The Pencil

It’s been two decades, now two decades and two years, since I found the pencil. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? I was working on a bridge project in Valdosta, where the two bridges and the field office were close to the State Prison. What roguery men committed to be enclosed in such a place, I cannot say, but I never looked upon those shining spirals of razor wire on those fences without wondering how it is that a man could find his way there, and how other men could find a way to keep him.

There was a set of scales, like you’d see at a farm, or a woodyard, where a truck would pull up to be weighed, and perhaps at one point I knew what they were for, but I have since forgotten. The scale house was an old trailer, falling apart and in ruins, but I pried the door open one day at lunch and looked around.

There was a soft drink bottle on the floor and a trash can with paper in it. All manner of evidence of the office not being used, the smell of urine, recent signs that rodents had taken over, and there on the floor, was a pencil.

Once upon a time, if you used a pencil, and everyone did, the instrument had to be a No. 2 pencil, and that had something to do with the darkness of the graphite that was the part which wound up on the paper. Most people referred to it as “lead” but it never was. This pencil was rather old, having survived many trips to the pencil sharpener, and I wondered why, at the point of its life it had ceased to be possessed by a particular person, it had been left lying on the floor.

It was a big deal, when I was a kid, that everyone had a pencil every day of their lives at school. The worst crime, and all crimes were the worse crimes, was not to have a pencil. We were led to believe we might have a job one day, go to work without a pencil, and be fired for it. True enough, I once worked with a manager who despised anyone who was not, at any given moment, in possession of an ink pen, but for some reason, the world kept spinning and the work was done, and no one, ever, was fired.

I kept the pencil, pondered its existence, and wondered what it had been used for, by who, and when. Had some great work of literature been sweated and scrawled into being by this very instrument? Had a love poem been written during lunch to the object of some man’s affection? Did someone write the letter to their wife or husband, explaining why things had gone wrong, and nothing could fix it ever, and this was the end?

Or, more likely, had this been the tool used to mark official forms, with its No. 2 darkness, date, time, load number, weight, tare, and truck number? Its future sealed in wood, the tiny rubber eraser nubbed at times, day in and day out, like the man, or men, who used it, and then one day, the office closed for the last time, and the pencil lay on the floor, abandoned and forgotten.

How many pencils have I owned? In grade school, middle school, and into high school, dozens perhaps, each one of them gone, forgotten, lost, broke, stolen, loaned, given away, but nevertheless unaccounted for. Perhaps, incredibly unlikely, this pencil was one of those I released into the wild, only to be found accidently, unrecognized, like a chance meeting of the same stranger, twice.

I took the pencil, put it in a plastic water bottle, then sealed the cap with glue. The contractor didn’t notice me digging a hole at the bottom of the form and the next day they poured a footer for the bridge, and underneath that, the pencil lies waiting to be discovered again. It’s damn unlikely, I know, that one day someone will find an old plastic bottle, with an even older writing tool in it, and they’ll wonder, much as I have, why and how, and when, and who.

But it is entirely human, for memory to kick to the surface, the image of that time and place, and that pencil, and it is entirely human for me to write about it now, and you to read it. The prison is filled with men who might be freed if the right words are read, or written, and we must understand the power of this. Yet for all the men, and all the pencils, this is the most likely outcome, memories, laid to letters to be read, and perhaps, found again one day.

Take Care,

Mike

Alcohol or the Desert

Alcohol is heaven, no, not heaven, maybe haven, somewhere the sound ceases, or at least is muted. The mesh in the sifter is larger, more permeable, so there’s less to appraise, less that has true depth. The vacation to the lizard brain means the lights are dimmed, no white hot glare of the bare desert full of demons and dreams.  There’s a reason for bars, and there’s a reason most of those places are dimly lit.

The reptilian brain seeks only feeding, fighting, fleeing, and fucking, the four F’s, and a bar will allow you any of the four, in any combination you choose, or is chosen for you. Ride the anesthesia of loud music, strangers, and the drug of choice in its various forms. Fun, funny, serious, or sexy names for whatever precent of the drug, or what’s mixed with it, and it will get you from Point A to wherever you decide to stop, or wherever is decided for you.

