Random Thoughts Blog

November 20, 2023


Making the Squash


“I don’t think I’m going to be able to make the squash this year, Lana,” my father said from his bed in the intensive care unit four years ago.

My wife and I have hosted the family Thanksgiving celebration for years, but my father always made the squash. Well, he made something that started with butternut squash and, after adding what tasted like half a pound of brown sugar, might have been more appropriately served as dessert. That’s probably why I liked it, definitely why my kids liked it. 

True squash aficionados—are there any?—might have had some concerns. Nevertheless, squash was his contribution to the meal. Now he wasn’t going to be able to provide it, and he felt bad about that.

Overall, however, it was a moment of optimism. From the window behind his head, we watched patches of blue sky crack the persistent November clouds. My father had come a long way overnight, and we were stunned to witness it. The previous evening, he’d barely been conscious, his bits of speech incomprehensible. Yet here he was fully conscious and lucid, worrying about the Thanksgiving squash.

My wife assured him she’d take care of it, told him not to worry. He couldn’t quite let go of it, though, because he’d promised to do it. Throughout a life that included going to work at twelve to help provide for a suddenly fatherless family, brutal combat duty in the South Pacific, and five decades of backbreaking labor, he did whatever he needed to do—and, without fail, whatever he’d promised to do.

“We’ll give you a pass this one time,” I said, and he met my eyes and said okay. Everyone’s entitled to a pass once in a while. Even he had to acknowledge that.

Unfortunately, the hope that persisted that day went away in a flash the next. He’d lost consciousness again and it wasn’t likely to return, the nurses told us. Many hours later, however, with the entire family gathered, his consciousness did return, if only for a few seconds.

“Hey, what the hell’s going on here?” he asked, widening his eyes and scanning the packed room.

I laugh as I write that because it was so him. Too many people, too much attention, too much fuss. He never wanted to be in the center of all that.

But he’d wanted to be there for Thanksgiving. He wanted to be a part of the celebration, even if he couldn’t make the squash.

And of course, we all wish he had been.

My wife did a great job with the squash that year. In subsequent years, my oldest sister has picked up the task and handles it equally well.

The squash is always good; it’s just not quite as sweet.







September 18, 2023


The real meaning of words like Leadership and Team


Everything I need to know about leadership and teamwork I learned nearly two years ago after my youngest son, then a senior in high school, ruptured his ACL during a varsity soccer match.

With his team preparing for some tough games down the stretch and then, if all went well, the playoffs, it happened. He lay there on the turf writhing in pain. Watching, we could only hope for the best while immediately fearing the worst.

True to his nature, my son tried to convince us it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. “I’m already feeling better,” he said the next day. He then tried to convince the school trainer, his coaches and the orthopedist we took him to see.

Halfway through the doctor’s visit, I thought he was going to pull it off.

Then: “Well, go get the MRI and let's make sure we know what we’re dealing with,” the doctor said.

And MRIs can’t be persuaded to show optimistic imagery. The call came in just as my son was preparing to leave for a team dinner. He was done for the year, the doctor made clear – and following surgery a month or so later, he’d be in for a long rehab. No club soccer, no spring soccer, likely no summer soccer.

None of those other things mattered to my son then, though. He just wanted to keep playing for his high school team, to keep giving everything he had for that team, to compete with them for a possible D1 state championship.

Now he wouldn’t be able to. He was despondent.

A kid who’d never missed a game, a practice, a voluntary workout or any team event refused to move. I watched him shut down as we prodded him to go to the dinner despite the devastating news.

“I can’t. I just can’t.”

As the team dinner commenced across town, my son sat by himself in the basement, bad leg propped on a stool, playing video games and refusing to talk. My wife and I began to worry more about his mental health than his physical health. It was agonizing.

Then the doorbell rang. The team captain and a few other guys stood on our front stoop with food, candy and a team-signed get well card in their hands. Right behind them, another group of guys and then another. Soon the majority of the team was in our basement.

It was loud. It was boisterous. And, let me tell you, it was so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes.

As I reflect on it now, those tears threaten to form again.

What those 17-, and 18-year-old boys did for my son that night illustrates what real leadership looks like, what being part of a team is actually meant to mean.

