Let’s Go Way Out West (Part 3)

•April 24, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Third of how the fuck many posts, I dunno.

Note: I was reluctant to write this post for many reasons, the first was probably its subject of “leavetaking.” I’ve covered this before in this blog, in pieces such as “Goodbye,” “Leaving the Lake,” and “Tearful Goodbyes,” so it’s something I’m sure everyone is familiar with. Knowing that doesn’t make it any harder to acknowledge, but there’s some courage in facing it. Everyone deals with it differently.

For example, a partner who abandons you and your relationship with them might be met with shock—or relief. Conversely, you fade from someone’s life only to realize they gave you gifts you’ll carry for the rest of your days.

It’s a mixed bag.

In October 1993, I reconnected with my friend Therese in Santa Fe, New Mexico, then with her husband Scott. After a couple days’ visit, it was time to leave and head on to Los Angeles, where my screenwriting agent Diana was relocating. I suppose leavetaking opens the door to regret, despair, and no small dollop of sorrow. “What could I have done better?” “What are the lessons I need to learn from the relationship and its ending?”

What is the true meaning of “goodbye”?

Day Four Continued
Sunday, October 10, 1993, Howard Johnson’s, Flagstaff, Arizona

Awoke at 11:30PM, then 3:30AM, then 5:30AM I actually got up. Wanted to write down all that I’d been thinking about that wonderful day Saturday. I wouldn’t get to do that until now, in Flagstaff. I’ve been aching for time alone ever since I left Therese today at almost exactly noon. Today went in TWO PARTS:

Part One: “The Thirty-Five Sweet Goodbyes” Diana and I left Old Carriage House B&B in Las Vegas around 9AM this morning, saying goodbye to Anne Robinson there. I drove Diana’s Mazda to Therese and Scott’s and we got there about 20 to 10AM Scott greeted us at the door and we hung out in the kitchen while they prepared a huge breakfast of tomatoes, peppers, torillas, bacon, sausage, eggs done three styles, refried beans, hash-browned potatoes, juice, tea and coffee cake. We sat on the patio in the cold sunshine by the garden and ate & laughed & Diana took a picture of Therese, Scott & I. Scott seemed more relaxed, even rather chipper, less doleful. Diana called to reserve rooms for us in Flagstaff and after cleaning up breakfast, Therese did Tarot readings for me and also one for Diana.

[An aside: as we were cleaning up, Scott and Diana were talking outside, I helped Therese in the kitchen. She looked at me and smiled as she put dishes in the sink. I smiled at her sadly and said: “I’m gonna miss you…” I walked over to her and she scratched me gently on the back. “I told Scott last night,” she said, “that by having you over here he’s given me a great gift.”]

(Rather than post a poem I’d written from the journal, I’ve chosen to omit it here.)

After the reading it was almost noon and we had hit the road. Walking out of the house I shook Scott’s hand & told him and I was glad we were able to meet. At the car, Diana gave Scott a hug and I walked over to Therese. We hugged long & tightly. It was so good, I was shaking. We said a few more words & she said, “Gimme another hug.” Second verse, same as the first…wonderful. As we got in the car & pulled away, Therese stood on the front porch and watched us for the longest time. I can’t forget the look on her face—pensive, patient, as if she stood there long enough we wouldn’t really go. I’ve been crying about this on & off the rest of the day. Plain fact is I love that young woman.

Part Two: “Ugly Thoughts That Don’t Bear Repeating”—but I’ll go ahead anyway. I’ve been thinking about how Diana & I are getting along on the trip—and I’ve had a few irritations, some I’ve felt are too minor to air but they give me pause in considering how we’ll work together [or not] in the future. I know she’s emotional about this move of hers, but she’s been playing the same James Ingram tape—and some other black artists, over and over again and it’s the kind of music that turns my stomach with its saccharine lyrics and over-orchestrated arrangements and stupid selfish intent: “How can I GET you to love me???”-type stuff. Then she sings along and it’s so indulgent.

Other things: she’d ditch a conversation, say when Therese, Scott, [she] and I were talking in their living room, to use the bathroom, then return moments later barging in on the new topic with an anecdote, and interrupting whoever was speaking. That one time, Scott looked at her in amazement and wondered aloud what she was talking about. I had to share his amazement, but Diana didn’t notice it. If Therese did, she was too polite to show it.

Also she used the overworn and extremely trite Mike Myers’s “Not!” interjection ad nauseum. I thought maybe she’s a little uncomfortable in the company of thirty-year olds, but I wished she’d not try to use shit like that to “fit in.” It’s old & awkward & unnecessary.

One of my other peeves on this trip has been the regular trashing of her ex-husband Paul. I can understand her frustration with him, but it’s doesn’t serve her well to go on harping (literally harping) about him. It’s gone, it’s over. So shut up about it.

I’ve noticed on this trip a certain myopia she has that in a way frightens me: she’ll ask where something is when it’s right in front of her, or continually have problems doing a simple thing like open a door, or something—and coming into the motel tonight (she was driving) she signaled to turn right but then turned the signal off and went straight when a van to our right thought she was turning—ack! We almost got hit. I blanched, but she laughed it off.

I’ve been thinking about how she reads for scripts and I think after I do the Public Reading for Moon, I’ll send her the revised script & if that’s not acceptable to her, then I think maybe we ought to tear up our contracts. I don’t see how we’re going to agree on creative things with these doubts. I’ll have to push, and be true to what I want, but I’m not going to go in circles with her. I hope I’m wrong.

