It’s Finished

On January 1, 1995, I went to my office in Harbor Springs, Michigan, where I was working at the time, and booted up my Apple IIc to start writing a novel about a character who had popped into my head when I was on vacation the month before on the island of Montserrat. The name of the character was Bobby Cramer, and the plot was simple: tell his story. Yesterday, January 7, 2020, at 3:00 p.m., I finished it, all 886 pages.

I have no plans to pursue publication; I never meant to. The satisfaction has come from telling his tale and watching him grow and make his way through life; through good times and bad, celebration and loss, growth and turmoil, and show that having hope as his greatest weakness is not a bad thing at all. That’s why I write.

Happy Friday

For a lot of people, especially in the public schools, today marks the beginning of winter holiday. Those words alone bring to mind a book, Winter Holiday, by Arthur Ransome in the “Swallows and Amazons” series that introduces two new characters for the series, the Callums. They are sister and brother; Dick is a scientist, and Dorothea is a writer, and casts them and the others on the shores of The Lake in the middle of an English winter in about 1932. They have adventures, of course, in the brutally cold and short-lived hours of daylight — not unlike Christmas in northern Michigan — and it’s a favorite of mine in the series.

Sunday Reading

Advice For Immigrants — The ACLU has guidance should ICE show up at your door today, or any day.

How to stay reduce risk to yourself

  • Stay calm and keep the door closed. Opening the door does not give them permission to come inside, but it is safer to speak to ICE through the door.

Your rights

  • You have the right to remain silent, even if officer has a warrant.
  • You do not have to let police or immigration agents into your home unless they have certain kinds of warrants.
  • If police have an arrest warrant, they are legally allowed to enter the home of the person on the warrant if they believe that person is inside. But a warrant of removal/deportation (Form I-205) does not allow officers to enter a home without consent.

What to do when the police or ICE arrive  

  • Ask if they are immigration agents and what they are there for.
  • Ask the agent or officer to show you a badge or identification through the window or peephole.
  • Ask if they have a warrant signed by a judge. If they say they do, ask them to slide it under the door or hold it up to a window so you can inspect it.
  • Don’t lie or produce any false documents. Don’t sign anything without speaking with a lawyer first.
  • Do not open your door unless ICE shows you a judicial search or arrest warrant naming a person in your residence and/or areas to be searched at your address. If they don’t produce a warrant, keep the door closed. State: “I do not consent to your entry.”
  • If agents force their way in, do not resist. If you wish to exercise your rights, state: “I do not consent to your entry or to your search of these premises. I am exercising my right to remain silent. I wish to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.”
  • If you are on probation with a search condition, law enforcement is allowed to enter your home.

Additional resources

Learning To Write, Doggy Style — Ann Patchett on her most influential inspiration.

I first found Snoopy in Paradise, Calif., the tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada that was erased by fire last fall. As a child in the late 1960s, my sister and I spent our summers there with our grandparents. We found the place to be perfectly named.

“We’re on our way to Paradise,” we would say, and “We’ve been in Paradise all summer.”

The sharp detail with which I can remember my grandparents’ house is overwhelming to me now — the room where my grandparents slept in twin beds, the room where I shared a bed with my sister. I remember the cherry trees, the line of quail that crossed the back lawn in the morning to the ground-level birdbath my grandmother kept full for them, “Family Affair” on television. Everything about those summer days is tattooed on my brain. I was an introverted kid and not a strong reader. My grandmother had a stock of mass-market “Peanuts” books she’d bought off a drugstore spinner. Titles like “You’ve Had It, Charlie Brown” and “All This and Snoopy, Too” were exactly my speed. I memorized those books. I found Snoopy in Paradise the way another kid might have found God.

Influence is a combination of circumstance and luck: what we are shown and what we stumble upon in those brief years when the heart and mind are fully open. I imagine that for Henry James, for example, the extended European tour of his youth led him to write about American expatriates.

I, instead, was in Northern California being imprinted by a beagle. When the morning newspaper came, my sister and I read the funnies together, always “Peanuts” first. Even when I was old enough to know better, I was more inclined toward “To the Doghouse” than “To the Lighthouse.” I was more beagle than Woolf. I did the happy dance, and it has served me well.

My formative years were spent in a Snoopy T-shirt, sleeping on Snoopy sheets with a stuffed Snoopy in my arms. I was not a cool kid, and Snoopy was a very cool dog. I hoped the association would rub off on me.

Which is pretty much the whole point of Charlie Brown’s relationship with Snoopy: The awkward kid’s social value is raised by his glorious pet. Anyone could see what Charlie Brown got out of Snoopy, even when Snoopy was blowing him off — he raised Charlie Brown’s social stock. But what did Snoopy get out of it? I’m guessing it was the loyalty, the dog-like consistency, which of course makes Charlie Brown the dog in that relationship. I had no problem with this. I would have been thrilled to be Snoopy’s dog.

