•October 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Six years ago I restarted this blog on WordPress. Here’s a post from around that time. All-new post next Friday. Cheers, Mike

Completely in the Dark

Not big about “firsts.” You know, first kiss, first car ride, first day of school, first marriage…

But I do remember the first time I saw death.

In April 2008 I flew to Delaware on business. It was the first time I’d been out East in, oh, over 30 years.

A lot came rushing back to me as my coworkers and I drove our rental car through the countryside toward Newark. It was spring: the dogwoods were in bloom and the salty slap of ocean air … well, reminded me of life in Maryland.

So many things I’d forgotten about in our time between Indiana and Maryland: when Dad took us to a carnival and we went on the train ride, those bug-like spinning rides—and one particular ride, the water tunnel where I sat next to Dad and feared for my life. My beautiful picture

Don’t know how old I was then, but…

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This Nobody Is Still Doing Everything With Nothing

•October 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

“…if it’s natural, something glowing from inside, shiningviciousfreizelogo all around you, its potential has arrived.”

“What Is the Light?”
The Flaming Lips

I nearly threw away this entire blog just based on what I thought some people were thinking.

Gonna let that soak in for a minute.

The thing is, I stopped writing altogether. I looked back over my shoulder. Then I started comparing myself to other writers and artists, became self-conscious, and sunk deeper into despair.

Stupid, I know.

But this—this old journal entry—kick-started it for me, even though it’s four years after the story I want to tell all began. So let’s crank up the mojo and begin there.

An Oct. 2, 1991, journal entry reads:

“Last night I had a dream about Fingerhut [the company I worked at in the late ’80s, early ’90s]. There were mongrel dogs bothering me in a meeting. I went to see [then company president] Ted Deikel and he looked like a sassy young Donald Trump. He was having lunch with two other well-dressed gentlemen. I introduced myself and said that the dogs at Fingerhut ‘would have to go.’ He grinned at me, annoyed that I’d interrupted his luncheon meeting. He pointed out that I was nobody—‘look at the way you’re dressed! Your face! Don’t use that tone of voice with me! Go back to work!’ I was angry. I remember thinking: ‘That’s it! That’s the last straw, I have to leave!’ And when I got back to the meeting everyone laughed at me.
Then, reading Ray Bradbury’s book on writing & feeling completely lost—not writing is a sickness, I know that—if I don’t write, I get sicker & sicker. I’m pressed between an unrelenting present & a future that NEVER happens. I scribble plans. Then I turn around and do other things. I KNOW NOW THAT I AM DISTINCTLY TWO PEOPLE. One I detest, the other I love with all my heart. The one I love is the boy who still wonders at things & loves what he sees. The monster is the practical time-killer adult who fears for everything & knows the worth of NOTHING.

I was 31 years old when I wrote that. I’m now 56.

Between the years 1985 and 1992, I worked in corporate America. (I worked there again later, but that’s a story for another time.)

So the forthcoming posts here will be about 1986–1989, four years when everything changed for me creatively.

Because that’s when I got squeezed.

And that tends to make for some really golden stuff.


It’s Tuesday night, Sept. 8, 1987.

Just to get you up to speed, Ronald and Nancy Reagan are in the White House.

That Monday Pink Floyd released A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

In August there was a mass shooting in Hungerford, England, with 16 dead.

Later that month, Michael Jackson released his album Bad.

As September began, Russia tried 19-year-old German pilot Mathias Rust, who back in May had flown his Cessna into Red Square.

1986partyAnd I went to have dinner at the home of artist friends Ann and Gary Docken (pictured left at a luau-themed party in April 1986, with their young son).

Ann and I met while working at the aforementioned corporation, where we were then proofreaders. Her husband Gary was a lithostripper (as I had done at SOS Printing), so they invited me over for dinner to see my latest artwork. It’s described in that day’s journal entry:

“…had supper with Ann & Gary Docken at their place in Hopkins. We had baked chicken, broccoli, corn and French bread. Gary was only home for an hour for supper (he had to get back to his night shift job as a lithostripper in Hopkins). We watched the ‘Mission: Proofreading’ video while we had supper and then I showed them the just-completed ‘Vicious Frieze’ cartoon and the ‘30-Day Photo Project.’ They seemed to enjoy them.”

This is the first mention of three creative projects that were hatched in 1986, only to be shared a year later.