I’ll always remain thankful for what those kids did that night. But beyond that, I’ll never forget how brilliantly and compassionately they demonstrated what words like leadership and team truly mean.

August 22, 2023

The Seed

One year ago, my wife and I were in Bardstown, Kentucky, our last stop on an abbreviated trip to the bluegrass state. Before we departed, Lana “had to” stop into a small boutique downtown. Dutifully, I tagged along. (Hey, she’d agreed to spend what was left of summer vacation, including her birthday, in bourbon country; it’s the least I could do.)

As she shopped and chatted with the proprietors, a tiny seed implanted in my brain: A couple on the run – or maybe not so much on the run as getting away from a place where something bad had happened? – lands in small-town America.

I didn’t know why they were there, what they were running from or what they’d encounter in this new place, so to say I had an idea would be overstating things. More accurate to say I had a feeling, that familiar sensation that a story might sprout. Riding beside it was the equally familiar acceptance that the thing might just as easily die before anything of substance ever emerged.

But it didn’t die.

Throughout the long ride home and in the week after our return, it germinated. Within a couple of weeks, I knew precisely who these people were and where they’d landed (small-town Vermont, in the end; sorry Kentucky). I had a strong feel for what had happened and why, what they wanted – and what they absolutely needed. Perhaps most importantly, I knew that each decision they made in the aftermath closed off other options, that having gone in one direction they could never go back.

The working title of the novel this would become (THE ROAD DISAPPEARED BEHIND US) didn’t emerge until it revealed itself in dialogue late in the book, but from the start I knew the road the couple took had in fact disappeared behind them. Whatever was to happen from there, be it good, bad or a double-edged, they’d have to make their choices in the light of that knowledge. To move forward, with no real option to move any other way, the couple would have to do whatever the moment required.

In that miasma of moral ambiguity, the once-small seeding began spreading its roots. Then those roots grew, strengthened and wrapped themselves around me like tentacles, all but forcing me to leaf things out: setting, secondary characters and storylines, new challenges and dilemmas, tension, drama, a sprinkling of humor, a climax, a satisfying ending.

By mid-October of last year, a gangly mass had emerged. I typed THE END and went out to celebrate my birthday. Of course, I knew THE END was nothing of the sort and that the real work – the sculpting, molding and heavy pruning of revision – lay ahead.

After putting in that work, I solicited beta readers. Over time, wonderfully useful feedback poured in from those gracious early readers, and I dove into rinse-and-repeat mode on the revision process, looking for patterns, trying to act without overreacting. Those were the guidelines: tighten this, lose that, sharpen other parts, make the prose sing but don’t get too cute with it. Balance. Always balance.

Eventually, I got to where I am now, which sometimes in the publishing industry can feel like nowhere. It’s not though. Sure, it’s incredibly hard to get your work seen in a world with far more supply than demand, but one way or another, this book will have its day.

That little seed that settled into my brain a year ago stands fully formed now.

Time to set it free.




July 10, 2023

No Surrender

The machines are taking over!

I feel as if I’ve been hearing these warnings most of my life. Now, all these years later, perhaps they’re finally apt.

“It’s scary,” peoples say, no longer meaning it in a colloquial sense.

In many ways, it is. But I think what’s scarier is the sense of surrender that sometimes accompanies these fears.

In my mind, this started the first time I heard someone say: “Why do we need to learn what Google already knows?” That logic is at once irrefutable and terribly dangerous. To my way of thinking at least, the danger doesn’t stem from teaching machines to think, but from allowing machines to think for us.

Machines can be programmed to do things we can’t, or more accurately, to do things much faster, more efficiently and thoroughly than we can. No one can question that. However, they truly exceed human abilities only as we allow ours to atrophy. That is, only when we give up.

So we shouldn’t. That’s my thesis. Beyond all the obvious reasons, here’s why: Because the full list of attributes we bring to bear is inexhaustible. We are built not only on a specific genetic code but on ideas, perceptions, beliefs, shared societal practices and, most of all, our own experiences and emotions, all of which establish a complex filtering system that can’t be replicated.

That’s what allows us to empathize with one another, to temper data-driven outputs with human creativity and, dare I say, sensitivity. That’s what makes humans unique, in every sense: different from all other species, different from our creations, but also different, despite our commonality, from one another. Each of us brings something that no one else quite does.

