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zeusSilent letters have always perplexed me. As a huge proponent of the English language, I can’t help but consider them my friends, but it’s more like in a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” sort of way.

Why name her “Sarah” when you can name her “Sara”? Why is it a “gnat” instead of a “nat” or a “knot” instead of a “not”? I’m sure somewhere along the way the letter was an important part of the word, for whatever reason, but these days… well, these days silent letters are simply the bane of my existence.

I saw a copy of the Declaration of Independence this week, and I noticed that the word was “Congrefs” instead of “Congress.” I completely understand if the type face didn’t have an “s” back in the 18th Century, but it so obviously did, as evidenced by the “s” at the end of the word. How hard would it have been to just put another one in front of it instead of that horrendously wrong looking “f”? Sometime around the 20th Century they fixed all of that nonsense, but I’m just curious why they had to suffer through it for so long before that.

And don’t even get me started on letters that don’t sound a thing alike, depending on the constitution of the other letters contained in the word they find themselves chained to at any particular time. For example, sometimes the G is hard, as in grape, and other times it’s soft, as in stranger. Sometimes the C makes a harsh sound, like in Carbon, while on occasion it’s smooth like in Cereal. How are kids supposed to recognize when it’s supposed to be the “s” sound instead of a standard “c”?

Then there’s words with blends, like the TH combo. What’s up with that one? “This” and “The” arguably start with different sounds. When the TH is at the end of the word it can be a hard stop or it can be a smooth ride, depending on whether or not a silent letter is tacked onto the other side of it. Think of words like “Bath” and “Bathe,” or “Breath” and “Breathe.”

We teach our mouths to say some difficult words throughout the course of our lives, but none are harder to adjust to than names. That’s because names are individual, even when they aren’t. That means even though Brianna and Brianna are spelled the same, one could carry an “ANA” and the other an “AHNA,” depending on whatever preference her parents had for her. That’s why as a teacher I always offer an apology each semester before trying to pronounce my students’ names.

“I know you’ve had your name for at least 17 years, so you’re very familiar with how it flows from your lips, but I don’t know you from ADAM, so I’m going to need a little help here,” I tell them before diving into the list of increasingly more challenging names to both spell and pronounce. Even when they seem easy.

And of course there are also words from other languages, where their rules are completely different from the ones for English, but at least they generally stick to their rules without so many exceptions. I swear, for every random group of English words there are probably a few exceptions. But when I look at French, and German, and even Spanish, there just aren’t too many things I can mess up, except for names. Of course names are still an issue, because in English, or Spanish, or even Swahili for that matter, they remain individual to each person, and so carry an element of surprise.

I’m used to seeing “Jesus” and thinking “Gee-Zuss.” That’s how I grew up, as the son of a preacher, in these here United States. But so many parents of Latino heritage proudly name their sons “Jesus” and it sounds like they’re calling the king of the Greek gods, like he’s getting away from them and they want to catch his attention. “Hey, Zeus! Wait up. Wanna play catch?” Or in the same language, the double-L situation that sounds more like a twisted “Y” than anything else?

So I never assume I’m saying anything correctly if I’ve never seen it before, even if it follows basic rules of other words I’m very familiar with, because odds are it just might be totally different. I might know how to say “Cow,” but “Mow” doesn’t carry the same sound. I might know that “Tao” rhymes with “Cow,” but some may think it must sound like “Day-o.” Your name might be “Maella,” and I have no clue it’s pronounced “Maya.”

That’s because language is fluid. It shifts and changes so often, the pronunciations undulating like so many snakes, and it can be manipulated to suit individual preference at the same time. There are probably a hundred ways to say different vowel sounds that I’m sure I haven’t heard every single one. And my brain hurts when I think about the sounds those pesky blends can possibly make.

But that’s the same reason I love language so much, because there’s always a word to express what you’re really feeling, what you really mean to say, at any given moment. There’s always a way to bend words to your will, to remake them in your own image, even within a small circle of friends. I love the idea that language can keep growing long after words are introduced and accepted into the lexicon. And I live for each first day of school, through all the starts and stops, as I learn each new name.

Because who likes things to be too easy?

Sam

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“I spent many a summer early morning with the radio very low, half sleeping and half listening.” ~Frankie Valli

There’s a space between being fully asleep and being fully awake where the awesome feeling of weightlessness, of carelessness, of being completely outside of ourselves and looking down on our world with wonder, takes over. It’s warm there, like being in utero, like hugging your knees to your chest and drifting away. All the love, and all the joy, and all the excitement in the world all come together under a brilliant light that imbues heat, and love, and joy, and excitement. But then we are awake, or we are asleep, and it’s gone.