The morning after. There’s still fog, still haze, and maybe a stranger you regret, or a stranger with promise, and maybe you are the regretted stranger, or a promise of sorts. Time to flee, one or the other of you, numbers exchanged, and hopefully nothing else in the dark, that might need medical attention.

There’s absolutely no difference between this, and a Sunday church service, and your chances of finding someone looking for sex are about the same.

Sooner or later, you have to go back into the desert.

No, really, you don’t. Seriously, you can very easily spend your entire life anywhere else but. Unless, of course, you know you belong there. There’s a blank canvas, or a blank page, or a shapeless lump of clay, or a camera staring at you from inside its bag.

It’s a hard scrabble, cracked white gypsum desert. Flat and devoid of even so much as a tough weed, the sun is always directly overhead and perpetually oven hot, without the slightest trace of a breeze. Moisture is sucked out of your skin faster than you can think of water, and there’s no relief from the blast of radiation from the sun. An environment not meant for the weak, meek, or those who retreat.

There’s nothing here. Not a single sound or sight or smell or sensation that doesn’t drive you to leave. You can go into the kitchen and get a snack, or a glass of wine. There’s new social media on your phone. Stay and you have to create something, made of nothing and of sweat, pain, suffering, and time. It’s tedious and repetitive. Your vision blurs and boredom with the process can distract. Crafting with words in this climate is putting melting ice beads on a hot metal string without gloves. The wind in the desert is deafening. Nothing else can be heard, nothing else can be felt, and nothing else exists.

The work done here is parsimonious. It’s panning for pieces of metal whose worth cannot be gauged until the end. There is no surety in hard work except nothing else will produce worth. Second seem like hours, yet when a vein is struck the hours seems like moments that pass without time. It’s trying to mount an invisible steed made of sentences and discomfort.

Words become sentences, which have to be woven into paragraphs, and the thread is wane, weak, sticky, and ethereal. The fiber from which they are created comes from one thing, then another, memories, books, oh my dog, more books, and books, then moments with people long gone, in one way or another, or people who just appeared, and for some reason, there’s a push, a lift, some sort of peculiar catalyst that requires nothing but a thought, or a question, or a presence.  

Suddenly, you step away. What have you to show for this time in the desert? What is it, and what will you do with it, what can you do with it, and more importantly, will anyone else give a fuck?

It doesn’t matter, does it?

You save it, don’t save it, put it away to edit later, or not, none of this matter, because regardless of what it is, or how good it might be, you know you’ll go back, and do it again. It’s not the product, but the process. It’s being there, within, deep inside, feeling the heat, embracing the nothingness and daring to bring forth anything at all, and not hoping for the best, but working for it.

Take Care,

Mike

Clear

The task at hand.

This morning was one of those Zen dawns with no color, no real light for a while, but a nice cool breeze and very gentle rain. It felt good to be outside, and not have insects buzzing around and without the humidity trying to kill me. I’ve been waiting for this morning to arrive, because the back fenceline desperately needs attention, and so many things have gotten in the way of me getting back there and getting the job done.

I have to cross over the fence into my neighbor’s property to hack down a bunch of stuff because wild grape wines, as well as a few other species of vines, are getting on the electric fence and that will eventually cause a short. The wild grape vines do not produce wild grapes, tame grapes, wine grapes, or any other grape, but their leaves look like the leaves of grape vines, so that’s where they got their name. 

The vines have partners in crime. American Beautyberries, a waist high bush with small purple berries, grow in abundance in South Georgia. The vines use these bushes as launching pads towards the top of the fence, so the plan is to clear a section five feet wide and go after any bigger vines if I can get to them, and I have a bush hook, so yeah, I can. 

Slow Progress, and more to go!

It’s a cool day, I feel good, it’s early in the morning, kinda, and it feels good to swing hard and work muscles again. I had major surgery late last year, and this is the first time I’ve really set out  to push, and push hard, my body with this sort of work. The bush hook is a great tool for clearing and the best piece of exercise equipment a human can own. 