I’m going into the next few days Post-Therese Let-Down. I was a little down coming into Flagstaff, but I think I’ll feel better in the morning. We’re seeing the Grand Canyon tomorrow.

At the Grand Canyon South Ridge, October 1993 (Photo by Diana Seyb).

I want to get right to L.A.

[End of Part 3]

Head Room

•November 30, 2021 • Leave a Comment

I’m still alive, if anyone is wondering. Took an overlong hiatus. Breathing…still breathing…

Completely in the Dark

HeadRoomYesterday afternoon I went to a park, plopped myself down under a tall tree, and stared up at the sky.

There they were. Those clouds again.

Like that spring morning seven years ago when I learned that Mom had died.

Or, in the same year, that September afternoon we lost Dad.

It’s been ages since I’ve had so much time all to myself (probably on a similar summer’s day when I was, oh, maybe 12), lazing on the grass and gazing up at the sky.

I still wonder about the same things I probably did as a child: How big is the universe? Why are we on this planet? What is the meaning behind the shapes of plants, animals, people, buildings … clouds?

Is this—me, idle, lying under a tree in midsummer—all some sort of elaborate dream?

And maybe I’m entirely somewhere else?



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Let’s Go Way Out West (Part 2)

•June 12, 2021 • Leave a Comment

[Photo by Cayetano Gil on Unsplash]

“He travels fastest,” Rudyard Kipling wrote in The Seven Seas, “who travels alone.”

I’m not so sure about that.

My last “solo adventure” to England in 1989 was all about lingering and melding with the natives. I was in no rush to get through anything—that would’ve completely soured the experience.

The autumn trip of 1993—from Houston to Los Angeles, with stops in New Mexico and Arizona—was fairly lighthearted and quick. My traveling companion Diana Seyb, new screenwriting agent and friend from the early ’90s, had to be in Brentwood, California, to meet the moving van delivering her furniture. I was along to experience the West Coast, attend her new agency’s open house, and help with driving duties. Ours was an entirely platonic relationship, so we enjoyed music and conversation as we sped west.

Of course, I was looking forward to reconnecting with Therese, my old girlfriend (then married) in Santa Fe, after an absence of nearly a decade.

This is the story of those exciting days in New Mexico.

Day Four

Sunday, October 10, 1993 7 AM

[Commentary: Prior to arriving in Santa Fe, Diana and I rented separate rooms at a bed and breakfast in Las Vegas, NM. I stayed in “Larry’s Room,” which had a guestbook. The following is about the previous day, Saturday, which we spent in Santa Fe with Therese and her husband Scott. The following is what I wrote in the guestbook.]


I got down to breakfast early (7:30-8:00) at least an hour before Diana (something that sort of piqued me—she always seemed to miss what was going on to the ritual of makeup and her own myopia). Nice chat with the B&B owner Anne, another guest Sylvia, from NYC, and a mother and her daughter (attending NM Highlands) both were from So. America and spoke more Spanish than English. Anne told me the story behind “Larry’s Room,” my room #1, Larry being a friend of theirs who’s dying of cancer in San Diego.

After breakfast & Diana had come down, I called Therese at 9 AM and we made plans to stop off at their place at noon. Diana & I walked around Las Vegas as the morning’s Homecoming parade wound down. We went down to the Old West quarter of town, by the Plaza Hotel, and bought postcards and looked into a gallery near there.

At [Therese’s place]. We arrived late, going too far down 25 & missing the correct exit. The Martin’s house is a lovely adobe-style stucco one-floor in a development about 12 miles outside of Santa Fe. Lovely square-foot garden in the back. Diana & I went to the door. Therese opened it and we hugged, then Scott and I shook hands (I’d noticed he’d had his right thumb cut off in an accident). We’d all planned to go right to town, but ended up talking in the living room after touring the house.

Shopping with Therese and Diana. Scott agreed to meet us at the restaurant at 7 PM where they had made reservations. First stopped at “Jackalope” Mexican Pottery & rugs & artifacts. Then Therese parked off Canyon Rd., and we walked to downtown Santa Fe.

Supper at El Farol—Spanish cuisine—delicious! I’ll go into detail later today. We’re stopping at the Martin’s for breakfast today (Sunday).

At [Therese’s place]. Scott’s a short guy about my height, with dark hair receding back; he wore black jeans and pullover shirt. He was quiet when we first arrived, I think he was nervous. Therese, as I said, was lovely. She had on jeans and low-neck top and jacket, and wore Nike hiking shoes. At one point after we were all talking together, Diana started talking to Scott about his writing (he had written a play called “Balloons” and started working on a screenplay last year, about a psycho-killer—something that I hoped to myself he didn’t feel the need to Act Out), and Therese came over and sat beside me and showed me the Tarot chart she’d worked out on my question about my screenplay. I can’t remember the gist of it, she’ll send a copy later. I loved listening to her talk again, right beside me. It was a real spark to my attitude. We talked a little of “the old days” and she conceded when I mentioned [old girlfriend Sally’s] judgment of my “angry attitudes”—yeah, she thought that too, sometimes, with me. We were all so “into” talking that we didn’t leave for the downtown shopping trip until after 4 o’clock!

