Letters From After, Day 1

Swing Pond © Joseph Golby | Dreamstime.com

Dear Bunky,

Wow, I really did not see that coming, although I guess I should have — we all should have. All those senior citizens who’d spent their lives stealing from common folk so they could establish their hippie utopia but we weren’t having none of it, I guess they figured now that they were pushing 80 (and some of them plowing right past) they were running out of chances to pull the proverbial trigger.

I just never figured they’d start rounding us up for no other reason than telling them, “No, thank you, sir or ma’am,” but here I am, getting off the school bus at an undisclosed location. Looks sort of like summer camp only with chain link and barbed wire between us and the woods. It’s kind of pretty, though, in a “WTF is this all about” sort of way.

I guess this is where I belong anyway. I mean, what did Thoreau say, “Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison,” right? I’d like to think I was a just man, willing and able to live and let live, and if someone has a different way of living or believing, I’m happy as a clam to leave him be if he’s content to let me and mine be.

That’s not how the angry old folks see it, though, nope, not a whit. The only place for dissent in their way of looking is behind bars or at least chain link. So here I am.

It doesn’t seem to be too bad here, though, I mean it’s like a summer camp with bunk beds, not a concentration camp. Supper was actually pretty tasty, and we had a nice conversation around the table about the weather and Sunday’s game, and we were allowed to agree that the refs could have used a new prescription for their eyeglasses.

We have a lot of guest speakers who talk some rubbish about how cool the old folks’ plans for the country are, and how we should study harder because we’d understand better if we would just, well, concentrate. So I guess maybe it’s a concentration camp after all, huh, Bunky? LOL — I just kill me sometimes.

Anyway, there’s a nice little pond here and they let us out to swim for an hour if we want between classes, and yeah, I suppose it’s not too bad if you don’t mind not being able to leave, although I have to admit I do kind of mind. Maybe I’ll get used to it; they say you can get used to anything.

I think I’d rather be here knowing I’m a prisoner than out there thinking I’m free, you know? At least they’re honest about it here.

Love for the Nine and Ten

A long time ago in a blogosphere far, far away, I attempted a series reviewing the Bill of Rights, one amendment at a time, to show how each had been abused over the years. I abandoned the project after six installments, in part because I began to see how much I still needed to learn about the history, and in part because the exercise was so discouraging.

None of the first 10 constitutional amendments gets anything more than lip service these days, and after years of disuse some of them do not even have popular support.

The ninth and 10th tenets of the Bill of Rights (L. Neil Smith argued it should have been named the more accurate “Bill of Limitations”) are especially swept under the carpet in any discussion of “constitutional rights,” also a misnomer because the Constitution is not the source of rights; rather it is a list of some of the rights that the gummint has no fricking right to curtail. People’s rights are, as eloquently stated in the country’s founding document, “certain, unalienable,” and “endowed by their Creator.”

To drive home that point, Amendments Nine and Ten declare, “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” and “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

In other words, this list of people’s rights is just a bunch of things the government can’t infringe, and oh by the way, if we didn’t mention one of the other rights here, then that authority may (or may not) be assumed by the separate states, and if the state doesn’t want to curtail that right, then the people are free to have at it.

You say something “is not in the Constitution”? Oh yes, it is, right here in Amendments Nine and Ten. That’s where it says specifically, “Hands off, feds, that ain’t none of your business, either.”

Now, of course, a lot of this was changed between 1861 and 1865, when a war was waged over whether states have a right to go their separate ways, and the central government declared it had the power to overrule any such notion. But the discussion continues to this day.

Once upon a time, the words “state” and “country” were somewhat interchangeable. The original idea, I believe you’ll find, as that the 13 former colonies formed a federation of independent nations; you might have called it the United Nations. That’s why you’ll find references to some of the Founders being “Virginians,” for example, rather than “Americans.”

