in which i meet my daughter and go bowling

I always knew I had a daughter.  It wasn’t a surprise or anything. I was married for a while, after all, and that’s what happens when you get married. You have daughters. But I was also divorced, and that’s what happens when you get divorced. Daughters move away with their mothers.

And then after a while you move away, and then one move leads to another and you get farther apart and in the pre-internet days the odds for miscommunication (which are pretty high in divorce situations anyway) expand geometrically. Pretty soon miscommunication is replaced by non-communication. So I knew I had a daughter. But she was more a daughter in theory than in practice.

And let’s face it—you adjust to that. You can adjust to almost anything. You adjust to a new city, you adjust to a new job, you adjust to being single, you adjust to being not-a-parent. People ask “Do you have kids?” and at first you say “Yes.” Then later it becomes “Yes, but…” After a while it becomes “Not really” because it’s easier and quicker than explaining all the events that led to that ‘not really.’  And eventually you don’t say anything—you just shake your head, because the cold and ugly truth is you don’t. You may have fathered a child, but to say you ‘have kids’ is a lie. You don’t.

Having kids isn’t passing along your DNA to another living being. Having kids is also them having you. Having you there. I wasn’t there.

Yesterday, at the hospice center where my brother is slowly dying, I met my daughter for the first time in a couple of decades. It wasn’t the most ideal circumstance for such a meeting. And yet, it was absolutely the most ideal circumstance for such a meeting.

To say it was weird is to diminish the term ‘weird.’ To say it was surreal would be to stretch surreality all out of proportion. To say it was wonderful is to turn ‘wonderful’ into a tiny little speck of a word. It was more of all those things than those words could possibly convey.

So I met my daughter. I saw theory become reality. Once again I ‘have kids’ and she has me. Of course, it’s not that simple or easy. It is, in fact, strange and confusing and messy and complicated. And wonderful. Full of wonder.

And then we left the hospice and went bowling.

not what he wanted

About a year ago my brother Jesse Eugene was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We were told he had maybe six months to live. He exceeded expectations, though it didn’t go easy for him. In the course of the last year he went from being around 235 pounds to about 145. He became increasingly feeble. It wasn’t pretty.

Yesterday we were at the hospital for a routine visit with his primary care physician and a consultation with the oncologist. The lab work revealed that his hemoglobin was extremely low, so they decided to give him a quick transfusion and send him home. After more discussion, the doctors decided it might be best to keep him overnight to see how he responded to the transfusion. Almost immediately after being admitted, he began to vomit blood. Lots of blood. Liters of blood.

They don’t have emesis basins anymore–those kidney-shaped pans you see in the movies. Now they have blue mesh vomit bags. Red blood in a blue bag. It’s another image I’d rather not have in my head. I already have too many of those.

For a while he was vomiting blood as quickly as they could transfuse it. I held the bag, he vomited, and every time the blood hit the liter mark I’d hand it to a nurse to measure and record. Input/output. Blood goes in, blood goes out. Eventually the vomiting stopped long enough for them to insert a naso-gastric tube into his stomach and pump the blood out.

The bleeding seems to have stopped for now. Or slowed to a negligible level. But it’ll start up again. It’s inevitable. With the NG tube in place, we’ll be spared the vomiting, but the bleeding will still take place. We’ve decided to stop any more transfusions. At some point in the near future the loss of blood will make him light-headed, then he’ll lose consciousness and die. It might be tonight. It might be a week from tonight. It probably won’t be as long as two weeks.

Part of me hopes it’s sooner than later. This is not how he wanted to die–slowly, messily, in a hospital. But how many people ever get what they want?

itinerant curbing

I enjoy documentary photography–both the concept and the reality. I love it that there are people out there documenting their lives and the lives of others. It pleases me no end to know there are photographers taking photos of their friends and family members, who take pictures of the meals they eat, who document where they live and work and play, who shoot portraits of the people they meet, who find their mundane lives so interesting they feel a need to share them with others.

I enjoy documentary photograph–but I have almost no interest in doing it myself. Almost none.

