalf for our good, having already paid the price of our sins. Justice in the purest sense of the word is accomplished.

Hebrews 4:14-16 presents a similar picture, but here Jesus is the Great High Priest:

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Not only is Jesus our attorney in the role of advocating for us before the Heavenly Father — just like an attorney advocates before a judge and jury. But unlike earthly attorneys, He is the Righteous One, sinless and yet understanding our weaknesses because he’s “been there and yet not done that.” His role as our attorney or advocate includes an aspect beyond the reach of earthly lawyers. He understands our weaknesses because he was tempted in all the same ways we are. Yet he did not sin, a very different result than we have.

His role as attorney and priest for us equips us to approach God with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace. Jesus has our backs, he understands our temptations and sins, and stands to argue on our behalves. He affirms our attorney-client relationship and our priest-confessor relationship with him. And because he has ALREADY become the atoning sacrifice, the propitiation, for our sins and those of the whole world, the ultimate price is and forever has been paid for our transgressions. We deserve punishment, but instead we receive only mercy and grace. A pardon, if you will.

No other attorney I know would or can do that. And certainly no other attorney I know would do all this for free while s/he pays the whole price for us. Only Jesus, Son of God, the First Adam, could and would do that. He did it.

For us, no punishment. No outrageous fee statement. No betrayal of the attorney-client or priest-confessor relationship. Our backs are covered forever.

Carpe diem. Vita brevis! More meaningful than ever.

© April 13, 2018, by Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved.

The Reason

a true story from Gut Check: Random Snapshots of Humankind, a story collection of mine.

I remember $13 Stella was playing that day as I struggled to write. Music wiggled into conscious space and effortlessly distracted me, as always – another playlist with simple chords, this one morphing to the complex fingerstyle guitar of Mason Williams tunes – Sunflower, Train Ride in G, Long Time Blues, Le Chanson de Claudine, Classical Gas and I’ve Heard That Tear-Stained Monologue You Do There By the Door Before. I was snared, caught up in the tunes, fingering chords in my head like a drunk in a bar, three sheets in the wind, imagining himself Clapton or Emmanuel.

Music – that irresistible side door, a vortex that pulls … and transports to jaunts down winding back roads, alone, in an intimate conversation with another, or in great company in a symphony concert. Time escapes unnoticed, like a cat burglar. But I’ve run ahead, … or backward.

* * *

That day, I arrived on the 271 from Seattle shortly after 6:00 a.m. in a cold, pre-dawn, blowing rain that typifies the wet side of Washington State in February – or most of the year. The day’s forecast for intermittent snow and ice loomed in the back of my mind. Way too early for sensible folks to be out and about, it felt. But I had decided the night before to go, no matter what, because I had to finish an appellate brief due in just over a week, had left all my research at the office in preparation for a no-clients day of editing and rewriting, and hoped to do some fun creative writing in the window of time between my arrival and walking the last block to the office in Skyline Towers in time to open at 8 a.m.

The slow ride across the lake on the floating bridge respun the gauzy web of sleep that had been interrupted by my early alarm, and by the time the 271 pulled into Bay 5 of the Transit Center that stretches between 108th and 110th Streets and sits conveniently across from Starbucks in Bellevue’s commercial district, my mind had begun to lose resolve, thanks to the forecast and the bus driver’s parallel stop in Bay 5 with the exit door positioned inches away from a gushing downspout that splattered a sheet of rain into the exit. Six a.m. on such a nasty morning is no time to mess with paying passengers, but no matter the protests from us, the driver seemed virtually delighted as he stared back at us in the rearview mirror and mutely refused to adjust position.

Ducking, I jumped through the spout with as little exposure as possible and dashed fifty yards through shallow puddles crossing the street to Starbucks, my attaché slamming from its shoulder strap into my side with every stride. The wind almost unhinged my shoulder and the door as I pulled it open and lunged inside, where I stamped on the weather mat and shook like a half-drowned Labrador, then stepped to the counter to order. A line quickly grew. “Doppio espresso macchiato and bacon-gouda-and-egg sandwich,” I said, already visually choosing my seat in the back of the store when my hot drink and sandwich arrived with a nice smile and ‘thank you.’

