Planting a Flag

When you feel like you just need to curl up into a ball and anywhere will do.

Hi there. Your old friend Graham reporting in.

I had to sweep out a few tumbleweeds on here today before starting to type, including, as you’ll notice, the design of the site itself. It was probably a good hint that the theme was called “twenty fourteen” as that feels like the last time I actually paid attention to this place with any regularity. Long time (and very patient) readers may have noticed a few attempts at grand “I’m back!” announcements only to fail to see any follow up. There have been a few reasons for that.

The most prominent is the perfectionist anxiety that has been a persistent thorn in my 46 years of life – and which is often difficult to explain to those who haven’t had their ambitions undercut by it at so many turns. How to describe it – a feeling like if the next few words aren’t the single most brilliant, life-changing phrase ever assigned to paper, it is better to not even attempt to write them down. If the next post doesn’t get a million likes and shares, better to keep it locked away inside my head. And the rational adult in me knows that is a foolish pass at logic, but the wounded little boy craving a hug from long-departed parents screams it so loud that nothing else can be heard – leading to what is essentially, creative paralysis.

Another thing I’ve struggled with a lot over these last few years is something I’ve come to call “validity of voice” – the idea that the last person anyone needs to hear from in this turbulent time is yet another cisgender, heterosexual white male. We are living in the era of whitelash and straightlash, where the traditional power structure has been undermined and is flailing to hold onto dwindling influence by actively oppressing every voice that dares to challenge it. As the majority awakens to the ugliness that has perpetuated the conveniences it takes for granted and decides that this is not okay, we see whites, straights and conservatives who have traditionally owned the space for discourse whine that they are “being silenced,” and we get dozens of stories in The New York Times about Trump voters in diners who can’t cope with seeing transgender people holding hands in public. Frankly, it is too easy for people like me to find an audience, and while I can empathize, I can’t really articulate exactly what it must feel like to feel any kind of oppression. I am from the most privileged caste on earth, I started with a huge leg up simply because of where I was born, the color of my skin and the status of my gender. No one’s pulled me over without cause, no one’s hurled a slur at me or denied me a job based on what I look like. Who really needs to hear me talk about some hard times I might be going through? The stories that need to be told and boosted are from those who can’t so easily find sympathetic ears.

There is a political theory, exemplified by the execrable Steve Bannon, on “flooding the zone with shit” – that is, overwhelming your opponents with so much disinformation that they cannot even locate a foothold to being pushing back. The world really does feel flooded with shit at the moment. The worst of humanity continues to drive the news – Vladimir Putin, Tucker Carlson, Elon Musk, Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Rupert Murdoch and Pierre Poilievre, to name just a few who it didn’t take me more than twelve seconds scrolling through Twitter this morning to come across in headlines yet again – not to mention Donald effing Trump, the spectre of whom continues to lurk at the edge of our collective consciousness despite very clear evidence that he’s rapidly disintegrating both mentally and physically, and about whom a think-piece about a potential political comeback is always good for a few fear-clicks and retweets. When there’s so much awfulness everywhere all the time, where do you plant your flag and announce with the certitude of Captain Picard, “this far and no farther!” Can you really be an adequate advocate for the causes you believe in if you have to divide your focus between so many of them?

Finally, I have allowed myself to become overly concerned about the impact of something I say publicly. This last one has perhaps been the most crippling of all in terms of my willingness to express myself, but it is also the flimsiest excuse when put through rigorous analysis. I understand who I am and how I feel about things, and while I might make an inadvertent mistake here and there, I would never purposefully set out to say something bigoted or hurtful. I am not a man who punches down, ever – power and hypocrisy are what should be challenged and exposed, not innocents who are struggling to get by. I recognize that the wisest statement of all is the admission that “I know nothing” and that life is about learning, not preaching. And being afraid to speak because there might be blowback is somehow thinking that there must be something wrong with what I want to say. I would never post anything that I wouldn’t stand behind a hundred percent, whether it’s a review of a James Bond movie or my feelings about the utter wrongness and patheticness of white male privilege. If I get it wrong, I’ll apologize, learn and do better. But I won’t ever set out to act like an entitled bastard, because all that does is add more shit to the flood, and we are barely keeping our noses above it right now. The least I can do is try to pass around as many lifejackets as I can spare.

There are my thoughts for the day. Not perfect or life-changing, not broad or unique, just a little flag here in my corner of the dirt that I can be okay with saluting. And for the first time in quite a while, I can confidently say that there is more to come.

My New year’s anti-Resolutions for 2021

I know this is technically ten days late, but given that these past ten days have felt like an unwelcome epilogue to 2020, I think it’s fair to cut a little slack for your humble narrator. Especially since it does feel like 2020 won’t be over for real until Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are inaugurated next Wednesday. So as we doomscroll, cross our fingers to bleeding knuckles and purple our faces from holding our collective breath until then, let’s pause and look ahead, specifically to what we can do ourselves to make this a better year.

I don’t think I have ever kept a New Year’s resolution. I’d be hard-pressed to even remember any of them, even though they have probably been of the usual vanilla variety – lose weight, travel more, variations on the lyrics to Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying”. Clearly they haven’t meant enough to me if I wasn’t really that invested in keeping them. I suppose the whole idea behind a New Year’s resolution is borne of looking back at the year – at the life – that was and finding it wanting. I didn’t do X enough, I did too much of Y, I’ve always wanted to do Z. And the magical turn of the calendar page, thank you, Pope Gregory XIII, is held up as a singular opportunity to hit ctrl-alt-del, even though we are just as capable of doing so on December 27, or August 15, or March 9, or even 15 minutes from now. But we find it easier to tag these commitments to personal change to a specific moment, and more often than not, that’s exactly what dooms us to not keeping them. Real change can’t be tied to an arbitrary start date imposed by societal convention. It almost makes us more likely to fail at it, as like it or not, there’s a subconscious resentment that we have to make these promises just because a new year is dawning, not because we really want to.

