Rejoice!  The End Is Near.

Love’s narchy

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Jobs Solution

I went for a walk the other day (along the path pictured at the top of my blog), and I was thinking about a question my sister had asked me a night or two before: “Do you think Obama is doing a good job?” My response was that he was doing as well as could be expected, but, no, not really. It seems to me that he started out naïvely believing he could preside over Congress in such a way that compromises could be reached so that shit could get done, but the problem was that the opposition party was so entirely focused on making sure he was a one-term president that they forced him to over-compromise pretty severely, only to vote against his proposals anyway.

Then, in what seemed to me a transparent ruse, they complained loudly that he was failing to provide strong leadership, by which they meant failing to come up with his own concrete plans. Obviously, they didn’t want his plans to succeed so much as they desired an opportunity concretely to ridicule them. Obama fell into their trap and came up with a jobs bill that combined the worst of Democratic ideas with strategies that have already largely failed in the recent past, and I thought (as I traipsed through the woods), “Why not propose something truly innovative, or at least some outside-the-box solution that would go beyond maybe dropping the unemployment rate a single percentage point?” The next logical question, of course, was “Okay, Mr. Smarty-pants” (by which I meant me), “like what?”

Well. The idea I came up with did not seem so extraordinary or even so very far outside the box, but it was this: Why not combine the microfinancing idea, the Wikipedia model and the buy-local movement to create jobs for literally everyone who wants one, sponsored by the willing participation of the 1%?

It seemed to me like a brilliant concept, and a little bit of web-searching put a better name on “the Wikipedia model” portion of it: “crowdsourcing.” In other words, I’m not the first to come up with the idea. At its heart, of course, it’s just the way society has always worked, with some people needing stuff and other people being in a position to provide it, but having never heard the term crowdsourcing before, it seemed as if the trees themselves had been suggesting it for years and waiting for someone to walk amongst them and listen.

I have almost no ability to implement my own version of the idea, but I would imagine that the place to start would be with a wikipedia-style web site functioning similarly to a microfinancing site. The first thing you’d do as webmaster would be to set up an entry for your own job. People who wanted to finance the job of webmaster would contribute money to that position, and that would be the sole source of the webmaster’s income (within the scope of this project–you could keep your job at Macys®, or whatever). The trick with all the positions on the site is that they would be continuously available to multiple people. A webmaster would be paid according to the number of pages created or–I don’t know–I’m thinking NOT hours worked, but rather, work accomplished, discrete chunks of work the quality of which could be verified by a second tier of workers whose job would be verification.

Other jobs I thought of were things like making clothes, building houses, scanning books into a digital library (like Google® was trying to do before copyright holders started to complain). Modules could be developed for complex tasks like this, so that they easily could be broken down into component parts (so that, for instance, materials could be purchased by some, delivered by others and assembled by anyone with the requisite skills and equipment).

Actually, building houses in this day and age probably would not be necessary. Foreclosed properties could be put on sale through the site, multiple people could contribute to any given purchase, which could then be given to a homeless family. (Based on what? I don’t know. Would people sign up for several properties, provide some basic information and be voted up or down by random contributors? That doesn’t sound quite right, but surely the problem isn’t insurmountable.)

With the book scanning, some people’s job would be to acquire the rights first. (To be honest, this was my first idea: Book digitizing funded by the government. But the microfinancing model does away with the need for (and bureaucracy of) the government.) Others would scan/type, or proofread, or format, etc.

Logins and passwords would be freely available. Multiple logins (even anonymous logins) would be acceptable, since payment would be based on work accomplished and independently verified. People could log in from any computer, public or private. Funds could be direct-deposited into bank accounts or … or jobs and money could be distributed through local service centers, which could be set up as projects of their own.

The idea of using the internet to match needs to workers is hardly new, but this would be targeted at unskilled labor and uncentralized. It wouldn’t be Levi’s® asking people to sew jeans. Instead it would be some random person signing up to receive a pair of pants, someone else donating a sewing machine, fabric and/or funding, and yet another person receiving the sewing machine, doing the work and getting paid. The need to ship such goods could end up being the salvation of the Postal Service.

The whole thing would be like Craigslist® except, rather than individual people selling individual things or services to other individuals, it would be individuals submitting ideas, multiple other individuals taking a liking to the idea and either implementing or funding it.

Earnings would be roughly the same for every job, so that people would choose work based on what they like to do rather than on what makes them the most money. It should work out to be better than minimum wage. At least twice, in my opinion, but I can almost see the list of questions expanding in your mind.

Such ideas are always more complicated than they seem. Who would be employing whom? How would people pay taxes on their income? Would reporting be volunary, or would we have to collect SS#s and send out W-2s? Would there be age restrictions? What about health insurance? Would it put a squeeze on small businesses who might lose employees to the success of this scheme? Most importantly of all, could people be prevented from operating virtual sweat shops?

The main point of the idea is that we as a larger community would be taking matters into our own hands to provide employment for one other. Are there so many legal restrictions imposed on us that such a thing is impossible? If so, then are we okay with that, or would we like Congress to lift some of those restrictions? I’m assuming we wouldn’t want some big corporation to come in and turn it into a huge profit-making vehicle for their shareholders and CEO, but that notion brings up yet another question: Can this venture become self-sustaining?

Would it always be a charitable organization, or might there be income through the sale of goods and services as well? Can such a project be run without a single person in charge (or ultimately accountable)? Should it be that, instead of being funded by the 1% (or 10%, or whatever), it should be entirely by, for and of the 14 million who are unemployed? Through creative sharing, limited resources like food, shelter, clothing and learning could be redistributed to everyone in need.

It was roughly at this point in my writing that I decided to do a Google® search or two on the topic, which led me (first of all to the term “crowd-sourcing” and then) to a facebook app called CloudCrowd that provided me with the hope of ending my own erstwhile search for employment. Funny that I’d never heard of it until I came up with the concept on my own. I had tried Elance® a couple of years ago, but never got so much as a nibble on my proposals. CloudCrowd’s reliance on “credibility points” in lieu of submitting a proposal to each potential client seemed like a huge leap forward.

It didn’t work out. Many of the jobs I was interested in required me to pass a test in “Writing (General)” or “(English) Editing.” I took both tests and eagerly awaited the results.

They both were rejected (by my peers, apparently). The first for not being written in the third person (which was not part of the instructions) and the second for incorrect capitalization and ESL phrasing. The latter assignment had been to take 80-100 words from a Japanese web page that had already been translated into poor English and edit said words into proper English. The website advertised “Noodle Making Machines,” which I mistakenly considered to be the proper name of the machines and so failed to change the capitalization. As for the ESL phrasing, well, you’ve read enough of my writing in this very article to decide whether or not I am sounding like native speaker.

Web searches for CloudCrowd provided plenty of negative reactions from former workers, but of course it’s hard to say, looking in from the outside, how deep the problems lie. The problems I encountered on the first day were enough to convince me not to waste my time trying to appeal my rejections. I simply deleted the app from my facebook account and returned to blogging (and whatever else I might find to fill my days). My suspicion is that CloudCrowd workers have found ways of gaming the system, to keep the good jobs for themselves and to keep out unwanted competition, but maybe I’m just being big-(and/or pig-)headed.

As for the danger of people learning to game my own crowdsourcing idea, I have to believe it’s possible to disincentivize such activity, but that sort of thinking is not really my forté. I’m better at writing fiction (or so I like to believe), and I certainly lack the programming skills even to begin such an undertaking. It seems likely, then, that this post has been little more than an exercise in futility, but if I really believed in the potential of my concept I suppose I would teach myself how to implement it. Who knows? If the idea continues to grow on me even after I’ve finished my novel, I just might try.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What Is Love’s Anarchy?

What do you think when you hear the term, Love’s Anarchy? I would sincerely appreciate any answers you would be willing to post in the comments section below, but while I wait for that, let me tell you a bit about what I mean by it.

First let me give you my answer to “What is at the extreme ends of the political spectrum?” Because I think anarchy is fundamentally a political position. Your answer, or even the “correct” answer, may vary, but on the left you’ve got communists, and on the right, anarchists. Democrats and Republicans overlap in the middle somewhere, while socialists sit between Democrats and communists, and libertarianists between Republicans and anarchists. As a matter of fact, “libertarian” is what the French anarchists called themselves after anarchy was outlawed, even though now it means something like Republicanism X-treme. Likewise, socialism is more or less just communism lite.

Communism (as a theory, as a desire) is the idea that everything should be held in common and no one should have power over another. Anarchy (as my theory and desire) is the idea that rules are ineffectual and counterproductive, and that we’d all be better off without them. The problem with communism is that everyone must be forced (whether by actual force or through social coercion, shaming, punishment/reward, etc.) to abide by the principles and ideals of communism, whereas the problem with anarchy is that it is mere chaos, with those who desire power pursuing and exerting power, while those who desire peace pursue and extend peace (and likely suffer under the thumbs of those desiring power).

But what if, instead of thinking of it as a two-dimensional spectrum with two extremes, we imagined it as a sort of mobius strip, where anarchy and communism could blend into one another at the twist?

Political Spectrum

To state it plain: As love’s anarchist, I want everything to be held in common, just like a communist, but I want the sharing to be entirely voluntary, just like an anarchist.

I’ll just sit here patiently until your reaction dies down. Okay. Yes, I, too, live in the real world where such a society would be untenable, unsustainable, and all but unimaginable. My contention is that none of that matters. Love’s anarchy can and does coexist within this broken, evil world. Where? I don’t know. A little bit here, a little bit there. Where it looks like it’s occurring, it probably isn’t. Look harder–they’ve got an ulterior motive. Where it doesn’t look like it’s happening at all, look closer–there may be sacrificial love going on that could humble Ma Theresa.

You say you can’t see it? Even though you’ve looked as close and as hard as you can? Perhaps I’m wrong. Or perhaps you just can’t see the childhoods, the hidden passions, the traumas and the gifts. In order to see clearly enough, you might have to fall in love with that person. Sure, maybe all of that person’s love and passion are misdirected–aimed at gaining and exerting more power, but if you were truly in love you might see purity in that love and passion nonetheless. To state what we all should know by now: falling in love does not require that the object of our affection be worthy. To love completely is to identify fully, not blind to flaws, but able to see blemishes as terrible yet honorable scars rather than irredeemable character defects.

Love’s anarchists aren’t worried about whether other people are sharing their share; their only concern is to give out of their own abundance and receive into their own poverty.

Does that come close to answering the question?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dances with Bull

Unsolicited Advice for #OccupyWallSt

As a Christian, and a writer of book-length manuscripts, I am typically on the trailing edge of current events. I tend to want perspective and a sense of other people’s opinions before I advance my own. I have been trying, recently, to catch up with the news cycle, but the results of my efforts have been mixed. I didn’t blog about Troy Davis until a few hours after he was killed. I didn’t arrive at The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear until five minutes before the rally was over. I was blogging about that experience for a month. By the time this gets posted (where it might, eventually, be read by a hundred people), the #occupywallst folks may have found the focus they have so far been lacking. They may even have issued their one demand. But I hope not.

For one thing, to be leaderless and without demands is to act like anarchists, and, as you may have gathered, I love anarchy. But that is not the only reason I hope they will continue to eschew leaders and demands. Or maybe it is, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that the last thing this country needs is a liberal Tea Party, and the moment the 99% start making demands is, in all likelihood, the moment they can be dismissed as the 49.5%.

To my way of thinking, the two demands they have been making from the start are sufficient: the right to assemble and the right to make their voices heard. They are demanding to be allowed to do what Egyptians did in Tahrir Square–peaceably protest the powers that be–only with no fear of reprisal because this is America, right? Except that yesterday (okay, the day before—I’m a slow writer), 700 of them were arrested in a brilliantly coordinated effort by the police. This after video surfaced last week showing a white-shirted police officer macing a couple of noisy women and then walking away. So long as the protesters continue to make such demands and so long as their rights are subverted or denied, their movement will continue to grow.

Sure, they’re on Wall Street because they have a beef with the 1%, and they would be more comprehensible to the media and even to their fellow citizenry if they established some clear objectives in regards to how exactly they wish to curtail corporate greed, but I’m unconvinced that the benefits would outweigh the risks. As far as I can tell, their conduct thus far has been exemplary. They have behaved as a large group of individuals rather than like a mob, and I’m afraid they’ll mess that up by attempting to speak with a single voice.

protest sign

Nevertheless, I understand the desire. In Tahrir they issued one demand over and over again: Mubarek must go. If nothing else, it provided them with an identifiable moment when it was time to say, “Thank you, goodbye!” But I don’t think the choice of demand is quite so clear in this case. An obvious candidate is that corporations be stripped of their personhood, but even that is more complicated than it may seem. On the other hand, it’s fun to wonder what the country would look like if we could somehow accomplish the larger goal of stripping politics of money.

I can hardly say that with a straight face–it seems so unlikely as to be impossible–but just imagine.