Therese drove Diana and I in their car. I sat up front beside her, Diana sat in the back. Therese pulled a “fuzzbuster” out of a white satin pouch and set it up as we drove out. At the Jackalope Pottery place I bough a floor rug for my apartment and a front & inside doormat, and a horse ornament for [my nephew] Colin. Therese helped me look for a rug. She was so graceful and elegant in her sleek black pants and boots and black lace top & jacket. To have her beside me was wonderful! A time or two she laughed & stroked my arm and said “I can’t believe I’m doing this with you! It’s great!” The store was large and sort of open air: there was a section that had live songbirds in an aviary!

Then when we walked through the shops of downtown Santa Fe I was happy to see her and Diana like two happy kids in a candy store, looking at jewelry, going along together like old chums. I think they fed off each other’s ebullience. It warmed my heart to see that Therese hasn’t changed. She’s still the playful, generous soul I loved ten years ago. And that I still love as my friend [Therese and me at right on Sunday, October 10, 1993; photo by Diana Seyb].

As we walked the streets of Santa Fe, Therese described & named all the plants we came across. The streets are winding & surprising in their beauty.

Supper at El Farol: Scott had arranged to meet us at the restaurant at 7 PM, so after shopping and walking back up Canyon Rd., we were about 5-10 minutes late. Therese seemed anxious to see Scott (I saw that she adores him, in that confident, attentive way some wives love their husbands), and she led us in. We met him at the front bar, he with a Diet Coke in hand, and the proprietor/maitre d’ led us to a room where the food was displayed and from where it was served as Hot & Cold Tapas, the eating of which he explain to us like a driving instructor coaching a roomful of high school freshmen. He took us to our table and we sat:

[Our seating arrangement, from the journal.]

We shared hot and cold tapas. Scott had Cokes, Therese hot herbal tea (I forgot she never drank coffee) and water, and Diana & I had Spanish white wine. The tapas were excellent: olives w/goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, peppers, chicken and beef and marinated mushroom caps in sherry, cilantro, a curry salad, scallops and shrimp…we went All Out. For dessert I had the Key Lime Pie, Therese had a raspberry crumb cake and Diana had, I think, a raspberry torte or something. I had a Kaluha and coffee too. When the bill came (almost $100) I paid for it, as my belated wedding present to Therese and Scott.

We finished dinner after 9 PM, I guess, and stepped outside and it started to sprinkle. Since there were two vehicles, I offered to ride with Scott in his truck, Diana rode back to [their place] with Therese. Scott and I talked about working in the theater and writing and CTC [Children’s Theater Company, in Minneapolis]. Diana and I drove back to Las Vegas when we all met up at the Martin’s. I was in bed by 10:30, but didn’t sleep very well. We had all arranged to have breakfast Sunday at their place before Diana and I left New Mexico for Flagstaff.

[End of Part 2]

Let’s Go Way Out West! (Part 1)

•April 22, 2021 • 5 Comments

[Photo by Cayetano Gil on Unsplash]

I have no desire to return to the past. Truly.

Which might seem like an odd thing to say given this entire blog is about the
past—specifically my life.

You see, I launched it over ten years ago this past October in a raging personal brushfire
of grief and memory. My parents had died two years before. The best way I knew to deal
with my pain was one I’d naturally used from childhood—writing. So, this blog is less
about me than you’d suspect (although you will have of course formed your own opinion
and will decidedly stick to it, as you damn well should).

When I mused over how I was going to tell the following tale, an autumn 1993 road trip
out west
with my new screenwriting agent and friend Diana Seyb, my first thought was
clear-cut: just curate what the journal relates—all ten full pages of it.

Well, that’s doable, but only if it’s sliced and diced into parts, and I allow time for
commentary or rumination of all the whys and wherefores. Because, in the end, why
should you care about my history if I don’t take the time to understand it myself?

But “curate” is a tender way of putting things. I mean it’s a squishy and more than a tad
highfalutin term. After a decade of this blog I’ve come to realize that you—the
reader—will react in unpredictable ways even when I feel I’m in control of the narrative.
That is to say (and I believe this): no one ever really tells the truth. It’s an ongoing
judgment call and shifts with the wind. I try to be as honest as I can since I realize there
will come a time when I am too infirm to know the difference between what occurred and
what I wrote down at the time. Even the journal, as close as it was to the unfolding of the
actual events, fails at that. I’ve seen it time and time again.

So let’s dive in anyway since the journey was titled in the diary as “Way Out West Tour
I, October 7 – October 16, 1993.” I’ll go into each entry subtitled Day One, Day Two,
etc., and summarize in brackets the events and cherry-pick passages of interest. Dear
Reader Friend, I hope you enjoy it.

Day One
Thursday, Oct. 7th (1993) Flight out to Houston

[Commentary: The first four paragraphs are a recounting of a visit to the Great American
History Theatre the night before my flight out, and general disgust with the people I
encountered there from my college internship as dramaturg in 1992. So it seems appropos
to pick it up at the top of the fifth ’graph…]

Anyway, fuck that. I’m off to Houston, Santa Fe & L.A. I could use more coffee and a
bite to eat. A few people called yesterday—Hollingsworth in the morning, then Dad, then
Pat Ciernia—after I got back from the play Mom left a cryptic “Be Careful” message. I’m
saddened by their lack of positive reinforcement. They should say: “Go get ’em, Tiger!”
Then finally Chris called & we chatted until 10:30. Postcards to: Mom & Dad, Grandpas,
Brian, Stacey & Colin, Chris, T.H., Ciernias (Four Eyes), Bob O., Bud & Ellen,
Willits…Fri AM call Therese!