Not only was Snoopy a famous World War I flying ace who battled the Red Baron and quaffed root beer in the existential loneliness of the French countryside, he was also Joe Cool on campus. He pinched Charlie Brown’s white handkerchief to become a soldier in the French Foreign Legion and was a leader of the Beagle Scouts, a motley crew of little yellow birds. He was a figure skater and hockey player in equal measure, an astronaut, a tennis star, a skateboarder, a boxer and a suburban pet whose doghouse contained a Van Gogh. This wasn’t just a dog who knew how to dream, this was a dog who so fully inhabited his realities that everyone around him saw them, too. Snoopy heard the roar of the approving crowd as clearly as he heard the bullets whizzing past his Sopwith Camel. Having ventured fearlessly into the world, he could come back to the roof of his doghouse and sit straight-backed in front of his typewriter, to tap out the words that began so many of his stories: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Wait, am I seriously discussing Snoopy, a cartoon dog, as a writer?

Am I believing in him as he was drawn to believe in himself? Did I want to be a novelist because he was a novelist?

I am. I do. I did.

Snoopy worked hard up there on the roof of the doghouse. He saw his own flaws. He typed: “Those years in Paris were to be among the finest of her life. Looking back, she once remarked, ‘Those years in Paris were among the finest of my life.’ That was what she said when she looked back upon those years in Paris . . . where she spent some of the finest years of her life.” Which was followed by the thought bubble, “I think this is going to need a little editing . . .”

Snoopy didn’t just write novels, he sent them out. In those dark days before electronic submissions, he taught me what it would mean to stand in front of a mailbox, waiting to hear from an editor. Snoopy got far more rejection letters than he ever got acceptances, and the rejections ranged (as they will) from impersonal to flippant to cruel.

Later, I could see we’d been building up to this. It wasn’t as if he’d won all those tennis matches he played in. The Sopwith Camel was regularly riddled with bullet holes. But he kept on going. He was willing to lose, even in the stories he imagined for himself. He lost, and he continued to be cool, which is to say, he was still himself in the face of both failure and success.

Linus rings Charlie Brown’s doorbell and says, “Ask your dog to come out and play ‘chase the stick.’ ”

Snoopy comes out and hands him a note: “Thank you for your offer to come out and play .. We are busy at this time, however, and cannot accept your offer .. We hope you will be successful elsewhere.”

I would be hurt and I would get over it. That’s what the strip taught me. Snoopy walked me through the publishing process: ignoring reviews, being thrilled and then realizing the thrill doesn’t last:

“It’s from your publisher,” Charlie Brown tells Snoopy. “They printed one copy of your novel .. It says they haven’t been able to sell it .. They say they’re sorry .. Your book is now out of print ..”

It was painful, yes, but Snoopy loved his job.

“Joe Ceremony was very short,” Snoopy types. “When he entered a room, everyone had to be warned not to stand on Ceremony.” At which point Snoopy falls off his doghouse backward, cracking himself up, only to climb up again and look at his typewriter lovingly. “I’m a great admirer of my own writing.”

Oh, beagle, isn’t it the truth? That moment when you write a single, perfect sentence is worth more than an entire box of biscuits.

I probably would have been a writer without Snoopy. I know without a doubt I would have loved dogs, though my love for writing and dogs might not have been so intertwined. Of all the “Peanuts” koans I live by, the one that contains the deepest wisdom may well be “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Thanks to Snoopy, I have ascribed an inner life to all the dogs I’ve known, and they’ve proved me right. I have lived with many dogs who were my equals, and a couple I knew to be my betters, but I’ve never been able to name a dog Snoopy. It’s a recipe for failure, because no matter how great your dog is, his ears will never turn him into a helicopter. I did, however, name the dog I have now for Charles Schulz, whose nickname was Sparky.

Sparky is a small gray-and-white rescue who comes with me to the bookstore I co-own in Nashville and stands straight up on his back legs to greet customers. Surely he has the talent and the patience to write a novel of his own; I’m just glad he’s never wanted to. I’ve accepted the fact that my dog is cooler than I am, but it would be hard to deal with if he were also the better writer. And anyway, it would take too much time away from our relationship.

Life could have been different. I could have cut my teeth on “The Portrait of a Lady” — but then again, I could have been stuck reading “Archie” comics. Fate and circumstances stacked the deck in my favor, leaving me to be influenced by a cartoon beagle. It turned out to be exactly the guidance I needed.

Doonesbury — Getting the cue.

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.