A lot of people down there are wearing the same Guy Fawkes mask worn in V for Vendetta. The money quote from that film, in case you haven’t seen it, is “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” I’ve said elsewhere that I’m a pacifist in practice but not in theory, but in this case, I’m a pacificist in theory, as well. Nonviolence is the only effective weapon against disciplined forces with superior firepower. If you can nonviolently goad those forces into taking violent action against you while refraining from responding in kind, you’ve won. You may be dead or severely injured, but you’re also victorious, and your sacrifice may inspire some of the rest of us to get up off our couches and into the street. On a personal note, I’m sorry that it might take such sacrifice on your part to convince me to come join you.

I pray it won’t come to that. I pray that the protest will be a time of good fellowship between differently-minded but equally passionate people, that ideas will be honed and seeds planted for a larger movement that truly represents the 99%, and that it will succeed in stoking the fires of outrage in the American people.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Global Warming

Suddenly I understand the climate change debate. An article in my iPhone’s AP News app persuaded me. I was persuaded before, mind you, but until today I didn’t know how much credence to give the skeptics (correct answer: none at all). The article quoted a scientist who said, “It’s just physics.” (Carbon dioxide traps heat. The process of burning fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The predictions scientists made back in 1975 or so have pretty much come true on schedule.) The oil, gas and coal companies have taken the lead in denouncing the science, and the reason people have sided with them and been skeptical of the science is pretty much self-explanatory: to accept the prognosis is to accept the need to change everything about the society in which we live. The situation is very much analogous to the need to quit smoking because the doctor has told us that lung cancer, emphysema, even diabetes and hair loss are imminent if we continue to smoke three packs a day. No more fossil fuels means no more industry. No more cars, no more factories, no more superpower status.

God forbid we should become just another third-world country.

The fun thing, as far as my anarchistic theories are concerned, is that it doesn’t matter what we do. We have a choice and God is in control. Any theological questions those two statements may raise about God’s goodness, etc. boil down to a case of first-world whining.

It is my wholly unsubstantiated opinion that people who suffer the way impoverished, majority-world people suffer tend not to ask such questions, or at least not in the same way. Their questions tend more towards “Why haven’t you smitten those fracking first-worlders, yet?” I may be wrong. Damned if I know what kinds of questions such people ask.

But let’s consider our first-world options, at least at the two extremes:

Number one: We fail to address the problem, keep our blinders on, and find out what happens in a hundred or two hundred years—this is the option we will most likely take. Since none of the climate change predictions for our lifetimes are too outré, let’s let our children and grandchildren scramble to find a solution. In truth, their panicked efforts to save Amsterdam, Manhattan, etc, from drowning are highly likely to make things worse. This is in accordance with the laws of unintended consequence. It is my opinion that launching millions of tiny mirrors into space, or pumping huge amounts of sulfur into the atmosphere, or whatever, is a very bad idea. We know this from past experience, or at least we should. At some point, however, we are almost guaranteed to try to install some sort of global thermostat. Next stop: ice age.

But here’s how God works, if I understand correctly: Justice often takes centuries. The wicked prosper; the poor are oppressed. For generations nothing changes. Then the poor start crying out to God in earnest, and soon the oppressors’ world collapses. A remnant is preserved, and peace is restored.

Don’t get me wrong—life doesn’t suddenly get easy for the remnant, but that’s not the point. Life was never meant to be as easy as it is for the extremely wealthy (by which I mean, for example, the American middle and upper classes). When I say that peace is restored, I simply mean that simple people are simply left alone. At least until they start clamoring for the easy life again, or find something valuable that they’ll kill to defend, etc. (I say “et cetera” as if you all know what the hell I’m talking about, when really I’m making allusions to my own peculiar theology, which very few others even know about let alone agree with or even understand how I can believe it makes sense, but in a nutshell, the biblical book of Judges is my idea of the way the world should be. Trust God and all shall be well; trust earthly power (yours or anyone else’s) and all shall take a little bit more time to be well.)

Option two: We repent. Ha ha ha. This is God’s preferred option, unlikely as it is that we will take it. Ironically, climate scientists are being faithful prophets, and the people are refusing to believe and thus refusing to act, and soon enough (in God’s timeframe) it will all be over. Yes, it is mostly the conservative Christians (in the political sense of the word) who are ignoring the prophetic words, but they are us. Make no mistake: No matter how liberal an activist or active a liberal you may be, the conservatives are right to tell you to love America or leave it. To stay (unless you’re extremely poor) is to accept the privileges of oppressive wealth. I’m not 100% certain (because I haven’t looked into it, myself), but I’m pretty sure Mexico would welcome you if you and your family wanted to walk down there and live in a remote village somewhere within its borders. Just try not to be a burden on the people who are already there, okay? (Aaaand somehow I manage to sound sanctimonious in spite of myself.)

God is a slow activist, but an effective one. And don’t get me wrong—we are allowed to participate in his activism; it’s just that living like a prince is generally incompatible with living like a prophet. How that jibes with my assertion that scientists are being “faithful prophets” I don’t know; I’m just a writer who carries the white-man’s burden, and I can’t find any compelling reason to put it down. By any standard I can think of, white men are guilty. I’m a white man, living a white man’s life, therefore I’m guilty. And I don’t think I should stop feeling that way. If I can’t even bear up under this anemic cross, how will I shoulder the one Jesus asked me take? How will I ever be able to take up my cross and follow Jesus through the eye of a needle into the kingdom of heaven unless God takes away my wealth and security?

Our imminent economic collapse is not just God’s justice, but God’s mercy, as well.

All I’m trying to say, in regards to option two, is that we can repent of our wealth. The option is on the table. Or rather, not so much our wealth as the passion with which we cling to it. The sense that we’re entitled to it. The evil we condone, turn a blind eye to, and occasionally actively participate in in order to gain and/or keep it. Regarding all these things we are allowed to repent. Having done so we may yet avert the coming climatic catastrophe simply by quitting our greenhouse-gas-producing habits. If we don’t, our civilization will be destroyed. And, more than likely, much of the less-prosperous world will fail alongside us. That may seem unfair to the victims of our crimes and lacks of compassion, but, if my theories are correct, the world, when it recovers, will be a paradise like we cannot imagine. Thanks to global warming, Antarctica may well be restored, after thousands of millennia of wintry exile, to fruitful vivacity. Such is God’s justice. Such is God’s mercy. May the creatures who thrive there never stop thanking you for it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Troy Davis

Troy Davis Is Dead

Tonight I was at the local tavern for Trivia Night. While the TV sets around the bar showed NYY vs. TB, Troy Davis was preparing to die. While my trivia partner and I fought (with marginal success) to stay out of last place, Troy Davis was asking God to have mercy on the souls of those who were about to witness his death. I got home early tonight: around 10:30. I turned to the Comedy Central Network and watched a South Park rerun: Coon vs. Coon and Friends. South Park was followed by The Daily Show, which was followed by The Colbert Report, which I turned off after 20 minutes. I sat down at my computer and poked around a bit until a friend’s facebook update reminded me to Google Troy Davis, to see what had become of the massive international effort to stay his execution. As of the writing of this very sentence, he has been dead for 55 minutes.

If you want to read a good Christian response to Davis’s plight, take a look at the article Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wrote for Red Letter Christians. If you’d rather read something totally unrelated to Troy Davis, take a look at my previous blog post, which I rushed to upload before heading out to Trivia Night. Please excuse my language, but it’s a fucking fairy tale. Literally. My previous blog post is a literal fucking fairy tale. You’re welcome.

I had never heard of Troy Davis until, let’s say, three days ago. Maybe less. I don’t know him personally, I don’t know if he was guilty or innocent, I don’t know anything except what I’ve heard: that seven of the nine nonpolice eyewitnesses who testified against him 20 years ago recanted their testimony, claiming that they had been pressured by the police, and that one of the two who did not recant may actually, in fact, be guilty of the crime.

I also know that the last public lynching of a black man in this country (i.e., an extrajudicial hanging for which no one was prosecuted) occurred in the year of my birth, 1967. In trying to find a citation for this, I came across the following quote from Martin Luther King Jr. “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.”

I had a few other racial-injustice nuggets of knowledge that the internet was unable to corroborate for me, so I deleted them, and will instead merely suggest that MLK may have been wrong: The law can legitimate lynching.

I have always, as a matter of personal opinion, opposed the death penalty. All it took to convince me of the rightness of this position were the words of a fictitious wizard responding to a make-believe orphan’s statement that a wizened creature whose diet included human infants deserved to die:

Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, page 59).

I sincerely hope that Troy Davis’s execution will be the final catalyst for the movement to abolish the death penalty. It is but a small step on the path to justice for the least of these (by which I mean those with whom Christ most identified himself), but it is not a Trivial step. I believe that Troy Davis is at this very moment dining with Jesus in heaven (though I have no first-hand knowledge of what that might look like), and that his happily-ever-after is not a Fairy Tale.

My own fairy tale seemed trivial while I was writing it, but then the ending came over me like a revelation, like an affirmation that writing fairy tales is one of the things God put me on earth to do. I don’t know whether any reader ever will agree with me on that point, but it doesn’t matter. By my inaction in the face of Troy Davis’s death, I stand condemned. My own beliefs about Jesus (and his call to pick up my cross and follow him) condemn me. Many people can proudly (and sadly) proclaim, “I am Troy Davis,” but I, to my shame and chagrin, cannot.

Troy Davis was strapped to a table shaped like a cross. His final words were, “For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.” And then, at 11:08 pm, Wednesday, September 21, 2011, he was poisoned to death.

My fairy tale, coincidentally, portrays a little girl poisoning almost 50 frogs in her quest to find one who might be a prince.

May God have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Frog kiss

The Frog Who Was Almost a Prince

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who was truly evil. All right, she wasn’t really a princess, but she was quite sure she ought to be. Perhaps she had been adopted. Her mother had the same silky blonde hair as her and her father the same delicate ears, but she considered that maybe they had been adopted themselves, or perhaps her great-grandparents had once been royalty before being wickedly deposed in a popular uprising.

She made many attempts to demonstrate her princessness. An early scheme had involved sneaking peas from her dinner plate to shove beneath her mattress, but after five minutes of violent tossings and turnings she had fallen asleep exhausted only to awake up the next morning refreshed and well-rested. Another plan had involved spreading rumors about a curse and stealing a bottle of sleeping pills from the medicine cabinet. Fortunately for her the rumor reached her mother, and her plan (and the pills) were discovered before she could put her plan into action. Undeterred, she watched every Disney princess movie and had her parents read her all the princess-related fairy tales they could find, but the majority of secret princesses had no choice but to undure hardships with long-suffering patience until someone eventually arrived to reveal their princessity.

Which seemed like far too much trouble, so she turned to magic. Never mind where she found the books, nor what she did to procure them. Trust me: You really don’t want to know. She mastered love potions quickly, but she could only test them on regular boys on behalf of regular girls, since there were so few princes in the area. None at all, in fact, which is why (though she had avoided this option for as long as she possibly could) she at last resorted to frog kissing.

First she developed a magical test to determine whether a frog was really a prince, and then she set about capturing and testing frogs. In truth, the magic was rather simple, and consisted of administering a dose of poisoned pocket-lint orally to each frog and seeing which one survived. As luck would have it, it took less than fifty tries to find one who passed the test. The frog was little and not particularly ugly, but she still could not suppress a shudder as she brought it to her mouth. She made sure her kiss was a good one, soft and lingering, so that she would not have to administer it a second time, but nothing happened. She watched him carefully for several minutes, and hefted him in her hand, but he showed no sign or growing or changing into anything. Disappointed, she tossed him back into the pond.

Poor frog. His great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather had been an evil prince, transformed by a spell intended for someone else that had backfired to the great relief of the country over which he would otherwise one day have ruled. This little frog knew nothing of any of that, but retained a vivid imagination far beyond the capability of most amphibians.

With that one, gentle kiss he fell instantly, hopelessly in love.

He clambered out of the pond and followed the evil princess everywhere. She, however, took no further notice of him. Having judged her frog experiments a failure, she moved on to other endeavors, and so frogs receded to the status of most other living creatures for which she had no use—complete invisibility. Which was just as well, for otherwise, she might have kicked, stomped upon or otherwise abused and ultimately killed him. The frog did not go out of his way to draw attention to himself but was content merely to stare openmouthed at the object of his great affection, occasionally snacking on some of the many flies that swarmed around the strewn corpses of other, less regal frogs.

He took little notice of activities, and so was largely ignorant of her wickedness. At those odd times when he couldn’t help but be shocked by her cruelty (such as when she swatted flies and let them drop, lifeless and uneaten, to the floor) he simply explained to himself that he was only a little frog in a big, big world, and he couldn’t be expected to know how other beings measured good and evil.

In time the evil princess hit upon a brilliant idea: Rather than striving endlessly (and fruitlessly) to prove her princessitude, she decided she would simply start acting the part. Reasoning that the only thing a princess really requires is a lady-in-waiting, she sought out and found a littler girl who adored her and was willing to be bullied and bossed around.

Is it necessary even to mention that the little frog was made greener still by envy at the attention paid this pudgy usurper? He would have given anything to be so bossed around and bullied by the one who had once smacked him deliciously on the lips.

