Now You See It

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, whatever his other gifts may be, has clearly never been a reporter.

That might sound obvious, like noting that Bill Gates has never been an NFL linebacker. But it may explain a curious decision of Ryan’s on Wednesday.

For those who missed the drama, several Democratic members of Congress staged a sit-in Wednesday, literally sitting on the House floor until a gun control bill would be heard. This would be shown to the nation via C-SPAN, an all-Congress, all-the-time cable network that normally draws a lower viewership than competitive crochet.

And then Ryan gave the protesters a gift of inestimable value. He ordered the House cameras turned off.

Now, since the cameras belonged to the House and not to C-SPAN, Ryan had the right to do this. No question. But that’s not the same as saying it was a smart thing to do, since:

1) Several of the protesters carried these amazing devices called smart phones and could stream live video for C-SPAN to rebroadcast.

2) Nothing attracts a reporter’s attention – or an audience’s – like a closed door.

It’s sometimes called the Streisand Effect, after a long-ago attempt by the singer to remove a picture of her home from an online collection of 12,000 pictures of the California coastline. Before Streisand’s efforts, six people had viewed the photo online. In the month afterward, that soared to over 420,000.

People want what they’re told they can’t have. Especially when someone powerful or famous says so.

It works on a smaller level, too. Years ago, I was covering the efforts of Emporia, Kan. to hire a new city manager. This was of moderate interest to the community since the incumbent was one of those long-timers who had been around since “Crocodile Dundee” was the biggest thing to hit movie theatres.

And then moderate interest became burning interest. The Emporia City Council went back on an earlier decision and decided it wasn’t going to announce the finalists for the position.

The result was a flood of emails and online comments, a front-page story and a very rapid surrender by the council. The decision to close the doors had become a bigger story than any announcement of the finalists could ever have been.

Most of us, whether reporters or consumers of the news, don’t have a lot of time in the day. There are a lot of things screaming for our attention, most of them claiming to be pants-on-fire urgent. So it’s normal that a lot of stories, sometimes even fairly large ones, will slip beneath the radar of the average reader or viewer.

But we’re also a stubborn bunch. We have been for a long time. And when someone talks down to us saying “You don’t need to see that, “it almost always prompts an immediate “Why not?” For a moment, we KNOW where to focus our attention – and our frustration.

I’m not saying that the gun-control bill was good, bad, or as ugly as Eli Wallach. I am saying that its proponents should send Paul Ryan a thank-you card. Whether they succeed or fail in their quest, they’ve gotten the attention they wanted, and then some.

Come to think of it, maybe the Speaker’s found a second career. I’m sure there are many other struggling broadcasts that could use his assistance in getting a larger audience.

“Live from the Pepsi Center … it’s the 2016-2017 Denver Nuggets season that Paul Ryan didn’t want YOU to see!!”

Couldn’t hurt.

Let us know, Mr. Speaker, willya?

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The Next Step

When we lived in Kansas, Heather once had a surgery that kept her in the hospital for a week. I know it was a week because of the parade of food that resulted.

If you’ve ever lived in the Midwest, you know what I mean. Small towns and church communities have a sixth sense for when one of their own needs help. That’s when the casseroles start lining up – because even if everything else in your life is chaos, by jingo, you won’t have to worry about dinner for a while. Just return the dishes when you’re done.

It was love made visible. Concrete caring.

Which brings me to Orlando.

As I’ve said before, I’m tired of writing about mass shootings. I’m sure most of you are tired of reading about them. We’re all tired of living with them, and the pain and confusion that follow in their wake.

As the drumbeat of violence goes on, seemingly without end, nerves are getting strained. Tempers are growing thin. For Exhibit A, just watch the reaction when any politician makes the now-traditional offering of “Our thoughts and prayers.”

“Never mind the thoughts and prayers, man! What are you going to do?”

Now, as one friend pointed out, thoughts and prayers by themselves are not a bad thing. When a horrific act occurs, we need a quiet space to sort things out. We need to think, to meditate, to pray and commune, so that we can get centered again and see a way forward.

But this should be a beginning. Not an ending.

