A Time To Think

There’s a fire racing through Facebook.

This time, the spark came from talk of Syrian refugees. Before that, it was gun control. Before that, some other broad and powerful issue of the day, building an audience faster than the rumor of free Bronco tickets.

By itself, that’s not so bad. Big and important issues should be discussed by a free people, after all. I’ve seen some approach the impromptu debate with thought and care, and I’ve done my best to take part in the same manner.

All the while, I know we’re in the minority.

Most of what happens isn’t a discussion or debate. You know it. I know it. Most of it is a shouting match at best, the verbal equivalent of Mark Twain’s duel with axes at two paces – swing hard and fast, with no particular care for accuracy so long as blood is drawn.

“Behold the power of my inflammatory photograph!”

“Hah-hah! Your photograph is impotent in the face of my video of dubious origin!”

“Oh, yeah? Well have at thee with an unsourced blog post!”

“Pah! Now you shall see the might of my snarky cartoon!”

Sometimes the borrowed memes and images open a new line of thought. More often, they’re an opportunity to raise the voice, plug the ears and carry on, invincible. No listening. No learning. No need for the other person to even be in the (virtual) room.

And thus, a wildfire. Plenty of heat. Plenty of damage. Precious little in the way of useful light.

Please understand: I’m glad that people care. In the face of an issue like this, apathy would be an indictment of us all. I want this to be on our minds and hearts and I know others feel the same.

But how it’s done matters.

If you are one of the people involved, please. Take a moment, or several, before hitting Enter. Take the time to think.

Think about the image, or the video, or the report that you’re about to put out there. Have you checked its accuracy? Does it have identifiable, verifiable sources? This is especially true if it seems to agree with your feelings and beliefs in every particular – these are the items we are least likely to check, because they seem so obvious. (Reporter’s Rule No. 1: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”) If it is true, does it add anything new and useful to the discussion?

Think about what you’re for, not just what you’re reacting to. What can you offer as a next step? If you favor sealing the borders, how do you propose helping those who need help, without putting them at risk of being radicalized? If you favor welcoming the stranger, what do we as a society and as individuals need to stand ready to do, to make sure our aid is more than an empty ‘welcome’ banner and an isolation within a new society?

Think about what the other person is saying and examine where you stand. Have you put yourself in a place that you’ll regret when the passion of the moment has died down? Our history books are full of people who earnestly argued positions that have since been exposed to wrath and ridicule. (One of those, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, is even now the subject of a Broadway production.) Are you so sure that you want to be so sure? Even the unbending Oliver Cromwell himself once implored “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

Sure, I want to win people to my side of the argument. I’m human and the subject is important to me. But I think calm consideration is more likely to do that than angry sloganeering. If it can’t, then maybe I have a few things to examine of my own.

I’ll take that risk. This is too important to be decided purely by gut impulse. This is the time to think of who we are as a community and a nation, and what we want to be. A “Thinksgiving” season, if you will.

Some fires bring warmth, and light, and inspiration. Please help this be one of them.

Haven’t we all been burned enough?

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Belly Up to the Bard

After 20 years, my dream has come true.

No, not the one where I come to school for a test I never studied for and then realize I’m in flagrant violation of the dress code. Different dream.

This one began with a chance purchase of an oddly-titled script in a college bookstore. Now it’s coming to fruition amidst a torrent of sight gags, word play and utter ridiculousness. A tribute, really, to a master of the hilarious and bizarre.

Right, Master Shakespeare?

OK, OK, I know. “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged),” our newest comedy at the Longmont Theatre Company, bears about as much resemblance to the stagecraft of Laurence Olivier as I do to the physique of Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s the beauty of it, really. This is Shakespeare as it might have been done by Monty Python and the Marx Brothers, with a little Saturday Night Live thrown in for good measure.

It’s irreverent. It’s absurd. It’s three men blasting through the canon with a buzz saw like the hero in a zombie flick, and leaving about as much standing.

And somehow, I think the Bard of Avon would have laughed his head off. Once the migraine cleared up, anyway.

That’s not because the show’s true to the text. (Heavens, no.) But it’s true to the life.

Maybe I should explain.

A lot of times, Shakespeare’s plays get treated like museum pieces: Dust off the icons, admire the filigree and keep everything on a nice, safe pedestal. They’re works to be studied, venerated, stuffed and mounted.

