What So Proudly We Hailed

It’s Election Day in the United States. I voted early. Maybe you did too. Maybe you plan to vote today. I have to say–if you were to vote in only one election during your lifetime, this would be the one. I’m nobody, but what voice I have I intend to use.

Will we see a transformed version of American democracy, a disappointing return to the status quo, or a precipitous drop into totalitarianism? We must wait and see.

Be patient. We’re not going to know the result of this election immediately upon the close of polling sites. We’re probably not going to know tomorrow either. We should all be skeptical of any reports of a clear winner tonight. It could take days–several days.

Counting absentee/mail-in ballots takes time; it’s a painstaking process involving the physical handling of tons of paper according to strict procedure. Despite past notable exceptions, including my home state of Florida, the United States is good at this. Be patient.

If 2016 taught us anything about elections, it’s not to trust polls, pundits, or talking heads. I would have wagered against a ridiculous clown of a man winning the presidency against a former senator and cabinet member, and all the prevailing wisdom assured me I was correct to scoff at the prospect of a Trump victory. But the anachronistic Electoral College reared its ugly head, and here we are. We’ve suffered four years of divisive rhetoric, overt corruption, nepotism, racist legislation, militarized xenophobia, science denial, and the staggering incompetence that has killed more Americans than the Civil War as a result of Trump’s use of bluster, hubris, and con-man handwavium in the place of science to manage a global pandemic.

What was it Ronald Reagan once asked us? “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

If you’re reading this on November 3rd, you can still vote. In many states, though not Florida, you can even register and vote today. Don’t sit this one out as so many did in 2016. Don’t write in a candidate or waste your vote on one who literally cannot win. The choice has never been more clear–it’s democracy vs. whatever dystopian hell Trump might lead us to.

I’m optimistic. This is our chance to rise “out of the huts of history’s shame.” We can remake America into something better. I’m not interested in a pre-Trump America. I want a better country for all of us. We don’t have to agree on everything–an impossible outcome–but if we’re going to survive as a nation, we have to once again become the United States of America. We have to move forward, despite the attacks and resistance of the minority of us who thrives on hate and division. And we have to do that no matter the outcome of this election. What we choose as a nation today will determine how difficult that’s going to be.

At this point, I’m not going to convince anyone of anything. But I’ll say it anyway–if you haven’t done so, vote for decency and democracy in–for the moment–the most influential country in the world. What happens here determines a lot more than what goes on inside our own borders.

Donald Trump has been an unmitigated disaster for America, and the world. I strongly believe this is the only opportunity we’ll ever have to vote him out, and the entire world is watching.

This is where I take a deep breath and give in to my optimism. It’s going to be ok. Americans will rise to this historic challenge. We always have.

So now we wait. Take a walk. Meditate. Pray. Exercise. Have a drink. If you have a loved one nearby, hold on to their hand.

Why I Forgot the Dog Food

As the Covid-19 pandemic has progressed, our understanding of how to stay safe has evolved as well. When it began, many of us ventured into public wearing surgical gloves along with our masks, for example, a practice we’ve learned can be counterproductive for the average person. We used to disinfect our groceries. We know now that the most effective thing (and the very least) we can do is wear a piece of cloth over our faces in public.

Unless you live with salamanders under a rock by the river, you know by now that the mask doesn’t so much protect the one wearing it as it protects others. We don’t wear the mask for ourselves–we do it for our community.  If we all do it, it works. And it works best if everyone does it.

This is not difficult. Yet some people are making the conscious decision not to get with the program.

When I run outdoors, I pass others on the sidewalk. It’s usually early morning, so I encounter maybe one or two people per mile, most of them runners like me. When runners approach one another, the etiquette that has developed on its own is a sort of polite slalom as we pass, keeping about 15 feet of distance between us. There’s heavy dew on the grass, and we get our feet wet. Not a big deal, but one of the many inconveniences imposted upon us by the state of the world. 

Almost every morning, I pass elderly people out for a morning walk, sometimes with a dog. I give these folks a wide berth, because they’re the most vulnerable among us. I always shout a hearty “Good morning!” to them so they know I’m not anti-social. 

(I’ve gotten some what’s-your-problem stares as I veer off the sidewalk in passing, but this happens less frequently with time and the increasing pandemic body count.)