I saw a clever cartoon a few days ago from Lunar Baboon that resonated. The concept is that if you always fail at New Year’s resolutions, then flip the script and make resolutions that you couldn’t possibly want to keep in the first place. To wit: instead of resolving to become fit, resolve to be more sedentary and eat more sugar and saturated fats. That is a much easier promise to yourself to break because of how ludicrous it is, and failing at keeping this resolution is doing your heart and body a great deal of good. Without further ado, here are my Anti-Resolutions for 2021:

  1. Isolate myself more, stop talking to people and let all my relationships lie fallow. Hide inside as much as possible and shun all opportunities to make new friends. Ignore my family’s calls and don’t return people’s emails. If I do condescend to talk to someone, don’t ever ask about them, don’t remember the things they tell me and instead talk more about myself.
  2. Be more ignorant, read more listicles and fewer long-form pieces, don’t take any courses and certainly don’t look at anything created by someone outside my ethnic group or economic class.
  3. Create nothing, stop writing (or, if I do continue to write, just write the same kind of content over and over again) and don’t look for any new opportunities to share my work with the world. Don’t bother with that next novel I wrote the first chapter of a few months ago and haven’t looked at since, and if by some miracle I do finish it, for the love of the FSM don’t try to publish it.
  4. Don’t learn any new skills, be afraid of trying new foods, music and entertainment, be sure I chicken out of attempting any project that requires me to use tools. Don’t bother trying to build that new office area I’ve been talking about or anything in my basement.
  5. Don’t meditate, don’t explore spirituality, don’t take walks in the woods, don’t do anything that recharges that part of myself. Fill my mind with worries about politics and most importantly, spend more time thinking about the Trump family.
  6. Don’t express emotion, stop smiling, “man up” whenever I get upset, and just fume, sulk and/or punch the wall so no one ever knows how I really feel about something. Be more resentful of everyone and everything. Get angry at every single event that is beyond my control and always overreact to people’s opinions of me.
  7. Zone out more, sit on the couch more, bury myself in my phone, distract myself with more trivia, have fewer conversations, and make sure to keep my head in the clouds at all time and never mindful of where I am and what I am doing.
  8. Last but not least, eat more red meat, sugar and saturated fats.

So here they are – eight areas of personal growth where I choose to define the worst possible outcome and work back from there, comfortable that anything short of these extremes is a move in a better direction – toward being a better friend, a better partner, a better human being – just an all around better me.

What do you think? Will you make a list of anti-resolutions for yourself as well? If you do, I heartily wish you (and myself) a year wrought with spectacular failure.

A Dispatch from 2020

I’m old enough to remember a few months ago when it seemed like the biggest controversy out there was The Rise of Skywalker’s low Rotten Tomatoes score.

On August 30, that is not the only item of old news that comes off as quaint, the realm of the dilettante.  2020 seems determined to outdo any year in our lifetime when it comes to events to wake you up at night in cold sweats and keep you shaking the entire day long.  Tune into any cable news feed or social media channel and it feels not only like civilization is unraveling, but a healthy portion of our fellow citizens seem keen on cheering its demise – perhaps thinking, somehow, that they will be on the side of Immortan Joe in the Mad Max-like future they are craving.  That there are far more of us than them is immaterial; like a fire stoked by a constant stream of gasoline they continue to consume the oxygen and spew out the noxious fumes of hopelessness and despair, choking us out.

What is so frustrating about it all is that none of it had to happen.  COVID-19 could have been stamped out before it escaped across the world; the disgrace of a cop could have left George Floyd alone to go home to his daughter.  Onwards and onwards.  I’m reminded of too many science fiction stories where an alien race describes humanity as inherently self-destructive.  What are we to make of this phase of our evolution; are we a petulant teenager having a tantrum and breaking all our toys?  At some point do we get control of raging hormones and start looking forward to how we can make the future better?

I mention The Rise of Skywalker up top because it’s the last thing I wrote about on this site about a year ago.  Since then I have retreated and merely watched.  I have given a lot of thought to this over the course of this past year and questioned why.  There have been plenty of occasions where I have wanted to say something and even more occasions where I have talked myself out of it.  The chief reason is because I have told myself that the world does not need to hear from another straight white man.  I am a creature of inherent privilege who has never had to endure the kind of struggles that BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people have.  There are enough of people like me out there writing op-eds and blog posts about how outraged they are that the system that birthed and nourished them is finally cracking apart, and wouldn’t it be lovely if we could just go back to worrying about who got the rose on the latest episode of The Bachelor.

We have left that more innocent world behind forever, and it is a good thing, though so many lives need not have been lost to turn that page.  Now our eyes are wide open to how our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters are treated.  We are living in their world now.  We can’t just watch a documentary or read a book and shake our heads and say “it’s such a shame” and then flip over to the sports section and save our deepest outrage for the Leafs being unable to score in overtime.  We cannot put on a mask to go buy our groceries without remembering the hundreds of thousands of people who were here this time last year and now are gone because the world as it was was not equipped to manage a microscopic little bug.  We have swept too much under the carpet for far too long, and we have no business being upset because the carpet can’t contain it anymore.  The invoice has come due, the interest penalties are exorbitant, the collection agency is calling night and day.  We can’t get out of this abyss by disconnecting the phone.

Shame on us creatures of privilege for letting things get this far.  For not showing up because it didn’t affect us directly.  For refusing to acknowledge how much we benefit from the system that grinds down our fellow human beings.  For reclining back on our couches in front of our 75” TVs and shaking our heads at all the injustice in the world before pausing the PVR to go grab another beer.  For helping to nourish and encourage the system whose inevitable flaws are now threatening to unleash the dystopia we’ve been warned about for a hundred years.

I haven’t said enough.  I haven’t done enough.  I was afraid to step into the fray, to stir the pot, afraid of the blowback – afraid of people whose entire modus operandi is rooted in their fear of change, of the other.  A loud, angry minority who are terrified that their mindset teeters on the edge of extinction and who are determined to take us all down with them.  Shame on me for being afraid of such people.  Shame on me for using my privilege not to speak.  And moreover, shame on me for being afraid to examine the hard truths about myself and my life and how I have contributed, unwittingly and not.  The microaggressive things I’ve said, the stereotypes I have perpetuated, and the unconscious biases that have simmered in my thoughts.  I am not innocent in this and neither are you.

I’m thinking about voices for the good fight that have been silenced recently.  People like John Lewis and Chadwick Boseman.  And my dear friend Louise Gornall.  We owe it to the memory of what they stood for to continue to use our voices in their place.  To never be afraid of what needs to be said or to do what needs to be done.  They cannot speak.  How dare we choose not to speak in their stead.  Let it not be said that we lost our civilization because in the last hour we were afraid to defend it.

I promise I will speak.  You need to as well.  Don’t ever let fear talk you out of it.

Don’t.  Waste.  Another.  Day.

Please Forgive My Unexplained Two Month Absence

Yeah.  About that.