As for the machines? I don’t think they’re close.

ChatGPT, for instance, can write a story, but it can’t write your story or mine. It can’t write our story.

AI cannot solve all our problems, either. Nor can it create new ones we can’t solve, if we apply ourselves. If we don’t defer to the machines but instead see this moment in human history as a call for action, if we see advances in AI as an accelerant – for our own intelligence, for deeper thinking, for tapping more of our own potential.

If we start, at least, by refusing to surrender.



May 26, 2023

It’s not about you … or is it?

“It’s not about you.”

I suspect most people of a certain age have received this message, implicitly if not explicitly. Those who, like me, spent their careers in a military environment have surely heard it.

And you know what? I’ve always bought in to that precept. If you’re going to be a part of something, you have to subordinate yourself to it in many ways. You have to play your role, and more often than not, yours won’t be the starring role.

If you’re fortunate enough to be entrusted with leadership, this becomes even more important. You have to put your team first. It’s about them, not you. In four decades of work life, I never encountered a truly effective leader who violated that principle.

However, it took me a while to learn that you’re not always leading, following or playing a small part in a larger effort.

I recently met with a literary agent who preached the value of self-promotion, and somehow everything crystallized. When you’re doing something that’s largely solitary, working at personal achievement, with no support team surrounding you, guess what? It is, primarily, about you.

I had to grant myself permission to think that way. After so many years of reminding myself that it’s not about me, I had to allow myself to believe that it can be, that it’s okay for it to be.

I’m guessing this isn’t a novel idea for my kids and many young people today. They know they’re unlikely to work for the same employer their whole careers. That sort of dependability and loyalty, in either direction, has gone the way of fax machines and electric typewriters.

Hell, in an “Uber-everything” world, many will spend their careers detached from anything that contains the structure some of us saw as essential. They’ll develop their own brands, online and in-person, and take on the world in bold ways some of us never imagined.

For them, it often is about themselves – because it needs to be. I’m still not sure it’s ideal, but it’s okay. Certainly, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I’m learning that lesson now by unlearning the old lesson. Sometimes, it is about me.

But if I ever get too carried away, I’ll remind myself that it isn’t always. And hey, if nothing else, I’ve always got that guy at the top of the page around to let me know who it’s really all about. 😊


April 19, 2023

A mile away ...

Ten years ago tonight, my mother left our old family home for the last time. She’d become gravely ill and needed medical attention. My father, being my father, refused to call 9-1-1. He called my sister, who called me.

“What should we do?”

At almost exactly the same time, police were zeroing in on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who along with his brother Tamerlan had planned and executed the Boston Marathon bombing days earlier. Tamerlan did not survive a shootout with police earlier in the day, but Dzhokhar had managed to escape.

Local and many national news crews covered the events live throughout the afternoon. By the time I arrived home from work, I glued myself to the TV for updates just as nearly everyone in Greater Boston did. I was interested for all the obvious reasons but also because the search had been isolated to Watertown, where I’d grown up and my aging parents still lived.

“The area’s blockaded,” I told my sister. “I don’t think they’ll let us in. We have to call 9-1-1.”

We did, and a short time later an EMT crew from a nearby town responded and transported her to the hospital, just as everyone watched a different set of emergency vehicles transport the then-captured Tsarnaev.

My mom recovered enough to go to various rehabilitation facilities and eventually to an assisted living community. But as I said at the top, she never went home again. I don’t know how much it matters that her final trip from that home came amidst the blur of the deadly marathon bombing fallout. And I certainly don’t mean to conflate her angst or ours with that experienced by the victims and their loved ones.

Yet, in my mind, my mother’s journey and that tense, terrifying scene unfolding a mile away will always be tethered.

And on this fateful anniversary, while almost all my thoughts are on the victims and wounded survivors of the attack and the pursuit that followed it, I reserve a few for my mom too.


January 3, 2023


Lightening the resoluteness of our resolutions


The holidays behind us, we start again. It’s hard not to slump beneath the weight of the long winter ahead. Even as I write, the weather conspires to hold us down. Cold drizzle descends from a low, colorless sky then suspends in the air like a frosty mist.

The geese-in-flight honking of cardboard horns with which we blew in the new year still reverberates, but the parties are over. The tree is down now, its lights stowed away again. The excesses – food, drink, expenditures, late nights and lazy mornings – have receded into memory. Worse, we treat them as sins for which we must atone.