“Mission: Proofreading” was an instructional video our department made explaining our mission to the company suits. Rather than go with something dull and dry, I suggested to Paul, my boss at the time, that we bookend the video with some fun stuff—a sort of Mission: Impossible parody (screen-grab below right).missionproof

The “Vicious Frieze” cartoon is harder to describe, so I’ll save that for forthcoming posts. In fact, all the posts will revolve around it, because it informs much of the other creative work I was doing over those four years.

Lastly, the “30-Day Photo Project” was a photo montage begun in January and completed that summer of 1987. It was mentioned as “My 30-Day Free Trial” in this previous blog post.


All creative work needs a canvas, a space. That goes for its creator, too.

But it’s only in the past decade that I’ve realized I’d been doing it all wrong.

Let me explain.

My former mindset involved “making a [insert specific something here].” I pissed away a lot of time thinking about what it would look like, how it would feel in my hands, or how it would read if one were to read it.

For example, if it was going to be a drawing or a painting, it was going to be perfectly rendered and would convey a certain effect. When I didn’t feel satisfied by drawing, I turned to photography.

The thing about photography (at least before digital, when you had to wait for negatives to be developed and prints made) was its “black box” nature—you shook it up and were always somewhat surprised by what you got when you saw the finished photo.apt1987

At least, that was my experience with photography.

So, back in April 1986, after moving into that Hopkins apartment, I dedicated a corner space as “my studio” with drawing table (pictured at left). There I would create new things: photographs, drawings, poems, plays, stories, or novels on the typewriter—it didn’t matter what.

What did matter was the doing.

The problem then was noise—the noise of modern life: working a corporate job, driving a car to said corporate job, paying bills associated with income from aforementioned corporate job, watching too much television, and following the lead of fellow mid-20-year-olds in 1980s America.

It was all bullshit. And I knew it.

On Tuesday, June 17, 1986, the journal reveals:

“No, nothing’s ever the end of the world, but… I just read… ‘It’s the dying a little each day that we carry with us, that affects those around us…’ or something like that. I’m tired of dying when I’m supposed to be alive.”

The frustration had been simmering for some time. Exactly two months earlier, I’d written a letter to high school friend Jeff Taylor:

“Well, I’m settling into my apartment; I like the solitude. Maybe now I’ll get more of my private work done. …God what I’d give for life beyond the clichéd Yuppiedom and polished, boorish manners of my peers! My advice, Jeff: Don’t get a ‘normal’ job if you can help it.”

The mongrel dogs in the corporate boardroom are still barking, even today.

Especially today.

But for me, I’ve learned to tune out their yapping. There will always be noise, obligations, setbacks, failures, and distractions in the life of a creative person.

What I hope to show in forthcoming posts is how I overcame those, essentially by using them as tools to get “more of my private work done.”

And boy did I ever.

Tomb of the Unknown Family

•October 7, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Nine months later, uncertainty morphing into solid creative ways of being. Forthcoming new post now in edit mode, to publish next Friday!

Completely in the Dark

UnkFam1A couple weeks ago I was over by Crocus Hill, straying as far afield as I could given I had no goal that day other than walking.

For mid-winter 2016, the weather was fair.

It was a good day to walk.

On walks I like to take photos and peek in those “Little Free Libraries” that dot the Twin Cities landscape.

In one Little Free Library on Linwood Avenue, near South Victoria Street, I found a copy of M. Scott Peck’sThe Road Less Traveled with a surprise (photo above right) tucked neatly inside, almost invisible, between pages 138–189, on the chapter titled “The Risk of Independence,”—a 5 x 7 in. photo of some family in the late 1960s, early 1970s.

I took it as a sign.

In the photo of the Unknown Family, I immediately identify with the boy sitting on the floor, even though he’s probably 4 or…

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Three Octobers

•September 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This October will be six years writing CITD. Here’s something to keep you reading until new post gets out of drafting mode. Cheers, Mike

Completely in the Dark

ThreeOctAt first I considered this a “failed thought experiment.”

It probably came to me in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t get back to sleep.

“What if,” my stupid, unsleepy monkey mind thought, “you wrote a blog post about three different Octobers, ten years apart?”

Since I last left off writing about 1985, I’d read through the journals for 1995 and ’05. If there were entries on the same date during those years, I’d start there for material.

BOOM. Immediate roadblock when I opened the 2005 journal: Not a single entry all that October.

But the other years fared better: four entries in 1995, and five in ’85. If I was going to keep it to three years, ten years apart, I was going to have trouble straight out of the gate.