For me it’s that ’76 sound, that radio on low that vibrates through my soul, because while I don’t remember anything before I was born, I imagine it was like that in my cocoon, safe, and incredible, and all too brief. For two thirds of 1976 I was in the womb. From April until December of that glorious bicentennial year I was biding my time, lost in a world that would both define me and be extraneous to me, hugging my knees to my chest and listening to those outside sounds, muffled and out of tune. For two thirds of that glorious bicentennial year I was a hesitation mark, waiting to be fully realized, basking in the sounds of love, and hope, and possibility.

In 1776 the so-called Founding Fathers were desperately fighting for freedom against long odds, against a system that was vast, that was massively overwhelming, but they had a vision and a tenacity that eventually won them their war. Their battle cries could be heard from hill to hill, from town to town, and from forest to forest, as they found a liberation that had long been lost. That sound has reverberated down through the years in anthems, in chants, in speeches oft repeated down the line. It resonates with me in a profound way because sounds bring with them memories and a connection that cannot be achieved any other way.

One hundred years later newly freed slaves were making their way North with no real plans except getting themselves and their families away from the plantations that had stolen their identities. They had no jobs, no job prospects, and were facing a world that was still highly segregated and discriminatory, even in the north. These slaves had one thing that kept them striving, that kept them moving up the path, and it was embedded deeply in the fabric of their negro spirituals, in the hymns sacred to them by way of religion, and of shared experience, and of shared loss. These hymns became their own war cries, their own way to define themselves in a world that left them undefined, that left them as less than human.

By 1976 the world had changed immeasurably, but we all know that with any change comes a consistency of experience that doesn’t change. From the rudimentary lyrics of William Shakespeare, back in 1576, to the burning down of the Jamestown colony in 1676, to the revolutionary verve, to the determination of the newly freed slaves, down to my own birth, when Rod Stewart’s “Tonite’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright)” was the top song in America, that ’76 sound just keeps on playing. But it’s not on repeat. It picks up more verses as the years, as the decades, as the centuries go on, becoming more nuanced, creating more melodies and harmonies that we can all share. That ’76 sound is an all-encompassing reminder that we are all connected in some way, shape, or form.

I spent 1976 becoming me, and the time since has all been spent, looking backward, and looking forward, trying to understand who that is, with my headphones on, checking out that ’76 sound. And I’m still waking up.

Sam

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An acquaintance of mine remarked the other day:

“That’s stupid to worry about Wi-fi signals in the middle of the wilderness. You’re out in nature, man. Enjoy it.”

To which I say:

“Nature can be an absolute behemoth, a beast that can destroy you in seconds, or take an eternity to draw it out. The wilderness is the perfect place to have a strong Wi-fi signal because you never know when you might need it.”

But I get his point. Of course I do. In this world, with all of these devices, it can be easy to get hooked in and want to stay hooked in. It reminds me of the story of the two girls who fell into a well. One of them remembered that she had her phone on her, so she fished it out, and…

They changed her Facebook status to: “I’ve fallen in a well. Please send help.”

Six hours later one of her friends finally decided the status update wasn’t a joke or a hoax and called 911 to get her some help. During the six hours after the status change both girls sat at the bottom of the well and waited to be rescued. I repeat, their friend called 911 six hours later. They had a phone down there with them. Uh.

But that’s how things are these days, in this screenage generation, where social media is king and everything else is a foreign concept. It makes perfect sense to be out in the wilderness looking forĀ  four bars on your phone because you’re so used to having four bars on your phone whenever you go. What do you mean, Uber doesn’t have tent service in the wilderness? Well, maybe, if you pay a whole lot extra, including shocks for the Uber jeep.

We sit in a room surrounded by other people and sometimes an eternity can pass before a single word is said. It used to be a horrible thing to be with others and not talk, but now it’s the default setting, except when we turn our phones to those around us to show them the latest Grumpy Cat meme, or the funniest LaVar Ball tweet. It’s not about good old-fashioned physical interaction with others. It’s about how fast you can get out your point of view without uttering a single word.

When the Wi-fi is dead we feel like we are too. We feel like life is a hopeless rubbish bin because we can’t connect to the world outside, to the world we’ve gotten used to being wrapped around us like a cocoon. The connections we tend to make, though, are superficial at best, not like the ones the outside world often affords us. There’s a book called We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, and while I haven’t yet read it, I know the sentiment that the title espouses. “IRL” has become a simple acronym that encompasses everything about this generation, because it has become more and more rare.

Real life has become a caricature of itself, a reminder that life, this erstwhile life we call our own, must go on even when we aren’t plugged in, even when we aren’t sucking at the teat of the social media monster. We don’t know what we think until it explodes from us in 180 characters or fewer, and our thoughts aren’t validated until more than our immediate family re-tweets those very thoughts. Our lives are defined by the accounts we have, by the likes we collect, and by the photographs we share, not by what we actually do during our days, or by the people we share our IRL time with.

