Friday, October 21, 2011

Lock Down Google With Two-Factor Authentication

Article first published as Online Security: Using Two-Factor Authentication With Google on Blogcritics.

Did you know you can now use two-factor authentication with your Google account? Think about it: most people use a single username/password combination to gain access to a system-wide array of services in the Google universe. Gmail, AdSense, Blogger, Analytics, Docs, etc, is a whole lot to leave vulnerable to the single username and password approach. And it’s easier than you think for a hacker to acquire your password without your knowledge.

Recently, Google has made two-factor authentication available as a login option worldwide. Two factor authentication in its most basic definition is this: A) something you know (your trusty old Google username/password); and B) something you have (a key or one-time passcode that regenerates every 60 seconds). In short, A + B = access to your account. You need both. So even if your password got sniffed, or you left it in your stolen wallet somewhere, the hacker would still need a unique code to complete the login process.

Google makes it easy, too. The idea is after you login using your normal user/pass (A... something you know), you will be asked for a unique piece of information, a code, to complete authentication (B... something you have), to verify your identity. The code is something your smart phone can provide for you. Simply download an app (iPhone, Android, and Blackberry are supported). The app generates a code based on an algorithm that Google and your smart phone app have in common. Or if you prefer, a regular cell phone can be used (a txt message will arrive with the code embedded). The code is only good for 60 seconds, and then it expires and another code is generated.

So why bother? Your account will be a lot safer if you enable two-factor authentication, especially if you're a regular user of multiple Google products. Heck, it even makes sense even if you just have Gmail. Lock it down, people! Google has prepared a great set of instructions to help you get started. Go to to find out more.

Read more:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

You Still Have Great Taste

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” 

Ira Glass (about).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Guest Blog: Online Password Strategy

by Michael Puhala
Day job: Dir. of Sales Engineering, Lithium Technology
Twitter: @puhala
Personal site:

Late last year, I posted an article about online password strategies.  For a refresher, you can visit that article here:

I mentioned technologies such as Lastpass, 1Password and Passpack that help manage your online security and provide some serious convenience in the process.  However, other than mentioning the technologies I liked, I did not really prescribe a specific path to help protect your identity and your accounts.

Consider this a mini guide in finally getting on-top of your online security practices.

Of course, the easiest thing to do is do nothing.  I am going to make some recommendations from the easiest to options that take a little more effort.  Obviously, the path of least resistance also is the most vulnerable in terms of online security.

Option 1 - Easy
If you are the kind of person who uses a single password for everything that requires you to sign-up, you should really rethink that strategy.  At the very least, use a different password for those accounts that are tied to online banking, and anything related to your personal finances (e.g. Paypal Account, money management, and commerce sites like  This password should be at least eight characters long and have some combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters like punctuation.  Also, if you have not changed your passwords to these accounts in more than a couple of years, you should set a reminder to change your passwords at least every couple of years if not more frequently.

Option 2 - Moderate
Using a technology like Lastpass can not only help make your online activity more secure, it provides some added convenience like automatically logging you into frequently used sites after you put in your master password when you start your computing session.  In some ways, this option might seem less secure than putting in your password manually each and every time, but one way that potential threats make you vulnerable is through key-logging software that tracks your typing history and is an effective method to extract passwords.  If lastpass is automating the login, than you are not using the keyboard to type your password.  Lastpass gives you the option to login to the service using an on-screen keyboard which would also prevent key-logging.  Lastpass and other similar services also allow you to generate unique and random passwords for each site which is a great method to keep you secure.  Since you are not having to remember the passwords that are generated, you can use a stronger password combination and length than what you would typically try to remember.

Option 3 - More Involved
As you might guess, this is the option I recommend and use myself.  The most secure method of online password protection is called multi-factor authentication or two-factor authentication. This involves a two step process to gain access to a account.  Some companies like Google and PayPal offer two-factor authentication when logging into those systems.  Lastpass also offers two-factor authentication when logging into this system.  As Lastpass manages all of your online identities and stores this information in the cloud (encrypted of course), I prefer using a more secure system for gaining access to all of my online passwords.

Enter the Yubikey by Yubico.  This solution includes a USB key that is required to be plugged into the computer before gaining access to your Lastpass account.  It’s called two-factor authentication because both your master password is needed and the Yubikey USB device is used.  Brilliant!  So, even if someone has your master password, they can’t gain access to your password management system unless they also have the USB key.  Conversely, just having the USB key does you no good, because you also need the master password.  Also, the USB key is very nondescript.  Most people will pass if off as a thumb drive rather than a security device.  It can be placed on your keyring so that it’s always with you.

I’ve chosen to use a Yubikey together with Lastpass, however, I do not use Lastpass to gain access to my Gmail account as I want a separate layer of protection for my email system.  Gmail now offers its own two-factor authentication system.  Rather than a USB key, I downloaded an app to my Android phone that generates a real-time secondary passcode to be entered after you use your normal password.  Also, since Paypal is tied directly to my bank account, I use a separate hardware based security key to gain access to my Paypal account. The combination of these systems provides multiple layers of security.  For my banking information, I have configured Lastpass to prompt me for my master password (and Yubikey) before it will automatically login to my account.  You might see the precautions that I’ve taken as extreme, but my perspective is that it’s easier than ever for someone to hack their way into a whole treasure trove of personal information. 

For great technology advice sent directly to your inbox a few times a month, signup for my newsletter, called Citizen Savvy here.

Twitter: @puhala

Friday, September 30, 2011

Rooting for sociopaths, Part I: Lisbeth Salander

I love the dark character.  Quite by accident I’ve been captivated as a reader and viewer of fictional characters in books and tv shows that are rather dark, disturbed, and deadly.  Their stories are compelling. But it always begs the question: how and when did I get so comfortable rooting for sociopaths?  

It started with Lisbeth Salander, the computer hacking bi-sexual girl with the dragon tattoo.  Her story spans a trilogy of books by the now deceased Swedish author Stieg Larsson.  
  1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  2. The Girl Who Played With Fire
  3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest
I struggled at times as a reader with Lisbeth Salander's choices, her sense of right and wrong, the way she treated people (her friends especially), her wide scope in the bedroom, and more.  But if given the choice in real life, I would want Lisbeth Salander as a friend.  And that's why I root for her.

Noomi Repace as Lisbeth Salander
in the Swedish films.
Summary: Salander is a victim; she was abused as a child, tortured in a mental ward all because her father was a Russian spy who worked in concert with a super secret organization in the Swedish government.  Fed up with the abuse of her mother at the hands of her father, and with no help from the authorities, she hurled a can of gas and a lit match at her father while he sat in a car.  He erupted in flames before her eyes, but survived.  It was then that she was institutionalized in a mental ward and placed under the very careful supervision of a corrupt psychiatrist.  She was to be a permanent ward of the state, and carefully handled as an adult.  She is assumed incompetent and stupid, unable to handle her own life.  But she's intelligent, and not just a little bit.

Book 1: TGWTDT 'Tattoo' is a great read... Lisbeth Salander befriends disgraced magazine editor Mikael Bloomqvist.  He's guilty of slandering a powerful businessman in his magazine, Millennium, and must serve an eventual three month prison term.

Without his knowledge, Salander hacks into his computer and conducts extensive background checks and research into his life, including the case against him. Eventually, she broadens her research to include the powerful businessman who had him tried in court.  From her research, she knew Bloomqvist was innocent, and his story right on the mark.