One of the easiest things in the world there is to do is not write.  To let yourself become so utterly consumed by the drudgery or drama of your life that your laptop gathers an incrementally thicker coating of dust next to your bedside table as you slump deeper into your living room couch under the weight of your cat and daily justify the inertia with a half-hearted “maybe tomorrow.”  Before you know it, days have become months and there’s absolutely nothing to show for it.  You wake up and think about everything you could have done with the lost time and didn’t.  And you wonder why you’re no closer to achieving your goals, why those white posts still seem to gleam just as far away, over a stubborn, spiky hill.

I used to follow a political blog that had a nifty quote in its header:  If writing is a muscle, this is my gym.  One can marvel at the productivity of one’s peers and try to figure out how they manage it, but it’s the exact same feeling as wishing one were thinner, stronger, etc.  If something is that much of a priority to you, then you simply make it so, and the more you do it, the better you get.  By the same token, lack of regular use will cause that muscle to atrophy.  Progressively, it will get harder to say what you mean with the flair you once wielded like a lightsaber, and you’ll start to feel like that the precious nuance of your native tongue is suddenly as foreign to you as ancient Sumerian.  That will be really, really, really… bad.

At the same time, being away from it leads you to question your relevance in the ongoing conversation.  In an era of infinite cloned hot takes fired off in the wake of every act of presidential incompetence or goddess knows what else has grabbed people’s attention this minute, is it really worth the grind to try to grab the waterski rope as it whizzes by, for little reward more than a few extra notches in your stats?  When you’re already inclined to a persistent state of self-doubt, the thought of going through the motions to produce something that few will read and fewer will care about is as daunting as eyeing that bench press in the corner of the room and thinking about the long, sweaty, aching slog it’s going to be to build up your strength again, to reconnect with whatever audience you ever thought you had.

There comes a singular moment, however, when, scatologically speaking, you have to either defecate or remove yourself from the appliance.

It comes when you recognize that perhaps the reason why you have felt so listless over the past couple of months is that an important part of you is missing.  Against your better judgment you’ve let it slide away.  You’ve convinced yourself that you’re not good enough and that the success of contemporaries, rather than inspiring you, is taken only as a reminder of your own failures.  Over the last couple of months I’ve seen friends and acquaintances release books and land publishing and even movie deals and I’ve wallowed in my idle reads counter on Wattpad, with that damn nattering “see?” voice stifling my willingness to suck it up and try again. There’s another good saying, that professionals are nothing more than amateurs who never gave up, and if your peers didn’t give up, then why should you?  Especially when the precious act of putting one word after the other is a cheaper and more legal source of endorphins than anything else you might choose to pursue.

So, for the tl;dr folk, here’s the short version of the announcement:  whether you missed me or not, I’m back.

Baseball season is winding down and my beloved Blue Jays look unlikely to make the playoffs this year, but that certainly isn’t the only thing to write about (even if it seems like it’s been my exclusive focus when I have bothered to plant my arse at the keyboard in 2017).  Despite Drumpf doing his damnedest to ruin everything everywhere for everyone, this is still a beautiful world with a bursting reserve of beautiful stories to explore and to experience.  Our goal shouldn’t be to just wow passersby with the sharpness of our snark or force open jaws at the erudite manner in which we describe hating his bloated breathing guts, but to give someone who offers us a few moments of their attention an experience that leaves them feeling lifted and renewed.  That’s my goal, anyway.  To try to push the message that descents into the depths are never one-way, that there is always a path up the other side.  In fact, I’ve been gathering my thoughts on that subject for the last little while and I’m pretty close to starting off on a brand new novel that will aim to deliver that very message.

Will it be a challenge to work on that book and maintain a regular blog presence (and work a nine-to-five all the while)?  Sure, but as I used to tell my kid, no one ever looks back on their life and wishes that they’d watched more TV.  I can’t promise that everything I write will be a heartbreaking work of staggering genius; I’m sure, in fact, that the first few steps out of the gate again will be epic stumbles.  But the muscle will continue to build, slowly and surely, and eventually, we’ll be busting down brick walls.

As always, I’m glad to have you along for the ride.  Let’s see if we can’t go somewhere new and interesting on it.

Let’s Talk – And Listen


Bell began the Let’s Talk initiative in 2010, whereby they would donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives every social media interaction using the #BellLetsTalk hashtag on a given day in January.  That campaign is continuing today, with over 60 million interactions thus far (over $3 million by my quick and possibly inaccurate math).  Whether or not you know it, mental illness has touched your life, as it remains even in 2017 something largely to keep quiet, to manage on your own, to pretend it can be just gotten over with a positive attitude.  So chances are fairly strong that someone close to you is struggling with their mental health, and isn’t telling you about it.  Maybe it’s somebody you haven’t heard from in a while; maybe it’s someone you see every single day.  Maybe it’s somebody lying next to you in your bed, or playing with their toys down the hall.

Maybe it’s you.

The world lost one of its great talkers about mental health when Carrie Fisher passed away just a few weeks ago.  She was never one to bear her illness quietly; rather, she blew the roof off the rafters whenever the opportunity presented.  She refused to fit the metal-bikini-shaped mold of the demure, coy Hollywood ingenue that the public had been conditioned to expect.  The irrepressible light who in a final wink of mirth had her ashes interred in a giant ceramic capsule of Prozac was who she was, and she gave little thought to the upturned noses of others, particularly those who wished, for whatever reason – their own discomfort at the bitter rawness of her truth perhaps – that she could be a little less open about the intimate details of her life.

Carrie Fisher spoke up and spoke out because she had to, because no one else was speaking for people like her.  She never gave people the chance to forget because with mental health, it is all too easy to forget.  When days or weeks slip by without an explosive incident, when a smile is forcibly pasted on to camouflage the pain, when by all rational measure you don’t look sick (the four words no one struggling with mental health ever needs to hear), the natural tendency to want things to be normal again makes us forget about the constant and often brutal fight taking place inside the mind of our friend or loved one.  They may be crying out inside to talk about how they are feeling, but what is just as important is our willingness to listen.

Even the most compassionate can grow desensitized to the suffering of those closest to us, when the rare good days fade from memory and the bad days blur into one long unbroken string.  We want to put it out of sight and out of mind by talking about something else, anything else, thinking perhaps that a series of mindless diversions is what the doctor ordered.  That we can go into ostrich mode and pretend that since we haven’t heard them complain or seen them cry in a while, everything must be okay now.  Without truly meaning to, we close ourselves off, and in doing so we eliminate the most important avenue they have – the ability to keep talking, to keep the conversation going.  Talking is, ultimately, only one half of communication.  Those doing the talking need to know that they are speaking to a receptive ear, and an engaged mind, for even the most precious words are lost in shouting them into the wind.

