Category Archives: Biographical

The Day Of The Last Word

He turned to look back at the table. He didn’t remember resolving to leave the note there; he supposed instinct had taken over. The note remained on the table, face up, its small blue script unreadable from several feet away. The tone was etched in his heart. The specific words written there could have been redacted to contain a single word: pitiless.

He resignedly shrugged, turned, pulled up his mask, and exited the restaurant. He’d been callously reminded that life seldom follows one’s expectations and that the cliché regarding risk sometimes had real fangs with which to pierce us. Even when guided by our best and most noble intentions, life sometimes holds no discernible reward. “Intentions don’t change consequences,” he whispered to himself. It had become a mantra for him, as his resolve and confidence dissolved into confusion and hurt.

As he departed, a weight lifted from his body, one he hadn’t realized he still carried. Words hold no power without our minds to empower them. Some words are talismans and should be kept carefully. Or released, along with the power they may hold. The letter was the latter. It might as well have been blood-stained.

He looked up into the light rain as it fell past the awning overhanging the facade of the eatery. The skies were grey, but he didn’t notice. His pace quickened as he crossed the brilliant white crosswalk.

He hadn’t learned any lessons, other than that of his own naiveté. There would be no moral of the story, no exhumed realizations, no voiceover takeaway in his head. Just a series of lurches as things unraveled and as entropy exerted its morbid control over things. Even when a person realizes he’s on the wrong path, he can’t always turn and walk the path back to safety. The road is often invisible, unpassable, or closed. And sometimes lined by savages with rocks aimed at your head, seeking revenge for a crime you’ve already paid for. Sometimes, we throw rocks at ourselves.

“Me,” the note was signed.

Indeed.

It was a fitting last word of communication between them.

For all the reasons.

Somewhere, perhaps in a day, week, or month, he knew he’d look up and find himself again. The autopsy of moments would conclude. From time to time he might wonder what it all had meant. As time’s fog rolled in, the question would lose focus and recede into history.

Time is the kindest revisionist, giving us space to maneuver our heads around our stumbles, fumbles, and falls.

We learn our lessons in reverse. And sometimes, there is no new lesson, other than accepting that life is going to throw inside curveballs with surprising frequency, no matter who you are or the choices you’ve made.

He laughed as he neared his car. It wasn’t exactly true, that part of learning no lesson. He pulled out the notes shoved in his jacket pocket. There they were: “Don’t be a dumbass,” and “Choose your hard.” He hadn’t worked out the formula for which might take predominance in his life but he knew that both would mold his choices as he moved forward.

It occurred to him that he should tattoo the ‘dumbass’ one on his arm as a constant reminder – and then he wondered if the temptation to do just that was an affirmation that it wouldn’t stop him from continuing to be one.

He would do nothing, and that would be perfect.

Time would have to wash over him and hopefully remove the detritus of dumbassery from his shoulders.

And if not, life always moves forward, carrying us into unseen corridors.

He could work with that.

And if not, life didn’t ask for his opinion.

My Story

Periodically, I take the time to write about writing.

The safest writing rule is: “Don’t.”

Everyone who writes struggles to avoid deliberately hurting people when they write. Most writers incorporate bits and bites, if not from whole cloth, from their lives. Good people don’t intentionally stab at others if it can be avoided. Good people also take a breath and consider that they might be filtering the words in a way that’s unintended.

I write stories that combine disparate elements of life. There have been times when I’ve written a story that is one hundred percent fiction and still had people criticize me for ‘stealing their stories.’ In others, I hide the truth in plain sight, as is the case with the stolen baby story, or the one about the vengeful abused girl who grew up to exact her revenge. People share a lot of secrets with me. I am grateful and don’t set out to repay that sharing by hurting them.

It is possible that people will personalize some of the writing. This happens even when their story wasn’t in my head when I wrote it.

That’s part of the reason I remind people to stop raising their hands if they think I’m talking about them.

Chances are, I am not.

Either way, raising your hand or objecting instantly removes the doubt as to whether my writing applies to you. Or more succinctly, that you think it does. (It becomes self-identification.)