And so it feels that the new beginnings we’ve promised ourselves must be excavated from this dull, gray austerity. Somewhere among the tangle of emotions, the invading stressors, the diets and workouts, hope lies hidden. We always knew we’d have to work for it, didn’t we?

But it’s there. Among the resolutions, and our requisite vows of resoluteness, it’s there. If it’s hard to find, it might be because unwavering determination, meritorious though it is, tends to mask it. Hope, after all, requires flexibility, the ability to bend and adapt without breaking. It requires us to make peace with interruptions, even setbacks.

A shift, a turn, some good advice well heeded: these are not violations. All-or-nothing endeavors too often deliver the latter. A little compromise might put us on the right course, even if it’s the not the precise one we mapped.

The sky won’t lift today, but that’s okay. At some point it will. The hope of a new year will be a bit easier to find then. Let’s grant ourselves the grace to seek it and embrace it – in all its amorphous forms – once we do.

December 14, 2022


A walk in the woods on a wintery morning


There comes an age at which fatigue can limit our imagination, dull our aspirations. We run, sometimes perilously fast and carrying too much weight, along the path we chart only to reach a clearing and find ourselves lost in the open space.

We talk then of ifs and whens. We talk of golf courses and cruise ships. Substance drifts like grains of sand. Unshackled, we forget what our bondage prevented us from doing. Or say it’s too late and pour a drink. We’ll watch the young ones now. Let’s see what they become.

Like Prufrock, we have measured out our lives with coffee spoons. A spoon of prudence; a spoon of caution; a spoon of risk perhaps. Careful with that one. And now we look back at the landscape of that life and say: ‘It’s good.’ Say: ‘We made it.’

What comes next? We talk of travel, talk of things, of upscale restaurants and downsized homes. I play along, a chameleon, one who fits in and who, by definition then, won’t stand out.

Yet as I pound through the woods on this frosty morning, a thin layer of crystallized snow and frozen oak leaves crunching beneath my feet, none of that means a thing. In my age-worn jeans and sturdy hiking boots, I move through the deep, sudden cold, eighty pounds of four-legged love and loyalty tromping along with me, and I couldn’t give a damn about things or even places.

It’s what comes next, starting now. It’s what I have left to do. It’s about finding a way to do what no one will tell me to do, what perhaps, for once, no one needs me to do. I can only move toward that destination.

Where exactly it is I do not know, but I don’t think it’s a plateau. And I doubt it’s lined with deck chairs.

August 30, 2022

The Honor of Leadership

One year ago today, I said goodbye.

After nearly 39 years, I wrapped up one career and began a new journey. I’ll be talking more about the new journey in future posts, but today I want to look back one more time, specifically at what I miss most, the honor of being allowed to lead.

This isn’t really about the mechanics of leadership. It’s not the old guy coming around to shower the next generation with wisdom. Hell, for everything I got right, I suspect I got something else wrong. I hardly consider myself a sage.

No, this about cherishing the opportunity when and if you get it. Throughout the daily strife, it’s not easy to slow down long enough to see it this way, but there’s something uniquely special about being chosen to lead.

You can be the most brilliant tactician and fail miserably at leadership. You can study the science of management and never learn the art of leadership.

Leadership is a balancing act in which some seem to walk the beam with perfect, continuous poise. Yet for most of us, it’s a constant course-correction battle, bending too far left then too far right, desperately seeking that centerline.

But getting there and staying there is a lot easier if you forgo the burdens of ego.

When I left, I embarked on an effort that was all about me. It’s what I’d wanted to do, and I waited a long time to do it. But before I left, I tried hard never to make it about me. I wanted it to be about the organization, about our shared goals and, most of all, about the people who worked for me.

I had to develop the grace to help them wherever and however possible – and then get the hell out of their way.

I still check in from time to time. They’re still doing great things, and I’m way out of their way, so what does that tell us? It’s a tribute to them and perhaps especially to the outstanding ‘subordinate’ leaders we had in place.

The one thing I know is that, if it wasn’t about me while I was there, and it wasn’t, it sure isn’t now.

It’s about them. It always was.