With the highest infection numbers yet coming out this week, it’s becoming impossible to deny that our behavior makes a difference. We’re quickly getting to the point where each of us will know someone, personally, who has contracted the virus.

Last week, I visited our favorite local supermarket. The store posts prominent signs requiring shoppers to wear a mask, and with few exceptions everyone complies. During last week’s visit, I encountered people who have apparently decided that acting with consideration for others is too egregious an imposition on their personal freedom. It wasn’t an oversight or a memory lapse—these people simply declined to wear a mask in the store. 

In my experience, it has been mainly middle-aged white men who flout the mask rule. I won’t speculate here on why that might be the case. Last week, the culprits were two women, each in her twenties by my estimation, challenging my stereotype of men who look a lot like me.

One woman seemed in a hurry. She had a couple items in her arms and was headed for the front of the store. Maybe she’d reasoned that she’d only be in the store for a few minutes, so it would be alright. (I call this widely used stratagem the “It’ll Be Alright” plan.)

The other maskless one strolled behind a mostly full shopping cart. She had been in the store long enough to chase down a long shopping list. She moved at a carefree, leisurely pace. 

If she was Covid-positive, it’s possible she infected several people in the store. Maybe she infected me. Who knows? That’s the thing with this virus–we don’t know at a given moment whether we’re carrying it, and we may spread it without ever noticing symptoms to people it will kill. 

The first no-masker irritated me, but she was gone in a moment. The second, with her nonchalant shopping in the crowded supermarket, kindled in me the sort of anger I’d have felt if she’d issued me a swift kick in the shin. It was an assault of indifference. She didn’t give a damn about anyone in the store, didn’t care that we knew it, and dared anyone to mention it.

So I did. I said one word. “Mask.” I said it clearly, but not aggressively. She passed by, ignoring me. Because I don’t matter to her. And neither do you, Dear Reader, nor your elderly relatives or your immunocompromised friends.

So I already had a burr under my saddle when I arrived at the dairy section for a block of sharp white cheddar. A store employee stood beside a couple co-workers, talking quietly. His mask rested well below his nose, partially exposing his mouth. Before I knew what had come over me, I looked him in the eye and said, “Sir, your nose is exposed.”

“What?” He asked.

“Your nose is out. Maybe you forgot?”

He hastily pulled up his mask. I grabbed my cheese and turned away, already feeling like an ass. In fact, I felt if I saw one more person without a mask in that store, I’d…

Whoa, I thought. Easy, soldier. I had to get outside. 

I’d forgotten the number-one item on my list–dog food.

I think I spooked the dairy man a bit—not my intention, but…
On the way home with not quite everything I needed, I thought, We should all stop tolerating the complacency, disdain for science, and willful ignorance that’s bringing our country to its knees. If we’re ever going to get past this thing, we have to change the way we think–from valuing individual freedom above all else to putting the welfare of our society first. 

People in some Asian societies have been wearing masks in public for as long as I remember. In certain Asian cultures, rather than thinking “I don’t want to, and you can’t make me,” people recognize that no one person has the right to infect others with a cold or flu, bad breath, or even the sight of the inside of one’s mouth. It’s no coincidence that countries like Japan and Korea kept Covid-19 numbers low and got control of the pandemic pretty quickly. 

When I was stationed on Oahu with the Army, I often saw Japanese tourists on the streets and in shops wearing surgical masks. At the time, it struck me as a very foreign thing to do. Did they think Americans were dirty or dangerous? I wasn’t offended—being dirty and dangerous is part of the American “mystique,” ain’t it? I wondered what it was they thought they were protecting themselves from in a modern city like Honolulu. I understand now that they were protecting me, and that they wore masks in public at home  as well as abroad. I now see that “foreign” behavior as a kind of moral superiority, and thinking now about those Japanese tourists, I’m grateful for their inherent, matter-of-fact courtesy.

Something I learned long ago, in a land far away, is that the best way to take care of ourselves is to take care of others.

Ruins

Journal Entry, 28 Jan 2001

I’m sitting naked in the bottom half of a giant clam shell at my grandmother’s house, cool water from the garden hose swirling around my pudgy legs. The outside of the shell is rough; the pearly inner surface is the smoothest thing I’ve ever felt. It’s late Florida summer in 1968, and the sun is hot on my two-year-old skin. I’m surrounded by lush St. Augustine grass. My mother is nearby, laughing. Cicadas in the hickory trees fill the whole world with their chitinous music. I pick up the end of the hose and sling running water over my head. My belly jiggles when I laugh at the arcs of liquid diamond catching the sunlight.