Most people with mental illnesses won’t be as outspoken as Carrie Fisher was, and millions of important stories will be lost in the day to day noise.  More than simply showing your support by retweeting a hashtag on one designated day, I’d offer that a great way to get involved to help break the stigma of mental illness is to reach out to someone who seems to have gone quiet – someone whose words have grown few because no one is really listening to them.  They may need you more than you realize.  They need you to know that they’re important to you, that you’ve got their back, that you’ll stand with them as they engage in the hardest fight their life will ever know.  Seek out their stories, and remind them that they haven’t been forgotten, that just because they don’t look sick doesn’t mean that they’re not as courageous as someone with cancer.  Ask them to talk – and then shut up and listen.  Listening is the first step to learning, after which comes doing – and that’s when things start getting better.



There is no feeling of such spectacular impotence as the one that wilts your heart after a tragedy has occurred and you have nothing with which to respond but a keyboard.

Grieving is not something anyone does well.  It isn’t a skill you can hone.  Emotions churn into a veritable hash of sorrow, fear, despair and unbridled anger, flailing about in wild, unfocused directions. Certainly not with the clarity one needs to assign them into a logical order of words.  There is so much I want to say and writing this post has been an exercise in deliberate procrastination because I feel the thoughts rolling around in my head and I’m afraid of saying them clumsily and badly, in a way that will somehow further tread upon the broken feelings of those who are closer to what happened in Orlando than I am.  Be that as it may, I would like to take a few moments to talk about it.  Every member of the human family needs to grieve, either publicly or quietly.  Callous leaders bought by lobbyists can only offer the oft-repeated, ready-for-prime-time pablum of “thoughts and prayers” to assuage their guilt, to feign the appearance of caring. To mollify the simmering masses in the hope that this too shall pass and they may return to their regular agenda of screwing the people who voted for them with due dispatch – after the duly required moment of silence.

I don’t pray.  So here are my thoughts.

I think about our LGBT friends and family and I feel sorrow.  I think about those 49 people who were at Pulse that night to celebrate life and love in the arms of their partners and never imagined what was to come.  I think about the dozens more who will carry the trauma and scars of that night to the last days of their lives.  It is painful to know that despite recent steps there are still too many human beings throughout the world who have to rely on safe spaces in order to be who they are and to be with the person they want to be with.  As Lin-Manuel Miranda so beautifully put it, love is love is love is love is love.  It is a divine gift, beyond anyone’s capacity to define, and certainly not within anyone’s rights to deny to anyone else.

I dream of a day when queer men and women can live their entire lives without having to ever stop and wonder, even once, if there is something wrong with them.  When a teenage boy never has to feel ashamed about the crush he has on the guy he plays football with; when a teenage girl can easily summon the courage to approach the beautiful young woman she’s written about longingly in her diary.  When a queer couple stealing a kiss in the park is regarded with as much indifference as the sight of a straight couple cuddling on the bench across from them.  When the closet is a long-forgotten memory of an ancient, more primitive era, regarded as foolishly as the time when the earth was flat.  When gender fluidity is merely a fact as indubitable as the turning of the seasons, and never derided by tiny minds as a “lifestyle choice.”

When safe spaces aren’t needed anymore because every space is safe.

Week after week, the people of Pulse had a small part of that world for their very own, until hate stole it away.  I hope that if we reach that world in my lifetime, we will stop to remember those who did not live to see it, and dedicate that future time to their memory.

I think about the state of humanity and I feel fear.  I see the hatred rippling on the edges of the fraying seams of civilization, I see the insatiable greed driving every transaction, and I wonder about the planet my son will inherit.  I see one of the loudest voices in the aftermath of Orlando belonging to a clueless, catastrophically incompetent, badly spray-tanned demagogue who stands within a horrifyingly short leap of becoming the leader of the free world.  A vile ogre utterly bereft of any redeeming features, who draws his support by appealing to the worst of human instincts and who cares little for the consequences of the bile spraying from his mouth wherever there is a microphone within spitting distance.  The idea that after eight years of progressive, steady and sane leadership under President Obama, the American people could swing the pendulum back so hard to put a moron in charge of their nuclear arsenal with the world trending ever more in the direction of powder keg, does little to reassure one’s faith.  I fear that we may look back on 2016 as a relative idyll in the face of what comes next.  I fear that fear will usurp rationality and compassion and that we will begin to regard everyone who passes by or gives us a sidelong glance as a threat to be immediately put down.  I worry about my darling, compassionate son trying to make his way in a world like that.

I worry about watching this unfold with nothing I can respond with but a keyboard.

I look at the legislative response to this massacre and I despair.  That after much sound and fury, nothing will happen, just as nothing happened after Sandy Hook and nothing happened after any of the mass shootings in the United States that have become too numerous to count.  As encouraging as last night’s filibuster on the floor of the U.S. Senate was to see, I despair that the final votes will fail and that insane, irrational adherence to the whims of the gun lobby will once again carry the day.  I despair that for millions of people, the right to possess a weapon that can shred precious human flesh into ribbons of bloody meat in milliseconds is more important than the rights of others to live their lives without being shot – more important than the rights of the children of Newtown to attend school safely, more important than the rights of the people of Pulse to have a safe night full of music and fun and love.  I despair at the bull-headed obtuseness of gun rights advocates (or ammosexuals, a favorite, well-suited term) bellowing on Twitter that this “isn’t the time” to politicize or even talk about guns, or suggesting that the answer to a gun massacre is always to increase the gun supply.

I despair that certain American politicians and the people who support them are more worried about who goes into a bathroom than the fact that they can do so legally with an assault rifle strapped to their back.  I despair that no number of innocent people gunned down in the prime of their lives will ever be enough to turn back from this escalating path of self-destruction, that the odd mass shooting has merely been factored in as an acceptable cost of American freedom.  I despair that others with hate-consumed hearts will be emboldened by these acts and like an army of Mark David Chapmans, ratchet up the body count in order to secure themselves a piece of infamy.  I despair that what may very well be next is what Salman Rushdie once worried about – a mass shooting in a maternity ward, with calls to arm nurses and mothers and babies in response.