Now mind you, I admire the man’s work. I consider his writing some of the most beautiful in the English language. And the details certainly bear study, if only to discover what “fardels” actually are.

But Shakespeare wasn’t writing for textbooks. Shakespeare was writing for people. Rich people, poor people, anyone who could pay for a seat (or a patronage). And he played to that audience as surely as any modern-day Hollywood schlockmeister.

Bad puns? Check. Blood and gore? Check. Soap operas, mistaken identities and jokes about bodily functions? Check, check, and most definitely check. (Take a fresh read through Macbeth if you don’t believe me on that last one, where a porter hilariously laments how too much wine “provokes the desire but takes away the performance.”)

Yes, he wanted people to think. And part of the way he did that was by also making them laugh, wince, and shudder. Many of his tales had been told before; by adding his own twists, touches, and jokes, he could make his audience really hear them and consider them as something new.

That kind of re-transformation can be vital and not just in Shakespeare. Any time we give something a set-apart status – the Founding Fathers, a sacred work, a loved one, the 1927 New York Yankees – we risk taking them for granted. We memorize a headline, or quote the words without the music. As a minister of mine used to say about the Easter story, we already know the end, and so we lose the fear and apprehension shared by those who didn’t know how all this was going to come out.

We stop understanding and see only what we expect to see.

By shaking up those expectations, we wake up our minds. And maybe even laugh ourselves silly in the process.

Let go. Have fun. And if I’ve got you curious, come on down and see what our warped minds have come up with. ( Show details can be seen at www.longmonttheatre.org.) As Master Shakespeare used to say, the play’s the thing.

What kind of thing? Thereby hangs a tale …

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The Halloween Brush-Off

“So do you guys roast the seeds afterward?” the checkout clerk asked as I paid for our three pumpkins.

“Huh?” It took me a minute. “Oh. No, not really. You see, we don’t carve these up. We …” The confession felt odd for a moment, like admitting to a secret fanship of Justin Bieber. “We paint them.”

The clerk blinked.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that before.” She smiled. “I like that.”


No, that’s not a misprint. For three or four Halloweens now, we’ve celebrated as though Linus had discovered Jackson Pollock. Our disabled ward Missy is the artist-in-chief, smearing blues and browns and whites across the natural orange canvas until the mighty holiday symbol looks … well, distinctly out of its gourd.

My wife Heather and I love the results, with all the usual oohs and ahs and pictures to Facebook. What’s harder to explain is how we started doing this in the first place. It really comes down to two things: a weak stomach and a Halloween hesitancy.

The stomach is mine. As a kid, my family used to carve pumpkins – nothing elaborate, just the fun of the usual gap-toothed grin. And then, one Halloween, I had a stomach bug.

Just for the record: when you’re already presenting previous meals to the porcelain altar, the smell of fresh pumpkin guts is less than enticing. Well, that’s not quite true. It certainly enticed me to do one thing.


I have never been able to smell a pumpkin’s insides since without starting to revisit that moment.

The hesitancy is – or rather, was – Missy’s. When we first moved in to take care of her, she loved holidays with two significant exceptions. She hated the sudden explosions of the Fourth of July (and still does). And she didn’t care for Halloween.

We couldn’t quite figure out why, unless it just weirded her out to have so many people walking around in fake faces and strange clothes. (A similar objection could be made to Election Day, come to think of it.) A newfound love of Harry Potter finally reeled her in – this is the second straight year she’s enthusiastically dressed up as the boy wizard for the season – but the hook was first set by the chance to wield a paintbrush.

Missy loves to paint. With abandon. It can be a quiet Saturday or the midst of a flood, on anything handy – sketch pads and computer paper are a favorite, but she’s even decorated plastic bags before if they got in the way. The style is abstract in the extreme, though images sometimes seem to appear: a large “M,” say, or green and blue shapes that looked a little like our old parakeets on a branch.

Pumpkins were a great new medium for her and one that still hasn’t worn off. It’s egg coloring on the grand scale, with no need to hide the results afterward. (Hmmm … is that what the Great Pumpkin does?)

With a few simple strokes, she found her way back into the holiday. And she pulled us with her.