It so happened that this littler girl really was a princess. Her great-great-grandmother had been a princess in Sweden before she’d been turned into a bear. Part of that story may be found elsewhere (specifically the part where the curse was eventually lifted), but the descendants of this bear princess had fallen onto hard times had forgotten their former royal ursinity. The little girl was not beautiful, though that may have been only because no one ever told her she was.

One day, when the evil princess was casting about for some new cruel command she could inflict upon her servant, her attention turned at last to the frog, who was sitting on a nearby rock feeling particuarly dry and itchy (he neglected sometimes to return periodically to the pond to remoisturize his skin). Needless to say she didn’t recognize him, but only saw a fresh chance to humiliate her victim-in-waiting. She picked up the frog (who was instantly in a state of rapturous bliss), presented him to the littler girl, told her he was really a handsome prince, and ordered her to kiss him. The little girl naturally recoiled in disgust, but, having maintained her gullibility in spite of the evil princess’s past manipulations and abuses, she overcame her revulsion, closed her eyes, puckered her lips, and leaned forward.

The frog would have jumped away in equal disgust had not the evil princess held such a firm grip upon his torso. She smooshed the frog’s face hard into the littler girl’s lips, so that they shared a moment’s intimate smooch, and then the evil princess dropped the frog as though she had received an electrical shock.

The little frog was not feeling well. Revolted as he was by the kiss and stunned as he was by the two-foot drop to the ground, his ill-feelings were greater than either cause could account for. He stretched and contorted his limbs pititably as they ached and swelled, and the little girls seemed to grow a little less little.

The littler girl shrieked, but the evil princess only stared at her with dull hatred. The cause of the frog’s distress was obvious: Being a true princess, she had succeeded in transforming him into a prince.

Well, almost.

It had been many generations since the evil prince had turned himself into a frog, and his hapless descendants were now mostly only frog. Human DNA is much stronger than frog DNA, but not as strong as all that. So now he was transformed into a grotesque, human-like frog-creature about the size of a toddler. The evil princess felt vindicated: “Aha!” she cried, “Not so much of a princess, I guess!” But the true princess, recovering somewhat from her initial shock, felt intense compassion for the monster. “We have to help him!” she cried.

The frog-prince was in unendurable pain. He breathed in short, spasmodic little gasps, gulping air as though the planet were running low. He could only say one human word, which he repeated over and over: “Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.”

The true princess fell to the ground and embraced him, kissing the creature repeatedly, but it made no difference. Her tears fell upon his hideous cheeks to no avail.

The evil princess herself began to feel distress. The true princess’s emotions were so strong and poignant that they pierced every chink in the evil princess’s psychic armor. She hated the stabs of emotional pain, as she hated everything, and she wanted nothing more than to make them stop. So, without pausing to consider what she was doing, she pried the littler girl away from the frog-thing, bent down, and kissed him herself.

Immediately he was transformed back into a little frog, breathless and traumatized.

“You saved him!” the true princess cried and threw her arms tight around the evil princess’s neck. So relieved and grateful was the littler girl that she kissed the evil princess on the lips. Immediately the evil princess staggered back, afraid of the awful power in her lady-in-waiting’s kiss, but she did not appear to be transforming, and so she attempted to cover her panic with another sneer.

Nevertheless, there was indeed power in the littler girl’s kiss. Though neither was aware of it at the time, she had inadvertantly transformed her bossy playmate into a true princess.

During the rest of that long, hot summer, they had many adventures, and for the rest of their lives they were always close friends. The little frog was kept by his true love in a glass terrarium in her room, and she never failed to provide him with food, fresh water and (what he craved the most) attention, and they all lived happily ever after.

The End.

Frog Almost Prince

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I could blog about relatively trivial matters for months on end (assuming I bother to blog at all), but the problem is that I might thereby fail ever to articulate what’s at the heart of why I blog.

And of course, it’s possibly a good thing I thusly fail, since the deepest reasons may be all but unintelligible, but I remember what Joss Whedon said regarding his knowledge of Firefly’s imminent demise, to whit, that it forced him and the other writers to make each episode count, knowing that it might be their last, which also reminds me of Annie Dillard’s advice to writers: “Blow your wad.” By which I think she meant: Don’t hold back your best for later.

With these things in mind, here goes.

I suppose the scandalous truth is that, at the heart of me, I’m not really an anarchist. Shocking, I know. Shocking, but—for anyone who’s been reading my blog—not really surprising. Anarchist describes something that is at the heart of me, but it serves as an adjective, not as a noun. What I am, to start with the obvious, is me. Like you, I am unique. Also like you, I fall prey to certain stereotypes. One of those stereotypes, for me, is introspection. I am obsessed with figuring out who I am, and if I’m really honest, I’ll admit that I’m a little bit in love with myself, whoever I might be. I think I’m pretty swell. Smart, affable, modest, sincere, original, ironic, with a good sense of humor, a talent for writing and a nearly comprehensive understanding of the human condition. What more could a super ego ask for?

But at the very core of me there are not many words. There is only the primitive, inchoate ground of my being. Were I suddenly to become Anthony Hopkins’ character in that movie he did with Cuba Gooding, Jr. where he’s accepted into a band of gorillas, there is a substantial part of me that would be thoroughly content. Nonverbal, nothing to do all day, eat when you’re hungry, shit when you’re full, follow the leader, bludgeon a poacher to death when a gang of them attacks the family… . In other words, I am generally content with merely being. No doing required.

Except that, according to the liberal sources I’ve been reading, doing nothing is the same as accepting and perpetuating my white (male, hetero, cis-gendered, ablist, Western, etc., etc.) privilege, and I really don’t want to do that. (And blogging against such things is merely “slacktivism,” so really I need to get up off my dead ass, go out there and actually do something to fight against my kind, who have all the power.)

I could, to begin with, go down to NYC and participate in the occupation of Wall Street. I could even get excited about doing that. Really. It’s just that, well, damn, I’ve got all this writing to do, and I’m so content with merely being, and in the frantic busyness of the society in which I (through no fault of my own) live, that’s such a great spiritual discipline, and, and …

I’m sure you’ve heard the joke:

Descartes: “To do is to be.”
Sartre: “To be is to do.”
Sinatra: “Do be do be do.”

which is also a confession, of sorts: a confession that I believe the whole debate to be somewhat ridiculous. I’m just out here living my life, same as you, same as Nelson Mandela, same as Donald Trump. What we are called to do is be ourselves, and that’s a difficult test to fail. Yes, there’s a distinction to be made between contentedly being and simply being complacent, just as there’s a distinction between actively fighting injustice and ignorantly perpetuating colonialistic modalities, of trying to be the great white savior, or whatever.

But my essential question is much more self-centered: Is writing (my writing, not your writing or writing in general), a sufficiently noble quest at this point in my life? I have three options before me: Continuing on as I have been for the past three years (with both the being and the writing) is the middle road between returning to some semblance of a responsible adult (which would entail getting any kind of job that will pay) and becoming some version of a radical disciple of Jesus (by leaving the security of my parents’ house and traveling alone, homeless and hungry in search of a community who will accept me as an equal: equally poor, equally homeless and hungry, equally in search of the life of joy God planned for us all long ago).

The latter option is strangely appealing and naturally terrifying. The responsible adult option is naturally appealing and strangely terrifying. So for now I’ll eschew both the high and the low roads and try to rev up the rpms along the Media Via.

The only question left is: Was this post an arena for wrestling with essential questions or merely a pointless exercise in self-justification?

And I have but a single answer: Yes, I’m filled with uncertainties, misgivings and self-doubt, but if I’m going to keep writing anyway in spite of all that, then I really need to stop wasting my time with navel-gazing and start writing the way I’ve always wanted to write: whole-heartedly,* unapologetically and (to the best of my ability) brilliantly.

Don’t you try to stop me.

*I can choose all three roads half-heartedly, if I want to, but devoting myself whole-heartedly to any one of them precludes whole-hearted devotion to the other two, and I’m someone who wants to devote himself whole-heartedly to something. But such a choice does not preclude half-heartedly pursuing the other two. The “correct” choice, of course, is to devote myself whole-heartedly to being a disciple of Jesus, but that, as I said, is naturally terrifying. It is also, naturally, terrifying not to choose that option, not for fear of hell, but for fear of ending my life without accomplishing what I was put here to do. I can protest that I was put here to write, but what if I’m wrong? Does it matter? Do I really matter that much in the grand scheme of things? Didn’t I say something about no more navel-gazing? Sheesh. It’s not as if I haven’t struggled with this question before. Sometimes I feel like I never stop, which is kind of my point: I need to stop. Now.


Thursday, September 15, 2011


The waiter at the Rochester-area Cracker Barrel® had brought our drinks and was ready to take our order when I reached for a straw and knocked over my Coke.® A passing waitress who had already stopped by to chat about my Dad’s yellow measuring-tape suspenders, used a napkin-wrapped set of silverware to deftly corral the liquid onto her serving tray while the waiter retrieved a stack of napkins to finish the job. Nobody made any snide remarks, but the incident provided me with a jarring snapshot of myself from an outsider’s perspective: a 44-year-old man with above-average intelligence and no marked disability living with and dependent upon his retired parents and still liable occasionally to knock over his drink in a restaurant.

Usually, whenever my semblance to a much-younger child occurs to me I comfort myself that I don’t actually live in my parents’ basement. I live in my sister’s old bedroom, at least in part because my parents’ basement is unfinished, with a dirt floor, stone walls and a heavily spider-webbed ceiling, and also because my old bedroom was converted years ago into my mother’s office. Granted, this is a rather fine distinction, but I also remind myself of everything I’ve accomplished in the three years since I moved back home: a book called Love’s Anarchy, ebook versions of that and my two previously published books, a website of my own design (ebook and web design both requiring that I learn the underlying (albeit similar) technologies), continued work on my novel, and an actual paid ghostwriting gig that’s substantially finished, not to mention the several works of fiction I’ve edited as the volunteer fiction editor for WordFarm. In other words, not only am I not living in my parents’ basement, I’m also not devoting all of my time to video games. See the difference?


My sister just moved back to town (mildly interesting side note–the Hampshire part of New Hampshire means home town). She’s a newly single mom of two school-age kids who has already procured a nearly full-time job and is contemplating additional part-time work in order to make ends meet. I pretty sure she’s not trying to make me feel bad, but she kinda can’t help it. She’s matured into a responsible and competent grown-up (without losing her sense of fun), and she puts me to shame.

I applied for a slew of jobs when I first arrived but never received so much as a call-back in response. In the back of my head at the time I kept hearing a voice say, “You already have a job.” Eventually I decided the voice belonged to God and stopped seeking further employment. I have not been God’s most diligent worker, but I have, as outlined above, managed to get a few things accomplished.

I’ll be making (God willing) $5,000 this year. All of that money comes from the ghostwriting gig, $2,500 of which I’ve already received (and spent). I’m in a Rochester-area Cracker Barrel® tagging along with my class-reunion-bound parents because the living soul for whom I’m ghosting is also in Cleveland (etymology: land of cliffs; also: land of my birth and place of my parents’ meeting (not necessarily in that order)).

I’m hoping to get paid this month because at month’s end is due my first full payment of $350 for my repossessed truck, toward which I’ve been paying $50 a month for the past year. Oh, and did I forget to mention that $2,050 of the $5,000 is slated for my sister, to repay a debt incurred when she was slightly more flush with cash a couple years ago? She received half of it when I got the first half-payment, and will receive the balance when I get the rest, which will leave me with $1,500 to see me through the unforeseeable future.

The balance due on my truck is about $6,800. Aside from that, my monthly bills amount to a $70 cell phone bill for my iPhone (upon which I’m writing this post from a hotel room at 3:30 am while my parents sleep) and a shade over $100 monthly credit card bill (balance: ~$5,400).

I love my writing life. LOVE it. It’s just, it’s easier to believe I’m “trusting in God’s provision” when that provision isn’t starkly revealed to be a child’s dependence on his literal parents and contrasted with his sister’s self-reliance. The possibility that my writing may someday become a sufficient source of income is a nice pipe dream, but that day will never arrive until I … well, realistically I should put a period after “arrive.” On the other hand, there’s the $5K from Cleveland and the odd $20 or $30 that occasionally arrives from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Also, at this point, even though there’s plenty more writing I’d like to do, procuring a more conventional job would hardly preclude my existing work from becoming suddenly profitable.

I’m in a hotel room. What better place to explore my feeling of being halfway between where I’ve been and where I’m trying to go from here?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Health Care

I have never had a cavity. At least, not as far as I know. The last time I darkened a dentist’s door the world wide web had not yet been invented (though the NeXT computer, which hosted it, had). I’ve had a few health scares in the past few years, but nothing that has required a visit to the doctor. And by required, I do mean required. If I had health insurance, I would have gotten myself checked out before now. I have never quite kicked the smoking habit I acquired just before I turned 30, but the wooziness and heart palpitations of this spring served to reduce my intake from a pack a day to bumming 4 or 5 cigarettes off my sister 1 or 2 days a week. I even started running again, but that’s only slightly less sporadic than my smoking. Or possibly slightly more. Anyway, the point is, I’m one of millions of Americans without health insurance, and I’m reaching the age where I’m going to start to need some health care, and the longer I wait, the more expensive it will be when I finally get it.