I think about how we’ve arrived at this point and I’m angry.  I’m angry that it’s so easy to murder and so difficult to love who you want to love.  I’m angry at the right for throwing up roadblock after roadblock to gun safety and gay rights.  I’m angry at them for staging empty moments of silence when half of them are probably reciting Leviticus in their heads and thinking that those queers deserved it.  I’m angry at the voters who enthusiastically throw their weight behind unqualified, undeserving lightweights simply because there’s an (R) next to their name.  I’m angry at people who think it’s more important for their frail old grandma to have a handgun to protect her from a possible intruder rather than working to build a more equitable society where the guy doesn’t have to try to break in in the first place.  I’m angry at the uneducated “get your government hands off my Medicare” types who pledge allegiance to Fox News and mindlessly follow the subliminal orders of manipulative billionaires.  And I’m furious at the National Rifle Association for grinding progress to a halt in the name of preserving profits for merchants of death – for ensuring that the owners of Beretta and Glock and Smith & Wesson can continue to sip champagne on obscene yachts in the company of bikini-clad arm candy while the people of Pulse are cut to pieces.

But I’m angry at the left too.  I’m angry at them for thinking that just one vote for Obama in 2008 and another in 2012 was enough to secure salvation.  I’m angry at them for not staying engaged, for not continuing to knock on doors, write letters, start petitions, stay involved at every single level of government.  I’m angry at them for sitting on their hands in non-presidential elections and allowing control of Congress to slip into the slimy hands of a jug-eared empty shirt and a turtle-faced, obstructionist jackhole.  I’m angry that with millions of people of all classes demanding gun control, there’s no massive, well-funded National Anti-Rifle Association lobby to wrest House and Senate seats away from small-penised dipshits who run boastful election ads where they blow away targets with assault rifles that have no purpose or place in civilian hands.  I’m furious at people who say they’re going to either stay home or vote Trump out of spite because Bernie Sanders isn’t going to be the Democratic nominee.  I’m angry at people who say that both parties are equally bad and that meaningful change isn’t possible so why even bother trying.

I’m angry that people don’t understand that apathy lets the other guy win every single time.

And I’m angriest of all at the irredeemable scumbag who did this.  The creature I won’t deign to call a man, whose name I won’t mention lest it grant him even a smidgen more of the fame he certainly must have craved in setting this atrocity in motion.  The hideous, hateful wretch who strolled into Pulse in the guise of a human being, whom dismissing as merely mentally ill is an insult to those who are genuinely mentally ill.  The thing who decided to turn his loathing and bitterness outward and murder everyone in sight, an embarrassment to humanity whose name should be scorned and forgotten, while we remember and celebrate these people forever:

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Luis S. Vielma, 22
K.J. Morris, 37
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Amanda Alvear, 25
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26
Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Cory James Connell, 21
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24
Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, 32
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Frank Hernandez Escalante, 27
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25

And yet despite all of this, as I grieve I still feel hope.  I see lines around the block to donate blood for the survivors and I am lifted.  I see tributes offered by all castes of society and I am encouraged.  I watch the rainbow flag flying and see a lasting symbol of resolve.  I know, that as John Oliver said, the perpetrator of the Orlando massacre is vastly outnumbered.  Ultimately, the impotence the rest of us may feel in the aftermath is largely self-imposed.  The possibility of making things brighter awaits, and is a tantalizing prize we should all try to reach out for.

Let’s do it.

I want to close with a simple request.  Remember that tomorrow is promised to no one.  So forgive your loved ones and your friends, be grateful for the privileges you enjoy, and let slights slide off your shoulders.  And don’t let go of the hope that things can and will get better.  Because we’re all we’ve got, and the world will become what we make of it.

Thanks for listening.

The Star Trek Countdown series will return next week.


Mosaics on International Women’s Day


I am a feminist.

Hardly a stop press moment if you’ve followed my writing for a while.  Still, one that is important to announce from time to time without ambiguity or any possibility of misinterpretation.  International Women’s Day is as appropriate a moment as any.  Yet I don’t put it out there for applause, or to suggest that it is somehow worthy of excessive note.  In fact I would hope, rather, that we continue to evolve collectively as a species toward a place and time where being a feminist is simply a natural component of being a man.  I say “natural component” because at present there are still far too many men in the world – and far too many of them in positions of significant power and global influence – whose factory default setting includes the compulsion to press their boots down hard on women’s throats.

I don’t get it.  I never have.

If I try to boil my feminism down to a single, easily digestible concept, it’s the basic notion that men shouldn’t be dicks to women.  I don’t see why that is so hard.  In the wilds of the Internet you’ll sometimes stumble upon these bizarre misogynist rants and just shake your head and think to yourself, “wow, if he and everyone like him had taken all the energy it must require to remain so hateful on a daily basis and turned it in a positive direction instead, we’d have world peace and eighteen cures for cancer by now.”  Since before recorded history women the world over have paid an unfathomable price for the insecurity and self-loathing of males, for this comical notion that a man’s worth is somehow defined only by how much of his world he is able to dominate absolutely; by how much he can control of the things he fears and does not understand.

We recognize this, we shake our heads at it, and yet it continues, whenever a male-dominated legislature starts introducing bills prescribing what a woman can and can’t do with her uterus.  When males harass women off the Internet with threats of rape just for saying something they don’t agree with.  When women have their personal information made public because they dared challenge males to make the playing field fair.  When a female opinion expressed aloud is met with a torrent of pictures of penises.

When a woman’s pain is greeted with male laughter.

When a lawyer can suggest with a straight face in court that ESPN reporter Erin Andrews wasn’t harmed by having a stalker post online nude pictures of her because her television career has continued to ascend, something is seriously askew.

Why does it have to be this way?

Misogyny is a bloated, slouching, Hutt-like beast relentless in its pursuit to crush out every light and smother every voice with its oozing, pustulent folds.  Its faces are disappointingly legion, and united in the horrific tenet that apparently, women should exist solely for the purpose of making more men.

We don’t have colonies on the moon yet because too many men are too busy working at grinding women into the dirt, whether their names are splashed across international headlines as they pursue the Republican presidential nomination or cried out only by the woman who begs them not to hit her again.

We should all be ashamed.

How different might things be if men made a conscious decision to learn from women rather than treating them as chattel?

