The 8 words that changed my life

Photo © Thodonal |

I know something about the danger of buying stuff on credit. I went bankrupt — twice — by maxing out credit cards and then hitting hard times.

When you buy something promising to pay for it later, you’re gambling that you will always have enough money on hand to pay at least the minimum payment. The catch is that bad times happen — you lose your job, you get sick or injured, and the money will still be due.

Then there’s the interest thing. If you pay for a major purchase a little bit at a time, that nice $1,000 toy can end up actually costing you hundreds more. Better to wait until you’ve saved enough to pay with cash, so you can spend those hundreds on something else.

And when hard times hit — it’s not an “if” — the credit card companies will run you through a gauntlet of embarrassment and humiliation that borders on inhuman. All those scenes in movies where the slimy thug threatens the guy who doesn’t have the money to pay back the debt? They’re based on credit card collectors’ real-life tactics, except Visa, MasterCard or Discover won’t threaten to break your legs.

Sometime after my second bankruptcy — I’m a slow learner — I got tired of paying interest on credit cards, which essentially is spending money on thin air. I finally cut up my cards and set my sights on paying the balances down to zero. It took about five years before I could finally start earning interest instead of paying it, which I promise you is more fun.

The eight words that changed my life are something I learned through hard experience. It’s very much like a gambling problem: It was so hard to stop betting that I would always be able to pay back the debts. It’s like knowing instinctively that the house always wins but laying your money down anyway.

The eight words?


when the day job calls

Product for the day job

I spend half an hour in the thrall of the Muse, but then promises made in exchange for a coin start to creep in on the edges of my consciousness — yes, I must write up the news and go through the photos and put in my time — “put in my time” like a felon paying for his crime, trying not to be surly because the real crime was wasting the time that could have lifted me from the prison long ago.

And is it really a punishment to spend a sunny autumn day seeking out beauty to share with the world? The “prison” was completely unlike the jailers’ gray locked room; I will be compensated for walking and driving through the forest in search of lovely images.

Yes, I will also be compensated for sitting in a room taking notes while long conversations take place that few will remember or value in years to come — but even that room was not a prison — in fact, what is a prison but a figment of imagination?

No prison can hold a free human. Though the body may be confined, the mind is still free, confounding the jailers.

when the poetry bursts

Photo by Carol Jean Townsend

When the poetry bursts, 

why then the poetry bursts 

and the rhythm takes over and the words start to flow 

and the words have no commas or pauses at all 

they just come they just come like inevitable fall 

and never mind winter and never mind spring 

just mind the words’ rhythm and start you to sing

new dance

Photo by Carol Jean Townsend

  There is a moment when you cease to moping and say, “Enough of this, let the dance begin,”
  and you lift up your pipes or your guitar or your tambourine or clap your hands and raise your arms and just let out the energy in your soul,
  a precious melody a joyous shout a harmonic convergence of all the love you ever felt and all the want and all the give
  and oh what a dance you dance and oh what a song you sing and where have you been, all my love of life, it’s good to feel you again.

It is a dance with a bit of an ache for what’s lost, 
but a dance with a hint of a smile of remembrance, 
for the dance will never be the same again, 
but the new dance will have it own sparkle, 
and the new dance will find its own way, 
and the new dance will soak up the best of the old 
and find its own moment in time.

And when the melody’s spent and the lyrics are spoken, 
the magic is fading and the spells have been broken, 
the happiness gained with the new dance’s rhythms 
will settle like fine wine on grateful old souls. 
No melancholy can last against a dance such as this, 
and the sobs over loss turn to sobs of relief 
with a smile through the tears that can’t be denied 
and life goes on — life resumes — 
built on a foundation more solid than we knew at the time.

What are these tears, then? What is the point?
The sun shines on memories and present moment alike —
the memories feed the moment and make it more rich
than it ever could be without them —
the moment more precious for what came before
and the future shines waiting —
let’s go explore

Progress measured by laughter

I laughed to myself when last month I might have been overcome by the aching, so I guess it’s getting better.