There’s vines growing up out of the ground that have cut marks on them, where I hacked on them three years ago. The vine will grow from another shoot, not the old one, so I can tell how many times I’ve cut them. None of this stuff is big but it is thick, and it is bushy as hell. I hack, and hack, then push the stuff away from the fence, hack so more, push some more, and slowly, a path is cleared. 

Hacking isn’t just hacking away at a clump of vines or bushes, or both. There’s a system here, depending on where the open part is, where I need for it to be, and how close to the ground I can cut the bushes, or the stems of the vines. Position of the target dictates position of my body, how much power I have to use, how well I can aim, and I can cut exactly where I want the blade to be. I use a slight slicing movement when I swing, and again, depending on what I am cutting and where, that will decide which side of the blade I use; the flat side for thicker stuff, the side with the hook for vines, so they cannot slip away uncut. I’ve been using a bush hook for decades now, and it’s a part of my body when I work. 

The Rescued Tree

It’s work. It’s hard work. The day wears on and I am wearing down. My breath is quicker and heavier. The handle turns in my hands as my strength ebbs. But fatigue and I are also old friends. I know my limits, or I once did, and this is the first test of my strength and endurance since December of last year. I know better than to push too hard, but where is the point I ought to quit? Isn’t quitting just as bad as going too far, when I have already finished more than half?  

The last twenty feet or so aren’t thick but the twenty feet before that is the very thickest. There’s an Oak tree being strangled to death by vines in that mess, so I decide to, at a minimum, rescue the tree. I have to cut wider to get the debris out of the way. Vines stealing the crown of the tree have to be pulled down. The remnants of bushes and the still grabby vines try to bring me down, because they sense my weakness. Stumbling, yet still upright, I swing away, much less able to hit a target, my hands slipping, my breath ragged, yet moving forward, cutting bush and vine, and making progress. 

An After Photo of the very bushiest part, shown in the first photo.

Suddenly, I reach the end. I’m careful now, tired, no, not tired, I am exhausted. Sweat dries quickly because of low humidity and it is still a beautiful day. There’s nothing about how I feel that seems to indicate injury, but oh yeah, I am going to feel this tomorrow and maybe for a few days to come. I climb the fence to get back over to my property and Budlore Amadeus awaits and escorts, his stubby tail wiggling. The walk to the shed to put the bush hook, hat and gloves seems overly long. 

My left hand isn’t fully functional at the moment. It’s cramping up and hurts. My knees ache. My back? HAHAHAHA! That’s going to be interesting tomorrow, certainly. I cannot remember the last time I was this tired. Yet this is exhaustion, my paycheck from swinging a bush hook for three hours. I have cleared the entire back fence line on the back side. I feel good, my body responded to my demands for more when there didn’t seem to be any, and the job is done. 

It feels good. I feel like me again. 

Take Care,

Mike Firesmith

Martha Graham Quote

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
Martha Graham

July

There’s no coolness in the air, even before dawn, and the heaviness in the air is palpable. It’s the heat of the Summer now, that part of the year where there will be no relief in any shape, fashion, or form, outside a house where there is air conditioning. It’s seventy-six degrees as I search the sky for a comet. It’s not there, but the mosquitoes are. I go back inside and contemplate calling in for health reasons; I am totally sick of the heat. 

The drive to work is like commuting into a furnace. The sun rises quickly, and it blasts away hope and the wane clouds defending the sky. These are the bones of clouds, eroded and empty, devoid of any rain, or shade now. They’re the dinosaur bones in the sky, the reminder that any possible reprieve is being dealt with unmercifully, and early. Like a lost man finding a skull in the desert there will be no hope found. There will only be the memory of cool days and nice breezes. The forensic evidence of anything less than July will be hard to collect. I drive straight into the sunrise, and I can feel the heat beginning. 