I was asked by a friend to review the first volume of a short story compilation out today called Mosaics: A Collection of Independent Women.  The book brings together twenty female authors of diverse origins offering short stories, poetry and essays on the subject of femininity.  Profits from this book are to be donated to the Pixel Project to End Violence Against Women.  The pieces are by turns challenging, enlightening, magical, gritty, heartbreaking and always provocative.  One that stood out for me was P.K. Tyler’s The Book of Lilith, which recounts the legend of Adam’s first wife in the Garden of Eden, and presents the story of the first woman to have her uncontrollable spirit condemned by the (literally) prototypical man.  I was struck also by Tonya Liburd’s Adventures in Gaming, which shines an important spotlight on the positively ghastly misogyny infecting the world of online games.  While these two stories are stylistically quite removed from one another, the theme is the same:  a woman who would like to experience the world on her own terms and is slapped back hard by the rigid male-dominated status quo.  And despite what men’s rights types would immediately suggest when presented with such a collection, these and the other stories contained therein are not voices that are haranguing, propagandizing or spewing misandry – they are merely voices asking to be heard and inviting you to listen, because they are as worthy to be heard as any other.

I read on, and I nod at the lessons learned and admonish myself for not seeking out more female perspectives in the works I choose to read.  Truly, the gender of the author has never factored that much into the stories I seek out, but maybe it should.

Maybe I need to listen and learn even more.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a piece in The Globe and Mail today.  The entire piece is worth a read but here’s the passage that really strikes home:

Every day, I meet incredible women who inspire me to be a better feminist and a better person. Women can do (and be) anything they want. But powerful cultural change cannot happen when only half of the population works toward that change. Men need to act, set examples and be role models.

I was raised by an incredible woman, I am married to an incredible woman.  I work with incredible women and I am friends with incredible women.  I have learned something from every single one of them, and I continue to look to their wisdom and their experience to guide me.  I do what I can to encourage and promote them as well, because when women do better, we all do better.  And to the prime minister’s last point, I try to impart the importance of doing so to my teenage son, in the great hope that one day we may simply breed the hulking beast that is misogyny out of existence.  That future generations may regard the concept with as much uncomprehending disdain as we reserve for people who insist the earth is flat.

The old way ain’t working, folks.  Dedicating themselves to abusing and demeaning women with each breath isn’t making that portion of the male population any happier.  What if instead, one of these men chose to lift a woman up instead of pushing her down?  Isn’t a smile more of a balm for that terribly fragile ego than a shiver of terror?  Isn’t it better to court a woman’s respect than to stoke her fears?  Isn’t it fundamentally just better to be kind – to say “way to go” instead of “get back in the kitchen”?

Isn’t treating women with their due respect what makes us better men?  Isn’t celebrating their achievements our duty – not just as men, but as human beings?

Isn’t that what we mean when we say, I am a feminist?

Mosaics is available through Amazon.


That Voice


Not been a great week, folks.  I saw a tweet this morning that suggested we should call an early end to it and head over to the pub to drown our sorrows.  The news of actor Alan Rickman’s passing from cancer at the age of 69 has left me inclined to agree.  Between him and David Bowie earlier this week, we’re losing too many of our heroes.  People we were never going to meet and who never knew of our own existence but still occupy that special place in our hearts reserved for family.  Alan Rickman was a compelling actor for whom no one ever seemed to have a bad word, either in regard to his work or the man himself.  And yet it’s surprising to know that for someone who provided so many indelible, endlessly quotable screen moments, he was never nominated for an Academy Award, never broke out of the character actor mold for a really meaty lead part, never achieved the level of stardom someone of his talents really deserved – although by the reaction seen on social media this morning, it’s clear that he was considered something by millions that many more “famous” actors can only dream of being:  a treasure.

I did not know the man, I have no personal anecdotes about chance encounters with him to share.  I have only what most people have:  his legacy.  Few on this side of the pond had heard of Alan Rickman when he signed on to star opposite Bruce Willis in 1988’s Die Hard.  In retrospect it seems hard to imagine how risky a gamble that movie was considered at the time:  an expensive action picture with an untested TV actor in the lead and an even lesser known British stage veteran as the villain.  Yet it’s almost a perfect piece of cinematic entertainment, and so much of its success hinges on the strength of the two men pitted against one another.  Rickman, with his singular, resonant, sepulchral tones coiling themselves lovingly around clever, sophisticated, literate dialogue with the slickness of an eel drenched in light sweet crude, crafted the perfect foil for the wisecracking, blue-collar Willis, and established a standard for memorable villains that led every single movie casting agent to burn through their Rolodex hunting for the next Shakespearean Brit they could pluck from obscurity to face off against the mumbling American action star du jour.  You could argue that without Alan Rickman in Die Hard, there would have been no Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, no Jeremy Irons in The Lion King, no Gary Oldman in… pretty much everything.  And there certainly would have been no Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, emoting to the rafters about calling off Christmas and carving out innards with a spoon because “it’s dull, it’ll hurt more.”  Rickman became so identified as the prototypical villain that it’s interesting to note he never played another straight baddie after that.  (Your daily trivia:  the villain in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fourth-wall busting Last Action Hero was written for Rickman, literally – the script features the movie’s young hero calling him by name – but after Rickman begged off, Charles Dance took the part and wore a T-shirt to the set reading “I’m cheaper than Alan Rickman!”)

Wary, perhaps, of being relegated to what might have in fact been a profitable career of snarling and firing guns every few years, Rickman stepped back into smaller features, deploying his talents instead in period pieces and romantic films, and when it suited him, riffing on his own pop culture image.  He was brilliant in Galaxy Quest as a character inspired by Leonard Nimoy, a classically trained stage actor typecast as an alien in a cheesy sci-fi show and reduced to spouting his tired catchphrase at department store ribbon cuttings.  (His best moment in the movie:  challenging co-star Tim Allen to find the motivation of a marauding rock monster and accusing him of never being serious about “the craft.”)  And perhaps no one else could have so beautifully captured the hilarious over-the-top melancholy of Marvin the Paranoid Android in the underappreciated Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy either – one cannot help but smile when Marvin first descends from the ceiling warning everyone in Rickman’s voice that he’s feeling very depressed.  Our instinct to immediately love an Alan Rickman character worked against us in Love Actually when we couldn’t believe what a heartless prat he was being to his adoring wife Emma Thompson, but our faith that there was more to him than the obvious notes was rewarded when we saw at the end that he was clearly trying to atone for his terrible mistake for the sake of their family – just as we hoped we would under the same circumstances.