While everything that happens to me is fair game for me to write about, anyone who reads what I write should easily see that I am judicious in my restraint and especially so for current shenanigans and goings-on. Time always morphs our initial reactions. We need time to process events; though the immediate ‘take’ we have gives us insight, so too does the passage of time.

I could be fearless and accountable to no one and spew out a wildly true and interesting blog. But it would also result in needless anger, harm, and hurt feelings. That similarity to shouting in anger does have its payoffs – but the consequences to the payoffs are invariably bad and reveals our lesser selves. I fail sometimes to take enough time to consider. Don’t we all? I try not to. But it is critical to understand that we all own our own stories.

So, if you read my blog, you’re going to have to trust that what I post is well-considered, even if ridiculous.

I would write a list of recent “I thought he was talking about” stories, but there are too many.

To be absolutely clear: it is possible that I’m being an asshole and that it isn’t your imagination. If that is communicated to me, I will probably rectify the confusion or applicability. Contrary to what many people think, being an obtuse asshole does not pay off in the long run. Or conversely, I could tell the story in its unvarnished form.

Hey, I’m not perfect. Just give me some leeway here, okay?

A Mixed Post Of Story and Trivia

1/4 of all your bones are in your feet.

*

*

“Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.” – Internet quote.

*

*

He stopped and stared at the long rectangular Target sign at the front of the parking lot. Though the sun shone brightly, the chill of winter still clung to him. His life had become one continuous transition. His heart felt the pull of softness and also the duality of the hardness needed to live a good life. Making choices always cut one’s life into disparate columns; a choice made inevitably rendered another to be toothless. Most people found themselves unable to keep regrets from spoiling their minds; restless minds fill with regrets of things both done and undone, attempting an impossible balance.

The horn behind him startled him. He laughed as he jumped, waving to let the other driver know he was sorry. It had bleeped a long, consistent tone. “Forward now!” it said.

Just like that, he did.

He left the indecision behind him.

“Be happy,” he said, to no one and to everyone. Like his car, his life lurched forward.

*

*

I want you to feel this sentence in your head, to experience the soft agony of a fleeting moment accelerating past. Words are knives, yet sharp edges have utility. The smell of wood smoke in December, hovering above a blanket of quiet snow. The smell of Saturday morning bacon or salt pork, your grandmother’s loving fingers artfully guiding the pieces in the hot pan, her mind focused on the utility of feeding those she loves. The smile of a September bride, her eyes opened to only possibilities and love, miles distant from those tragedies that always befall us. The tap of a piano beginning its melody in the background as someone lifts a cold beer from the family table. A raucous laugh bursting from an amused mouth. The sharp involuntary intake of breath when beauty is within reach. The rush of saliva in one’s mouth with the first bite of fried chicken, a grilled hamburger, or bell peppers slightly charred on a grill. Words are knives, but they are also caresses, ones crafted for delighted eyes and open hearts, to be whispered into attentive ears and crafty mind. Everything is a moment to an observant mind.

*

*

“When life gives you lemons, squirt someone in the eye.” Cathy Guisewite

*

*

Did you know that a truel is a duel except that three participants are involved instead of two? Most people don’t. Invariably, if I use the word without context, most people don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. (It’s the same when I use the word “antepenultimate,” which means “next to next to last,” or “third from last.” It’s a handy word. P.S. “X” is the antepenultimate letter of the English alphabet.)

*

*

He sat motionless at the window, his mind trapped in an alternate universe, another timeline, one in which he was essentially himself, yet immersed in the consequences of other choices. This day would have been substantially distinct, its eddies and currents carrying him far afield from his comfort zone. Tom Wingo echoed in his head. He knew that most people wouldn’t understand the complexities of a complicated life. The invisible and hidden worlds contained inside our own minds are within reach of us all; seldom do people share them, for fear of their essential selves becoming unraveled. It is precisely inside these private compartments of our minds that we reside.

*

*

If I tell you, “J is the only capital letter that faces the left,” you might immediately recognize that it is true. Despite this recognition, most people will stop and take a moment to inventory the alignment of their own alphabet. And if your mind is wired like mine, you will undoubtedly assign another moment to inquire as to why this small fact is true. Surely, there must be a reason.

*

*

Someone wrote me and offered this unsolicited advice. I rewrote it to this: “The best partner is both critic and fan, unafraid to alternate between the extremes of correction and adoration.” Can you imagine if this were to be true in your own life?