What do we think about? What do we pray for? When we go into this quiet space, what do we come out ready to do?

When someone is sick, we don’t just offer thoughts, prayers, and cards. We make food. We run errands. We pay visits to ward off loneliness.

When a friend is in tight straits financially, we don’t just wish them luck and move on. We pass the hat. We offer help. Maybe we even slip an anonymous gift card into the mailbox.

When a society is wounded and bleeding, what do we do? The answer is, and always must be, whatever we can to answer the pain.

Our job is not just to pray. It’s to be the answer to someone’s prayer.

As a Christian, my own thoughts go to the challenge of James. “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes or daily food,” he wrote, long centuries ago. “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well-fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? … Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

What do we do?

Do we address the issue of guns? Of mental health? Do we dare look at the problem while it is fresh in our minds and burning in our hearts and offer some sort of answer to it? If nothing else, can we offer any assistance to those still alive, to the families forever scarred by this abominable act?

Or do we simply argue, and groan, and maybe offer a word or two of blame before running for cover? Stand vigil for a bit, change a Facebook image for a week or so, and then move on until the next horror?

If that’s what we want, there’s nothing easier in the world. Just keep it up.

If we want better, we have to work for it. Hope demands nothing less.

Yes, give thought to what has happened. Yes, pray by all means. But in those thoughts, in those prayers, look for the next step on the road. How do we come out of this quiet space ready to make life better?

What do we have to offer? What can we give? What can we create?

The time is now. A world waits.

What will we bring to the door?

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Tugs and Stumbles

When the weather gets hot, I sometimes find myself thinking of the company picnics that my Dad’s work used to have.

You may remember something similar. Lots of food, with an emphasis on potato salad. Lots of people, many of whom only saw each other at something like this. And, invariably, the sorts of games that never got played anywhere else, unless your school had a field day and no compunctions about having some kids win or lose.

For example, there was always a tug of war – one rope, with a not-so-small army of kids and adults gathered on each side, each trying to pull like crazy until the middle of the rope passed to their side. The losers got the fun of sprawling in the dirt or grass with rope burns on their hands; the winners got a ribbon or small prize … and, usually, their own collection of rope burns on their hands as a memory. (There may be a reason this doesn’t get done much anymore.)

Or, for the ultimate in ridiculousness, there was always the three-legged race. Take two people, have them each strap one leg together, and then try to have them walk forward. Unless you have a lot of timing and teamwork, the result is a lot like Goofy after the mallet has fallen on his head; lots of staggering and very little progress. The first pair that can stay upright long enough to cross the finish line wins; the last pair gets to find out the best way to remove grass stains.

This sort of thing doesn’t seem to be done much anymore, which may be one reason we’re all living longer lives these days. (Never underestimate the potency of a potato salad that has sat outdoors for three hours.) But as I watch the state of national politics, I can’t help feeling that we’ve lost some valuable training.

Mind you, we’re all still pretty good at the tug of war. We prove that during every primary and general election, when most of us plant our feet in the ground and refuse to be swayed by anything that could sway us from our chosen position. “Never him!” “Anyone but her!” We pull and tug and haul until main strength decides the contest one way or the other. Of course, at a picnic or field day, you never had a team that tried to pull in five different directions at once, with the result that everyone on your side went sprawling, which demonstrates one of the many ways in which sixth-graders are still smarter than many American voters.

But we’ve lost our talent for the three-legged race. And that’s a pity. Because while the tug of war will get you through an election, you need the three-legged race if you really want to govern – different people learning how to walk together in order to reach a common goal.

Of course, most political “fields” don’t have a commonly-agreed-upon finish line. Sometimes it’s not even clear how long the race is. But like it or not, we’re strapped together and have to cooperate to make even a little progress … or else learn to enjoy the taste of Weed & Feed.

“Winning was easy, young man; governing’s harder,” George Washington notes in the recent musical “Hamilton.” (Yes, I’m still on that kick.) In many ways, it’s like the difference between a wedding and a marriage – one requires short-term planning to achieve an easily defined goal, the other requires long-term survival skills and cooperation, however hard the situation may get.