Only after a very long time did the notion emerge that these united countries were actually one big hairy country. Breaking away would be like if one of the nations in the European Union decided it didn’t want to participate anymore and the EU moved heaven and earth to try to prevent such a secession. At least they didn’t go to war over it in these more civilized times.

It behooves those of us who still read the Bill of Limitations to be more active in pointing out, “You can’t do that” or, at least, “You’re not supposed to be able to do that,” whenever Congress or some more petty dictator makes a move that violates the principles. The exhausting part of that endeavor, of course, is that both the individual states and the Federation have gone so far beyond the limits that a day doesn’t pass without violations galore.

Still, it couldn’t hurt to start asking, for example, “What part of ‘shall not’ do you folks not understand?” or even examine those words “delegated” and “prohibited” in the Tenth Amendment. Because as I have always understood those words, the higher power is not vested in Washington but in 50 other cities scattered here and there with names like Trenton and Pierre and Cheyenne and (God help us) Sacramento. And from the very first words — “We the People” — we get our best sense of who exactly is supposed to be doing the delegating and prohibiting.

Maybe the horse has been out of the barn for so long that it’s had time to procreate many generations of horses, but maybe it wouldn’t do much harm (and maybe could help a little) to start chasing down that horse and see what can be done about reining it back in.

A modest proposal

I propose that we, the people, begin to enforce these 10 steps to bring our runaway government under control.

  1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
  2. A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
  3. No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
  4. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
  5. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
  6. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
  7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
  8. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
  9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
  10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

what comes to you in the silence

Some of the work I’m proudest of didn’t get a single “Like” here or on Facebook.

Austin Kleon shared Michaela Coel’s Emmy acceptance speech where she spoke of how “visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success” and added, “don’t be afraid to disappear from it, from us, for a while and see what comes to you in the silence.”

Kleon then added, “Silence is a space for something to happen.” It often is enlightening to step away from the electronics and all the stimulation and turn off the brain or present myself with a blank page and see what fills that space.

I just stopped and looked through the window of my room here, not far from the shores of Green Bay, and a lone bird flew across the little bit of sky I can see above the trees, probably a gull, maybe a pelican, but high enough that I couldn’t be sure, and alone enough that I wondered if it was lost and seeking its friends — Do birds have friends? colleagues? fellow travelers? They have mates, of course, but what else do we really know?

Where I was going before the bird flew across my consciousness is how right Coel’s comment felt. Something special might be waiting in the silence when you disconnect, when you dare something that might not immediately gather those precious Likes. A swarm of clicks can be satisfying, but so can that connection that, for now at least, is only within.

W.B. Watching: Goliath

Red and I spent Friday and Saturday nights binge-watching Season 4 of the very fine lawyer melodrama Goliath, starring the incomparable Billy Bob Thornton as flawed but brilliant attorney Billy McBride.

We don’t binge-watch that much. We’ll glom onto a show and watch one or two episodes at a time, but to watch eight over two nights is rare for us. Goliath is that compelling.

The villain in this fourth and final story is Big Pharma, personified by the always riveting J.K. Simmons, and the opioid addiction crisis. In this era where the world has advanced from “trust us” to “shut up and take your medicine,” it’s encouraging to see a program that reminds us why many people are skeptical of the huge profit centers that peddle our pills.

Especially in the final courtroom showdown, a few things happen that had the newshound part of me thinking, “Objection, your honor, this wouldn’t happen in a real court,” but the here-I-am-now-entertain-me part of me thinking, “Oh, yeah. Yes, yes, go, go, go.”

Goliath Season 4 dropped Friday on Amazon Prime, and we actually found it by accident on opening night. I’m glad we did; it’s one of those rare shows that started out excellent and got even better in each of its successive seasons. This is one grand finale.

Time to stop comparing

Serendipity is a wonderful, awesome thing sometimes.

Friday morning I started through my “Important People” folder, the links to people who blog daily or at least often enough to pique my brain. One of those important people is Dean Wesley Smith, the prolific writer and daily blogger whose streak is somewhere around 4,000 days (this right here is my 421st consecutive daily blog).

