That’s no moon…

I have mentioned my talented, wonderful pal Jason here a couple times before, but only in passing, I regret to say. In an effort to breathe some life into my dormant stories series, I thought I would try to think of a few stories that remind me of various friends. It has been my standing policy with my writing here not to cover topics and episodes that people might find embarrassing, so this of course limits some of my options, but I figure I can proceed with this one, as the moron in the following story is me.

• • • • • • •

The first Christmas after college, I ducked out of an invitation to attend a local Christmas party so I could drive up to Philadelphia and see my friend Jason, meet his roommate(s?), and admire his apartment. As I was still living at home at this point, I am certain that no matter how modest his abode was, it filled me with admiration and envy. After this, we went out, lifted a pint or two, discussed the grievous shortcomings of long-distance relationships, felt deep nostalgia for college which was but seven months behind us, and had a grand time. As the evening came to a close, we said good night, and I headed home.

The goal was to take the Vine Street Expressway to I-95 south, and back to home. Sounds simple, right? I merged onto Vine, and thought I was in good shape, but an accident had just taken place and the one policeman on the scene had placed flares across the I-95 south exit, and before I knew it I was fired across the Benjamin Franklin Parkway into New Jersey. I figured I would execute some kind of u-turn at the toll plaza, but the toll collector made it very clear u-turns were forbidden, and he gestured towards a half-dozen New Jersey state trooper radio cars idling in the cold, clearly waiting for the chance to write me up if I were to venture such a thing. So eastwards into New Jersey I went. These days my geography of this area is good enough, I’d be fine, and even if it weren’t, I would simply fire up my phone and follow its directions back home. But back in the deep, dark ages of the nineties, there was no clever phone in my pocket to save me from my ignorance. And thus I was dumped onto the Admiral Wilson Boulevard (named for Adm. Henry B. Wilson, by the way) and all the delights Camden has to offer around midnight in the depths of winter when you’re lost, have no phone, and left the house with about $12 in your pocket.

My basic plan was to find an exit where I could clearly see a place to turn around and re-enter the roadway westbound to cross the Delaware back to Philadelphia and I-95. Given that I didn’t know I could follow 676 down to the Walt Whitman Bridge, that was not such a bad idea. Still, I passed a whole series of exits that gave no indication of where they led, and so I plunged deeper into terra incognita. After several more exits and a few more uncomfortable minutes of driving as slowly as I thought safe, I came around a curve and saw a warehouse ahead of me, with featureless cinder-block construction and a floodlit parking lot beside it. It looked just like a carpet store in New Castle, and I thought it also looked like an ideal place to stop and look at a map, with adequate sight-lines around me that I felt safe enough doing so. So I pulled into the parking lot, shifted into park, and rummaged in the glove compartment for the AAA New Jersey map. Sure enough, I had one, and as I unfolded it, I could see a female security guard approaching me in a brown uniform. I lowered my window (actually rolled it down on this old car), and greeted the woman in a friendly way, explaining that I was lost, and that I just needed a moment to consult my map and orient myself. In the back of my mind, I was wondering why a warehouse like this needed a guard. The woman smiled warmly in return, and kept approaching, making me fear she would tell me to leave immediately. She leaned over bringing her face close to mine, and as she did so, I could not help but notice her blouse was unbuttoned very low. She told me how sorry she was I was lost, and suggested I come inside to warm up and get everything straightened out. She called me Sugar and Honeypie, rested her hand on mind, and her words all came out in a purr.

Now I know about young and dumb. I knew then that I was young and dumb. But I was neither young enough or dumb enough not to find her suggestion completely nuts. I stammered out a “no thanks, I’m really all set,” shifted the car into gear, and got back on the highway with true alacrity. She looked startled at my rapid departure, and waved a friendly goodbye. As I continued east into the night, still lost and thoroughly rattled, I looked in the rear-view mirror to see her still standing there. As I got farther away, I could see the base of a sign coming into view, and as the distance crew, the sign itself became visible, advertising “Live Nude Girls” in very large letters.