Many local governments haven’t completely forgotten the skill. It makes a difference when you have to live next door to your opponent. But at the national level, maybe it’s time to look for folks who actually know how to cooperate and step forward, instead of trying to break the ankles of everyone who doesn’t share their (sometimes very eccentric and bizarre) path.

It’s not easy. But then, no one ever said this would be a picnic.

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No Place Like Home

My home is running away from me.

Yes, I wrote that correctly. It’s a simple demonstration of what Jack London might have titled The Call of the Grandchild. When two sisters with three kids between them both choose to live in Washington State, Mom and Dad will follow, and it will be sooner rather than later. The draw of gold panners to the Yukon is a weak thing compared to the draw of getting to be Grandma and Grandpa without the need of plane tickets.

By the time the dust settles, I’ll be the last member of the old team still in the state. By itself, that’s OK. We’ve been scattered before. I lived in Kansas for almost 10 years after college, with co-workers who often asked “You moved here from Colorado? Why?” My sister Carey spent two years in Chicago before coming back to Colorado, while Leslie’s been in Washington for so long that we’re used to celebrating birthdays via Amazon. Through all of it, we knew that blood was thicker than distance, that family endured even when we couldn’t see each other all the time.

But this one’s a little harder.

This time, my folks have sold The House.

The House is where my parents have lived since 1977.  It’s a curious place in a way, more open in the back than the front. According to family history, The House was originally designed to be placed near a golf course and protected from errant shots; when that location didn’t happen, the plans were moved part and parcel to a site on Gay Street instead.

But don’t be fooled by blueprints. That house was open to a lot.

Its backyard was an opening to the galaxy. There sat the three swings that magically transformed into X-Wing fighters when my sisters and I took to the skies; a nearby two-seater was the avatar for the Millennium Falcon.  In the Christmas Blizzard of 1982, it became the ice planet of Hoth; in summers, it hosted backyard baseball games (including, memorably, one broken arm for an unlucky friend).

Its basement hosted tools, plants, books, a half-finished doll house, video games, and an ultra-organized pantry. (FEMA only wishes its planners were as detail-oriented as my Dad.) It was the base for sleepovers, for Bible studies, and for any game my sisters and I could invent. Blackout Tag, where we killed all the lights and searched for each other on our hands and knees, was perhaps not the best idea we ever had, as my black eye could soon attest. (“Tell me again how you ran into a table leg?”)

Every room of its two levels could host similar stories, along with the Rochat Family Zoo. Dogs, cats, a horned toad, birds, a rabbit, and some surprisingly-long-lived fish all called the place home. Looking back, it’s a wonder there was room for people – and yet, it held not only us, but Grandma Elsie as well, who lived in The House with us for a few years and visited often.

When Heather and I moved in with Missy, The House was just a few blocks up the road. It was one of the many things that made a surprising move feel pre-ordained, like pieces fitting together.

Now, The House will make memories for someone else.

It’s a strange feeling.

Ancient Romans spoke of a “spirit of place.” I think any Coloradan could agree with that feeling. We’ve felt the power and even quiet majesty that some locations can hold, from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Sand Dunes. But that power is never stronger than in a place you’ve called home.

When that place is removed, it’s disorienting.

The important things are still true. We’re still a family. We’ll still see each other. The love that was always our real home is still there.

And maybe, sometime, I’ll drop by and meet the new neighbors.

After all, when TIE fighters could strike at any time, it’s only fair to give warning.

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A Duchess in Waiting

When I leave for the store at night, Duchess parks herself beside the window and waits.  It’s a familiar position.

For the newcomers, Duchess the Wonder Dog is the older of our two canines, a 13-year-old mix of border collie and black Lab. She’s shy enough to stay nearly invisible when strangers are around and brilliant enough to have figured out how to beat a pedal trash can and get at the goodies inside.

But what she does best, and what she does often, is wait.

For years, that’s been part of her duties as furry bodyguard to my wife Heather, whom she has been devoted to ever since they reached an understanding over pizza. And like the passage in Ruth, the understanding is simple: “Whither thou goes, I shall go.”

When Heather is in bed not feeling well, Duchess waits nearby.

