CAT | Personal
Finally it happened, the twice delayed road trip with my children, re-planed and expanded better than ever!
First day to the panhandle of Oklahoma. This year it looked greener than I’ve ever seen it due to an unusually wet year.
Our plan was to cruise the back highways through the panhandle and cross over to New Mexico to see Capulin Volcano National Park. My son saw it when he was five years old and his little sister was all of three weeks old carried around the rim of the ancient cinder cone in a sling by her mother.
My son is by now heartily sick of the story of that first trip, but it’s still a fave with his little sister. How we made the decision on the fly to drive from Black Mesa to see the volcano – and how we made the mistake of telling him what we were going to see.
So for two-and-a-half hours we listened to, “Are we there yet? Is that the volcano?”
“No! It’s two hours. Now be quiet!”
“OK… Is THAT the volcano?”
As we approached the volcano we began to fear he’d be terribly disappointed it wasn’t spewing fire.
No worries, he loved it. Just as nine years later his sister loved it, scampering up the path around the rim as Daddy and Big Brother labored to climb breathing the air available at 8,200 feet.
From Capulin to Colorado to have lunch with a friend who’ll be important in their lives in time to come. From Colorado to Wyoming to bathe in the hot spring pools of Thermopolis, a perennial favorite of ours from when we lived in Wyoming.
After picking up a tinge of pink because of course we’d forgotten that sunlight in high altitudes reflected off water equals burn, we went on to Devil’s Tower, which I’d visited once years before. We took a mile hike around the base and marveled at the climbers we could barely see high above us.
From Devil’s Tower to Deadwood, South Dakota. Took daughter for a walk downtown while my son settled a quarrel on an online gamer group. And how odd is it that he can pursue personal relationships with a group of people, some old friends and some he’s never met in person, while traveling thousands of miles around the country?
Took Little Bit to a sandwich place in an old gas station that also features a glass blowing studio.
“I like Deadwood,” she announced after looking around.
Fetched son, showed the kids the saloon where Wild Bill Hickock was murdered. Kids agreed this was major cool.
A kindly local directed us to Miss Kitty’s for pizza. Kids greatly amused aged Daddy misheard “Poor House Pizza.”
“You named a pizza for a bordello?” I said.
“No, POOR house.”
“Well it is Deadwood,” I said defensively.
Made the hand-off to their mother next day and left the two old Deadwood hands to show her around.
I love traveling. Maybe it’s in the blood. Family genealogies show no generations have been buried in the place they were born for centuries now.
Or maybe I picked up the wanderlust as a Navy brat. I’d made two Atlantic crossings by the time I entered first grade.
I’ve traveled all over Eastern Europe by train, and long stretches of the Arabian Peninsula by car.
But best of all I love to travel in my country by car, especially the Midwest and West. I love to take the old US Highways rather than the Interstates. I love to take my kids to eat in local restaurants where the food is best and the people always ready to chat.
I love to take them to places we’re familiar with, and new places we’ll become familiar with.
I have not been able to provide a lot of stability for my children in many ways. They live in a rental house with an eccentric single father. We’ve moved a lot, and I fear not for the last time. Their closest relatives are far away and hard to visit.
But I can do this for them. I can take them around the vast spaces of this big lucky country of ours, visiting favorite places and discovering new ones. Meeting people with skills and stories.
This is how I tell my children however far they roam and wherever they live, “This is your country, here you will always be home.”
Monday morning my little girl asked if her friend could ride to school with us.
“OK sure, no problem,” I said absent-mindedly.
“And could you sign these papers?” she asked.
OK, permission slip for Park Day. Oops, discipline slip. A blotch on a usually perfect record, this one for late work. Grades – hey, advanced in reading! So glad.
Friend’s mother drops her off. We drive to school me still musing in the car.
Then I hear from her friend, “And I have to answer a lot of questions to see if I’m depressed or have anxiety.”
“Honey, sometimes you’re not depressed, sometimes you’re just sad,” I told her.
“Yeah,” she answered. “Sometimes I’m sad because the boys make fun of my name.”
“Well listen,” I told her. “In a few years they’ll all be wanting dates and then you can be mean to them if you want to.”
I should mention that she, like my daughter, is nine. And like my daughter she’s very pretty and will probably grow up to be beautiful, so the possibility of being mean to the boys is no idle threat.
