January 24, 2022. A New Year, a new journal volume. Will this year fill an entire book? Will it be fewer words, or more? Such occasions direct my thoughts toward the mechanics of writing and away from the ideas that need to be set down on paper. Let it out and be done for another… Continue reading The Tools of a Writer
Winter seems a good time for reminiscing, with cold winds handicapping my outdoor activities. I saw a post on Twitter featuring a lake at night, high in the mountains of Tierra del Fuego, an environment of thin air, rocky slopes, and water. Surrounded by fierce crags, to its right a talus slope descended at a… Continue reading Another world
Diane’s life continued to follow a path of poor judgment, rash choices, and awful consequences, leading from one disaster to the next. When she met Tom they were both 18 years old. She was drifting through her life, rootless. Tom was drifting into schizophrenia. The two of them felt powerfully attracted to each other, pulled… Continue reading Marriage and Child-Bearing
Diane, age 15, smoking a cigarette After her release from Sauk Centre at age 15, Diane continued her trajectory of the excluded, rejected girl, seeking the company of those whom the system rejected and stigmatized, written off as hoodlums and punks. Her family kept moving between Minnesota and California, always unable to succeed and thinking… Continue reading Teenage Years
As Diane entered adolescence and was more uncontrollable than ever, her parent brought the family back to Minneapolis. Aged 13, hanging out with the “tough” kids, those who accepted a stranger without much fuss, Diane began smoking, wandering the streets with her new friends at night, and staying out late. She eventually came into contact… Continue reading Minnesota’s Juvenile System
When the family and the schools all fail, the child welfare system comes into play. Diane’s mother was forced into a state hospital for tuberculosis patients in Southern California, and her sisters were taken to live with relatives. Diane was 11 years old. Women held in Olive View Early cottages at Olive View By the… Continue reading Child Welfare
In Diane's childhood during the late 1940s and early 1950s, the school system was then (and still is) attuned to the needs and expectations of compliant, traditional families. Those on the margins of society had less success at conforming to the expectations of the school system, and their children suffered as a result. At the… Continue reading Schools
Diane was a sweet baby just like any other child, anywhere in the country, or in the world. Diane as a toddler In time she grew into an adventurous, inquisitive girl who looked for new places, new experiences, and things that fell just outside the safe boundaries her parents set for her. How did this… Continue reading Family
This phenomenal analysis was written by Kate Sloan and delivered as a sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cherry Hill on July 4, 2021. She posted it in her blog for those who were not present at the service. https://wp.me/pcnyDE-1H
I am still absorbing the significance of that book. Eight-year-old me wanted to be a famous astronomer like Einstein. Everyone knew who he was. Not many people know who Joe Taylor is, and he's about as famous as any other Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist. So maybe if I had gone down that road, I would… Continue reading Accidental author
How do you know when a book is finished? Honestly, I don't know. Somehow it feels done. I know that from just having reached that awareness. Here's a metaphor: This bookshelf holds all Diane's handwritten journals. Starting in 1992, Diane began writing with a word processor, and gradually changed to a computer for her work… Continue reading Accomplishing the Mission
How many different ways to tell a story? "What to leave in, what to leave out..." Which one reaches people? Who will want to read it? Did I choose the right one? As these thoughts tumbled around in my pre-dawn mind, they provoked in me an unexpected reaction: a feeling of certainty. I remembered why… Continue reading Doubt
Last night I watched the movie Immortal Beloved, which I had not seen before, about the life of Beethoven. Beethoven's music is the entire soundtrack. I haven't listened to it for years. The music carried me away; it took me to a place I have not visited for years, of cataclysmic sadness, grief, and yearning.… Continue reading Immortal Beloved
Why did we go on that long trip? Were we running from our grief? That was part of our reason for going. Lately I started to understand the reasons better. Immediately after we returned, I wrote out the facts and events that happened along the way, but somehow it didn't make sense. It seemed disconnected from the… Continue reading What was Our Journey About, Anyway?