I had not seen that sign as I approached, and it turns out I had parked right beneath it. The warehouse I had taken for a carpet store was a strip club, and the security guard’s incongruous proposition turned out to be not incongruous at all. Once it dawned on me, I have to say I burst out in peals of nervous laughter, and only after they subsided did I get back to the business of turning around, which I did soon after. On my way west, I drove right by the place a second time, and this time it was so clearly marked that I could not believe how I had missed it the first time.

I crossed the Delaware, merged on to I-95 (it looked so welcome), and was home about twenty-five minutes later. When I arrived at home, my parents were in bed, but awake and wondering what had kept me out so late, so of course I had to tell them the whole stupid story, and they laughed even more nervously than I had at my stupidity. I also had a good time calling my friend Jason the next day and telling him all about my adventure. I think we all agreed that it was better to be lucky than smart.

• • • • • • •

I have since looked on Google Maps to see if I could identify the establishment, and I have not been able to do so with any certainty. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported about a place called Showgirls being shutdown in 1998 following allegations of prostitution (!), and maybe that was it. Or maybe it was closed when New Jersey was cleaning things up for the Republican National Convention in 2000. I don’t know.

So there you have another story to add to this list, and I promise to see what else I can come up with as the summer proceeds.

[Update: I wrote this knowing nothing about this week’s Daily Post challenge, but dear Britt pointed it out to me, and so here is my link to connect this to that.]


Wilmington red light camera update

Big Brother's watchingSix years ago (!), I wrote about the red light camera program in Wilmington, Delaware. If you skim through that post, you will note that this program began in Wilmington in 2001, and has expanded several times since then. Like most of the approximately 300 jurisdictions that Wilmington’s contractor serves, Wilmington operates its cameras in ways that are not driven by safety data, but rather by violation tallies, as this maximizes revenue generation. Also, it is worth recalling that Wilmington does not dedicate the funds it collects from these cameras to safety issues, or even to police activities, but rather funnels these monies into the general fund.

The Wilmington News Journal, our limp and usually fawning Gannett-owned hometown paper, managed to write a useful update about the red light camera program recently, so my sincere thanks to reporter Melissa Nann Burke for slipping this story past her editors.

One interesting fact from this piece is the statistic that red light cameras have not reduced the number of crashes in the intersections where they are located, but they do seem to reduce the severity of the crashes. A smaller proportion of accidents take place within the intersection, and have been replaced with rear-end crashes in the lanes approaching the intersection. While this is clearly better than the situation before the cameras, it is not a ringing endorsement.

Delaware is home to two separate programs of camera enforcement – the city’s program and the state’s. DelDOT runs the state effort, and counted 39,068 violations in 2013, at 30 locations, averaging 107 per day statewide and 3.6 per location per day. It turns out the state has not moved or added any cameras in sometime, and is waiting for the current contract with ATS to expire in June 2014 before doing so. Burke’s article suggests no new cameras will appear until early 2015.

The mayor of the city of Wilmington has suggested adding ten cameras in the coming fiscal year. Burke rightfully notes that the American Automobile Association criticizes the placement methodology used by Wilmington, as it is driven more by revenue generation than by safety considerations. The article does not provide a figure for how much money is raised by the cameras in Wilmington.

It would be very interesting if the city and DelDOT were to release the raw data on a location-by-location basis so that some independent analysis of how effective these cameras have been, and their full impact on the safety of our region. It is hard not to conclude the city camera installations are seen primarily as revenue generation devices, and as long as that is the case, they will not be used to their best effect for the public good.