And then, of course, there is the cherished Severus Snape in Harry Potter.  However well-intentioned or made, the movies simply can’t capture the intricate details and backstories provided in the books, and so we rely on the performances to fill in the blanks.  In the early films Snape always seems to be a character very much on the periphery, vacillating between heroics and villainy, and, atypically for Rickman, rather understated.  In a few of the early movies you almost forget Snape is there, so minimal are his contributions to the plot.  In the first film Rickman’s presence serves as an efficient red herring, so focused are you on the notion of this blatant bad guy that he distracts you completely from the true puppet master.  From then onward, he lurks about in the background, and yet, because it’s Alan Rickman, you know there will end up being a deeper story to this man than the one you’re seeing on the surface.  You can’t ignore what’s going on behind those dark eyes, and in that basso as it intones “Mis… tah Pottah.”  The stage is carefully set over the course of eight films for the revelation of Snape’s complicated yet ultimately noble soul, and one doubts whether or not an actor other than Alan Rickman could have pulled it off, with the patience and the skill to weave together a character one tiny, almost unnoticeable thread at a time.  Millions of children (and children at heart) will forevermore read those books and picture Rickman speaking the lines, a special kind of immortality after which many can long and few will ever achieve.

Like David Bowie, it is strange to contemplate the notion that there will never be another Alan Rickman movie.  That no lucky screenwriter will ever again have the privilege of hearing that utterly unique voice giving life to their lines.  But he leaves behind a rich body of work of which he could be proud and of which many of his generation of actors and those after him will be envious.  Though he often played intense characters, he was not off-puttingly intense himself.  He did not mouth off to the press or pretend that his chosen calling was somehow divine.  He was never one to embrace the culture of celebrity or push himself into the tabloids with scandalous affairs or nasty comments about his peers.  He was a good man, who did good work, always brought his best game, and possessed that endearing, ever-so-British trait of being able to take the piss out of himself every once in a while (watch his final appearance on the Tonight Show as he and Jimmy Fallon inhale helium balloons.)  And millions of people loved him for it.  Little gold statuettes are no substitute for the echo of applause that lingers long after the final curtain has come down and the stage lights have gone out.

Our ovation for Alan Rickman will go on for quite a while yet.



You think some people will be around forever.  Children of western civilization grow up with the perpetual presence of our idols in the background of our daily tribulations, and we come to rely on them as permanent fixtures.  Even if you weren’t the world’s biggest David Bowie fan (full disclosure:  I wasn’t) he was an undeniable pillar of the strange and constantly changing edifice we call popular culture, one that he carved himself to his own unique specifications – as though before him there had been a David Bowie-shaped hole that only he could fill.  There was a reassurance to be found in knowing that he was always there, continuing to make challenging music and appear in quirky movie roles and push the boundaries of expectations in art, and while maybe nine-tenths of those projects would pass by unnoticed, one standout here and there would pique your interest, and it would be a singular David Bowie creation.  It seems odd to think that Bowie’s life’s work is complete and there won’t be anything else from him.  (Listening to “Lazarus” from his final album Blackstar this morning is a bit of an eerie experience.)

More musically literate scribes than myself will pen paeans to his aural masterworks.  I come not to reel off deep album cuts but to offer only feebly-worded praise to the same great Bowie tunes that everyone else likes:  “Space Oddity,” “Life on Mars,” “Fame,” “Under Pressure,” “Let’s Dance” to name a mere, mere few – not to mention that wonderful annual Christmas oddity of his duet with Bing Crosby on “Little Drummer Boy.”  But I always liked David Bowie best as an actor.  The profession suited him in a way it did few other musicians-turned-thespians, likely because his talent for reinventing himself was a perfect match to the art of screen performance.  He wasn’t the glamour boy ported in for a high-wattage cameo struggling to deliver his lines; in every role you could see the thoughts going on behind the mismatched eyes, the true character emerging from beneath the natural “Hey!  It’s David Bowie!” reaction the audience would be expected to have.  He elevated anything he was in simply by choosing to take on the part, on occasion braving the essaying of historical figures such as Andy Warhol (in Basquiat) and Nikola Tesla (The Prestige), turning them into memorable, magical fusions of his own persona.  He didn’t just show up and expect adulation – he acted.  He earned it.

His appearance as Pontius Pilate in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ is my favorite Bowie role, brief as it is, and coming towards the latter half of what isn’t easy Saturday afternoon viewing.  Befitting a musician’s approach, Bowie’s Pilate is a melody of complex notes:  rational, reasonable, world-weary and oddly sympathetic, and one cannot watch the prototypical pop culture chameleon and author of “Changes” tell Willem Dafoe’s Jesus that “it doesn’t matter how much you want to change things; we don’t want them changed” without a wry grin.  I’m certain Bowie himself was fully aware of the many levels of irony at work in that scene.

I don’t think I’m necessarily qualified to say anything more about him; I leave that to those who were more invested in his career, who knew all the Bowie trivia, who looked up to him as a role model, who scored their lives with his music and waited breathlessly on each new iteration of David Bowie.  It’s perhaps enough to leave on the note that Bowie’s passing is a reminder that life is truly a matter of turning and facing the strange, that evolution is the modus operandi of our tragic and beautiful limited existence.  That there will always be changes, and how we adapt ourselves to the inevitability of such changes is a measure of how well we live our life.  The man born David Robert Jones seems to have managed it exceptionally well, and one can speak best of a man by being able to say at the last that he left the world a little better than he found it.

If he has to be gone now, then let us accept and embrace the change just as he would have.  To paraphrase David Bowie, we don’t know where we’re going from here.

But we can promise it won’t be boring.

Fire and Rain and all that jazz

I heard through social media a little while ago that a friend from high school days had passed away.  Her name was Kim.  While we had never been the textbook definition of close, we would chat from time to time through Facebook about family, parenting, and the course of our respective lives.  She wasn’t someone I went out of my way to keep in contact with, and yet, when we spoke online, I was amazed at how her innate brightness would gleam through the flying bubbles of text, and how genuinely interested she was in what was happening with me, despite her really having no obligation to be.  You meet way too many sorts who vibrate visibly with the itch to dispense with the perfunctory required questions about how the job’s going and how the kids are doing so they can start prattling on about the heaps of awesomeness that have fallen into their own precious laps; Kim was most definitely the opposite, remaining private about her own problems while always offering up receptive, sympathetic ears.  That we were friends at all spoke to the depth of her character, in many ways a complete contradiction of what you’d expect.  Someone like her could easily have been Regina from Mean Girls, blessed as she was with talent, popularity and beauty, but instead she saw people for who they were and not where in the social order it was their fate to be pecked.  She cared, with an honesty that could not be faked.  And she’s gone now, a too short 40 years of age, and I wish I’d made a point to talk with her more often, because a special light has gone out.

