Travels in the Low Country…

This is the “Low Country.” Before our recent trip through the “Old South,” I knew almost nothing about this 187 miles of South Carolina coastline with its barrier or Sea Islands. Traditionally, the phrase refers to the former slave holding areas where rice and indigo, both labor intensive crops that thrived in the hot, wet, sub-tropical climate, were the foundation of its economy. I’ve always had an affinity for the “big sky” vistas of the western high desert, but this astonishingly beautiful landscape with its long chartreuse-colored sea grasses, blue sky, live oak, Spanish moss, and tidewater is equally striking.

Charleston, with its well-preserved historic district and well-deserved reputation as a food lover’s destination, was our first stop, and since arriving we’ve marveled at its wonderful South of Broad mansions, enjoyed the tastes and flavors of the city, and the soft sibilant ya’lls of its residents. After four days of acclimation in the “Holy City,” our first true experience of antebellum life was a stop at Magnolia Plantation, an estate established in 1676 and still held in trust by descendants of the Drayton family, its original owners. 

Magnolia Plantation’s Main House

For nearly two centuries, the Draytons amassed great wealth through the cultivation of “Carolina Gold,” a special variety of rice, but following the Civil War, no longer able to rely on slave labor, the estate fell on hard times forcing the owners to sell three-fourths of their property and convert the plantation into a ceremonial garden. 

The visit to Magnolia Plantation was not our first encounter with America’s slave owning past. In 2016, M and I spent three weeks visiting revolutionary and Civil War sites in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia as well as the battlefield at Gettysburg. We both find it difficult to reconcile the natural beauty of these areas with the inhuman treatment of their formerly enslaved populations. In 1860, there were 4 million slaves in the United States, 400,000 of them in South Carolina. Magnolia Plantation “owned” 235. Today, Magnolia is public garden, but it is difficult to walk its grounds in the Carolina heat without feeling the suffering of its enslaved population.

Our first real taste of today’s Low Country came as we approached Beaufort, a remarkably beautiful small city, that was our first layover on the trip south from Charleston. As we traveled through this landscape, we listened to two books on Audible – Pat Conroy’s South of Broad, a novel set in Charleston, and Tony Horwitz’s Spying on the South, a retracing of Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1850 journey through the South, looking at how things have or have not changed. Both books have added to our appreciation for the culture of the region pre and post-Civil War.

The South Carolina coast is dotted with barrier islands, from Edisto, Hunting, Lady’s, and Daufuskie (where Pat Conroy taught school for one year) and on to Port Royale and Hilton Head Island. The Low Country is nominally limited to the South Carolina coastal waterways, but the islands continue into Georgia with Saint Simons, Sea Island, and the Carnegie family’s Cumberland Island and on even further, into Florida, with the picturesque village of Fernandina on Amelia Island.

This is a breathtaking corner of America that few of us know well. It is well worth a visit, both for its beauty but also as a reminder of the nation’s checkered history. Wonderful antebellum homes stand in contrast to rows of slave quarters on those same estates. Charleston and Savannah are charmingly restored cities that reveal themselves as examples of America’s interest in historic preservation. Both were important in early America’s history, Charleston as a thriving port and Savannah as the center of its cotton-based economy, but both relied on enslaved people to build and maintain those elegant homes. I can’t help but remember that the 1994 bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil took place in Savannah and may be a suitable description of the region as a whole.

On Amelia Island the passage of time and its contrasts are especially noticeable. The island has a colorful history having been ruled over five centuries by eight different flags. In the 20th century it was the center of the shrimp fishing industry, but competition from overseas decimated the fleet, taking it down from over 100 boats to the three that call it home port today. Similarly, during the Great Depression the island was suffering from the economic devastation of the times but two giant companies, Kraft and Rayonier came to the rescue building enormous pulp mills, one to the east, producing fiber for cardboard, and one to the west making cellulous for use in making paper, clothing and plastics. Both plants produce smelly emissions and their unsightly industrial architecture dominates the otherwise beautiful Low Country landscape. The old town itself is quaint, well maintained, and from its streets the tourist is unaware of the industrial ugliness but leave the harbor on a river cruise and the two plants bracketing the town’s lovely historic center are a blight.