Memories are unreliable, and each time we recall something, it inches closer to our idea of what we want it to have been. Do I remember this scene only because I’ve seen photographs of it? Almost certainly. I remember the red roses my grandmother cultivated beside the house, but I’m sure that memory is from later years.

When I was around five years old, the man who had recently married my mother periodically sent me to the Gulf service station across the busy road to buy Camel cigarettes for him. It would never have occurred to anyone in that place and that time not to sell smokes to a five-year-old. I remember the tobacco smell and the crinkle of cellophane. Sometimes I brought back matches. I remember amber glass ashtrays and Camel butts floating in the toilet bowl.

We lived with my grandmother in that house, about 100 yards from the Thonotossassa Road exit on eastbound Interstate 4, for a couple years. Behind the house, Granny kept a few laying chickens and a pair of goats that kept the lawn uniformly trimmed. According to my mother, I drank a lot of goat milk the first couple years of my life.

In the early nineties, while I was home on leave from Fort Carson, Colorado, I drove out to see Granny’s old house. I found charred ruins. It had burned down less than a year before.
So it goes.

2020 Vision (an unedited rant)

Several simultaneous, near-apocalypse-level horrors are running their course all around us. But the one I’m thinking most about at the moment–the one that’s most affecting my family–is the pandemic it that seems half of us, at least here in Florida, are pretending doesn’t exist.

We have a full house. One daughter awaiting her return to Morehead State University in August, another bound for the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, and a son about to start his senior year of high school.

All their lives have been scrambled. The future is a cloud of uncertainty. And they ask questions that are starting to sound a lot like, “Why bother?”

I spend a lot of time thinking about my oldest son, who enlisted in the Marine Corps last year. Military service requires a certain level of comfort with uncertainty, and I believe he’s naturally hard-wired for that sort of thing, but nothing is “normal” these days, not even for a young Marine.

What have I experienced in my half-century of life that I can offer them? It would be easy to tell them how easy they have it–that when I was their age, things were really hard. That’s both true and untrue, because each of us has to live within our own perspective.

Our family is fortunate–yes, privileged. The police aren’t gunning for us. We aren’t being separated from our children and deported country we’ve never lived in. Clean water flows from the tap. So far, we still have our jobs. Our family is weathering America’s steep decline better than we have a right to expect.

But all of us are going to have to adjust our expectations. America is changing. This is a metamorphosis into something we can’t yet identify. The only thing that’s clear is that we cannot go on as we have in the past.

That shit has got to change.

Liberal Professor Schooling Alt-Reich Militia Member (dramatization)

It’s time to demand that our leaders lead on behalf of all of us, that our police serve and protect everyone without checking for skin tone and listening for an accent, and it’s time for us to get involved in whatever way we can.

I often feel helpless to make a difference. My soldiering days are long gone, and I’m a freelance writer and editor who spends his days at a desk in a converted suburban dining room.

I see people around me behaving poorly. Half of my neighbors seem to think current events are an excuse to party like it’s 1999, gather as they please, and refuse to wear masks in public places. I’m not here to rant, but I am discouraged.

It’s worse than that. I live in Florida, and the willful stupidity I see all around me, at all levels, is beginning to piss me off. Seriously, if you can’t show some compassion and humanity, and if you’ve deliberately switched off your brain, at this point I have no use for you.

I’m looking for opportunities to start conversations about how we go forward as communities and as a country. As I see it, our politics have divided us into two nations–one that wants democracy and justice, and another that wants a perception of comfort and security for themselves and those like them, at any price. We’re going to have to learn to be one nation again. That’s going to be tough.

Many countries have failed to come back together after conflict. In fact, as it turns out, so did the United States. We swept too much under the rug after the Civil War, and it’s still there. All of it.

November is coming. We’re going to have to work hard to repair all the damage the current administration has done, both directly and through the sort of indirect, trickle-down-fascism that enables state and local governments and domestic yahoos to feel comfortable breaking institutions and hurting innocent people.

Whatever America looks like in five or ten years, it won’t be anything we have ever been used to. If we get it right, that’s a good thing–something not to fear, but to hope for.

