What Changed Me


Ibram Kendi pointed out in this article that black neighbourhoods are not inherently more dangerous that white neighbourhoods.

There are a lot of reasons why this is true, both situational and statistical, which you can read more about in his work (https://www.amazon.com/Ibram-X.-Kendi/e/B00IMUM1R0 ), but the above article I just read on The Undefeated blog, by Lonnae O’Neal pushed out a memory to the surface…one that I had all but forgotten until I went to work in Ethiopia briefly a couple of years ago, and then had re-buried, because it is so uncomfortable.


I was seventeen. I was standing on a street in Rabat, Morocco, and I was, quite literally, the only white person there.

I felt naked and exposed and vulnerable, in a way that I had never experienced before. I was frightened.

Because I had lived my entire life where white was the default.


Fast forward to Lallibella in 2015. I am, once again, the only white person on the street.

It’s disconcerting. I had forgotten how that feels.

I was glad to be reminded, though. It’s a lesson I needed. It’s an experience we all need.


This is why we think “black neighbourhoods” are inherently more dangerous: because we are now the “other”…and we don’t like it.

We think those neighbourhoods are dangerous because we know (whether we admit it or not) how dangerous our neighbourhoods are to the “other” when they travel to them.

We think neighbourhoods  full of people who don’t look like “us” (or speak like “us”, or – we suspect, “think” like “us”) are dangerous because for the most part, it is a white person’s first experience of not being the default. Not being the norm. Not being the standard to which everyone else is held (and generally found wanting, but I digress.)

And once you, as a white person, get that – once you, as a white person, get over that – you can start to heal yourself of the wound that racism has carved into your heart.


Them’s Fighting Words Around Here



I’ve watched with fascination how this debate has evolved over the last few days.

It’s been instructive.

And depressing.

The argument goes like this:

“There are lots of reasons this cannot be the grave of a woman who actually was a warrior. But one of them is that we have found almost no graves that can be reliably proven as women who fought. Therefore, this one is not an actual woman warrior.”

Basically, the whole rationale here is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

If this grave can, by subjecting it to a level of testing and analysis that no male-with-weapons inhumation is ever subjected to, be consigned to the category of “unproven”, then the number of female warrior graves can remain statistically at zero or less, which therefore means that the next XX skeleton can also be dismissed, because we “still haven’t found any unequivocal evidence of women who were warriors”.

I say that until every single “male warrior” grave undergoes the level of critique that this recently re-interpreted burial has, not one single archaeologist (and certainly no one whose expertise remains at the level of “I read a bunch of stuff about it on the internet”) should be allowed to pontificate on this.

Because, frankly, there’s no way to compare the relevant findings until that happens.


“I’m Sorry” is Not Really That Hard to Say



This was the simplest and most casual search I did, because lately there have been a lot – a whole lot – of news stories about perfectly nice public persons saying things that have been seen as racist, or sexist, or just generally clueless and wrongheaded.

I’m not talking about the KKK here. I’m not talking about those weird people over on 4chan.

I’m looking at lists of people who have supported equality, who have gone on record as allying themselves with important causes, who are even members of marginalized groups themselves, who are trying, in big ways and small ones, to level the field, or at least, to not help create more bumps at the opposing end.

And when they fail, even for a nano-second, they feel persecuted and react in ways that compound the problem.

A woman who stands up publicly for other women, then turns around and casually fat-shames some other woman.

A white person marches for BLM, then casually co-opts the language of the marginalized, of PoC, in a throw-away comment that suggests they are faking it.

A self-identifying male “feminist” who tweets a misogynist slur at a conservative female politician to score points for the “progressive cause”.

There have been so many instances of people in the public eye, people who seem like good people, people whose core values seem to be on the side of justice and equity, making statements that get them called out – and called out HARD – for racism and sexism and able-ism etc.

And then they try to excuse it, and we jump all over them for that, too.


But here’s the problem.


