I’m on a mission to dial back the news to a need-to-know-only basis. Even—especially—the news online, but even NPR has drifted into the “I have no use for this material” folder. It is essential to be well informed, but it is equally essential to be able to separate the news from the noise. My stress level has adjusted up during the last, I don’t know, five years, to some higher level of anxiety not at all compensated for by valuable information. Material gathered should be worth the anguish to obtain it. But that simply isn’t the case any longer. Now it is just static which causes stress, which doesn’t benefit me at all.


excuse me while I step aside. It won’t bother anybody if I simply duck away for a while. I can no longer handle the endless stream of garbage reported in media. Don’t pay any mind to me if I move out of the way while I let pass the convoy of criticism and manipulation. I’ll just sit and watch the water and wildlife do their thing, the perpetual movement of the tide. In fact, my health, my energy, and my stress level are all improved by the absence of the nightly news, which I once revered back when it was journalism. And I’m better off without the one-on-one conversations with way too many negative people. I am more likely to live longer, less likely to have a negative disposition, and infinitely more likely to relax by turning away from those discussions. Remember the adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?

When I’m at the river and the sun is just changing tones behind clouds in the west, it doesn’t make a bit of difference who the president is, what the commentators had to say, which tweets came from which attention-deficit minds, who bought what company, who accused who of what with whom, what happened first, and what happens next. My phone alert from the NY Times Breaking News doesn’t really catch my attention anymore, and I am far more interested in keeping my blood pressure in double digits and my heart rate closer to my age than my golf score.

When the eagle glides from the tree tops, and the osprey teach their young to fly, and the clouds at dusk separate colors in prism-like perfection, it is hard to remember what the complaining was all about anyway. We carry our baggage way longer than we ever need to if we ever really needed to at all. And the answers we seek in our daily life won’t be unearthed during some pointless pursuit of fair and balanced. Even if I listened more intently to all the facts and expert opinions and came to the correct conclusions agreed upon by Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, what then? So I might know the truth about A and the lies told by B and the injustice we see served to those in need. Again, what then?

I think my students would be better served if instead of watching presidential debates and finding the fallacies, we all spent some time in soup kitchens and the cancer ward at a children’s hospital and then came back and discussed respect and morality and fair and balanced. Maybe we could spend a class talking about the good there is. Let’s write about that. Let’s take a stand and find expert support about that.

When I returned from Spain I was on a mission to “simplify” my life. It didn’t take long on the Camino to discover how little I needed; how superfluous most concerns really turned out to be. As a professor of critical thinking and research writing courses, I found it necessary, pre-trip, to discuss current events and breaking news. But afterwards I found philosophical discussions as relevant as any subject covered by some mass-com graduate reporting from The Hill. I told my students that any fool can gather and argue immigration or trade; but it took real thought to discuss the “matter” of things, the bend of time. “Which works better for you?” I asked. “Ted Cruz said that we need to make decisions based upon faith” or “St Bernard said, “We need to learn to make excuses for other people.”  One is a proclamation of how he intends to govern; the other is an edict of how we should live our lives. This led to discussions of driving and working, and we talked about getting along with relatives and partners. People like tangible applications. Those conversations spilled from the class to the hallway.

That’s how it should be.

But time got away from me. When all I hear is the call of an osprey or the way the waves lap at the edge of the land, I could be in so many other places and so many other times. It is innocent, even ignorant some might say.

We live in the age of information, the age of blame, the age of instantaneous and simultaneous where the comment you posted ten minutes ago is now ancient news five screens in the past. It is the age of convenience and the age of emotion, and the age of attention-getting-self-indulgent-everyone’s opinion matters and is valid and is equal and should be heard. And that’s just not true, it is wrong, it is defeatist, and it is destructive, and I’m simply over it.

So I’m done jumping through hoops and trying to walk across coals; I’m simply not built for it. I’ve finally “come ‘round right” and am simplifying my life like I hoped I would when I came home; like I hope I will again. My theory is this: I will be healthier, happier, more efficient, more useful and focused, and infinitely more at peace. Then I might be of use to others, and that is the point, isn’t it?

I love the way the water feels cool on the soles of my feet on a hot afternoon, or how the saltwater gets on my lips and seems to stay there all day, even after I shower. It is as if the movement of the waves exactly coincides with the movement of my blood, and that rhythm somehow settles my soul.

And it really wasn’t so complicated: I just decided to.