Did I mention that November is coming? I suggest we vote for something better. It’s going to take all of us, so if you’re not registered, kindly get your shit together.

If you think the government we’re enduring now is ok, none of this was meant for you anyway. So get off my lawn, and wear a mask, FFS.

A Shout to the Void

I haven’t visited this website for almost a year! Where does the time go?

Maybe I should change the title of this blog to “I Wrote.”

Times are strange, humans of Earth. It looks to me like the planet has had enough of our shit and is in the beginning stages of exerting a little push-back. Countries that know the sound of existential threat have listened, and in those places, fewer people have died of Covid-19.

In places like United States of America, greed and hubris rule, and people are dying in a preventable catastrophe that takes as many lives each day as the September 11th attack. Well, there’s really no place like home, is there?

I’ve found it hard to write fiction for awhile, but I have been writing, and especially editing, for Content Workshop. I’m grateful to be in a situation that allows me to work from home during the pandemic. And, as Jason Isbell sings, I’m just lucky to have the work. I’m also fortunate to work with great people.

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I sold a reprint a few weeks ago, a welcome small victory. Thanks to Fresh.ink for picking up my short story, “The Grove,” which first appeared in print back in 2015, in Issue 3 of Bridge Eight Literary Magazine. Fresh.ink tells me to expect it online sometime in June.

My work-in-progress is another short story. It’s science-fiction this time, which is my true love. Many years ago–and I turned 54 three days ago, so when I say “many,” believe me–I read the great Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” It stuck with me, and when I read it again more recently, it inspired an idea for something new.

I’m still running, four or five miles every two days. Lately, I’ve been running with a mask. Usually, it’s so early that I don’t see many people, but I slip the mask on before I pass someone on the sidewalk. Self-conscious as a tall man in a black mask, I make a point of wishing each person a cheery good morning. That also helps not to scare people when I’m coming up behind them. I hope. Although this morning, a large shaggy dog lunged at me when I spoke.

Thanks to that pet owner for having a good grip on the leash.

I’ll be back sooner than you have any reason to believe, dear readers…both of you. In the meantime, I wish you all the best in adapting to our new, not-so-fun reality. Hang in there. If you’re lonesome, send a message here, or on Twitter @steventhowell.





Due for a Giant Meteor

assorted dinosaur toys

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I graduated from the University of Tampa low-residency MFA program in 2015, and I’ve missed the sense of community that came along with it ever since. In my everyday life, the only writer I have regular contact with is my wife, Susan. She and I talk about all sorts of things, including writing, and not writing, but there’s no substitute for spending day after day in the company of a bunch of people pursuing artistic goals.

I try to attend UT’s Lectores reading series whenever I can. It happens twice a year, during the program’s 10-day residencies. Last Friday’s reader was Alexander Chee, whose essays I’ve read and who I had the pleasure of meeting in the space of a brief handshake. He impressed me as a quiet, intelligent man–maybe a bit shy–whose favorite activity I’d bet is something other than standing at a podium in front of a bunch of MFA candidates and strap-hangers such as myself.

UT hosted a reception for students, faculty, and alumni the same evening. During the reception, I had a conversation with a member of the faculty whose writing I admire. It was the sort of conversation over a couple of beers that starts with catching up on the past year or two, then veers off the trail and into the woods. We each have a son on the cusp of adulthood, trying to figure out how to be a man. As fathers, we’re horrified at the used-up state of the world our generation is handing down for our descendants to deal with. The political situation, the threat of war each generation of Americans has come to expect, and how we deal with it brought out some of our hopes and worries about what’s ahead for our sons.

When he asked me how I felt about my son’s having recently enlisted into the Marine Corps, I offered up some boilerplate crap–“I’m proud of him, but terrified of what he’s getting into.” My writer friend wasn’t having it and let me know by asking gently incisive, and direct questions, like precisely targeted rabbit punches. He drew out some of my real fears, some based on my own military career, not all of which I confessed on the spot, and the conversation became an unexpectedly intimate thing that stuck with me for days and led to this rambling post.

To be in the company of writers is to take the risk and enjoy the rewards of being around people who think and evaluate for a living and miss little. I was saved from oversharing by the interruption of one of his bright-eyed students, but not before I shared some of how my son went through the process of deciding to enlist, rather than go to college. I talked about something Susan told me, that with her daughter, who is off studying astrophysics, she has progressed from acting as the parent of a teenager to the parent of an adult. That is, from the role of directly managing a kid to manage her life, to the role of a consultant who offers advice when asked for it.