And I say “we” because I am just as much a part of this world as everyone else. I check my accounts more than I probably should. I would not have changed my Facebook status from the bottom of a well, but I can certainly understand why and how it happened the way it did. But I wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near a wilderness, Wi-fi signal or not.

Sam

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What can I say? We’re in. Or we’re almost in. In all the ways that count anyway, we are in. Like Flynn, according to Heidi. The Certificate of Occupancy, the holy grail when it comes to moving in to a new home, came through, signed, sealed, and delivered, on Tuesday. The inspector came, he saw, he said we were all good, and he left.

Then we exhaled.

But of course that was just the beginning of the next phase, not the ending of it all, not by far. So many people have asked me over the course of the past year or so when we will move in. “When are you guys moving in?” “What’s the move in date?” “We can’t wait to have the house warming party.” And I kept telling them things that started with hopefully, probably, possibly, and if we’re lucky. I honestly had no idea, except that the holidays and special anniversaries kept rolling by and we still seemed to be no closer to getting in than we were at the outset.

At first it seemed likely we would be in by Christmas, that the red and green wreath would indeed decorate our door for the first time, but that was not to be. By Christmas we were in a holding pattern instead, fighting desperately to get workers to the site, trying inconsolately to deal with more and more delays as the house sat empty no more than 1000 paces from where we were boarding.

Then I had my eye set on Valentine’s Day, then I was assured that it would be Alexa’s birthday celebration in the new house, but both days came and went without any change in our living situation. To say I was frustrated, that we were frustrated, would be a massive understatement. My 40th birthday, Easter, and both Mother’s and Father’s Day flew by and workers came and went. It was all an acknowledgment that someday would come, that someday would arrive and sweep us into the house on a swell of good fortune.


Someday is today. I sit here in our house, half moved in, the beds secure in their final homes, my children tucked cozily into their separate beds in their separate rooms, snug as bugs in rugs. A crazy grin spreads across my face because after all this time… after all these trials… we are in. Someday has arrived, and even if we are still living from suitcases, even if we have to still travel those 1000 paces to eat food three times a day, that place is no longer where we live. It was never home, but now it isn’t even a place I have to return to when my working day is done.

Someday is today. We are cleaning rooms, painting doors, and situating furniture where it belongs, all while inhabiting the space we’ve looked at for far too long, from the outside looking in. Now I’m looking out, and I’m loving what I see. Because it’s ours, and someday is now.

Sam

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“Don’t say you want me. Don’t say you need me. Don’t say you love me. It’s understood. Don’t say you’re happy out there without me. I know you can’t be, ’cause it’s no good.” ~Depeche Mode [“It’s No Good”]

I’m the king of pretenders, the ultimate “my face is not how I feel” kind of person. Maybe it’s because I care too much how people perceive me, or perhaps it’s because I’ve just gotten used to putting on a front while out in public. Whatever the case, it’s ingrained now after 40 years of perfecting it, of putting it out there and hoping desperately that people relate, that people want to be around me because of it. Then I spend the rest of my time worrying that I should have been more authentic.

It’s a harsh cycle, madly and truly, but after 40 years of this I realize that the happiest I’ve ever been is when I can just be myself, when I can just open my mouth and breathe without thinking about how I will make that happen. It’s a perspective thing, I guess. There’s 40 years down, and I don’t know if there’s 40 ahead, but I’m going to spend my time being happy, doing the things that make me happy instead of always thinking about others’ perceptions of me. Life is just way too short.

I’ve started too, and the results have been drastic already. Many people are asking me if something is wrong because I’m not the same, because I’m different, because they are now seeing the real me. Remember that thing about being happy? Well, I’m not happy every second of every day, so they’re seeing that, but I’d rather be unhappy and it shows than spend my time being fake. It makes my real happy moments just that much brighter, luminescent in their glory, like I’m a character in a cartoon who has just been redeemed after years of being the bad guy.

I’ve begun spending some time in the mirror analyzing my smile — well, really trying to figure out what a real smile for me looks like on my face, trying to figure out how to discard the fake smile that likes to creep in and freak me out with its extra wattage.

This is me. All that other stuff. It was no good. It wasn’t me. It was the idea of me that I thought others needed to have to feel secure that they knew me. But they didn’t know me. How many of us really know the people around us? How many of us really think about the masks that we wear, about the masks that others wear when they are around us, about tearing off those masks so we can be our authentic selves more often.

