Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Meaningful ...

Lately, I am too easily riled.

I get into word skirmishes that cannot be won, not because I do not have facts behind me, but because those with whom I tussle will not budge.

I do not believe that they believe that they are right. I believe that they know they are wrong, but no one wants to be on the wrong side of an argument when the right side is clear. But admitting to being wrong is for some intolerable. They would rather stand, resolutely, in their misguided ideology. Continue to insist the sky is puce. That does not make it so.

But tonight, the messages from the universe are coming at me fast and furious, and some things, for the moment, cease to matter.

That is not to say that I do not place great importance on politics and the news of the day. Never before has more been at stake.

But last week, when the daughter of a high-school friend passed away, I went for a walk and marveled at the fact that life looked exactly as it had the day before. For almost everyone, tomorrow will be a lot like today. But for my friend, that day was 180 degrees different from the day before. Her life was changed forever. And her husband's. And their families'. And, in a small way, mine.

Love is what matters. Those we love. Those we've lost. Last night, I dreamt of my high-school friend. In my dream, I was walking the 3-Day and she and her husband, even in their grief, had come out to cheer us on. I approached her, tears streaming down my face, tears streaming down hers, and she asked, "Do you remember me?" And we held each other tightly and cried.

I will see her on Saturday. She will not have to ask if I remember.

Another friend's mother is very ill. All that's left to offer are prayers and comfort. Soon, more lives will be different in marked ways.

I take too much for granted. I vow to change. And then I think that I do not change enough. But maybe every vow to change is change enough, an incremental shift, a small, small step that moves me along.

Still, I have not done enough. There is no such thing as enough. And so I vow to do more.

But for now, I offer what I have: my love to my family and friends and those I have yet to meet.

Hard-Pressed ...

As I don't do most mornings, I'm trading comments on Facebook with my pal Rick about the demise of newspapers.

And my coffee hasn't even kicked in.

I can say that I come from a newspaper family not because my last name is Graham – because it's not – but because my grandfather (on my mom's side; I never knew my grandfather on my dad's) worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a pressman. My mom has a nifty tie bar that her dad was given when he retired that's in the shape of the odd building that used to rest along the Chicago River, which was torn down to make way for yet another monument to Donald Trump's ego.

Many years later, I would work in that building, too, as Jeff Zaslow's assistant for a couple of summers in college. He and Diane Crowley took over the space vacated by Ann Landers. The walls were painted over but the pink carpet remained.

Like Ann, in one way alone, I too made my way from west to east, from the Sun-Times to the Chicago Tribune. What I thought would be a six-month stint turned into a nearly five-year stay.

While I was there, I witnessed the beginnings of the paper's online presence begin to take shape.

The Trib and I parted ways in 1997. And while 12 years is not an insignificant passage of time, it's been a bit staggering to watch the implosion from then to now. Sam Zell's purchase, of course, just hastened it all.

Yesterday, as I read about the Chicago News Cooperative, I heard the Tribune's death knell chiming in the distance.

Some true Tribune heavy-hitters will be competing against their former paper. It's another nail in the coffin of the paper that likes to think of itself as the world's greatest. If folks in Chicago can get the New York Times with a side order of local news, there's really no reason for them to get the Tribune anymore. It's not the paper it used to be, and many prefer the Times but feel the need to get a local paper as well. The CNC is eliminating that need.

I still know a few people in the Tower. And I surely don't want them to lose their jobs, though if they did, I suspect they'd find new gigs without much travail. They've lasted this long in the climate of industry-wide cuts because they're very good at what they do. Others could segue into teaching. Others could write books.

Or perhaps they could go to work for the CNC.

My newspaper days are over, save for the occasional freelance story. It's not that I wouldn't go back to a paper. It's just that most newspapers aren't hiring. Two Chicago dailies in bankruptcy at the same time does not spell good times for the future of newspapers.

Though I know several kids in journalism school. And I'm confident that they'll find jobs when they graduate. There will always be a need for folks to gather and disseminate news. They've grown up in the Internet age. They don't have to make the mental transition from ink-on-paper to the virtual world.

But it all begs the question: What will I wrap my dishes in the next time I move?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thwarted ...

So, I want to be up and about and moving normally, but my back is laughing at the notion.

Like this.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fullness ...

Every day, my heart teeters on the brink of overflowing.

It is often too full. It exceeds its capacity. The excess rolls down my cheeks in salty streams.

I don't know from whence emotion comes. My heart? My head?

I do know, however, that they, together, often rope in other parts.

Friday night, I wrote: "I can take only shallow breaths. There is scarcely room in my lungs for anything but grief."

I sat on the couch, at times sobbing, at times feeling the grief build up so intensely that I could hear the rushing of my blood.

