The Uphill Slide

There is always something.


As Luck Would Have It

Why? The universe has no answer. It challenges, “Why not?”

Just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Ignored warnings? Left a backpack as open invitation to a thief?

Cary and her friend rounded the corner from the Starbucks to see two people staring at the shattered side window of our car. Her black and gold backpack was gone. The Kleenex and band-aids and knife and suntan lotion from the console was scattered on the seat.

Why her? Why me? Why our car? Shit happens. Así es la vida. C’est la vie.

Plastic and the indispensable duct tape kept out the rain and cold.

The thief was unlucky. There was no wallet in the pack. No money. No credit cards. Not one coin in the cup holder. Nothing valuable in the console. And a friend of a friend fixed the window for a good price. We felt lucky. Did that make sense? But there it is.



“No photography” the sign spelled out. I hadn’t seen it until I exited through the entrance. Until I had already taken 100 photos. I missed it because I started at the end to miss the crowd of people following a guide. 

I was not alone in the exhibit rooms. There were security guards in the main foyer. Yet no one warned me that I was breaking the rules. No one looked at me in that accusing way law-abiding citizens look at law-breakers. Would I have told someone like me the rules? Or would I have kept silent to avoid hearing “mind your own business”?  

When I saw the sign after the fact, I felt guilty. Caught with the goods, except I hadn’t been caught. I was home free. What should I do? Delete those photos? Was this a test of my ethics? 

If so, I failed. I kept the photos.  



I can measure the passage of time in shrinking screens. Who could possibly read a newspaper or magazine or watch a video on that little phone screen? Or so I challenged not long ago. Phone screens actually have expanded to usurp laptops. A Blackberry, a Motorola, an iPhone, a Samsung. I’ve been through a mix. Only a phone or two ago, I told the sales rep the camera wasn’t important because I already had one. Now the phone has usurped my camera. The phone camera is the be-all to end-all component. Gorging myself on reviews of cameras on new phones before buying, failing to acknowledge that the subject and photographer and editor is the creative genius of any device.

I replaced my phone with its integral expiration date of 18-24 months. My quandary? Be wooed by the new iPhone X or stick with the Galaxy? I was briefly tempted by the Motorola with mods. But the downer was the price of add-on mods. And the iPhone is still missing that extra storage. 

Choices. There is always something that holds the power. It was the missing Bluetooth on a high-end Honda. It was the wish to please my father by choosing sensible shoes and the trumpet against my own desires. But making the wrong choice breeds dissatisfaction. When can you make a choice that doesn’t meet all your desires and settle for it? And when do you fight against your choice and build resentment? 

I wanted the iPhone. I wanted the Hasselblad mods. I chose the Samsung. I’m satisfied with my choice. I still think of the others but don’t hold arguments in my head or illicitly and passionately yearn for them. 


I Accuse


I was a litterbug. I would have protested name-calling. I want to pass blame to big business that puts the product in my fingers. But I claim free will or some semblance of it. I was guilty. 

Cigarette Litter Prevention. I picked up the pamphlet at Ohiopyle State Park.

A man stomped his cigarette out on the basement floor. Was he born in a barn? But to excuse those ill manners, I hadn’t put out any ashtrays for smokers.

I thought butts would disintegrate into the environment. But they have something called cellulose acetate. Plastic.

In my most recent relapse, I stomped and trashed butts on my walks. But I was guilty of tossing them from moving cars. I bought some ashtrays–plastic–at the Dollar Store for the car and my porch in the country. They fit perfectly into the plastic cup holders. Did car manufacturers believe that removing the ashtray would stop smoking? Cost-cutting and not health-conscious.

Please put your butts in the ashtrays and trash cans and shove that image of a growing mountain of plastic bottles and cigarette butts from your mind.   


Run Wild

A woman alone in the woods under the almost nude tree canopy a short distance from the rocky Youghiogheny. A sign warned people and vehicles to watch for each other at a crossing. The trail appeared to lead riverside. A few steps ahead a man was holding a gun. Murder flashed in my head. Too many true crime stories. I kept walking defiant against imagination. He was not in stealth mode. He was wearing rubber boots, red and black checkered houndstooth pants with a woodlands camo jacket and blaze orange hat. He was a trailblazing maven of style. From the opposite direction pedaled a cyclist who said “Don’t shoot!” as he rode by. The hunter turned to speak then straightened to scan the shallow ravine for prey. A kill so close to his pick-up truck in the parking lot would be a storybook ending to a day of hunting. But surely this was a safety zone. I pulled out my phone for a selfie so I could look behind me without turning. Crime stories still looped in my head. The trail was veering away from the river so I turned back. My hunter was gone—no shots fired.

A woman alone in the woods or on a dark street considers threats. On this day in a state park it was three of us on a trail with only one person armed that jarred those thoughts loose. I’m buying blaze orange.


How to Avoid

Passive-aggressive people. My son asked a professional. How do you know if a person is passive aggressive? Because you want to avoid that. They make you feel shitty hitting below the belt. You’re expected to read minds or hear the silent words. Interpret actions. I wrote in a previous post that Facebook is the ideal place to discover it. But it’s everywhere.