Everyone says you should “be yourself,” but no one truly takes that to heart. No one really strives to be themselves because we aren’t happy with ourselves, not who we are at our baselines. We judge ourselves so we assume others are judging us too, and maybe they are (we are only human), but I would rather be judged on who I am than on who others think I am because it’s the face I show them.

It’s no good. It just isn’t. All this pretense and subterfuge, all this time spent in artifice and self-judgment. At least I’ve decided that for myself it won’t work anymore, that it never worked except in my own scattered mind. Well, I’m getting focused now. I don’t want to only be honest in my writing. I don’t want to have to write you a missive for you to know how I feel. I want to be able to come right up to you, to open my mouth, and to simply be honest. I know, it’s a novel idea. But I’m ready, and it’s time.

Because everything else… it’s no good.

Sam

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“Love is mild, except when it isn’t. Except when it’s a raging inferno with the sole intention of destroying every ounce of sanity you have left. But yes, it’s mild. And that other stuff too.” ~Anonymous

0612d8fcf89e1f08abc66fc7fc6b92f6I made the mistake of telling someone that my next book of poetry is going to be full of love poems. It seemed to me a stroke of genius, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to create a whole book of 50+ poems exclusively about love. In my mind it was going to be difficult because my brain creates poetry quite organically, so how was I going to shift my thought patterns and make the poetry cooperate? I needn’t have been worried, because she said:

“But most of your stuff is already love poetry.”

Which of course made me laugh, but she was deadly serious. And she would know because she’s listened to a lot of my poems at poetry night, she’s read the vast majority of the ones on my poetry blog, and she’s purchased both of my other collections of poetry. So I took stock of my poetry. I dug as deep as she probably didn’t have to in order to find out that she was absolutely right.

I write mostly love poetry. No, not the treacly sweet love poetry that would make a 1950s poet proud. Nor even the devoted, puppy dog love poetry that dominated the 1980s. No, I write the love poetry that is intense in its own analysis of itself, that drives all night to end up in the same place where it began. I write the love poetry that wishes it were something else, but it can’t help being about love.

So that makes it easy, I guess, compiling a book of my love poetry, even if it’s not the book I thought I was going to make when I started on this journey. Because this is my reality. It’s the love I’ve seen more often than any other in this world. It’s not the mild, “I want to hold your hand” kind of love, not the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse inspired love, but is instead the persistently desperate, sad love that strives for something more, the love that needs acceptance but usually breeds regret.

Which means my job is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Just write poetry and it will probably fit the mold.

Sam

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9f6daf4011c972bfcbd6025ea6686c5a_ice-cream-truck-ice-cream-ice-cream-truck-clipart_450-450When I was a kid I wanted the ice cream truck to break down on my street. In my head it would have been perfect: the frazzled driver befuddled by his misfortune, the machine only having an hour left on the generator, the driver throwing his hands up as us kids swarmed the truck and ate everything we could reach. FOR FREE. It would have been heaven.

It was so good… on paper. I thought it up in my head. I drew the stick figure children eating ice cream like it was going out of style. But I didn’t take into account the horrible stomachaches we would have been likely to have, or the vomiting that would probably have ensued later that night, or the poor driver out of product and having to (eh hem) eat the loss. I was a kid, and the scenario was good on paper. But I’ve grown up, and I’ve seen a lot along the way that is also good… on paper, but that just doesn’t cut it in reality.

How come things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to? The numbers don’t lie, do they? There was this sports commentator, who, when asked to explain how a team that was supposedly unbeatable had just lost, said: “That’s why they play the game.” And it’s so true. That’s exactly why they play the game, why we live our lives, even though the cards are stacked against us at times.

There’s just something about David vs. Goliath that drags us in, isn’t there? We know the little guy is going to get crushed, because on paper it says so, resoundingly, but we root him on anyway, hoping for the improbable. It’s always a feel good story when the underdog succeeds when absolutely nothing was expected of him, in business, in sports, and in life overall.

But man, it’s got to suck for the overwhelming favorite, for the one from whom most was expected, for the one who checked all the boxes… on paper. Because, somewhere along the way, every time we hold someone up it just becomes a reason to tear them down when they don’t hit that expectation.

Sometimes people and things are just good on paper, and that’s all there is to it. Sometimes there isn’t a reason why “on paper” doesn’t translate into “in person.” It just is. Sometimes that girl who seemed so perfect on her eHarmony profile doesn’t mesh with you in real life. That’s why life isn’t live on paper. It’s why prospective employees have to interview instead of getting hired based on simply their resume. Because human beings aren’t just the words that define them. They aren’t just the numbers attached to them.

We don’t just live on paper. So good on paper is just a sign that we might be more inclined to succeed in real life. It isn’t a guarantee.

Sam

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