But sometimes I get attracted to an object–a bright red snow disk, a gas mask, traffic signals–and I document that object. Last fall I happened to see this chunk of asphalt curbing around which some red PVC wire had been tied, making a sort of carrying device. The curbing had been carried about twenty yards from its original position. I visited the curbing every few weeks and photographed it. Then one day it was in a different spot; it had been moved maybe seven or eight yards away…at which point the PVC wire had apparently snapped.

And it’s still there. I don’t understand this at all. I don’t understand why somebody wanted to move the bit of curbing to begin with, I don’t understand why it was set down where I originally found it, and I don’t understand why anybody moved it further. I just don’t understand it.

And that pleases me.

terrorism works

I’m a criminologist by training, though I haven’t been actively studying it for the last four or five years. Like most folks, my initial response to the horrific events in Oslo and Utroya was almost purely emotional–shock, horror, some anger, a free-floating sense of unreality.

But good training always asserts itself and after a while I found myself paying attention to how individual people and the news media were responding to the event. Almost immediately people, including professional journalists, were speculating the attacks were the work of Islamic terrorists. They’d phrase it carefully, with comments like “This has the trademark signatures of Islamic terrorism” or “It could be some other group responsible, but the coordinated nature of the attacks suggests the perpetrator studied the tactics of Islamic terrorism.” The implication was always there–even if the bombing and shooting weren’t being done by Islamic terrorists, Islamic terrorists were still indirectly responsible for them.

I looked at the opinions voiced on, one of the most vitriolic right wing conservative websites and found comments like these:

“Western Europe has but two choices: 1. Boxcars, or…2. Burqhas.”

“We’re fighting this war on terrorism the wrong way. Instead of us just reacting to the threats and spending trillions of dollars in the process, what we need to do is that every time there’s a terrorist bombing we should select a Muslim city, at random, and bomb a few square blocks…”

“May the soulless Muslim terrorists who did this, and who attacked innocent young people at a camp on an island, be caught promptly and dealt with swiftly, preferably without a trial”

When it became clear the perpetrator was a white Christian right-wing extremist, the people at FreeRepublic shifted their response:

“This would be a dream come true for MSM and the Democrat buddies.”

“I bet my bottom dollar, either the guy was schizophrenic/mentally ill or is linked to the Muzziggers.”

“I more than suspect it is a plant. Conservatives do not slaughter innocent children for any purpose. But a lib, a socialist deviant, would slaughter children while proclaiming to be a conservative in order to bring down conservatism.”

When they thought the perpetrator might be a Muslim, he was representative of the entire religion…but when he turned out to be a white Christian conservative, he became either a liberal stooge or a lone nut case. But surely, it would be irresponsible for people to think he could be representative of all white Christian conservatives.

What’s alarming is that what was being said on was more extreme than what was said by mainstream news media, but they were making the same basic point: it’s either Muslims or somebody inspired by Muslims or a lone nut.

Here’s a true thing: the European Union’s “Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, 2010” reported that in 2009 there were “294 failed, foiled, or successfully executed attacks” in six European countries. How many of those 294 were perpetrated by Muslims or Islamic terrorists?


This isn’t to suggest that Islamic terrorists groups aren’t a threat–of course they are. But it’s important to keep that threat in perspective. Islamic extremists didn’t invent terrorism; it doesn’t belong to them. Those alleged ‘trademark signatures’ aren’t even trademark signatures. Coordinated attacks have been used by terrorists (and, for that matter, by military organizations) for centuries. The vehicle bomb? An anarchist opposed to capitalism packed explosives in a horse-drawn cart and and set it off on Wall Street in 1920–killed nearly 40, wounded around 400. And the first known motor vehicle bomb was detonated in 1927 by a white conservative Christian man in Bath, Michigan angry about taxes.

And guess what. It was a coordinated attack–the alleged signature of Islamic terrorists. Andrew Kehoe set off a firebomb at his house. While the authorities were fighting that fire, he detonated a bomb he’d planted in the local elementary school. When the police and firefighters and parents rushed to the school, Kehoe drove up in his car–which was packed with nails, metal tools, bits of steel machinery, anything that could act as shrapnel–and detonated the explosive. The butcher’s bill was 45 dead (38 of whom were children) and several dozen wounded. What was it somebody said on Conservatives do not slaughter innocent children for any purpose?