As happens occasionally, Mewhinney has gently prodded me to take a whack at the weekly Daily Post challenge, and welcoming any encouragement that I receive, I thought I might give it a whirl. Fiction is a funny thing for me, as I read very little of it. Most recently, I adored Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, and I am excited for the third volume. This is an aberration for me. I am drawn to hulking non-fiction works, and I was just joking with a friend about how on my honeymoon I sat on the beach next to my lovely bride, she with a stack of crime novels, and I happily immersed in Holloway’s fascinating Stalin and the Bomb. When I was noodling around a few ideas for this (which is against the spirit of flash fiction, I guess), I realized another heavy dose of fiction in my life is Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, so I need to be careful about not letting any Minnesota Lutherans creep into what I write.

I have previously alluded to something I call, for lack of a better term, writer’s block. I have it in my mind that this blog be a place of constructive writing, and have tried to steer clear of rants and whining. Yet much of the material I start to write recently seems gravitationally drawn towards a negative slant which I do not like, so I have left  a lot of it to molder in various drafts I doubt will ever see the light of day. I am not going to delve into why this is, but it is part of why things have been so quiet around here. I wondered if flash fiction might not jump start things, but a few false starts suggested to me that the vapor lock remained in effect. Then I wondered if I might not trot out a modest homage, drawn from a favorite fiction indulgence. Permit me to turn to Spaceman Spiff, one of Bill Watterson’s great inspired creations in his Calvin & Hobbes works.

By the great Bill Watterson

Spaceman Spiff peered around the edge of the airlock. Reassured by the silence, he crept into the docking bay, noting the blast damage from the assault. Crossing the room quickly, he knew he must destroy the flagship before the aliens could learn anything from its systems, and that required removing the shielding from the reactor. He unfastened a service panel, lowered himself into the conduit that ran the length of the ship, and hurried aft. As he passed the belly turret mounts, his heart stopped when he saw two of the creatures examining the guns. As the closer beast started to call out, Spiff raised his laser, squeezed the trigger twice, and both lizards collapsed to the floor. Hurrying on, Spiff reached the engine room. Fishing a key out from around his neck, he slid it into a red circular fixture on the control panel and turned it three deliberate rotations until the lights on the panel began to pulse urgently. With five minutes until the release of the plasma core, Spiff raced back towards his shuttle craft. He neared the ladder under the docking bay, just as the ship lurched with the first small blasts from the crippled cooling system. Heaving himself onto the main deck, he spotted four aliens approaching. Two of them drew and fired as Spiff leapt across the corridor and rolled behind the cover of the hatch. Sprinting for the airlock, he slammed it shut and mashed down the emergency unmooring switch. The craft jetted away from the flagship, and Spiff could see explosions rippling across the engine housings. A blinding white flash engulfed Spiff, and for a moment all seemed lost. Debris rattled off of the hull as the shuttle accelerated away. He opened a channel to HQ and calmly reported “Mission complete.”

Fifty Words

Inspired by Mewhinney (and her artistic progeny), and triggered by this week’s Daily Post Challenge, submitted below is my modest lunch break effort at the curiously challenging task of writing a fifty-word story.

From Wikimedia

Treefrogs chirping above me, I skulk down the hill in the moonlight. My companion hisses in its cage, a possum extracted from my basement. Crouched on the riverbank, I release it. A moment’s hesitation, a final malevolent glare, and then the dignified scurry. The rustle recedes, followed by welcome solitude.

The old screensaver prank

[This is the tenth post in a series. For a little background on the thinking behind this, please read this.]

In tenth grade, I took an art course called Visual Arts 2. The class had only six or at most eight students in it. For the most part, the students were all pretty talented, and our teacher – Ms. Poole – offered us a great deal of latitude about how we chose to tackle the various challenges she posed for us. While I was no sculptor or painter, I could draw a bit, and I also served as the class DJ. The studio was down in the basement of the school, and Ms. Poole had a turntable hooked up to speakers, and I would bring in records we would listen to while we worked. Usually Ms. Poole would circulate around the room, checking in on us and offering suggestions and encouragement. At other times, she would retreat to her office and putter on her cutting edge Apple Macintosh Plus. It was a brand new machine, and the school did not have too many of them, but she was dating the math teacher who also served as the computer guy, and thus on her desk sat this Mac.