I set my cup and sandwich bag on the small table between two comfortable leather chairs, then doffed my trench coat and hat and settled in to write with pad and pen. But loud chatter was intensifying as more coffee addicts arrived – another damned distraction. Nibbling at my breakfast and gulping my macchiato, I watched the last stragglers alight from the first surge of Friday buses and set course for offices or Starbucks in this city beehive of commerce, noting that most of them seemed calmer than I was feeling. But their calmness was not to be lost on me, I reminded myself as I picked up my pen and began to write – just what, I can’t remember.

As the familiar, folksy opening lines of $13 Stella began to play from the sound system, I looked up with a smile, as if to an old friend. Hadn’t heard that song in a coon’s age, and it brought comfort and warmth to me like a familiar old favorite flannel shirt, raveled around the collar and cuffs, but welcoming me with warmth as if from a crackling oak fire.

In that same upward glance, my eye was drawn to a commotion at the entry that snapped me back to reality. A man lurched through the doorway from the rain and bluster outside – alone, no buses in sight, so he must have walked a distance. He was all out of sync with a shambling, jerky walk that contradicted the flow of rain, wind, and the music.  His upper body couldn’t seem to decide whether it really wanted to be associated with his legs. His head, tipped at a 45 to the right from his hump-shouldered torso, bled streams of water off his short-cropped hair and down his neck and face. His thick eyeglasses were fogged and rain-splattered, the shell of his off-white parka ran in rivulets where it hadn’t already soaked through, and his splayed legs trembled like a newborn calf standing for the first time. Yet he had no cane or other support.

Pausing on the weather mat for just a few seconds, he fumbled with his bulky over-the-shoulder bag, then looked up and shouted toward the baristas, “Gooood MOH-neen!” followed by a gaping smile that revealed oversized, crooked teeth bookended by a string of spittle between upper and lower lips on each side.

Folks in that part of the country are typically more than a bit reserved, especially at this early hour, but the baristas surprised me when all three chorused in unison, “Hi, George!” One cheerily followed with “We’ve got your venti Pike’s Place ready with a dollop of heavy cream! And your warm Michigan cherry oat bar!” A few of the earlier customers looked up, then went back to their conversations.

George grinned from ear to ear, shuffled and lurched over to the counter to accept and pay, then turned back to a table for the disabled near the doorway. He slowly worked his way into the chair with his back to me as I began to write about this scene — as if magically inspired. $13 Stella’s spell was broken.

Head down, buried in my writing, I wrote in a burst of speed, oblivious to the fact that in a few minutes the Starbucks store virtually emptied of customers headed toward the door to their day jobs. Then the  sudden quiet screamed, and as I looked up, I saw that George and I were the only patrons left. At that same instant, he spun in his chair to face me, looked over his glasses with head cocked to the right, and shouted, “Aw you DWAH-WEEN ME?” I was confronted with an almost-harsh reality, as if accused of grand theft.

Words ducked and covered in my brain, a feeling of guilt surged and my mind raced with how to answer him, knowing at the same time that I was guilty of no wrong … yet. I also knew I could carefully – and honestly — answer “no.” But that felt at once untruthful … because I WAS sketching him … in words. Depicting what I’d seen from the moment he came in the door like a half-drowned puppy — awkward and clumsy in his affliction, yet comfortable with himself and warm surroundings … at least, comfortable enough to endure the risks as odd man out. In my own moment of awkwardness, I opted for truth.

“No,” I said. “but I am writing about you.” And as I arose and walked toward his table, I asked, “May I join you?” with no idea what to say next, if he approved.

After looking at me, pokerfaced, for several awkward seconds, he broke his silence with that clumsy smile, struggled to stand, and reached a large, gnarled hand toward me. I took it in mine, locked eyes with him. “George, good to meet you. I’m Michael.”  We sat down at his table and he slurped at his venti coffee, some of which had already made its way down the front of his wet parka. He was not spit-shined and clean-shaven, but he was clearly not a derelict with no internal pride.

“What brings you here so early on this nasty morning?” I asked.