She and my daughter have frequent sleepovers either our place or hers. Never been a problem. I’ve never seen any signs she’s anything other than a happy normal little girl.
Of course there could be things I don’t see. But I’ve got this feeling the schools are looking for psychological problems when the problem is childhood.
Kids can be pretty rotten to each other. I was physically bullied as a child in school because I was puny and kind of a smartass. (I dealt with it by learning to fight – and to be less of a ****.)
My son has a different problem. At 14 he’s bigger than I am – and I’m not little. He’s not a target for physical bullying, but the teasing, slanging, insulting are just as hard to take. Maybe harder because he can’t fight back.
My daughter may be the most well-adjusted person I know. She’s physically active, popular, has lots of friends, and is kind to kids who are not so popular.
It worries me. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. She lives in a broken home and is being raised by an eccentric older single father. Shouldn’t she have some problems?
Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free Range Kids movement and official “Worst Mother in the World,” has pointed out that statistics prove this country at this time is the safest it’s ever been to be a child.
Yet we are full of anxiety for our children.
My children have more freedom to venture further away from home than pretty much all of their age-mates. And their confidence shows. Other little girls look to my daughter to accompany them on walks. Neighborhood boys are beginning to cultivate my son’s friendship. Perhaps because they like the idea of having a big friend.
It’s not that I don’t worry about my children, it’s that I get a grip on myself when I do. I’ve lived in dangerous places. I know the difference between the reality of danger and paranoia.
It’s not that I discount the possibility of psychological problems. My immediate family has many cases of depression, hyperactivity, and Aspergers. It’s that I know the difference between those kind of problems and the **** life throws at you.
So why are we so worried?
Some of it has to be the technology. We didn’t have iPads, the Internet, or smart phones. It is having some kind of effect on our kids but we have no idea what the long-term effect will be, because there hasn’t been a long term yet.
And of course the media has something to do with it as well. Criminal predation on children is rare – but because it’s rare it’s news. Which gives us the impression it’s more common than it actually is.
And could it be we’re worried about ourselves and projecting it onto our children?
But for the second time in two weeks he didn’t die, and I’m exhausted.
Glossip was convicted in two trials for hiring Justin Sneed to murder Van Treese. Murder for hire is considered heinous enough to merit the death penalty, even though the actual killer got only life in a medium-security prison.
I will state up-front that I’ve mostly heard from the people who think Glossip is innocent. I have tried to look for the case for the prosecution to be fair, but I must say the level of uncertainty here is enough to make me very nervous about killing a man.
The case for the prosecution appears to consist of the testimony of a meth head petty thief, plus Glossip’s highly suspicious actions following the murder. Glossip did not report the murder immediately and locked the motel room where the body was.
However, there are other explanations for this behavior – the obvious one being panic.
The prosecution’s theory of motive seems very far-fetched to me. That Glossip hoped after the murder of his employer that his widow would just give him both of Van Treese’s motels (in Oklahoma City and Tulsa) to manage.
Come on! How likely is that?
Neither jury saw a video of Sneed’s interrogation where he changed his story multiple times, and only implicated Glossip when the detectives suggested Glossip put him up to the murder.
The defense team is not stressing this, but Glossip is certainly guilty of being an accessory AFTER the fact. For which he would have quite deservedly gotten some time, but likely been out by now.
I got into this riding on the coat tails of Tim Farley, who has followed this story from the beginning. He’s done all the work and I stepped into it just because I’m doing some casual free lancing for The Red Dirt Report and have the time to travel.
So there I was, preparing to go to join the press pool at the media center of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, popularly known to us Okies as “Big Mac.”
I told my son, 14, and my daughter, nine, where I was going and what I was going to do. I told them there were corn dogs in the freezer and that I’d likely be home late if the execution went through.
“Then I hope you come home early Daddy,” my daughter said.
I told her they had cookies at the media center.
“Ohhh, can you bring me some?” she pleaded.
“No!” surprising myself a little with how vehemently I said it.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because Daddy is a superstitious Celt at heart and I’m not going to bring my baby girl cookies from an execution party,” I explained.
“You’re mean,” she said.