It happens to every one of us, and it’s not precisely all our own fault. Viral culture creeps into our voices, and it is why we unconsciously co-opt minorities/marginalized people. It is why we default to mentioning appearances as if genetic features or extra poundage were a divine signal of unworthiness. It’s why so many of those we admire in music, film, or literature seem to always have feet of clay.

And yet we don’t even “hear” it when we do this ourselves.

We – the unwashed masses in the street – differ only in the scope of our audience.

The media, the very fabric of our culture, has woven this all so deeply into our souls that we cannot even recognize what we say.

We can hear it when others say it.

We are deaf to our own voices.

And the root problem is that our own identities and self-images are so bound up in both our culture and our egos, that we literally freak, when we’re told off for what we cannot hear in our own voices.

We need to break this habit. We need to untangle our need to be seen as “good” from our inevitable conditioning to parrot the things we are daily subjected to, and consider our words before we say them.

And we need to learn that instead of that freak-out, our best and most unifying response would be a heartfelt “I am sorry. I spoke without thought. Let me rephrase that in a less harmful way.”

I mean, seriously: we are all dismayed/depressed/incensed at the number of politicians currently unable to admit that their revolting words might cause harm to the entire world, and we publicly excoriate them for not measuring their speech and admitting their faults.

But how are the rest of us any better, when we leap to the barricades against those in the public eye when they offend us, but excuse ourselves and deflect all critique when the words are our own?

In praise of Millenials

It just came to me why and how kids-these-days are the way they are.

avocado toast

Leave aside the economic questions for a moment. Those are huge, and they do form one of the main reasons why they are in the fix they’re in – no doubt about that.

But there’s a deeper reason why their sense of their place in the world is utterly different from my generation’s sense of this.

Most of them were born or came of age in the 90s, right when email and electronic banking really started to take off. Right when MySpace and Facebook and mobile phones began to change the way we communicate.

This is a generation that, through economics, grew up with the understanding that housing prices and recession meant that they might never own their own home…but also that they might not need one.

They don’t need a “real” address: even their bills and shopping requirements don’t generally need a fixed abode.  They need a phone number and an email account: most of their transactions are digital. Amazon will send eBooks directly to your phone or eReader without much more than that. Paypal doesn’t really care where you live.

You can apply for ten jobs over your phone in less time than it took your mom to drive downtown to fill out one lonely application in 1980.

If a millennial is broke and couch-surfing, it doesn’t alter how they receive their meager paychecks – it goes directly to their bank account. They can pay their phone bill on line. They can check in at McDonalds, and swipe their debit card for their meal.

They have grown up with friends all over the world, communicating with them in real time, no matter where the sender or recipient might be at any moment.

They don’t have the stability of a physical, longterm address, and the way things are going, most of them feel they probably won’t ever have that stability: the best they can do is return to their parents’ home, and that isn’t even true for a pretty high percentage of them.

But they don’t *need* that kind of rootedness.

They’re completely comfortable with getting everything by email or Messenger. It’s the way it’s always been for them: money is literally an imaginary construct, because they rarely need to see it in tangible form. It’s just numbers and card-swipes for them. And “friends” are no longer defined simply by “I went to kindergarten with him/her” – their friends are literally everywhere.

It’s been that way for their entire lives.

Pundits are really quick to blame these people for not buying cars or houses, and to deride the young owners of “iPhones”, but who’s the true culprit here?

It was my generation that facilitated the rush to digital/online everything. We invented a lot of it, and we jumped on those bandwagons while those millenials were still in diapers.

To complain now that it’s out of control, and “those kids” don’t value the things we did – aren’t buying big ticket items in the numbers *we* need in order to maintain our retirement investments at the level we would like or to avoid poverty – well, it sure as hell isn’t their fault.

And that new valuation of experience over possessions? That replacement of rootedness with a love of simple things like decent coffee and avocado toast shared with friends? That ability to have some of those friends still in constant reach via those iPhones? That understanding that the millenials in Ecuador and Ethiopia and England are just like them, when you get right down to it?