The men who work outside can feel it coming. Swarms of gnats, harbingers of misery, crowd around faces, searching for salt or moisture, and finding enough of both, are as relentless and enteral as the heat. Stinging flies and mosquitoes are there to remind everyone that July means misery, and there’s more than enough to go around. Everyone can have a second helping, not a problem. 

I wear long sleeves, even in this heat. My arms need the protection from the radiation of the star that is far too close right now. The young men strip down and the older guys cover up. I wear gloves, light cotton things, to cover my hands, and everyone thinks I’m crazy. It’s so incredibly hot. But the extra layer of cloth collects sweat, doles it out slowly, and I am cooler for it. Cooler, being a relative term. There is only suffering, and degrees, no pun intended, of suffering. 

By ten, we know the day will be very long. The nearby woods offer a buffer from a breeze, not real shade. The flies and other pests live there when they are not feasting on our blood. We’ve donated more to the insects than we’ve given to the Red Cross. 

There’s a dead hog in the creek, and it looks managed. It smells even worse. We’re hoping an alligator will drag it away and eat it, but that doesn’t happen today. The stench is as omnipresent as the heat. One of the younger guys recommends we try to burn the corpse, but a forest fire would take off running. He wonders aloud if it would smell like bacon. One of the older men tells him to shut up so the young guy starts talking about smoked ham. HE may be murdered before the end of the day, but that is quite some time away. 

About two it rains for thirty-three seconds. The ground and pavement is wet, and the sun comes out and turns it all into a mist, like the smell of the dead hog, incarnate. The heat was unbearable, but now it’s almost like a poisonous sauna. Breathing has that same feel as drinking water that has been sitting for too long, stagnant and dead. The air feels like it’s contaminated with death and disease. Malaria. 

Sweat oozes from the body like a billion gunshot wounds. The face, neck, chest, and shoulder sends rivulets of seawater down the back and front of the body to form pools, and to dampen clothes. The pig isn’t the only thing that is going to be stinking soon, but no one here cares. We’re all trapped on an island in the sun, and no one is spared. 

Steel becomes too hot to pick up and carry. Concrete radiates heat as if it has an internal generator. Exhaust from machines feels like it might kill. Each and every movement by a machine, and every footstep each man takes, means a little more dust in the air. Boots create small clouds, and those become larger, until there’s a flinty smell, the odor of a mountain’s blood; rock deduced to its smallest visible atoms. 

The dust and sweat mix, slip down inside of clothes to produce a unique irritant. We’re being drawn back into the earth, and it covers us as if we are already being buried alive, somewhat. The gnats persist, the flies dive in and land on a face, and the threat of death means nothing to these winded devils. Welts appear and itch. The sun is along in the sky except for the moisture, and the bugs. It is three in the afternoon and we know sundown is at least six hours away. 

The drove home is straight into the sun, again. The heat is unbearable, even with the AC on. There is no relief at all from the radiation, the skin killing rays, and even sunglasses are impotent. Home means the boots come off, water, and unlimited supply, and cool air from the vents. 

Tomorrow will be just like today, except it is supposed to be hotter. 

Take Care,

Mike

The Moon and Me.

At four in the morning, I’ve already been up for two hours. It’s good writing time, this part of the morning, none better, but there’s also a bridge in the southern part of Echols County that needs one hundred eighty-five cubic yards of concrete before the sun comes up and the heat rises. The balance between two worlds, one with concrete and steel, and the other with writing, swings towards hard reality, and I’m on State Route 94, heading east, and watching the moon rise.

If you ever go to Statenville Georgia, and you’re on 94 heading east, the moment you cross over the Statenville city limits, you’ve started the journey into The Big Empty. Until Fargo is reached, twenty-five miles away or so, there’s very little but trees and trees and trees. There’s a house here and there, one paved road going to the left, two going to the right, and everything looks smaller or further away in The Big Empty. Deer, wild hogs, open spaces, planted pines, and ditches full of water, for the Okefenokee is near but damn little else. If you need some time to think about something, you will find it here.