Pulp Mills on either side of Fernandina Village on Amelia Island

This is the “new south” struggling to establish a new identity. Communities rich in history are confronting the ugliness of a slave holding heritage, and others devastated by foreign competition seek to reinvent and recreate an economic infrastructure with good jobs that will sustain them. America’s current political divisions mirror the divide this historic region has always struggled to mask between the haves and have nots.

Wild horses on Cumberland Island

We have loved exploring this extraordinary landscape and learning its history. In 2016, we traveled in the Tidewater region of Maryland and Virginia, an area with an equally rich colonial history. We visited the homes of five American presidents – all slave owners. It’s clear to me from our travels now and then that America will forever be tarnished by the scar of its inhumane legacy. It is equally clear that America has made great strides in its effort to heal this wound. I can only hope the we continue the healing process and pull this divided nation together for our future.

** Footnote: Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Horwitz, the author of Spying on the South, died earlier this year, at age 60, while on a book tour promoting this book.

One Life to Live…

I’m a big James Taylor fan. I own most of his music – recorded, printed, and filmed – but my favorite song is undoubtedly the one whose first and last lines are “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain’t nothing to it
Nobody knows how we got to
The top of the hill
But since we’re on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride

The secret of love is in opening up your heart
It’s okay to feel afraid
But don’t let that stand in your way
‘Cause anyone knows that love is the only road
And since we’re only here for a while

Might as well show some style

Give us a smile

Isn’t it a lovely ride?
Sliding down
Gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It’s just a lovely ride
Now the thing about time is that time
Isn’t really real
It’s just your point of view
How does it feel for you
Einstein said he could never understand it all
Planets spinning through space
The smile upon your face
Welcome to the human race
Some kind of lovely ride
I’ll be sliding down
I’ll be gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It’s just a lovely ride
Isn’t it a lovely ride?
See me sliding down
Gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It’s just a lovely ride
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time

Try not to try too hard/It’s just a lovely ride.

It’s great advice, but “Welcome to the human race” is equally important. I’ve been able to enjoy the ride because I’m privileged, and most of that privilege has nothing to do with hard work. Today, it’s a combination of age, experience, and genetics that helps me appreciate my good fortune and empathize with others less fortunate.

I’ve written a lot about death and dying lately. There’s just too much of it. My friends are dying “natural” deaths. I read the obituary of another one this morning. I know that’s normal, but Hurricane Dorian is wreaking havoc in the Bahamas, and mass murderers in El Paso, Dayton, and Odessa took 39 lives last month… and that’s not normal. Those 39 and the residents of the Bahamas don’t deserve it and can’t enjoy the lovely ride no matter how hard they try. Sadly, their lives might have been spared if our elected officials had the courage and wisdom to legislate on climate and guns. Shame on them, and shame on us for not electing representatives willing to acknowledge and confront these problems.

But, it isn’t only death that deprives us of our friends and family. In the last few years I’ve lost a number of friends and family members–not to death but to dementia. In many ways, death is easier to cope with, more normal. It’s sudden and final. Dementia, on the other hand, is an especially cruel slow taking that leaves the body but destroys the brain.

A Facebook post by the daughter of an old friend of mine caught my eye recently. She was celebrating her Dad’s birthday and wrote that he “may not be able to Facebook anymore, but he still makes me laugh.” It was touching but enigmatic, so I asked her to explain. She told me that he/they were dealing with dementia. Mild now but progressing. I was devastated. He and I have known each other for 55 years. An accomplished painter, actor, and musician, I saw him in an Arthur Miller play Off-Broadway and heard him play guitar and sing at the Troubadour in LA, watched his regular gig with a musical group on the Andy Williams TV show, and marveled at his 30+ years in a leading role on a well-known soap opera.

We even “attended” Mick Jagger’s wedding to Bianca together, i.e. stood outside the Hotel de Ville with all the locals in St. Tropez to see the couple emerge from the ceremony and get in their Rolls Royce.