The latest health drama occurred soon after my first attempt to sharpen a lawn-mower blade. I was reinstalling the blade, applying pressure to a wrench, when I decided to test the quality of my work by allowing my hand to slip off the wrench’s handle and dash against the blade. Well, you can see the result, albeit some two days later. I honestly don’t remember if I swore. In my flashbacks, I alternately remember three different cuss words and/or phrases. It’s possible all I actually said was, “Ow!” followed by a grunt and/or a growl (I am not a particularly verbal person). It was probably the most blood I’ve lost accidentally. It just didn’t want to stop. My dad suggested stitches, but I balked at the cost of a trip to the emergency room. “Get a grip,” I told myself (though not in so many words). People deal with much worse without rushing to the hospital, which is true enough.

Sliced Finger

Objects in photo appear larger when they’re on your finger.

Only now, several days later, I’m starting to worry. Shouldn’t there be a scab by now? Are the edges going to heal up without rejoining? Am I going to have to get a doctor to recut the skin and stitch it together in order to cover up the layer of subcutaneous fat that’s visible, along with the ends of two or three blood vessels? Shit, I don’t know. I keep it clean, apply antibiotics, alternate between keeping it covered and giving it air. The skin on the back of my finger between the cut and the nail is swollen and largely numb, but my fingertip retains its feeling and its color. Most importantly, I can still type with it.

But here’s the thing. Ten years ago or so I was complaining to my writers’ group about a pain in my abdomen. My fellow writers regaled me with stories of their friends and loved ones who had waited to get such pain looked at, only to come close to death as a result, mainly from burst appendices. Well, they succeeded in scaring me to the hospital, where the doctor’s first comment was, “Well, we know it’s not appendicitis–your appendix is on the other side.” I was working only sporadically back then, so the $500 they charged me (for x-rays and blood tests and whatever else) hurt worse than my abdomen, especially given the final diagnosis of “probably just a pulled muscle.”

But here’s the other thing. I read an article recently about a 24-year-old guy who died of a tooth infection because he didn’t have health insurance. He went to the hospital before he died, and the doctor prescribed a pain-killer and an antibiotic. He could only afford one of them, and you can guess which one he chose. The thing is, people in debilitating pain are not necessarily adept at making good choices. Hell, my pain wasn’t even that debilitating, but what are the criteria for deciding when to go to the hospital? The web is the first place to go to find out, and after several days I looked up some articles on suturing yourself. It was very helpful, but I thought perhaps I had waited too long, so I searched some more and dug up an old scouting page, which seemed to suggest that my wound was right in the middle between “definitely” and “maybe” as a candidate for stitches, but that it was probably far too late to get them.

I realized that what I wanted was a family doctor, a general practitioner like I had as a child (man, I’m old, and/or man, this is a small, New England town). Someone whose office I could have gone to and had my wound looked at with a trained eye and maybe stitched up with a practiced hand for maybe the price of a half-grown pullet. We all know that doctors these days are contractually obligated to test for every possible complication so as not to get sued for malpractice if they misdiagnose. It makes it impractical for those of us without insurance to seek medical attention unless we’re dying and/or have stacks of cash sitting around with nothing else to do.

There may be alternatives, free clinics, etc. Were I a good and responsible blogger, I would doubtless research such things for your edification, but my point is merely that I, a reasonably well-informed (averagely informed? Not atypically clueless?) citizen, have no idea where to turn for a routine medical issue that won’t cost me an arm and a leg. Typically, my proposed solution is to do away with all of it. Fuck hospitals. Let’s go back to shamans and witch doctors and endless, fever-hazed nights of torment and eventual death from creatures so small we don’t even know they exist, but we know where that kind of primitivist anarchy leads—go visit an Indian Reservation if you want to see for yourself.

Most of the world survives without advanced medical care, and many suffer needlessly for the lack of it, but our advancements have come at a cost. We (by which I mean I) just don’t know how to deal with the more extreme bumps and scrapes that the world sometimes has to offer, and for the most part the people who have the information I need will expect me to pay them rather exorbitantly for the privelege of having them impart the pertinent data to me.

And I guess that’s okay. It means that when the economy finally collapses, along with our health care system, it will be we the wealthy who die off most quickly, leaving the world to the poor and the meek, to whom Jesus once promised it.

hand mostly healed

UPDATE: My scab fell off today (September 23). It’s still a bit swollen and numb between scar and knuckle, but there’s no sign of infection. It appears that my gamble paid off! (This time.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

In Defense of Evangelism

The impulse to convert others to one’s own religion is not a purely religious impulse; it is a quintessentially human impulse. Secular humanists do it when they express the wish that everyone should be rational. Music lovers do it when they urge someone to listen to a particular album. Most annoyingly, Mac-lovers do it whenever they hear someone—even a complete stranger—complain about their computer and suggest as a solution that they switch. I am most guilty of the latter, and I'm sorry, but I’m writing this post in iWeb on a Mac, AIFG.

I read an entry recently on the website “Jesus needs new PR” entitled “Alabama needs new PR” that took as it's starting point a quote from Robert Bentley (Alabama’s newly-elected governor)’s inaugural speech:

There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit. But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian and if you’re saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.

Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.

There was, predictably, some argument in the comments about whether or not this statement was in keeping with the message of Jesus. You can read the comments yourself, so I won't try to describe them, but it struck me as more or less of a complete nonissue: a case of people looking for something to ridicule. The dominant position in the comments (and in the post itself) seemed to be that his statement was unloving, and yet, how is his final phrase, “I want to be your brother,” unloving? While I love to bash Christians as much as the next guy, Bentley’s statement strikes me as perfectly natural, and I would like to use it as a jumping-off point for exploring my own evangelistic impulses.

In a nutshell, and in general, the evangelistic impulse may be expressed thusly: “I have found the answer, and I would like to share that answer with you.”

For some reason, I have always been far more comfortable sharing the good news of the Mac OS than the gospel of Christ. It probably has something to do with the fact that I have generally been more confident in the superiority of the Mac experience than in the benefits of going to church.

Christianity is complicated, and it is rarely what it's chalked up to be. It's supposed to be about radical grace and sacrificial love, and yet . . . it's not. Go ahead and tell me I'm wrong; I dare you. Even within a given congregation there is far less sisterly and brotherly love than we've been led to expect. Granted, that's true even within biological families, but the point is that followers of the way of Christ are supposed to be miraculously different—transformed by the power of the Spirit into dynamos of love.

But people will disappoint you, just as you will disappoint people. Good intentions are powerless to transform anything, and going to church and reciting creeds and reading the Bible are likewise impotent. Religion is impotent. I’d hate for you to become a religious person and go to church and find out first-hand how disappointing it all is, just because I tried to share the good news of Jesus Christ with you.

However, I've recently come to a fresh understanding of who God is, and I find myself wanting to share my discovery with everyone.

The “answer” I found is this: God is love. And God is a person. God is spirit, with no form or gender or beard, but God is a person in the truest sense of the word. By contrast, you and I are merely echoes and images of personhood. Personhood is not located in our bodies but in our souls, and our souls are where God's love and spirit may dwell.

This is imprecise language, and nowhere near as pithy as I would like, but what I'm driving at is that every single person in the world should be overjoyed by the invitation to become a Christian. Not should as in “ought” but should as in “don't you understand that this is the best possible news?”

Perhaps you don't. Understand, I mean. But think about the thing you love more than anything else in the world. Doesn't it seem ridiculous that everyone in the world doesn't love it as much as you do? If only they understood; if only they could truly see it, as you do. Wouldn't the world be a better place if there was more of it, whatever “it” might happen to be?

Let me expand on my “answer.” If God is love, then anyone who has love has the spirit of God within them. Of course, some definition of love is required here, since I’m not talking about love in the sense of, “I love Apple products,” or “I love touching young children in ways that some find inappropriate.” I’m talking about a “love your neighbor as yourself” kind of love. A “visit folks in prison,” “invite a homeless person to share your home,” “take a bullet for a stranger” kind of love. At the very least a love that considers how one’s actions affect other people.

Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), and I believe him. Jesus was and is love incarnate. Love in the flesh. He was not the first to love, but he was the first to understand that love is the most important thing, the first to understand that God is love, and to understand that love means that when they come to kill you it is better to die than to stop loving long enough to fight back. If you want to argue that the Buddha (or someone else) was actually the first, I probably won’t argue with you, because that’s not the point. I believe all love comes from God through Christ, even Buddha’s, but I’m not at all convinced that you have to believe the same in order to have Christ’s love within you. When you’re in desperate need of love and can’t find it in others and can’t manufacture it within yourself, I would humbly recommend crying out to Jesus for some of his, but the fact remains that many who do not profess Jesus as their savior nevertheless appear to have far more love than I do.

Robert Bentley said something remarkable: “I want to be your brother.” The post in which I found that quote ended with, “Oh see? If you become a Christian, Robert Bentley will be your brother! Who wants Robert Bentley as their brother?” And I think, How is that more loving than Bentley’s statement?

I don’t know if the governor of Alabama would agree with me, but if I were to recast his statement, I would say, “If you have love within you, then you’re part of my family. If you don't have love, I don't want you in my family. I want you in my family.”

Even if you’re a goddamned politician. Even if you’re a Christian who doesn’t believe that I’m one. I want us all to be adopted into the family of love.

Can I get an Amen?

Friday, January 7, 2011


I’ve been reading Tiger Beatdown for a couple of years now, and the woman who wrote this piece (whose nom de guerre is Sady Doyle) has become one of my heros. She’s funny; she’s passionate; she’s reshaped my thinking and feeling about feminism (also the proper use of caps lock). In the post linked above, she instigated a Twitter-based Charge of the Light Brigade against Michael Moore (and peripherally Keith Olbermann) for his (their) contribution to rape culture. Sady Doyle is often angry, and here she was as angry as I’ve ever seen her, but somehow anger only makes her writing more lucid and focused. According to her post’s title, she was also scared, tired and crying. I admire her simply for writing so well and poignantly about being angry, scared, tired and crying, but she’s my hero because (also according to her post’s title) she won’t give up.

For the space of these blog posts, she’s been Frodo in Mordor (if you’ll pardon the geek metaphor). Specifically, she’s been Frodo in the company of orcs, being forced to run at the end of a whip, exhausted and terrified but determined to keep running. The analogy is imperfect, because she’s never been disguised as an orc: her identity and her goal are both evident to the orcs surrounding her, but rather than capturing or killing her as the orcs would have done to Frodo, they’re simply jeering at her, taunting her, and threatening her with bodily harm. (Also, there are other hobbits in the crowd running alongside her, cheering her on, supporting her as best they can, but the burden is hers. She took it on herself and no one else can carry it for her.)

If you can’t be chuffed to read her post, I’ll say briefly that she’s upset (read, pissed as hell) at Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann for disseminating lies about (and publishing the names of) the women who have accused Julian Assange (publisher of Wikileaks) of rape. She’s angry with them in particular because they’re supposed to be progressives, and because Michael Moore was someone she grew up respecting and admiring for being a voice for the little guy. Now that he’s no longer so little (when was he ever? (I’ve never personally been a fan)), she finds herself in the position of standing outside his tower (as he himself did, famously, in Roger & Me), shouting for him to come down and explain himself or, better yet, to apologize and match his $20,000 contribution to Assange’s bail with an equal contribution to a rape-related charity. Her disillusionment is poignant, and has earned her some bona fide enemies.

Speaking of Assange, here’s another link to follow. I found it by way of a high school friend’s facebook post. It concerns Bradley Manning, the Army Private accused (but not convicted) of passing classified documents to Wikileaks. He’s been held for the last five months or so in solitary confinement (isolated 23 out of every 24 hours). He has neither sheets nor pillow on his bed. He is not under a suicide watch, meaning, presumably, that his jailers do not care if he kills himself. One of the very few well-known journalists covering the details of his imprisonment is Keith Olbermann. (He’s not particularly well-known (except by name) to me, but I assume that, like most of us, he straddles the chasm between good and evil.) Interestingly, in the weeks it’s taken me to finish writing this post, Sady Doyle has already addressed this.

I’m not a progressive, myself, but my heart burns at news of injustice. I’m not a progressive because I don’t think we’re progressing toward some better, more just society, but neither am I a conservative, because I don’t think that where we are is worthy to be conserved. I’m a liberal. I’m a libertarian. I want liberty for all, and I believe that’s a constant battle for every. single. individual. every single day. I believe we need to help each other as much as we can in the midst of our own battles, but I try not to fool myself that it can ever be accomplished for everyone for all time, or even that any progress we may make is ultimately sustainable.

That said, I’m a big fan of Wikileaks (in theory, at least; in practice, I find it a frustratingly opaque website), because in addition to freedom I crave truth. Whether that truth reveals some insidious conspiracy or simply embarrasses those in power, I’m all for it. And I’m appalled when I hear people like Mike Huckabee (among many others) using his kindly, matter-of-fact voice to call for Assange’s execution. Appalled, but not entirely surprised, and also, oddly enough, encouraged. I mean, it’s nice to know that, even in a society that supposedly champions freedom, there are still lines that can’t be crossed without risking one’s life.