“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” “Love’s a game…” Colloquial phrases NOT to be
taken literally, rather a friend to a friend: “Chin up…levity, lad!” [Realizing now this is
when I first started “self-parenting.” I filled in missing reinforcement with positive self-

Day Two
Friday, October 8 (1993), 8:45AM, Devil’s River Inn, Rm 238, Sonora, Texas

We got in around 10 PM last night after a good day largely spent in San Antonio. Diana
had been there before with her former boyfriend Jim.

Just had breakfast at the Steakhouse here—just a short stack of pancakes w/sausage. I’ve
got a large coffee here in the room. I arrived in Houston about five minutes ahead of
schedule and when I got off the plane Diana & her daughter Casey weren’t there yet, so I
went down to the baggage claim and got my suitbag & when I came back up they had

Casey’s an attractive brunette, 24 years, real commonsensical, pleasant. She’s living with
her Irish boyfriend Paul, and another woman friend of hers from college in Boston, Trish.
I didn’t get to meet either of them. We stopped back at Casey’s place to pick up Diana’s
things & Diana & I were on the road by 10:30-11am or so. Texas hadn’t changed much
since June
, but was less humid I thought.

The real enjoyment of the day was San Antonio. At first I was a little meanaced by it—I
don’t know why. Probably because part of it is poor. We parked the car and hit the
Riverwalk, looking for a place to eat. The Riverwalk was lovelier that I expected—I think
I imagined just paths around the river…but the river is narrow and you have to walk
down to the river, so there’s a sense of weird angles, and bridges & brickwork that
delight & surprise—like Portmeirion in Wales.

We had lunch at “Dick’s”—I had to run back & pay for parking (we forgot) and when I
got back I had a huge bottle of Lone Star beer waiting on ice for me. Diana had a
sandwich & I had the BBQ Chicken “bucket”—our waitress was loud and she cackled
that Texas cackle—funny.

We went and saw the Alamo. Pretty amazing. The community of Native Americans and
blacks & Europeans that fought together against the Mexican army & Santa Ana—it sort
of surprised me. Guess I always thought John Wayne did it alone. After that we stopped
in at the Saloon Bar at Menger’s Hotel where every president from Teddy Roosevelt on
stopped (not to mention Babe Ruth in 1930). We sat there for about an hour sipping white
wine & talking about relationships & stuff.

After that we headed out for Sonora—at around 6:30 (we’d gotten out of San Antonio at
around 2:30-3PM) I started to lose steam as the sun went down (a beautiful rainbow
outside San Antonio—then a lovely streaming sunset to the West).

TODAY—gotta call Therese and Scott. It’s my turn to drive today—up to Las Vegas,
New Mexico. It’s a cloudy day—69 [degrees] to start, cooler, I hear, in New Mexico.
(Old Carriage House B&B, Las Vegas, NM for Friday Oct. 8). Sonora to Ft. Stockton to
Pecos to Carlsbad to Roswell to Vaughan and up to Las Vegas. We had lunch at around
2:30 at a steakhouse in Pecos—cute wood-hewn cowboy paraphernalia.

Day Three
Saturday, Oct. 9th (1993) Old Carriage House, Las Vegas, NM

Call Therese at 9AM Meet downtown or at their place?

Supper last night at Pulcini’s Italian restaurant in Las Vegas—Melissa was our waitress, a
lovely 18 yr old who chatted pleasantly with us—we left her a nice tip—Wayne Pulcini,
owner. His wife opened a bottle of Chianti Classico for me. We had a beautiful sunset
coming in from Vaughan. I joked, “All we need when we come into Las Vegas to top that
is fireworks!”

When we came into Las Vegas there were fireworks.

The Highlands College of New Mexico was having their Homecoming.

For supper I had a Caesar salad con pollo (w/chicken) and excellent herb bread. A lot
more later—off to Santa Fe for the day!

[End of Part 1]

An Untweetable World

•March 16, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Odd that this was written five years ago and feels like it could’ve been written last December, in 2020. What has changed? Not a lot, although we still tell ourselves it has. Well, that’s doubtful.

I don’t want to go back to “normal.” I want to go forward to “real.” New post coming soon, since it’s a multipart post about the fall of 1993 and my first visit to Los Angeles.

Be well my friends, MM

Completely in the Dark

PaulasCat Paula Poundstone’s cat, arriving via snail mail (the photo on a postcard, not the actual cat).

Oh, you Facebook.

It was so easy to forget you.

Ours was an awkward breakup, mostly because the people I left behind there were confused. And, well, a little frightened.

See, you were all about the past—yeah, that thing I try to leave behind every day.

But I didn’t come to that realization until a year or two into our relationship.

We probably met in 2006, although I know I saw you a lot in 2008. I commented to the woman I was then dating: “You should get on Facebook, hon! It’s a blast. It’s like One. Big. Party.” She said she couldn’t because of privacy concerns and, well, she worked in public education and didn’t want her students to know all about her private life.

Totally understandable.

Day7 Death By Facebook (Murder)…

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•December 31, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Sure, I’ve been here before—here being now, 2020. Oh, yes. Many times.

My life, all 60 plus years of it, has moved in chunks of decade-long events briefly bisected with what I’d call “stultifying interstices of nothingness,” aka “limbo.”