 

The radio is off as I streak through the night, speeding for me, because I always drive slowly. The Crescent Moon is flirting intimately with Venus. It’s easy to see why the followers of Islam love the crescent moon, and why they might be compelled to add a star near it, if you’ve ever watched the sliver of the moon rise with Venus. In a time without unnatural lights, at least not the ocean of them we have created, it would be glorious for a religion to associate itself with the sight before me. Despite why the news tells you, and contrary to the recent history you might read, Islam had been a civilized religion for many centuries. True enough, there have been many wars, but the art, the architecture, and the appreciation of beauty by the adherents of that religion speaks to the soul of humanity, like all artwork will at this time of morning.

 

It’s easy to be a peace in The Big Empty, with Venus, and a Crescent Moon. I wonder if it was Venus, the Goddess of Love, who put the star on the flag of Islam, and maybe more people should wonder this. Please, don’t try to start a debate about what this side did or that side did, let’s just enough natural darkness that had a great light show with planetary objects, shall we? Just this once?

 

The radio is still off, I’m listening to the road, and the sky. The moon is huge, slung down low, and I can tell it has risen slowly since I began. How do you think it felt to watch this sight, thousands of years ago, with nothing but the sound of the world around you? The yellow orange moon, with just a slight touch of silver around the disk, a start or a planet blazing in the sky as the moon rises, who could not feel something supernatural here?

 

The real world intrudes, and harshly so. The artificial glare from the works lights blast out the night sky. There’s enough men here to form football teams with substitutes, and the concrete will arrive soon. Thousands of years old, concrete is still fickle and tricky. Heat, water, and a thousand other variables haunt each pour, and every mistake will be permanent, perhaps even catastrophic. I must return to the world of brought lights, and steel, and stern men who fear the loss of money, and thrive on the work that few understand.

 

Yet as the work begins, the concrete pours into the forms, the steel is buried for a hundred years or more, and sweat becomes the more important ingredient of the morning, I take time to watch the moon rise higher and higher, and Venus is subdued by the starlight of the rising sun.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

The Deer and the Snake

Screen Shot 2020-07-15 at 7.38.28 PM
Cottonmouth photo of one I relocated out of my yard several years ago.

 

Today I saw the twin fawns that I first spotted six or eight weeks ago. They are still hanging out with their Mom, but the spots are gone, and there was another older deer with them. They’re getting wary of humans, and bolted before I could get a good photo of them. But at least I know they made it this far. After they leave their Mom’s side and get off on their own, or with a herd, I won’t know it’s them anymore. It’s very rare when I don’t see at least half a dozen deer, and not uncommon to see a dozen or more.

 

Animals get used to human activity, especially when the humans aren’t shooting at them. It’s against federal law to carry a gun on a federally funded construction site, and not too many guys want to be fired, then arrested, for shooting a deer out of season, at work. Fewer still employers will put up with that sort of behavior. But guys are stupid sometimes, when it comes to guns, and the deer are wary about getting too close. I whistle at the deer, so they’ll get used to the sound I make, and they’ll know it’s me. “Sit still, look pretty” is my tune of choice, and the deer seem to like it.

 

I’m deer watching today, eating my sandwich for lunch, trying to get them to come close enough for a good photo, when I see the snake. There’s a sizable Cottonmouth that hangs around a low place in the woods that’s flooded. I think it’s the same snake because, one, it is big, and two, for a big Cottonmouth, it still has a very distinct pattern, and most do not. The darker color is a deep olive green, and the lighter color is brownish. I think this is one of the most beautiful snakes I’ve seen, and as I ease my phone out of the pocket, two of the guys from the project come to see what progress I’m making with the deer.

 

This ruins the progress I’m making with the deer, and infinitely worse, it means they might try to kill the Cottonmouth, unless I stop them, and if I stop them, it’s going to cause friction. But this is a beautiful snake, and I’m not going to stand around and watch someone beat it to death in front of me. The snake is made entirely of the stealth. The scales of a Cottonmouth are what is known as “keeled” which means there’s a ridge running down the middle of the scale, and this refracts light. Snakes surprise people sometimes because of the way their scales scatter light, and so the snake seems to just appear out of nowhere. You have to see the right kind of light, or the lack of it, to see the snake. To me, the difference between the shadows cast by trees and the dark figure of the snake is clear. Neither of the guys has seen the snake, but the snake’s body language tells me it has seen them. Right now, it’s staying put, pretending to be the shadow of a shadow, and it’s working.