Come spring, Bloomqvist is going to prison.  With nothing but time on his hands and a busted reputation hanging over his head, another rich businessman approaches Bloomqvist to solve a 40 year old mystery: the murder of his favorite niece, Harriet. Although reluctant at first Bloomqvist agrees to the job, which will take him out of Stockholm and away from his current troubles for the time being.  Soon he is engrossed by the case and the sheer scope of personal research conducted by Harold Vanger, his employer.

The story is quite enjoyable from this point forward.  The Vanger Corporation has operated for over a 100 years.  The family is rich, as is the history they share living together on a secluded island.  The Vanger's past is colorful, controversial, and dark.

Harold Vanger hired Milton Security to dig around in Bloomqvist's past, and they put their best analyst on the job: Salander.   Her reasons for prying into Bloomqvist's life were professional, but she didn't anticipate falling for him too, which for her was highly unexpected (especially for her character and what we eventually find out about her).

No spoilers here: Salander and Bloomqvist solve the mystery; Bloomqvist uses the bonus research Salander gave him and writes a more thorough exposé and brings the powerful businessman to ruin; the story breaks while Bloomqvist is in prison; Bloomqvist and Salander are lovers now but their relationship is complicated because Bloomqvist is loyal but casual, whereas Salander is taking a huge chance by embracing vulnerability for the first time in her adult life (simply, they struggle with their relationship a lot).

Book 2: TGWPWF 'Fire' hits the ground running, and with it, Salander running from everything, including Bloomqvist.  Emotionally, she's hurting.  However, she's wealthy now (no spoilers), and living under an assumed identity to cover her tracks.  Bloomqvist is torn by her sudden disappearance but also understands that that is Salander's way.

There's a point early in 'Fire' where I'm questioning my choice to root for Lisbeth Salander.  She does something truly disturbing, and then follows that up with an even more disturbing action (no spoilers).   I had to put the book down and think long and hard about my feelings as a reader for her.  It was a short walk through tall gray grass.  In the end, though, I found her story compelling enough still to go with it for a while and see what happened.   I'm glad for that.

But that's not the story of TGWPWF.  'Fire' had unbelievable pace.  Salander is soon the prime suspect in a murder investigation and on the run as a wanted killer.  That whole arc, most of the book, really, drives the story like dogs off the leash chasing a cougar all over Sweden.  Bloomqvist, who is back on top at his magazine, Millennium, believes his friend was framed.  The Police are on her heels, but she's smart enough to elude them.  Pieces fall into place that reveal what the series of books is really all about: Lisbeth Salander.

Book 3: TGWKTHN 'Nest' wraps-up Salander's story and squares most everything away for her.  One thing I don't like about last books in a series is that I know the author is tying everything together, so that we can see what the story was all about.  But to Larsson's credit, he folds new layers and arcs into the narrative.  He holds the reader's interest while nearing the end with each rapid turn of the page.

Back to business, though.  You can go down a list and check off the loose ends.  What surprised me about 'Nest' was Bloomqvist's sister and what a capable litigator she turns out to be, one who wasn't taken seriously by the major players of the prosecution.  As the trial goes on, Bloomqvist and his team at Millenium dedicate a whole issue to the story of Lisbeth Salander.  Bloomqvist is not a fan of the government's handling of his friend, but he works with them and other officials at the highest level to flush out the rogue police agency and make things right for Lisbeth Salander.

Long story short: girl's dad is a spy, corrupt officials make girl's life a living hell, girl grows up and gets her life back.  Between all that is a really good story.  But it's a dark journey for Lisbeth Salander and the reader.

Next up ... Part II: Dexter Morgan.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A second #cnftweet tweet emerges

Another one of my beloved #cnftweet tweets emerged in the wild, this time tucked away inside a newsletter sent out by Creative Nonfiction, the same folks who published one of my tweets in issue #42 of Creative Nonfiction.  See earlier post from my blog.

I've had a lot of fun and met some great writers by participating in the #cnftweet corner of twitter.  The challenge is to say something true in 130 characters or less.  I retweet my favorites and get a few of my own tweets retweeted by others.

Give it a shot:

  1. Get a twitter account.  It's free. 
  2. Think of a creative way to tell a true story in 130 characters or less. 
  3. Tweet it.
  4. IMPORTANT: Tag the end of your tweet with the #cnftweet hashtag.  The hashtag ensures it will be seen by all the other #cnftweet 'ers.

My tweet from the newsletter is quoted below.  It was used to give people an idea of length and what the editors of Creative Nonfiction are looking for in a good #cnftweet.

talentdmrripley A door jam in a former life, the wall received the blaze like it was royalty, and Tedd's room was holding a waltz. #cnftweet

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nice sack, dude!

Nice nutsack, dude!
Ambition or misplaced enthusiasm? I can't decide. Does the ball sack raise this truck to a whole new level?  

I live in the Gem State.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


His mind races through the stillness of another quiet evening.  It's familiar, and happens often. When obligation has gone to bed, along with his wife and kids, he sits alone... alone with the peace and quiet. Alone with Depression.

Depression is like a relative who moved in long ago, decided to stay, and now follows him around like a stalker: creepy, stealth-like, and at the same time obvious. Depression sits on his shoulder, observes his life, and whispers a constant picture of despair into his ear.

He escapes to the cold, pixelated glow of the computer, which buzzes with distraction.  He wants to bore the hell out of Depression by checking a few twitter feeds and facebook status updates.

It's like a bad play in football.  Depression laughs at the misdirect and reminds him that too much stock is put into these social networks, thus wasting a lot of time engaging with complete strangers. An avatar, twitter handle, and a thousand updates does not a friend make.  Even more sobering, the people he actually knows (real life friends on the social networks) are becoming more and more like the pixelated strangers with each passing day.  All of these connections -- virtual in nature -- only illuminate the  unconnected feeling in the end.

Fine. He logs off and plays some music, or a game.  Sometimes he sits still in deep thought for hours, knowing exhaustion will come soon enough, and Depression needs rest too.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Published! Creative Nonfiction #42

Contributor copy (better than money).
I’ll take life in whatever little victories it decides to hand out.  So much of my time is spent wishing things would get better, even by the slightest.  So when something positive happens, whether it’s big or small, I take it as gift.  Why?  Because a win is a win. 

I received my contributor copy from Creative Nonfiction #42 yesterday in the mail.  I knew it was coming for a few days.  I found out on twitter last week. @talentdmrripley and nine others were featured in the Tiny Truths section.  The challenge: write a true story in 130 characters or less.  I'll save you the $10 cover price and quote my story for you below (I think that's okay):
"Yes... I was staring, trying to read the Bible verse tattooed on her upper breast.  The font was tasteful, and it was a long verse." May 23, 2011.

How cool is that?  It was validation, either for my talent or hard work.  Perhaps both.  My own words published!   

I won’t ruin this.  I won’t diminish this strange yet awesome feeling that I could win with my writing.  And, though my story is tiny (a mere two sentences; a tweet!), those who published my words walk as bold and proud as any among the giants of writing and publishing.  

My ship has sailed.  The chosen destination awaits my sweet arrival.  I cling to the side of that ship now, hanging on to the rails with a firm grip and determined resolve not to slip into the depths.  Not again.  Though I’m unable to relax on deck and mingle with “them,” at least the establishment knows I’m there now, and don’t mind the vicinity of my company.  

Crashing waves, weather, and rough seas still await my journey, but from the side of the boat none of them look as menacing as they once did.

Well played, cousin

Jenifer Junior High School Lunchroom.  Go Jacks!
A girl stopped me once in the school lunchroom to apologize for not inviting me to her party.  All day prior and then most of that same day I'd heard friends in class and in the hallways talk about a big, mysterious party.  "Did you hear about the party?" . . . "So and so is going to be there" . . .  "Are you going?"