Other Singers

My favorite story about our friendship also took place in St. Tropez, and I never let him forget it. He and his wife were visiting from New York, and on that particular day, we were walking along the harbor-side quai toward Senequier, the famous people-watching bar, to have a glass of Rose de Provence, when a young woman with a pronounced Queens accent ran up and said, “Oh, Dr. Larry (not his name), I’m missing you.” Dr. Larry was the character he played on the soap and this star-struck young woman was desperate to know what was happening on the show while she was on vacation in France. “Dr. Larry,” smiling and gracious, filled her in, gave her an autograph, kissed her on the cheek, and she departed with a big smile. That’s just the kind of person he was. I suspect he’s still just as gracious. I don’t want to imagine him any other way, least of all as someone struggling to remember where he lives, how to drive, or who the person standing in front of him is.

Dementia touches more and more of us these days. I have a family member and two other friends dealing with the diagnosis and it isn’t just the patient that suffers. Time and again I see how the stress and pressure of patient care weighs on friends and relatives asked to make critical care decisions. It’s sad and painful. I’m reminded of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, who retired from the court to care for her Alzheimer’s afflicted husband, but who, in a particularly cruel turn of events, stood by helplessly as he attached himself romantically to another dementia patient in his Memory Care facility.

Try not to try too hard
It’s just a lovely ride
Now the thing about time is that time
Isn’t really real
It’s just your point of view
How does it feel for you
Einstein said he could never understand it all
Planets spinning through space
The smile upon your face
Welcome to the human race

Welcome to the human race. Remember, we only have one life to live, so we have to live it now in the best way we know while holding those important to us close.

After this blog was published, I received a comment/note from a friend whose husband is declining mentally. I asked if I could publish her response and she said yes. The names are removed, but here’s the comment.

This piece spoke to my heart. Since ____ was diagnosed with cognitive decline, we are living each day the best we know how. We sometimes reflect on the passage of time and those memories that are dear to us, but more importantly we have a heightened awareness of the present. In some ways our life is like being at sea again. Each day was a new dawning. Sometimes there would be a squall on the horizon and we would batten down the hatches, put on our safety harnesses, and wait. Then as suddenly as the squall appeared it would dissipate and with a smile we would share a tot of rum. I remember a time we had to seek shelter from a storm off Newcastle, Australia. We had no detailed charts of the harbor. We called the Coast Guard for an assist, but they weren’t able to help. Miraculously we found our way, relying on each other to steady the course. Once again, we find ourselves in uncharted waters. With some courage and a little know how we will hold each other close and greet each new dawning.

Thank you, Jack for a time to reflect!

A Steyn for a Stain…

Sebastian Gorka

Remember him? Sebastian Gorka? He’s like Bozo, the inflatable clown punching bag, he just keeps bouncing back. He’s such an unlikely success story – if this is what success looks like – a Hungarian anti-Semite and neo-Nazi sympathizer is granted a US Green Card on the strength of his marriage to an American heiress, and together they seize onto a feverish alt-right dream they can pedal to right-wing American media.

In a calculated move, on arrival in the US, thanks to his wife’s conservative connections, he meets Robert and Rebekah Mercer, underwriters of Breitbart News, and soon he’s a Breitbart on-air darling. In time, he moves over to Fox News where he serves up self-important, European-styled expert opinion on immigration and terrorism. Next, in a giant leap far beyond his inflated resume’, he impresses “the chosen one” and gets himself appointed Deputy White House Assistant for Counter-Terrorism.

But almost immediately, in a “you can’t make it up” moment, he’s busted by airport security for trying to carry a handgun on an airplane at Reagan National Airport. He must have thought that White House trailer-trash has “open carry” privileges like they do in Hungary. Thank God, they don’t…so, pink slip in hand, he finds himself back on the street. But, like the aforementioned punching clown, he bounces back to Breitbart and eventually back to Fox. Then, in a stunning behind the scenes move, his wife, gets herself appointed to be press secretary for – are you ready – US Customs and Border Protection. You really can’t make this stuff up.