I’m going to sip my iced tea and let the river run by for a while. If it doesn’t work out, look for me chasing the windmills in Spain. There, I’ll be in good company, even if it seems a bit too quixotic for some.

Some Days are Stone

Jonmark Stone

Oh please remember me my good friend.

You know nothings really changed.

I will remember you until the end.

Only the end is rearranged.

–jonmark stone

Jonmark would play local venues, and I’d go with other close friends of ours to listen. There was Sondra’s at the beach, where I’d order a beer and ice cream, or sometimes a filet, and JM would play everything from Neil Diamond to original work which I’d be singing for a few days after. And that gig for some prom at the Old Cavalier, after which we climbed to the top of that tower, then walked for a long time on the boardwalk. Oh, and over on Independence Boulevard the not-so-subtle Fantastic Fenwick’s Flying Food Factory, where I’d hardly hear at all over the chatter of some of the most bizarre characters we’d met back then.

To say we have the same taste in music would be laughably mild. We were barely eighteen, just out of high school, and, more so, just out of options.

So we left.

“I went on the road; You pursued an education.” Yeah, I still think of Jonmark when I hear “James” by Billy Joel. The thing is, we both left—I headed to college on New York’s Southern Tier and he headed to Nashville in his VW van. It was 1979 and this is pre-everything. Pre cellphones, pre computers, back when life was something you did, not something you read about or witnessed on a screen. Back when keeping in touch was nearly impossible if you still didn’t live at home. Back when he said, “Fuck it, I’m headed to Nashville—nothing’s happening in Virginia Beach,” but the music always kept us connected. It was the creativity, the passion, the artistic drive which controlled us both that few people outside the arts can understand. Despite decades apart in a dozen or so states, we continued to grow up together.  

Geez, that was almost forty-five years ago.


It’s chilly today but sunny, and the bay is rough from the passing storms which at least cleared the pollen out of the air. I’m at my desk doing work on a new essay for a (someday) book, reading students’ rough drafts, and sometimes looking up in the corner where my two guitars rest patiently in their cases. I’m certain they’ve forgotten my name. I haven’t had callouses in a very long time. When I see them though, two people come to mind: My sister, who had such an influence in my taste in music and my desire to play guitar (it was hers I learned on) back when we lived on the Island, and Jonmark, who made it seem so easy—he is that good. At college, I channeled Jonmark when I played coffeehouses, and later when I sat with Kenny Loggins and the two of us played and sang “Danny’s Song.” “This is what you should be doing,” Kenny told me. “Quit school and go do it.”

But he was too kind to note how much I sucked. A person’s passion for what they do can confuse the average mind into thinking someone is actually good at something. I definitely had passion; and this was long before you didn’t have to be that good to be successful in the music industry; back when success was reserved for those with not only that passion, but talent, and I suppose what is best called “vision.” Jonmark had all of that, and success came his way through hard work, years of playing with the best in the music industry, and some sort of innate ability to string the right notes together. And I wrote, and Jonmark and I continue to this day to be each other’s biggest fans as I continue to attempt to string the right words together to strike a note in readers, but it is more than that. It’s the “old friends” thing, the being there before we went anywhere. I have a handful of people in my life like that, but JM holds the record for the “back then” notation. Carter had just become president; Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors” had just come out, and Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” lp. Saturday Night Fever hit the theaters. But we’ve done okay, the two of us; “made it in the minor leagues” as he has pointed out, which is not at all a small thing. Since the Flying Food Factory, I’ve traveled quite a bit and written about it; Jonmark has been part of some of the biggest recordings in the industry, written songs for countless other singers, music for commercials as diverse as Ford Trucks and 7-Up. Man we are old.

No. Older though.

Most of us have someone like this in our lives; someone who sees you for the young dreamer you used to be, but understands why some dreams worked out, why some didn’t; what drives you and what scares you. Someone who can just give you a look and you don’t see sixty-two, you see seventeen and all the possibilities of then, making time circular, and making hope more persistent.

I walked to the river just now, not expecting to need to bundle up, but up north friends of mine are buried in a foot of snow. Still, I sat on the rocks and looked out a long time tonight, thinking about the changes, about what remains the same. I’ve had countless changes in my life in the past five years. And when that happens it is natural to bend toward the familiar, someone who has hung in there through it all, was there before it all. I came home and listened to my favorite Stone recording, “People are Talking,” and stared out at the trees. I’m having trouble with a work I’ve been toying with for—no kidding here—forty years. Parts of it have been published, the jumbled mess was my MFA thesis, but it is one of those stories that I just can’t get right no matter how I approach it; something is missing and I’m nearly certain I will never find it.