You can follow the link to the story I wrote for the Red Dirt Report. I’m rather proud of it, considering I wrote it late at night, dead tired, after I’d driven home, fed my kids, did the eye exercises for my girl’s ambliopia, and put them to bed.
I’m still processing this experience, and it’s not over yet. I want it to mean something because a man I think is probably innocent, and certainly hasn’t been convicted with enough certainty to warrant death, may yet die in another 37 days.
Like a lot of people I’m conflicted about the death penalty. I’m terrified of mistakes, and since the death penalty was reinstated more than a hundred people have been released from death row in America, 10 of them in Oklahoma alone.
Worse, the guilt of some who have been executed has been called into question.
And I want this to mean something to my children, because the world is a dangerous place, especially for those who don’t know how dangerous it can be.
I’ve been on the road for two weeks, starting from Oklahoma to Colorado, to Wyoming, to North Dakota, Minnesota and back to Oklahoma. I visited with friends each stop of the way, took some training and gave some training in martial arts. All in all a very productive trip.
I’ve always liked road trips and I like camping as well. Campgrounds are a cheap alternative to motels, and if setting up and breaking camp is a hassle KOA has cabins for about half the price of a decent motel. You have to bring your own bedding though. Big deal, it’s like a room with a bathroom down the hall except it’s across the lawn.
It’s like my old dad used to say, “The definition of a good traveling companion is one who doesn’t mind a bathroom down the hall.”
KOA cabins even have wifi, TV and air conditioning. However I found a campground outside Casper, Wyoming with cabins that had neither, but were only $25.
After a lifetime of moving around restlessly, I think I am beginning to master the art of travel.
When I was younger I was intoxicated by the idea of covering ground in a short time. Now I like to turn off the road and investigate whatever catches my fancy. The picture above was taken in Jasper, Minnesota a town of 633 residents located at the intersection of Minnesota State Highways 23 and 269.
There is evidently a windmill business in Jasper. These are the little decorative ones. What I missed about a mile and a half north of town was a 10-acre yard where Terry Rodman has a collection of larger working windmills.
I discovered author Steven Pressfield when I was living in Warsaw, Poland and just starting out as a professional writer.
The book was “Gates of Fire” about the battle at the Hot Gates, called Thermopylae in Greek. I bought it because I’ve always been fascinated by the last stand of the 300.
(Actually closer to 7,000 at the beginning of the defense of the pass. At the end the remnant of Leonidas’ guard stood with 700 citizen soldiers of the small city of Thespia who refused to leave when he sent the bulk of the Greek force away after getting news the path around the pass had been betrayed to the Persians.)
When I opened the book I knew right away I had a work of literary genius on my hands. I have since read more of Pressfield’s books, but none has quite hit me like that one.
Although I must say, after seeing the movie made from “The Legend of Bagger Vance” I marvel that he could grip my attention with a work about golf – a sport I am not merely uninterested in, but one I have an active dislike of.
Every book you enjoy is a wonderful gift from someone you may never meet. But the greatest gift Pressfield has given me is the concept of Resistance. He writes about Resistance often on his blog, and in his books such as “The War of Art.”
Resistance is a writer’s constant companion.
Resistance wakes up with me when I first check my email, get my children up and send them off to school
Resistance has breakfast and coffee with me while I think about what I’m going to write today.
Resistance gives me an overwhelming desire to do housework when I’m stuck on a sentence.
Resistance whispers in my ear that I can’t finish a book-length work and nobody will be interested anyway.
Resistance says tomorrow is always a better day to start.
Resistance asks wasn’t it better when you had a flesh-and-blood boss to tell you to write? Wasn’t it better when you wrote for an audience you knew was there every day?
I have known Resistance for a long time. She has been with me all my life, and will never leave me.
But though I often give in, I know I must never give up.
Pressfield showed how to defeat Resistance in the most masterful way – write about it.
Now back to work.
Well big shot NBC anchor Brian Williams got caught in a lie.
Well actually he got caught telling a lie over and over again for many years and now network execs are looking into a whole series of possible fabrications and his expense account to boot, while he cools his heels for six months without pay.
That six months pay is reportedly in the $5 million range.
We’ll see if Williams is ever welcome back in the chair. Rumor has it there are other journos like Katie Couric who are eyeing it and that Tom Brokaw has wanted him gone for a while now.