Well, maybe you can. In March, even Fox couldn’t take more Gorka and severed the bond. Undeterred, The Gork took his schtick over to Sinclair Broadcasting, an even lower level right wing outlet. But, Fox needed to stir the pot with another Gorka, so they dredged up a guy named Mark Steyn. Yep! Here he is – same stubble, same piggy eyes, and same phony English accent. No, he’s not British despite the stage accent. He’s Canadian, and not even university educated, but high school in Birmingham, England, seems to have given him the twisted tongue he imagined necessary to succeed in America. It was surely the accent and the Gorka likeness that impressed Fox News, because this Mark Steyn is a fraud. He has no relevent education, no expertise, not even Gorka’s made-up credentials as a “counter-terrorism” expert. No, Mark Steyn is just another Euro-trash phony. Phony accent. Phony affect. Phony expertise. Just another carefully contrived, stubble-faced, empty-suited TV bully. 

Mark Steyn

Where do they get these guys? I saw Steyn for the first-time last week on one of my visits to check out Fox’s breathless attack on socialism. It was Tucker Carlson’s normal time-slot, but Tucker was lying low and the Gorka look-alike was filling in. It seems twelve of Carlson’s advertisers jumped ship when he ranted about how immigrants make America “poorer, dirtier, and more divided,” and Fox needed to give Tucker some vacation time to let things cool down, so Mark Steyn got the call.

Here they are: Gorka and Steyn. Too bad you can’t hear their bogus, RP (Received Pronunciation) British accents. They’re both straight out of central casting’s “Made for TV,” mold. Just the ticket for “the chosen one.”

Two of a Kind

We know how the anointed one loves the central casting model, and these two meet the criteria despite the fact that they’re immigrants. They had no trouble passing the real acid test. They’re both white males. I know it’s a low bar, but going low is how they roll in the current White House vetting process. These two clearly met the standard for admission even though neither immigrant is from Norway. But, then again, neither are Ivana and Melania. They’re all just assorted Euro-trash with after-market enhancements. These two have cultivated accents and speak in loud angry authoritative voices about how their adopted country is going to hell in a hand-basket. It looks like Fox just decided to replace the Gorka stain with another kind of Steyn.

And this is how it feels when I see or hear either one of them celebrating Trump’s leadership. It’s like I have a large rodent standing on my chest. Please, God, give us all a little breathing room and fewer phony accents.

PS: You have to watch this after reading the blog…

Colbert Spoofs “Dr. Gorka”

My Bookish Friends…

Our living room is lined with bookcases. Reading the spines will take you on a journey into our psyches. There are fairy tales, history books, classics, references, art books, biographies, adventure travel, modern fiction, Eastern and Western philosophy – books we had as children, college texts, anthologies, and many we haven’t read…yet. They comfort us, old and new friends, reminding us of our history, our aspirations, and what we love. 

I’m especially inspired by the books my friends have written. The stack in the picture shows some of them but doesn’t begin to include all their titles. Some of the writers are older and some relatively young. Two or three are “retired” but writing full time, and the rest all have day jobs that may or may not involve writing. There’s a neurologist/geneticist, an executive recruiter, three lawyers, two university professors, two journalists, a retired energy consultant, a retired Boeing speechwriter, a former Pan Am Captain and two graduates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Some have achieved great success as writers – a Pulitzer Prize, several New York Times bestsellers, the Boyd Award for Excellence in Military Fiction, the Samuel Eliot Morrison Award for Naval Literature, and corollary successes as screenwriters, movie, TV, and print commentators. Three are self-published novels. Another is the definitive text on a rare but deadly disease, and two are fictional depictions of life as second generation immigrants. 

What these friends have in common is a passion for writing. Alexander Maksik, represented by A Marker to Measure Drift, tells the story of how for years he wanted to be a writer but realized at some point that he couldn’t be a writer until writing became more important than wanting to be a writer. Since his first novel, You Deserve Nothing was published in 2011, he has published two more. He’s definitely a writer now.