Weak sunlight skimmed across the vacant four-lane Antelope Valley Freeway in the fading afternoon light. Every rock and pebble on the dry roadway cast a long shadow toward the northeast as the sun slipped into the red-brown smoggy haze above the mountains along the southwest horizon. No truck tires whined in the distance and no… Continue reading Angels Run
Trump and his minions, his thuggish followers, and his mindless adherents stir up ugly thoughts when I see their mob actions in the news. One part of me wants to turns away and ignore them, to act as if this was not happening, and to focus on calm, pleasant thoughts and ideas. People I know… Continue reading I can’t remain silent here.
A simple tombstone shows the numbers of two lives. Allen O. and Mary Lee Stockton were my mother's grandparents. He died in 1933, and she died five years later, in 1938. Widows commonly outlived their husbands, then and now. The story beneath the tombstone is far more intriguing. Their oldest son Martin died in 1903,… Continue reading Buried History
Out of the rubble of daily life as we knew it, something new is emerging. In my former life as a techie, I spent about twenty years off and on, working and managing technical writing projects online. Most of that time I was at AT&T, a place you'd expect to support remote work, given that… Continue reading Zoom zoom zoom…
As I listen to the Adagio in D Minor from Mozart's clarinet concerto, it moves me to tears. That hasn't happened before. Before my life unraveled, listening to Mozart's nearly perfect, smooth melody, I couldn't imagine how the music could affect me more. The family I once had is no more. My wife of fifty… Continue reading Ephemera
I met Larry at the office, at Control Data where we both worked. I don't remember the exact circumstances. Youthful, clean-cut, pin-striped, and moustached, Larry represented the very image of corporate marketing and sales—exactly where he worked at CDC, and somewhat the opposite of my bearded and shabby self. I do remember one of the… Continue reading The Chief Justice’s Nephew
A friend's husband died early this morning from dementia. It's not sudden or unexpected. In our adult years, the death of a friend, or an acquaintance, or a loved family member often comes out of nowhere. Dementia is slow death, giving you plenty of time to imagine how it will happen. I've had both experiences.… Continue reading On Grief
No matter how good your words seem in that last draft of the evening, there's always room for improvement in the cold light of day. Pencil and paper editing I learned many of my writing skills in an era when "cut and paste" required scissors and Scotch tape. Now, I make my edits with a… Continue reading Rewrites
The news services still exist, all over the world, primarily dedicated to reporting on events, exposing corruption where it occurs (even in media organizations), and unmasking official falsehoods. They raise a voice against officialdom, when the official story runs away from the truth. They have the power to speak for people whose voices are ignored… Continue reading The media
... happens to be the title of a favorite song of mine by Bob Seger. Relevance? Well, this is the slack time after finishing the umpty-umpth draft of my book and starting to flog it to agents, et al. So I read through Writer's Market, books about agents, books by agents, blogs by agents, emails… Continue reading Against the Wind
Yesterday, a friend died of cancer in the afternoon. In the evening I started playing Mozart's Requiem to reflect on it, and as I heard the Introitus something happened. Most of my life I have been a firm skeptic, a rationalist, a nonbeliever in transcendental realities. I felt that and asserted it. In one moment, the… Continue reading Revelation?