This led to the subject of the shortness of a human life and the limited time each of us has to accomplish anything that can endure beyond our life spans. People, nations, civilizations come and go, each amounting to no more than the briefest flash of smoke in the scope of geological time, never mind the cosmic scope. Our squishy brains lack the capacity to comprehend a timescale beyond the existence of homo sapiens. To demonstrate this, he asked,

“Do you know much about dinosaurs?”

I said I think so, for a non-paleontologist.

“My son knows everything about them,” he said. “So–he’s got this pile of plastic dinosaurs, and he brings me a couple and shows me a t-rex and a stegosaurus–you know what those look like?”

I said that I did.

trex_vs_stegosaur

“We see those species together all the time, right? In picture books from the time we’re toddlers and on the shelf of all the toy stores, but–”

“They lived in different periods right? Jurassic and Cretaceous?”

“Right! T-rex and stegosaurus never laid eyes on each other, and the periods of time they lived are as far separated as humans are from the last of the dinosaurs. In comparison to the dinosaurs, humanity isn’t even a blip on the screen. But look at what we’re doing to the planet. It’s hell in a handbasket.”

“And our own pitiful lifespans are so short, we’re just ants in a pile.”

It was time for another beer.

“How do we keep from falling into nihilism?,” he said. “How do you do it?”

“I guess I try to have some hope that we’ll survive long enough to figure it out, as a species, before we burn it all up.”

“That’s why I turn to absurdism in my writing. It’s the only way I can move forward in the world without becoming a nihilist.”

This conversation, or whatever version of it my memory retains, has been playing in my mind for several days. It has led me to ask myself why I’m spending my time writing science fiction. How can I devote myself to creating what most consider mere entertainment? There’s limitless opportunity to tell stories that say, look, here’s what could happen if we don’t change. Or, we can unleash the dread inner nihilist and write stories that show how utterly fucked we are. We can shake our fist and call out warnings like Margaret Atwood or grit our teeth and go for the full Cormac McCarthy apocalypse. (I doubt either of those two would label themselves genre writers, despite clearly having written science fiction novels, and because the majority of their work is marketed as mainstream literary fiction.)

It’s possible that more beers were opened before time to move into the reading space for Mr. Chee. I mentioned the relatively sparse crowd. When I graduated from the program four years ago, readings were packed with students. I asked where everybody was.

“This is pretty much it,” he said.

Apparently, the program isn’t drawing the same number of suitable applicants. Of course, this is only my speculation. I wonder if the “MFA bubble” has finally popped. It seemed, a few years ago, that every writer (and a few non-writers) in America was rushing to enter an MFA program. I wonder if other programs have seen a decline in applications. I’d rather believe that than believe the program I attended is in decline.

In any case, I’m glad to have experienced it. UT is a great place to go to school, though without the G.I. Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program, I couldn’t have afforded it barring an automobile-sized student loan.

I’m sorry to have missed my friend’s reading last week, and if he happens to read this, let it be known that I have one of his novel’s for him to sign when, hopefully, our paths cross again in six months or so. I’ll look forward to hanging out in the bar and bumping into other ever-more-grizzled alumni, meeting current students, and talking with writers.

 

Anticipation

I get a feeling I’ll do something big today.

I can taste it in the tea

when the idea begins to take shape–

a three-masted frigate out of the fog,

Better than the anticipation

of your long fingers and heat.

Look now.

I can see the figurehead,

Full-breasted and fresh-painted,

and there, just ahead,

a giant tentacle rises

to fondle her oaken curves.

Tea with Sleeping Dog

img_3254On the nights when dreams are far from comforting, and the aches of an overused body and a troubled soul project slow and familiar horror shows on the desert night screens of my eyelids, the relief of the coming of morning cannot be overstated.

I sat down to write about tea. Tea is a comfort and a human ritual as old as fire and pottery. I made tea, sat at my desk to the sound of the dog snoring on the other side of the room, and thought about sleep and the impossibility of sleep. There is light on the horizon now, silhouetting the papaya leaves rustling over the back fence. Soon, sunlight will shine on the desktop, and I’ll put the ordeals of sleep out of my mind for another day.