George looked up at me, straight into my eyes with another awkward pause, then said proudly in his staccato manner, “I haf-ta go-ta wuhk.”

“Where do you work?” I followed.

“At thuh downtown Post Office in Seattle,” he said. Seattle sounded like “See-ATT-ull” in disjointed slow motion. But he picked up speed and rolled out his life story concisely despite the staccato. “I come heah to catch thuh bus to See-ATT-ull. My pawents kicked me out uh thuh house buhcuz they said I need tuh learn tuh live on my own. I been livin’ by myself for four yeahs, and I been at thuh Post Office in Seattle for twelve yeahs. I live alone, I walk heah to catch thuh bus to go tuh wuhk five days a week an’ I see my pawents once a week. They are vewy old. My fahver is an engineah, my muhver is an Engwish pwofessa, and they bofe taught at UW all my life. But they ah wetired now. I don’t have any uhver famly.”

I was humbled … gulping back tears … while being overcome with admiration for this courageous man. In internal conflict, I shouted and argued vehemently with his parents, but was forced to acknowledge to myself that they must be brave and insightful people who had instilled him, their son, with personal pride and courage, who had gifted him with the determination to take charge of his own life, to live in the freedom and independence available, even in his limited body, to walk out his journey as an overcomer, not a victim.

What sixth sense deep in George gave him the inkling that I, from thirty feet across a room in a coffee shop, was thinking and writing about him? I wasn’t staring. What made him turn and confront me, a total stranger, with such a bold and simple question that commanded an answer? I did not ask.

There’s that music again.

Steppin’ right along
Like it ain’t nothin, baby
Sump’n jumps up and just blows your mind
Sump’n come along
To make you stronger, baby
But you know it got to take some time

‘Would it be wise or weak?’
You wonder, baby
Goodbye to reason, hello rhyme

Somethin’ some time, come along and blow yo mind

~ lyrics to Steppin Right Along by Bill Withers

Carpe diem. Vita brevis!

© Feb. 13, 2018, by Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved.


What a great, enchanting … bewitching … word!  Merriam-Webster defines it thus:

to be worthy of; merit; to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward or requital
Doesn’t that sound absolutely marvelous?!  We all want to be recognized, have our feelings legitimized, to be found worthy. And we are that daily, if we’ll just listen to all the wonderful advertising on radio and TV about what we deserve today — a break at McDonald’s, a Viking River Cruise, a longer vacation, freedom from worry, … and especially that wonderful five-course meal that offers us every culinary delight possible, or that gelato or double mocha-frappa-yada-yada with sprinkles.
And then, when you balloon, you can go to one of the amazing clinics around the nation and get those extra pounds lasered off, tummy-tucked or lipo-sucked right out of there so that you can go back home to sit on the couch for nightly episodes of “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Walking Dead,” NFL Football or whatever.
Don’t forget, too, to call the landscaper and the housekeepers to schedule their services; after all, you mowed yards or cleaned house as a teenager — at least when forced to by your parents. So, don’t you deserve your leisure now, especially if you’re retired?
That’s how we get to where we are today as a nation. Quite simple achievement, really. Citing some highly disturbing statistics about our national health picture, Dr. Daniel Amen, well-known American psychiatrist and specialist in brain health, put it this way in a recent interview:
ISIS has nothing on our [American] food industry. … Highly processed, pesticide sprayed, high-glycemic, low-fiber food-like substances stored in plasticized containers.
But it’s NOT just the disturbing trend — really, national travesty — toward overweight that has brought this description from Dr. Amen. He cites studies and a great deal of evidence to show that the size of the brain [a direct indicator of its health and functionality — the larger the brain, the better it functions and serves] is negatively affected by our weight. As we become more and more overweight, the size — and, therefore, effective functioning of — our brains decreases.  Brain_Age
FACT: About two-thirds (2/3) of Americans are overweight. Dr. Amen calls this “the biggest brain drain in the history of the United States.”
FACT: Forty percent (40%) of the American population is obese.
FACT: This is a HUGE health problem in our nation — in terms of job performance and functionality, family relationships, medical and insurance costs, facility costs (e.g., costs to provide shopping scooters, etc., for the obese;  transportation costs for larger accommodations on airliners, buses, trains, etc.
Among the many workable ideas presented by Dr. Amen in an interview about how to regain your brain — which he describes as wholly possible for most people — the best takeaway for me was this thought:
Use Purposeful Thinking to overcome the ANTs in your mind — those Automatic Negative Thoughts that divert your mind from the important. For me, some of those ANTs are how much I DESERVE to make me feel better, how much ease, pleasure and comfort I DESERVE.
On the cusp of some drastic health issues 24 years ago, I made a decision: I will not succumb to the ‘comfort zone’ of what I deserve, and I will not give in to the standard medical practice of taking pills to cure my ills and risk factors.
I got up off my sedentary backside, cut the chain to my office and desk and got out into the great outdoors. On my feet and legs, swinging my arms in walking and jogging at first, then going full speed with rigorous road cycling. Not for trophies, championships or accolades — but for my health. Defying the doctors’ prescriptions for Lipitor, Celexa, a cocktail of uppers and downers to regulate my mood, and other health-damaging drugs, I took control of my own well-being. Not in a cavalier way, but with consultation from alternative-medicine folks whose ways and suggestions have proved to be of high value.
The biggest challenges for me on that path?
  • Breaking the sugar addictions. As Dr. Amen recommends: “Kill the sugar and foods that turn to sugar before they kill you.” Simple sugars, bread products, desserts, etc.
  • Breaking the mental barrier of “I’m too tired, too old, too deserving to ….”
  • Making the conscious decision to eat those things that are good for me.
  • Continuing the long, long quest for healthy sleeping habits to get adequate sleep every night.