Yes, that is odd. Didn’t I just say so?

There’s something inside me that yearns for war. Not just any war, but the war of the hopelessly outmatched against the status quo. Jesus said, “In this life you will have persecutions.” Yes, I say, but when? How? Where can I get in line for that?

Listen, I know that war is hell, and that I wouldn’t enjoy being persecuted. It’s not like I think it would be fun, except that . . . well, okay, maybe I do. I expect that I, like Sady Doyle, would be reduced to weariness, teariness and feariness in a relatively short span, but, well, I guess I’ve always suspected that if my life isn’t in danger for what I’m doing or saying, then I must be doing or saying it wrong. I think it would be fun to have some evidence that I was doing it right, no matter how exhausted or terrified I might be.

But how do I get there? WikiRage isn’t enough (Wiki, as I’m sure you know, is Hawaiian for quick.) I don’t have the resources Sady Doyle has, of legions of fans and multiple outlets for her writing (and I’m not sure I even want such resources, to tell you the truth), nor do I have the access Bradley Manning had to thousands of sensitive documents. I can participate in my own small way on my own little blog, but the fear remains that I just don’t care enough to sustain any focused rage against any particular object, and without such focus, I pose no threat at all to those by whom I wish to be persecuted.

And, yes, I like it that way. I enjoy being invisible, anonymous and free. And I know that I should be careful what I wish for. I want to live a safe and easy life. At the same time, I don’t want to live a safe and easy life. I don’t want Sady and Bradley to be persecuted for exposing the truth, but I find their example so very damn inspiring. There are injustices in this world that need to be exposed, and I’m so grateful for those who expose them.

In local news, I want Ward Bird set free.

My turn will come. I firmly believe that you get what you want, if you want it hard enough. Eventually I will get my war. I hope it’s intense and scary and takes everything I have to give, and is quickly followed by many long years of sitting on my laurels, remembering the time. Till then I’ll write my books, enjoy my reclusive anonymity and admire from afar those who are in the shitstorm now.

Godspeed, my friends.

Due to technical limatations, I can only offer comments on Love's Anarchy's facebook page.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Adventures en route to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Part Four

There’s not much left to tell. After Sarah departed, I decided simply to wait until the crowd dispersed and take the Metro downtown for whatever was left of the Rally. The Rally was scheduled from 12 to 3, and sometime between 1:30 and 2:00 the platform was all but empty. I entered the station, bought a ticket, and boarded the next train.

Forty minutes later I disembarked at the Smithsonian platform and hobbled along with the crowd until I finally reached the Washington Mall. It was 2:55. The stage was still more than a 100 yards away, but I could hear a band playing. When the song was over it was 3:00. Show over. The Mall was still aswarm with human beings, shifting and sliding in currents and crosscurrents and eddies. Moving even more slowly than my feet demanded, I made my way toward the stage. Someone tried to hand me a flyer. I tried to ignore him. “C’mon, man!” he cried, plaintively. I remembered my own plan to hand out flyers and relented. It was advertising a troupe of actors I would never get to see. I shoved it into my pocket and continued moseying.

The doctor is IN

I took a picture or two, just to prove that I was there. The picture to the left sums up my problem with the idea of the Rally as well as anything. Good luck restoring sanity to either of these folks, Lucy.

I didn’t get a picture of the two topless women on the far side of the stage. Sorry and/or You’re Welcome.

I took my time getting to the Greyhound station, arriving at 5:00, just in time to settle in for a five hour wait. I bought a chicken sandwich to while away half an hour (20 minutes in line). At 7:00 a line started forming in the center of the terminal. I hoped there wouldn’t be a similar line for my 10:00 bus, but I wasn’t optimistic. For a long time the line didn’t move an inch. By 9:00 I could no longer escape the horrifying truth: The people in line were awaiting my bus. I tried to remain calm. The line consisted of hundreds of people; far more than could be consumed by a single bus.

It was after ten when the line finally started moving, albeit slowly. I joined it for fifteen minutes, but my blisters complained bitterly, so I returned to the seating area. I was comforted by the word being passed down the queue that Greyhound would call in as many buses as necessary to eat everyone in line.

It was almost 11:00 when I stepped out for one last smoke, keeping a weather eye on the gradually dwindling line. Suddenly it was gone. I shifted my position to see further into the station interior and watched the last handful of people exiting the door. I tossed my cigarette aside and rushed into the building, running (painfully) so as not to be left behind. There were six or seven of us that were turned away. The drivers and attendants consulted amongst themselves and presently ushered us to a different doorway. Soon enough we were boarding the eighth and final bus.

Miraculously, I had a seat to myself, behind the only other person on the bus who also had a seat to himself. I pulled Micah out of my pocket and watched the two episodes of 24 that I had downloaded in the hotel room in Leesburg.

I was slightly concerned that I would have only ten minutes to catch my connecting bus in New York, but the driver managed to make up most of the hour that we were behind. We arrived around 2:30 to find that New York was indeed not sleeping. When I went out into the street for a smoke, the sidewalk was crowded and lively.

This time I stuck with the crowd, eschewing the seating area and choosing instead to sit on the floor. Nevertheless, I was not one of the five people who managed to get a seat on the bus. Although I don’t understand how this could be, word was that because they had called so many extra bus drivers to DC to handle the crowd, there were no extra bus drivers available in NY. We would just have to catch the next regularly-scheduled bus to Boston. When the attendant who explained this to us asked if there were any questions, I explained that I would miss my connection from Boston to New Hampshire, he said, “Yeah. You should have gotten on that last bus.” There was really nothing to say to that, so I returned to my seat on the floor.

I asked Micah to check the bus schedule: The next available bus from Boston to home required a three hour layover in Concord and wouldn’t get me home till after 8 o’clock at night. Any despair this might have inspired in me was mitigated by the fact that I was, at least, on my way home. What was another seven hours?

On the bright side, I had another seat to myself on the next bus.

Boston was a marvel. The stations in DC and NY had been grimy, dingy, depressing places. South Station in Boston is clean, modern and architecturally fascinating. It felt as though I had left behind the nether regions of some purgatory to emerge into the gate room of earthly paradise.

I waddled to the ticket counter and asked the man representing Concord Coach Lines whether I could use the ticket I had purchased for the bus I had missed by 20 minutes to catch the next bus to Concord. He looked at the ticket. “The next bus won’t take you all the way to your stop,” he said. “Yeah, I know,” I replied. “I can get a ride from Concord. I just want to know if the bus driver will accept this ticket.” [I can only explain the next exchange by noting that I was, at this point, significantly sleep-deprived.] He said, “Well, he’ll take your ticket.” I squinted my eyes and shook my head. “I don’t care if he takes it,” I said, “just so long as he accepts it in the first place.” The man regarded me warily. “Yeah, he’ll take it,” he said. “Okay,” I said. “Thanks.”

I had only an hour to wait for the next bus, so I purchased a sausage, egg and cheese croissant from a generic restaurant window and took a comfortable seat from which to enjoy it. It was Sunday morning, and cheerful sunlight was streaming through the ring of windows in the large cupola above me.

When I judged that my parents’ church service ought to be over, I gave them a call and told them when I’d be in Concord. They said they’d pick me up on the way back from picking up their friend from the Manchester Airport. A few minutes later they called back to say that, actually, they’d be driving through Concord at almost exactly the same time as my bus’s arrival, so they’d pick me up on their way down.

My seat-to-myself streak was unbroken.

My parents drove up within minutes of my arrival. The friend we picked up at the airport took us out to lunch. After that we dropped her off at her house and then, finally: Home.

Walking through the door elicited a strange sensation: It was the same feeling I had used to have during the seventeen years I spent in Illinois whenever I would return for a visit: The unexpected strangeness of the familiar. I had been gone a mere 19 days, and the events of the past four blog posts encompass only the last 5. The Odyssey it was not, but something nevertheless had changed. In some odd way I had reached the end of the two year adventure that had started when I left my job in Illinois and returned to New Hampshire. But the point of this adventure had little to do with me.

Those who know me will recognize that I have changed little in the years (for most of them) since last they saw me. I muddle. Those who like me seem to find that endearing. But for the most part my muddling is by choice; I could plan ahead if I so chose. Other people don’t have that choice. The only reason I have never been homeless (the only reason I’m not homeless now) is that I have always had friends or family who were willing to take me in. Without straining my memory, both my hands are required to count the number of households who have sheltered me in times of need. None of them have ever tried to make me feel ashamed of my need (though I have, at times, made up for that lack myself).

It’s another way of saying that God has always provided for me, and yet, how can I say that without thinking about people like Sarah, for whom God’s provision seems absent, or at least delayed? I only know a small part of her story, but I know she prays, and that she’s willing to ask people for help, so what’s stopping God from answering her prayers?

My only answer is: we are.

If I can be forgiven for using Sarah as an object lesson (and I’m not sure that I can), I’d like to use her situation to express some thoughts on love’s anarchy, one of the basic premises of which is that laws in practice do more to protect the strong from the weak than the other way around, and that we’d be better off without them.

So here’s Sarah, a 25-year-old living on the streets of a suburb of the capital of The Most Powerful Nation on Earth,™ and what is she afraid of? She’s afraid of being robbed and/or raped and/or killed. Which is ridiculous, because the U.S. of A. has very specific laws against such things. And what does she want? She wants a home. But no nation on earth is powerful enough to give her one. The only law that could possibly do her any good in this regard is God’s law, as highlighted by Jesus, that people should love their neighbors as themselves.

Legislation could be passed, theoretically, that would require her father never to hang up on her when they’re talking, or, better still, to require him to shelter her until she can make other arrangements if she so desires. But even that wouldn’t be enough, even if it could be effectively enforced. The law of love requires everyone to love Sarah as much as we love ourselves. To be good Samaritans, individually, to every individual in need that we happen to meet. But love cannot be enforced. Sarah doesn’t need people to act like they love her, she needs them actually to love her. In such a world she would need fear no violence, and would feel at home in any circumstance.

God’s love is extravagant, even when it seems anemic. I’m serious when I suggest that God brought me through my adventure for the express purpose of giving Sarah a candy bar. It cost me nothing. I had neither purchased the chocolate nor earned the money. It was certainly not my reason for embarking on my quest; it was simply a random encounter with another human being as a human being that made my quest feel suddenly worthwhile. It hadn’t even required courage. I wouldn’t even call it willingness. I was just there (through an extraordinary set of circumstances that included any number of questionable decisions on my part) and it seemed like the thing to do. If she hadn’t told me that it was her favorite candy bar, if she hadn’t thanked me simply for being willing to talk to her, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the encounter. But because she did both those things, it seem to me obvious that God was behind our meeting. God does provide, and it is sufficient, and that’s extravagant. He does not enforce his law of love, but he amply rewards those who willingly obey (even those who only do so occasionally).

Now that I’ve finished using her to make a point, would you mind praying for Sarah with me?

O you who know every star by name and count the hairs on our heads, you know where Sarah is right now. You know the plans you have for her, and you love her as much as you love yourself. We lift her up to you and ask that you would give her a home, that you would give her peace, and that you would shower her life with your grace. May her trials become marks of beauty, and may she walk in your presence all the days of her life. May we all be filled with your love, for ourselves and for each other, may we trust in your daily provision, even on those days we go hungry, and may our very existence glorify you.

So say we all.

Due to technical limatations, I can only offer comments on Love's Anarchy's facebook page.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Adventures en route to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Part Three

The cab driver didn’t accept credit cards, so we stopped at an ATM on the way to the hotel. Along the way he provided me with a tour of historic Leesburg, Virginia. It seemed like a lovely place to visit, but all I wanted to do was find a bed and collapse upon it. Fortunately, the hotel had a room available.

When I asked if there was an easy way to get to DC, the woman at the front desk suggested public transportation. I laughed, informed her of my carlessness and asked her to be more specific. She said one of the hotel drivers would be happy to drive me the few miles to a hospital where I could catch a bus to a Metro Station in West Falls Church. She even gave me a map of the bus route. As she was checking me in I considered asking for a smoking room, just so I wouldn’t have to gingerly toddle outside every time I got the urge, but when she handed me my key card she mentioned that all of the rooms were nonsmoking. Oh well. I thanked her, took the card and toddled, gingerly, to the elevator. On the second floor I found my room and thought for a moment that I had walked into a corner of heaven. The room was awash in sunlight. There was a couch and a coffee table, the standard bed and fridge and microwave, and Oh, holy of holies! A lanai. For those unfamiliar with the lexicon of paradise, lanai is the Hawaiian word for porch or balcony. A sliding glass door opened onto a little table and two chairs overlooking the back lawn of the hotel. A more perfect smoking nook could not be imagined. After confirming that it was, indeed, perfect for smoking, I went back inside, sat on the bed and braced myself for taking off my shoes.

Honestly, I expected my socks to be a bloody mess, so I took merely pus-encrusted as a good sign. I peeled them off to find a swollen blister on the right-hand side of each heel, one of which was dark with blood, and the ragged remains of a larger blister on the ball of each foot, stretching, in both cases, up between my big toe and its nearest neighbor piggy. I limped to the bathroom and forced myself to take a long, hot shower before collapsing into bed, where I spent most of the next two days.