 

Throughout the years, I’ve learned the hard way people will kill snakes for no good reason at all. Toss in the snake is packing and they’ll hurt themselves trying to kill it. My theory is people feel inadequate when they’re in nature, and killing something makes them feel more in control and stronger. Which explains why so many people can’t handle being in the wild. The truth is, the ability to blend in, and survive with the environment, is the only way to live. Yet here they are, talking about shooting deer, even if they are unarmed, and there’s a venomous snake less than six feet away.

 

It’s an act of treason or sorts, a violation of man code, but while they’re standing there talking to me, friendly like, and we’re being social, I send their foreman a text and ask him when we’re going to be ready to pour concrete again. This prods him into looking around and realizing two of his men have wandered off. It gets them both into a little hot water, nothing serious, but he recalls them with a few words about wandering away from the project. I get to wander because I’m inspection, not construction, but my time on the fringe is limited, too. Slowly, ever so slowly, the snake begins to move. It eases back towards the woods, and the water, and I still cannot get a decent photo of it.

 

The temperature is mid-nineties, and the heat index is pushing everything into triple digit heat. The bridge deck’s bare steel skeleton radiates heat, and it becomes an oven. This is where it matters, where what I do makes a difference, and so I endure the heat, and make sure things are as they should be.

“So what in the fuck was that all about?”  the foreman asks.

“What?”

“You text me while those two guys are over there talking to you? They piss you off?” he asks.

“Not especially,” I reply, “but I was trying to get the deer to come closer.”

“Bullshit.”

“What?” I ask.

“You were looking back into the woods when I called them, there a moonshine still out there?” he laughs.

“If there is do you really want to know?” I reply. No one in their right mind walks up on a still in the woods. Oh yeah, it sounds like fun, like getting shot is fun.

“No, really, you got a reason for us not to be over there?” the foreman asks. “I can put a stop to it,”

“Do that,” I say. “And don’t ask why, okay?”

“You got it.” And the man knows that this far out in the woods, whatever it is, he doesn’t want to know, and he doesn’t want his guys messing with something out there. They have a job. It is not in the woods.

 

The Cottonmouth and the deer get a little bit more protection. I get another chance to photo the snake, and the deer. The snake gets a chance to live another day, and maybe have babies in a couple of months. That would explain the girth, actually.

 

If it sounds strange to you for me to go to that much trouble to save a snake, a Cottonmouth at that, you just met me. I get stranger, but at the end of the day, I’m closer to nature for it.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

All You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Response You Can Learn in Traffic

I worked in traffic for over twenty-seven years for the Georgia Department of Transportation. There were many times in my career where I had a lot of be proud of, with the bridges and roads that I helped build. There were times I was nearly hurt, seriously, because of traffic, and usually it was because someone behind the wheel of a car or truck wasn’t paying attention, or was speeding, or was drunk.

2018 was my last full year with the department, and 2017 was the last year I spent most of my time in harm’s way, and on I-75 at that. Night work on I-75 was enough to convince me that getting out while the getting was good might just save my life.

 

Traffic is different these days. People are more determined not to yield the right of way, not to surrender what they consider “their” lane, and they’re more distracted. People have gotten more aggressive, and they’ve gotten a lot more rude. They’ve become dangerously infected with the idea things on the road have to be the way they think they should be, at all costs, and that cost is paid by people like me, and the men and women under my management. In good conscious, I could not tell new people it was worth the risk, because I stopped believing it was. The traveling public became too dangerous to work with anymore.

 

Social media has created the idea that all opinions have real worth, and that worth has to be defended. People have become aggressive about what they believe, and it’s gotten dangerous in many ways. Drivers believe what they read online, and they believe it’s important enough to be engaged online while driving on the Interstate at speeds that can kill in an instant. That’s reality. What someone says that you either agree with or disagree with isn’t worth your life.