“It’s never too late to regain your brain, and you’re not STUCK with your brain as it is. But you have to have a PLAN.”  ~ Dr. Daniel Amen, Founder of Amen Clinics, Double Board-Certified Psychiatrist, Neuroscientist, Ten-time New York Times Best-Selling Author, and Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

Carpe diem. Vita brevis!

© March 4, 2018, by Michael E. Stubblefield.

Today’s Sign That the End is Near

That title popped into my mind as apropos, but I confess – it’s not original. I’m borrowing it from Libertarian Dori Monson, host of the pre-game, post-game and halftime shows on the Seahawks Radio Network and the Dori Monson Show, an afternoon radio talk show in Seattle (KIRO radio 97.3 FM). Dori, by the way, was usually a breath of fresh air for me amid the cacophony of crazy voices bouncing around in the vacuous, politically correct Emerald City by the bay, back in the day when we lived there.

Which brings up a “sensitive topic” as today’s sign … call it a reality check if you will, … or anything else, for that matter.

Quixote by Picasso
Don Quixote by Pablo Picasso

I sat in a three-hour writers’ critique group yesterday morning, and our group finally reached the last presentation of the day given by an older professional woman with a PhD (I don’t know her field of expertise, but would guess it to be either childhood education or pediatric psychology) who is writing a book on children’s manners. Very effectively (in my opinion) she had crafted the piece in a light-hearted tone that positively modeled children’s behavior in various situations like meeting others, table manners, having a guest in their home, being a guest in another’s home, receiving a gift, apologizing for a mistake made or a word hastily uttered, etc. And rather amazingly, the author had developed the whole work in rhyme with a rule of etiquette at the end of each verse that tied in nicely with the poem’s meter and rhyme.

In accord with our group format, critique time came at the end of her four-page presentation. Most of the members of the group, fifteen to twenty strong, are over 50, although three are younger.

The first critique came from an older male engineer who writes very boring stuff – all facts, devoid of emotion. He said, “I noticed that of your three separate poems, two of them involved only boys, and the girls’ names didn’t show up until the third. Is there some reason for that?”

I mentally dismissed his question as petty and would have responded, “So what’s your point?” But while the author, genteel lady that she is, was giving her answer, the lady from New Jersey next to me interrupted, “Yeah, and you used the name ‘Juan.’  Why not choose a gender-neutral name? There are plenty of them out there.”