Terrorism doesn’t belong to any one group. It’s a tactic that’s been embraced by extremists of all stripes. And as shown by the responses in, it’s a tactic that works. Those people have been thoroughly terrorized.


I’ve been distracted all day by the horrific events that took place in Norway yesterday. All those young people gunned down–it exceeds my capacity to comprehend, and it leaves me feeling rather lost.

Much of my professional life was spent dealing with criminal and deviant behavior–some of which was directed at young people. A delusional woman who killed her child by putting her in an oven; a man crazy on drugs who laid his young son across his lap and stabbed him repeatedly–then turned him over and did it again; a serial pedophile who bought, sold and traded young boys and girls, some of whom I believe he murdered.

It’s not possible for me to forgive crimes like that, but on some intellectual level I could generally comprehend the reasoning behind the behavior And there was always some sort of reasoning, even if it was skewed crazily out of proportion. I didn’t often comprehend how a person could act on that reasoning–but knowing the reasoning existed allowed me to deal with the person.

But what happened in Norway–the methodical killing of young people that went on and on for close to ninety minutes–who can understand the reasoning behind that? Maybe I’m just unwilling to make the attempt, I don’t know. Either way, it’s left me feeling untethered in the universe.

he quipped

Some words annoy me. Quip is one of them. Not the noun–I have no real problem with the noun. It’s the verb that offends me, and it offends me especially when used as a dialog tag. “Blah blah blah,” he quipped.

Dude, if you have to tell me it’s a quip, it’s not a very good quip. If you have to point out the quippy nature of the line, then you’ve failed in your job as a writer. If the context isn’t enough to reveal the level of quipitude–if you have to rely on a 16th century verb usage to rescue you–then just delete the fucking line and start over.

happy accident

I’m a firm believer in the happy accident. But I don’t trust it.

Sometimes things just come together. The elements just coalesce spontaneously and organically and something momentarily wonderful happens. It doesn’t even matter what those elements are–the ingredients of a seafood gumbo, the arrangement of a flock of birds in flight, a long lightly floating pass from Megan Rapinoe to Abby Wambach in the 122nd minute of a World Cup match. Doesn’t matter what it is; what matters is that it’s witnessed.

In this case, the witness was a machine. My camera.

A few days ago I was at the library and removed the camera from my bag in order to reach something else. I noticed the lens cap had come off, so I set the camera on the table so I could search the bottom of the bag for the cap. When I set it on the table I accidentally hit the shutter release. I didn’t even know the camera was turned on.

I heard the snap of the shutter, but didn’t even bother to chimp the photo. I just located the lens cap, replaced it on the lens, turned the camera off, and put it back in the bag. It wasn’t until later, after shooting some other photos, that I saw this photograph.

It’s not a great photo, although I think it’s an interesting one. I had to straighten it out somewhat in Photoshop (the horizon line was about ten degrees off-true. I didn’t even notice the man in the yellow shirt reading until I decided to process the photo. This was a happy accident piled on a happy accident.

this writing gig

I’m about 85% finished with a short story and, as usual, I’m not particularly pleased with it. But that’s how it works for me–I get about 85% finished and I start to think it’s an absolutely stupid story. It’s not just stupid, I tell myself, it’s dull. But usually I bang on through and finish the damned thing, and in the end the story does sometimes turn out to be stupid and dull, but most often not. But I’m aware that my judgment at this point in the process is suspect, to say the least.

What’s worrying, though, is that this happened with another short story about three weeks ago. I was about 85% finished, didn’t like it, but instead of banging through I decided to set it aside and start a new one. Now it’s happening again–I’m at that 85% mark, and I’ve got a half-formed idea for a new story that interests me immensely.

So what to do? Put this one aside and write the one I’m interested in? If I do, what happens when I’m 85% finished with the new new story and I get the urge to put it aside? Or do I finish the impossibly stupid and dull story I don’t want to work on (which is probably not nearly as stupid or dull as I think it is)?

This writing gig is hard.