When Heather gets up, Duchess waits close behind, even if that means following her into the bathroom.

If someone rings the bell, Duchess lets our big dog Blake be the security guard, barking at the door in challenge – her job is to be the messenger, running back to “tell” Heather, and wait by her side.

And of course, she does the waiting any dog might do, whether it’s in the front room to wait for one of us to return, or near the table to see if a stray bit of food might slip. (Admittedly, Big Blake is the master of the latter, with eyes and jaws that are about as opportunistic as a rising politician.)

Now, as the years go by, she’s added some new waiting. Sometimes it’s harder to watch.

She sometimes waits by our bed with intense eyes, trying to see how she can get all the way up when her legs no longer want to do the job.

She waits behind Heather just a beat too long, especially in the kitchen, where my wife will suddenly turn to find a furry hurdle in her path that wasn’t there before.

She still waits with devotion, love and care. But now, there’s a bit of age in the mix as well. And it’s hard to see. We like to think that the ones we love won’t change, can’t change. We don’t like acknowledging that even the best of times can be all too short.

That’s true of dogs. Of people. Of almost anything in the world we give our heart to.

And yet, despite the frailties and the changes, the core remains the same.

Duchess is still Duchess. Her other waiting hasn’t stopped, even if it has become more tentative at times. Her loving heart and curious mind are still there. Sometimes the body is, too, especially on snowy winter days that still make her energetic beyond belief.

So much changing, but so much the same. It’s both the reason the changes hurt so much at times, and the great comfort in the midst of them.

And it’s the unchanging pieces we’ll always remember.

I don’t mean this to be an early eulogy. The time to mourn is later – hopefully much, much later. A love that is still present should be celebrated, embraced, and enjoyed. Leave the future to its time. You’re together now, and now is the time to appreciate it.

Sure, a time will come when things move slower and with more care. But don’t ever let the celebration stop, even if it has to move at a more deliberate tempo.

After all, love is well worth the wait.

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Familiar and Strange

Lately my life has been set to the sounds of “Hamilton.”

Granted, it’s not exactly uncommon for me to put a Broadway cast album on heavy rotation. But this time I have a lot of company. The rap musical about America’s first Treasury Secretary is now the hottest thing on Broadway, winning the Grammy, the Pulitzer Prize, and probably a lot of Tonys in a couple of weeks, all while being sold out into the next presidential administration.

By now, the CD is spending half its time in my car and the other half with friends and family as I repeatedly ask “Have you heard this?” Sometimes it takes quite a while to come back.

It’s probably one of the most unlikely successes on the New York stage. And I’m still trying to figure out exactly what went right. You know, beyond having catchy tunes, acrobatic lyrics, and a truly compelling life story to build around. Any theatre fan knows about fun shows that didn’t last – mass obsession needs something more.

In this case, I think it’s the unfamiliar familiar.

No, my brain didn’t hiccup there. But one of the best hooks for any idea is to be almost familiar, the way a mind latches on to a song lyric you can almost remember or almost make out. (“Louie, Louie,” anyone?) You realize that it’s something you sort of know, but not quite … there’s just enough that’s alien or different to require closer examination.

Like a historical figure that most of us studied in school but only vaguely remember. (The same thing has happened with John Adams a couple of times now.)

Like a Founding Fathers drama that casts minorities and uses rap and R&B to make its musical points.

And maybe most compelling, a political setting that echoes the turmoil of our own, but with hope for the future.

I’ve said before that the Founders aren’t marble figures on a pedestal, nor were their times a stately waltz to the inevitable. In the years after the American Revolution, we had economic distress, brawling factions, threats of outright rebellion, and intense wars of words in the newspapers that sometimes escaped to the dueling ground. A presidential election once sat in paralysis for days because of an Electoral College deadlock, and passionately-held ideas fought for attention with accusations and scandals.

Nothing like the peace and sanity of our own times, right?

In that fact lies a lot of hope. It’s easy to get disgusted, to forget that we’ve been through chaos before and will be again. That’s part of what it means to be a free society – to know that things aren’t going to be neat, pretty, and pre-ordained, but that passion, conflicting motives, and even sometimes outright ignorance and intransigence will be part of the mix.