Plenty of what? Gender-neutrals? Exactly what IS a ‘gender-neutral’? Is it human? What do we call it, besides … ‘IT’?” I wanted to ask. Does anyone know of someone — anyone — who has a ‘gender-neutral’ child? I don’t. I know there are names like ‘Hunter’ and ‘Dakota’ or ‘Kanye’ that may be gender-neutral, but what does that help in a story?

I have three grandchildren who know their genders, each with the drives generally typical of their respective genders, and not one of them has been trained to have those drives, nor have they ever been told that they should act a certain way because of their gender. All participate in group and individual sports, all are comfortable in artistic endeavors, and not one of them has hinted at being offended by the fact that we sometimes refer to them by their genders. They know and see that we value them for WHO they are, not their gender. And they don’t need any self-appointed do-gooders to mess with their heads by suggesting that they might be confused and might want to start feeling some other way. Nonsense!

So what’s the point of all this dogmatic flapdoodle about ‘gender neutrality’? What’s it really, REALLY about? What are the people who have such narrow and rigid parameters trying to accomplish?

Tilting at windmills, they are. I think it’s about ADULTS — wounded, angry, self-absorbed and issue-driven, bear-baiting malcontents — who need something around which to build conflict, something to tear down so they can build their own ideal worlds. And what better way to foster conflict than to inject it into children’s activities, friendships, lives and encounters with the screwed-up adult world of mean-spirited insistence on childishly requiring others to see things and act as you do.

Yes, history is rife with cases of men abusing women, of women being held down below their potential, of being kept in lower employment, wages, positions of influence, etc. So we’re going to fix that by insisting no one has a gender?

Just because some men are unfair in relationships with women – both personally and professionally –  doesn’t mean that all men are unfair, or that all women are abused or held back. So what good can possibly come of such a paradigm as being ‘gender-neutral’?

Back to the writers in yesterday’s critique group. Supposedly-mature adult writers gathered for the specific purpose of helping each other become better writers, whether working in drama, crime, science fiction, children’s fantasy, historical accounts from a couple centuries ago, character studies or whatever.

We were all in that room to gain insights, perspectives and technical helps from other writers that would help us improve our writing for greater reader interest, more clarity, more creative uniqueness. I was emphatically not there to have others force, or even suggest, political viewpoints that I must incorporate into my life or my writing. They can present such materials in their own writings, and I am equally free to accept or reject those views. My choice. Free choice.

The world works well enough in my opinion — though not perfectly — with the cornucopia of individual likes and dislikes, harmony and conflict that come down the pike every day, and without dredging up stuff to get offended about. I ‘get it’ that people  often have differences in viewpoints, and that these differences can sometimes be divided along gender lines. But where is the resolution of such conflicts to be found in eradicating gender – as if that could really be done?

One would have to be pretty clueless to be unable to distinguish whether the other people in the room are male or female. That’s usually a pretty simple process: evaluation of voice tones, faces, body shapes and other tendencies are all hints at whether a person is male or female.

The effort to remove gender discrimination (as opposed to a rigid insistence on removing all gender references) grew out of — and rightly so, IMO — the desire to eradicate biases and stereotypes based on gender alone. The aim was, and should be, toward equality of value, equality of respect, equality of opportunity and recognition – all worthy and appropriate goals. But bringing equity and equality into human relationships does not require that we refuse to see people for what they are in the physical sense. The unvarnished facts show that males and females still exist, and usually with different physical characteristics that set them apart. To teach or require otherwise is to ignore what’s right before our very eyes. What a tar baby!

Carpe diem. Vita brevis!

© February 28, 2018, by Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved.



A Walking Parley … ‘Like I’m Walkin With a Talkin Machine’

As I topped the hill and started into the next curve of the trail, a voice hailed me from back down the hill a ways. “Hey, wait up!” Words from an authoritative, distinctly-female voice. I turned quickly to see a woman slight of stature, short-cropped blonde hair and a wiry frame with a light sweater tied around her neck, rapidly approaching. An older woman … maybe around my age. Unaware that she had been behind me, I wondered how she so suddenly materialized out of thin air. No bother, just curious.