I’ve got two observations about this. One is that Williams is not exactly a journalist, he’s a news reader.
The paradox of broadcast journalism is that once you get to the coveted top spots you’re not collecting news you’re presenting news collected by others. Often as sort of an MC of news where you introduce someone reporting from the field. It used to be that you worked your way into that comfortable position with your reporting creds, but more and more it’s all about being good-looking, having a nice speaking voice, and being able to radiate sincerity. All of those things Williams has in spades.
They are also the characteristics of a good serial liar.
But face it, it’s not likely anyone is ever going to come to broadcast journalism with the cred of Walter Cronkeit, Mike Wallace, Andy Rooney, or Paul Harvey again. Maybe it was a case of envy, of wanting so much to be like those giants of yesteryear that his fantasy life became more real than his real life.
And maybe there’s something else as well.
We live in a world today where sober academics proclaim that there is no absolute truth, only “social constructs.” And this has filtered down to the street as well.
I remember a few decades ago when a particularly vindictive ex was going around telling people (including calling up my mother) that I’d “beaten her up twice.” I had not, and in fact nobody among our circle of friends and acquaintances believed her. Among other reasons, she had no bruises to show and by that time her manifest charm was beginning to slip and she was alienating a lot of other people.
One friend of hers however said I was harsh to call her a liar.
“How so?” I asked. “She told a lie, and not a harmless one.”
“Well maybe it was true for her,” she replied.
“It – did – not- happen,” I said. “It’s a lie.”
“Well maybe it’s true for her,” she repeated.
Understand, she was not claiming I was the liar and my ex wasn’t. She was saying we each had our own contradictory version of the truth – and they were in some sense both true. I don’t know about you, but the idea of this concept permeating our courts and newsrooms gives me cold chills. I think it’s already permeated our politics.
But I think the difference between some of the lies told by public figures these days, and good old-fashioned lying to cover up something wrong, illegal or embarrassing, is these are not self-conscious lies but self-aggrandizing stories told by people who do not believe there is such a thing as objective truth.
We are now ensconced in our new home, mostly unpacked and semi-organized. I also have two sick kids and I’m not feeling tip-top myself.
My daughter came home from school with a scratchy throat. Took her to a nearby walk-in clinic and the nice PA said, “You have strep young lady.”
Oh boy, I have what amounts to a hereditary weakness to strep which used to regularly knock me flat on my back for a week once a year. However in adulthood it doesn’t seem to bother me as much and I haven’t experienced that feeling of gargling with napalm it used to bring. I’m told it’s not that my immune system has gotten stronger, it’s that strep has evolved into a less malign form. Even among microorganisms it’s considered rude to murder your host.
So of course my son and I both got it. What’s odd is how the symptoms and recovery differ. My little girl is still active and energetic, but lost her voice and can only speak in a scratchy whisper. She communicates with gestures and a stack of notes she wrote: “Yes,” “No,” “I don’t care” etc.
My son however has a slightly ulcerated sore throat.
I myself was knocked flat and though my throat wasn’t noticeably painful it was a tremendous effort just to stand up. A friend reported the same feeling.
One to two days sleeping around the clock and I was up and on the mend (knock wood!) without the aid of antibiotics. My children’s illness however still lingers even with strong doses of antibiotics.
It was about this time I became vaguely aware that Rush Limbaugh had said something-or-other about illegal immigrants bringing measles or something into this country and was getting excoriated for it. Well that’s Rush, he enjoys irritating people.
I do not. I would rather start a discussion that makes people think.
However thought being an often painful exercise, one often precedes the other.
So with some trepidation I’m going to have to say, Rush’s central point is correct. And I know this because I asked them at the local office of the Department of Health as I was getting my kids vaccinations for school.
When we moved from Wyoming to Oklahoma in between semesters I found there were a few more vaccinations required here, measles among them. Furthermore there is no grace period. In Wyoming I believe it was three weeks to get your kids the jabs, after they started classes. Here, no jab no school.
So I asked, “Is that because there are lots of students here from places with different vaccination protocols?”
“Yes,” the nice nurse said.
See? Simple question. No politics, no problem.
Every parent knows schools may be fine institutions for preparing our kids for the future, and getting them out of our hair for a few blessed hours a day, but they are also gigantic petri dishes swarming with disease cultures.