As a child, I walked through nightmares of a pure and surreal horror, of an army of land swimmers breast-stroking across the pasture, between the horses, toward the window where I awaited whatever doom they were never quite able to bring. My mother watched, silhouetted in the bedroom doorway, terrified by my sleepwalking and the nonsense I was speaking.
“Shut the door quick, Mom, before you let all the darkness out.”

When night terrors receded, and I learned to relish a young man’s deep slumber, I slept many a dreamless night and blocked the light of morning with a pillow until roused from bed to carry books and saxophone up a mile of overgrown, snake-infested country roadside, to a bus stop I shared with a kid whose greatest joy was knocking me down in the dirt. In those days, escaping into books, and into sleep, were my solace. One afternoon, I learned to fight back, bloodied the bus stop bully, and slept better for awhile.

Driven from home, I put myself through school by cooking, bartending, serving those with money to pay. For a few years, those nights went up in smoke, obliterated by alcohol, weed, and the slow parade of friends, lovers, and strangers who shared the wee hours with me. I once had a roommate who slept with a 12-inch kitchen knife under his pillow. Did I sleep at all?

The money ran out. I enlisted in the National Guard, joined R.O.T.C. the following year, and graduated on a stage with my long-estranged parents each pinning a gleaming second lieutenant’s bar on one of my shoulders.

As a soldier, I learned to sleep, night or day, still or in motion, on the ground, in a truck, or in a parachute harness bathed in red light and sweat with a helmet as my thrumming pillow against the bulkhead of an airborne C-130 until the jumpmaster’s “Stand up!” passed from front to back, paratrooper to paratrooper, with a tap on our snoozing armored heads.

The smell of tent canvas, diesel fumes, and CLP weapons oil in the pre-dawn darkness prompted an appetite for Army grits, powdered eggs, and coffee too hot to drink from a steel canteen cup. These smells persist like grooves in vinyl.

Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down. Never stay awake when you can…

Sleep. If you can. And dream. I remember more of my dreams these days. Some leave traces of great adventures, voices, or the scent of a person’s skin. Most replay some version of my failures, crimes, fears, and inadequacies. When sleep abandons me, and I lie awake beside Susan, and my mind begins to prey upon itself like a starving wolf eating its own paw, I rise for a glass of water and to check the time, to write what I can piece together, to make tea, and to await the forgetfulness of sunlight.

Some who I love, who will still have me, will rise in a couple hours. We’ll laugh and share breakfast, and I’ll be able to look forward to the possibility of a good night’s sleep and the dreams that may come, and maybe to dream something sweet, right up until sunrise.

Goodbye Facebook, and Other News

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With Susan in Bristol, TN, for the 2018 Rhythm & Roots Music Festival

Hi, Friends. It’s been awhile. I hope you’re all well.

I’m going to ramble on a bit, so maybe make yourself a cup of whatever bitter brew you’re partial to, and come on back. I’m sipping some scalding Earl Grey with orange peel and honey. It’s 7:00am, and I’m dressed for the 6-mile run I’ll start when I finish this post.

It’s 69F and cloudy in Valrico, Florida. Birds are singing outside. I look forward to breathing deeply of the humid morning air for about an hour. I’ll listen to a podcast while I run, probably Starship Sofa, since it’s exactly the right length, and one of my favorites. The host, Tony C. Smith kinda grows on you. I’ve been listening for more than a decade. Good luck with the allotment, Tony.

Some news. Last month, fed up with Facebook’s evil machinations, I downloaded my data and deleted my account. It felt drastic, but necessary. If you miss my Facebook posts, thank you, and I’m sorry to have vanished from your feed.

Facebook’s product is usI had begun to feel like a sort of digital farm animal, bled daily by an amoral corporation that we now know uses our data in ways not in our best interest, including mining our personal chat conversations. Facebook has become the internet’s most bloated and loathsome parasite. So I’m out. But to those former Facebook friends who miss me there, know that I miss you too. So, if you care, get in touch. There are so many ways. If you’re local, give me a call, and let’s go get a cup of coffee or a couple beers. If you’re not nearby, send an email. I know this is crazy, but you could even write me a letter, on paper. I promise to answer. Postage stamps–a reason to leave the house!