 

It sure as hell isn’t worth mine.

 

In the last few years, I’ve witnessed more people blocking traffic by positioning themselves to the left, and behind a slower vehicle on four lane roads. They’ll let other people get clogged up in traffic, back up a dozen cars, and they’ll maneuver so no one can get past them. This is new to me. I’ve never seen it until a few years ago, and to pull something like that on the Interstate is insane. But it speaks to the idea that someone wants to be in control of other people, other people must fall in line with that drive thinks is funny, or give that person power or purpose, I have no idea. I do know it is exceedingly dangerous.

 

Sometimes, on social media, I wonder if some people actually have a point, or an idea, or if they’re just getting in the way of other people because it’s their idea of fun. I asked for a recommendation on FB and got a half a dozen people who tossed out stuff that had nothing to do with what I asked. It wasn’t mean, or malicious, but it was a knee jerk reaction to get in the way because they could.

 

I think social media asks that we respond. We can be creative, or obstructionist, or we can even be angry. But we are trained to respond, not think, or consider, or even simply read and move on.

 

Those emoji buttons aren’t there to express thoughts but to give us some way to respond, and feel like we have made some sort of contribution, like screaming at a character in a television show.

 

When Covid-19 began to creep into the American consciousness, I assumed this would play out like it did in 1919. People would do the right things for the right reasons, and eventually, we would come out on the other side, more united, and stronger. But the dialog was driven by politics, and there were far too many people who say the plague, and the response to it, as political. The deaths and suffering of those who were infected, their families, and those who might succumb to the disease were not relevant. Any action, no matter how small or how large, was met with screaming and hostility, because it wasn’t about life and death, it was about politics, personal or national. It was about opinion and what was repeated in the echo chamber of social media posts. People became even more dangerous to other people than they had been in traffic, and for the very same reasons.

 

Americans have become a splintered collection of self-centered, selfish, uneducated, ignorant, self-righteous and highly opinionated self contained media centers that puke out whatever each of them feels best about, once they hear that two hundred and whatever many characters that can be tossed out in less than twenty seconds of typing.

 

The elderly and the children be damned. Social media is the new family now, and it is driven by nothing more complicated than a chicken pecking at a button that delivers a snack.

 

Over the last three years or so, I’ve watched people I thought I knew, and thought I respected, become seething bodies of hatred and mistrust, believing conspiracy theories that are downright laughable. These people will attack in mass, and viciously, anyone who dares ask them to cite a source, or to produce an honest source for what they preach.

 

The reaction to the plague, how people drive, and how they treat other people has become a nearly religious event. The right to a lane, the right to an opinion, and the right to treat people poorly is given to them by the Gods of social media, the support of like minded responders, and the never ending belief that if it can be repeated often enough, it must be true.

 

Can we honestly be surprised the Nazis are back? This is their playbook. People are recruiting themselves for the most assertive groups out there and what they actually stand for is totally and utterly irrelevant because it’s the response mechanism, not the philosophy, that counts these days.

 

And it’s getting people killed.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

The “Problem” With Black People

Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 2.52.01 PM

The first kidnapped people held as slaves arrived in North America in 1619. Slavery remained legal until 1865.

That’s two hundred forty-six years. We Americans gained our independence from England in 1776, which was two hundred forty-four years ago.

 

Black people were slaves longer than America has existed.

 

During the time black people were held in chains, working for no wage at all, there were many American, that’s white people, families who created wealth for their descendants. Some of those families can trace the wealth they hold today back to the times their ancestors used slaves to gain their riches.

During that 246 years, black people, who were not considered citizens, were not allowed to create great works of arts,  or write epic volumes of literature, they were not allowed works of art, could not invent world changing machines, did not have the ways and means to discover new medicines, and they certainly did not have a voice in their government, as to how they should be treated. They were not allowed to do any of these things. And if they had, their kidnappers would have taken the credit for any and all of it.