That’s what I learned about leadership and why I’ll always appreciate the honor of having been entrusted with it.

August 1, 2022

Bill Russell and the gold star I didn’t get

A lightning strike of memory hit me yesterday when I heard about the passing of NBA legend, social justice advocate and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Bill Russell.

It involved my sixth grade teacher, Mr. McDonald. I had just spiked his ire.

Mr. McDonald had anger issues to begin with, so that’s not particularly noteworthy. We sometimes gave him good reason to get mad, I’ll admit. We passed notes, talked in class, ignored the bell that ended recess. But his anger transcended levels typically displayed by other authority figures, and we were hardly the only source for it.

Hell, one day he stopped class and made us all look out the window to watch the street-sweeper whine slowly up the road in front of the school.

“Look at that guy!” Mr. McDonald bellowed. “Do you know how much they pay him to sit in that stupid machine doing that all day?”

Well, no, of course we had no idea, and he didn’t tell us. But I think we understood, eventually if not in that moment, why he was so upset. Teachers, with all the degree and certification requirements, got paid crap. The street sweeper, depending on his years of service, probably made as much or more.

Yet I knew there was something different about the anger I triggered by asking Mr. McDonald if I could earn a gold star for reading and reviewing Bill Russell’s autobiography (co-written by Bill McSweeny) Go Up For Glory.

Taking a step back, I should explain that Mr. McDonald awarded us green stars for each book we read and gold ones, which worth more, for taking on classics or books of true substance. Give the Devil his due; those stars displayed beside our names on a wall chart at the back of the room pushed several of us to read a lot more books than we otherwise would have.

I’d picked up Mr. Russel’s book because I was a kid who loved sports, but I quickly realized it was about much more. Surely Mr. Russell’s recollection of growing up in a segregated America and of his run-ins with racism despite – and sometimes because of – his stardom represented ‘gold star-level’ substance, right?

Mr. McDonald didn’t see it that way. In fact, my audacity in bringing that particular book to him and asking for the gold star launched a tirade for which I hadn’t prepared, despite his mercurial tendencies.

Mr. McDonald was a large man, at least 6’ 2” and easily 250 lbs. And he was very white, as I recall him, his skin almost the color of the chalk he used to list vocabulary words on the board. His thinning hair, which he combed straight back, ran white too. He even wore white shirts – every day. But he’d take on a ruddiness when he was mad, and here it came up fast, before he even got a word out. Then his bulbous blue eyes expanded, their aperture wide enough to swallow an 11-year-old boy whole.

This was more than forty-five years ago, so I can’t quote him accurately, but when he finally spoke, it went something like this.

“Are you kidding me? That?” he asked, stabbing at the cover. “By him?” His disdain burst out with that single word, expelled from his mouth like poison. Hatred. Hatred for a man he’d never met. “That son of a … with everything he’s done, with all the disgusting things he’s said about White people and about our city …”

It went on and on, the gist being that Russel had been, beyond all those other things, ungrateful. White Bostonians had accepted and cheered this pioneering Black athlete, my teacher informed me in a furious stammer, and Bill Russel had repaid them by spitting on them.

“A poisoned atmosphere hangs over this city,” Russel has been quoted as saying in 1966. “It is an atmosphere of hatred, mistrust and ignorance.”

These sorts of statements cut into people like Mr. McDonald, who I suppose felt unfairly maligned. But was it unfair?

Mr. McDonald made no allowance for the very possibility of Mr. Russell’s veracity in charging the city with racist behavior. He made no mention of the easily verifiable evidence of the offenses inflicted upon the man who became sports’ greatest champion, no mention of the racist graffiti spraypainted on his house, for instance, or other, more despicable acts that were committed against him.

No, in Mr. McDonald’s view – hardly an isolated one, as I later found out – Bill Russell was not the victim but the perpetrator, not the subject of racism but the racist himself.

Though no such admission passed between his lips that day, perhaps Mr. McDonald would, in a calmer moment, at least have acknowledged the bad behavior of a few rogue fools. However, for Bill Russell to extrapolate from that to impugning an entire region was, to the Mr. McDonalds of the world, an unforgivable sin.

In the decades that followed, I’ve listened to similar arguments made against other Black athletes who dared to paint the city, or our nation, with what their critics considered an overly broad brush.