That’s just the way it is. Deal with it, don’t shout about it. My voice is to weak to shout anyway.
“Hi, been a long time hasn’t it?”
“Sure has, haven’t seen you around much.”
“Well I’ve been busy.”
OK, what I’ve been busy doing has been merely rearranging my life in every important respect.
Firstly, I’ve moved again. That’s two moves in less than a year with all the hassle that implies: packing and un-, getting the kids into new schools, vaccinations, setting up home office, getting finances in order for a business venture, etc.
I am restarting my self-syndication venture. I’ve been a columnist with a miniscule number of subscribers for three years now. I had to suspend attempts to expand as I was working full time and had just gotten full custody of my two children.
Writing is not the problem. It’s the incredibly tedious legwork involved in combing state newspaper association websites, gathering names and email addresses, making the pitch to each and every one of them by name, enduring crushing rejection, you know – all that stuff that makes life worth living.
Plus working on a series of books I have planned. I’ve got the first ready to publish on Kindle.
Oh and did I mention two children? A son who spends entirely too much time online gaming and needs to be gotten out of the house for camping, canoeing, fitness activities (not that Daddy couldn’t use some of that too) and a little girl I have absolutely no idea how to buy clothes for.
I’m also setting up a martial arts school for a few private students and small groups in my garage.
You could say I’ve got a full plate.
The secret to handling a busy life is organization, and for a writer that means defining your audience. Who are you writing for?
There’s an old saying in the writer biz, “If you’re writing for everybody, you’re writing for nobody.”
In this day and age, a lot of how you write has to do with your media. I have been archiving my columns on this blog, but I’m going to do a lot less of that.
Columns have a certain format, a certain voice. You have to make a point in 500-700 words.
Blog posts are different. You can be freer with your choice of length from hurried notes to longer, more rambling essays and lord I do love to ramble sometimes!
I’m also offering movie reviews. At my last newspaper I sort of fell into that by accident, because the lady doing it loathed the job. I loved it, and it gave me an excuse to see a movie once a week.
And I’m going to be taking the occasional freelance assignment, offering my services to cover events for rural newspapers that happen outside their coverage area.
So why am I doing this?
Because I love to write, and because I’m a single dad.
I have to support my children financially, and I have to be there for them because there’s nobody else.
And because I think there’s a huge debate going on in this country about how we should govern ourselves, how we should act on the world stage, and how we can secure the good life for ourselves and our children.
I want to be part of that debate. I think I have something to contribute to it, and I think the debate has been dominated by coastal elites for too long.
That’s why I’m calling my venture “Flyover Country Media.”
Well, that’s a jot of balls to keep in the air for sure. But at times like this I like to remind myself that Clark Kent is a journalist.
I have been a professional writer, meaning I get paid for what I write, for going on two decades now. I’ve been making a full-time living at it for six years now.
I started with five goals as a writer:
1) Write regularly.
2) Publish what I write.
3) Get paid for what I write.
4) Make a living writing.
5) Make a lot of money writing.
I like to say I’m on stage four. However each stage is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last, so the jump from four to five…
When I started getting paid for writing advertorials for the English-language press in Poland, I looked on it as paid practice.
When I became a working journalist it imposed a certain kind of structure on my writing: more terse than my usual wont, and organized in the “inverted pyramid” style. It’s not quite how I like to do essays, and I think of myself as an essayist above all, but it’s great discipline.
Opinion columns are great practice too. You have to make your point within a certain word limit, which really makes you think about how to organize your thoughts and what is the minimum necessary to leave in to support your point.
I’ve also written quite a few movie/TV reviews and that is a whole lot of fun.
Now I’ve taken off six months from work to write a book, maybe two short books, and it’s a whole different ball game.
I’ve actually written two books already. One was a book of vocabulary-building essays for English students and teachers who are non-native speakers.
The other was a book on linguistic humor for the same audience. Meaning jokes that cannot be translated because they use a feature of the language, lexical or phonetic, for humorous effect: puns, play on words, spoonerisms, accent and dialect jokes, etc.
Now I’m working on a book with some of my thoughts on politics, “The Progressive Mind and Other Essays.”
Like my other books it’s partly a collection of essays, revised and expanded, and partly new material written to extend my original insight and bring it all together.