 

A vast, terrible, and unfillable void exists in their history, where there is only misery, depravation, and suffering without end.

 

In 1865, slavery was outlawed after a lot of rich white people talked many more poor whites to wage war to keep slaves. Some slave owners were given compensation for losing their property. Slaves were given nothing. Worse, it had been illegal to educate slaves, so any employment they might possibly get, would not pay much more than being a slave.  Even worse, there was a system called “Peonage” where black people in general, and black men in particular, could be arrested for any imagined offense, and made to work for free for anyone who the sheriff allowed. This went on until the second world war, and ended, more or less, about 1940.

 

Along with Jim Crow laws, lynching, and a host of other laws enacted by white led governments, black people spent 75 years not only with nearly no representation in their government, but they also had little or no means to gain enough wealth to leave to their children, who would grow up with the deck stacked against them, and have little to leave to their own children.

 

After World War II, there was still very little access to education, legally enforced segregation, and still nearly no black people as lawmakers, judges, business owners, college students, teachers, and certainly none who had any chance to leave very much at all to the next generation.

 

During the sixties, the Federal government began loaning money to white people so they could buy houses, and these loans were insured, so if the white person who took out the loan fell upon hard times, at worst, they would receive some sort of equity for their investments. This same program did not ensure the loans of black people. This meant if they missed one payment on their home, they would lose everything they had paid into that house.

 

Meanwhile, the number of people, and in this case, people means white people, going to college was rising. White families, who had homes that raised their ability to obtain credit, could afford to send their children to schools, and this increased their ability to make money, which was handed down to the next generation.

 

At no point, from the time the first black person was dragged off a ship and began a lifetime of forced labor, were black people given the same opportunities as white people. At no time were black people free to make their own destinies without interference from the laws white people created to keep black people from being truly free.

 

This has led to black people living in poverty at rates far exceeding those that white people have seen. This has led to rampant drug use among the poor communities, alcoholism, single parent homes, and an incredible about of mental stress suffered by an entire race of people whose only sin was being born black.

 

When Richard Nixon was president, he engineered the “War on Drugs” and the sole purpose of that legislation was to punish black people for being black. This began a system of mass incarceration of black men, which is still an epidemic today. White people who commit the same crimes as black people are jailed at a rate of about ten percent as those black people suffer.

 

Today, a white person posted on Facebook his long and incredibly ignorant opinion on why black communities are poorer, why black students score lower on tests, why so many black people are in jail, and why it seems like black people simply do not live as well as white people do.

What I have written, what you have read, are the facts. This is all readily available for anyone who wants to do the research.

 

If you want to know why black people are not as successful as white people, generally speaking, you have only to go into your bathroom and look in the mirror. Even if you’ve never done one thing in your whole life to hurt anyone, you’ve still supported and lived within a system with mechanisms in place whose sole purpose is to keep black people from owning homes, from living in certain areas, from becoming educated, and to make sure if there is half a chance, to put them in prison.

 

That is the entire problem in America today. If you want to know why all of this is happening, now you do know.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Heat and Light

 

 

If you work in a factory making widgets then in eight hours you’ll have some amount of whatever you’re making to put into boxes and ship off to China, or wherever they’re sold. If you mow grass for a living then you can look at a lawn and be satisfied you’ve beheaded enough blades to earn your pay. A highway worker can pave a road and see the results, and be happy the road is smooth.

But writing means nothing more and nothing less than throwing dice where the pips are obscure, and the wager unknown. A day’s worth of writing might mean you merely discovered what part of the plot does not work at all. A finished piece of work may hold no one’s interest. A novel a writer devoted a lifetime into finishing may not sell at all, not one copy, except friends and family, who are just happy it’s over and done with.

 

Accept this. Live it. Take your work, print it out, and burn it, for the heat and light from the flames might be the only useful thing all your devotion to the Muse ever produces.

 

Then realize it doesn’t matter if it’s never loved or appreciated, or printed, or sold, or even seen by another living soul.

 

And get back to writing.

 

Heat and Light.