*

*

Can someone tell me why “Leave by example” isn’t a better cliché than “Lead by example?”

*

*

Curiosity has its limits. For instance, I often see a picture of a beautiful person and wonder how many minutes have passed since they REALLY let one rip.

*

*

*

*

About 1 in 10 people regrow at least some part of their tonsils back after removal. This fact has always stuck in my head, no pun intended.

*

*

I am 19,717 days old today. Yay!

*

*

Bananas are still the most popular item sold at Walmart.

*

*

People don’t sneeze while they are sleeping. If you sneeze, you will wake up before doing so.

*

*

A couple of the rooms here are flooded with rainbows emanating from the prisms I have in the windows. It’s the first day of Spring here in the United States. The day brought a lot of sunshine, some of which reached my heart today. That is a welcome change.

*

*

Humor In The Turmoil

Note to self: MOVING a treadmill without assistance is a hell of a lot more exercise than walking on one. So if you get bored walking on one, shove it from room to room for an hour, and let’s talk.
*
Additional lesson learned: quitting halfway through isn’t an option, even if you have to navigate it through two narrow doors. And climb over it like a jungle gym a dozen times.

The Dimday

My decision to visit downtown for food was a stolen moment, one both spontaneous and light. I wonder if coincidences happen or if serendipity exerts unseen control.

Downtown was an eerie place that afternoon around five. Dimday is a word that describes the point when light surrenders. Winter came like a blanket to a place unaccustomed to it. For those who relish the greyed out quiet, it was beautiful. You can count me among them. Sunlight brings joy, distracted and widened eyes to witness the carnival of our exposure; winter commands reflection and thought.

I parked a street away, around the block, and walked along the broken sidewalk, heading toward one of the rejuvenated eateries along the old street. A mother with her young son crossed near me. She was pleased to hear me greet her in Spanish. Crossing the street, I noted that all the colors, though subdued, seemed to be more vibrant in the odd and fading light. Everything was punctuated by the neon lights at some of the businesses. It was a place I would have preferred to linger in, observing. As I walked behind the mother and her son, entering the crosswalk, I looked up and made eye contact with the driver in his truck, waiting for us to cross. I waved and smiled. To my surprise, the man smiled back, waving like an old friend.

Entering the restaurant, I recognized him immediately at the bar, with a large beer, and a plate of food in front of him. He seemed diminished in comparison to my memory of him. Our memories add armor and soften the complexities that come alive when we revisit those who sometimes stroll in the hallways of our minds. The hardened memories I had of him didn’t align with the older man sitting there.

I ordered and picked up my food. On a whim, I stopped and asked him if he remembered me. He said my name immediately when I pulled down my mask. Not that “X” should be unusually hard to recall. He would remember me for reasons other than my peculiar name, though. I told him that the past was behind us, somehow communicating through intonation that it was indeed true and not a pressing issue between us. Because I’m emerging from my cocoon, I moved closer and made eye contact with him. We spoke as if the past happened to other people. I felt the stolen moment transform into a lemon moment.

My feet, already light and uncaring from the other-worldly light and atmosphere, lightened further as I exited the eatery. I left a piece of me back there, with him. I know my presence lingered with him. Whatever animosity previously prevailed, it dissipated there. I already knew that his behavior so long ago would now be mostly categorized as an interesting story – and stripped of its power.

And that the last year has given me a piece of myself back to experience it.

1972 Understood

Meeting my sister answered so many questions. Not all of them, though. Expecting complete answers at any stage of your life is a denial of the fact that as we change, the same answers can ring hollow or fail to give us satisfaction. We often don’t understand our motives or what led us to those choices, even regarding our own lives. Usually, the simple answer is “nothing.” You might be comforted by realizing such a thing. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that our lives might be a game of pinball, with our choices volleying us across an almost random field. Careful observation of other people’s lives tends to reinforce it, though.

Isn’t it strange that we stridently ask and demand explanations and answers from those who preceded us, even though we well know that there may not be a reason that falls blithely to our hearts?