Maybe that’s the secret to more than just Halloween. You have to find your own way of celebrating life, your own approach to times and events that others might observe or ignore. And when you do, it will be what keeps the time fresh to you, however odd it might seem to the neighbors.

And with enough enthusiasm, you might even pull them along with you.

So no, no roasted pumpkin seeds from our endeavors. Just bright color, great energy and a lot of fun.

That’s a neat trick. And quite a treat.

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Keeping Watch

On Wednesday evening, I’m pretty sure Denver International Airport was tracking an Unidentified Flying Missy.

As Heather waved me over to the car, Missy began bouncing in the passenger seat. And bouncing. And … well, you get the idea. She had a cold, she had a seat belt, and at that moment, absolutely none of that mattered.

“Hi, you!” I called out. Missy was too excited for anything but a laugh and a hug. And oh, what a hug!

Longmont was still most of an hour’s drive away. But I was already home.


For a lot of movie fans, Oct. 21 was Future Day, the 30-years-ahead date reached by the time-traveling DeLorean in “Back to the Future II.” For me, it was more like Back to the Present – or maybe Back to Reality.

I had been off to Austin, Texas for four days on my first extended business trip since changing jobs. That meant a lot of planning, and not just for plane tickets and hotel reservations. It also meant dealing with the two biggest unknowns for an out-of-state stay: the health of my wife Heather, and the reaction of our disabled ward, Missy.

As it turned out, we hit a good patch with Heather: the symptoms of her MS began to subside about two days before takeoff. Neither of us were sure how long it would last, but we weren’t going to complain, any more than a pilot gripes about hitting unexpected good weather.

Missy … was a little more complicated.

Mind you, Missy’s dad used to be a traveling salesman. So having a relative away for large chunks of time used to be nothing new. But that had been a long time ago and Missy had always been a “Daddy’s girl” – after Heather and I moved in, one of her most common questions while I was at work was “Where’s he?”

Missy’s perception of time can be interesting. On the one hand, she easily recalls faces from more than 35 years ago. But she can also worry when someone is gone for more than a couple of hours, keeping a vigil in the bay window until their return. Our first real test for an extended absence had been the flood, when I was working 14-to-15 hour days for the newspaper, but even then I was still coming home at night.

Then, she had dived into artwork, her blues and browns evoking the deluge around her. We could only hope to be so lucky a second time.

We weren’t.


“She slept for maybe 2 hours” came a text from Heather on the first day. Part of that was from a head cold, part from waiting up for me.

Further updates: Missy was spending time in her room, except for a little bit of painting and puzzles. She was trying to talk into the telephone. (I had called the other night to reassure her.) She wasn’t taking her bath.

In the middle of it, Heather pointed out the upside. Missy hadn’t done this when other relatives had moved out, or when Heather had taken her big trip to Devil’s Tower. That at least pointed to something special.

“U are very awesome,” the message on my phone read.

It had become a Dorothy moment for all of us, when you realize the value of something through its absence. For Dorothy, lost in Oz, it was the Kansas farmhouse. For others, it might be a lost relative, a longtime job, an old home that had to be left behind.

We were lucky. Ours could be cured in four days, without the intervention of a humbug wizard. And we’d realized more than ever how strong a family we’d become.


Toward the end, Missy began to perk up a little. She worked out her new stereo (especially the volume) and even dressed herself – a bit creatively – for the trip to the airport. Even so, I’m not sure she believed I was coming back until the moment she saw me.

Then there could be no doubt. Or escaping the force 5 hug.

Home was healed. Missy had learned I would come back. And that night as I closed her door, I re-learned the five most magic words in the universe:

“See you in the morning.”

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Turning Tales

Many of my baseball-loving friends have the blues. And they couldn’t be happier.

Some of that blue belongs to the colors of the Kansas City Royals, questing for their first title in 30 years and desperate to wrap up the unfinished business of last year’s almost-world championship. No question, these are Royals in search of a coronation.

The rest have a darker shade to their uniforms – appropriate, since these are the friends who know the blues indeed. These are the brethren of the Chicago Cubs, the legendary hard-luck team that has not even seen a World Series game in 70 years without buying a ticket. The team that has not won a championship in over a century. The team cursed by a goat, now praying to be freed by the prophecies of the Back to the Future movies.