Two of the other writers in the stack are special role models – Robert Olen Butler and Karl Marlantes. Both are Vietnam vets, but their experiences in-country were very different. Butler’s time was spent mostly in Saigon as an Army intelligence operative and translator, while Marlantes was a Marine platoon commander in the muddy jungles of the central highlands. Very different but formative experiences that led to prize winning fiction for both.

Butler returned to the US in 1971 and worked as a writer/editor for a trade journal publisher, but wrote fiction on the Long Island Railroad on his way to and from work. He published his first novel in 1981 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1993 for A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. So far, he’s written 17 novels, 6 short story collections, and From Where You Dream, a definitive guide to writing fiction.

Marlantes’ story is more complicated. He went to war after graduating from Yale and spending a Rhodes Scholar year at Oxford. Feeling guilty that his friends were going to Vietnam, he quit Oxford to become a Marine second lieutenant and was immediately sent to Vietnam as a platoon commander. He survived the war but earned two Purple Hearts, a Navy Cross, and 10 Air Medals over the course of 13 months in-country. After he was discharged, he returned to Oxford to complete his Rhodes studies then worked as an energy consultant in several overseas locations. It took years for him to deal with the PTSD he suffered (chronicled in What It’s Like to Go to War). He began writing about his Vietnam War experience in 1967, and started showing the work to publishers in 1980. It wasn’t until 2010 that Grove Atlantic took a chance on him. The novel, Matterhorn, was named one of the Notable Books of 2010 by the New York Times and stayed on the Times bestseller list for months. Since then he’s become a public figure, most recently helping to narrate Ken Burns’ PBS series The Vietnam War

Another friend, Delia Cabe, is an established science writer who teaches magazine writing at Emerson College in Boston. Looking for new subject matter, she stretched out in 2017 and delivered a book “for well-read drinkers and boozy bookworms.” The Storied Bars of New York: Where Literary Luminaries Go to Drink tells tales of famous literary figures and the New York bars they frequented. Each of the bars has a literary anecdote and a cocktail recipe. My favorite is the Negroni recipe from The Writing Room , which not by chance is paired with Elaine’s. The Writing Room sits on the site where Elaine Kaufman (Elaine’s) once held court and catered to the literati. Elaine’s closed when Elaine died, but the new owners were not going to let the literary goodwill fade away. When I was single and lived on East End Ave, I sometimes went there to see who was hanging out. Back in the day it included William Styron, Peter Matthiesssn, Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Woody Allen and others. It was the place for writers and Elaine ruled it like a prison warden. She once chased paparazzi photographer Ron Galella out the door screaming “Beat it creep. You’re bothering my customers.”

Elaine’s is gone, but Delia’s book is a tasty read and one you’ll love to hold. Books have a feel, sometimes even a subtle fragrance, that can help draw the reader in. Bookmaking is an art – the cover, the paper, the size, the art, all contribute to the pleasure. Delia’s is especially sensual. M and I have given The Storied Bars of New York  to a number of friends we think might have a taste for the history of New York’s literary drinking legacy.

There are two Vietnamese-American writers in the stack. Andrew Lam and Angie Chau, both of whom have tapped into family immigrant experiences. Andrew, the son of a South Vietnamese General, recently returned to Vietnam and blogs regularly on Huffington Post. His most recent book is a collection of short stories called, Birds of Paradise Lost. Angie’s book of short stories, Quiet as They Come, mines the Vietnamese immigrant experience in California, often from the perspective of the children. She has a new novel on the way, but its gestation has been longer than expected. She told me last week that she’s on her fifth rewrite but has found it hard to juggle her career as a high-level executive recruiter, wife, and mother of a two-year-old and still find time to put the finishing touches on the novel. But…she’s on deadline now.