True to my politeness training (thanks, mom), I stopped and waited, almost obediently. The waning day lingered just above the far west horizon like a kid getting a last taste of fun before scurrying home to dinner. I was in no hurry, having knocked out most of – and thus, slowed down on – my 5-mile walk on this off-bicycle day of cross-training.

She of the commanding voice soon caught up. Noticeably, she was rambling quick words even as she approached — noting the maturing sunset, the wasteful running of water from a truck-tank pipe left gushing precious agua below us. “Here, of all places, in the desert!” she objected.

“Yes,” I responded as I turned to resume pace. “I called 9-1-1 to get help or permission [city property, I thought], but they were of no help and seemed ….” But she interrupted.

“Idiots!” she yelled. “They don’t care, they just don’t CARE!”

How to change the subject? I fished in my mind under my breath, feeling a bit trapped. “I love this area!” I outwardly enthused. “So much to do, so many places to enjoy recreation, the mountains, the walking trails, lots of road cycling lanes.”

“Oh, you cyclists are crazy!” she screeched in response. “You take your lives in your OWN HANDS!”

My mental response, which I could not squeeze in the conversation edgewise, was, “Of course! Don’t you? You’re out here walking and flagged me down without any earthly idea who I am. What if I’m a serial killer? What about the snakes? Muggers? You got out of bed this morning risking a heart attack that is most likely – per medical science – within the first thirty minutes of arising. Why? And why are you ranting to me, a total stranger, about the risks I take?”

But she had moved on to another subject even before my thoughts fully developed, and she was seemingly devoid of recognition that she had hailed down a human being with a different viewpoint.

An old James Taylor song popped into my mind. Pertinent part says, “It’s like I’m walkin’ with a talkin’ machine.”

We walked on together – I was near home and had no need to hurry. She rambled about women having no chance in this world, etc. The varying subjects over the next six minutes rose and fell like waves on a stormy beach, relentlessly pounded by the next. I went into brain-auto-pilot with an occasional “um-hm” until she exclaimed that she is a “very smart woman” because her “mother told [her] so!”

“That’s what mommas do,” I suggested with a smile. But her monologue overrode the thought and skipped away like a flat stone thrown across a lake. I took the last turn toward home, voicing back over my shoulder, “Nice talking with you! Have a great evening!”

Predictably, she didn’t hear my farewell and never broke stride, still gushing like a talk show host as she blended into the settling dusk.

That ‘taking your life in your own hands’ idiom? I recalled a card bought when I reached Vilano Beach in St. Augustine, Florida on my bicycle – the culmination of a 3,555-mile ride across the continent – apparently a DANGEROUS adventure I shouldn’t have taken. LOA-1 You’ve probably read it before:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain

Twain should have added: “Take your life in your own hands.” Life is to be cherished, not held close — or closed — in fear.

Carpe diem. Vita brevis!

© February 6, 2018, by Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved.

Deer Hunters


A blogger recently added up the deer license sales in just a handful of states and discovered there were over 600,000 hunters this season in the state of Wisconsin …

Allow me to restate that number: 600,000!  That means that over the last several months, Wisconsin’s hunters became the 8th largest army in the world.  Hunters 2

That’s more men and women under arms than in Iran. More than France and Germany combined.  Deer hunter

These hunters deployed to the woods of a single American state — Wisconsin — to hunt with firearms, and NO PERSON WAS KILLED.

hunter 8Moreover, that number pales in comparison to the 750,000 who hunted the woods of Pennsylvania and Michigan – 750,000 hunters, ALL OF WHOM RETURNED HOME SAFELY.

Toss in a quarter million (250,000) hunters in West Virginia, and it literally establishes the fact that the hunters of those four states alone would comprise the largest army in the world.  Then include the total number of hunters in the other 46 states — millions more.

The point? ________

America should be forever safe from foreign invasion with that kind of home-grown firepower! Equally important: those gun-owning hunters don’t go out to kill people. Many (most?) have had at least one firearm safety course (many are military veterans) and know how to avoid accidental shootings of their fellow human beings.

