Friday, December 2, 2016


Back in 2005, I quit my job at the newspaper, and didn't really have an employment plan to make up for the loss. I worked the summer with my brother laying brick -- that was a blessing -- and then worked at Target and at call centers, trying to pay the bills.

Our truck threw a rod one morning on the way to work -- and there I was, stranded in the rain at 4 in the morning with a cell phone I was trying to charge off the truck battery.

I'd applied for job after job after job and got nothing for it. It seemed like the only thing I was good for was stocking light bulbs and listening to people complain about their cell phone bills. I was at a low ebb. And i was tired of talking to God about it -- because he wasn't listening. At all.

As I sat there in the truck, waiting for my wife to come rescue me, I decided to pray one last time. It wasn't going to be a happy prayer at all. But before I started, I heard one whispered word: Patience.

And I was through. Patience?

Patience, the word came again.

Then my wife pulled up. I got in the car and she took me to work. It was a Tuesday, so I only had to work until 9 am. One -- and only one -- good thing to look forward to.


I was still rolling my eyes.

I heard the word a third time: Patience.

Whatever. I guess I could be patient. Nothing else was going right, so, yeah, patience.

Several months later, on another Tuesday, we were on a walk. Michelle took out our cell phone on a whim to check the messages -- something she typically only did on the weekends. There was a message. A job offer.

As I listened to the message, I flashed back to that crappy morning on the road in a broken truck, and I heard that word for a fourth time: Patience.

I had been pretty faithless, I admit.

Not Michelle.

She'd been praying for me the whole time, even when I'd stopped.

Maybe the word I kept hearing wasn't meant for me.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

We Need More Pollyannas, not Fewer

So it appears Pollyanna was right all along.

When she saw Mrs. Snow picking out the lining and other accoutrements for her coffin, she was aghast.

When her aunt’s servants were sour-faced at the thought of another Sunday, she was appalled.

And when old Mr. Pendergast didn’t want to show another snotty orphan his prisms, she pushed past his bluster and resentment.

We need more Pollyannas.

And I’m going to relate it to November’s election.

I can hear it already, said in the clipped words of one of Aunt Polly’s dour servants:  “Here it comes. Miss Goody-Two-Shoes is going to find something about Sunday to be glad about.”

I get that there’s a lot of resentment out there that Donald Trump won the election (winning via the Electoral College, if not by popular vote).

I get that resentment fueled Trump’s rise through the Republican primaries to the Presidency.

But if we leave that resentment unaddressed, unacknowledged, we’re going to see more Fergusons. More Occupy Wall Streets. More Black Lives Matter. More The South Shall Rise Again. More from the Alt Right. More Malheur National Wildlife Refuges. More Standing Rocks. More of this and more of that until there’s so much of it Pollyanna herself will stop playing The Glad Game.

Maybe we’re all looking into that church barrel for a doll and seeing only a pair of crutches.

Maybe we ought to remember that, right now, we ought to be glad that we don’t need them.

If we can’t get rid of resentment, it’s going to be our downfall.

And what do I mean? I’ll let Katherine J. Cramer, author of “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker,” as she told the Washington Post:

One of the very sad aspects of resentment is that it breeds more of itself. Now you have liberals saying, “There is no justification for these points of view, and why would I ever show respect for these points of view by spending time and listening to them?”
Thank God I was as naive as I was when I started. If I knew then what I know now about the level of resentment people have toward urban, professional elite women, would I walk into a gas station at 5:30 in the morning and say, “Hi! I’m Kathy from the University of Madison”?

I’d be scared to death after this presidential campaign! But thankfully I wasn’t aware of these views. So what happened to me is that, within three minutes, people knew I was a professor at UW-Madison, and they gave me an earful about the many ways in which that riled them up — and then we kept talking.

And then I would go back for a second visit, a third visit, a fourth, fifth and sixth. And we liked each other. Even at the end of my first visit, they would say, “You know, you’re the first professor from Madison I’ve ever met, and you’re actually kind of normal.” And we’d laugh. We got to know each other as human beings.

That’s partly about listening, and that’s partly about spending time with people from a different walk of life, from a different perspective. There’s nothing like it. You can’t achieve it through online communication. You can’t achieve it through having good intentions. It’s the act of being with other people that establishes the sense we actually are all in this together.

As Pollyannaish as that sounds, I really do believe it.

What Cramer advocates is talking.

Talking without the filters of the national media, without politics, without technology. Just old-fashioned talking. And listening. And acknowledging differences. And finding common ground. But without polls and focus groups and talk of city-slickers and flyover country.

I’ll have Cramer say it again:

That’s partly about listening, and that’s partly about spending time with people from a different walk of life, from a different perspective. There’s nothing like it. You can’t achieve it through online communication. You can’t achieve it through having good intentions. It’s the act of being with other people that establishes the sense we actually are all in this together.

As Pollyannaish as that sounds, I really do believe it.

