Hey, hey, we’re still listening

pleasant valley sunday

I flicked on the oldies station and there was Micky Dolenz singing “Pleasant Valley Sunday” same as he always did. It occurred to me, as stuff like this often does, that I was listening to what Micky and his colleagues did 50 years ago.

The Monkees were criticized, and often harshly, for not being authentic because they weren’t a “real” band – they were the Pre-Fab Four, a group of young men hired to portray the band in a TV show about a mythical band.

And yet, the music has endured for 50 years. The people who created The Monkees – and that includes the four musicians who were hired to be The Monkees – perceived one important fact: If you’re going to create a fantasy about a popular band, then the band’s music ought to be good enough to be popular. How often does the suspension of disbelief fail because the “popular band” in the story just isn’t that good?

Nope, The Monkees – especially those first four albums or so – made good music. Fifty-years-later-good music. Take that, non-believers.

What if smoke-filled rooms were good for us?

bogart smokingPeople are just so angry anymore, so easily offended, so eager to believe the worst about people who disagree with us, just so darn mad at each other.

How did we get this way? I got to thinkin’.

What if the smoke in the smoke-filled rooms was a good thing? You know, the smoke-filled rooms where political deals were hashed out, once upon a time.

What if there was something in the tobacco that calmed the soul and made people more amenable and more willing to listen? What if tobacco really is a sacred substance that brings peace among warring men? What if by injecting tobacco with cancerous additives that killed so many, we drove ourselves away from a substance that made us more willing to reason, to negotiate, to understand the other point of view?

What if we got so polarized, so indignant with one another, so intolerant of other world views, because deep down in our bodies we just needed a smoke?

So much might be accomplished for the good if we just reclaimed the universal opening line of so many successful meetings of the mind: “Hey, buddy, you got a cigarette?” “Hey, friend, you want a smoke?”

I don’t smoke – never have. I’m just wondering.

Commencement collection


Lately I’ve been thrown into a reflective mood when the anniversary of my entry into the “real world” rolls around. Here are two better essays I’ve written around this date the past couple of years:

4 things I didn’t know on graduation day

A pretty good life, all told, so far

And here are some half-finished thoughts I scratched out this year: Continue reading Commencement collection

9 things that dogs teach us


Dogs teach us so much about life – the importance of a kind word, the touch of a hand, a hug.

The need to play, to chase a ball for nothing more than the joy of running, to feel the air blow into your face.

To nap frequently.

To take life as it comes and never, ever be ready to do anything but love.

Well, love and gobble down a good meal …

Why I choose optimism

The other day I posted the preface to the revised and expanded edition of my book Refuse to be Afraid, which begins:

“As this 2016 edition of Refuse to be Afraid is prepared, the major U.S. political parties have put up the two worst choices of my lifetime. To pick either one is to doom the United States government to four years of scary leadership, their ideas antithetical to the American standard of individual freedom and equality before the law.”

An old friend offered this comment: “I thought you were the eternal optimist. These words clearly convey a message of good old pessimism.”

Oh, perhaps those words are pessimistic, but they are an introduction to an introduction, and I chose the words carefully. Continue reading Why I choose optimism

scene 3

dreamstime_m_7005470 old pickup truck web
Old Pickup Truck Photo
© Typhoonski | Dreamstime.com

(scene 1, part 1)  (scene 1, part 2) (scene 2)

The old truck rattled a lot. I probably should have taken better care of it when it was newer, so it wouldn’t rattle so much now. I suppose.

The important thing is I kept it running now – I know how to take care of it, and it gets me where I need to go. It’s old enough that it doesn’t have computers and GPS and all of the things that track where it is and where it’s been. Not that those things aren’t important – to me – I just don’t know whether they’re important enough to anyone else who’s minding their own business.

After awhile the rattles just fade into the background, and I don’t notice them unless I have a passenger who says, “Whoa! This truck rattles a lot!” or if the rattle changes. Change means something shifted and I should make sure I don’t need to shift that something back into place. Continue reading scene 3

It is still your life to live

I finished another journal today. Tomorrow morning I’ll be reaching for another bound book of blank pages waiting to be filled with fragments of thought and bursts of creativity.

I got curious as to how the last journal ended, so I grabbed it off the shelf and remembered that I used the last page and a half to write a new preface for my book Refuse to be Afraid, which I was re-releasing last summer.

Much has changed since I finished that last journal. But I still believe this with all my heart and soul: Continue reading It is still your life to live