But here’s the interesting thing about failed thought experiments—they take you to places you…

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Loneliness of the Wrong Distance Runner

•September 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Getting together with old high school friends tonight and we’ll try to not talk about old track & field “injuries.”:-/ All-new post next Friday.

Completely in the Dark

Dad was that rarest of men: He didn’t watch ballgames or follow sports teams. He just wasn’t into it.WrongDistanceRunner

In fact I was always somewhat amused to be around when he was asked what, for example, he thought of the “Vikes’ chances for the Super Bowl.”

Dad didn’t have a prediction, but did his best to politely respond. The only competitive bone in his body was against himself and what he could achieve.

Likely taking a lead from Pop, I decided it was past due that I competed with myself—which in high school meant joining track.

Not entirely sure how that began, given my normally bookish habits. I’ve always been somewhat kinetically challenged, a tendency toward clumsiness.

So, sprinting didn’t feel right and long-distance running was too rigorous. Middle distance had the Goldilocks factor—just right.

The above photo, from the ’78 yearbook, shows junior Pat McGinnis running in a…

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Your Greatest Year

•September 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been feeling gratitude all week and happy to reshare this. All-new post next Friday, my friends.

Completely in the Dark

There are two versions of this story.

The first—probably because it’s the most recent—comes from the first chapter of my would-be post-Britain novel Out of English, titled “The Boner of Dumond”:

Leaning against the door of the ’Mont, I cracked open the second of an eight-pack of Blatz Light Cream Ale shooters. Not the Miller High Life; the shooters. The good shooters, Mad Dog.

It’s a sunny day, Thursday in fact—July 28, 1983—but what a fucking awful day. Which is why I’m by the lake, chowing down two Burger Chef cheeseburgers and now suckin’ down this shooter.

Not gonna look at the letter again. And not going back to work, nope.

Nothing matters, man.

And later…

On my fifth shooter and I’m breaking the goddamn things on a rock. Between smashups, a crow lands on a rock a couple feet from me, dipping a beak in the water and blinking…

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Broad Ripple

•September 9, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This was always going to be titled “Broad Ripple.”

I’ve been mulling it over for the past couple months, while working at a new job.

You see, when I rebooted Completely in the Dark in 2010 I had no idea where it was going.

All I knew was I needed to get the family stories out of me.

While writing those early posts, without diaries or journals to refer to, all I had were old photos and vague memories. Two years after Mom and Dad had died in 2008, those sense memories were overpowering.

But memory is variable. It’s dangerous territory. And it’s mostly wrong.

I do, however, believe in the power of place to bring meaning or consolation after loss, just because you experienced things in that place. Or a similar place.

I’m now working at an old St. Paul country club, founded in 1888. That space is dripping with history. Being surrounded by shoe polish, after shave lotion, and hair tonic takes me back to my earliest days.

In the locker room where I work, with its gleaming mirrors and well-lit marble countertops, its racks of lotions and everything you’d need to clean up and look spiffy, I’m reminded of Louisville, Kentucky. Not exactly sure why Louisville—maybe it’s the combination of being near a big river, and the fact I wrote a couple posts about Louisville just recently.

It’s also connected to my maternal grandfather, who had a part-time gig running car parts from Greensburg, Ind., to Louisville, while I rode shotgun. He was a big Republican in town and always had his shoes shined to look sharp, since he’d been everything from a gasman to volunteer fireman. The smell of shoe polish and hair tonic connects me directly with that past (photo above left, my brother in front at our grandparents’ house in the early 1960s).

The feeling is comforting and sad at the same time. I’m in a place I know will soon be gone (at least for me), but it’s like I’m being allowed to ruminate in it for one last time.

I love that.


I was born in Indianapolis. But we lived in Broad Ripple, a neighborhood north of downtown.

I went to kindergarten there, then attended first grade at White River School.

We lived close to the White River, on East 64th Street. It’s become a trendy, college-town area—at least that’s the vibe I got when my brother, his wife, and I visited just before we buried our parents in April 2012.

Broad Ripple exists now as pure sense memory.

For example, the city park just a block or two from where we lived—with trees that seemed gigantic and vast and through which the sun glittered. Kids had treehouses in that park, but all I knew then was it represented the future and the end—a sort of destination. I contemplated it many times over in my young days and I still come up with the same conclusion—yes, it’s a destination.

I’m not sure what that means, but intuition tells me it is so.mcl_cafeteria

Or the smell of chlorine at the Broad Ripple Park pool, with ’60s pop music on transistor radios and the candy-color-striped beach towels that Dad laid out at poolside.