"Totally!" I said, I didn't know what else to say.  And I was lying of course, much like pimple-plagued adolescent boys lie about losing their virginity: complete bullshit.  News travels fast in the hormone charged hallways of junior high.  The shock of my plans must've hit the hostess and her gaggle of girlfriends like a toaster falling into the bathtub.  Somehow, my unwelcome R.S.V.P. had forced her hand.  She was forced to play diplomat.

"Hey," she started.  "I'm really sorry I didn't invite you to my party."

As it turned out the party hostess and I were related (you know in that weird way when one distant relative marries some other distant relative; our bloodlines were sealed together like glue now).  We weren't close or anything, and found out only a short time earlier.  She shared the same last name as my uncle.  It gave us something to hardly ever talk about as was we moved between classes or roved between cliques.

"Oh, that's okay," I said.  "I've been hearing about it all day.  Don't worry about—."

"Yeah so, sorry I didn't invite you.  I didn't want any hard feelings since we're cousins and stuff."

She dropped it there and spun on her heel out the lunchroom door. She was received by her friends outside who cupped their mouths to stifle a few giggles aimed in my direction.  Abandoned, I stood between the cafeteria and the ala carte line painfully aware of how the whole scene must've looked to everyone else in the room.  Are they laughing at me now too?  And the worse part was I had no idea if the apology was also an invitation, or if the apology acted as an official un-vitation.  Well played, cousin.  Well played.

"It's cool," I offered up to the awkwardness, to no one really.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Remember when you were a kid at recess and the captains picked out teams based on a simple and fair process of selecting the best players, one at a time, until everyone was assigned a team and then the fun could start?  I always got picked first, if not by the first captain then by the next one.  Hell, sometimes I was the captain, and got to do the picking.  Having the power to choose was pretty cool; but, getting picked first had its own merit too.  You were “in” in either case.  Your ability to play, or better, to choose other players, was trusted, even respected.  

Do you remember that feeling?  I walked taller, bolder.  What a rush!  

However, the days of getting picked first are long gone.  I don’t get picked first for anything anymore.  Getting picked last wouldn’t suck too much at this point.  My war in life seems to be against the gatekeepers, those captains of the playground.

Getting published is my number one goal, as a writer, and well, as a human being who needs to aim for something big.  Writing is hard work, and while my voice may lack the obvious polish and place, I’m no less passionate about connecting with words.  In fact, that’s why I write period: to connect.  And, I want to be picked!

Gatekeepers are usually the pawns of establishment, parading about on a giant chessboard, where if you win, you gain access to something, whatever it is.  If you lose, then you sulk back to your cave and plot a little more.  Gatekeepers throw their arms up and make a lot of noise and guard admission like deadly sentries.  The gatekeepers stand in your way.

Remember the playground losers?  Remember all the stragglers, the awkward and clumsy kids that got picked last, or not at all?  They were found lacking on all accounts.  Everything.  They lacked skill, for starters (a pun.. I love those).  Add to that they lacked respect.  And if not for a playground duty teacher to speak up on their behalf -- to make sure they weren't denied -- the un-chosen would be ridiculed into leaving with only their uncoordinated bodies and tears to comfort them in some far-away corner well away from the action.    

I’m not saying the gatekeepers might require more talent; that’s probably fair.  Nor would I argue that whosoever wants a shot gets a shot.  And I’m certainly not arguing for a recess duty equal opportunity type to punch my card and force the gatekeepers’ hands.  But I would ask that one of the captains take a serious look once in a while.  I want to play the game, dammit!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Take a chance; I dare you

How many chances does one get in life, as allotted by God, or the powers that be -- those unseen forces moving behind life like stagehands doing what the big director tells them? It stands to reason, if you spend any time reasoning within the confines of faith, that chances are predetermined, or fixed. ( **Feel free to attack this question from a non-religious angle. We're all friends here.)

Chances don’t breed with other chances, they just exist until used up, or get missed. All but for a short time chances embody possibility, potential; and then they vanish into the dust storm of yesterday.

Is there a jar of chances up there with your name on a shelf, and it’s left up to you to take them at your leisure? Is it up to you to decide when to take a chance?

If you could count chances I bet it’s pretty hard. How many chances might be waiting up there in the jar? In great numbers they look like a thousand tasty jelly beans. What’s so difficult about taking a jelly bean? Are you intent on saving it up for later? You don’t get to save chances up for later, or store them up by not taking them. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

And who doesn’t feel the pain when they’ve missed a chance? It’s palpable, like a bad taste in your mouth. Your heart aches and the anguish stays with you forever, like a parasite. Before leaving, missed chances mix up a little batch of festering regret for later.

People don’t know how many chances are left in their jars. If I could see mine I’d beg for more chances to love, to care, to give, to connect, to laugh, to try, to fail, to impress, to relax, to let my guard down, to hold a hand, to hug my kids, to see things, to share things, to write things, to taste things, to open up to living.

Take a chance, dammit; take them all!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Snakes and shovels

Our house is in the Echo Hills area of Lewiston. It’s snake country. I notched another kill on the shovel tonight after I dispatched the slithering serpent there to the left.

It's been a while between kills, though. We'd gotten used to not seeing them around, so it's still a shock when one starts buzzing at you. The kids play outside all the time, and our dog Fletcher is outside a lot too.

A few summers back I notched no fewer than 13 kills on my shovel, and buried 13 rattlesnake heads in the back yard with the very same shovel. My neighbors killed some snakes too. Debbie killed two (her stories of snake warfare were like epic tales of battle told around a campfire). Nigel killed six or seven (he liked to go door to door and display the pissed off snakes still wiggling, secured in clamps; he kept the tails). And Jason bagged a couple (he preferred a pellet gun with an attached high powered scope to dispatch his fanged quarry from a distance). Notches were my trophies, displayed right there on my trusty shovel, like a World War II fighter ace displays kills on a plane’s fuselage. We agreed that a den had obviously been disrupted that spring when a new home was built above us on the hillside, accounting for higher than average snake numbers.

My kids received a quick education in snake recognition: 1) buzzing, coiled, head like a balled up fist, pissed off: rattlesnake; 2) slender, yellowish, skinny head, normal tail: bull snake. Either way, get dad. Bull snakes control rodent populations and occasionally hunt rattlesnakes; we spared them and offered complimentary relocation.

One evening the sun was setting. Long shadows extended like blankets across the road as my kids and I spent some time together in the front yard. We liked to play catch, soccer, tag, or whatever. I noticed three robins in the road and went back to playing.

A couple minutes passed and the robins were still in the road chirping, but more like barking dogs than musically like they often do. That’s when I saw the snake. The birds had formed a triangle around it like a zone defense, keeping their distance but nonetheless shadowing it all the way across the street, driving the deaf reptile like cowboys drive a stray steer. I hadn’t noticed the deadly snake before. The asphalt and diminished light served to conceal it from sight. The robins were arranged on the road in such a way as to draw my eye into the middle of their formation, to the venomous snake slithering across the road.

So I grabbed my shovel and applied the business end to the serpent’s head, clobbering it a few times and then methodically slicing its head off with the dull edge of the spade. Not a quick and clean cut like King Louis the XVI’s and Marie Antoinette’s guillotine, however sufficient enough for the purposes at hand. The buzzing tip at the other end lost most of its prior intensity, but managed to give a few more half conscious and dazed reports, refusing to die, and then it was over. It’s important to separate the head from a poisonous snake and bury it; dogs rifle through trash cans and still risk getting punctured by the venomous fangs, and possibly die.