I met Kim when we were both involved in the production of our 1993 high school musical, a staging of Chicago.  I was the backup drummer in the orchestra pit, hidden at the back of the stage behind a black scrim, while Kim, a year older, was bold and brassy belting out “All That Jazz” as the lead, Velma Kelly.  (Ten years later, sitting in the theater watching Catherine Zeta-Jones have a go at the same part, I couldn’t help smiling and thinking that Kim had done a better job.)  Our school had a reputation for the quality of its productions; we dared to mount elaborate, challenging, Broadway-level material whose raciness gave our more conservative principal his fair share of headaches.  They were great social levelers too:  you could come in to work on them whether you were jock, nerd, princess or bespectacled wallflower, and find yourself among fast friends.  The denizens of the elevated echelons that you wouldn’t dare approach in the halls were throwing their arms around you at the frequent cast parties.  Somehow the social hierarchy that mattered so much in the day-to-day got tossed in pursuit of the grand goal of creating a singular night on the stage.  Kim was a big part of ensuring that happened, and some of my strongest memories of that experience are chatting and sharing jokes (and flirting a little, clumsy as I was at it back then) with her.  One might logically expect the show’s diva to be dismissive of the little people in the back, but Kim didn’t go in for that sort of nonsense.  Instead she made everyone want to up their collective game.  You wanted to work harder and play better because that was a friend up there on the stage counting on you to have her back.

When I first joined Facebook there were quite a few people from the old high school that I made a point of looking up.  I don’t recall Kim being one of them, but as degrees of separation would have it she popped into my news feed after commenting on someone else’s post, and at some point I must have sent her a friend request – or maybe she did for me.  I didn’t put much stock into it other than “I kind of remember you and you’re a decent sort, let’s be Facebook friends, ignore each other’s updates and send half-hearted birthday messages every year when it reminds us to.”  I was content to leave it at that until Kim started messaging me periodically to say hello and see how I was doing.  She was the only one of my 131 connections to do so.  I wondered why.  This may come across as false modesty, but I honestly did not believe I deserved the attention, given that I hadn’t exactly made keeping in touch with her a significant or even a minor priority.  It wasn’t as though we had a rich personal history to look back upon either, just a few shared experiences when we were teenagers, a few chance encounters on the street in the years that followed.  But I was moved by her warmth and the sincerity of her outreach.  After my wife and I adopted our son Kim would check in every few months to ask how things were going.  I’d tell her a little about his history and how he came to be with us, and in her words back to me I could see and feel the opening of a tremendous heart.  I would ask her how she was, and though she was guarded about the details, I could sense that that heart had been wounded many times and was battling on regardless, through illness that had landed her in hospital far more often than she deserved.

Then, after a while, the conversations stopped.  She didn’t reply to the last message I sent, though I did get a note that it had been seen, months later.  Kim tumbled from my consciousness.  Caught up in the ins and outs of my own day-to-day as weeks slouched into months it did not occur to me to check in with her.  It wasn’t a deliberate choice, it just happened, through indolence and preoccupation rather than intent.  When another friend broke the news to me by the cold means of Twitter direct message, I felt my entire body sink as though someone had just doubled the gravity in the room.  It was a twofold reaction:  shock, obviously, coupled with a tremendous gnaw of guilt.  I knew she had been sick, and as I scrolled back through our history of Facebook messages, trees of text bubbles preserved there as though set in digital amber, I could detect hints that things had been far more serious than she had let on, hints that I had let go out of respect for her privacy.  Kim would pivot when I would ask about her illness, assuring me that she was strong and that she was an adult.  She would rather talk about me, this blog, and how I was finding life as a father.  I didn’t push.  I suppose it would have made little difference if I had.

In his classic ballad “Fire and Rain,” James Taylor makes what for me is the quintessential statement about our relationships with our friends and how little time we truly have to celebrate the fortune of their presence in our lives.  In writing this post and thinking about Kim, I echo his sentiment.  I didn’t continue the conversations with Kim because there was always more time.  I always thought that I’d see her again.  That late one night, barred from sleep by lingering traces of the day’s caffeine intake I’d be scrolling through Facebook, smirking at cat videos and pictures of other people’s kids being silly and re-posted rants about the government, and the notification tab would pop and I’d see her name and “Hey Graham, how are you?”  I’d been conditioned to expect that and I never believed it would stop.  Now it has.  There will be no more messages from Kim.  “All That Jazz” will forevermore have a hint of melancholy when I reflect on one very irreplaceable Velma.

By no means do I claim a monopoly on grieving her loss.  I know that I wasn’t her best friend, or a member of her family, or someone with any deep, lasting connection with her but this:  Kim meant a great deal to me for the simple reason that in a world with more than its share of awful people, she was one of the good ones.  I’m glad I got the chance to tell her as much during one of our late night chats.  I’m sorry I couldn’t have said it more, and that I won’t get the chance to get to know her better.  That she won’t get the chance to meet my son whom she enjoyed hearing about.  And I’m sorry that she won’t have the long and happy life that should have been her due.  It has brought into sharp focus the notion of mortality and that we cannot count on any of us being around for as long as we once thought we would be.  The invulnerability with which we greeted the days back then is a fleeting wisp lost on the wind.  And while we may feel as though we are more connected with our friends because of social networks like Facebook, we can’t let those algorithms diminish the value and the reality of the people on the other side of that coldly curated news feed.  We need to talk more.  Really talk, about our hopes and our dreams and our fears and the world we want to leave in the glow of our tail lights.  We need to seek out the good ones that are already in our lives and latch onto them and laugh with them until our sides ache, and weep until we’re all utterly spent of tears.

We always think we’ll see each other again.  Sometimes we won’t.  So let’s see each other as much as we can, while we can, while every precious moment of this life remains available to us.  I’m going to close now by offering a suggestion.  Today, think of someone you haven’t spoken with in a long time and send them a message.  Doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.  Just say hello and let them know you’re thinking about them.  See what happens next.  I think you’ll find the very tiny expenditure of your time bearing positive emotional returns the extent of which you can’t even imagine yet.

Goodbye, Kim.  You were one of the good ones.  And all that jazz.