Smith mentioned that he had spent HIS Thursday writing 4,000 words and recording a segment of an upcoming online class.

“Hmmph,” I said, and started thinking about how many weeks it had taken me to write the last 4,000 words of Jeep Thompson and the Lost Prince of Venus and how many years it has been since I spoke into a microphone.

Feeling a little sullen, it occurred to me that Smith’s wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, writes a writing business blog post every Thursday, so I clicked on her link next.

The title of this week’s blog is “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Oh yeah. I have written 10 books in the last 13 years, nowhere near the hundreds of books and novels that Dean Wesley Smith has written, but 10 more than I had written in the previous 55 years of my life — oh yes, and half of those books in the last three or four years. The 20,000 words of the Jeep Thompson novel, while only halfway to the eventual total, are thousands of words more than any other novel I’ve written in the last nine years.

If I compare my efforts with other successful writers, I look like I’m standing still. If I compare my efforts with what I did before, I’m doing OK. That makes me feel better.

But the point of the quote, and Rusch’s blog post, is in the title quote, which she found in an emailing from a local voiceover company.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Creativity is about expressing what gives you joy. If you love to write or play a musical instrument or dance or perform, do those things. Share your joy. It doesn’t matter if it’s better or worse than someone else, it doesn’t even matter if it’s better or worse than your own past work. It’s about sharing your present joy. Of course, the more you do it, the better you’ll be at it, but the point is to do it. Do what you love doing.

With 7 billion people in the world, you are likely to find someone who does it better, qualitatively and quantitatively. So what? This is your art, and no one else can do your stuff the way you do it.

So don’t bother comparing: Comparison is the thief of joy.

Be joyful!

W.B.’s Book Report: Daughter of the Morning Star

One of the first Netflix binges we fell into was Longmire, the A&E show that was one of the first series the streaming service rescued from cancellation. After three seasons on cable, the show starring Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff and Lou Diamond Phillips ran for three more seasons and is still highly recommended at our house.

One of the blessings of still doing the day-job thing and commuting for an hour in each direction at 68 is audiobooks. Once I saw “From the Longmire novels by Craig Johnson” in the TV credits, I had to find out more. I had three observations, four actually: The books are better than the very fine TV show, Katee Sackhoff is great but the “real” Vic Moretti is a black-haired pistol with a fouler mouth than even cable TV allows, I love Lou Diamond Phillips but the “real” Henry Standing Bear is twice his size, and I love Robert Taylor but the “real” voice of Walt Longmire is George Guidall.

I’ve been reacquainted with the gang this week because Johnson has just released his 17th Longmire novel, Daughter of the Morning Star. The mysteries here are that someone has been sending death threats to Jaya Long One Moon, star of the Lame Deer High School girls basketball team, what happened to Jaya’s older sister, who disappeared about a year ago, and whether the two mysteries are connected.

Guidall is an acknowledged superstar in the audiobook business, having narrated more than 1,700 books to date, and at 83 he is still going strong. Having George along to tell us the story is as comfortable as getting the usual at the Busy Bee Cafe.

Walt is a skeptic about Native American spirituality and legends, but he’ll have a hard time explaining what happens in this story if he tries to do it using only the reality of this world, but it won’t be the first time. He once was lost in a blizzard and probably would have died without the aid of a powerful Cheyenne friend who just happened to be recently deceased.

The book also has a “ripped from today’s headlines” angle as it references the shocking number of Native American women who have simply disappeared, or rather it’s a tragedy that ought to be headline news but tends to be overlooked, especially if there’s an attractive blonde gone missing.

If you’re a Longmire fan but didn’t know Johnson had a new book out, well, here it is! If you haven’t sampled the books yet, well, I envy you for all of the fun you have ahead of you. Me, I’m looking forward to getting in the car this morning to hear what happens next.