But back in the ’50s and ’60s, when Russel ruled the parquet floor at the old Boston Garden? Even by the mid-‘70s, when I’d mustered the courage to ask for that gold star? Come on. As an emerging adolescent, I knew better. Racist thoughts, actions and language were widely prevalent. Grownups used racial epithets as liberally as table salt back then. Maybe not the N-word so much (although you heard it), but plenty of others.

How could anyone doubt that a proud, forthright, extremely high-profile Black man had found himself on the end of such verbal assaults? How could anyone begrudge him the bitterness that formed as a result or take umbrage with the crusading social justice work he did as a result?

Did it matter that it made some people feel bad, that it somehow pierced their personal, regional or national pride?

Those were among the questions I was left to ponder, and I imagine I learned more from contemplating those questions over the years than I did from reading the book – and I learned a lot from reading the book.

I never met Bill Russell, never even got to watch him play. But I’m glad I read that book, even if I garnered only a green star from Mr. McDonald for doing so, one he issued begrudgingly at that. And I’m glad Mr. Russell made us look in the mirror and ask tough questions about ourselves. I believe we’re all better for it.

I know I am.


June 9, 2022

The commencement address I’ll (probably) never be asked to give


As another graduation season passes, I find myself thinking about the commencement address I’ll never be asked to give. Oh, sure, I suppose there’s still a chance, so I’ll hedge and say I probably won’t be asked.

But if I were asked, here’s what I’d say.

“If I were someone more famous, I suppose I’d feel compelled to cite my own experience, perhaps offer an amusing anecdote or two that might get your attention. But since I’m not, let’s get right into the advice. … Stop groaning. I’ll be quick.

The first thing I want to talk about is nothing – doing it, I mean.

Inertia comes in innocence. A crisp autumn night, maybe a frost, then a little snow. Too cold to go out. Nice and warm inside. It feels good to slow down a bit anyway. Then winter settles in fully. Months go by. Comfort morphs into stagnation. It happens before you notice. So be alert.

Breathe, relax, then get going again. Change. Try new things, take some chances. But above all: Move. Forward.

Next, Listen to learn. Damn near everyone you meet has something to teach you. But they’re not your teachers. It’s not their job to teach you. You have to want to learn from here on. You have to listen to people, observe, ask smart questions and concentrate on the answers.

The knowledge you acquire by doing this will accumulate and, at points, bear out against your own life experiences. When that happens, knowledge becomes wisdom. And with wisdom, murkiness clears. That’s when you begin to see what matters most.

So, what matters most? I don’t have the answer. You have to figure that out. That’s the point. What matters most to me might not matter as much to you. You are not seeking some universal truth, but rather your truth. You’re learning to focus, to sort through the never-ending myriad of options – options for how you’ll spend your time, your money, and your passion.

But figuring out what to do is barely half the battle. It’s how and why you do it that matters even more. Doing it all for something we might vaguely define as self-fulfillment is fine. Each of us should seek that. But is it enough?

May I be so bold as to suggest a framework to guide you?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course. This is my speech, so I’m going to do it whether you want me to or not. And in doing so, I’ll offer a few core elements, all of which are integrally connected.

First, Empathy. This one is tougher than it sounds. In slower moments, we sometimes stop and reflect on what others are dealing with. In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, we almost can’t help but imagine transposing ourselves or our loved ones with the actual victims. Can’t help but imagine the horror.

But in the blur of everyday life, it’s much harder. That’s natural. Yet we can all try harder. The first step to living with more continuous empathy is awareness. We can all learn to be more aware, to open our eyes, ears and hearts to that which is otherwise all too easily ignored. We just have to train ourselves to do it. We have to keep reminding ourselves how important it is – and it is, I assure you.

Next up, Humility. Let’s start with a definition. Humility can be taken to mean having a low opinion of yourself or of your importance. But I would ask you to look at it differently.

In a world where self-promotion is both common and necessary, humility is a liberating offset. It is your chance to live your life free of excessive self-pride or arrogance. It is your opportunity to see yourself as a small, but no less important, part of the world around you, to do the right things for the right reasons, not only for reward or recognition.

And that dovetails with my final core element.

Integrity. Over the course of your lives, you will trade many things for other things. You’ll trade your labor for money, your money for products you need and want. You’ll trade your free time for service to others: spouses, children, aging parents, your community perhaps.