Maybe it’s standard robin procedure when dealing with snakes––a tactic––but it felt like they were doing me a favor. The birds didn’t stick around to watch. Like classic heroes of yesteryear, they were long gone before they could be thanked personally. Of the 13 kills that summer, the birds and their odd behavior make that encounter stand out a little more than others. It was bad too. The snakes were in the driveway, on the road, in the plants, along the fence line, and in the grass. Thankfully, however, one snake at a time.

The venomous buzzworms are out there, you remind yourself—and especially your kids—but our senses dull when we don't see them that often. Today we got a reminder, and I'm thankful for the coiled up package it came in.

The mind wanders

A gentle brook gurgled and lolled through a tree lined bank filled with overgrowth, under us and around us as we sat in the former west and eastbound lanes of the abandoned Indian Timothy Memorial Bridge west of Clarkston, Washington. Cement barricades were set to remind everyone that this structure wasn’t safe for driving anymore. Weddings, though, were okay. Humming birds drank up the last of summer’s nectar in the low trees and watched the ceremony below, hovering like helicopters and then darting away. A single dragon fly traversed the span between arches in anything but a hurry. It loitered there, taking its time as altitude was gained and soon he was out of sight over a tree. Candles lined each side under the arches. Small spiders inspected the flame enclosed in hand-broken glass and scurried in and around the beds of rose petals.

It was a beautiful evening. The site was secluded, intimate, special, and everything was perfect. The bride was exquisite and radiant, the groom youthful and eager.

The mind wanders, though, when the wedding vows are uttered, and when the preacher rattles on about rings. I looked around at the back of strangers’ heads, and looked at the bride and groom, and then looked back at the heads. My attention turned to the sound of the lazy water under foot. The mind wanders. The old bridge made for an excellent metaphor of bringing two lives together across two separate lifetimes. The fact that it was old was peculiar in a way. For most of a century the structure funneled travelers to and fro on Highway 12 as they journeyed home or embarked on new adventures. It has since been sidelined, as it were, out of the way of a newer, wider highway not 50 yards away. A landmark now, but unimportant. Inconsequential. The mind wanders. The peaceful roiling of water under the old bridge meandered the thicket and hidden banks and off towards a glorious steel tube under the “new” road. Into a darkened culvert. The stream now forced to shed its natural charm and accept modern practicality in return. Poetic in a way. Do not all beautiful marriages, over time, yield to the hand of practicality?
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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Skipping rocks

Standing on the banks of Flathead Lake in western Montana, a truly mystical expanse of water tucked between high peaks and rolling plains, you’ll find countless and colorful stones for skimming over a gentle set of evening waves. Each one a gem, eye-popping, smooth, unique. In bunches they are breathtaking, huddled below the surface and receding off towards the depths—which gives them a dark hue, a touch of green over a speckled swatch of colors; or up on the shore, dried off and indulging in the sunlight, captured in a brilliant pre-dusk ambiance.

The rocks of Flathead conspire to please the eye. Their very randomness of color goes against logic, or seems impossible at best: the pinks, the grays, purples and reds, whites, yellows, and blues. Your eye moves to the one that stands out a little more than the others. Your gaze locks on like a beacon to its singular beauty; your attention commandeered. And it pulls your body in for a closer look, luring your hand to pick it up, to examine its texture and tint, to judge it for skipping potential. To assess its shape and girth, and to scrutinize its burden on the shoulder. All for one glorious heave into the abyss.
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Friday, July 22, 2011


You always know that moment when you’ve asked a friend for too much. They act eager to help but their actions, or inaction, end up betraying whatever goodwill or genuine concern they lead you on with. It puts me in a strange place. Do I call them out on it? Do I guilt them into giving a shit? Or is it one of those occasions to take a hint: to get my own head around the fact that they just don’t care?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

3 reasons why BlackBerry works for me (now)

This is not a review; it's my opinion

Pick up the phone

First, and probably most important to me: they still give a damn about the phone half of the smart phone. Up until a few weeks ago, before I switched away from my HTC Droid Eris, it was damn near impossible to send or receive calls without it first pissing down its leg in fear. I tweaked the apps, made more space available by clearing up memory; basically did everything I could think of for the phone to lurk like a Jedi Knight just below the surface of everything else the smart phone was doing and be ready to strike hard and fast when necessary, to answer a call or make an emergency run for take-out food. But, I just couldn’t get there. My Droid Eris went into hiding and hoped no one would call.

I tested my theory out of frustration with my Droid Eris by switching back to the phone I had prior, over 18 months ago, to my BlackBerry Pearl. You know what? That Pearl was beat to hell and had next to no memory or screen real estate, but it was glorious as a phone. I went a few days and re-upped with Verizon to a BlackBerry Curve 3G.

Blackberry is my Jedi now. It devours phone calls like Obi Wan devours trade federation battle droids (yes... I wrote that): smoothly, precisely, and swiftly. No issues there anymore. Not saying that iPhone is better or worse in that department––I couldn’t say; never used an iPhone––or that the 27 Google phones don’t have adequate performance. They probably do. It’s just my gut feeling that BlackBerry still cares a little more about call quality than the sexy newcomers.

Battery to spare

It seems that no smart phone is safe from serious complaints about battery life. It makes sense. The things are always online, always making or checking status updates on Twitter and Facebook, checking email, foursquaring your followers into a slow and painful death by boredom, banking, shooting video of your cat’s amazing cat life, searching on the go, texting friends, oh... and talking to people. That’s a lot of demand, wouldn’t you agree?

Manufacturers give you barely enough juice in the battery to see you through a typical weekday, if you practice “moderate usage” and don’t use your phone for stupid stuff, i.e. the cool stuff. But that’s not realistic; of course you’re going to use the phone for cool stuff, because you’re paying extra for the “data” package. Frankly, our batteries aren’t up to the challenge of the data package. So we trickle in the car, trickle in the office, and trickle off a buddy’s laptop hoping to make it long enough for the next status update, text, or call.

Back to my BlackBerry Pearl theory, I was astonished how long the battery lasted in that thing. All day (7a-11p) and then some. And to be fair, I had Facebook, Twitter, sporadic phone calls, texting, and four email accounts doing their thing all day. Normal for me. How did I forget about that while using the Eris? I could stare at the screen on that thing for a minute and almost see that pathetic green bar shrinking pixel by bloody pixel. To get through a work day (8a-5p) meant trickling. If you planned to go out that night, trickle some more beforehand.

I hear people complain about battery life in iPhones, Droids, Windows Mobile Phone Phone Phone thingamajig, and even BlackBerry. It’s possible, I suspect, that while we’re disappointed in performance, we’ve all really settled for far short of mediocre anymore when it comes to on-the-go stamina from our devices. Smart phone battery life sucks, much like laptop battery life sucks. Get over it. Manufacturers inflate performance figures and real world usage knocks those figures in the toilet.

It’s 3:15 PM, my BlackBerry battery is at 73% capacity. Draw your own conclusions from that. My conclusion is that I’m incredibly satisfied with the out-of-the-box battery life of my BlackBerry Curve (and was amazed at the almost four year old original battery in the Pearl while I re-tasked it for a week).

Social barricade

Lastly, of why BlackBerry works for me (now) is this: my real life doesn’t need to be replicated 100 percent to my social networks. The two are connected, of course. But I don’t need a device that keeps me on the bleeding edge of what’s technologically possible in the social networking game. I just need a device that offers a few conduits between the two. I look at iPhones and they’re amazing pieces of gear. Throw in the iPad for that matter too. Google devices are keeping pace and extending boundaries too (without getting into a huge argument about which platform is superior). BlackBerry is not innovating much comparatively, and is quickly losing market share to both Apple and Google. How that ends for RIM, we’ll see.