I’m in one now with not much I can do about it. Work got rearranged due to the holidays (and COVID-19) this year, so I’m left twiddling my thumbs until Jan. 4.

These periods are not worth fearing since they’ve often portended momentous—and usually positive—changes ahead. For example, birth was a pretty big deal. That “nothingness” brought on the 1960s, my first decade. Its events were a blur of “learning the ropes” and overwhelming sensory stimuli. The first interstice was probably around 1969-1970, just before we moved from Maryland to Minnesota. I wrote about that “prison sentence” here, when I was around 10 years old.

My second decade was probably the best: 1971 to 1980. That was filled with school and new friends, many of whom I still see. But after I graduated high school in 1978, I was stuck in a new interstice—college or work? Work or college? Which direction would I take? That second decade wouldn’t become eventful until I started doing both: attending community college and working full-time. It was a lot to bite off, but I shake my head to this day about how nimbly I changed from one to the other, many times over.

That leads us to where we are now: The third decade, which didn’t firmly begin until 1993. The hesitation was born of fear—of leaving a steady corporate job for freelancing in December 1992. Even after steeling my will to the sticking spot and making the split, it took months to settle into new digs (shown above and at left, photographed in the summer of 2020) at 108 Pierce Street in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in August 1993. My apartment, coming in at $390 a month, was cozy, with its back bedroom, claw-footed bathtub and shower, galley kitchen and tiny dining area, and spacious living room sided by windows facing east and south (in the above photo, it’s the off-street upper unit with a view of the back alley), it was—for me at the time—a slice of heaven. I felt stable, revitalized, and able to think about my new business, Available Light Creative.

On Monday, Sept. 6, 1993, I wrote about my new life after a visit out west to my old stomping grounds in Mound. I’d stopped into my friend John Larson’s new business, Larson Printing, to see about getting Available Light Creative envelopes made.

“John was in a bad mood,” I wrote in the journal. “I think I told them about my plans for the trip out west and living in the city and I recall feeling really bad about the visit. It was like they were sorry they never changed: nothing happens here sort-of-thing. The Eeyores (A.A. Milne) of Mound. Part of me is extremely glad I don’t live there anymore. I walk around St. Paul/Merriam Park and though it’s not paradise it IS a place among many in which to live. There is a wider variety of people here with diverse backgrounds and opinions: can’t say much of that about Mound…a phalanx of suburban fear and ennui, fighting a world that may or may not exist, but not really helping anything. Just running from problems. It really makes me sad for them.”

Well, perhaps I was doing the same, only in the city. I can only say that the decade ahead would be fraught with realities and frustrations I couldn’t yet see in the autumn of 1993. I might have been coming from a place of renewed vigor. At least that’s my best guess.

And I’d kept working away at The Wandering Moon screenplay, befriending a budding agent named Diana Seyb, who would be moving to Hollywood that fall. She convinced me to be one of the first screenwriters signed to her agency. By the beginning of October I joined my screenwriter friend Bob Ozasky (who later appeared as a state trooper in the Coen brothers’ Fargo) as an extra on the set of Little Big League, shooting at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport.

The movement away from the early ’90s interstice began that October. I met writer-producer Mark Frost (“Hill Street Blues,” “Twin Peaks”) at a reading in St. Paul around that time and we chatted about my script. He told me to tell Diana hello when I next saw her, so I felt I was moving into a new and exciting track in my life. I was also planning a public reading of my script with local actors directed by a Shakespearean actor named Terry Ward after I returned from California that November.

That early autumn of 1993 was beautiful. I remember it fondly. I recall walking up to my local independent bookstore, The Hungry Mind, or buying groceries from R.C. Dicks just two blocks west. My neighborhood seemed cheerful and serene.

On Monday, Oct. 3, 1993, I wrote in the journal about my upcoming flight to Houston to meet up with Diana where the two of us would drive her worldly possessions to West Hollywood. “So I’m not a little anxious about this trip. There is nothing I can foresee about it. I get the sense from everyone who knows about it that it’s important. I sort of feel the anxiety I felt just before going to Britain for the first time in 1982. I think the important thing is to make GOOD USE of these opportunities.”

I think the biggest takeaway about interstices is how when you’re in them they seem to last forever.

And when you’re out, you wonder why you worried about them at all.

Future Games

•October 29, 2020 • Leave a Comment

“…we are all doomed to being forgotten—that the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience joy and disappointment and aches and delights and loss, make our little mark on the world, and then we vanish, and the mark is erased, and it is as if we never existed. If you gaze into that bleakness even for a moment, the sum of life becomes null and void, because if nothing lasts, nothing matters. It means that everything we experience unfolds without a pattern, and life is just a wild, random, baffling occurrence, a scattering of notes with no melody. But if something you learn or observe or imagine can be set down and saved, and if you can see your life reflected in previous lives, and can imagine it reflected in subsequent ones, you can begin to discover order and harmony. You know that you are part of a larger story that has shape and purpose—a tangible, familiar past and a constantly refreshed future. We are all whispering in a tin can on a string, but we are heard, so we whisper the message into the next tin can and the next string. Writing a book, just like building a library, is an act of sheer defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence of memory.”
Susan Orlean, The Library Book [italics mine]

“So you better take your time
You know there’s no escape
The future sends a sign
Of things we will create
Baby it’s alright
And so have faith
Oh yeah
You invent the future that you want to face.”
Fleetwood Mac, “Future Games”

Just over ten years ago, on Oct. 3, 2010 (published at 1:53 a.m., an early Sunday to be exact), I put up “Let’s Begin Here,” this blog’s debut post. I’d reached an emotional boiling point—two years previously both my parents died, I’d ended a love relationship, and I was in despair over my career.