But I suggest you never trade away your integrity. And make no mistake, you will be tested. In ways large and small, we all are. Maybe it’s a lucrative deal that only requires some minor deviation from the rules, or a great opportunity that comes at the expense of someone else who is more deserving. Perhaps you’ll be asked to fudge the truth, to “fix” a data point.

“It’s not a big deal,” they might say. “No one will care.”

Don’t do it. Don’t give away the one thing you truly own. No matter what else you surrender, don’t let anyone take your integrity away.

Finally, Have fun. You have worked hard to get where you are now; you’ll work harder still to get where you’re going. You will face hardships, make difficult decisions, deal with the declining health of those you love and possibly face a scare or two yourself. But in between all that, you have to find your joy.

It might come on a mountain or on a beach. It might be on the pages of books. It might be in those video games you love. But hopefully, beyond all that, you’ll find it with others, in shared experiences that leave everyone smiling. That’s where the magic is. That’s what matters most in the end.

And so there you have it, graduation advice from someone neither successful nor famous enough to provide it. But maybe one day you’ll read it anyway, and maybe some of it will resonate.

I hope so.

Do well. Do good. Be happy.

And congratulations!”



May 24, 2022

The same, but a little different

“My job is just like your job.”

When people used to ask me how working public affairs for the military compared to their corporate public relations jobs, I tended to say something like that. I worked as a civilian in business attire, wrote press releases, set up interviews, oversaw social media strategies, put together talking points for executives, managed outreach programs, and prepared (over and over and over) for crisis management.

All pretty similar.

Except maybe they were never awoken at 4 a.m. by a call from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan informing them that two members from their base had just perished in a tragic aircraft crash. Maybe they never dealt with the heartbreaking next steps, as pieces of information, including the members’ identities, were released.

Maybe they never stood on a flight line, let alone did it twenty-five or thirty times, with grieving families as they awaited a plane bearing the remains of their loved ones. Maybe they never scrambled to keep rogue media members away from those poor grieving souls. Maybe they never stood in an icy wind with numb extremities but racing emotions, as those flag-draped coffins were slowly lowered from the planes.

Maybe they never heard the very particular sobs that emerged in those moments. Maybe they never heard those sobs punctuated by the sharp “whup!” of the large U.S. flag suspended from the pole behind them as it snapped with each gust of wind.

Maybe that was all a little different.

Otherwise, sure, my job was much like theirs.

However, as we approach Memorial Day once again, while I carry heaviness in my heart for those fallen members and their still-grieving families, I’m thankful to have had the honor of doing my job. 

And I’m eternally thankful for those who gave their lives doing theirs.

We’re all in their debt.

May 16, 2022

On being humbled, and accepting it

It’s humbling. Whenever someone asks how my publishing journey is going, I tell them: “It’s humbling.”

That’s not to say it’s going poorly. Compared to the travails of many others trying to publish fiction in a shrinking marketplace, I’ve been fortunate to get my work looked at by a couple of well-placed industry insiders at least.

The humbling part is that, after a full career doing other things, even if many were related to my current goal, the turn is pretty sharp. Piling up a career’s worth of awards, medals and plaudits means next to nothing in this new world. No one is giving me credit for having done things, no matter how well I did them, that aren’t the precise thing I’m doing now.

From day one, I knew this. I accepted it. Or so I believed. But had I really?

Probably not. I don’t think I fully understood that you could do so much and have it mean so little to people who, if you can get their attention at all, want to see a different resumé.

And don’t get me wrong. They’re right to want what they want. They know their business. They have to. They won’t adjust for me; nor do I expect them to. I’m the one who has to adjust. That’s the most humbling part. It’s honestly knowing and accepting that my climb starts at the bottom, that no one will airlift me to some midpoint plateau because of my previous experience or accomplishments.

It’s good for the soul, though, being humbled like this. It makes me more introspective but also more empathetic, reminding me of what it’s like for others who are trying to break into new environments. And, above all, it has made me even more determined. I know now that it’s not about taking the next step; it’s about taking a whole different set of steps, an Eiffel Tower’s worth of steps.

I’m ready to climb.