Everything is locked down, I don't go anywhere to write about, nobody visits, and so on. Boring. True, but necessary, right? What does that facilitate? Writing and editing. Been doing that. A lot. Now, however, I've officially run out of writing and editing to do. It's done. The book, a.k.a. Incorrigible, a.k.a. Mirror Lake, emerged… Continue reading Wanted: Readers
A young friend of mine—not so young, really, he's in his 50s by now—recently raised a question in one of his posts about the pandemic: "Consider the tragic fact that some, perhaps the larger percentage, of the Covid-19 deaths, took ZERO responsibility for their own health and well-being during their lives. There are always convenient… Continue reading Choices
Now I am in the final stage of editing the story of my life before I begin to submit it for publication. This process provides me with the material for extensive reflection on it, and the opportunity to find the truth in what I thought was happening, examined from a distant perspective. It is the… Continue reading Reflection
While I was caring for Diane, I spent six years gradually disconnecting from the world. More and more of our time passed inside the house, the daily life of a caregiver and his charge. As her life narrowed, so mine did also. At the end, she lived in one room, confined to a hospital bed,… Continue reading Living in Isolation
In December, no one outside of China or the CIA knew what was brewing. I ventured north to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for a cross-country race. I made a wrong turn on the course and got disqualified. My reward for the trip was helping my club with logistics ... and muddy shoes. The next day I met… Continue reading Love in the Time of Virulence
Traveling is an invigorating tonic. I'm fixing toast in the kitchen when suddenly, in my mind I am driving down a remote road in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, as I did last fall. I see the trees rushing past, I hear the wind rocking my camper, and I feel as if I'm there. The memories take… Continue reading Isolation and Travel
He stared out the window at a black December sky, and watched rain swirl down onto roofs below, run in streams into choked gutters and spill over in sheets to the sidewalk below, backlit by the city lights, its shimmering reflections the only visual relief from dark night. How easy it would be, to give… Continue reading Healing Voices (2 of 2)
The New Jersey Theatre Alliance partners with several of its member theatres each year to produce Healing Voices: Caregivers' Stories On Stage, a presentation of playwriting, poetry, and prose that portrays the experience of caregivers—people who devote their time, resources, energy, and love to care for others who suffer from debilitating illness. Often their experiences… Continue reading Healing Voices (1 of 2)
Today was two years, one month, and one day after Diane died. I was talking with a friend about it, and I had a complete meltdown as six years of grief and frustration poured out. I am grateful for the understanding and comfort of my friend who helped me deal with it. This kind of… Continue reading Survivors
How many adrenaline sports can a man in his seventies engage in? Tennis? I barely know which end of a racket to hold. Whitewater kayaking? Maybe, when it's springtime. Paintball? Come on. Skydiving? Right. If I keep my helmet on and don't fall out of the chairlift, at worst I might break a leg skiing.… Continue reading Snow sport
Fort Wilkins State Park, Michigan A long, long time ago it seems, I dimly remember gliding in my kayak across a mirror-smooth lake at sunset. I arrived in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in mid-September, just as that northern land began its transition to Fall. That trip began in August, near the southern end of Michigan's western… Continue reading Dreams of Summer
The words of Martin Luther King, in his famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (listen here) ring out from the past to inspire us. We can't let the antics of a petty and destructive would-be tyrant cloud our vision of the future. As Abraham Lincoln said: "It is rather for us to… Continue reading I still have a dream
I don't usually jump into a road trip of unknown duration and a couple thousand miles with a woman I barely know. Well, never until last summer. Since my wife died, that's how life has gone. Gradually, over a span of ten years, my old life dwindled and shrank, until its desiccated husk blew away, gone… Continue reading Summer Vacation —1
I have just begun reading a book by Meryl Comer about her life caring for her husband, who had early-onset Alzheimer's disease. It offers an intimate look at the process of discovery of the disease, its progress toward dementia, and the life of caregiving. It is heartbreaking and informative. I have not finished it yet,… Continue reading Slow Dancing with a Stranger
Everyone says Stephen King's book On Writing is the best book about writing there is. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical. Why? Because I don't especially like his horror books. They are fantastic, far-fetched, and the characters are a little on the comic book side. That said, it's typical for the genre. And… Continue reading On Writing
I lived through the experiences with Diane, and saw my side of the story at the time, at least as much of it as I could accept. But going back through her journals I realize I did not understand the whole story. Reading her words, I see her side. Revisiting those years, those events, and… Continue reading Both Sides Now
Students swarm field at Harvard-Yale football game, chant ‘OK boomer’ in climate change protest BRAVO!I have seen and heard this all before, in 1964 in Berkeley.Let the unthinking establishmentarians bitch all they want about disruptive tactics, while I quote the most famous speech of the Free Speech Movement: "There's a time when the operation of… Continue reading Too Disruptive?