In short, I thought my life was over.

Somehow a decade ago I pulled out of that nosedive. Now I wonder what it was that gave me the initial lift skyward. I had years of diaries and journals, as well as photographs—and I was curious about what I would discover in all that. So, in a sense, curiosity (or what I call “Stargazing”) saved me.

As my early life was only found in family photos or baby books—maybe even letters received from Mom and Dad or tales I recalled being told over and over again—I used those early posts as sensory-based memory recall: I’d close my eyes and imagine what warm sunlight felt like on my young skin, nostrils filled with chlorine from the local pool, or the jangle of a transistor radio playing nearby. It was intoxicating—it was pleasurable; I was a happy kid!

That was the propellant in the first months of CITD. Readers didn’t arrive until “The Kid Stays in the Picture” published in mid-March 2013—almost three years later. So fellow creators, don’t despair. Play contentedly in your own sandbox (be it song, story, novel, poem, play, movie, canvas, or whatever floats your boat) until other kids show up—seeing what great fun you’re having—and maybe they’ll ask if they can join in.

You see, Completely in the Dark has been my personal “library,” so you’re welcome to linger in it as long as you wish.


It was the end of August 1993.

That month I’d just moved into 108 Pierce Street, in St. Paul’s Merriam Park. I loved my quiet new one-bedroom on the top floor, an off-street, back alley end unit. I had cross breezes that wafted in blooming spring lilacs and, well, the scent of hope that late summer with my desktop publishing biz picking up steam. I set up my computer (an Apple Macintosh IIsi with laser printer) in the living room, and I was just getting into this new “information superhighway” thing with AOL and Earthlink (ah, that harum-scarum dial-up modem sound!). I was probably one of the first people to network and job hunt online. The days happily whizzed by.

On the last day of that month, I wrote in the journal:

“I laid in bed this morning thinking a bit about the weeks ahead. Laying off the drinking has given me more energy and I need to stick with that. I also think there is—at least on my part—a perception that relationships with women are moving in a friendlier stance than they have been in a long while. I’m still wary of romance, but know damn well I would enjoy it. Why do people fear what can be so enjoyable? Well, perhaps because it’s not JUST enjoyable, it becomes a part of you, as a person. Some people perhaps weigh the loss as too mighty. Perhaps I had done the same thing.”

Well, yeah, sure I did. But let’s cut to the chase—you still do. You’re forever Mr. Cautious. Would I continue that way into the future?

By early September 1993 I was back to working on a short story I’d teased out earlier. The journal states:

“…the answers you seek to something/anything in this life, I’ve found, usually come by Doing. Theory is the comfy chair of human existence. It’s nice for what it is, but nothing gets at what needs to be done like a direct attack. Most of the time I don’t know what I want until I really see what I don’t want. It gets me in another direction. I’ve often been exasperated by my ability (disability, I’d call it) to sit down like a happy ass to write what I thought I wanted to write only to look at it later and say, ‘What’s this? This isn’t what I wanted to say! How’d that come out?’ So the editor picks up the pen and has at it, and I suppose that’s all for the best.”

Twenty-seven years later I’m happy to report I’m the same way. I will draft and redraft and write and rewrite until the cows come home.

And sometimes the cows never make it back to the barn.

Meanwhile, I was enjoying the first peaceful autumn in a long while. I was independent and planning to travel west that October. I had a new home and was “feathering my nest” again—something my late father always told me he felt confident I would do no matter how my life turned out.

The future games we play these days seem fraught with unknowns. The only antecedent I can think of to COVID-19 was the threat of an escalating nuclear war. That’s the shadow I grew up under in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s—especially when Reagan became president. Of course nuclear conflict is still a thing, but it’s taken a back seat to climate change, racial injustice, economic disparities, and this seemingly endless global pandemic.

“Some time after September 8,” 1993, I wrote in the journal: “Backside of a religious education. Why are some of us raised to think there is a right and a wrong way to living one’s life and that to just DO something is ALL RIGHT in that if it doesn’t work, fix it, improve on it. That’s the secret. Go for a goal and if it didn’t work out, hey, that’s maturity. You tried it, now go on to something that does work for you. That’s what I wanted to say.” Maybe that’s wise and maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s a past game I no longer need to play. But what interests me is how in my newfound independence I was trying to “parent” myself. I was trying on what’s now called “adulting.” I was making a peace accord, if you will, with myself and my adopted St. Paul neighborhood.

I chose the above Susan Orlean quote because it’s a courageous thing to write. It’s difficult to peer into the future if it seems so bleak and unforgiving. But what turns that around is the assurance that perhaps by learning, observing, imagining (all qualities of Stargazing in my view)—and “believing in the persistence of memory” as a path toward discovering “order and harmony,” we can all bring meaning into our lives.

Maybe, with faith, we do invent the future, knowing we’re part of a larger story.

I sure hope so.

Nostalgia Is Death

•July 29, 2020 • 1 Comment

Bob Dylan turned 50 on May 24, 1991.

I’d follow him 18 years later, but I only mention this because he just put out a new album this year—when he also turned 79—making one helluva strong case for “never looking back.”

Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn wrote about Dylan on that landmark half-century birthday. During their interview Hilburn noticed a road crew member slipping Dylan a paperback book that outlined all his live sets over the years. When Dylan gave the book back, the roadie told him to keep it as a souvenir. Dylan didn’t want it.

“Naw, I’ve already been to those places,” he said, “and I’ve done all that.” Then, with a quick grin, Dylan added: “Now if you ever find a book out there that’s going to tell me where I’m going, I might be interested.”

This immediately struck a chord with me because I realized I had such a “book” in my possession—all my diaries and journals. While they’re a record of my past, they’re oddly clairvoyant at times; I often dive into them somewhat randomly for just that effect.

Reading Hilburn’s interview, where the journalist asked the artist to dissect his rich and varied past, to which Dylan shot back acidly, “Nostalgia is death,” I felt an opening into something that’s been on my mind lately with this blog.

Now I’m fairly certain many readers here depend on my reminiscences for their own nostalgic jags: memories about 1970s drive-in movies, supper clubs, soda fountains, high school football games on rainy fall nights, cruising a main drag, attending a rock concert, or falling in love (for the first of many times). Those are the common themes that bind our lives together—however separated we may feel—into a shared narrative. Heck, I guess I should be grateful for being able to do that.

But friends, that’s definitely not why I show up here. That’s not why this blog matters to me.

And that’s why nostalgia is…well, yeah, just another form of slowly dying.

“He not busy being born is busy dying,” our rockin’ 20th century Walt Whitman also sang. So, how can we keep busy “being born”? How can a journal or diary help you move past “noxious nostalgic vapors” into something closer to clarity, self-awareness, and ongoing personal rebirth?

Well, I think I can help you out with that.

Let’s start with curiosity—the rabbit hole that often leads to unexpected insights. Here’s a question: “What was I doing on Bob Dylan’s 50th birthday, on May 24, 1991?” After all I had journals from that time, although I only started to lean harder on journal writing in the mid-to-late ’90s.

Hey, it was worth a look.

The bad news: no entries for May of that year, but I did find an entry that dovetails with Dylan on March 25, 1991. The juncture was his performance at that year’s Grammy awards, with a blistering and bewildering version of “Masters of War”—occasioned of course by the same thing I was writing about in my journal at the time, the terrifying month-long Persian Gulf War. With my trusty fountain pen I scratched out a late-night entry, posted here in full:

“It’s just after midnight, but feels like 3 a.m. I’m lying awake and afraid I’ll be dead at 31 of a heart attack. My stomach is rumbling for a second night. I think I had a mild case of food poisoning yesterday but it really isn’t worth mentioning. I suppose I’m writing more out of fear than anything now; I’m a little angry at the black side of solitude, the genuine feeling of loneliness. I’m fucking sick of it. But I don’t know what to do about it. Thursday night at work I asked N. if she wanted to go see The Doors movie (Oliver Stone) after work and she thought about it. Friday afternoon she asked me if I was still going and I said yes and asked if she wanted to go, but she gently declined. I didn’t say much the rest of the day and left at 7:30 (a bit sullenly, I suppose), just saying ‘goodnight.’ It was raining like all hell when I left, so I went and rented two movies and got something to drink. I did the same thing Sat. night after grocery shopping and Sunday afternoon I caught the aforementioned Stone movie, ate supper at the Lone Star Grill and had two drinks and went home. I hadn’t heard from anyone all weekend save the proverbial Folks who’re still enthusing about the Winning of the Goddamned War and Jesus Christ’s Fucking Pointless Resurrection et al next weekend. I suppose I’ve a little leftover Evil Lizard King left w/me, but shit, really. I don’t want a sitter, no ‘friend’ or chum/pal o’ mine. Want something MORE—something bigger than this shell of mine that fills a family. Life Alone Is Hell. But that’s not the same as solitude, which is like being a part of Something. When will it End?”

Well of course it would end, but it was startling to fast-forward two years and three months ahead to discover exactly how:

“A man who keeps a diary pays
Due toll to many tedious days;
But life becomes eventful—then
His busy hand forgets the pen.
Most books, indeed, are records less
Of fullness than of emptiness.”
William Allingham’s diary, 1864

That was on July 5, 1993, when—nine days later—I’d landed a new apartment at 108 Pierce Street in St. Paul’s Merriam Park. I’d be leaving Cathedral Hill and heading west again. The previous 1991 entry was a year before I moved to St. Paul—when I was holding down a dead-end job, living in a joyless apartment, trying to date indifferent women, and feeling completely hopeless about the future.

So, I shook things up.

It took awhile, but eventually “life became eventful.” And because life became eventful, I knew I had to get it down in my journal—so I wrote even more throughout 1993 and beyond. The early 1990s were a bad patch that I couldn’t see through—maybe like these “Covid-19 days” we’re all experiencing.

So let’s not wallow in nostalgia, friends. Nostalgia is futile, but when you’re there it sticks to your soul like rusty old coffin nails. There were no “good old days.” The best you can do is take what you’ve learned and retool that knowledge. Keep expanding.

Keep making better days.

Bob Dylan did that time and time again, as he’s currently doing with Rough and Rowdy Ways. He doesn’t take cues from the crowd. He goes inside and feels around for whatever treasures he finds there. Or more dirt to plant things in. Or interesting scraps to play with. Life is the grand experiment. If it feels like forward motion—even if no one else approves—then it’s all good.

And that, I think, is a great strategy for keeping busy “being born.”