As it was new, and computers were new, I mean no criticism of Ms. Poole to say she knew very little about how to use the Mac at the time, and since the computer guy was also her boyfriend at the time (they later married), she had extra reason to run for help quickly when she was stumped by something the machine did or didn’t to. While Macs were new to all of us, the kids in her class had been using various Apple II and TRS-80 machines for long enough that we snickered at how quickly Ms. Poole would run for help.

macplusMacs back then, with their 9″ black & white CRT screens, usually ran some sort of screensaver to prevent “burn in.” Screensavers these days are elaborate, Technicolor programs built into the OS and run more for aesthetic purposes, but back when a Mac shipped with one megabyte of RAM, screensavers were purely functional add-ons. My school used a control panel that waited until a certain idle time had passed, and then turned the screen to black. No flying toasters, no animated clocks, just black. If one opened the settings panel for the program, one saw nothing but a text field where the desired idle time could be typed in, and an okay button. The delay was measured in seconds, and the default was three minutes, so the field started out with a 180 in it. At some point, I realized that there was no minimum, and that the program would accept a delay of zero. Thus when one typed, for example, ok, the machine would be dark, then as you typed o, the screen would light up, an o would appear, and then the screen would go dark. Then the k would prompt the screen again, the k would appear, and dark again. If you moved the mouse continuously, you could get the screen to stay on, too.

Armed with this knowledge, an idea dawned on me and I headed to art and waited for the right moment. One day while Ms. Poole was getting more coffee, I changed her screensaver delay to zero and returned to my seat. Ms. Poole returned, checked on us, and sat down at her desk. All of us chewed on our lips and stared at the floor as murmurs of confusion gave way to annoyed grumbling from around the corner as Ms. Poole confronted her screen’s desire to be solidly black. After a minute at most, she announced she was off to get the computer guy, and hustled down the hall. This was my cue to change the delay back to 180, which I did quickly before resuming my work. Sure enough, a few minutes later we heard Ms. Poole and the computer fellow coming down the hall, and she marched him into her office, pointed at the wayward Mac, gestured grandly, and said “Watch!” She tapped the space bar, the screen flicked on, and then of course it stayed on. The computer guy looked at the Mac, looked at the art teacher, looked at the Mac, and finally offered a cautious, “It’s working now.” Ms. Poole looked flustered and made some comment about machines always working when the repairmen are around, and apologized for dragging him down on a fool’s errand. The whole time, all of the students in the other room were struggling to stifle any fugitive guffaws.

In the coming months, I think I managed to pull this little stunt a half-dozen times, always being careful to have the timing seem random enough so the connection between the Mac and the VA2 class was not clear. Each time, our undeserving art teacher would scowl at her computer, vow not to seek help, give up, and summon the computer guy. And every time, once he arrived, the Mac was fine. I know this is a dumb waste of time to inflict on someone, but at fifteen it seemed mighty funny, and I guess I have some fifteen year old in me still, as I still laugh thinking about the look on her face when the machine would behave for her boyfriend having refused to behave for her. No lessons or morals to today’s story, just the petty pleasure of a proper prank from the dark ages of personal computing.

Storytelling songwriters

Freshman year in college, my wonderful parents generously equipped me with a terrific Macintosh SE/30, which I used daily for five years. It was very speedy, which gave it a long life, but when it was new, it had an unexpected drawback – it played games too fast. I had a copy of Tetris, which I played a lot, and the machine’s speed meant the Tetris played in my room was faster than any Tetris on campus. Not by a lot, but by enough that when I played on other machines, I felt like I was experiencing what would now be called “bullet time,” which made rotating and placing the pieces quite easy and, conversely, when other players would challenge me on my home turf, my Mac would always leave them gasping, as they were not accustomed to its frantic pace. For that little slice of time, in that small venue, I was the best Tetris player around, and it was a fun feeling, albeit not a marketable skill.