I promise, I’m not kidding.

If both teams manage to make the Series at once, I think Facebook may just explode. After all, these are fans who have not just been loyal, they’ve done penance. The moment is at hand – Luke Skywalker in the Death Star trench, Frodo Baggins at the edge of Mount Doom, Rocky Balboa ready to get the tar beaten out of him.

Er, never mind that last one. But it does make a compelling story.

And that’s a primal power indeed.

Stories surround us and penetrate us, binding the galaxy together – no, wait, that’s the Force. But it’s a small difference. This is a big world we live in, too large for us to take it all in at once. By shaping a story, we make it something we can hold and understand, something that makes sense.

It’s why sports can have such a draw. This is a story in its basic form, redrawn every day on the playing field: good guys and bad guys, victory and defeat, beer and hot dogs.

It sits at the heart of our politics. In a democracy, candidates compete to tell us the most convincing story, with themselves as the hero who can ensure success or avert disaster. Sometimes those stories are true. And sometimes … well, you know how to finish that tale.

It’s why good journalism can be some of the best writing around. Every person on this earth has at least one story worth telling; a skilled reporter can let you into that story as though it were your own and reveal the wonder that lies beneath the most everyday persona and event. Whether it’s a mighty flood or an airplane-throwing contest – and I’ve written about both – anything can be compelling if you find the heart beneath. (I’ve always said that the heart of every one of my columns is the question “Why do I care?”)

Granted, like any power, it can be misused. Often – maybe too often – we impose the story we want to see on the world around us, regardless of the facts. Researchers have recently suggested that our brains aren’t wired to seek the truth, but to cling to the items that support what we want to believe. Call it Simon’s Law: “Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”

But stories make us human. They fuel our curiosity and build a community. And if a story survives long enough, it can bind us across the centuries, tying us to anyone who ever invoked our version of “Once Upon A Time.”

Yes, even Cubs fans.

So if sports make you crazy, take heart. You’ve got a tale or two of your own that means just as much. From the outside, it may seem just as odd as celebrating men who swing lumber and fling horsehide. Let someone in. Share it. Revel in it.

How to do it? That’s another story.

And one that no one can tell as well as you.

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Fight Fire With Firing

I don’t usually get political in this space. But I’m hoping you won’t mind this time. Not when the aim is getting rid of politicians.

Yeah, I thought that might get your attention.

These days, politics in this country has gotten pretty tiring at the national level. Republicans and Democrats have drawn the battle lines and never the twain shall meet, lest one of our nation’s leaders be tainted with the sin of compromise. It’s quite possible that birthday greetings to a sixth-grade class would require 17 appearances on Fox and MSNBC, three filibusters, and a 19-day government shutdown until a majority could be found to agree on the “birthday” part. (“Happy” is clearly tied to either Obamacare or Wall Street and will have to be set aside until the next federal budget.)

Most of us are tired of it. And we all possess the ultimate term limit for a tiresome politician: vote for the other guy. But it takes so much effort to make even the smallest dent, like firing BBs at a tank.

Enter the Fire ‘Em All movement.

Now, I’m not a lawyer. I know this sort of thing probably isn’t doable without major rewrites to the Constitution, the U.S. code and the Boy Scout Law. But even just contemplating it can feel pretty good, and stranger things have happened – after all, (opposition president of your choice) made it into the White House, didn’t he?

It goes like this:

1) On every ballot for national office – the House, the Senate or the Presidency – there shall be an option called “Fire ‘Em All.” (“You’re Fired” has already been claimed by certain representatives of the National Alliance of Tangled Toupees.)

2) At the end of an election cycle, all votes cast in all federal races shall be totaled up by party: how many Republicans, Democrats, independents, Greens and so on. “Fire ‘Em All” shall be counted as its own party.

3) If at any time, “Fire ‘Em All” is among the top two choices nationally, the terms of all elective federal officeholders – again, House, Senate or Presidency – shall end on the next Jan. 20, regardless of how much time they would have normally had left to serve.

4) Replacement officeholders shall be nominated and voted on in the time between the announced results and Jan. 20. (Yes, this gives a little over two months to elect everybody. Whatever shall we do without a year and a half of campaign ads?)

5) Those chosen will serve the remainder of the term they are replacing, unless ousted by another “Fire ‘Em All” vote before then.