Hey, I know honesty isn’t always easy. Honesty even makes us afraid. I’m on high alert for my own passive-aggressive tendencies. Maybe I just write them out. But why do we do it? What happened to us to make us that way? Why don’t we just scream at that person we’re aiming at?  But here was a professional telling my son he was on his own. We can’t help you. Hopefully they can help the passive aggressive person if he/she asks for help. Hah!

We are left to navigate through a quagmire of people who never say what they mean or ask for what they want but still make you feel shitty and defensive.


Ordinary People

My life rebooted this year. It happened slowly and abruptly. I say that I had no chance to prepare though I know I should have always been prepared. Only some people ever get the chance I did. How stupid we can be when presented with what we think is a tragedy. Divorce. It felt so awful and wrong and the last straw of several years of trouble. I had this idea of loyalty and commitment that I had inherited. And that’s perfect when you have reciprocity. I went through stages of grief until one day I realized I wasn’t mourning the loss but the lies I had told myself. Grief though understandable in divorce was not appropriate. Sometimes it just takes a little while to get it. While my divorce story appeared to have the transparencies of family trouble and growing apart and infidelity and deceit, that was superficial.

I read and listen to stories seeking others whose stories have some alignment with mine. Seeking the answers and understanding they took away from experience. Trying to make sense. Understanding for your own education and self-interest.

Stories of celebrities and politicians falling from grace, while interesting, are not the stories I want to hear. Though I do wonder if power and money changed them or they sought power and money to get away with inappropriate and criminal behaviors. But it’s the ordinary stories that are fascinating and inspiring. Storytellers lull me to sleep and make the miles speed by and the time pass.

Here’s one. A daughter learned a couple of weeks after her mother’s death that her mother was the criminal who had stolen her daughter, husband and father-in-law’s identities and then mutely vanished in death with half a million dollars. This wife and mother’s deceit left a husband bewildered with his fraud of a wife and marriage and a daughter diagnosing her mother as a psychopath who had never known what it was to love except as some unemotional concept. This dead woman stole even her family’s chance to pass through the stages of grief. The daughter worried that she might have inherited the same disorder. Asked if she would have prosecuted her mother in life, the answer was “yes”. She was forced to rewire her thinking. Understand what had happened but avoid being softened by that understanding.

Many stories seem extraordinary but they really aren’t. They just have the elements of a good story and a journalist to put it together. Storytellers willing to share what they went through and felt and learned. I like to think they want some of us to know we are not alone. That ordinary people survive extraordinary things or a slew of events. Some stories enter me more forcefully than others, but I always take something with me. And the storytellers don’t even know what they gave me or anyone else. It’s a gift. They help me rewire my brain. Rebooting meant a change in thinking. And that’s not easy when it often feels so unnatural.


Episode 2: Pants On Fire

Episode 2: Pants On Fire
Duration: 14:58
Published: Fri, 14 Feb 2014 11:00:00 -0000

For nearly a century we’ve been trying to read someone’s truthfulness by the way they act. Be it through machine, or our own intuition. The police have tried. The FBI has tried. The CIA has t…

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Comments Off on Treading Water

Treading Water

The man was at least 6’2″. I felt small; and frankly, those towering too far over me make me uneasy now. His loping gait that hinted of an injury proffered the descriptives lanky or gangly though he could not be called skinny. Nor could he be called fat. He was average for his height. He walked to greet me like an awkward dancer who has not mastered the steps. Deviating from type was a head of hair. A type, because it was in retrospect that I saw him as typecast by me. A type not to be trusted. It’s not fair to make the judgment of trust on appearance. But it was not just the appearance that brought me to the feeling of miscasting. It was statements that smelled of collusion. Unproven and perhaps unfounded. When questioned, a look of confusion followed by an explanation to the gullible child of how it worked. Sounding reasonable yet with a whiff of guilt. And after, my gut was still clenching its fists all the way home.

Someone had described him as a bulldog. When she said it, I recognized distaste in her voice. I pictured teeth grabbing and shaking a rag doll back and forth until it flew into pieces. But I saw a junkyard dog. Just not for me. The comparison of dog to human is deeply unfair to dogs. They are far less complicated and more trustworthy than any human.

He spoke soothing words that were the right ones, except they lacked the right emotion.  The person who doesn’t understand the character and overacts the role to convince you of emotion. And instead leaves you feeling confused and wary. And thus, I came to see the possibility of a casting mistake.

So, go with the gut or ignore the gut?



A fascinating podcast about a child’s kidnapping, assault, and murder which eventually brought us to Megan’s Law. But the story extends far beyond that one crime into a look at other murders, assaults, rapes, and crimes in this same rural area. Stories of law enforcement’s inadequacy and mistakes that allowed murderers and rapists and assaulters to continue their evil. Rush to judgment that had them chasing the wrong people and ignoring clues. A total lack of openness to examine new ideas and which inhibited the investigation. Law enforcement which for the most part refused to admit errors or learn from them or initiate better training or apologize to the many people who were hurt far beyond the crimes. I listened in empathy as Jacob Wetterling’s family took call after call from people who advanced theories or alleged sightings of their son. People who did not seem to have any idea of how painful those calls must be offering a shred of hope for truth. I listened in disbelief at the ineptitude of supposed professionals. I learned about the autonomy of some sheriffs’ departments in this country. I listened ruefully thinking that growing up in a rural area somehow protected families from the crime of the big city.

And every story has lessons to keep for the future.