When we’re young, we falsely believe that the adults and people in our lives somehow have a magic formula for safety and love. Growing up exposes us to the harsh alchemy of people being people, making mistakes, and quite often winging it. In my case, I should stop surprising myself with revelations. At this point, almost any combination of things may be valid. It took me until I was 52 – and in the face of constant argument – to find out that my Dad not only had fathered another child but that he had done so with a girl much younger than he and from a different background. For those of you who understand my hometown’s circumstances, this alone gives ample berth to find credibility in any rumor or suspicion.

It might explain why Dad decided to move everyone to Springdale and Northwest Arkansas for a new life. After he went to Indiana and ended up in prison, he returned to Monroe County to stay. Whether he would farm, be a mechanic, or work one of several other jobs available, he made it clear he was back to stay.

Now, thanks to DNA and an ongoing decision to keep looking, I’ve changed the narrative of how I came to live in this part of the state. Much of my adult life revolves around terrible misbehavior on the part of my Dad. Knowing that I live here due to it changes nothing. Yet, it does make me think about the spiderweb of cause and effect.

In the summer of 1972, we packed up and moved to Northwest Arkansas. It was probably August, not long before school started.

I am convinced that we moved in 1972 primarily because my missing sister was born in May of that year.

If I heard rumors of her when I was younger, they would have been snippets of angry revelation from my Mom or others, probably during a drunken tirade. I did hear hypothetical insinuations, but I don’t recall concrete accusations. Such a truth would have certainly caused a homicide between my Mom and Dad. I have to admit the possibility, though. The existence of my new sister in itself proves that we are all unreliable witnesses to our lives. I used that concept of ‘unreliable witness’ on one of my first blog posts about genealogy. We will never have all the facts of our lives coherently arranged. We can’t trust our memories, much less those around us, who actively conceal and camouflage their lives for one reason or another.

I lived most of my life suspecting that my new sister was out there in the world. She lived most of her life without the answers that could have given her the ability to understand herself better. It wasn’t her choice, but she paid the price and consequences of not knowing. I hate that for her.

I don’t know how life would have looked had Dad been honest with everyone about having another child. He died in 1993, another lifetime ago. My sister was around 21, and I was about 26. His shame or inability to acknowledge his indiscretion robbed other people of a fuller life. I can’t understand how a man who beat his wife and children, went to prison, and killed someone in a DWI accident would have difficulty saying he had another daughter. This is doubly true after his Mom died on May 21st, 1983. My sister turned eleven years old the next day.

I wish.

I wish that people could be open to the complexity of their lives.

Were it my choice, all of y’all who know me well also know that I am no fan of concealment. We’ve done it, said it, and lived it, precisely in the same way that my Dad and others did before we came along. In the future, our descendants will whisper, pry, and discover. You may as well give the painful answers now if you find yourself in any way in the role of a secret keeper.

Somewhere, there is another me, looking for answers and wishing that my sister didn’t have to spend so many years without her truth being exposed.

I wish.

I wish. For me, for you, for us all.

Let’s all shine the lights in whatever direction they are needed.

Two Truths & A Lie

On Father’s Day 2019, I discovered that my ancestry and DNA quest had not been in vain: I found a sister (or we found each other), one whose existence defied any possible expectation. We didn’t meet initially – and then the pandemic struck. We both survived 2020. So, ironically, we met for the first time on New Year’s Day. While y’all were eating black-eyed peas, I was meeting a reflection of myself and wondering about the spectacle of life and how decisions made five decades ago continue to reach forward. Unlike other parts of my life, this has been a reward, one welcomed by both of us. How we got here was the result of other people’s decisions. We still have questions, though one of which is no longer what we might be like in person: Carolyn is as kind, witty, and outgoing as I could hope.


When Carolyn arrived, I discovered that I had met my match for the longest hug ever. I’m also not the baby of the family any longer. I kept telling her that I saw Aunt Barbara is so much of her mannerisms and look, which compliments everyone involved.


It’s incredible how good-looking we both are, isn’t it? 🙂 Due to Carolyn’s presence next to me in the pictures, I realize how much of my Dad’s devil-may-care attitude is reflected in me. I’m still wondering how it is possible that Carolyn is my sister.


I also met her youngest son, who tolerated our hours of catching up on 48 years of missed lifetime as we sat, talked, and pondered into the night.