Another skill I am fond of is the speed with which I can recognize music. I cannot play music, or compose it, but I sure can place a tune from the smallest sliver of it. (Coincidentally, this too is another unmarketable skill – lucky me!) Still, it is fun to have at least a hint of a musical talent, as I have always loved music, and music has always meant a great deal to me. When I stumbled across the current WordPress Writing Challenge (a thing I didn’t know existed until recently), my first thought was to dismiss it, as I found the suggestion of writing about three images a little contrived for my tastes. I returned to the idea later when I realized that the three images might not have to be pictures per se but instead any trio of evocative images. Rather than rummage through family pictures, or assign meanings to other peoples’ pictures, I thought I would assemble three images conjured by other writers, in this case lyricists. I love music and its ability to lodge deep in one’s consciousness. I love how songs trigger associations unbidden when they come on. And I love the craft of how some writers pack so much thought, meaning, and significance into the modest package of a song. I do not aspire to write songs, but I do admire those who do it with a deft touch. I have written about music elsewhere on this blog (here and here), so let me try to pick some new things, although I am sticking with musicians who I have had the chance to see in person.

• • • • • • •

DavidWilcox-e1355750872305I just included David Wilcox in my last post, so I debated about including him here. I decided I could not not include him. I know of very few writers who so consistently craft an interesting story into their music. My first thought was Farthest Shore, about what is ephemeral and what is permanent – a lovely song, but not quite the sort of imagery I am trying to corral for this collection. So I turn instead to Eye of the Hurricane, which you can watch and hear him perform here. In various interviews, Wilcox has explained this song is about addiction, but like so much good art, it is malleable enough to take on a range of complexions, reflecting you back at you. Wilcox’s best hook in the song comes in these words:

Hope is gone and she confessed,
“When you lay your dream to rest,
you can get what’s second best
but it’s hard to get enough.”

It’s not easy to put big, deep thoughts into cheerful little ditties, and any writer would be hard pressed to distill so much wisdom and loss into one brief thought as that.

• • • • • • •

shindellMoving on, I turn next to Richard Shindell. Similar to Wilcox in age and style, he has a darker, more brooding sensibility, and can paint a very bleak portrait of the world when he chooses to do so. I learned about Shindell from the 1998 record Cry, Cry, Cry, released by a band of the same name made up of Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell. If all you did was buy that album for its cover of James Keelaghan‘s Cold Missouri Waters, then you would find that money well spent. For today’s collection, I am sticking with singers performing their own compositions, and my first thought was A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress, which is a powerful song full of dangerous ambiguity and resolve and resignation. Yet for today’s assemblage, I am going to lean instead on Shindell’s Wisteria, which you can watch here. If you would like cleaner audio, you can listen to it here, via’s Spotify embedding. This song relies on negative space, as a lot of key things are left unsaid. Pining for the past in the absence of another is a common trope, but the contraction at the end of the opening word Let’s suggest he is melancholy for a shared past, which then makes the listener ask a series of pointed questions about what trajectory he and his partner find themselves on. By imbueing the spaces of the house with so much meaning that is unknown and unfelt by the current occupants, he reminds us of how we ourselves are unknowingly surrounded by the past. In this song the payload is carried in chorus, and runs as follows:

The vine of my memory
Is blooming around those eaves
But it’s true it’s a chore to tame wisteria.

I am certain when Shindell mentions taming the wisteria, he is talking about maintaining appearances beyond yardwork, and all the heartache that implies. While it is a sterile thing to talk about the efficiency of writing, I think Shindell manages to condense a tremendous amount of emotional energy into this song in very few words, like a painter suggesting forests with the lightest smidge of his brush.