One of the more unusual background stories in the stack is how Bob Gandt became a writer. Bob and I were both A4 pilots in the military before joining Pan Am. We discovered our mutual interest in writing while passing time in the pilot’s lounge, aka the Cuckoo’s Nest, in Berlin. Shortly before we met, Bob was the co-pilot on a flight from London to New York and playwright Arthur Miller was a passenger. Bob introduced himself and discovered that they were neighbors in Connecticut. Miller asked if he could catch a ride home with Bob, and thus began a friendship full of literary encouragement and a part-time gig flying Miller to various events. Today, retired from Pan Am/Delta, Bob is the author of 16, mostly aviation related, books, numerous articles and screen credits. Good stuff. Bob is still flying too. Here’s a picture of his aerobatic team (average age 81 ½).

Back here on the Left Coast, Tom Bird has had a distinguished career as a neurologist/geneticist and pioneer in the field of neurogenetics at the University of Washington. About ready to retire after 40 years of treating and observing patients of Huntington’s Disease, he felt compelled to share his experience and empathy for the victims of this rare and always fatal disease – a disease that was hardly known until singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie was stricken in the 1960’s. Can You Help Me tells his patients’ heartbreaking and very different stories, As I read them, I wondered where he found the inner strength to treat and console the many families and their various neurological disorders, not only Huntington’s Chorea, but also Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s and other auto-immune diseases – that have been and continue to be his practice.

On a younger note, I have known Alexander Maksik since he was in middle school and there is something special about having that kind of relationship and being able to enjoy his success. Xander and his wife, Madhuri Vijay, are graduates of the Iowa Writers Workshop and their writing and experience is truly international in scope. His novels have taken place in Paris, Liberia, Santorini, and the Pacific Northwest, while her debut novel, The Far Field, starts out in Bangalore, India and migrates north to its conclusion in Kashmir.

The first of the three self-published books are Clark McCann’s The Red Virgin, a novel based on the life of Simone Weil, the controversial French philosopher, activist and mystic. Clark’s own life could be the subject of an adventure novel. When I met him, he was in charge of publications for the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, but before that he was a speechwriter for several corporate CEO’s including Boeing, Unocal, and American Medical International, had worked as a screenwriter for Warner and 20thCentury Fox in Hollywood, was a published poet in the Paris Review, enlisted in the Navy and later became a Marine aviation cadet and on and on… The Red Virginis his second novel following Black Air, the violent tale of an American’s experience with a Mexican drug lord.

The second self-publisher(s) are the husband and wife team of Gary and Lilly Gwilliam, both lawyers (she is also a psychiatric nurse), and though we didn’t know each other until much later, Gary and I went to the same high school (Roosevelt in Seattle) and law school (UC Berkeley) at the same time. In 2007, Gary wrote his autobiography, Getting a Winning Verdict: In My Personal Life, chronicling his success as a trial lawyer while struggling with alcoholism, and last month Lilly published Generations of Motherhood, the story of how she overcame a difficult relationship with her own mother to find personal and professional success as well as a solid mother-child relationship with her own children.

Seattle attorney Bradley Bagshaw is the last writer in the stack and the author of Georges Bank. Brad graduated from Exeter, Bowdoin, and Harvard Law (after studying physics briefly at MIT). He became a successful trial lawyer in Seattle, and though he suffers from a form of muscular dystrophy, he and his wife, Sally, opted to drop out in 2007 to sail their 39’ cutter Pax Vobiscum from Seattle to Tahiti and back before he starting a new career as a novelist. Brad’s familiarity with the sea began as a child growing up in the New England fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts, a town with a long maritime history. Georges Bank is a wild ride full of heroes, heroines, and villains against the backdrop of the perilous seas and brothels of Gloucester in the mid-19thcentury. It’s a great adventure tale.

Marilynn and I often joke about books being our friends. As a child, she was shy and took comfort in books while I always loved the sense of adventure I found in them. Now, we’re sharing our “friends” and their books with you. Enjoy.

Here they are laid out.

More Tears in Heaven…

This is an update of an article I wrote during the first year of the Trump presidency,. It’s even worse than I imagined.

In Franz Kafka’s short story Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, the traveling salesman, wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. The rest of the story deals with his attempt to manage the transformation and explain it to his family.