Or our family night dinners at the local MCL cafeteria (it probably looked a lot like the photo at right), with its burnished brass fixtures and glowing red heat lamps warming roast beef and popovers, apple pie for dessert with vanilla ice cream.

For me, Broad Ripple will always be gaunt Methodist churches, ancient elms, maples, and oak trees, and brick porch ramblers with old coal bins in their basements. Trips downtown for dinner at Dad’s favorite Italian-American restaurant, with spaghetti and meatballs and antipasto salad served in large wooden bowls with lots of garlic and onions. Or it meant Christmas shopping at Ayres and just seeing the sights in the city (photo at left from the early 1960s).


On Saturday night, Jan. 2, 1993, we celebrated the 70th birthday of family friend John Rogers.

It was a surprise party hosted by his children, with whom my brother and I grew up with on Casco Point. Brian, my brother, was there with his wife and young son. It was held in a poolside party room of a Mound, Minn., apartment building. After the gathering some of us stayed up talking and telling stories until 3 a.m.

That fall I’d left a corporate job in Hopkins, Minn., rented a place in St. Paul, and launched Available Light Creative, a desktop publishing biz. I’d moved into a Cathedral Hill mansion, the landlords of which quickly morphed into insane, money-grubbing sonofabitches.

But I tried to face the new year bravely, and wrote about John’s party in a journal entry the following day:

“Last night was fun reminiscing with everyone. There was a point in the evening where people made speeches that were pretty moving. I even said something short on the behalf of our family. The topic of expanded families came up often and I was cheered to have it celebrated … In the wake of fractured, frustrated ‘normal’ ones like [the St. Paul landlords], a little love and understanding goes a long way over a long time.”


This place, here and now.

When I get anxious about the future and think, “Will I always be here?” I remember that’s never been true.

So many places I’ll never return to—most recently, the condo were I lived for ten years, where I was the year Mom and Dad died, and where I ended yet another relationship, sold or gave away some belongings and lost most of my income. But even in that last place—looking out a window I’ll never look out again, thank God—it seemed like I’d be stuck there forever.

Even in April 2012, back in Broad Ripple, I’m happy to remember a lovely lunch with my brother and his wife, the day before we interred our parents’ remains. There we were, at our birthplace. But again, no going back, ever: even the three people at that table are now only two. After 27 years together, my brother and his wife are divorcing.

When I stand by the gleaming sinks of the men’s locker room, it comes back—all of it.

All the places, over decades.

Sometimes I struggle to hold back tears.

Sometimes I feel insanely happy.

But this, too, will end.


It will always be about Broad Ripple, I can see that now.

I thought I was stuck, and felt hopeless. I now realize I’m still pushing ahead, and these spaces have only as much power as I allow them to have. That goes for the people connected with those spaces, too.

I don’t know where home is. I haven’t found it yet.

But I’m no longer standing on the headboard of my teenager bed on Casco Point, looking out the window for something to jettison me from the Family Project prison. Nor am I standing on a chair looking out the piano window of my St. Paul condo, again looking for escape. I can’t drive to an old haunt and look for a secret talisman, something to tell me where my life will lead me.

In Japanese poet Bashō’s “Narrow Road to the Deep North,” he weeps for the loss of a traveling companion. Where is the road? The way stations? When would the freezing cold or oppressive heat let up? Then Bashō remembers the road up ahead. The best way to travel is with an open heart and mind.

I know that. I struggle with it, but I know it deep down.

That scrappy little boy with the bruised head must leave Broad Ripple.

He has to find his way though Indianapolis, to Maryland and Washington, D.C., and on to Minnesota with its glittering Lake Minnetonka and college and city life, where last I told the story, ending up in a studio apartment in Hopkins, Minn., in 1986—a pivotal year in that young artist’s life.

broadrippleendBack in 1987, on a Wednesday at exactly 4:41 a.m., the boy eyes a streetsweeper pirouetting the intersection of Blake Road North and 2nd Street Northeast in Hopkins, viewed out the sliding-glass patio window of his apartment. A space he will never inhabit again.

All the apartments, houses, lawns, garages, corn cribs, barns, poolsides, backyards, docks, beaches … and, yeah, even country club locker rooms.

Never there again.

Sometimes I wish it was more about the future, but it’s mostly about how it connects with the past.

Broad ripples. Beyond where I could even imagine living.

It has to be about that, always.

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