So I opened the case of my 12 string—something I did on a daily basis when I first started this monstrosity of a book—and played around with the notes a bit. Then a little more. It felt so natural, like when words come out in just the right order, just like that; exactly like that. Turns out I do still have callouses. That happens at this age.

It’s good to have an old friend nearby to listen and to listen to. Maybe I’ll do that open mic thing after all. Life’s too short not to, right?


We die every day that we’re living

But we live every day that we do.


Listen, my friends, to this recording. Please. It is absolutely one of the most beautiful songs you will hear. I’m not kidding. Then, please, make it go viral. The world could use someone like Jonmark Stone in its life right now. Click the picture below and listen:

An Open Letter to V. Putin

As you well know:

Every year since the end of the “Great Patriotic War,” veterans and their families remember something different than their counterparts throughout Europe and the United States who celebrate the Nazi’s surrender, the liberation of millions of people. In Russia, Victory Day is celebrated on May 9th. In St. Petersburg in particular, they celebrate survival. For nine hundred days the Nazis bombarded the city in an attempt to “wipe it from the face of the earth.” The Nazis failed; the veterans never forgot.

But apparently, you have, Mr. Putin, haven’t you? Your beloved Leningrad. I was there at the Piskarevskoe Cemetery twenty years ago when you placed the wreath at the foot of the statue of the Motherland and mourned for the seven-hundred-thousand women and children buried in mass graves; your relatives, your family, friends, all starved to death or killed during the Blockade. “One of the most tragic events in human history,” you called it. “This must never happen again,” you said.

In the 1990s, when you were vice mayor of St Petersburg, you stood in front of the Mariinsky Palace—City Hall—and nodded as a guide explained to a Canadian delegation the wonderful story of perseverance. I was a professor traveling alone from America who happened by, lucky to hear the story in English. And after two dozen trips to St. Petersburg, I have become quite aware how this story of pride is ingrained in the hearts of all of the city’s residents, including you, so you said. “Everyone in this city knows this story,” the guide said, and you nodded, smiled.

Your actions in Ukraine suggest you’ve forgotten, so let me jog your memory: Hitler was so convinced he would take Leningrad, he sent out 250 invitations for a celebration party to be held at the Astoria Hotel, just feet from where we stood near the statue of Nicholas I. The guide said that when it became clear to Hitler that he was not going to be able to take the city after all, he ordered Leningrad be “completely destroyed and wiped off the map.” Hence the siege—nine-hundred days of bombing, a million and a half dead, nearly seven-hundred thousand of them women and children. But it didn’t work. Your own relatives insured your birth by holding off the Nazis. And for decades, even as late as the 1990s when I spoke to old women in the city about it—survivors of the siege—they remained proud to say that “Hitler never dined at the Astoria Hotel.” Everyone clapped. You clapped. It’s a great story.

A few days later I watched you lay the wreath on Victory Day and declare such terror should never occur again in the world.

It has come full circle, hasn’t it, Mr. Putin, only now you are the evil aggressor who has abandoned his own people, a population who swore such an event should never be experienced by humanity again, when you imposed a similar fate on the citizens of Mariupol, Ukraine. Now the people of Ukraine are fighting their own Great Patriotic War, and you are their Hitler. It took eighty years for another madman to think he has the right to destroy a population to satisfy his own ego and insecurities. We’ve seen it before; we know how this turns out. No matter what happens geopolitically, you will go down in human history as a tyrant and cold-blooded killer, “Putin” spoken in the same sentence as “Hitler,” Mariupol in the same breath as Leningrad.

What’s tragic personally is I stood there in that cemetery, Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, the Leningrad Symphony, on the speakers, and watched you place that wreath, listened to my translator proudly repeat what you said: “This is one of the most tragic events in human history and we must never allow it to happen again.”

The people of your city—St Petersburg—are ashamed that not only did it happen again, but it was conceived by and carried out by one of their own citizens.

The true Russian heart, the true soul of someone from St Petersburg, is one who celebrates survival and all that Peter the Great’s “Window to the West” has to offer the world. You might be from the Soviet Union, but you are not Russian. There was a time when even St. Petersburg could see the beautiful and celebrated results of your efforts to bring the city and the country back to life after a century of darkness. But once this is over, you will only be mentioned as the tyrant who sacrificed his own people to destroy another culture. And then, like all monstrous dictators, you will simply be forgotten.