6) Individuals who have been ousted due to a “Fire ‘Em All” shall be ineligible to run for federal office for at least three election cycles.

7) Sports Authority Field shall immediately change its name back to Mile High Stadium. Just because.

Yeah, it’s a nuclear option. It clears out the good, the bad and the indifferent alike. But the sheer appeal of the idea should send a warning to Washington that it’s time to learn seventh-grade civics – or at least fifth-grade etiquette.

With or without a Fire ‘Em All button, we hold the power. And when we choose to exercise it, no amount of money or influence can stop us. This just makes it more efficient – and satisfying.

You really want to start from scratch? Go for it. Set down the disgust and resignation, and build the change you want to see.

It’s time to get fired up.

Who else gets fired is up to you.

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Sing it Out

Singing waiters, rejoice. Your time of birthday deliverance is at hand.

If you’ve ever been out to eat, you know that there are three certainties in modern casual dining: that a tip is 20 percent, that the TV with the game you’re interested in isn’t visible from your table, and that if it’s your birthday, you will be humiliated by a team of waiters singing anything but “Happy Birthday.” You may hear the William Tell Overture. (“Merry day of birth to you, have some cake and candles too!”) You may get painfully rewritten lyrics set to “Stand by Me” or “Kill the Wabbit” … uh, I mean “Flight of the Valkyries.” But you will not get the classic off-key grade-school anthem that has shattered eardrums since time immemorial.

Until now.

A federal court recently ruled that “Happy Birthday’s” copyright is dead. More than dead. According to the judge, the song should have been out of copyright 80 years ago, making its rights the musical equivalent of a George Romero zombie movie. (“Caaaaaaaaaake.”)

Silly argument? Not for the owner and not for anyone wanting to belt out the birthday ballad in public. In fact, “Happy Birthday” has been big business, generating about $2 million a year in royalties from movie producers, restaurants and anyone else who wanted the song and didn’t want a visit from the Warner-Chappell attorneys.

I’ll write that again. Two million dollars a year. For a song that pre-dates World War I.

OK, that does seem silly.

Mind you, this isn’t a diatribe against having copyright at all, or patents, or trademarks, or all the other wonderful things that encourage ideas and ensure a creator gets something of what’s coming to them. (Mark Twain famously said that a country without patent laws was like a crab, only able to travel sideways or backwards.) But it is possible to stay at the party too long. And when “fair compensation” starts to turn into “I’m holding you up because I can,” that’s when people start to object.

We saw a more serious version of this recently in the medical world. The media – both mass and social – exploded after the new owner of a common AIDS drug, Daraprim, announced that its price would go up from $13.50 to $750 a dose. By most estimates, the drug costs about $1 a dose to make.

The word “outrage” doesn’t really go far enough. Twitter went nuclear. Everyone from patients to politicians added their denunciations. And within a day or two of the online fire and brimstone, a white flag went up – Daraprim’s price would go down again. (By how much has not yet been said as I write this.)

Call it supply and demand in vivid action. An owner can charge what he likes for a product. But if no one wants to pay it – if people are actively offended by paying it – it’s time to find another price or another product.

At the bottom of all this is a much-derided word: fair. “Life’s not fair,” we’re told over and over again. But one of our more admirable qualities as a species is a rock-bottom belief that it should be. Granted, sometimes we go too far – anything can go too far – but for the most part, it’s a guide to common decency, empathy, and all the qualities encapsulated in “liberty and justice for all.”
Fairness means we look out for each other, because one day it might be ourselves. It means we think about what we do and why. It means we don’t take unjust advantage of a situation.

We’re not perfect about it. We’re not going to be. But the fact that we still care about trying says something good about us.

Maybe it’s like anything else – if we keep trying, it gets easier. It might even become a piece of cake.

And when it does, we’re all set to sing.

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Walking in the Dark

The distance falls away softly, a yard at a time in the still of a Longmont night.

Step. Step. And step again.

Even just a few blocks from Main Street, sounds are muted and far between. The metallic chime of a sprinkler hitting a fence. The odd car. The ripple of the Oligarchy Ditch, making its own muffled and effortless journey.

It’s a short trip that would take five minutes in a car. On foot, it’s closer to 20, with light and activity only gaining a more normal level as the destination grows nearer.