• • • • • • •

Susan WernerMy original plan for the third writer was turn to Patty Griffin’s Long Ride Home. I remembered that I had already written about this song back in 2007, and I have not seen her perform, so alas Patty does not get the nod. (But go listen to that song anyway – you will be glad you did.) I next considered Paul Simon, as he is a master craftsman. I touched once on his song Hearts and Bones here, and I had his song Darling Lorraine in mind, but so many people have discussed his songwriting talents that seemed like a copout, so I turn instead to a singer who has never known his fame, but will always stand out in my mind as one of the purest talents I have ever seen – Susan Werner. I cannot even count how many times I have seen Susan play, and I once even had a cup of coffee with her, trying the whole time not to appear too giddy. While I don’t know what her career goals have been, I suspect she would have enjoyed more popular acclaim than she has found, and it is a shame to me she has not. Her voice is ethereal, she has a lovely sense of humor and stage presence, she is very attractive, and a wonderful musician. Why she is not more widely known is a mystery to me, but the advantage is that she still plays small enough venues to connect with the room in  a way larger spaces do not permit. Thinking about her music, even though many of her songs have an irreverent side to them, I have chosen a tougher one called Barbed Wire Boys (which you can watch here). It’s an homage to the Midwestern farmers among whom she grew up. I had admired it when I listened to it on her album, but it was in a dingy room in King of Prussia where I heard her sing it in person, and the song took on a whole new dimension. It touches on topics that could easily be schmaltzy or trite, and handles them with care and gentleness, conveying respect and affection for the old-fashioned way in which these men lived their lives. It is a wonderful song, with a snippet here for flavor:

Tough as the busted thumbnails on the weathered hands,
They worked the gold plate off their wedding bands.
And they never complained, no they never made noise,
And they never left home, these barbed wire boys.

• • • • • • •

As an aside, a whole post on music and I have not mentioned either Cat Stevens or the Cowboy Junkies – that may be a record for me. There is no larger point to this collection – simply my fondness for these three musicians and my admiration for their craft. So much awful music spills out into the world over the radio and Youtube and Pandora these days, and clearly a lot of it sells well. What a pleasure then to know there are writers like Wilcox, Shindell, and Werner who can take lessons and episodes from the world around them, rinse them of the unessentials, and clarify them down to the truth underneath. Sometimes when I am confronting writer’s block, it is the long, long gulf between my words and this sort of purity that slows me down, but that sure doesn’t stop me from enjoying it when I find it.

Better lucky than smart


Years ago, I had the pleasure of having a group of friends with whom I took a wonderful writing class. At the time, we spoke about every aspect of writing we could think of, and given how personal a discipline writing is for so many writers, the class brought us together in powerful ways, forging a number of friendships I still lean on more than twenty years later. One aspect of writing we talked about was the age old idea of a muse. At the time, my writing took the form of history papers and newspaper articles, so I discounted the idea of a muse, as necessity served that role for me. Fast forward more than two decades, and I see the appeal of a muse far more vividly now. My writing these days tends to be emails, cover memos, and if I am lucky a few paragraphs that might finagle their unattributed way into the Congressional record, but none of it is at all personal, and very little of it is remotely compelling. It is a different kind of necessity, but necessity all the same that brings my fingers to the keyboard. Thus I was caught off guard when one of my dearest writing class friends (and a stellar writer in her own right) tagged me with a writing assignment today. I will leave it to deeper muse musers than myself to determine if my friend is in fact a muse herself or instead a proxy for one, but all of a sudden I find myself confronted by a Daily Post challenge to write about Valentine’s.