Thank God I had thought to bring my moccasin slippers. I would not be squeezing into my sneakers until several days after I returned home.

I contemplated finding some (cheap) way to produce my sign and flyers, but the only things I actually accomplished during my stay were ordering a meatball panini delivered to my room and buying a bus ticket from DC to a stop about five miles from home.

Disconcertingly, when I called my parents to ask them to pick me up at one o’clock on Sunday, Mom told me they would be leaving from church to pick up a friend at the airport in Manchester. I resigned myself to waiting at a restaurant for a few hours (walking the five miles was pretty much out of the question), but she called back soon after to tell me they had found someone nearby who would be willing to pick me up. Also, she asked if I needed any money, and I confessed that both my checking account and the remains of my credit card were running on fumes. I had enough to get home, but I wouldn’t say no to having a little cushion if they had any to give. I asked for a hundred. Mom said she’d been thinking more like two. I consented. The following morning, Dad deposited $255 in my checking account, the full amount of a tax credit they had just received. The funds cleared the bank before the end of the day.

That’s about all there is to tell about those two days. I rested, and on Saturday morning I went back to the front desk, checked out and asked for a ride to the bus stop. I had intended to catch an earlier bus, but as the next one was only half an hour later and would give me plenty of time (I thought) to get to DC, I was not too upset with myself for failing to get an earlier start. The hotel’s shuttle van dropped me off 15 minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive, and I sat down to wait.

Fifteen minutes later I reasoned that buses are probably consistently ten minutes late. Fifteen minutes after that I surmised that the bus probably did not run on Saturdays. I found a phone number and called the bus company. There was no answer. I hung my head.

My imagination in such situations being limited, I called the cab company again. Half an hour later a taxi arrived, and I asked to be taken to the same Metro station to which the bus would have taken me had the day belonged to Odin, Thor or Frigg.

In retrospect, it would have made more sense either to have him drive me to the last station on the Metro line or all the way to the Washington Mall. The West Falls Church station is the third stop on the Orange Line for eastbound trains. The radio personalities to whom the cabby was listening were talking exclusively about the Rally and the ensuing traffic slowdowns, but this fact was insufficient to provide me with a clue. When we pulled into the parking lot of the Metro station the cab driver and I shared a laugh at the length of the line I was about to join, then I paid him (having had him stop at an ATM so I could retrieve some of the money my parents had given me) and got out. It was about 10:30.

I thought this mall would have more stores

The line stretched about a tenth of a mile from the entrance. I limped to the end, behind the fourth bus stop shelter and laughed again at the realization that the line doubled back on itself, returning almost as far as the entrance. A steady stream of people continued to pour in from all points, almost uniformly laughing at the sight of the queue. It was a good-natured crowd. Many were holding signs. My favorite was held by a girl a few places in front of me. It read: “I thought this Mall would have more stores.”

The line moved along at a decent pace, so I still, at first, maintained a fond optimism regarding the the time of my arrival at the Washington Mall. With the line doubled up there were constantly new signs to read, new smiling faces at which to grin and time to enjoy the camaraderie of staging a sort of miniature Rally. It wasn’t until my section of the line approached the entrance that we came to understand that the steady stream of people exiting were not, in fact, on their way back from a delightful morning in DC, but instead were people from our very own line who had reached the platform only to discover that the trains were arriving already packed from the previous two Metro station stops. Only two or three people from our station were squeezing in per train.

Oh well, I needed a cigarette anyway. “I’m done,” I said, to no one in particular, and reluctantly stepped out of line. I walked to the concrete abutment that encircled the lot, heaved myself on top of it and commenced smoking. I checked Micah for nearby pubs but Micah came up empty (at least within my truncated walking range). I wished, idly, that someone would invite me to join their party in the same pursuit, but no one did. Eventually I put Micah back in my pocket and simply sat there, more or less completely at a loss. It seemed a long way to have come for the privilege of sitting on a concrete abutment in eastern Virginia.

A family congregated nearby, and I overheard the son complaining that they had come all that way for nothing. “Where did you come from?” I asked. His mother answered, “Pennsylvania.” Wanting to provide the teenaged son with a sense of perspective without making him feel horrible, I simply said, “I came down from New Hampshire.” The mother was quick to drive the perspective home: “See? He came down from New Hampshire.” Her son simply replied, “Well, it still sucks.” We exchanged a few more pleasantries until they decided to find someplace to eat.

Shortly thereafter, a woman walked out of the station, sat down in front of a row of newspaper vending machines and set a cardboard sign in her lap. I couldn’t see what it said, but I assumed it was not a Rally sign after a young man stopped, pulled out his wallet and handed her some money. For the next twenty or thirty minutes, no one else (as far as I could tell) so much as glanced at her.

I had two more Hershey’s Special Darks in my pack, so I ferreted them out, pulled a $20 from my wallet, and asked her if she’d like a candy bar. She said sure, then noticed the bill and said, “Oh! Thank you!”

I stepped back to my previous spot a few feet away and unwrapped and consumed my final traveling mercy. Presently, she turned to me and said, “Special Dark is my favorite candy bar.” I smiled and flashed her a thumbs up. “My name’s Sarah,” she said. “Mark,” I said back. “Would you pray for me, Mark? If you’re the kind who prays, I mean.” “Yeah,” I said. “I am.”

Not knowing what else to say, I pulled out another cigarette. “I’m a smoker, too,” she said, “but don’t worry—I have a couple packs with me, so I won’t be asking you to give me any.” I laughed. She said, “I’m worried that I won’t quit until I get lung cancer.” I said, “I’m worried that not even that would stop me.” She said, “Yeah. I can picture myself smoking through a hole in my throat.” I laughed again. “Yeah,” I said.

A little later, she said, “Thanks for talking to me. Not many people will talk to a homeless person. They tend to look down on us.”

We talked for several minutes, about where we came from, how she came to be homeless, etc. Then she looked at my Love’s Anarchy t-shirt. “Are you really an anarchist?” she asked. “You’re against the government?” “Yep,” I said. She flashed me two thumbs up and said, “My boyfriend would like you.”

She’s the only person throughout my adventures who remarked upon my shirt.

She told me about how she and some friends had begun the previous night at some sort of shelter—possibly at a hospital, if memory serves—but had been kicked out, and so had had to wander the streets all night. She told me how she’s afraid of being robbed, or raped, and that her father usually hangs up on her whenever she calls. She asked me to pray that her homelessness would end in weeks, not months.

Then she decided that with my $20 she had enough to buy food for lunch, supper and breakfast if she ordered from the value menu. She had me write down my website before taking her leave.

It was the longest conversation I had throughout my five day adventure, and as I contemplated our encounter, I had to turn to face the trees so that none of the passers-by would see my tears: Apparently, God had sent me all that way for the express purpose of giving a favored daughter her favorite candy bar.

Just at that moment, it seemed entirely worth the trip.

Due to technical limatations, I can only offer comments on Love's Anarchy's facebook page.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Adventures en route to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Part Two

It was three o’clock in the morning when I passed the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and somehow managed to make a wrong turn. Or rather, I missed a turn because I hadn’t zoomed in enough on Micah to notice the little dogleg I was supposed to take. I had seen that there was an alternate route that looped up in a big switchback and got me back to the Harry Byrd just a little beyond where Google was telling me to go, but it wasn’t until I saw a road sign signaling a sharp turn that I realized that I was somehow headed for the switchback. I checked Micah and found that I was about a third of the way along that stretch, so I utilized my judgment (impaired by pain and weariness and the lateness of the hour) and decided to turn around and walk back down to the church. Once there I took the side road and headed for the immediate left-hand turn that somehow didn’t seem to exist. It’s hard to judge relative distance on a map the size of an iPhone screen, but it was not terribly long before the conclusion was inescapable: The route Google wanted me to take did not exist. Frustrated and with the beginning stages of panic regarding the bus I was trying to catch, I returned to the corner church. I searched the map, trying to make sense of the spatial relationships, until at last I came to another inescapable conclusion: The route to which Google was referring was, in fact, the church driveway. Sure enough, it continued on past the church: a narrow, single lane. I sat down on the church steps and had a smoke.

I checked Micah for the Purcellville train schedule and discovered that it was actually a bus or, more precisely, three buses, one departing at 4:30, one at 5:30, and one at 6:30. Ante Meridian all. I had just over half an hour to catch the first, and two and a half hours to catch the last. The bus stop was about 7 miles away, which would take me 2 hours and 20 minutes on a normal day (rested and blister-free), giving me a ten-minute cushion for the unexpected.

At this point, I was wondering if there was some divine connection to the church. I had noticed it’s existence when I was planning my route (just as I had noticed the 7-11 a few miles outside of Winchester where I had stopped for lunch the day before), and here I was sitting on its steps. On a whim, I burrowed into my backpack and pulled out the six-pack of Hershey’s Special Darks my dad had given me and tossed one toward the front door. Here’s how it landed:

It was still a few days before Halloween, but leaving an anonymous piece of candy on the step seemed oddly appropriate. I said a quick prayer for the church members and headed on up their driveway at as brisk a pace as I could manage. I passed behind a couple of houses, after which the lane turned to gravel and grass and entered some woods. I decided I did not trust Google Maps enough to keep going, so I turned again, headed back, retraced my steps to the switchback and eventually emerged on the Harry Byrd once again. Soon enough I crested the final ridge and headed downhill.

Oddly (for me) downhill was more difficult than up, on account of the impact pressure on my feet, but I had a deadline, and I couldn’t figure out what the alternative could be. I wanted desperately to stop walking—preferably for days—and I didn’t know what I would do if I missed the bus and was stuck in Purcellville for 20 hours awaiting the next one. So I started praying, “Okay, Lord—show me what I’ve got.” And I pounded along on my suffering feet trying to keep up a three-mile-an-hour pace. “What I’ve got” ended up lasting about an hour. After that I was reduced to hobbling along an increasingly narrow shoulder while the morning commuters multiplied. Oh, God, I wanted to stop. I just wanted to stop. But there was no place to rest, so I soldiered on.

At long last, just after dawn, at about the same time that the last bus was leaving Purcellville, Google’s route led me off the Harry Byrd and into a little town called Round Hill. By 7:30 I was eating biscuits and gravy in Tammy’s Diner (highly recommended), after which I restocked my supply of cokes and smokes and headed across the street to the town park and laid myself down on a bench.

I consulted Micah on my options and the most appealing was to call a cab to drive me to a hotel. There were no hotels in Round Hill, and only a couple of Bed and Breakfasts in Purcellville. The nearest proper hotel I could find was in Leesburg, some 14 miles away. Walking such a distance was almost beyond my ability to contemplate, but I wasn’t quite ready to admit defeat, so I heaved myself upright and tottered on down the road. When the accurséd Harry Byrd Highway came into view once more, my will at last gave out.

And so did Micah.

I was at the entrance to The Villages of Round Hill, evidently a housing complex of some sort. The name was announced on a low stone wall that provided a passable seat. I could go no further, so I sat down, pulled out Micah (which claimed to have between a quarter and a third remaining of battery power), but every time I tried to dial the number for the Purcellville taxi company, Micah would shut off. I turned the dang thing on twice, and each time it would allow me to reach so far as the web page containing the phone number before promptly shutting down. I feared it was broken. There was nothing to be done but trundle into the woods and find a place to nap.

I chose a spot beside a small brook and lay down, using my backpack as a pillow. The woods (or the brook, or something) smelled like human excrement. That’s not a euphemism, by the way. To say it smelled like shit would actually be less descriptive, since in fact it smelled like someone or someones had been making regular deposits of fully digested food into the brook for weeks. But I was tired, the sunlight playing through the yellow leaves was calming, and at last I managed a two-hour nap.

I awoke to a bird. It was nearby, and sounded upset. “Pweet-pweet-PWEET!” it cried, over and over again, coming closer until at last it was directly above me. A small, bluish bird, it clung to a twig in the branches directly overhead and repeated its call. It was bouncing around on the branch as if trying to find the right angle, and then suddenly it seemed to find it, because it stopped bouncing and peered at me out of one eye. “Pweet-pweet-PWEET?” it called. I smiled at it and it flew away in silence, as if satisfied that I was neither dead nor dying.

I got up and walked back to the low, stone wall. One more time I tried to turn on Micah and at last it gave me a low battery signal. I pulled the solar charger off (probably the culprit in the mistaken battery level) and placed it on top of my backpack facing a bright midday sun. Then I waited. Soon enough I started worrying that the same bright sun would give me a sunburn (I don’t get out much, normally), so I tried to find some nearby shade. Unfortunately, everything in the shade was damp, so at last I settled for pulling my barn jacket around me, lifting the collar to cover my neck and sat on the wall with my back to the sun.

One of the many cars coming in and out of The Villages at Round Hill contained a woman who craned her neck around as she passed. Her expression was less of concern (as I had imagined the bird’s had been) and more of suspicion. I suspect she had noticed me sitting there when she had left earlier that morning. I wondered how long it would take the police to show up.

