Category Archives: Essay

The Narrative

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 12.17.16 PMWe’re all suckers for great storytelling.

It’s what we’ve been doing for the better part of 10,000 years.

We’re either telling or listening. We’re attuned to the narrative of our existence as interpreted by others and broadcast back to us in one form or another.

It’s how we understand one another. It’s also how we fail to understand one another. The subtleties of our lives lost in translation, as it were.

We look for the narrative in everything. Seeking it like truth or a map legend or a rubric.

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The Middle Children of History

(Photo by Sander van der Wel)

My uncle Peter killed himself when I was 15-years-old.

It still haunts me 25 years later.

I’ve never really gotten over his death, because as a family, we never really discussed it.

This was in part our Ukrainian culture and the superstitions that came over the ocean with my grandparents, partly our religious beliefs and partly my age at the time.

All I ever really knew about the circumstances that led to his death was that he was a lonely man, in spite of having a loving, supportive family and that he struggled with depression.

Last week an old friend and former colleague from my newspaper days in Missoula, Montana, the indefatigable humorist, baseball lover and writer of Fatuous Twaddle, Jaime Kelly, ended his life in his car in a park in Missoula.

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When did Mayberry become a police state?

Thomas R Machnitzki
Police SUV from Steel, Missouri. (Photo by Thomas R Machnitzki)

There was always something comforting about the old black and white cruisers that police drove around town when I was a kid.

I distinctly remember the words painted on the door – To Serve and Protect. And most of the time, you felt like that’s what police officers inside did.

Of course there was an ornery old cop in the small town of Turner that I had to drive through to get to and from high school each day who would pull you over for just about anything. But we weren’t afraid of him as much as we were of losing our gas money to one of his speeding tickets.

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Things not to text your parents when you travel

China Daily

This is not a post I ever imagined writing.

I took my first solo trip when I was 13, flying from Washington D.C. to San Francisco unaccompanied and absolutely sick to my stomach through the entire flight.

I used two barf bags, which I held in my lap because the passengers next to me were both deaf and sleeping. A kind but ultimately doomed flight attendant disposed of these for me when she realized my predicament.

To top it off, upon our descent into San Francisco, our plane hit a downdraught and lost nearly 5,000 feel of altitude in a single moment. We dropped so fast the flight attendant actually hit the roof of the plane about a dozen seats in front of me.

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Is This Seat Taken?

Metra

The commuter trains in Chicago run like radial arms from the city’s center out to the suburbs.

They pass through the rich mosaic of neighborhoods and suburbs that make Chicago everything it is or seems to be.

They pass by quiet neighborhoods, gridlocked freeways and sports stadiums that rise out of flat expanses of concrete like dark steel fortresses.

They pass by white neighborhoods and non-white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods and mixed neighborhoods.

Polish, Irish, Italian, Croatian, German, English, South Asian, Goral, Czech, Ukrainian, Swedish, Bulgarian, Puerto Rican, Palestinian, Korean, Cuban, Chinese, Indian, African and many other neighborhoods and communities too numerous to count.

If you look out the window, you won’t be able to tell that you’re passing through all of this. You’ll see tree-lined avenues and streets with the houses all boarded up.

You’ll see Dunkin’ Donuts, mom and pop stores, tire stores, playgrounds, high schools and empty lots. ]

There are so many stories that come from riding the trains every day. So many little facets of life that come bubbling up to the surface in that claustrophobic little world between our home life and our work life. But this one has been weighing on my mind for awhile.

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Remembering to forget our dreams

In swimming under water to make a circle

Mostly I don’t remember my dreams.

I feel as though I have gone months, maybe years without dreaming. Certainly without remembering having dreamt anything.

I’ve wondered if I’m odd in my dreamlessness. If I’m alone in this world with a quiet head full of nothingness in my sleep.

And then there are nights like the movies. Nights without a break in the action. Nights where the dreams come like waves, ceaseless and relentless.

Where you wake up with your head underwater and you gasp for air between the troughs only to be submerged again.

Like opening your eyes in the depths to the sting of salt water, the disorienting dark and the shapes like monsters in the deep.

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The First Hot Day in Chicago

Sun

There was no spring, apparently. I was wearing a jacket on Tuesday, and by Thursday, it was 91 degrees.

The first hot day in Chicago is uncomfortable, for sure, but it holds so much promise.

In the working districts, men forego their coats for button-down shirts and no ties. Women lose the pantsuits or tights and boots for dresses that billow in the lake breezes.

In the douchebag district, where I happened to find myself this afternoon, the tourist bros flock to the rooftop bars in starched Cubs jerseys and t-shirts with inappropriate, misogynistic sayings that make me wonder if actual shops sell them.

We have a meeting in the air-conditioned comfort of a corporate brewery, complete with mini tacos and chicken strips, and then I head out into the jungle.

Chicago is awesome. Remember that as I write these words.

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Little pink houses and barbed wire fences

From Wikimedia Commons
Pink Houses

As a missionary kid, I spent a big chunk of my life living in community.

I don’t mean just a small town, I mean living with 20-30 people in close quarters, like sometimes in the same room.

Most of my parents’ friends know more about me than I remember about myself.

I’m often reminded that when I was living in the Rax mountains of South Eastern Austria in the late 70s, I sometimes confused my two languages – German and English – in rather amusing ways.

When I learned that my pet fishes had babies, I ran around yelling “The fishes had sex! The fishes had sex!”

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Life in the slow lane

http://govfresh.com/2011/07/usdot-in-the-social-media-slow-lane/

He crawls the car out of the garage and backs down the driveway in the  same amount of time it takes me to get out of our neighborhood and onto the main streets.

He stops and checks over his shoulder before he backs out into our street.

He looks down at the transmission stick and purposely slides it from reverse through first, second, third and into Drive like some slow-motion space movie launch sequence.

Then he looks up and presses down on the accelerator with his foot, easing the car forward almost painfully.

All of this is deliberate. Practiced, calculated maneuvers that he is committing to memory.

I’ve never taught someone to drive before now.

And I don’t remember when or how I learned everything I did.

It requires an inordinate amount of patience to sit here and watch a young person learn responsibility in real time.

But I’m telling you something you probably already know.

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The Borderland

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 5.47.30 PM

Borderlands are dangerous places.

No matter what their topography or economic value, they are desirable, for one reason or another, to both sides in any conflict.

Borderlands tend to be small, which means they don’t often have a significant population. And whatever population there is tends to be insignificant to the larger conflict.

Sometimes borderlands are a much bigger deal.

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