At one of the meetings of my Alzheimer's spouse support group, I was talking about the book I am writing on my experiences caring for my wife Diane. One member leaned over to me and said "You're a star." I don't wholly agree. I'm no more of a star than anyone else in this group.… Continue reading Stars
Why did we stay together in the face of conflict? No simple answer comes to mind. We both were loners, outsiders in most situations, and exceptionally intelligent. Once, Diane’s first love Bob told her years afterward, “You were too smart for me. We'd have ended up killing each other.” Diane’s life experience kept her from… Continue reading Why Us?
Alaska—remote, mystical wilderness—home to glaciers, caribou, brown bears, dogsleds, Inuit people… Diane and I both felt the magnetic pull of that place. In Seattle, we read descriptions of our city as the jumping-off point to the Alaska wilderness, and we felt we were almost there. One Fall morning, we watched a newly-launched crab boat depart… Continue reading Alaska
In early August I left home in my Roadtrek with my little dog Heidi for a trip into unknown geography at Holland Michigan. I planned to meet a friend at the state park there. We'd travel north together in our RVs and end up at Copper Harbor on the coast of Lake Superior. Our loose… Continue reading Departures
Heading south from Copper Harbor, Michigan, I stopped in hazy afternoon sunlight in a small town near Ironwood. I walked Heidi, as I do whenever I stop, then moseyed over to a one-calendar hole-in-the-wall bakery and coffee shop (William Least Heat Moon in Blue Highways invented the calendar rating system for small town cafes), where… Continue reading On the Road in Michigan
I'm going to reach back into the past here, to provide some context. Now, bear in mind I was born in Washington state, and grew up in California. That's as West as it gets, not counting Hawaii and Alaska. But I didn't strongly identify with the West after moving to New Jersey, although I did… Continue reading Re-Westernization
I have deliberately stayed away from my latest draft, letting life percolate through my awareness. A few people have given me cogent comments about it, and I have digested them in preparation for the next rewrite. Today I begin. The first step is to go through every paragraph, tagging each one according to what event… Continue reading Rewrite
I've been reading a series of books by Craig Johnson called the Walt Longmire mysteries. It's part of my process for approaching the next big revision of my manuscript. Johnson is an excellent writer, a compelling story teller, and very successful as a result. A friend tipped me off about the books, and since I… Continue reading Longmire
Because we don't know when we will die We get to thinking of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet, everything happens only a certain number of times and a very small number really... How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood that's so deeply a part of your being that… Continue reading How many…
Traveling west through Pennsylvania ranks low on my list of favorites. Three hundred plus miles of PA Turnpike or Interstate 80 gets you across the Ohio border, rattled by potholes, hundreds of passing tractor-trailers, narrow defiles created by construction projects, and various other obstacles. Having endured this gauntlet several times, each new iteration finds me… Continue reading The first three states are the hardest
More than a year has passed since I returned home from the trip to scatter Diane's ashes at Mirror Lake, then began writing the story of our life together. That trip defined the end of my former life. I have begun a new journey. This time I share the camper only with Heidi. Plato is… Continue reading A New Journey
Jennifer Palmer Enfield, ca. 1995 Yes. Like the ghosts in the closet or the ghouls under the bed at night in the dark during your childhood. Ever still wonder if you shouldn't look just to make sure? You will feel for a long time that cancer is ever presently luring. After an extended remission, you'll… Continue reading Will cancer haunt you forever?