It makes me feel pretty hopeful, to be honest.

On the Importance of Supporting Creative Work With More than “Exposure”

I wrote a Facebook post last night about supporting creative workers, but it really wasn’t enough.


I used David Crosby as an example because he was talking to his followers on Twitter about royalties from places like Youtube and Sirius Radio and Spotify and so on, and pointing out that the returns on a career in music are – well, they aren’t good.

A lot of people think well-known musicians and writers and artists are rolling in dough, and he wanted to point out that this simply wasn’t true. For every Mick Jagger, there’s a David Crosby – and our digitally-induced mania for “free content” is fueling this disparity.

For interest’s sake, Crosby is now 76 years old. He was (for the eight-year-olds reading this) an integral part of not merely a generation that altered music in the Western world so completely as to make almost everything you listen to a direct descendant of his work, but an equally iconic part of a short-lived but immensely influential group usually referred to CSN (and sometimes, Y) – a group whose music changed lives, altered the way we listen, and embodied some of the most important events of the world he lived in.

He’s still making music.

He’s still putting out albums.

He’s still touring…and a large part of that is because all that music that still gets a fairly big slice of airtime? It pays him peanuts. He cannot survive on the pittance that music-streaming nets him. (Roger McGuinn, another seminal figure of those times, estimated once that 300,000 hours of streaming might have earned him slightly over $15 in total.)

I know you think of yourself as a good person.

I know you want the best for everyone.

I know that you are like me – that you imagine that the ease with which linking a thought or feeling to the appropriate Youtube clip is *helping* spread the word about these artists.

It’s not enough.

This isn’t about me, though, as a bottom-feeder in the world of fantasy fiction, I know how this feels. I’ve spent a small eternity honing my work, polishing it, agonizing over every word, only to have even my closest friends balk at the idea of shelling out $2.99USD (for which, after all is said and done, I get less than $1.00USD in return) for an eBook of mine.

Writers, musicians, and artists of all stripes are at the forefront of social change. They always have been.

They visualize and articulate our deepest fears, our most hopeful visions, our best selves.

Think what your world would be without us.

Think of a world with no music.

Consider your daily life without colour.

Imagine a world with nothing to read.

Just one, long, monotonous slog between your cubicle at work and your drably-furnished basement suite, and an endless retread of what has gone before: nicely sanitized and with the experimental, the exciting, the provocative all filtered away, because the people in power don’t need you to start thinking again. The last thing they want is for you to start getting ideas.


You would be poorer – we all would be poorer – if people were unable to create.

And if the returns are ever-shrinking, that’s exactly what you’ll get.


Unless you – ALL of you – decide to support creative work with more than “exposure”, at least some of us – probably the best of us – will not be able to go on.

Labour Day Week-end is no time for seriousness

So instead, I’ll give you the Best Ever One-and-a-Half-Dish Supper.


In addition writing and reading and Archaeology, I like to cook. (And eat – boy, do I love to eat!)

It stems from my childhood and that incredible hippie-hospitality ethos that my parents were into, and I frequently go into the kitchen to recreate those memories through food. This one isn’t really so much of a remake of one of those classics, but it has that feel to it. You can satisfy 6-8 people with this – it’s very filling.


1 double recipe for Bisquik Rolled Biscuits (or double recipe of your own scratch biscuit dough)

1 lb ground beef

Half-cup or so of either a robust tomato sauce or barbecue sauce

Lots of grated cheese. 2-3 cups minimum, very likely more. Cheddar is good, mozzarella is important, Parmesan is advised as an addition, although optional if using barbecue sauce.

Make the biscuit recipe up and roll out till it’s big enough to fill one of those standard long-size oblong lasagna dishes – right up the sides. Grease the dish first, then line it with the dough.

Prebake for fifteen minutes at 350 degrees F or until slightly golden brown.