April 11, 2022


The Promise of Passion

My college literary magazine once included a poem I composed entitled The Promise of Passion. In it, I argued against mainstream expectations – and my own nature.

With cheesy lines such as: Perhaps we should consider, for a moment at least/The promise of passion completely unleashed, I made the case for ripping off our shackles and striving to accomplish what we cared about most.

At 21 and on the cusp of entering the “real world,” I could, through these little pieces of creative writing, push back against it all for a moment at least. Yet I knew I wouldn’t do it. Even as I typed the words, I knew they were the words of another me – not those of the head-down guy intent on swimming as close to the center of the mainstream as possible.

Responsible, hard-working and focused: those were the modifiers by which I sought to be described. Creative, free-spirited, passionate? Sure, they were in there too – way in. I let them out with a mildly rebellious poem or two and then stashed them back in their storage bin.

No more.

No one achieves anything great without a little risk, a lot of hard work and, yes, unfettered passion. To get something right, one has to love it, and maybe hate it sometimes, but then love it again even more. That’s what I meant all those years ago when I wrote that poem.

I understand it now, more than I ever did then.

April 4, 2022

Every life a story

Nearly forty years on, I can still see and hear Professor McLean moving about the room, talking as he walked.

“Most of you – probably all of you – will never merit an obituary,” he told us in his customary clipped bark during an introductory news writing course. He then explained that only those who lived truly noteworthy lives got "obits."

And of course he was right. Now, don’t confuse death notices, which families pay to place in the newspaper (and its online edition), with true obituaries. Newspaper editors dole out obits only for people who have already made news and especially for those who’ve been making it their entire lives.

It could be no other way, I suppose. Too many people die. No staff, even in the long-gone golden age of journalism, could ever keep up. Yet we shouldn’t let that stop us from looking at and writing about the lives of ordinary people.

Their life struggles and mistakes, the obstacles they overcame, their victories large and small, compose the true human story. Maybe they lived through extremely hard times. Maybe they marched off to war. Maybe they raised families and struggled to give them everything they needed.

Maybe, like my father, they did all those things and more. And okay, I’ll concede that none of that constitutes newsworthiness in its truest sense, but I guarantee you there’s a story there – a hell of a story.

Therefore, while the Times, the Journal, the Post and others probably will omit the obit for most of us, let’s be clear: every life contains a story worth telling.

March 28, 2021

Why I try not to write – or live – in the passive voice

If you ask, I’ll give you my opinion, but I’m not here to offer unsolicited writing advice. That said, I do wholeheartedly endorse the age-old, if oft-ignored counsel to avoid the passive voice whenever possible. Active-voice sentences are cleaner, crisper and, most important, clearer.

They also put the people doing whatever we’re writing about in charge. Now, for every rule an exception. The object of a sentence can, in rare cases, trump the subject of that sentence. Most of the time, however, the subject rules.

The day will be seized by us. Blech! We seize the day, or hope to at least. Yet we see it all the time, writers turning the object into the subject, sometimes eliminating the actual subject entirely. We write as if the award, which “was presented,” is more important than the person “receiving” it, as if the game, which “was won,” is more important than the team that won it, and so on. 

Sometimes I believe we live that way too, as if the object of our pursuit is paramount. However, keeping the person or entity front and center reminds us of our role in that pursuit; it reminds us of our role in successes – and failures. Among other benefits, that maintains accountability. It never reached completion is just a soft way for me to say I never finished it.

I won’t allow that. I can’t.

Life in the active voice can be harder, but it’s clearer and more accurate, and ultimately more rewarding. I did it – or didn’t do it. I can’t hide from that, nor should I want to.

None of us should.

March 21, 2022


It's been nearly half a century. Childhood, adolescence, college, career, family. And still the itch - nearly fifty years since I, at age seven or eight, announced to my family that I intended to be a writer.

"A writer?" one of my aunts scoffed. "Ha. You'll starve." Heads nodded, laughter followed. My heart sunk. Still I wrote and wrote and wrote. Avocation, however, not vocation. I didn't want to starve.

That starvation danger has receded considerably now, and if it came to it, I could spare a few pounds. Also, while I admire all those with stronger faith than mine, I veer toward the you're-going-to-be-dead-for-a-long-time side of the street. At some point it's now - or it really, finally will be never.

I'm choosing now. That's why.