But the point is this: for these magnificent pieces of cutting edge hardware from Apple and Droid to soar in brilliance and utterly blow your mind you must commit yourself to wasting a ton of time on them. Sure, you can waste time on a BlackBerry too. However, while the others challenge you to load up their devices with goodies and apps to explore and document the fast-paced blur of your life, BlackBerry re-introduces something many of us have all but forgotten: focus.

Monday, June 13, 2011

1,000 Miles of Optimism

Life seemed to be more fun when your life was out there somewhere, waiting in the future. It was mysterious and you would get to it eventually. Pieces would fit together like a happy puzzle of meaning and fulfillment. From a thousand miles out the future looked perfect, or adequate at the very least. The perfect job would occupy your days with purpose, and the perfect spouse would occupy your nights with passion. Marriage and happily-ever-after would form the bedrock for a successful foray into family. Your kids would be adorable, exceptional, and respectful. Your home: a castle on a hill. Your car: a shiny, head-turning chariot. It was assumed that close friendships would thrive for decades; and that new friends would blend into the soil of your life like rotating crops, or a fast-moving square-dance, always fun and always fertile for meaningful connections. To a certain extent, we all mortgage a perfect life later against a pocket full of dreams.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


For a couple of years now, the number 222, and variations of the number, has journeyed with me a lot of places. The number lives on the house I live in now for starters: It’s 222. The house number I grew up in until I was 11 was 2229.

It appears other places too, like a ghostly spirit wandering the ether, randomly choosing when and where to manifest itself. The ominous 222 is encountered a lot in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep, locked in an endless loop of anguish seeking a restful state. Tossing and turning. It goes on for a bit––the thrashing––like a kitten trapped under the covers. Overcome with frustration I finally glance at the clock which reads 2:22 in bright, glowing red mockery. Even more strange: as soon as it’s acknowledged––The Almighty 222––sleep comes easily, like a blessing after a sacrifice, some sanity for slumber.

One time while standing in line at Shopko (a cross between Target and Walmart with a little K-Mart thrown in for good measure) the lady in front of me gasped at her total charges. “Excuse me?” she inquired, almost giggling.

“Twenty two twenty two,” the cashier snickered back. If you’ve ever been behind the wheel of a cash register you’ll know these curiosities of random numbers and amounts are what get you through each miserable day. After hours of mind-numbing credit card transactions and check processing, idle chit chat, not thinking too hard about what the hell people are buying (Fiddle Faddle, pads, toothpaste, fine jewelry, cat litter, shower curtains, gum, etc) a gem like $22.22 stands out like an elephant wearing a g-string.

“That’s what I thought,” said the lady. The two of them laughed again in unison. “That’s weird.”

An exact total of $22.22 made up of several random purchased items was clearly fascinating to me. “My address is 222,” a voice chimed in from beyond the conveyor belt, on the edges of the shopping buffer zone, that unspoken courtesy of space observed while in the same cash register line.

It was my voice. Uninvited.

Dead silence was rewarded for my intrusion into a circle of trust, albeit a singular and repetitive trust, one that happens hundreds of times per day. A private proceeding between random strangers. How dare I interrupt the cogwheels of commerce? All the sudden I was one of those guys: that chatty outsider. Awkward.

What...they didn’t believe me? “It’s true,” I said with a smile and a sliver of panic in my voice. We looked at each other the way three strangers look at each other, eyes darting back and forth, assessing the situation, sizing it up. The cashier, thankfully, was a cool customer herself and mirthfully busted up first to lower the tension and end the standoff at check stand #5.

“Really?” she said. “That’s interesting!”

“Yep!” I said. We all laughed deeply. Big, throaty and gregarious laughs, like vikings pillaging a village, enjoying the spoils of our shared wit-filled bounty. No...not quite like that. They laughed together quietly some more, in their circle of trust, despite my attempt to join them.

And that’s where it died, that time. Or left. That’s where 222 abandoned me again to question why.

More random encounters with 222 materialize all the time, while driving around town, usually on bank clocks, car dashboard clocks, and my computer clock or watch. Mostly at 2:22 PM or 2:22 AM. Assorted other instances of 222 show up often like movie run times, start times, track lengths from songs, utility bills, pages in a book, roundtrip miles from Spokane and back again. Totally random.

Yet another riddle to decipher. Numerology flies in the face of my Christian beliefs so I won’t look there for the meaning of 222. Just more questions. But, honestly, I’d just prefer if the universe was trying to tell me something it would just come out and say it for once.

Two two two means something; or nothing at all. Go figure.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My case against Valentine's Day

A metric ton of marketing always comes with the holiday known as Valentine’s Day. And, since we all know marketing is, in fact, truth, then the retailer will bank on us to validate our lovesick ways at the cash register. Florists, jewelers, restaurants, car companies, teddy bear makers, lingerie makers, chocolate producers, they all want to cash-in on the hopes that we’re hopeful about the status of our relationships. With all the subtlety of a February blizzard, they remind: “We’re here if you need us; and you really do need us.” The ads are slick, mushy, thoughtful, and appeal to our happy, fuzzy weak spots.

Caring: the casual card secretly slipped into a jacket pocket, to be “discovered accidentally” and opened while caught a little off guard, a little breathless, and a little embarrassed, alone, or in the company of the thoughtful card buyer. Touching.

Naughty. Amping up the intimacy with a bit of colorful bedroom attire––lacy things, silky things, pink, red, and playful things––provocative, expensive things, designed to be worn for only an instant, and no sooner haphazardly adorning the floor next to the bed. Kinky.

Nice: dinner for two in a perfect restaurant with perfect food and perfect decor, served under perfect lighting and by a perfect wait staff. Magic.

Scrumptious: stuffing the mouth of your lover with decadent sweetness––a box of mixed chocolates, hard candies, or baked goods straight from the kitchen of your heart––to simply say, “I love you just the way you are... if not just slightly fatter.” Tasty.

Aroma therapy: perhaps perfume is your sweet pheromone charged nod to your lover’s scent, “I love the way you smell most of the time... if not just slightly better.” Smell that? That’s love.

Glitzy: jewelry is perhaps the flashiest twinkle of love and affection. And, by far, the most expensive. It’s electric. It’s turbo-charged confirmation in a felt covered, silk lined box. It’s a bold statement: no price comes close to the value of the relationship. “I love you––us––and you look amazing... if not twice as dazzling wearing this.” Breathtaking.

Love, life’s sweetest reward; set it free, and it floats back to you. Take a cruise on the love boat. Buy a Lexus. Go to Paris. These are all just perfect occasions to say the three perfect words: I love you.

And all of it a load of steaming B.S.

Like Christmas, where love is measured in an abundance of gifts and bloated credit card bills, Valentine’s Day is another chance to spend lots of money, hoping to reassure our fragile souls that other souls love us. To prove it, essentially.

It’s a gesture. And if life teaches us anything it’s this: you only get credit for the gesture. Gesture is king. A sappy card; a nice dinner; earrings; sexy underpants; or sweet nothings in a chocolate box. Commitment? No credit. Sacrifice? No credit. Choosing to love every day when it’s harder than hell? No credit. The real and meaningful things are too constant, too true––as not to be noticed, catalogued or appreciated.

The things that matter, in the end, are too vaporous, like clouds: brilliant, beautiful, and gone too soon. Nobody ever comments on a cloudy sky. People only seem to notice when the clouds are gone.