A Non-Poet’s Tribute for National Poetry Month

At a creative writing workshop someone asked the standard “Where do you get your ideas from?” question. I used to say, “Trenton. I use a mail-order catalogue,” but I realized that was somewhat snarky. Now I quote my good friend Tim Seibles:

Some things take root in the brain and just don’t let go

I love when someone says exactly what I’m thinking. Saves me time.

As for ideas, yes, that’s how it works. I might be out for a walk along the water, or perhaps driving somewhere, and one thought leads to another, and then just the right song comes on, or a smell—yes, sometimes it might be an aroma that makes me think of a place, and then the receptors in my head are off and running; I’m just along for the ride, somehow simply a spokesperson who never really gets the translation right. That’s the problem with writing; it is never right. If someone looks at a piece they’re working on and very comfortably suggests there is nothing more that can be done, I am weary of reading it.

But of all the writers I know it has always been the poets who can get me to sit back and say, “Yes! Exactly.” I can carry on conversations all day long about a subject and then toss it around in my head for a few days, write it out, readdress it, and pour some decent energy into it, only to turn to a few lines some poet wrote and I find the need to burn my work. I’ll do it too; I’ll sit here with a match and hold the pages while they flare up. It has a very cleansing effect. Plus, you know, toasted peeps.

Here’s an example: Tim and I went to lunch at this same divey joint in Norfolk we always go to, and we talked. We talked about our fathers, or about something in the news. We talked about a variety of things that good friends talk about; we rarely talk about writing. Well, somewhere over the course of the last year I have several times talked about my dad, about how I miss him; I know Tim gets it so I don’t’ have to say much, but still, talking is always helpful. Unfortunately, my words are trite, predictable, and lazy descriptions of how missing a person feels. Of course, I’m not trying to compose a play; I’m just talking about my dad. Still, I want to get it right.

Then not too long ago I flipped through one of Tim’s books and came across this:

Missing someone is like hearing a

name sung quietly from somewhere

behind you. Even after you know no

one is there, you keep looking back.

I could write a thousand lines about how I miss my dad, but that covers it. That’s poetry.

Anyone who listens to a lot of music knows what I mean. Some lines just say it all.

I have tried to write essays about nature, already handicapped by the vast selection of the genre from people such as Thoreau, Muir, and E.O. Wilson. In my files are dozens of starts in an attempt to finish a piece about the fall of the year and the coming of winter. Those brain receptors often click into the passing of time, the end of things, the changes beyond our control. I wrote one “epic” diatribe that might be the most bloated, pretentious vomit I’ve ever attempted. The only way to make it more pretentious would have been to have it translated into Latin. Then Frost does this:

So dawn goes down to day,

Nothing gold can stay


I prefer conversations, of course. I like to sit and have a beer and talk about our dads; I like running into a friend and grabbing a bite and laughing about simple things like sports and movies. But I also like reminders of our glide across this thin layer of life.

Over the course of the past several years I found a way to handle my frustrations when I can’t find the right words to express our need to celebrate being alive. I call a friend and meet him for lunch; luckily, he’s usually a poet—I know a lot of poets. If I can’t find one, I head instead to a favorite café and have a glass of wine and talk to strangers. Every single one of my closest friends was, at one time, a complete stranger. I walk along the water and watch the dolphins breech and disappear. I feel the coolness of morning give way to the warmth of the sun on my face.

Note: We are surrounded by poetry.

I sat in an Irish pub in Prague once during a soccer match between Dublin and Manchester United. The excitement and roar of the crowd, the explosion of being in the moment, alive, then, ever-so-briefly, was poetry.

There was the time my friend Tom and I sat on a rock in the mountains west of Tucson and watched the sun work its way across the desert. Or when Michael and I walked past the small sign that said “Santiago de Compostella” five hundred miles and five weeks after we left France. Or when we watched the seals at Lake Baikal.

Poetry. Like when we walk to the river at sunset, most nights for twenty-five years now, and catch the colors, find the light on the water. Or those Tuesday nights a long time ago after I finished teaching and Dad and I would have some Scotch.

The sound of a golf ball dropping into the cup. The sound of cardinals on the porch, looking for food. Whippoorwills at dusk. Gulls at dawn. Rigging. Waves.

A very long hug from an old, old friend.

My dad’s laugh. His deep “Hello.”

A name sung quietly from somewhere behind you