At last, after an hour or so, I judged the solar charger might have sufficient juice to power a phone call. I plugged Micah in, turned it on, went to the web page and dialed the number. A woman answered.

“Hi,” I said. “I’d like to get a cab to Leesburg. I’m standing at the entrance to a housing complex called The Villages at Round Hill in Round Hill.”

She said, “Um. I’m going to need more than that. Is there a house address? That’s a 45 minute drive.”

“Oh,” I said. “I thought you were just in—”

“Yes, we are,” she said, “but this is our rush hour. Take down this number and call back.”

“Um. Okay. Just a sec.”

I fumbled to put Micah on speaker so I could open a note-taking app, then had her repeat the number three times. When I was sure I had it right I hung up and dialed the new number. A man answered, and I repeated my request. To my relief he said, “Okay. Your cab will arrive in half an hour.” I thanked him, ended the call and angled the solar charger back toward the sun, expecting the cab driver to call in half an hour asking for clarification as to where exactly to pick me up.

A car marked “Sheriff” had driven by several minutes before but hadn’t stopped. I wondered if a deputy was talking to the woman with a crick in her neck. At least I could now say that a cab was on its way rather than having to admit that I hadn’t yet made the call.

Half an hour later Micah rang. I answered and listened to someone say something largely unintelligible. I said, “Yeah. I’m standing at the entrance to The Villages at Round Hill, just a quarter of a mile from the Harry Byrd highway. There’s this stone wall—”

“Nonono,” said the voice. “I said, ‘I’m on Route 7 now, and I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.’”

“Oh. Okay. Great! Thanks!” I hung up and breathed a sigh of relief. Ten minutes later the Sheriff car drove out of the housing complex and continued on its way. Another sigh. Five minutes after that a minivan with a taxi sign on top pulled up, and I was on my way to Leesburg. My walking adventure had ended in failure, but never had failure felt so sweet.

Due to technical limatations, I can only offer comments on Love's Anarchy's facebook page.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Adventures en route to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Part One

I traveled to the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” as a protester, reasoning that we can no more restore what we never had than we can restore what we never lost. I had designed a poster that read, “Rejoice! The End Is Near!” On the reverse of which I had placed the Love’s Anarchy logo, along with the URL for this site. I had also designed flyers advertising my book and intended to staple them to snack baggies full of M&Ms. I intended to send the designs electronically to a FedEx/Kinko’s near the Washington Mall, where the rally was to take place, but, as will eventually become apparent, it was fortuitous that I never did.

I started from Winchester, Virginia. My dad, two friends and I had spent a week and a half putting a roof on a prayer porch at The Community of the Cross in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Before that my dad and the two friends had attended a class on spiritual warfare in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, while I stayed at the hotel and designed the aforementioned sign and flyers and attempted to put the finishing touches on the eBook versions of Love’s Anarchy. On the last day of the class I checked out of the hotel and walked to the church where the class was being held, arriving just in time for lunch, after which everyone gathered around the four of us to pray over our journey.

My plan to walk the 70 miles from Winchester to Washington, DC, had been made known to the participants, so when the man with anointing oil came to me, he said, “I feel like I’m supposed to anoint your feet.” A woman in the group said, “Yes! That’s a confirmation.” So the man got down on the floor and made the sign of the cross in oil on the toes of both my sneakers, praying that my feet would be “anointed to spread good news.” It seemed like a good omen.

dead monarch

Two hundred miles before Winchester, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel for lunch. Before going in, I stood on the curb behind the van and had a smoke. On the ground was a monarch butterfly, intact, but obviously dead, lying on its side. It seemed like a bad omen. I snapped a picture of it with my iPhone, whose name is Micah.

I had intended to start walking as soon as they dropped me off, but, since the eBooks were not yet finished to my satisfaction, I had them drop me off at a hotel, where I worked on my computer, ate one of the Hershey’s Special Darks that may father had given me for “traveling mercies,” and enjoyed a warm, soft (bedbug free) bed while the wind whipped rain in every direction. I checked out at noon the next day, hefted my backpack onto my shoulders and commenced walking.

I spent the first hour adjusting and readjusting my backpack until I found a reasonably comfortable position. I had not intended to bring my computer with me, and the extra 6.8 pounds seemed to double the weight of the pack. When I stopped for my first smoke break my shoulders were feeling fine, but my feet were complaining that there was a pebble in each of my shoes. I pulled them off and shook them out, but there were no pebbles. I ran my hand over the bottoms of my feet, but they seemed smooth and grit-free, so I put my shoes back on and continued on my way.

The Harry Byrd highway was not made for walking. Some parts of it were passable enough, but others were . . . not. It’s a four-lane, divided highway with a fair amount of traffic, and I was constantly self-conscious, half-dreading, half-hoping that a police cruiser would pull up and tell me to get off the road. Maybe drive me to the border of their town.

By a quarter past five I had traveled (according to Micah) 11 miles, and it was plain that my feet were now cushioned by a mass of blisters. A glance to my left revealed a herd of nine or ten cows who had all stopped grazing to gaze upon my misery. They stared at me as though I were the one who was mad. Apparently, cows are excellent judges of character.


A bit further on (.3 miles) the highway rose to overpass Boom Road. There, tall pine trees grew just over the guardrail. I waited for a gap in the traffic, jumped the guardrail and sat down for another smoke. Since it would be dark soon, I peered down the hill, searching for a promising place to spend the night. At the bottom of the hill was the omnipresent highway fence, topped with barbed wire, but I decided to try my luck anyway. As I shuffled downhill, I had a premonition that climbing back up was going to rupture my blisters, and so it did, but we’ll get to that presently.

As luck would have it, a couple of trees had fallen over the fence, providing a precarious bridge to the space beyond. After gingerly traversing the deadfall, I came to a section of packed dirt road that looked like it hadn’t been used in several years. On the far side was a field of reeds, in the midst of which were a few patches of grass that looked as though they might have provided bedding for deer in the recent past. I chose one such patch and attempted to bed down for the night. I did not dare to remove my shoes, for fear of being chased by wild animals, yes, but also for fear of witnessing the condition of my feet.

I pulled Micah from my pocket and posted my progress on Facebook. “Ten miles down, 60 to go.” Half an hour later, I commented on my own post: “Correction (probably): 16 miles to the nearest train station.” I had done a web search and found that a commuter train left daily from the nearest largish town, Purcellville, traveling straight to DC. With that knowledge came a sense of relief, and I snuggled into the grass and tried to sleep.

Digitally enhanced photo of my bedding place.

No, I did not have a sleeping bag, but it was 65° out, and I had a t-shirt, a chamois shirt, and a barn jacket, which seemed like plenty, in theory, to keep me reasonably warm. In practice, I could not stop shivering. Nor could I get my body to cease being alert to every crackling twig and random bird call. For five hours I tried to sleep, but to no avail. At last I rolled onto my back and gazed up at the stars. There above me was a constellation I had seen before (rarely) but never identified. To me, it had always looked like a cross, and I took comfort in its presence. Micah informed me that it was, in fact, Cygnus, the swan. (Oh, look at that! It’s also known as the Northern Cross. Thanks, Astronomy Picture of the Day!) I soaked in the view for a bit, then rose, dug my headlamp out of my pack, and headed back to the road. It was 11 o’clock.

I traversed the fallen trees as before, and with almost the first step up the hill, I could feel the blister on my right foot rupture. I hoped it would make my walking easier, and perhaps it did. The traffic had subsided somewhat, but there was a car coming as often as not. The semis did their best to move into the far lane, but some of the cars seemed to delight in seeing how close they could zoom past me. I shuffled along until I came to the ridge.

I had done a Google Earth flyover of the route beforehand, so I knew that there was this ridge (the easternmost spur of the Appalachians in those parts) to clamber over in an otherwise level course. It began with a lengthy bridge high over the Shenandoah River. It was about half past one in the morning, and endorphins were making my blisters bearable. The air was mild, and a fey mood was creeping over me. I glanced over the foot-wide parapet at the smooth dark water flowing a hundred feet below. An idea came into my head that did not seem to originate there. It suggested that I step up onto the parapet and cross the bridge thusly, trusting my fate to the God in whom I purported to believe.

“No, Lord,” I said, smiling at the recklessness of the idea. But then I considered that it was, after all, doable. A balance beam that’s a foot wide provides little challenge. It troubled me to reject the idea out of hand so blithely. “Well, Lord,” I said. “Here I am, still saying ‘No’ to you.” But for better or for worse, my decision was made: I chose safety.

I had imagined this being Day One of an open-ended adventure. The rally was but a waypoint. I would wander, homeless, perhaps directionless, for perhaps a period of forty days. Give or take. I was in the wilderness, with the wild animals, and Oh, hey: This is like the temptations Jesus faced. Satan took Jesus to the roof of the temple and told him to throw himself off it, trusting the angels to keep his feet from dashing against the rocks, only Jesus refused. JUST LIKE ME.

Like I said: a fey mood.

By two o’clock I started looking for a side road that might provide a convenient place to rest and have a smoke. The first one I passed was Retreat Road. A perfect road on which to rest, it seemed, but something kept me moving, thinking that there would be a better one a little further along. Within ten minutes Pine Grove Road presented itself. I turned and found a reasonable spot to smoke. I checked my location on Micah. Lo and behold, Pine Grove Road was the route Google Maps had prescribed, cutting across a loop of the Harry Byrd highway, which I would otherwise have missed. Obviously God was making straight my path.

Due to technical limatations, I can only offer comments on Love's Anarchy's facebook page.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Great Horned Owl Seeks Transom

I hate zoos. Wild animals trapped in “habitats,” pacing their cages all the livelong day, gawked at by screaming children, fed dead meat as if they were chicks or cubs, the sky denied them—it depresses the hell out of me. At the same time, I’m thrilled to see them up close, watching (safe behind plexiglass windows) creatures who could seriously wound me were I standing so close in the wild.

Owls and eagles in particular fascinate me, since they figure prominently in my nineteen-year-old novel. One of my characters, an eagle named Kyron, even does hard time in a place similar to the Squam Lake Science Center where this movie was shot.

Notice the streaks of sunlight, the dappled leaves. Remember that owls are (as a mother struggles to recall behind me and my iPhone) nocturnal. It’s not that they burst into flame at dawn like bats, or sparkle inappropriately like vampires; it’s simply that their eyes are adapted to darkness, their ears to silence, their biorhythms to diurnal somnolence. This owl is in hell.

Most animals on display in wildlife preserves and Science Centers are there because they’re injured or for some other reason that makes their survival in their native habitat unlikely. I don’t know what this owl’s physical or mental problems might be, but it’s emotional problems are obvious: It’s too bright out, too noisy, too cramped. So it searches its ceiling for a weakness and periodically attacks it.

In a wildlife preserve in Illinois was a coyote that perpetually paced between visitors and the back of its pen. A wooden sign offered a routered explanation: As a pup it had been raised by humans until its peripatetic neurosis prompted the humans to donate it to the preserve. It had never learned to hunt, and so it couldn’t be set free. It had learned instead that food comes from humans, and so it was drawn toward its visitors, but it couldn’t overcome its instinctual fear of humans, so it promptly retreated from them. Back and forth, back and forth. And back. And forth. And back.

The sign looked old.

Our mercy and compassion can be terrible to behold. This is our fault, we think, and so we are responsible. We as a species fed a wild animal inappropriately, or we struck a bird with our car, or the poison we set out for rats blinded a raccoon. Therefore we must care for these damaged creatures for as long as we can keep them alive.

I can’t help but wonder whether they wouldn’t rather be eaten by a fox, their bones picked over by crows.

Maybe I’m just projecting.

Due to technical limatations, I can only offer comments on Love's Anarchy's facebook page.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Carl: A Study in Providence

Several years ago, I began to think that I really wanted a pickup truck. Every once in awhile, I would visit a website that would let me “build” my ideal vehicle. I’d select the features I wanted—dark gray, a manual transmission, air conditioning and an eight foot bed—and save it for future reference. Once I had built and saved the same vehicle three years running, I began seriously to consider buying an actual truck.

Now, there was nothing essentially wrong with the compact, four-door sedan I already owned, except that it was boring. I had bought it thinking it a “responsible” purchase, and that I would likely need a small family car before too long. While I was perhaps correct in my first assumption, I was hilariously wrong in my second.

After my divorce, I moved to a small, one-bedroom apartment a scant three miles from work. I made a habit, whenever I woke up in time and could be bothered, either to ride my bicycle to work (if the weather was fine) or walk (if it was not). While walking to work one day, I passed a ten-year-old pickup truck for sale for $3,500. It had a number of features in common with my ideal vehicle, and I took a picture of its For Sale sign, thinking I might just give the number a call. Weeks went by, the truck remained, and suddenly I came into some money—almost enough to buy it outright.

Now, I should tell you that I have a deep antipathy towards making phone calls. I call it telephobia (even though the technical term is apparently phonophobia). Occasionally, inexplicably, I can overcome this irrational fear long enough to make an important call. I generally attribute this occasional victory to God.