But at least we have Valentine’s Day, to keep our hopes alive, to perpetuate the belief in the fantasy––always and forever––that the fantasy of love remains even in the absence of love itself. Or worse, the utter blindness to real love right in front of our eyes, day after day, week after week, year after year.

Where’s the card for that?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To move... to breathe... to live

I was thinking about the why of why I write here. What’s the point? That could be argued by 6 or 7 faithful followers, or pondered over a coffee sometime. The point, as it were, is hardly a fitting metaphor for something that is utterly blurry.

So why? I’m not really looking for validation of my ideas, or cataloging the stuff on my mind––to journal––or going to great lengths to give a voice to my thoughts. It’s been said; and certainly better said. That I’m saying it is probably of no consequence to you. I’ll always default to the belief that whatever I’m going through pales in comparison to whatever you might be going through. I don’t write here because I figured it out; my words come from that other place where life is always mysterious. We’re all dealing with stuff; mine is no more important than yours.

So why? Maybe to be seen... to be looked at and not looked over... to take chances... to not submit to the submit button––to press it with my middle finger... to feel alive... to gawk at the reflection of my own words and not feel embarrassed or ashamed... to move... to breathe... to live.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Go with God, whatever, just go

I’m taking an English class this semester at Lewis Clark State College. Most of you know about it already. Creative Non Fiction 309. One of our assignments is to write about a person or place that left an impact on us. I struggled to think of someone (well, someone besides a relative, God, a friend, boss, etc.); and I struggled to think of a place (trip, journey, house, apartment, etc). Both failed to pique even my own interest; I was certain that to write about the vast, featureless landscape called my life would surely bore anyone unfortunate enough to have to gaze upon it in print.

Finally, a spark. I toyed around with the idea to write about a dorm fire I went through when I was a freshman in college at Grand Canyon University. Putting Facebook to a meaningful task for a change, I asked some guys for help recalling some details and to share about their own experience with the blaze. The piece got pretty lengthy right off the bat. I wrote up some notes, and compared them to the other guys’ replies. Then started the main essay.

It came surprisingly easy––the writing. From waking up in a fire to waking up in a car a week later, and everything in between. Pieces fell into place, memories were confirmed, little known facts emerged, surprises surfaced, nobody died, and miracles happened.

I was reminded again how many of my friends––then and now––view everything through the lenses of faith. I did at one time too (maybe still do to some degree), although, my faith goggles are smudged now and often the things I see through them lead to more questions rather than answers. Not to say I don’t have faith, I just don’t practice it with the same fervor they do. They have faith in their faith; they have a ton of faith. Whereas, I just have a little faith by comparison. They have more faith than I.

The backdrop of the fire raised a couple of unexpected questions of my own. Mainly about me.

First, following the fire was about the same time I started putting walls up and withdrawing, deploying a subconscious defensive buffer around me. Before then, for the most part, people were granted my trust almost by default. We shared common beliefs, and prayed to the same God. We went to the same school, and drove to church together on Sundays. Our faith in God was our common bond.

But God’s children are far from perfect. In fact, they are quite far from close to perfect. I learned this once the hard way a couple years earlier when I was “fired” from a band. I was in high school and in a Christian rock band. We worked hard and played a few gigs. We prayed together. Studied the Bible together as much as we practiced. Everything was fine until the guys prayed about it and God told them another direction would be taken and I was to be cut loose. My brothers in Christ––these spiritual guys, trusted friends, bandmates, believers––told me I was unneeded. Out. “Go with God, whatever, just go.”

So what did I do? I buried it. Promptly. My mom asked me why I wasn’t practicing with the band anymore. “I quit,” I told her, obviously too embarrassed to admit to being on the business end of prayers. And happily trucked on down the will of God highway. Maybe I sucked at bass guitar. Maybe I couldn’t sing. Maybe a new, sexier Christian dude had a “ministry,” (quotes intended) and had no room for my walk with God. Whatever the reason, the resonating footnote I swallowed with my faith that day was that I was disposable.

Flash back to the fire. A moment came up where victims were all in transition and some friends decided to move in together. My roommate and best friend among them. Four friends, minus me. Tragic, huh? Oh well, sure, go right ahead. I’ll make do over here. It smacked of that same, wretched, loving, thoughtless, aftertaste that screamed I was disposable.

I buried that too. Rejection (real or imagined) seems to get a formal and immediate burial deep within my psyche. Events, like flame and smoke filled escapes from dorm fires, if close enough to rejection, also get filed away into the abyss.

I spent 20 years of my life not thinking about the dorm fire. Not thinking about how it affected my life. Not thinking about how I was treated by fellow Christians, or how I reacted after that (like it didn’t bother me). Not thinking about the my walls (going up brick by brick, rejection by rejection, offense by offense, faithless act after faithless act). Remembering that I felt disposable; then, and other times. Not realizing that maybe my faith in God’s children burned down too, along with my dorm.

For most of those 20 years my closest friends always sparkled brightly in a positive light; but now after a deeper look into the particulars of a shared experience, those same friends, and others, begin to look diminished in the reflection of flames.

My 40-something wisdom today gives them and me a lot of slack too. How can I not? Expecting teenagers and early 20-somethings to always do what is right is expecting too much.

The essay, Kachina Dorm Fire, explored all of it; until that is, I edited it out. When I hand in the essay that doesn’t say anything, I’ll be thinking about this blog post.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My cat only likes me in my underwear

My cat, Zoe, only likes me in my underwear. She won’t give me the time of day unless I’m sporting tighty-whities. Like a trip to the zoo for humans, she’ll watch me from about five feet away, clearly within reach of an exit should something horrible happen. I might notice her noticing me, and start talking to her in that soft “kitty kitty voice.” Or, heaven forbid, reach out to pick her up.

If the boundaries are respected, and I don’t break the trust, she’ll just sit there. Watching. Waiting. Fascinated by God knows what. Hand her a clipboard and white coat and she might as well be a scientist in some lab. She must have a theory or two about white guys in white undies. Working something out. A bit puzzled maybe.

The jeans come on, one leg at a time, and that’s her cue to leave.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Assignment: Eavesdropping

The following was a study in dialogue (listening to how people speak to each other). I tracked three conversations and wrote this up as homework -- it sounded like an assignment -- but the professor didn't call for it in her next lecture. She used in class exercises which was fun too. I'm just putting it here so it'll be in the cloud and easily accessible.

We set off from the parking lot at work. My mom needed a ride to the mechanic's shop downtown. Walking out to my truck, it’s almost dark, cool but not freezing, a mild January breeze in the air. I start the ignition and we both buckle up. It’s barely a 5-minute trip, and just ahead of 5 o’clock traffic.

My mom has good instincts, socially. That is to say she won't talk your ear off. She’s not like some people who feel the need to fill dead space with the sound of their own voices? They'll talk about any random crap they can dream up in that split second where fear takes over and coerces speech out of their mouths. Perhaps they're afraid, if not constantly talking, that they'll fade quietly out of existence forever. You’ve met these people in line at the grocery store, kids’ soccer games, or waiting for a movie to start, etc. One always sits next to you on a plane, or bus, or some other manmade apparatus that herds people like cattle into confined areas, and where, with nothing else to do but wait, he or she rescues us heroically from the evil of being alone with our thoughts. Perhaps as writers, we should harness this wasted banter to study dialogue.