Step. Step. Another step still.

There are worse ways to pick up your groceries.

I’ve always been fond of the late nights and the early mornings, when even a smaller city seems to be a world transformed. And I’ve always been fond of walking, a habit I probably inherited from my English granddad even if I didn’t inherit his love of doing it at the hottest part of the day. (“Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,” as they say.)

So when the opportunity came to merge the two, making regular forays into the dark for a few supplies and a little quiet, I seized the moment. And night upon night, it’s oddly regenerating – maybe even a bit familiar.

After all, Heather and I have been doing a lot of walking in the dark lately.

Things have progressed slowly since my wife was diagnosed with MS last spring. Days get measured not in hours, but in careful rations of energy – how much can be done today? How far will a window of relief open? How much rest is needed now to turn tomorrow’s plans from theory into action?

Sometimes the calculations go badly awry. We’ve already ridden out one flare, a week stolen by pain and dizziness where traveling to the bathroom requires the timing and partnership of a carefully measured waltz.

Step. Step. And step again.

It’s a longer journey than 20 minutes. Streetlights are few and far between. Once again, it seems to carry us through the world while keeping us somehow apart from it.

And yet. Somehow, slowly, progress does seem to come.

It comes in pieces, the resumption of the ordinary that we had once taken for granted. A few hours of peaceful sleep. A chore as simple as cleaning the bird cage. A realization that she’s feeling tired at the end of a Saturday – not the all-consuming fatigue of illness and pain, but a more ordinary exhaustion from having two young nieces come over to play.

Those are the moments of hope, when the pavement draws near to something at last.

I know how fortunate I am in my actual walks into the night, to be in a place and situation where I can travel peacefully. I’m only beginning to realize how fortunate we are in this larger walk. This is a rockier road, with more than its share of broken pavement, but hope does come. Hope can come. No matter how far away it may seem.

Step. Step. And step again.

Thinking back, the solitude of the night was always more illusion than reality. When walking, it’s a blessed insulation, a chance to put the trials of the day at arms’ length. On the bigger path, it can feel more like isolation, feeling like nothing can touch this topsy-turvy world you’ve come to inhabit. In both cases, friends and neighbors are closer than they seem.

That, too, is regenerating.

Another night. Another walk. Another journey. But every journey leads somewhere eventually, if you just keep walking.

Let’s see what the next step will bring.

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A Clear-Cut Situation

The face in the mirror keeps catching me by surprise.

“Hey, Scott! You … ” a co-worker called in the parking lot, patting his own chin.

“Yeah, I did.”

It’s the bare-faced truth: for the first time since early 2013, the beard is completely gone. Deforested. Clear-cut. Shaven.

The facial fur left for the same reason it came – to secure a part. When I first transformed into my more hirsute self (joking that I had hit my mid-life crisis), it was to play an Arthurian knight in “Camelot.” This time, an internal city spot was being created that needed a Sherlock Holmes type, and while Sherlock is known for his abundance of brains, there’s rarely been an abundance of hair to go with it. So, out came the razor.

The stage is funny that way. In a similar situation, to play the spear-bald agent Swifty Lazar, a friend erased a beard that had been in place for better than 40 years. We had performers in the cast that were younger than the exorcised adornment was.

It was a peculiar transformation then. It feels equally strange now.

I’m not entirely sure why, to be honest. After all, these last few years have held a lifetime’s worth of changes. Four years ago, my wife Heather and I began to take care of Missy, her physically and mentally disabled aunt. One year ago, I left newspapers (aside from this column) to do PR and pursue some writing of my own. Five months ago, Heather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, prompting still more changes in response.

Compared to all that, what does a scraped face matter? Sure, it feels a bit cooler, maybe looks a bit younger. But set against everything else, is the re-summoning of a bygone visage so much?

Then again, maybe that’s it. With so much having changed, it seems … peculiar to look like I did before it all happened. It’s almost like turning back the clock, stepping back to an earlier time.

Silly, of course. You can’t undo change with a razor.

And yet … maybe it’s not a bad thing to have a symbolic reset.