A lot of the work so far has been just copying and pasting the essays, writing transitions and editing. And boy has there been a lot of editing!
I have had to ruthlessly prune phrases down to single words or eliminate them entirely. I constantly ask myself, “Does this support the point or did you just include that because you thought it was interesting?”
And I have to organize thoughts I’ve had that previously just rumbled around in my brain.
It’s a challenge for sure, and win, lose, or draw it’ll make a better writer out of me.
But what’s really tough is the self-doubt and failure of nerve that threatens to overwhelm sometimes.
That nagging little voice that asks, “Is this really good? Is anybody ever going to find this insight as fascinating as you do? Have you got it in you to finish this?”
I’m discovering that writing can be an act of courage as much as discipline.
Well after a wild and well-spent weekend, both my kids are home sick.
I’d promised my little girl that Saturday we could go to Thermopolis, Wyoming. Thermopolis as the name suggests, is a town built around natural hot springs. My children’s favorite park has water slides and large pools filled with warm mineral water.
Next day they wanted to go swimming at the local rec center. So a great time was had by all.
Monday morning they’re vomiting, coughing and complaining of headaches. I keep them home from school. The girl installs herself in front of the television, big brother retires to bed with his computer.
How nice to know he’ll have a profession he can practice if he’s ever disabled (said Daddy, voice dripping sarcasm).
These days I’m working out of home so I don’t have to worry about checking up on them constantly.
On the other hand my writing schedule is shot and in the midst of running to the store for ginger ale (settles the stomach) and cucumbers (for my daughter the picky eater) their mother emails with links to articles about a new and ominous enterovirus that’s going around.
“Going around” these days means a total of about a thousand kids over a ten-state area have contracted it, a handful seriously. This is not what I’d call a pandemic but it’s enough for a journalist to view with alarm.
So I’m late with my column, have just made my second trip to the grocery store in 30 minutes and have just noticed that suspicious feeling of stuffiness in the sinuses on one side of my face.
Well here I am, about to spend another not very productive day out of the six months I’ve rationed myself for writing projects and looking up statistics about guys in the same boat.
The first thing I found out was, I was wrong about how many of “us” there are. By “us” I mean single fathers. I had thought 17 percent of single-parent households were headed by single dads.
Nope. According to Pew Research Center, a source I trust because they often come up with results they don’t like, of single-parent households 24 percent are headed by dads.
Out of all households with minor children, single dads head eight percent as of 2011, up from one percent in 1960.
In raw numbers that’s about 2.6 million, up from 300,000 in 1960.
During that same period single-mother households increased from 1.9 million in 1960, to 8.6 million in 2011.
Pew said, “Single fathers are more likely than single mothers to be living with a cohabiting partner (41% versus 16%). Single fathers, on average, have higher incomes than single mothers and are far less likely to be living at or below the poverty line—24% versus 43%. Single fathers are also somewhat less educated than single mothers, older and more likely to be white.”
Well let’s see. Living with a cohabiting partner – no, and it ain’t gonna happen. Any lady I bring home will be thoroughly vetted. Till then there’s a fire wall between my kids and anyone I may date. Any day now. Line forms to the right.
Oh, and did I mention dates have to end early enough for me to tuck my kids in? No coming home at 1 p.m.
Income and poverty line?
Well since I’m currently working at home on a highly speculative literary venture I have no income, so poverty line.
Pfaugh! We don’t act poor or feel poor. Sometimes we’re broke though.
Education? Masters degree.
Older? Check. I could be their grandfather. A fact they tease me about often.
White? Well yes, unless you go by the “one known drop” rule.
So what else do we know about single-dad households?
We know the effects of single-mother headed households. A generation of young men more prone to failure in school and in life in every significant metric: education, prison, drug use, divorce, etc.
This is NOT to denigrate the huge number of single moms doing a great job under difficult circumstances. I know many of them, and as an honorary single mom have been part of their support circles/child care collectives. But there’s not a one of them who wouldn’t tell you they wish it were different.
But single dads are flying blind. As best I can tell there is little to no research as to parenting outcomes. Perhaps because up to recently there hasn’t been a large enough sample size.
How wonderful! My kids and I are participating in cutting-edge research.
Pfffffffffffff! (Bronx cheer.)