No so with my mother. She’s not chatty, but a pretty decent communicator when necessary. Maybe she feels an unspoken obligation as the occupant of the passenger seat to drive the topics of conversation while I drive the truck. It was fine for two reasons: first, it would do nicely as content for a writing assignment; and two, it wasn’t hard work.

We turn right onto Snake River Avenue where she begins to make small talk.

"They really need to fill in that mud hole right there," she starts. “I always seem to find it on my way out.”

“Mmm hmm,” craning my neck a little to acknowledge the mud hole in question. What mud hole? Truth be told, I never really noticed the mud hole then.

We speed up as the dull, muffled white noises of engines and passing cars fill the cab. The radio is on but not very loud.

“You guys are all studying now I bet.” she says.

“Mmm hmm.” Huh? A question was just asked. “Of course, yeah,” I recover. “Well not the blonde ones, but Emma of course, and me with my new class. Lots of homework already.”

“I can imagine,” she adds.

“Gini is taking that Quickbooks class again too,” I say.

“Maybe she’ll have better luck this time,” mom says. “Good for her.”

We round the jagged wall cliff just past ATK and stay left of the split in the road, slowing down for the a red light at Southway Avenue.

Mom changes the subject. “I don’t think Uncle Don has found a job yet, not that we’ve heard anyway,” sounding a little down.

“Nothing yet, huh?” I ask.

“No. It must really be hard on him,” she reflects.

“I know, it must be awful,” I say. “Have you heard from them in the last month even?”

“Around Christmas we did,” she says. “But not for a couple weeks. I’ve always admired the way those two always set goals and went after them; and usually got ‘em,” she hangs with emphasis. “It must really be depressing not being able to land another job. They really need the insurance. I think it’s an age thing.”

“I do too. I think when he retired all of his friends retired too,” I add. “It’s a young man’s game now, and he doesn’t have any old guys to go back to anymore.”

“Or gals,” she adds.

The light changes green and we proceed through the intersection on our journey down Snake River Avenue.

“That guy needs to turn on his lights,” she scolds.

“Mmm hmm,” I say. She’s was right, of course. It’s plenty dark just before 5 o’clock this time of year. That idiot could probably do him and everyone else a favor and flip on his headlights.

“He’s 60?” I ask, still talking about Don.

“He’ll turn 61 in May,” she corrects.

“Is she still going back and forth to Montana,” I ask.

“Yeah. She stayed the night with your sister on January 2nd.”

“Carrie has always been close to them, huh,” I ask.

“Yeah. She’s like the daughter they never had.

“That’s true,” I laugh.

We both laugh a little to lighten the mood.

Driving on, we sit in silence a few minutes with the radio turned down but not completely down. Passing the restrooms at Kiwanis Park on the left, mom asks me if I agree that it looks nicer along here lately.

“Don’t you think this is looking a lot better down here?”

“Mmm hmm,” I agree, even though we can’t really see any improvement as we peer out of the truck windows into darkness. But we’ve seen it enough from memory during the daytime to backup our assessments.

“There used to be a floating barge right there,” she points. “It was a bar. A floating barge with a bar in it. It was called the Barge Inn.”

I laugh. “Really?”

“Yeah. Your dad and Gene were known to go and have a beer there every now and then.”

“Hmm,” was all I could convincingly come up with.

We turn left to go under the bridge, not saying another word until we pull up to PDQ on “C” Street.

“There’s your car,” I nod, half surprised to see it parked outside the shop. “It must be done.”

“I sure hope so. I’m getting tired of them trying to fix it.”

She thanks me and gets out of the car. I ask her if she wants me to wait, just to be sure.

“No. If it’s not done I’ll just bring it back down another time.”

We wave goodbye.


The next conversation I “spied” on was at home that same night. I have three kids, ages 14, 12, and 6. Two girls and a boy. Writing down everything they said and how they said it was an impossible task. I scribbled as fast as I could, but they flip from subject to subject with each passing breath. I only catch one actual conversation.

Owen, 6, is packing a thick book around, “reading it” he claims. He’s the baby in the family and always handy for comic relief, as the youngest often are. A brown eyed child with blonde hair, he is all boy and spends most of his free time outside or playing the Wii whenever he can. Packing around the book was a little odd even for him.

“Owen, what’s your book about,” Lainey asks as she folds her arms and raises a chin with one quizzical eyebrow.

“It’s about a guy on a horse and he’s riding to a kingdom,” Owen answers politely. We all know Owen isn’t really reading, but looking at the pictures. He can read a little as 1st graders often can, but not thick books with more than 11 words on each page. “And you have to be four feet tall to get into the kingdom.”

“How far have you read, Owen?” Lainey presses him even further. Her tone of voice tells everyone in the room where she’s going with the line of questioning. She waits, like a cold litigator badgering a witness on the stand in some courtroom.

Lainey, 12, is notorious for her utter lack of interest in reading (much like her father was at the same age). The arts are her passion; academics not so much. Singing or performing in front of an audience is her “on” switch. Lainey deplores the thought of reading. She hates it. And to get her to read takes a great deal of mental strategy on her parents’ part. Intimidation. Consequences. Punishment. Lost privileges. Like Chinese handcuffs, that classic booby prize toy where you stick a finger in each end, the more she fights the harder it becomes for her to escape. For her, pressing her little brother like this is just an imitation of how her parents pressure her. The irony is surely lost on her. But still amusing to me.

“He isn’t actually reading,” Emma chimes in as she waltzes from her room to the kitchen. “You know that, right? Don’t you?”
The two older sisters laugh together at the younger boy.

Emma, 14, is preparing to leave for a friend’s house. She’s a straight A student in junior high school. Her life is a series of comings and goings between school, games, dance, sleepovers, and more. A flexible social life is her reward for keeping her grades up and being responsible while she’s out of the house.

“I’m on Chapter 6 already,” Owen proudly declares. There’s that six again. It’s his world, everything measured in sixes.

“Six chapters in two minutes?” Lainey is skeptical.

“YES!” Owen crumples a little under the weight of his lies. Throwing the book down, he leaves the room in almost a full blown tantrum.

“YEAH RIGHT!” Emma and Lainey laugh in unison.

“You’re just looking at the pictures.” With that, Lainey excuses the witness.

It’s quiet for a few moments as I document the exchange. Owen, who went downstairs, suddenly arrives again somber and centered.

“Will you guys be a little more respectful to me? Please?”


We gathered our things up and went to Starbucks Saturday afternoon around 1 P.M. I wanted to see if any loud talkers were within earshot at the corporate coffee house in town. Emma brings her study guide and textbook for a semester science final, while Lainey brings a couple books to read (or, more likely than not, not read).

Starbucks is busy, and a lot noisier than I realized before. I needed to take notes, so of course that would be more difficult now. Every square inch of the place is planned to maximize customer experience and profits. They have nice desks, soft chairs by the doors, muted colors on the wall arranged and offset to compliment one another, artistic pieces hanging about, music you don’t recognize but like a lot, a nice assortment of retail items and other wares placed by each exit and along the counters where orders are taken. We find the big table waiting for us, which is perfect for our group’s multi-tasking needs. I ask them what they want and go order, leaving them to get situated for the next hour. Lainey is on my heels no sooner than I leave demanding a cookie.

“Fine,” I say. “I don’t want you bugging me about lunch and how hungry you are until we go. OK?”

“OK, dad,” she says. “I am hungry, though.”

“Zip it.”

The counter is free. In addition to the warm feel of the place, it’s also ripe with afternoon beverage lovers, friends, mothers, daughters, new babies, couples, a pug and his owner, students, and the like. So many people are talking I can’t hear one over the other. It’s just as well. I have more writing to do anyway.

