“You sound surprised,” Jesse said.

“Not really,” Sheila replied. “Look, we all suspected there was something going on, but it all seemed innocuous, so we just ignored it. Not ignored, really. More like — you know that art gallery on Fifth Street?”

“Not really. I mean I know it’s there — “

“Yeah, anybody who lives west of here knows that place, because it’s right on the way to work. And it’s got that odd orange sign, so you notice it every time you drive by. But it’s too far from work to walk there, and there’s no good places for lunch nearby, so you think anyone here’s been there? Probably not.”

Jesse sneezed, excused himself. “I agree, but you mind helping me understand why this isn’t a non sequitor?”

“Sorry. See, I’ve been meaning to say this since last week, after I decided on a whim to stop in at that art gallery on the way back from work.”


“Yeah, it was Wednesday, I noticed the lights were on in the gallery, and since I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do myself when I got home I decided to stop in. Turns out Wednesday’s their late night. It was pretty neat — contemporary, mostly paintings and sculptures, some abstract work but most of it you could look at and say, hey, that’s a landscape, or an athlete. I’ve seen better galleries, whole lot worse — wasn’t really anything special about it, but I felt a whole lot better hanging out there for a half hour than I would have if I had gone home and wasted that time online. And while I was there, I was thinking, why hadn’t I come here before? And the only answer I could give was, because I knew what to expect, and I didn’t think it was worth the effort to find out if I was correct. So I went, and yeah, it was what I expected — no surprises — but it felt good to confirm something about my world. And this is where I come to the part about the Johnson contract. No, what we just found out wasn’t surprising. But by confirming what we suspected, I feel more alert, aware. And now that we know that it’s really not that big of a deal, we can  move on — I can keep passing that gallery every day, without any nagging curiosity. And yes, we’ll have to revisit this Johnson thing every once in a while now that we know about it, just like I’m sure to go back to that gallery every few months, to see the new exhibits. Surprised? My only surprise is how good I feel now that I know.”


Love Songs

“No, I’m not a fan of love songs. They’re so public — any couple that thinks they’re playing our song doesn’t realize a thousand other couples think that song belongs to them. I love you so much, I don’t want to cheapen it by borrowing words from some singer. I want to express my love for you in my own words, even though I struggle to find the words that match how I feel. I’m sorry I dissed your song — that was wrong of me, selfish. But I didn’t do it to make fun of you, to dismiss how you feel. That song can’t express how much I love you — that’s what I was reacting to. But, how about I say that I’ll be more respectful about your musical tastes from now on. Because your feelings, and your love, are more important to me than my opinions.”


Dorothy Parker claimed that she hated writing, but loved having written. For Stephen, though, the opposite held true. He enjoyed the act, the struggle, of writing, would at times work so furiously on a story or magazine article that he’d skip meals and appointments (sometimes knowingly, other times not). The most disappointing part of writing for him was reaching the end, whether it was a deadline or the realization that he could do no more to improve his work. For he would often feel that the words he composed had not fully realized his intention. “It’s like buying a sweater that fits and looks nice,” he once explained at a party, “but isn’t exactly what you want to wear, so you never take it out of the closet. That’s why I rarely read what I get published.” He would use cooking analogies as well to explain his dissatisfaction. “The meals I make look and smell great, but the taste — yes I’ll eat the whole thing, and probably cook it again, but it just leaves me full, not satisfied, feeling like I need a tasty snack, something to read that has a little more zest. Don’t know what I need — add some spicy figurative language, let my exposition bake longer — I just feel like language is my enemy, that I’m never able to express my thoughts, my feelings, completely.”

