Tuesday, February 19, 2013


It's like this. I stand by a fence, peering through cracks between slats. I hear voices over there, happier than I thought voices could sound. But now and then one of the voices cries in pain. I can't get to the joy or even reach through to console the hurt. If I say as much, a dog leaps up and barks through the fence. If I say nothing, the happy people will come for me with torches and pitchforks. So I shake photos from my wallet and slide them through the cracks. More photos shoot my way like a slot-machine fire-hose jackpot. Night comes, wind picks up, and billions of stars sing overhead about the end of everything.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Guadalcanal Diary Stands Corrected

The United States Post Office is finally ready to take a Saturday off. Sorry, Guadalcanal Diary.

In an odd coincidence, I'm heading out the door this morning to take my iPod Touch to the UPS Store, per the instructions of the Apple customer service line. I bought it last April, and the camera stopped working in May. I finally found time to sort this out yesterday. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rage and Sorrow

TRIGGERS: Violence, tragic loss.

The title of this blog does not apply to this post. The irony there was never more cruel than it is now. I may write more on this later, but for now I will note the passing of one of the best of us.

I worked with Mark Hummels when we were both, essentially, cub reporters at a weekly independent newspaper in Colorado. Mark was endlessly kind, as bighearted as a person can be, and smart as hell. As I told a friend last night, two guys in our situation--trying to latch onto long-term positions at a start-up paper--would normally fall into a rivalry, friendly or otherwise. But Mark was not like that. He showed me the ropes when I was an intern and worked side by side with me for months after the internship ended and I was hired on full-time. Really, we slaved away, working on our articles, reviews, calendar items, and everything else that fell within our arts & entertainment section in the paper. We were both pretty broke, so we'd buy one dinner and share it while we worked, often late into the night. There was not a moment of tension or acrimony in the time we worked together. I don't remember why or how he left, but I do remember that everyone at the paper and in the local arts scene loved Mark Hummels. He was a great reporter and the greatest of guys.

This defies belief: Mark was murdered last week. Shot. Killed.

He is survived by his wife (who was his girlfriend when I knew him 20 years ago) and two kids, ages seven and nine. I have no trouble believing that Mark may have been the best father on the planet. My heart aches for his family.

(UPDATE: Please give to the Mark Hummels Memorial fund.)

If you have the stomach for it, you can read more about Mark and the vile little coward who shot him: Phoenix office shooting. The world is worse for this, worse by far. Anyone who knew Mark knows this with certainty.

Here's a song from back when we worked together, because this seems like a moment that calls for a song:

Grab the ones you love. Hold them close. Don't let go. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Return to Italy

This summer I'll teach two travel-writing courses in Europe: June in Italy, July in Ireland! After last June's successful but perhaps a wee bit lonely trip with OU students to Cork, Ireland, I'm thrilled that my wife and kids will join me this time. We're working out details, but we'll fly into Genova or Milano and spend three weeks in Northern and Central Italy before heading to Rome to meet thirty OU students in early June. After four nights in Rome (with a daytrip to Pompeii) and three nights in Venice, we'll settle into Arezzo, Tuscany, for the rest of the trip. From there we'll visit Florence and Siena and wander Tuscany and Umbria.

Then zoom! We hop a plane from Florence to Dublin to launch the July in Ireland adventure, without a moment's rest between. Two or three nights in Dublin (lodging at Trinity College!) should be plenty, with tours galore, then we'll take a coach down to Cork (stopping off for a couple of serene hours, at least, at Glendalough) and spend the rest of the month in and around the rebel county--apart from a big weekend adventure up along the coast to the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands.

I had a blast with my co-leader and students, but I sorely missed my wife and kids. This opportunity to travel with my family realizes a dream I've held since we found out we were having a baby. I remember fantasizing with my wife about how we would give our daughter (and now our son, too, of course) childhood memories of traveling abroad. In fact, we were in Venice when we decided to make a family, but that's a story for another day (and another venue!). As single-income home-schoolers, we haven't had the means to make a trip happen, until now. Landing two classes in Europe, back to back, was a stroke of brilliant luck. I had already been chosen to co-lead OU's Journey to Italy program (an honor in itself, as there is a competitive application/proposal process), when I got the email calling for a late-in-the-game fill-in for Ireland in July. Impossible to imagine saying "no" to an offer like that!

The photos in this post come from my January 2007 research trip to Italy, when I had a lot more hair. My father tagged along, and it was one of the best trips of my life--perhaps only topped by my trip with him to Poland and the Czech Republic 18 months later. But it's hard to rank trips abroad. They've all been wonderful. Even my two-week adventure in Mexico with my first wife, very near the end of our marriage, is filled with glorious memories despite the minor discomforts of finding ways to get along.

Anyway, hooray for the planning phase! I love looking at the map and plotting out the early, independent phase of this trip. The kids are learning a bit of Italian. Rachel is shopping for a new bag--the kind that rolls but converts to a backpack, too. And I've got a couple of syllabi and course schedules to tweak and tweak and tweak for the next few weeks. I'll savor the sweetness before La Dolce Vita.