And yet, somehow, we keep going. In its own way, that’s as unlikely a story as the illegitimate kid from an obscure part of the Caribbean who defended a Constitution and built a national economy before being shot by an aggrieved politician.

“What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see,” Hamilton now declares from the stage. Amid today’s strife, seeds and stories are being planted that could grow into something totally unexpected. As long as we don’t give up on the garden (and on keeping an eye for weeds), it will survive the weather.

We know we can. We have a daily reminder. And a catchy one at that.

Want to borrow the CD and see?

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Fantastic Tales

Beware the dragons. Watch out for the trolls. And always remember that heroes may be hazardous to your health.

Not your usual prescription, I grant you. But it’s apparently second nature to Graeme Whiting, an English headmaster who made international headlines when he declared that fantasy fiction would rot your child’s mind.

No, I’m not overstating it. Kind of hard to, really.

“Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, and Terry Pratchett, to mention only a few of the modern world’s ‘must-haves’, contain deeply insensitive and addictive material which I am certain encourages difficult behaviour in children,” Whiting wrote as part of a lengthy blog post on his school’s website, “yet they can be bought without a special licence, and can damage the sensitive subconscious brains of young children, many of whom may be added to the current statistics of mentally ill young children.”

You might be surprised to learn that he and I agree on exactly one thing: Parents should pay attention to what their children read. Books do indeed open doors onto many places, and every parent should know where their child is spending their time, whether it’s in the park or in the Shire.

But fantasy can open some wonderful doors indeed.

I’m not writing to disparage the more classic works that Mr. Whiting himself loves and encourages for a growing mind, such as Shakespeare or Dickens, which were also part of my reading. Enough so that I’m a bit amused. After all, Dickens was long considered popular trash by lovers of “proper literature” and as for Master Shakespeare – well, whose life couldn’t use a dose of teen marriage and suicide (Romeo and Juliet), eye-gouging (King Lear), witchcraft (Macbeth), and rape and mutilation (Titus Andronicus), with just a sprinkling of cross-dressing and humiliation of authority (Twelfth Night)?

Sure, they’re wonderful – dare I say magical? – stories. But safe? C.S. Lewis once warned visitors to Narnia that the great Aslan was “not a tame lion” and if a story has any power to it at all, it can never be considered a “safe story.” When books meet brains, anything can happen. Anything at all.

Stories have a power that the great authors of fantasy knew quite well.

“Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad adventures?” the hobbit Bilbo Baggins declares in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Tolkien has been my own Gandalf since about third grade, leading my imagination into places both terrifying and wonderful – as have many of the fantasy authors who followed in his wake. My family and I have cheered on Harry Potter, wandered with Taran and Eilonwy, leaped through wrinkles in time, and stumbled through wardrobes into unexpected worlds.

You acquire many things on a quest like that. Beautiful language. Heartbreak and hope. A decidedly quirky strain of humor. And most of all, the realization that evils can not only be survived, they can be overcome.

“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey,” G.K. Chesterton famously wrote in 1909. “What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”

No, stories aren’t safe. Few things worth having are. But they can be priceless.

So yes, have a hand in your child’s reading. Be careful. Be aware. But be open to wonder as well. And don’t fear the dragons.

After all, that is where the treasure is to be found.

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Running the Course

LeeAdianez Rodriguez had been running late. And then she was just running. And running. And running.

The 12-year-old New York girl had meant to line up for a family 5k race in Rochester, a run of about three miles. Somewhere along mile four, she realized something had gone wrong. Quickly checking with another runner, Lee learned the truth – in her rush, she had accidentally joined the competitors for the half-marathon instead, a 13.1 mile competition.

By then, according to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, her mom was trying to find her. The police were trying to find her. And, unaware of that, Lee had decided to keep on running

“I was like, I’m going to finish this, I’m going to keep going,” she told NBC New York.

Finish she did.

“It was such a scary moment for her, but rewarding in the end,” her mom, Brendalee Espada, told the Democrat & Chronicle. “I don’t even know how she did it.”

Sound familiar?