Emma is clearly having a nice time. Focused, she’s already halfway through her notes by the time I get back with a chocolate chip cookie, two small hot cocoas, and my venti (Starbucks for large) Pike Place with a little half-and-half stirred in to minimize its over-the-top boldness.

At first Lainey wasn’t going to share the cookie.

“Break some off for your sister, Lainey,” I ask like the grown up in charge.

Lainey sighs heavily and rolls her eyes in the direction of her older sister.

“Thanks!” Emma says.

We sit for a few moments doing our own thing. My notebook is out and a pen just in case I hear some dialogue to write about.

“This is fun,” Emma says. “It’s cool in here. It would be fun to come here with my friends and talk.”

“Or study maybe, huh?” I say.

She laughs.

“You should call your crew and meet them all here at this table,” I offer.

“You should text them, Emma,” Lainey suggests.

“Sure, text them,” I laugh a little. “Text them all and your daddy will go pick them up.” We share another laugh together.

Emma’s head is buried in her text book again, trying to find out what happens in an automobile engine that turns chemical energy into _______. Lainey is concentrating on all the people in the place.


Monday, January 17, 2011

A vixen named Clarity

She is one of those words in bold print on the pages of your life story. Clarity. It means having the quality of being certain or definite. Clear. Her only purpose, as it relates to how we process the world around us, is to convey that this -- whatever this is -- is important.

Routine becomes vague; the path familiar; the pace: machine-like and automatic; the challenges many; the needs plenty. Each a mind-numbing blend of details, niceties, particulars, minutiae, and noise.

Clarity is a not-so-gentle speed-bump as you travel in the blight of trivial consciousness, sleepwalking through life, asleep at the wheel.

She's a near miss with that innocent deer jumping in front of the car. Lord knows why the deer was up at 2:00 AM, roaming the shadows so close to the highway. Maybe it was having a bad night, or making a break for it ahead of hunting season, chasing a dream to be a movie star someday, or wandering the moonlit landscape in search of its true love. It matters only to the deer. What matters to you, on the other hand, is you nearly just crapped yourself into cardiac arrest. Thank you, Clarity.

"What the HELL!?" Slowing down, you scour the darkness for Bambi. Satisfied it's gone, and was alone, you catch your breath and speed up again, cautiously, all the while shaken and very much wide awake now. "I hate you, Clarity."

"Good, you survived," she giggles. "Ya know... if you insist on driving at this absurd hour then you won't mind if I stimulate you a bit. You're welcome, by the way. There's a rest stop just up ahead (not that I recommend stopping at an isolated rest stop in the middle of the night). Fool."

Clarity is like that. She's not a lady, not proper, not polite, not considerate, or even kind. She hangs around and keeps to herself, mostly; but strikes in an instant to demand your attention. Right now. Now like a lapful of warm vomit. And still, other times, miraculously, she has your back, coming to your defense in the nick of time. "I love you, Clarity."

You see, good or bad, timing is her calling card.

She can be small, like the first whiff of sour milk; realizing that your fly has been open all morning; a cold swimming pool; burning yourself while cooking; a high five; a beautiful woman; adorable puppies; a good meal; a handshake; or even a hug. And a lot more.

She can be a medium sized routine buster, like losing your wallet; getting mugged; last games; winning shots; saying yes; taking a chance; taking an English class; moving; quitting; victory; or defeat. And even more.

She is mindful of the big things too, like births; deaths; first kisses; honesty; giving up; getting up; believing in God; giving yourself credit; silver anniversaries; broken marriages; long lost friends; close companions; or even intimacy. And others, of course.

She even invites us along as voyeurs into other peoples' tragedy -- where we can feel lucky and sorry at the same time -- like Arizona gunshots seeking out random targets in a crowd; terrorism; war; genocide; violent crimes; domestic abuse; missing children; a burning home; natural disasters; sinking ships; falling planes; exploding shuttles; interstate pileups; financial collapse; and lives lost. All those moments you can’t believe your eyes or ears or convictions.

Shock and confusion is the package Clarity puts on a FedEx truck to that place called the bleeding edge of your very own awareness. "Hearts and Skulls. XOXO. Love, Clarity."

Figure it out. Process it. Use it. This matters.

She may be a vixen, but Clarity is also the very best guide you'll ever have, just tagging along as you fumble your way through a noise filled existence.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Naive is a French word

I was 22, a hopeful man, polished, well practiced, and ahead of my time -- all those great things young fools attribute to themselves as granted and obvious, but none of those things ever being earned by doing a life sentence within the confines of a man's life. I was ready to conquer the world, but the world was busy and had better things to do.

Naive is a French word; perhaps you've heard of it.

Early on, that life sentence lacked anything compelling enough to write about, so, quite simply, I didn't.

I'll be 42 this spring, a pessimistic man who is not polished, not well practiced, and mentally bruised from the time and place called the present -- all those things that older men never intended to become, but became nonetheless.

Blasé is another French word; perhaps you live it.

I'm hoping to get unstuck a little at this point. My first step was to start writing a blog. It's random, therapeutic, and excitingly fun dusting off a forgotten skill-set. My next move is signing up for a writing class at Lewis-Clark State College. Nearly two decades have unfolded since my last serious exposure to collegiate level English classes, so it'll be a shock -- a most welcome shock -- to the relaxed writing style you occasionally encounter here.

Time to light a fire under Chris.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Pattern says... Green

The Pattern says...

...that Green is the one. It's the color now. After decades of social re-engineering, focused on the promotion of color-blind attitudes that pressure us all to rise above bigotry, to diminish cultural diversity, to only see color -- any color -- in a positive light, we now have impeccable Green.

Green is, well... golden. Ordained. Universally recognized. Politcally correct. Safe. Intelligent. Preferred. Marketable.

Are you Green? Do you think Green thoughts? Why not? Are you a redneck? Don't you care about energy? Don't you care about trees? Or rain forests, timber lands, rivers, lakes, and ponds? Do you live in a red state? Has anyone ever heard of the color Green where you live?

Do you even know why... Green?

The pattern says our world won't survive your ignorance. Can't you see that Green is the only vision that stands between mankind and a volatile Mother Earth, who chokes day after day on capitalism, gets trampled under by the heavy healed boot of free enterprise, and muddles by just this side of crumpling apart like a fragile leaf dangling above a fiery abyss?

Green is our only hope, but only if each one of us believes in Green. Can the vile wickedness of man be smited back behind the point of no return? Can Green deliver us all from ourselves?

On death's door Mother Earth remains like a battered whore looking for a way out, for mercy between bitch slaps, bruised and bleeding, hopeless and lost. To have given so much for nothing in return. Hanging by a thread, holding to a whisper, clinging to a small miracle.

The Miracle of Green.

Tragedy awaits us all if we fail... if we fritter away these last days to Think Green with all of our hearts and all of our minds. Mother Earth's wrath will lash out with her last breath and destroy all those who didn't believe in the Religion of Green. The oceans will run red because too many sinners didn't repent and recruit, or couldn't comprehend the Gospel-like tracts plastered in newsprint and glossy magazines, or grasp the many sermons of the televangelists/pundits on cable and network news, or didn't commune with each other at the alter of human fulfillment called public broadcasting.

The blame goes to all of the small thinkers and lost among humanity who tuned a blind ear to pet policies and clowned corporate nobility. Unmoved by the pioused politicians and evil CEO's in matching suits: once mortal enemies, but now equal shareholders in the plundering possibilities of Green. Villain or saint, it matters not to they, the rich bastards. For sale is your goodwill toward Green...

.... so the Pattern says.