When I was younger, I suspected that I might have family in the world. I’m still amazed that I kept the hope into my 50s – especially to find someone who seems to be a bit like me, even if she got there from an opposite path.


This strange, strange world holds a few surprises still.


Carolyn and I are the two truths; the lie is that love and truth can be concealed, even in a world convoluted by people’s inability to tell their stories due to fear, shame, or for some other human reason that eludes definition.


Though it isn’t a contest, I am convinced that I won the New Year’s Day contest for the most rewarding.


P.S. You might wait until we hear Carolyn’s opinion; you’d have to be crazy to accept mine without corroboration.

Love, X.

.

Do You Have ICS?

“X has ICS,” she wrote.

She’s not wrong; Index Card Syndrome.

I might need medical attention for my affliction.

I am still surprised that most people’s minds aren’t cluttered with a million observations about the people and places in their days. There’s not enough time to consider them, repackage them, and appreciate them. Even with the virus, the one that supposedly slowed the world’s spin a bit, I find myself accelerating toward a crucible that I can’t quite define.

I don’t get writer’s block and I even find myself not understanding how a musician runs out of ideas, lyrics, and brilliance. While watching the new “Selena” series, I rolled my eyes at least 50 times as the musicians struggled to find ideas and inspiration. If we are blocked or stifled, all we have to do is open ourselves up to the great people we have around us. We all survive by collaboration; it’s worth your time to stop struggling and listen to people as they live their lives. There’s enough story here for a thousand books and a library of music.

There’s too much life out here with so many people inhabiting our world in a way that deserves recognition. Humor, love, tragedy, and even the moments when you find yourself organizing your kitchen cabinets on Saturday night all carry weight.

I wish y’all could get ICS too. We could flood the world with our stories.
Love, X
.

Man Parked In A Pond

I routinely go through my colossal draft lists and discard troves of ideas and actual stories. I’d discard the computer, but they get expensive. When I was writing several of my Elm Springs stories, I kept skipping over the “Man Parked In Pond” account due to the incongruous absurdity of the title.

What might amuse you more is that I’ve seen several cars in ponds in my lifetime. Both stupidity and drinking were involved in all cases. I think there’s a universal truth to that last sentence. I can proudly say that I was in the car on separate occasions while BOTH my Mom and Dad drove into ponds, ditches, or swamps. It’s one thing to go into a small pond, but if you’ve ever seen how deep and snake-filled some irrigation ditches and swamps can be, you’re not enthusiastic about getting into one. At night. Snakes do not like to cuddle.

I am not afraid of snakes until they get into my underwear. Call it a phobia if you have to.

When I first worked at a nursing home in Springdale after high school, I often ran home before I got my second car. My first car, a great one given to me by my brother Mike as he shockingly went into the Army, was stolen by my Dad and sold on my cousin’s car lot. The irony is that I worked on the side at my cousin’s garage to earn credit toward the next car.

It was only 7-8 miles home from work. Those runs were interesting as hell at times, just as they were when I started from home and ran elsewhere. It was different back in the day. People drove drunk a LOT. Country roads were littered with cars at night. Saturday morning and Sunday morning was a great time to see the places on the road where people were probably driving too fast. Or drunk. One of the neighbors near where I lived often stopped and “borrowed” things from the cars he found on the side of the road at night. Thinking back on it, it was impossible for him to get caught. This is in part due to the visibility of approaching lights and the failure of most drunks to inventory their possessions, much less know for certain that they are driving their own car home at night.

Note to civil engineers: if you want to reduce unsafe and drunk driving, put a buttload of stupidly sharp curves in the road. Or a five-mile stretch of road that is 100% roundabouts. The Arkansas educational system didn’t adequately prepare most people for sensible traffic devices.

If you’ve driven the side roads from Springdale to Elm Springs, you’re aware of the sharp turns everywhere. Many of those turns sit next to barbed wire fencing. Or worse, ponds. While I didn’t see the accident when it happened, I was running home when I heard brakes and skidding, followed by sounds that didn’t make sense to me. It was after midnight, so I couldn’t imagine who or what had crashed. As I ran along a sloping S-curve, I saw taillights. As I neared, I could see that the barbed wire fencing had been torn open. The truck that went through the fence went a few feet into the pond. While I was sure I was going to try to help, I didn’t know how exactly. I heard someone drunkenly mumbling. In today’s terms, it sounded a lot like Kenny Chesney singing any of his Top 40 hits.