Meanwhile, cook the ground beef until there’s no more pink. Drain. Add whichever sauce you fancy (don’t put too much in…use some judgment. It needs to be moist, but not runny.) and cook two or three minutes longer.

Let both the crust and the filling cool a bit (or a lot, if you want, this is a good one for making a day ahead…), and, when about a half hour out from suppertime, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (okay, approximately, because ovens all have their own unique interpretation of temperature).

Put the filling into the crust in the lasagna pan, smooth it out, and top with all the cheese.

Put the thing into the oven and turn the temperature down to about 350 degrees F, bake until cheese is bubbly and browning and ooey-gooey delicious.

Serve with a green salad.

TRUST ME! It’s super-easy and totally yummy. Serves any reasonable number of normal eaters or four starving artists.

Maybe it’s you?


Back in the early Neolithic, I went to art college.

Maybe you wanted to do that, too.

Maybe it was music, and you got told how few people ever scrape out even a poverty-level existence playing in local venues around Hoboken or wherever.

Maybe it was drama, or dance, or maybe you wanted to be a writer, and you figured an MFA in Creative Writing was the key.

Your parents probably crushed your dreams and told you to get an education that would give you something “to fall back on” and that “art” was definitely not it.

Maybe you listened, and went to law school, or whatever.

And maybe you think they were right, because now you can afford to retire early and follow your dream.

Let me tell you about what you missed, and what these kinds of experiences can really do for you – experiences you either have no access to, or  that you have decided you don’t “really” need.


It’s true that you can make art or write books without degrees. I won’t dispute that. More than a significant percentage of artists, musicians, or writers have been successful, or at least noted as having talent, without ever having set foot in the relevant, specialized institution of higher learning.

You can learn a lot about the technical part of any creative endeavor on your own (with the possible exception of classical ballet) and with a lot of hard work and some talent, you can get things done.

And those things will be worthwhile, and probably as good, in the purely technical sense, over time, as anything a graduate of a decent MFA program can do.

It might take a little or a lot longer, and you might waste a few years on things that aren’t really useful, but you can get there.

Lots of people do this. Lots of really awesome, talented, well-known people do this.

That’s not the issue.


What you miss out on is critique. And that’s crucial.


Let me tell you about art college.

Every week, in every studio-based class, we’d be given an assignment.

Every week, in every studio-based class, we’d put up our creations, based on last week’s assignment.

And then the instructor and every other student in that class took potshots at the work.

Crits. The word still makes me faintly queasy.


Every week, 8 months out of 12, for four long years, I poured my soul into whatever artistic medium I was given, on subjects/techniques I was handed, and then I put that essence of my being on display, and twenty or so people told me what was wrong with it.

What was wrong with me. With my vision, with my understanding of the world. With my inner soul. With my value as an artist, and as a human being.

Some of it was reasoned and true.

Some of it was spiteful, and cruel —- but still true.

You walked into the crit a normal person, with a normal heart, situated in the normal place in your body, and two hours later you emerged, crushed and crumpled, carrying your now-shredded, shrivelled ego in your hands.
OMG, you cry. How horrible!

People should give “constructive criticism”!

People should not destroy your ego or discourage you!

It’s wrong! Wrong, and evil!


Except, it is not.

It is the proving ground. It is the ultimate life lesson.

It is the only way artists of any kind can learn the one lesson they really, really need.


How to critique themselves.


Because once you leave that cocooned existence, surrounded by fellow makers making things, and caring about making things; once you are alone in that studio with nothing but your paint and canvas – once you have shut the door and tuned your guitar – once you’ve settled down in front of the computer and opened that WORD doc – the only way you can live up to the fullest of your potential and make the work you believe in, is to know how to see your output through other people’s eyes.

You have to see the worst in your work. You have to grow that creative carapace, so that you can take the outside critique, divorce it from you as a person, and understand where it is you need to go, so that when you are alone, you can do this for yourself.


And that’s why most self-taught writers hate their editors.


And why, maybe, you should have done that MFA.