Lastly I’m willing to bet Dylan knows he does have that book about the future—it’s all there in his sketch pads, notebooks, concerts, and every song and lyric he’s ever written—and will write as long as we’re blessed to have him among us.


Dylan photo above retrieved from Rogelio A. Galaviz C. Under Creative Commons license.


•July 2, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I’m determined to leave this world a kinder person than when I came into it.

And if that means leaving some junk behind, well, all the better.

But first I need to tease out some questions.

What is valuable and what is worthless? What is junk to me but may be treasure to someone else? And how can we tell the difference?

In the past dozen years since the ’rents died, I’ve tossed a lot, including some pretty major stuff—family furniture connected to my earliest memories, to books and memorabilia I’ve decided I no longer want. The winnowing has lessened since the pandemic hit in early March, but I need to return to it more forcefully. What I’ve kept are things I would miss if they were gone because they’re useful. The old furniture, however, was kept merely out of sentimentality. The hardest items to toss are my papers: stories begun yet unfinished, poems, plays, lyrics, and ideas for other things—I never know when I’ll wonder: “Hey whatever happened to the source material for that idea?”—and poof—it’s been lost forever as if it never occurred to me.

I sympathize with families now dealing with wrenching changes (especially with aging parents who are reluctant to give up stuff they’ve collected over the years), and the urge to purge is hitting them all at once. It’s exhausting, I know. But maybe now is a good time to reallocate resources, sell what you don’t want, keep what still brings any kind of happiness (joy being a rare commodity these days), while remaining suspicious of familiar things that merely bring you contentment.

It’s time to look at all my junk like I’ve never done before.


A calendar entry for Saturday, Aug. 22, 1993, reads: “Flea market? Yes if possible,” followed by the all-caps addition: “RAIN.” I had to backtrack a year or two earlier to hone in on this cryptic note. But I knew exactly what it was about.

You see, my high school “track and field philosopher” buddy Theron Hollingsworth and I started selling stuff at the Medina Ballroom’s Sunday flea market, according to my old sketch pad calendars, beginning in the summer of 1991—June 9, specifically.

So naturally I went to look for a journal entry.

The result? Cold shoulder from the journals. I wasn’t writing much in the late ’80s, early ’90s—only returning with a vengeance in 1994 and beyond. I now know why: writing needs a good table, strong light, and essentially regular habits. The early 1990s were full of personal upheaval—I was getting too far away from myself.

What I enjoyed about Terry in those days was his innate ability to rope me back in: “Hey buddy,” he’d telephone on a summer Saturday. “What’d’ya say we pool together our junk and haul it out to the Medina Flea Market to sell? Maybe make a couple bucks, people-watch, drink some coffee, catch up and chill!”

I guess at that time in my life it sounded like a sweet mini-vacation. I don’t recall anything particular I added to our “booth table,” but it was always good fun. We reminisced about those outings a couple months ago. Terry even shared a photo from that time (above left) taken by his friend Mike Bailey at the aforementioned flea market. Sorta tells you everything you need to know in an instant.

Another valuable thing about the experience was our conversations with passersby. People would pick over items at our table and sometimes all they really wanted to do was chat. Terry and I would squint through our sunglasses, sip our coffees, and ask how they were doing. If that sort of sociability isn’t still valuable, then I sure as hell don’t know what is. Terry was the kind of friend who could appreciate it, too.

Exactly the kind of friend you want to keep for as long as possible in this sad world.


So, is my writing “junk”? Or is it as-yet-unearthed treasure?

Time will tell. Like all good journalists, I only know that recording thoughts, ideas, and events from one’s life can lead to insights. I say can because we’re in a world apparently adverse to doing just that. Recording history is a practice that can change lives, possibly moving us toward a more inclusive and inquisitive world. It’s a hopeful attitude to take—one I’m willing to uphold and fight for.

The journal doesn’t bear it out, but I’m fairly certain the summer of 1993 was the last of the flea markets for me and Terry. Eventually he sold his Dodge pickup and we just moved on to other things. At the time I didn’t think those excursions were worth recording into lengthy journal entries. It might’ve seemed like more daily ephemera—you know, junk.

But I was as wrong as wrong can be.

I now realize that it’s in the little things—the stuff we often cast off—that the world is made anew.

Worlds In Turmoil

•April 22, 2020 • Leave a Comment

“America’s uncanny Beach Blanket Bingo Isolationism continues,” I wrote in my journal back in June 1989. “My feeling is that one day soon it will all catch up with us and I’m not sure I want to be here when it does.”

Well, it has and I am. And I’m drafting an all-new post for next Friday, so stick around! Best, Mike

Completely in the Dark

“…1959 was a very strange time, a bad year for Labour and a good year for wine.”
—Al Stewart, “Post World War Two Blues”

Although I was born in late ’59, I consider myself a child of the 1960s.

So it follows that I was a wooly teenager of the 1970s and newly minted adult in the 1980s.

The ’80s, in retrospect, was a cakewalk. I was employed for most of it (1981–1984 at the print shop, not far from my late parents’ hobby farm; 1985–1992 at a direct mail marketing corporation in Hopkins, Minn., where I then lived in my first apartment).

Although, as you’ll see shortly, by the end of it I’d declared the entire decade “horrible.”

As I’ve mentioned lately, the late ’80s was a creative watershed for me. Once I was independent, I discovered my own way of doing things: using gainful…

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