One approach to this topic would be simply to take stock of the awkwardness of middle and high school Valentine’s Days and shudder. I think of my senior year in high school, and the two Valentines I attempted to navigate, and there is even more to shudder over. Both of the objects of my affection then were ill chosen, and the fact that I decided the way to handle that was to juggle two – good grief. It will shock no one reading this to learn that that arrangement ended badly. Moving into the first year of college, I spent Valentine’s playing Tetris with my would be Valentine, as I could not fathom how to escape the dreaded friend zone (a term that did not exist then). Sophomore year I took leave of my senses and sent a dozen roses to a woman I barely knew, but rather than see any romance in this grand gesture, she fled in horror. Swing and a miss. Junior year I reveled in a happy Valentine, gloriously ignorant of the whitewater that lay ahead of me. I cannot begin to recall where in our on-again-off-again yo-yo of idiocy she and I found ourselves for Valentines a year later, and the year after that we were still mired in the same cage match relationship. My learning curve can be embarrassingly flat sometimes.

Sometimes though, there is truth to the saying “it’s better to be lucky than smart,” so permit me to wax rhapsodic about my sublime Valentine of nineteen years. A friend of mine had mentioned a new colleague of his to me, a pretty young teacher new in town. As they were both in my hometown, and I was living in D.C. at the time, I regret to say my first response was to suggest my friend ask her out. When I met her a few weeks later, she recalled immediately how we had met glancingly in college, as I had roomed with a high school beau of hers. Since it is bad form to pay attention to your roommate’s ex, I also regret to say I had not focused on her as I should have when we first met. It only took a brief conversation with her for me to pull my friend aside and take back my suggestion he ask her out. She and I saw each other several times over that fall and winter, but both of us were disentangling ourselves from prior long-distance connections, so those impediments and the more than a hundred miles between us complicated my sense of how best to proceed. Still, we exchanged letters and phone calls, and I found more reasons to spend weekends back in my old stomping grounds. I wish I could say that this led to a lovely, if unoriginal, first Valentine’s day spent idling over a candlelit dinner, proffering heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and reading sonnets. Instead, the enduring memory of that day is a spectacularly expensive long-distance call (yes, I am that old) that meandered comfortably for many hours late into the night. cake cuttingWhile it was not even an exchange of sweet nothings, our talk ranged easily over a lot of conversational terrain, and it set the stage for our first proper date ten days later, a date that started our courtship that led to our engagement just nine months later. We have shared numerous lovely Valentine’s Days since then, but the unexpected pleasure of chatting late into the night (a worknight, no less) with a dazzling new friend will always stick with me, as it is a rare treat for Cupid to fire so many arrows in such a short span of time. I am sure my description does not do this justice, but you will simply have to take my word for it. Since then, I have been continually amazed at, and blessed by, her loving kindness, her deep well of patience, her tireless will, and a thoughtfulness that shines on me and my children every single day.

I know as I write that last part that she will not see herself in that list, which reminds of a wonderful song, which was itself passed on to me by a friend from the same writing class I mentioned at the start. (It is written and performed by David Wilcox, although it features an ending portion by Bach. If you do not know Wilcox, you will be glad you took the time to learn more about his music. Start with Eye of the Hurricane.) I think it is a fitting reminder of the power of love – and of a love affair – to grow, bind together, enrich, endure, tolerate, overcome, renew, and sustain.


So now, to answer the challenge posed by my muse, you have a sense of my Valentine’s story. Poor ol’ St. Valentine’s Day sometimes gets a bum rap, as it is lashed to the complicated topic of love. We should not be surprised a day devoted to romantic love is fraught and prone to failure. Figuring out romance is complicated, and ultimately requires actual love. My magnificent Valentine and I slog through a lot of unromantic moments these days, as three wonderful children and life’s various commitments do not offer many occasions for candlelit dinners, proffered chocolates, and sonnet reading. I certainly wish I was better able to offer her more Hallmark moments and less time spent chasing after our surly children and shoveling out the house. She deserves more moonlit garden strolls and impromptu weekends in Paris. Looking back over the range of Valentines I have experienced, as much as my toes curl in embarrassment over the dumb ways I spent so many Valentines years ago, I would not change a single one of them for fear of not ending up right where I am today. I wish for you the same conclusion to your Valentine’s story.