There were scores of people with whom I was acquainted only through Facebook. I decided that Facebook relationships, unless they exist on some other level, are not real relationships in the sense that I want to experience them. And these artificial relationships weren’t worth the data tax I was paying to the Zuckerberg Empire.

I’ll miss Mikhail Iossel’s beautiful photography and writing, the University of Tampa MFA Alumni page, John Santa’s Marathon Jam adventures supporting the Fisher House. I’ll miss seeing relatives’ posts about the lives they live that I never otherwise see. But I’m old enough to remember life before social media, and I know that authentic relationships don’t necessarily depend on a wi-fi connection. Nevertheless, you can still find me on Twitter, @steventhowell, and on Instagram (also owned by Facebook but possibly less intrusive and less…evil?) as stethohow.

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I last ran the Gasparilla 15k on a chilly morning in 2015.

Speaking of age, getting old sucks. I’m training for the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15k next month, and my body protests more every year. I’ve been running regularly since 1985, and I don’t know how I’d go on without it. I feel best when I’m outside, covering ground. It’s when I’m sedentary that the aches and pains make themselves known. I know my hips and knees won’t put up with this forever. I’m not the 30-year old soldier I used to be. Someday I’ll have to stop running, but not today.

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Mt. Sterling, KY

Almost exactly a year ago our family lost a loved one, my father-in-law, Charles “Chili” Ishmael.  Christmas was bittersweet, but we gathered in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, to remember him and celebrate all the new things happening with our children. Weddings planned. Babies born. Hopes for the future. Love is abundant in my life, and I am grateful.

In 2018 our two older dogs passed on. The first, about six months ago, had lived to a ripe old age, in dog years. The second, our beloved Lucy, leapt from the open tailgate of my SUV on a rainy afternoon, slipped on the way out, and broke her back before my very eyes. I’ve struggled with the feeling that, if I had only reacted more quickly, I could have saved her. Life is better with dogs, but they’re with us for such a short time.

I’m writing fiction. I’ll soon be looking for a couple critical readers for a short story that’s just about finished. (any volunteers?) It’s inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” but in a much different setting and circumstances. When I’m done with that, I plan to dive back into a novel I’ve had in storage for 11 years. The reasons I abandoned it have turned to dust, and I think it could be a good book. So I’m going to try again.

So, what is this blog for? I still don’t know. Maybe just clearing my mind in the morning before a run. And now it’s time to hit the road.

Keep in touch, Friends.

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Friends Welcome. Come Visit.

 

Mr. Lambert, Take Down That Flag

If you’ve driven near the I-4 & I-75 interchange in Tampa, you’ve seen the huge Confederate flag. That flag is a perpetual slap in the face to every African-American in Hillsborough County. Every time I’ve driven by that flag, I’ve wondered who’s responsible. Who would go to such trouble to display such a divisive symbol?
Here’s who–Marion Lambert.
Old Marion seems like such a down-to-earth guy, doesn’t he? According to the Tampa Bay Times’ October 24th human interest story, he’s quite proud of his namesake, an ancestor who Marion says served in Tennessee under the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. In case you’re light on American history, Gen. Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan.
Oh, but Marion’s just a Good Old Boy, never meanin’ no harm. Why he even employs a live-in African-American woman as a housekeeper. So clearly, not a racist at all.
This flag business is all about his “heritage.”
I’ve heard that same ignorant bullshit all my southern life from misguided people, often good people, sometimes people I love, who simply don’t understand the propaganda they’ve been fed from birth, the full reality of the brutal slave state the Confederacy was, and the open wounds from which our country is trying so hard to heal.
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I think Mr. Lambert understands perfectly the effects of his choice to display an enormous symbol of hate in the most public place possible.
I’ve said it to myself each time I’ve driven past that damned flag, and I’ll say it here. As a white person, and a southerner, you make me feel ashamed, Mr. Lambert. I hope you have the opportunity to feel, sometime in this life or the next, the way you make thousands of our fellow Americans who are descendants of slaves feel when they drive past the hateful flag you saw fit to hoist over the busiest intersection in Florida.
I suspect you’d deny being a traitor even more emphatically than you deny being a racist. But Florida hasn’t been part of the rebellious Confederacy for a century and a half. So why not pull that treasonous flag down, and replace it with the Stars and Stripes? Many of us would thank you for getting that thing out of our sight.