My reasoning goes something like this: If God wants me to do such and such a thing that would require making a phone call, you will, in your timing, afflict me with the realization that the time has for some reason arrived, and strengthen my phone-call making constitution long enough to tap in a number and hit “send.” I figured if you wanted me to buy that truck, then you would visit this grace upon me before someone else bought it.

The truck hung around for two or three more months and then disappeared. I was disappointed, but I used the money to buy a treadmill instead. Within a month, the deck on the treadmill cracked lengthwise, underlining my need for it, yes, but also forcing me to reevaluate my concept of divine providence.

Meanwhile, an odd little plan was beginning to form within the dark recesses of my brain. The kernel of the plan was that, rather than spending $800 a month on a crappy little apartment that I used primarily for sleeping and watching tv, I could pocket that money and sleep in the back of my potential pickup truck.

Never mind that this is a crazy idea—I waited a few more months and then went to a dealership that was able to find exactly the truck I wanted. Since I had a good job and good credit, I drove home a few days later in Carl, leaving my unchristened sedan behind. A few more months after that my lease was up, and I chose not to renew it. Instead, I bought a blue, 8' x 12' tarp, three thin, 12' pvc pipes, and a cot. I put them all together with a little rope, and—voila—my new home was complete. At night, I parked behind the warehouse at work, and spent the next two weeks living simple. It wasn’t exactly Walden Pond, but it seemed like a step in the right direction.

I know what you’re thinking: Where the hell did he shower? Why, at the health club next door, of course. Every morning I’d emerge from Carl’s backside with my toiletries and a fresh change of clothes in a backpack and a baseball cap to cover my bed head. I’d shamble to the health club and take a nice, hot shower. It was a beautiful system (except for the mosquitos), until, inevitably, the cops showed up.

My cot was folded up, and I was sitting on a beach chair, with one of those flashlight-on-a-headband thingies strapped to my forehead. I was typing away on an old PDA, when someone walked alongside my truck, lifted a corner of the tarp, and shined a flashlight in. Did I mention that it was really hot that night? I only mention it now to try to explain the following, somewhat embarrassing, fact: I was stripped down to my underwear. I hastily pulled on some clothes and clambered over the tailgate to talk to the police.

They had gotten a complaint from the people living on the other side of the fence, which, it’s true, I had pictured (when I first conceived the plan), being much higher. I told the first officer that the address on my driver’s license was correct, and that I was practicing for an upcoming road trip to Alaska. When the second officer repeated the question, I admitted that I had moved out of that address two weeks ago. He said, “There’s no trip to Alaska, is there?” I said, “No, there really is.” They called their contact for the building and discovered that I was a keyholder (and thus had permission to be there), and then left.

I climbed back into my truck, stripped back down to my underwear and started writing again with a huge sense of relief. I had worried that this would happen, and now it had, and I had survived the experience. I knew, of course, that I would be confronted the next day by whoever took the officer’s call, but for the rest of the night I could, for the first time, really, be completely at ease.

About an hour later the cops returned with “some more questions.” The problem, it seems (and this is sheer conjecture), is that they had snuck up on me the first time, and thus had given no indication to the people on the other side of the fence that they had responded to their call. So, probably, the neighbors called again. This time the police put on their blue strobe lights and talked tough. They wanted me to “move along.” Having nowhere else along which to move, I suggested I could park my truck on the other side of the building, out of sight of the neighbors. They agreed that this was a suitable solution, so long as they didn’t receive any further complaints. The other side of the building, unfortunately, had streetlights, and noise, and would be in plain sight of my coworkers when they arrived the next morning, but at least the neighbors would feel safe.

The next morning I was indeed asked to visit the department head who’d taken the call. I explained myself as best I could, and he sympathized with my experiment in alternative living arrangements, but after a few days of pondering and discussing the matter with the other department heads, the decision was made that I could continue living in the parking lot only until my Alaskan vacation two weeks hence. After that I would need to find somewhere else to park.

Before the two weeks were up, however, I resigned in protest of a management decision that was completely unrelated to my housing situation.

Providentially, I had no lease to break, no address to change, and all my possessions were either in my truck or in storage. I drove from my now former place of employment (not without tears) to my storage space for various sundries, then to a burger joint for dinner, then to a service station for an oil change, where my confusion over which address to give him prompted the attendant to inquire after my circumstances. Upon hearing a brief synopsis, he expressed admiration for my standing up to management, laughed when I told him it was a Christian organization and said, “What’s that line? ‘Kick the dust from your feet’?” I drove away with another stream of tears dampening my chin. A thousand miles later, I arrived at my parent’s house, where I’ve lived until this very day.

Carl proved useful on a number of occasions after that. I returned to Illinois a few weeks later, with my dad, to gather the contents of my storage space. Between the bed of the truck and a rented trailer, I was able to fit almost everything I owned. I used Carl to move firewood, take trash to the transfer station, and to borrow a wood-splitter from a friend. My dad used it to transport his broom-making booth to farmer’s markets and to take the riding mower in for service, since he had had to sell his own truck soon after I moved in with him (Related? God, I hope not).

He paid for oil changes and to get Carl inspected, but it was up to me to make the monthly payments, pay the annual registration fee, and keep it insured. This seemed doable, since I had a little bit of financial cushion and assumed I would soon land another job.

Alas, within a month of my arrival, the country experienced a “severe economic downturn,” and the job market went from tight to constipated almost overnight. I applied for what jobs I could find, both full-time and freelance, but the only interview I was granted was for a part-time secretarial position at the elementary school I had attended as a child. I thought I was a shoo-in, but at the last minute an applicant with actual secretarial experience swooped in and stole it out from under me.

As summer approached, my parents decided to sell a parcel of land in order to help pay their annual property taxes and health insurance, but my mom felt God wanted them to wait until September to put the land on the market. Naturally, we all started looking forward to an autumnal financial miracle.

Carl’s registration was due to be renewed at the end of August, a year after my resignation, and I still (though I had picked up a number of odd jobs), was largely unemployed. What with not having any money and being unsure that I would be able to hold onto Carl much longer anyway, I debated whether or not to bother, since it’s rather expensive in New Hampshire. Also, the town offices don’t have the capacity to accept credit cards (mine was at less than a third of capacity, which is amazing in itself).

Providentially, I was offered a few days’ work as a painter by a local pastor. I asked to be paid $12/hr and worked a total of 13 hours over the course of three days. Then he handed me a check for $250. My eyes widened a bit as I told him that it was more than I had expected. He said, simply, “Fifteen dollars an hour.” I thanked him heartily and went on my way. As I drove home, I did the math and realized that $250 divided by $15/hr comes out to roughly 17 hours, meaning that he had accidentally paid me for the half-day we got rained on. As my parents were leaving for a couple weeks for points west and south, they left me a check for $100 to cover expenses or, if I so desired, to put toward my registration.

I had only a rough notion of how much the registration would cost, but I deposited both checks in the bank, made sure my other bills were paid through the middle of the next month, and went to the bank a couple days later to withdraw the money in cash (I had never bothered to order checks) so I could go to the town offices and register my vehicle. The ATM machine only allowed me to withdraw $300/day, but with the money I already had in my wallet, I thought it might be enough.

On the way to the town offices, I was praying that I wouldn’t be stopped by the police on the way there, which is something that happened to my mom some years ago. She had tried to explain that she was on her way to register her car at that exact moment, but the officer had countered that, it being Saturday and all, the town offices would be closed. Hoping I wouldn't need to have a similar conversation, I drove the quickest (and most heavily trafficked) route there. As I passed a side road, a police cruiser pulled out and started to follow me. “You have got to be kidding me!” I shouted at God, who was mostly silent (but I could have sworn I heard a stifled chuckle that, to be honest, did not sound entirely friendly). Several tense minutes passed until the cruiser pulled off onto another side road. Breathing sigh after sigh of relief, I got to the town offices at 4:30, only to discover that they had closed at 4:00.

The next day I tried again. I drove to another bank branch to withdraw an additional $20, only to discover that my debit card was missing (I swear I could hear God snort). I returned home. The following day I called the bank to report my missing card (Should’ve done that sooner? You betcha). I mentioned my hope that I had left it in the ATM machine a few days prior, and the woman kindly put me on hold while she called the branch office to find out that, indeed, I had left it in the machine and could go pick it up. Woohoo. I drove over, retrieved my card, and withdrew $30 from the teller—everything in my account that wasn’t needed for other immediate bills. So it was that I returned to the town offices, taking the same “quickest route,” but this time, thankfully, without the police escort (but behind slow cars the whole way, which was also funny, considering how close I was cutting it).

I managed to arrive at 3:45, walk in, greet the woman behind the counter and say, “I’ve got $367 dollars in my wallet, and I'm hoping it’s enough to renew my registration.” She asked if I wanted her to check the amount before we proceeded, and I said, “That would be swell” (or words to that effect).

“That’ll be three hundred, sixty-seven dollars and seventy cents,” she said.

I recounted my money and discovered that I had one extra dollar in my wallet that I had previously overlooked. We filled out the forms, she took my money and handed me a quarter, a nickel, and my registration.

Now this is Providence, I thought, in all it’s enigmatic glory. The odds of my having the exact amount of money (rounded to the nearest dollar) are high, if not perhaps astronomical, and I took it as strong evidence that God was with me in my finances. Things were starting to look up, and it was only the middle of September.

About that time, I was offered two financial hopes that seemed further evidence of God’s provision. One was the possibility of a three month temp job with a friend. The other was an unexpected promise of help from an inheritance. These two hopes had formed the basis of my decision to pay for the registration instead of using the money to make another payment. Both hopes had arrived unlooked for, but long days passed without any word on whether or not they would be fulfilled.

My parents being gone, I was alone in the house, and wishful of focusing on my writing, but the stress of waiting for my financial aid to arrive (or at least to become more solid than mere hope) was keeping my productivity low. I started pleading with God, reminding you that my most productive times of writing in the past had occurred during those rare times of unemployment when money was not a stress factor. I begged you to release me from the tension.

One day, exactly a week after I registered my truck, I was feeling absolutely crushed by the paralyzing weight of uncertainty. I could barely move, but I needed to do something. I had made one payment on the truck the day before, and had received enough checks to cover another payment, but I needed to get to the bank (which had charged me $30 for overdrawing my account by 30¢ the week before) to deposit them. Also, the lawn needed to be mowed. It was a fine day, and the bank would be open for several more hours, so I decided to start with the lawn. I crossed the kitchen at the pace of an arthritic tortoise, each shuffling footfall requiring the effort of an exhausted, out-of-shape rock climber.

At last I reached the door, pulled myself outside, and started up the mower. I had not yet completed a single pass around the edge of the yard before a truck pulled up, and two people I had never seen before got out. I turned off the mower and walked towards them, greeting them with a friendly smile.

“Mark Smith?” one said.

“Yes,” I said, somewhat taken aback, since not many people showed up at the house looking for me.

“We’ve come to pick up the truck.”

It took me a moment to register what he meant. “Oh, no kidding,” I said.

I mentioned that I had just made a payment the day before, and that I had enough for one more payment, but needed to get to the bank to deposit the checks. He checked his papers, and I could see (over his shoulder) that the amount my creditor required was the equivalent of two payments (plus late fees). He offered to let me talk to the creditor, and even dialed the number on his own phone and explained the situation before handing his phone to me. “I’m sorry, Mr. Smith,” I was told, “but once the reacquisition process has been initiated, there’s nothing we can do. You will have a chance to redeem the truck on Monday. In the meantime, please let the gentlemen do their job. They’ll let you remove any personal items from the vehicle.”

The conversation went on, as I worked my way through the five stages of grief, but in the end, I pulled out all my stuff (I forgot my baseball glove under the seat), and left my stereo, and refused the offer of taking off the plates, because I was convinced (irrationally) that I could redeem the truck by the end of the weekend. One of the guys even said he’d leave it in town over the weekend rather than shipping it right away to Boston. I handed the second guy my key, and watched them drive away. Then I finished mowing the lawn.

Oddly, the crushing weight of uncertainty was gone, replaced by an odd sense of lightness and relief. It was not the answer to prayer I had hoped for, but it had accomplished the result for which I had asked.

So much for autumnal financial miracles. The parcel of land sold immediately, and my parents gave me $1,000 from the proceeds. If they hadn’t listened to God, or if I had made another payment instead of paying the registration, if either of my two hopes had panned out, or even if I had just returned one of the hundreds of phone calls from my creditor, I might have been able to keep my truck for several more months.

On the other hand, I would almost certainly not have been able to accomplish as much as I have on my book these past few months. I have decided to treat my writing as my full-time job, and, indeed, I have felt completely released from financial stresses. I have spent January and February (during which my parents have again left me alone in the house while they travel) writing prodigiously (and, I hope, to good purpose), and my book is nearly finished. While they’ve been gone, a friend has lent me the use of his truck, one that’s the same make and model as Carl (and two years newer than the truck I considered buying used in Illinois.

In time, I will have to pay back what I still owe on the truck, and I will miss being able to use Carl’s bed as a bed, but in the meantime, I am content with what God has provided.

Due to technical limatations, I can only offer comments on Love's Anarchy's facebook page.