If we don’t listen to each other, really try to understand each other, we may as well live on Camazotz. No resentment there when everybody is just like everybody else – and can be euthanized for bouncing a ball out of rhythm. Conor Friedersdorf echoes as much writing at The Atlantic:

The coalition that opposes Donald Trump needs to get better at persuading fellow citizens and winning converts, rather than leaning so heavily on stigmatizing those who disagree with them. Chief among the problems with stigma as a political weapon?

It doesn’t work.

Meet someone with a thought that doesn’t match your own? He or she doesn’t bounce the ball right, is what you’re saying.

Don’t be IT. Be Pollyanna. Be Meg. Be the best Meg you can be. But you have to be the Pollyanna or the Meg with the kid who can’t bounce the ball right, or it’s all for naught.

Remember, we want nothing from you that you do without grace, “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What if I DON'T Get My Own Job?

So, a week ago today was the deadline to apply for my own job.

Background: I work, of course, at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex. Have done for the past 10 ½ years. But I’ve done so as a subcontractor. Fluor Idaho LLC (the main contractor) is looking for two tech writers to replace retiring writers, so I applied for one of the job. Essentially, it would be (if all went well) a move from company to company, not into a new position.

But the thought struck me this morning on the way to work: What if I don’t get picked?
First thing: I would not lose my current job. I would remain a subcontractor.


Second thing: Does that mean I’m not as valuable to Fluor, or cheaper in some way to be kept as a subcontractor, rather than as a full-fledged employee?

It could all come down to question of ego. And as I have an ego already used to bruising, maybe things will work out okay. But the go may shrink if I don’t get even called in for an interview. That could be a low blow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Two Boston Grads

These two Boston grads have me worried.

I’m not so much worried about their data mining or whatever they’re doing to make the insurance companies so nervous. Because to tell the truth, insurance companies being insurance companies, not even atomic holocaust  makes them nervous.

No one will have the endurance to collect on his insurance, Lloyds of London will be loaded when they go.

What worries me about these two Boston grads is that the folks sponsoring their content – or at least putting their ad campaign together – can’t decide if the grads are two ladies or a woman and a man.

The Investigation by Stanislaw Lem

The InvestigationThe Investigation by Stanisław Lem

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

December 2013

So maybe this is the book Franz Kafka could have written if he'd finished "The Trial." Then again, even the fragments of The Trial are more gripping.

I wanted to like this one. An interesting hard sci-fi premise, but one that came completely without resolution. Intentional I'm sure. But infuriating. Read it, but be ready to be a bit let down at the end.

UPDATE (November 2016): I re-read it. I thought I'd read it before, but when I got to the end, I had no recollection of it. So my review on the resolution stands. Now I've added the following:

In Star Trek the Next Generation, they call it technobabble.

And by and large, the writers didn’t write it. They left it up to the actors to come up with some pseudoscientific, star-trekky gobbledygook to maybe explain something about the ship or the aliens or the situation they were in.

That’s what I feel like I’ve just read in Stanislaw Lem’s The Investigation.

This isn’t my first foray into Lem’s writing. I heartily enjoyed Solaris, for example. But I leave The Investigation highly unsatisfied. Then again, I’ve never been much for metaphysics. And maybe since this is a science fiction novel hidden within a police procedural, I was waiting for the neat ending tied up with a bow. Not what I got. I think I know what’s going on, but I’ve got that squinty Fry look about me that maybe isn’t satisfied that I’ve got it right.

It’s Sciss (spoilers). But why? Because he’s nuts? Because he wanted to play around with the mathematics and be proved a genius? I guess so. I’m almost happier to believe the fabrication of the truck driver. Or even that resurrection is caused by cancer bringing cancer-resistant folks back to life.

I’m not sure I appreciate the metaphysical dump – separate ones by two characters, no less – in the closing pages of the novel. I needed that spread out a bit, cleverly, so I could examine it for clues. To get two dumps in a row, well, I have to admit I skimmed them. So maybe it’s my fault I didn’t enjoy the book much.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Again with the Revisions . . .

I know I keep saying things like this, but I’m going to say it again:

I’m taking a new approach to editing Doleful Creatures.

This next time through, it’s just to read the story. I’m going to try to put the pen down as much as possible, only taking it up to ask the book or the characters or the book’s idiot author questions. I’m also going to re-read the synopsis – of which I’m proud – each time I pick up the book to read. That’ll help me focus on keeping the story moving as it should. And, hopefully, identify the fluff.

Good things:

I’ve already eliminated a lot of fluff. I’ve killed characters and story arcs.

I’ve got a good bead on a few things that need to be added to complete some character development, and to bring some hope to the characters at the end. (It has been trending to a rather bleak storyline, even  though the good guys win at the end. (Maybe that’s where I need to go, to bring in a little happiness at the end, when the itch for writing more hits me.)

I can feel the book coming closer to completion. I’m nine-tenths of the way there.