The Wordy Shipmates

Just finished Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates, an analysis of the founding and early years (1630 to 1660) of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. I was hoping this book would provide a fresh perspective on the history I had learned (and quickly forgotten) during my middle school years in New England, and I was not disappointed. Vowell is an entertaining writer who is able to balance a clear respect for her subjects with a snarky, postmodern voice that never comes across as too satisfied with itself; she writes that much of her childhood knowledge of American colonial history came from watching “The Brady Bunch” and other television situation comedies, without feeling the need to amplify the inherent humor of her tale by winking or groaning at her reader. Her book is certainly not a comprehensive history; only a few dozen of the thousands of colonists are mentioned, and of those only a handful are discussed in depth. But the people Vowell does focus her attention on – compassionate yet authoritarian John Winthrop, loyal outsider Roger Williams, devout and defiant Anne Hutchinson – become fascinating and relevant figures. I’m tempted to say that Vowell portrays the Puritans neither as pious heroes nor narrow-minded barbarians, but in fact she portrays them as equally both, praising their devotion to learning and ideas on community and damning their medieval treatment of contrarian thinkers and Native Americans. The Wordy Shipmates won’t replace middle school textbooks in New England (sorry kids), but it’s a must-read for anyone interested in becoming re-acquainted with what they’ve forgotten about this crucial period in American history.


Stan shook his head, hummed a disagreeing laugh as he drank his coffee. Setting the paper cup down, he cleared his throat, then “Jensen’s not crazy. You know what crazy is?”

“Doing the same thing, but expecting the same result?” offered Warren.

“Nah. Close. That’s the definition of insanity. Crazy’s a little bit different, that’s where you keep doing things that you are counter-productive, self-destructive even.”

“Sounds pretty broad.”

“Well yeah, everybody screws up, acts on impulse. That’s being human. But most people, see, learn from their mistakes — they’re self-correcting. Crazy people, those are the ones who can’t see that what they’re doing isn’t helping, that if they don’t get their act together, correct the” — Stan straightened himself in his chair, changing to a mock-professorial tone — ” ‘error of their ways’ ” — he lowered his arms back down to table, dropped the tone — “they’re heading for disaster.”

“I would call Jensen’s behavior self-destructive.”

“Well, yeah, but look at it this way — does he make the same mistake twice? And you gotta admit, he’s doing pretty well for himself. Yeah, the guy’s impulsive, dangerous even — but he’s self-correcting. That’s why he’s not crazy.”


He realized he had been an all too-willing accomplice in his own imprisonment, accepting at face value the banalities of pop culture. And even as he realized how limited his knowledge was, knowing that there was so much he didn’t know, he knew he was so thoroughly acclimated to his comfortable confinement that he could not break free. He felt like a fish looking past the water’s surface to the clear blue sky, knowing that there was an entirely different world, an entirely different way of thinking and being, than what he was used to. But he could no more escape from his environment and enter that foreign world than a fish could breath out of water.


“Yes, you were better to her than he ever was. But you didn’t really love her, in fact you had no idea how to be in love with her. All you know about love is what you’ve learned from pop music lyrics. To you, love is a concept — what she wants is somone to love her for real.”


Michael smiled, grasping both sides of the wide podium and leaning forward until his arms formed upright right angles. “Have to begin with an apology,” he began. “After showering in my hotel room this morning, I realized I had forgotten to pack my electric razor.” He had actually realized this oversight shortly after leaving his house, but thought a little artistic license was appropriate. He stroked his chin to draw attention to his stubble. “I thought about going to the convenience store across the street to pick up a blade and shaving cream,” (he had actually never really considered it, aside from considering it as part of his story) “but it’s been twenty years since I last shaved with a blade, and back then, the results weren’t pretty.” (True on both points.) “Now in saying this, I fully realize that if I hadn’t said anything, most of you probably wouldn’t have noticed. However, you seem like a fairly perceptive audience, so there was a good chance that somebody would notice and start to wonder if I had a rough night last night. So, I had to make a decision — did I want to take a chance that some of you would think I was a dirtbag, or lay it on the line like this and convince you all that I’m an airhead?” The line drew the casual, polite laughter he had been seeking.


He would be considered by anyone outside of professional academia a well-read person, and while he did enjoy reading he found the activity frustrating at times. He found it difficult to consistently remember what he had just read, many times reaching the end of a paragraph and realizing that while he had certainly scanned the letters that had come before, he could not recall the content. He would then scan back to the top of the paragraph and re-read, and in many cases he would remember the entire content of the paragraph by reading just a part of the first sentence.


He was running late again, and the anxiety he felt was based not on the implications of his meeting, but rather was caused by his own insecurity.