There’s a trope in action movies and TV shows where there’s an undercurrent of personal tension — a couple is not getting along, or perhaps they’re trying to deny the fact that they’re clearly attracted to each other — and as the bad guys are closing in, they start talking about it instead of running away or tackling the bad guys.

Red would roll her eyes and moan, “Oh, come on,” and we would laugh and start imagining that as the couple is talking through their emotions, the bad guys catch up and kill them, end of movie.

Well, that’s exactly what happened not once, but twice, in the Season 2 finale of Joe Pickett, a mostly fine adaptation of the C.J. Box novels on Paramount+. 

Joe and his wife are on the run with a wounded fugitive, and the posse is in the woods, but they somehow have time to sit by the river and talk out their issues. 

Meanwhile, back home, Grandma and the kids see three armed men in ski masks pull up to the front of the house, so they flee out the back door through the woods, over the river, and through some more woods to meet up with Grandma’s beau, whom she called for help, so they can drive away in his pickup truck. But before the grownups get in the truck to safety, they have an interminable conversation about their future together. We never really did see what became of the three armed men pursuing them.

I imagined Red rolling her eyes and moaning, “Oh, come on,” and I laughed. Oh sure, I’m overcome by the aching as I tell you the story, but in the moment I laughed and reveled in the memory of how she would have reacted.

So progress has been made in the effort to adjust to my new normal. We’re getting there.

When beauty dies

I have swatted more flies than I can count, laid out traps for ants and mice, but still I’ve often felt a little bad. I’ve even said, “Sorry, little ones,” after a successful kill. Some folks will laugh at how daft that sounds — apologizing to pests that need to be exterminated? 

I’m just not comfortable taking a life, any life, especially deliberately. I rounded a curve a couple of weeks ago and ran over a young raccoon a nanosecond after I realized he was there. I felt awful, but at least there was nothing I could have done. It was an accident.

I took this photo in August of a praying mantis hanging on to the side of our garage door. It probably has been years since I even saw a praying mantis. They are such interesting creatures.

Monday morning I rolled the garbage can out to the curb shortly after sunrise. It’s a mechanical task, one of those things you do without engaging your brain. On the way back down the driveway, I saw a little flash of green on the asphalt.

It seems either I rolled the garbage can over the praying mantis or stepped on it walking up the hill. In either case, the poor thing was gone. 

I’d say I don’t know why that upset me, but I do know: Like I said, it’s been years since I saw a praying mantis around here, and I killed it. It’s probably not the same one I saw six weeks ago, but it might have been. It’s like I knew this little guy.

I’ll be able to sleep tonight, just as I slept the night after I rolled over the raccoon. It was an accident, I didn’t mean to take the little life. Still, it’s one less beautiful thing in the world, and so I mourn. Silly, huh? 

Along came a Spider-Man

I had Friday night dinner with Son of Red and his beautiful bride. At one point I admired the 2-year-old grandson’s Spider-Man suit. (Actually the 10-year-old grandson is the real Spider-Man fan in their family.)

I remembered that when I was 10 years old, almost nobody in the world knew who Spider-Man is. But I did. Three months after my 10th birthday, I found a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #4 among the new comics at the IGA in Milton, Vermont, during our family vacation, and overnight I changed from an occasional reader of comic books into a diehard fan.

Now that I’ve navigated a few more birthdays, you can find Spider-Man merch in just about any store that sells clothing or backpacks or you name it. Most folks have at least a passing knowledge of Peter Parker and M.J. and all his friends, and the dastardly villains he’s faced along the way.

It’s fun to have been on the ground floor of a global phenomenon. I kind of get to know what it was like for those first kids who bought Action Comics #1 back in 1938 and discovered this new hero called Superman, or the first kids who bought The All-Story magazine in 1912 and read the story of the son of a lost English lord named Greystoke and how he turned into Tarzan of the Apes.

When you discover something wonderful, you want to share it with the world. And so one of the coolest moments of my life was sitting in a movie theater in 2002 and watching the now-familiar story of a teenager, a radioactive spider, and the tragedy that befalls his Uncle Ben unfold on the big screen almost exactly as it appeared in the original comics. 

All of those thoughts and memories flooded in as I held the 2-year-old’s Spider-Man suit. Peter Parker and I have come a very long way together.