Sometimes, I hold myself back, make myself stop. Other times, I am powerless that way.

More than half my life ago, a cousin died unexpectedly. I loved her but we didn't know each other well. She was quite a bit older and lived in other parts of the world throughout her all-too-brief life.

But I remember her memorial service and my inability to stop crying. I knew I must be affecting her family even more than they were already affected, but my will mattered not. I desperately wanted to be quiet but grief was insistent on having its way.

And I wonder, now, if I wasn't, then, crying for much more than the loss of my cousin. I wonder if in that church, on that day, I was expressing sadness that I had suppressed in many moments past.

I know that Friday's expression was about much more than the sadness that surrounds the last days of a sweet little life. Her story evokes emotions extreme and raw. The unfairness of it all. But inside there is so much I've held onto, held back. Memories of those I miss, those who have passed away but also those who remain, present in the world but lost to me.

My mind may not believe that some are gone but it can comprehend. I cannot call. They will not answer. They are not there.

A reality that becomes more real with time.

But my heart aches differently for the others. I accept their silence, trust that our time had ticked away. But it is strange, to have known someone, to have loved someone, and think of them moving through the world, while I stay on this side of the glass.

Tonight has felt like no time at all. I do not know how the clock has slunk into Monday, do not know why my body does not insist on sleep.

Though my breaths are slightly deeper. There is a resignation to the way things will be, to the choices others will make and have made.

But it is not quite peace.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Lesson In Loss ...

I have lost those I've loved too soon.

And all I can do is grieve for as long as grief holds me in its grasp. Over time, it loosens its grip, but I do not believe that it ever lets go.

My friend Charles died more than six years ago. There are still days when memories of him make me weep, and I wonder how there can still be tears, after all this time.

L.A. Dave passed away not even nine months ago yet I haven't shaken the desire to pick up the phone. Today is exactly the kind of day during which we would have whiled away an hour. He was my partner in procrastination.

The sadness lingers.

Theirs were lives lost too soon, but lives lived, some semblance of the range of life's rituals completed.

This morning, though, I read the latest CaringBridge entry about a high-school friend's daughter who is living her last days.

She is 4.

And my mind searches for a reason why.

I believe that the universe is a benevolent place.

And there is no doubt that this little girl has brought her parents great joy even as her loss will cause – has caused – great pain.

Perhaps the lesson for those of us who have not had the honor of knowing her is to be more tolerant, more patient, more loving, more kind.

In those simplest of terms, her life has great meaning.

But my heart breaks, yet again.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I Really Want To Write A Post ...

I just don't feel like I have anything to say.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Patrick Swayze ...

Right after he died, I DVRd "Dirty Dancing." (It aired on ABC Family, of all places.)

Tonight, I finally got around to watching it. I can't remember how many years it had been since I'd seen it last.

And it was bittersweet to watch him on the screen. He was an amazing dancer.

But I didn't get really emotional until his song came in toward the end of the film, when he's packing up his car and saying goodbye to Baby.

There was something about hearing him that was far more affecting than seeing him.

And I'm glad his wife has that song to hold on to.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Shelf Life ...

My friend Random is the cerebral sort. Sometimes. Today's blog post features a shot of what I presume is part of Random's bookshelf, with the request that we readers take pictures of our bookshelves and allow a random esquire a virtual view into our bibliophilic psyches.

I don't have the best digital camera – or maybe I just never learned how to adjust the settings to score crisp shots – but I snapped a few shots of a few spots of my shelves.

A glimpse, then, at a random selection. Note the juxtaposition, which I just noticed tonight, of Woody Allen books next to a history of the Holocaust. Weird. If you're wondering why I have two copies of Stephen King's On Writing, I'll tell you: I bought the softcover version, oh, some number of years ago. A year or two later, for Christmas, my father gave me the hardcover copy. Dad is not a fan of Christmas shopping, so I was extra touched that he went into a bookstore and said to a salesperson, "My daughter is a writer. What book should I get for her?" So I keep both copies side by side, heartwarmingly.

And a glimpse at a bit of fiction. And non-fiction. But mostly fiction. I hated The Corrections, in case anyone cares. But as you should already know, I love Animal Dreams.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Thoughts On This Morning's News ...

Where do I begin?

I feel beleaguered when I should feel numb.

I should be used to the incessant outcry from the Right.

I truly wonder, macabre as it may be to consider: If, God forbid, Obama is assassinated, will they celebrate?

If America loses out on an honor, they cheer.

If an honor is bestowed upon us, they jeer.

Obama is damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

I was surprised by the news this morning that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize, but I certainly didn't think he didn't deserve it. And I think the calls for him to decline it were absurd.