Mind you, I don’t expect that any of us has ever signed up for the Turkey Trot and then accidentally run to Twenty Ninth Street in Boulder for a little shopping. But we all know about getting on a course that’s longer and more exhausting than we’d planned. That’s how life works.

When Heather and I first got married, for example, we thought we’d mapped out the course pretty well. On our first dates, where most people learn about their favorite books and movies, we had filled each other in on our medical history. (OK, so we’re a little weird.) She learned about my epilepsy. I learned about her Crohn’s disease and her endometriosis.

All planned and prepared, right?

Well, except for the part where she got diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis a few years later. And multiple sclerosis a few years after that. And of course, the part in between all that where we became guardians to her disabled aunt, Missy, a constant source of wonder and amazement to both of us.

Other than that, I suppose we were ready. Which is a little like saying “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

We had no clue what we’d signed up for. But we kept running anyway. And so far, we’re still in the race.

It doesn’t have to be that dramatic, of course. But it’s going to happen. Jobs, families, and even hobbies hold unexpected on-ramps and detours that can carry us way out into the countryside before we know what’s happened. (One of my personal favorites remains getting handpicked for the lead in an Oscar Wilde play, with its beautiful, witty language – and then being told I had exactly three weeks to learn the script.) When it comes to signage, life makes the Colorado highway system look clear and sensible.

And most of the time, all we can do is run the race out.

Well, maybe not all we can do. If we’re paying attention at all, we also learn a few things about strength and patience and endurance. We probably get some lessons in flexibility and humor as well. And we definitely discover some experiences that we would never have chosen for ourselves.

Most of all, most of the time, we learn that we can do it. We can last. We can keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when we’d rather just curl up in a ball for a while. We don’t always want to. It’s not always fun and it’s rarely easy. But it’s there.

“I’m going to finish this. I’m going to keep going.”

Words to live by.

After all, what’s another mile or ten between friends?

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Say McWhat?

A couple of years ago, our dog Duchess acquired a middle name for the first time.

“Her middle name is Hunter,” declared a young boy at one of Missy’s summer softball games – a player who, by amazing coincidence, was named Hunter himself. As the pronouncement was made, Heather and I silently tested out the new addition to our timid canine.

Duchess Hunter Rochat. Hm.

It wasn’t bad. And it fit her old habit of chasing down every rabbit in the backyard that she could find, back in her younger days in Kansas. So, without further ado or ceremony, Duchess Hunter Rochat it was.

If only things were that simple for the British.

Some of you may have been following one of the sillier stories in the news cycle: a $300 million polar research boat for the United Kingdom whose name was thrown open to an online poll. The National Environment Research Council was probably hoping for a name connected with penguins, or explorers, or something else sober and traditional.

What it got was over 124,000 votes for “Boaty McBoatface.”

The name had been thrown out as a joke by a former BBC host, then took on a life of its own. By the end of the contest, according to The Guardian, it was crushing the competition with four times the votes of the second-place entry.

Alas, this week, Science Minister Jo Johnson threw cold water on the proceedings. She said the British government would review all the submissions in order to find a more “suitable” name.

McBoo.

“Admittedly, calling a boat Boaty McBoatface was a bad idea, voted on by idiots,” Guardian columnist Stuart Heritage said. “But it was our bad idea.”

I’m often a bit skeptical of Internet democracy. But this time around, I’ve got to agree. It may be ridiculous. It may be downright stupid. But it honestly deserves to survive, no matter what the regret by the gray-faced bureaucrats.

McWhy? Consider this:

1) The National Environmental Research Council wanted to attract more attention to its scientific activities through the contest. It might be fair to say, mission accomplished.

2) As my sister pointed out, it makes an excellent object lesson for anyone conducting an internet contest. When you make a choice open-ended instead of giving a pre-set ballot to choose from, you can never be quite sure what you’re going to get. I mean, imagine if Dave Barry had gotten hold of this one. (He didn’t, did he?)

3) It’s fun. Utter, glorious, stupendously silly fun. And to be honest, we need a bit more of that in the world these days.

