Monday, February 27, 2012

Dear Newt

It's time for us to break up. I can't sugarcoat how I feel, so I'll put it bluntly.

You came back after a long absence, promising you were a changed man. You were nicer. You were no longer angry. You had great ideas to improve every aspect of life. You had found God through the Catholic Church. You even had a new wife who wears a platinum helmet on her head.

I gave you a umpteenth chance. I really tried. I tried to overlook your nastiness when you were talking to people. Whether it was one of the other men in my life or a group, you couldn't restrain yourself. You made false promises. That makes me not trust you. A colony on the moon? Get real. With who's money? $2 gas? How you gonna pay for that? Ask the subsidized oil companies to give up their obscene profits? I doubt it.

You said you'd roll back laws you don't like. Laws you helped write. Laws that only Congress can roll back. You told us you were a historian, but then you prove you know nothing about civics. You once wrote a contract on America, except you called it a contract with America. That didn't work in the nineties. Why do you think rehashed ideas would work today? You forget that if you don't learn from history, you're meant to repeat its mistakes. Looks like you have no new ideas, just reheated stuff from a couple of decades ago.

You found God. Well, bully for you. I wasn't sure He was lost, but if you found Him, you must know what you're doing. In politics, you're not our savior. You offer no solutions to our problems.

I have nothing against Helmet-Head. I hope she's happy. I don't think she's going to be the First Lady, though. Wonder if she'll stay with you when you have to concede that we really don't want you.

One thing I know: You won't be the Republication nominee. We just don't have the stomach for one more angry, fat, white guy with no new thinking. We just don't. So, Newt. This is a Dear John letter. Go away. Don't come back. If you try, we might have to take out a temporary restraining order against you.

Signed, The General Electorate

Friday, February 24, 2012

Snow Cat

Mocha here.

Still trying to get over cold stuff on the ground last Monday. I'd never seen such stuff. It looked like it would be fun to play with, but it was cold and hurt my cute paws. I wanted to go out. I begged and begged until my mom let me out. She warned me I wouldn't stay long. I went to the end of the deck. What's that? Paw prints leading away? Wonder if my friend Spats came over. I wonder if he's still out there. Maybe we can play?
No? I think Spats ran off before I came out. Oh wait, there's a squirrel over there. I want to chase it. No, I don't. I'll get my paws wetter. But I want to chase the squirrel. Oh what to do? What to do? Do I get brave and dance across the snow? Do I sit where it's dry and watch the birds and squirrels have fun? Do I just say "meh" and ignore the snow?

Nope. I'm going back inside. This cold white stuff just isn't for me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where Were You...?

This sounds like the start of a parlor game. Where were you on such and such a date? It is kind of a parlor game but with a more serious intent. This game falls into two distinct parts: personal and global memories.

Personal memories are the seminal events in the life of a family. You never have to ask a mother where she was when her children were born. She was kinda there, kinda involved with the delivery. Dads of previous generations, not so involved. Births, deaths and weddings fill up books and calendars, but not too many in a family can really say where they were when they heard about the birth or death of a relative. It's just the way it is. We note the date, send cards and gifts. And we are pretty much done.

Global memories are different. Depending on the generation, people remember when events of global or national importance happened. The Greatest Generation can tell you to the second what they were doing on Sunday, December 7, 1942. They can tell you what they did immediately afterwards, because many of the men and boys enlisted the next Monday.

Adults of the next generation know what they were doing on November 22, 1963. Even more than sixty years later, I still remember what I was doing and how I felt when I heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated. This couldn't happen. No one in the modern era imagined that one man could throw the nation into a tailspin, out of which the citizens found a new patriotism, a new willingness to work together for a common good.

Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and the Challenger explosion frame the space age. One good, one terrible. Both led to national pride, renewed patriotism. The moon walk may have resulted in working together for the common good. Not so the Challenger tragedy. After the grief healed, we as a nation went back to our old ways.

Fast forward to the current generation. Will its seminal moment be 9/11? Not everyone can recall the year this happened, but the date is part of the national psyche, our national vocabulary. We drew together as a nation and as a member of the world community. Flags blossomed from porches for a while. Heads of state in Europe said we were all Americans. It took 19 men and three airplanes to reawaken our national pride and willingness to work together.

So will this be the seminal event for the current generation? I hope not, because after that tragedy the nation plunged into financial darkness, divisiveness in government and in our neighborhoods, suspicion of anyone whose beliefs are different or who look different "from me" and a renewed demand that we be a nation governed by values. Like gun owning. Like telling women what to do with their reproductive tracts. Like telling the poor they really don't count. Like telling the rich that they do.

Is this the memory we want our children to take away? I sure as hell hope not.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Writing Stuff That Looks Like Other Stuff

Over the weekend, I went to the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference for the fourth time. It was the best conference yet. The speakers were focused and professional; the panels were alternatively funny and thought-provoking.

On Saturday, I went to a class called “Creating Fraudulent Artifacts: How to Construct Stories that Masquerade as Other Forms of Writing,” taught by Matt Vollmer, assistant professor of creative writing at Virginia Tech. The title is a mouthful. I almost skipped it. I am so glad I didn’t.

Have you ever seen a piece of paper lying on the ground and wondered what it was? Did you pick it up? If you did, what did you learn about the person who dropped the paper? Even if it's a receipt for gas, you can learn a lot about the driver depending on how much gas he put in his car.

Matt challenges his students to write short stories that pretend to be something other than a short story. What, you say. So, go think about what your grocery list says about you. Can you create a story out of that list? What do you buy? How many people are in your household? What are your favorite brands? It’s more than a brain-teaser. It’s a different way of looking at the world.

Matt said his technique is fun, subversive and liberating. It breaks up writer’s block, requires the reader to become a participant in the story, encourages experimentation and gives the writer a way to turn the ordinary into art.

I got to thinking about this. What do the emails in my span folder say about me? Can I write a “dear john” letter to a politician? Can I look at something as common as a dinner receipt and create a vignette for a novel?

To quote a losing politician from 2008, “you betcha.”