An open text from out there


We see you.

You are what your Anglos call “humans.”
We can tell by the way you move about
and the noises that you make.

You build machines that fly
to nearby planets and machines
that kill your own species.

Your home teems with sustenance,
yet many wither and die
as other humans thrive.

You seek other life
yet don’t know
how to live your own.

We wait to see you open your eyes,
then maybe you will see us.

First launched on Medium, August 13, 2016

The stories readers leave behind

books-1481403_1920Some used books, even non-mysteries, present mysteries of their own.

This summer I’ve read several. I bought two when I visited a local used book store that now carries new, unused copies of my crime novel. Several others were gifts, a nice little stack that will keep me busy for some time.

A used (pre-owned? pre-experienced?) book of fiction delivers two stories. The one that everyone reads appears in type, the same story in every bound copy. 

The readers who first consume those words create other stories and leave them behind, each one unique, in flashes and fragments of non-fiction.



A fly crushed between pages 89 and 90.

Blood on a credit card receipt.

An author’s autograph, once treasured then given away or sold for pennies on the dollar.

A phone number on the back of an envelope.

Then there are the notes. In some I see my son’s cryptic hand, in the secret language of academia. Ideas for the new syllabus, a paper, or next week’s class now months or years gone by?

Another reader checkmarks paragraphs here and there, wraps seemingly random sentences in parentheses. Yet another underlines words and phrases.

Why those words, that sentence, this paragraph? What did she mean by that? Why was that important to him?

Each reader changes the story, preparing a new experience for whoever comes next.


I shot the piper

Out for a sunny Sunday morning bicycle ride, in search of good coffee and wildlife, I heard the reedy chant of the elusive Boulder County piper as I rolled into the little town of Lyons. I stopped at the corner, looked to my right, my left, ahead and behind, but could not find the source before it fell silent.

Thinking to press on to the Stone Cup and hoping to spot the wily creature on the way back home, I clicked into a pedal and pushed off only to stop again as the mournful drone and melody came right back to life.

Up. I looked up, and there it was.

God help me, I shot it. I bagged my first piper.

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How many clicks is too many?

This was appended to an email that found its way to my inbox today:

When you click the link above, you will see our sign-up page.
To manage your subscription fill in your email address and name (legal and last).
Then scroll down and click the big red subscribe button.
You will then be redirected to a form that will give you a link to 
update your profile. Ignore the big red “There are errors below” and click on the link that says “Click here to update your profile”. This will send you an email with a link to allow you to update your profile.

Not only will I ignore the big red “errors” thing, I think I will just unsubscribe.

The power of pretending to be fearless


Since the day some years back when I was changing one of my son’s very first diapers, I’ve blustered about how the Smiths are fearless.

“We ain’t afraid o’ nothin’,” I said for the first time that day.

I repeated it several times while fighting back my ridiculously sensitive gag reflex and wiping that baby boy’s ’s sore butt clean of one of the foulest, stinkiest messes I have ever encountered.

Some of you are snickering. I can hear you.

You’re probably mothers or nurses or both, the true badasses of the world who deal with this shit and so many of the really hard things in life without flinching.

When I was a kid, I could barely stand to pick up dried dog poop in the back yard with a shovel. My first child’s diaper on that one fateful day, and that five-word incantation, changed my life.

I’ve repeated those words to great effect countless times since, fending off challenges small and large, real and imagined, physical and otherwise. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

The words have power.

When you persuade yourself that you have no fear, that you can take whatever comes along, you can fake your way through almost anything. Being afraid of nothing, or at least pretending to be, can be liberating.

Sooner or later, it can even become something close to true. I am afraid of very little now: letting my family down somehow; railroad crossings when I’m bicycling in the rain; one other thing that I’m not prepared to share.

Oh, and I can walk the dog and pick up after him without a whimper.

It is entirely possible that what I feared so long ago was being a father. I had seen how not to do it.

I’ve learned something, though, and now that my fearless son will be a father soon, this seems to be a good time to share it:

There really is nothing to fear where you’re going.

You will always worry, but there is nothing to fear.

Pass it on.

First published on

When they is (are?) one person

Is there no better alternative to “they” for an individual who identifies as neither male nor female, but as non-binary? I’ve seen many alternatives but am not persuaded that any of them are better.

This has come up a a few times recently in my little corner of the world. The most recent example was in this NPR story about someone who “is no longer legally male or female and prefers the pronoun ‘they’.”

It’s confusing to use they in a sentence when referring to one person. Small issue, maybe, but it’s the only thing that bugs me about the story.

Well, OK, it’s not the only thing.

Far, far worse and infinitely more distressing is the hate that burbles up from the depths when stories like these come to light. I briefly thought about disconnecting from social media, or at least trying harder to avoid the vile, toxic comments that are so common in the world’s dark online underbelly.

I sometimes envy a good friend who no longer watches the news and has no social media presence or interest. I suppose part of the reason is that he is a lawyer, a former prosecutor who now defends the accused. I imagine he’s had more than his fill of exposure to the uglier side of humanity.

It’s hard for me to imagine disconnecting to that extent as a writer. So far, I’m unable to turn away. Maybe it’s because of my education and experience as a journalist, or some character flaw that makes me inordinately curious about the evil among us.

When “they” is among a person’s preferred pronouns (mine are he/him/his, BTW), I try to respect that, as difficult as it might make construction of a clear sentence.

The slimy creatures that spew hatred from greasy keyboards and incite others to commit violence against people who are different?

It is important to know that those people exist, but they deserve respect from no one.