Sure, we face serious problems everywhere we look. There’s always a crisis to consider, a candidate to defend, a cause that’s earnest and urgent. And as we all know, it doesn’t take much to stir up an online fist fight around any of these, full of sound and fury and not much real conversation.  Often, the sheer heat of the “debate” protects any of it from being read, unless you’re already a partisan of one side or another.

In the midst of all this, a boat that sounds like it came off the set of Thomas the Tank Engine might be a much-needed piece of whimsy.

Not everything has to be life-or-death. In the physical world, something put under pressure too long will deform or break. Minds need to release pressure, too, for much the same reason. And if it’s by laughing at something silly that isn’t hurting anyone – well, why McNot?

The British used to be famous for eccentricity. Surely the nation that gave the world Mr. Bean, Doctor Who, and the makeup artist for Keith Richards can accept one more excuse to sit back and laugh at itself for adding a little more weirdness to the world.

It’s healthy. It’s refreshing. It breaks people out of their ruts for a moment and makes them smile. So why not bow to the inevitable?

Or just call it Hunter. You know. Whatever floats your McBoat.

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Exit, Left

There’s been a Marian-sized hole in my heart this week.

Those of you who read this paper regularly understand. Not long ago, the Longmont Theatre Company lost one of its stalwarts, Marian Bennett. On and offstage, she touched more lives than a workaholic chiropractor. She could communicate volumes about a character with one perfectly timed gleam in her eye and make you breathless with suspense or helpless with laughter.

I want to say she’s irreplaceable. She’d laugh at that and deflate the notion with her familiar Texas twang. And maybe she’d be right. All of us are … and none of us are. We all bring something unique that goes quiet when we leave. And barring a dramatic change in the history of the world, all of us are going to leave. Life is hazardous to your health, and the rest of us have to be ready to carry on when time brings another of us into the majority.

Easy to say. Hard to feel, to acknowledge, to own.

Especially when it’s someone close.

Doubly so when it’s someone who so undeniably lived.

 

Fill  to me the parting glass,

And drink a health whate’er befalls,

Then gently rise and softly call,

Goodnight and joy be to you all.

– The Parting Glass, traditional

 

The phrase “grande dame” can be easily misconstrued. It can suggest someone on a pedestal at best, a prima donna at the worst. But it literally means the great lady. Marian herself was charmed by the title until she looked it up in a dictionary and found that one of the definitions was “a highly respected elderly or middle-aged woman.”

“That (title) made me feel pretty good until I realized they were saying I was old,” she told me with one of her stage grimaces.

But Marian really did fill a room. Some of it was physical – she was a tall woman who naturally drew attention. A lot of it was that she did her best to reach out to everyone nearby. She wanted to talk, to chat, to hug – but you didn’t feel smothered. You kind of felt like your next-door neighbor had just come over to catch up.

On stage, that translated into the most perfect sense of timing I’ve seen in an actress. She could discard her dignity entirely to cross the stage in roller skates, or gather it around her to become King Lear himself, but she was always who she needed to be, where she needed to be.

Part of that was because backstage she worked like a fiend. (She and I often drilled lines on opening night, just to be absolutely sure.) Part of it was confidence, the same confidence that led her to travel, to speak her mind, to welcome a friend on one meeting. A lot of it may have been her willingness to look cockeyed at the world, and enjoy it when others did, too.

She could be nervous or anxious, like any actor. But I never saw her afraid. You can’t be if you go on stage. You have to be able to look inside yourself and then share it with the world.

Come to think of it, that’s true off stage, too. Life is more fun, more alive, if you can live it without fear. Not without common sense (Mar had plenty of that) but without drawing back from what you might find.

Even that makes her sound like a lesson. Granted, we all are to each other. But we’re all so much more, too. We’re friends and family and teachers and neighbors, connected by more than we can see.

And when that connection is broken, it hurts. For a long time. It never quite heals the same way … and it shouldn’t. You’ve loved them, cared for them, taken on some of their memories. Of course, they’re not going to vanish from your mind and soul like an overdue library book.

They’ve touched you – and you bear their fingerprints.

Goodbye, my friend. It was a pleasure to know you, an honor to work with you.

Take your bow with pride.

I’ll see you after the show.

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