You might wonder why we stayed together in the face of such conflict and infidelity. No simple answer comes to mind. We both were loners, outsiders in most situations, and extremely intelligent. Diane’s life experience set her apart from those who had never faced so much difficulty. My own life was marked not by struggle… Continue reading Commitment
Mike Allen, at online news site Axios, posts about "peak podcasts." Remember peak oil? He quotes Jennifer Miller in a New York Times article about the number of podcasts and how quickly they fade. The "frequency with which podcasts start (and then end, or 'podfade,' as it’s coming to be known in the trade) has… Continue reading I Never Listen to Podcasts
My little dog Plato died today. He was twelve and a half years old, and lived with us since he was a puppy. Tracheal collapse it made it difficult for him to breathe. He was outside in the heat today and the heat was too much. I will miss him. He traveled with me and… Continue reading Plato
I just heard a story on NPR about the space suit that Neil Armstrong wore on the moon. Never intended to last more than 6 months, the suit has lasted 50 years, although it has deteriorated. After some restoration, it is now back on the exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum. I want… Continue reading Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit
A brief discussion of behaviors that may indicate dementia, including fronto-temporal dementia and Alzheimer’s dementia. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/well-that-was-a-weird-moment-and-other-signs-of-dementia-family-members-should-watch-for/2019/07/12/71fab37a-820c-11e9-bce7-40b4105f7ca0_story.html
Spend fifty years in close quarters with another person, sleeping together by night, cooperating, conflicting, cajoling, shouting, listening, working, and playing together by day, then one day they're gone. My whole life was built around Diane and us and our two daughters. It all collapsed. Sixty-five years of cigarette smoke and other excesses blew her… Continue reading Rebuilding my Life
At the start of this week I began yet another edit of the book to tighten up the story line, expunge more than a few awkward phrases, and generally improve a reader's experience. This time, I printed the whole draft so I could work with a pen and paper. Nothing clarifies errors like seeing them… Continue reading Another day, another edit
August weather is typically hazy, hot, and humid in New Jersey. Thanks to global warming, we get it in July now. It makes running difficult, if not impossible. I thought by getting out earlier, with the temperature in the 70s, I could beat the heat. But I couldn't beat the humidity. In a 6-mile run… Continue reading Hazy, hot, humid
I had to share this. For my wife who won't live to see her writing published; for my daughter who fought to expand the number of women directors beyond 3 percent; for everyone who struggles to achieve a dream. https://twitter.com/kylegriffin1/status/1147915258687893504?s=09
Each week I attend an Alzheimer's support group, along with about fifteen other spouses of husbands and wives with dementia. Many of us share the same stories. As new people come into the group, they ask the same questions we once asked, seeking advice and hope. We all learn eventually that the best we can… Continue reading Steadfast and True
Fifty-five years ago on this day, Diane went into labor, at a Fourth of July picnic. She was driven to Alhambra Hospital, and after a long labor gave birth to Jennifer Jay Palmer the following morning. Jennifer's official birthday was July 5th, but we often started celebrating on the Fourth of July.
Hot, humid weather greeted me this morning. I did not feel like running. But if I skip today, will I run tomorrow? And if I don't run tomorrow then when? So I ran. Two and a half miles, up hills and across intervals. Came back covered in sweat. But satisfied.
This scene blew me away. A television show reaches into the real world with a message. https://youtu.be/WnWcAvTuwbQ
–Where are we? –Home. –No, where are we? –New Jersey. It's winter. –We might as well be in Minneapolis. This snippet of conversation took place almost daily. Living with no memory is the ultimate Zen. Diane was almost always in the present moment, for she had little recollection of anything else. If I reminded her… Continue reading Ultimate Zen
I passed an old man in his 80s or even his 90s, walking along the sidewalk in my neighborhood. He was dressed in tan slacks, a yellow dress shirt, and a tie. Over his shoulder he carried a small bag; maybe it contained Bibles, or samples, or goods to sell. In a split-second my mind… Continue reading Door to Door
When I was learning to program computers, way, way back when things were very different, your very first program was called Hello World. If you succeeded, that phrase would display on whatever device you were using for your output: CRT, teletype, console, whatever. If I'm successful this time, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn should all light… Continue reading Hello, World!