Hunting… it’s not just a way to fill the freezer.  It’s also a matter of national security.  hunter-with-a-rifle-gun

That’s why all enemies, foreign and domestic, want to see us disarmed.  Food for thought, when next we consider gun control.  Overall it’s true, so if we disregard the assumption that hunters don’t possess the same skills as soldiers, the question would still remain…

What army of 2 million would want to face 30 million, 40 million, or 50 million armed citizens?

For the sake of our freedom, don’t ever allow gun control or confiscation of guns.

AMERICA!  Designed by geniuses. 

Constitutionally-armed legal citizens are not the problem!

This blogpost courtesy of a friend who shared it with me. Author unknown. All photos are from the public domain, worldwide web.

Christmas Attitudes

City life, any year: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, ….” ~ Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Christmas, any year: “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!” ~ Tiny Tim Cratchit from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843)

Christmas. A time for celebration, for joy, for giving and receiving. Yet for some, a time of special pain: memories recalled, sickness suffered, loved ones lost, physical, emotional, financial or spiritual pain.

Maybe part of it has to do with attitude? Preconceived notions? Stubbornness? But maybe not. Maybe it’s the circumstances that seem to control, whether outward or inward.

Regardless, I join Tiny Tim in praying that, for my friends and family who suffer pain of any sort, they shall experience jubilation at the Advent. For those who endure torturous physical pain or illness, I pray for your healing and comfort. For those who encounter the harsh memories of the past, of the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or financial difficulties, I pray for the security of faith, the gift of God, Who knows your need and supplies, even if “just in the nick of time.”  And for those who struggle spiritually for any of many possible reasons, I pray for your self-forgiveness, even as God has forgiven you. May you breathe deeply and drink from the Water that quenches all thirst.

I saw a big man yesterday, standing in line in a sharp business suit perfectly tailored to his fit, lots of nice bling on his arm and hands. Yet he scowled at the inconvenience of waiting, the “lower people” who waited on him. Purchase complete, he walked to his Maserati and drove away with angry power.  Maserati Quattroporte

On my morning walk today, I had to abandon the sidewalk momentarily for an immigrant worker who was trimming trees with a small chainsaw and loading the offal in his old pickup truck. He had a shirt wrapped around his head to catch the sweat and dirt.

David Bacon photo_migrant worker
Photo by David Bacon

Yet he paused as I approached so that I wouldn’t be inconvenienced by the noise and flying chips. As I came even with him, he politely said, “Good morning sir!” with a cheerful smile of uneven teeth.

Attitude does matter.


“God bless us, every one!”

Carpe diem. Vita brevis!

© December 6, 2017, by Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved.

Timeless Insults from the Top

Churchill and Trump, among a host of notables, are well-known for their ability to toss out insults about their political opponents at convenient — or inconvenient — moments. Just a few thoughts on that timeless topic here.

“He is a monkey just put into breeches.”

John Adams
John Adams

“Half-envoy, half-pimp.”

gouverneur morris
Gouverneur Morris

Trump tweets? Not at all! These are descriptions of, first, John Adams (then vice-president to George Washington), and, second, Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816, author of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and called “Penman of the Constitution).  The insults were written by Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania (1737-1804).

Second U.S. President John Adams (a brilliant intellect, but said by some to have been a misanthrope) called Alexander Hamilton “a Creole bastard,” and said, “That bastard brat of a Scottish peddler! His ambition, his restlessness and all his grandiose schemes come, I’m convinced, from a superabundance of secretions, which he couldn’t find enough whores to absorb!” (Hamilton, a brilliant man himself, was one of several illegitimate children of his mother.)

Alexander Hamilton

In the presidential campaign of 1796, two of the four candidates, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, said of each other:

Jefferson’s campaign:  Adams has a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

In return, Adams’ men called Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

Thomas Jefferson

It appears that the Founding Fathers of our nation, great men though they were, were no more above berating others, when the tactic was deemed expedient, than any of the politicians of our lifetime who use such derogatory statements as “I like people who weren’t captured,” or the “basket of deplorables,” etc. Nastiness is not time-bound to any unique period.

Carpe diem. Vita brevis!

© December 4, 2017 by Michael E. Stubblefield.