I remember being glad it wasn’t my Dad. He’d traversed many a fenceline while driving drunk. More than once, with me in the vehicle. Good times! After one particularly bad accident through a cow field, he kept repeating the same joke: “I was looking for a good steak.” His sense of humor was legendary when he wasn’t trying to kill someone.

The man in the truck managed to get the door open. He was cursing in drunk language at that point. Though I couldn’t see much, I realized he was trying to get into the truck’s bed from the cab so he wouldn’t step into the shallow water. I waited. Sure enough, a huge splash followed as he fell off trying to get over the side of the truck. He set the world record for putting the lord’s name in vain for the next couple of minutes. He staggered out of the pond.

“Who the f### are you?” he asked me.

“The ghost of drunks future,” I quipped. I wasn’t scared at all to mock any drunk I didn’t know.

This tendency got me into some precarious predicaments through the years, including one incident when a drunk tried to throw a mostly-empty pitcher of beer on me, and I yelled, “Ball 4!.” My shout made him angry when it dawned on him that people in the bar laughed. I had reluctantly accompanied my roommate Ray to go shoot pool at a bar that now no longer exists in the Midway area. When the drunk acted as if he would chase me, I dashed to the back door, opened it, and then slammed it. I stepped out of sight into the filthy supply closet near the back door. The drunk ran outside, thinking I went out first. We laughed our asses off about that for a long time. The best part of this story is that he didn’t remember getting mad or running out the back to chase me upon his return.

We didn’t have cell phones back then. There was a payphone at a small store a couple of bends of the road away from the pond. But I wasn’t going to accompany a drunk for that kind of walk. “Go knock on that door,” I told him and pointed to a brown house a couple of hundred feet away. “They’ll help you.” I waited, and eventually, he stumbled his way in that direction. I left out here that the owners of the pond and the house were the same people. I ran the rest of the way home, amused at my cleverness. I found out that the owners made the driver completely fix their fence and make restitution. Had I not run by that night, I don’t think he would have. And I wouldn’t be able to brag I watched a grown man drunkenly try to climb over the edge of his truck and then fall into a pond.

And so, I leave you with “Man Parked In a Pond.” It’s not Faulkner or Conroy, but it amuses me.

Things A Man Can’t Say

Things A Man Can’t Say

After six weeks+ of not biting my nails, I can say that my fingers feel alien to me in a way that a normal person would not find credible. I’ve not gone a week without biting my nails. For my entire life.

Several weeks ago, when I turned the switch off mentally about food, I just decided that I no longer bite my nails. Despite nothing else ever having worked for my nail-biting, not even public shaming or a global pandemic, I just knew I could do it. While my cuticles look odd, I don’t recognize my fingers. I’ve had to adjust a lot in my life for something so simple as suddenly having fingernails. From not using my hands to stir mud and potting soil to avoiding scratching ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. At night, I find myself touching my fingernails with my front teeth. Until you bite your fingernails for fifty years, I don’t think you’d believe me if I accurately describe how odd it is – as if someone put thimbles on each of my fingers and asked me to play the piano.

It occurred to me that if I were sufficiently crazy enough to do so, I could get a manicure. It’s important to note that I don’t know what proper nail care looks like, having gnawed on my talons like The Bachelorette bites the neck on her first date of the season. (Note: I’ve never watched the show. I put that bit in to trick the manicure-crowd into believing I might have.) I have promised my fans I’m going to learn to paint nails properly, though. I’ll let y’all know when I have my first nail-painting party.

I’m not looking for an attaboy. I should not be complimented for no longer doing something that is honestly pretty stupid to begin with, especially after 50 years of it. Much in the same way, it would be imprudent to congratulate me on no longer shooting black tar heroin into my eyeballs. It’s just a bad sign I started to begin with.

That’s my cat in the background. He’s nervous I might start scratching him.

P.S. There’s a link to a post in below, one I made several years ago. It’s stupid – and that’s why I think about it more than I should.

https://xteri.me/2016/04/24/fingerprints-and-finger-prince/