Anyone who’s ever been a caregiver of any kind knows this: fatigue is real and rarely acknowledged. When you put much of your energy into keeping another person going for one more day, the last thing you want to do is worry anyone by revealing how low your own tank is. Sure, you know the caregiver has to be cared for, too, but that’s an intellectual knowledge rather than a visceral one, sort of like how one might have read about bears in the mountains without having any idea what to do when Smoky visits your campsite and rips open your car trunk.

And so, a level of background tired sets in. A level of tunnel vision, too, where you focus on taking care of what needs doing now, with the rest stored in a mental attic for later, if it isn’t just left behind as discarded baggage.

It’s easy to fall into cycles. Habits. Patterns.

Breaking that pattern, even in a small way, helps.

Suddenly, the world looks a little different. You have to come up for air, to pay attention, to see what else might have changed when you weren’t looking. It can be re-energizing, snapping you to attention like a glass of cold water to the face.

Come to think of it, that’s one reason I do theatre in the first place. The chance to step outside myself for a while, to be someone new and, in doing so, get a second wind for who I already am.

The stark state may not last. I do like the beard. So do Heather and Missy. (Actually, Heather likes any state that isn’t the in-between stubble.) But for now, with a few swipes of a Gillette, Mr. Holmes may have solved yet another situation.
Even if it does mean taking it on the chin.

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Mountains and Molehills

When I was a kid, my folks once got into an argument over whether or not peanuts were a fruit. It was silly. It was inconsequential. And it was hard to stop once it got started.

On our first Christmas together, Heather discovered my family had always done stockings last, after presents. I discovered that her family did them wrong … er, I mean, first. The resulting “holy war” has had more than its share of laughter but never entirely died down, either.

And somewhere in Alaska, a mountain got a new federal name this week. You might just have heard about it.

I’m not sure how many of the people on social media have actually been to Denali, the peak that many of us learned in grade school as Mount McKinley. But when President Obama announced that the feds would recognize the name Alaska had been using officially since 1975 – well, the Internet reacted with the passion usually reserved for a minor Kardashian sister or the cancellation of “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Mind you, the mountain itself doesn’t especially care what it’s called. (Imagine THOSE headlines!) That’s left to us and in particular to:

1) The people and leaders of Ohio, who argue that President McKinley was an important man whose reputation and legacy should be remembered, even if you’ve never actually given him two thoughts since your freshman year in college.

2) The people and leaders of Alaska, who argue that “Um, it’s our mountain, dudes.”

An alien watching from orbit would probably decide we were all nuts. (Mind you, he’d probably reach the same conclusion after watching a typical football game.) Not necessarily for endorsing one side or the other, but for putting so much energy into it.

But that’s what happens. The less significant a debate is, the more importance it actually assumes.

A professor, Wallace Stanley Sayre, once observed that academic politics were so intense “because the stakes are so small.” But it’s not just academia. At any level, a small scope can engender big feelings. A county government might spend minutes discussing a multi-million bond issue … or hours on a $2,500 budget item. A family that navigates the big issues with ease can spend all day on … well, presents and peanuts.

Why do we this to ourselves? I suspect it’s partly survival, partly relief.

There are a lot of big, complicated issues out there. We get drowned in them every day, issues of war and terrorism, politics and civil rights, straining economies and questioning minds. It’s a lot to take in, and we’re never really given a quiet space in which to do it.

“Every man whose business it is to think knows that he must for part of the day create about himself a pool of silence,” Walter Lippmann once wrote. “But in that helter-skelter which we flatter by the name of civilization, the citizen performs the perilous business of government under the worst possible conditions.”

In that situation, a trivial issue can seem heaven-sent. Simple in scope, easy to understand, no challenge at all to form an opinion on. And because it’s so easy, we can’t see how anyone could possibly reach a different conclusion.

But of course, they do. And it’s off to the races!

Fundamentally, those sorts of debates are more or less harmless. They may even be a good way to vent for a while. But they take time. They can generate hard feelings if they go on too long. And sometimes they even seduce us into thinking all issues should be this easy – that any major subject of debate can be quickly simplified into memes, quotes and a cute animation.

That’s when it’s time to step back. To breathe. To take some time and gain some perspective.

Because I promise, the mountain doesn’t care.

Energy and passion are good things. We just need to figure out where to aim them, and how to weld them to some kind of understanding.

Because the last thing we want to do is peak too soon.



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