Once we cleared Pine Ridge, we wanted to go home by the shortest route. A planned route through Minnesota and Wisconsin to see old friends was scrapped. We did not want another breakdown on the road. We took a quick side trip into Mitchell, South Dakota to pick up some cash at a credit union… Continue reading Dash to Home
I took few photos during our stay at Pine Ridge. I mostly spent the time observing and listening, because I did not want to impose my preconceptions on the experience in a way that would have interfered with understanding what I saw and heard. The act of composing a photograph requires forming an idea of… Continue reading Pine Ridge
We spent a cool and restful night in the Bighorn Mountains, then descended the eastern slope towards Sheridan, Wyoming, where we restocked our food and propane, and more important, bought Western straw hats, de rigeur for summer in these parts. Our destination was Devil's Tower National Monument, not for any particular reason except that Jennifer… Continue reading Damned Transmission!
From Beartooth Pass to Cody, we passed some beautiful scenery. After we left Cody, we traveled through an arid plain between the Absaroka Range and the Bighorn Mountains. Our lunch stop On the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, looking toward Yellowstone The Bighorn Mountains We climbed a steep grade from 6,000 feet up to the plateau… Continue reading Wyoming
We pushed east along Interstate 90, enduring stretches of construction where the highway narrowed to one lane and the drivers behind us did not appreciate the pace I set. We took a cutoff toward Helena, Montana along U. S. Highway 12 and crossed the Continental Divide at McDonald Pass. There was no sign marking it,… Continue reading Across the Divide
Eventually we left the Columbia Gorge, driving across flat, dry terrain in the rain shadow of the Cascade Range, to my aunt's home in Kennewick. She lives in a small, immaculate house on a golf course, and golfs regularly. She welcomed us into her home for an overnight stay, and filled us in on stories… Continue reading Leaving the Coast
We left Portland to drive east along the Columbia River to my aunt's home in Kennewick, Washington. We stopped at a rest area to watch windsurfers in the constant gale on the broad river. The wind was so strong Lauren could lean into it. This was the best view we saw of Mount Hood. The… Continue reading Columbia
We had a great visit with my niece Cheryl and her husband Doug in their Portland craftsman bungalow. Lauren wrote "Portland exceeded all my expectations. It was SUCH a delight to spend time with my cousin and her husband who have cut out a deeply pleasant existence In this great city. Had a hot soak… Continue reading Portlandia
Standing close to a giant redwood tree in Hendy Grove, I reached out to place my hand against the bark, trying to feel directly the continuity of life from ancient time into the future, as if to diminish my loss by joining the flow of life through that behemoth. Humboldt State Park redwood grove. Look… Continue reading Redwoods
Dad and I are having a blast. Northern California is the land of the beautiful people. Finally, I fit right in. Northern California Gallery Fifty years later, we stop at Trees of Mystery on highway 101 north, and Lauren re-enacts Jennifer's pose from 1968. Here's how Jenny looked in that spot in 1968.
It's been very comforting to me to reconnect with family and to meet and get to know my Cousin Kim Giuffrida's beautiful, intelligent, poised and vivacious daughters. Having breakfast with them this morning was a delight, and reminds me that I still have living family. Back in LA. Yesterday was a looooong day. I have… Continue reading Southern California
We arrived at about five o'clock. As the sun sank toward the peak of Mount Whitney to our west, we carried out our ceremony of scattering Diane and Jennifer's ashes at the place where I met Diane in 1967. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the… Continue reading Mirror Lake
One by one, many of the moving parts of our journey have fallen off by the wayside, like furniture and bedding lashed to the back of a 1923 Ford pickup driving west from the Dust Bowl, left by the side of the highway in our urgent quest for a goal with no known reward except… Continue reading Regeneration
Another snag overcome. The transmission in the camper failed just as we arrived in Chino Hills, so I rented an SUV to complete the trip to Mirror Lake while the camper is repaired. When I went to Enterprise to pick it up, I learned that someone broke into the car reserved for us, and instead… Continue reading Another Obstacle
Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project is covered with more than 10,000 mirrors, each the size of a small house, that track the sun throughout the day and focus it on a receiver filled with molten salt. The salt, heated to almost 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, stores the energy as heat, so it’s always ready when it’s… Continue reading Helios