To those who yell that he hasn't earned this honor or that the Nobel committee has embarrassed itself, I submit that they truly do not understand how completely, how grotesquely, the Bush administration had decimated the standing of America in the world.

We are a powerful nation, but we are not all-powerful. We do not have the right to invade sovereign nations. We do not have the right to torture. We do not have the right to detain people indefinitely and deny them due process. We do not have the right.

Obama did not seek the Nobel Peace Prize. He was not aware that he had been nominated.

And in his acceptance speech this morning, he was the height of humility, accepting it not as his own honor but on behalf of everyone who is working toward peace.

At the helm of this nation, he is a calming presence around the world. He may be reviled by many at home and around the globe. But he represents a seismic shift in diplomacy.

Some say that this award was a repudiation of Bush, not an acknowledgment of Obama's accomplishments.

In part, I agree.

But peace is not achieved solely as a checklist.

Obama was named as this year's recipient both for what he has accomplished as well as because he represents the possibility of peace in the future, the foundation of which he is laying today.

We live in a world of instant gratification. But lasting change is made slowly, and sometimes that pace may be misunderstood as doing nothing at all.

So the award was unexpected. The circumstances may be atypical. But what about Obama is typical?

The question on my mind is this: What person, circumstance, or event will reunite our country?

Because today, it feels as though we as a nation are permanently torn asunder.

Where do we go from here?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Very Special 'Special Comment' ...

I know that many people do not like Keith Olbermann.

I am not one of them. I am very fond of Mr. Olbermann. Keith. He wouldn't mind my calling him Keith.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine pronounced him "bitter."

But I don't think Keith is bitter. I think he is the rational, real, modern-day Howard Beale.

He's mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. But, compared to Howard Beale, he looks much better in a suit.

Tonight, Keith devoted the entire hour of his show to a Special Comment about health care.

Typically, Special Comments are only a few minutes long, at the end of a broadcast, often directed at an individual.

Tonight's Special Comment, though, was dedicated to the proposition that, in the end, we're all fighting because we're afraid of death, and that those who don't understand what's being said are fearful that their coverage may be curtailed or cut.

We fear change, he says. We fear death. And "change" to an issue that is dedicated to staving off "death" will logically lead to compounded fear, fear that is understandable. Especially fear that has been fueled by a barrage of calculated misinformation.

(You can watch a bit of tonight's Special Comment here.)

It was a cerebral yet impassioned hour. He spoke of his father's ongoing health crisis. He was able to maintain his composure through it all. I could not have been so composed.

He would like to have proposed a strike against the insurance companies, but he recognizes that such an act would further empower the very entities against which we rail.

And so he proposed something else. Something I think is a master stroke, genius.

His plan, in a nutshell, is this: He wants to offer weekly free health clinics in the capital cities of the states represented by the six key Democrats who are presently blocking reform.

Such clinics have been offered recently in Texas and California. The turnouts have been staggering.

The people who attend these clinics are not statistics, numbers in a study. They are men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. They are citizens of the United States of America. And they cannot afford health care.

Tonight, Keith did not go into the details of his plan. Details will be forthcoming. Soon.

But in the meantime, I have a prediction:

I predict that Keith will contribute $1 million to this effort. One million dollars. And I predict that he will encourage his viewers to each contribute at least $1. One dollar. Some, of course, will not give any, but others, many others, will give much more.

Establishing these free clinics in these cities will enable people who need health care to benefit from the kindness of strangers and the kindness of medical professionals who are willing to donate their time.

But more importantly, in the grander scheme of this debate, the people who seek health care from these free clinics will, by their presence, demonstrate to the senators of those states that their constituencies are real people in real need.

And once these senators see the throngs of people who will turn out, in the United States of America, to wait in lines for their chances to see a doctor because they can not afford to see one otherwise, once these senators see that what we, as a country, are debating is literally a matter of life and death, I dare them to then look away.

Update, October 8, 2009: Tonight, Keith announced that he will contribute $50,000 toward the realization of the free health clinics he proposed last night. While his contribution is not my lofty notion of $1 million, $50,000 is certainly nothing at which to sneeze. Keith did not make a direct request of his viewers to contribute, but if you'd like to support this effort, click here.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Civil – Dare I Say Enjoyable – Discourse ...

Last night, I met up with a friend who had come to town for a conference.

We always have interesting conversations. He's smart and funny, his arguments well-considered and well-presented.

Much of the evening – which flew by – was dominated by a discussion of politics.

He describes himself a social liberal and a fiscal conservative so we don't view politics through identical lenses.

But I had a lovely time, exchanging ideas with him, considering my views in light of another person's perspective.

So it is possible to have a productive discussion with someone of an at least slightly different political stripe.

But I still watched Keith Olbermann when I got home.

: o )