In The Trial, another Kafka character, Joseph K, finds himself on trial for no discernable reason. “Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” Traduce is an arcane, seldom used verb, that means “to tell lies about someone so as to damage their reputation.” It should be in current usage. It’s so Trumpian.

The narrator goes on,

“Who could these men be? What were they talking about? What authority could they represent? K lived in a country with a legal constitution, there was universal peace, all the laws were in force; who dared seize him in his own dwelling? He had always been inclined to take things easily, to believe in the worst only when the worst happened, to take no care for the morrow, even when the outlook was threatening.”

Since the 2016 presidential election, the American landscape has become even more Kafkaesque. We are living in an America that treats us either as insects (Gregor Samsa) or as pawns (Joseph K). We play by the rules, but the rules change. We ask for clarification but are ignored. We challenge the rules but are met with derision. If we are not white the government wants to crush and exclude us. What’s up? What’s down? How do we orient ourselves when the world seems upside down?

M.C. Escher’s Convex and Concave

I never intended to write a political blog, but I’m tired of screaming at the TV. I still believe we have a responsibility to speak out when we find ourselves in a threatening, absurdist, Gregor Samsa/Joseph K. world. It’s hard to keep your head screwed on straight.

As a freelance writer, I try to be disciplined and keep things orderly, but it’s hard. I can ignore the lure of email and Facebook; they will always be there. The news cycle is harder to dismiss. When the spigot is on full blast – tweets, chopper talk, Executive Orders, hirings, firings, and ignorant angry outbursts – the pull is magnetic. I want to stay in my lane and avoid distractions but find myself lifting the flap and peeking inside the tent more than good sense tells me is advisable. I don’t want to miss the train wreck when it happens.

My wife and I had dinner with friends recently. Good friends. Smart, engaged, people from a variety of vocations and backgrounds. Two doctors. A journalist. A Gates Foundation operative. A non-profit CEO. A headhunter. A management consultant. All we could talk about was the chaos, chutzpah, and fuck-you quality of the tweets and edicts pouring out of the White House. In spite of poll numbers and public outrage nothing seems to deter this administration’s relentless assault on fairness, the media, and We the People.

Is it any wonder that George Orwell’s 1984 rose to #1 on the Amazon best seller list last year? In a “post-truth” world of “alternative facts,” it makes perfect sense that a dystopian novel in which the government states “whatever the Party says is truth is truth” has become required reading.

I want a “safe word,” a no-fly zone, an injunction, a cease-fire, to regain my balance, but two years into the Trump Regency it’s clear that he is bent on remaking America in his white supremacist image. 

I yearn to return to my little bubble, where I rise in the morning, grind the beans for my latte, scan the NY Times, watch Morning Joe, go to my office to write about films or food, take a break to play the guitar, write some more, take another break to play tennis or ride my bike, write some more, and finish by making fresh pasta and a salad for dinner with M.

That’s inside the bubble, but “disruption” is the Trump rule and it’s on speed dial now. I have a hard time staying in my lane. There are too many things happening inside and outside. It’s hard to follow along.

It’s clear that the competing power centers in the White House have caved. It’s the one and only Trump Show now. Bannon is gone. The Generals are gone. It’s Lord of the Flies. The grown-ups have left the island. Kushner is busy trying to get Mohammed Bin Salman to shore up Kushner Inc. Ivanka is prancing around Europe in fancy dresses trying to break into conversations. Pompeo is keeping his head down so he’s next in line when Trump crashes. Bolton is trying to start WWIII in Iran, and Don Jr. is trying to fleece the world for the Trump Organization by doing deals with China in Indonesia. There is no power center outside the Oval Office.

And, how is the occupant feeling these days? Fearful? Unhinged? Emboldened? Manic? Under siege? God-like? He’s definitely, crazed – and very, very White.

I hadn’t made the connection until now, but in learning to play Eric Clapton’s song Tears in Heaven I’m hearing the excruciatingly sad words “Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees. Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please”  in an entirely different way. I hope it’s not an omen. My knees are bent, and I am begging please… 

Deliver us from evil.” America deserves better.