Blurring the line between novelist and blogger since 2016

Curse the Darkness


             I used to love election day.

More than July 4, possibly on par with every fourth January 20, Election Day was a brilliant reminder that the United States was different. The exchange of power from one leader to the next, one party to the next, one philosophy to the next, was decided not with blood and bone but by ideas and votes.

              I didn’t revel in the outcome of every election, but I reveled in the knowledge that the American Experiment was not just alive but continuing to grow.

              Eight years ago, when Romney was trying to unseat Obama, I wrote this:

              So little of this applies, now. We have a president who has told a group that preaches violence to intimidate opponents and gain political ends to “stand back and standby” in case they are needed. Roving groups of armed men who have swapped red hats in place of brown shirts have purposefully tried to intimidate voters in multiple states.

              People on-line marveled at what they saw as the stupidity of a MAGA-flag waving caravan stopping on the New Jersey Turnpike and blocking traffic, seemingly suiting no purpose but to alienate voters. What those posters missed is that there was a very specific purpose, and whether the caravan people could have articulated it or not, it is something they share with many bullies and abusers. The message is “I can break the rules, I can hurt you, and I will not face consequences. The rules don’t apply to me.”

              In state after state, the incumbent administration or its proxies have filed law suits trying to invalidate ballots on technicalities, like who authorized special accommodations to deal with the COVID pandemic which would not be raging at its current level but for the inaction of that administration.

               The party of Reagan is no more. The party of Eisenhower is no more. Tonight will either be the rebirth or the death of the American Experiment. That is not hyperbole, it is the five cards in our hand.

              We went as a family to hold signs at a polling place in true blue Massachusetts. One extended family member was worried for our safety. I’ve held signs more than 100 times in dozens of locations – never before has anyone been concerned for my safety, or even considered it.

              No part of me believed that holding a sign in the cold was all that stood between Massachusetts cutting blue or red. We may not have changed a vote, but we changed how we felt. I have learned that the saying “better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness” has multiple meanings, and multiple ways it can echo and resonate through that darkness.

              We lit a candle. We voted for freedom. For the integrity of the Constitution. And for decency.

To the living.

And so we begin again.

2018 was not like any other year. I look to the year that starts today with a sharp sense of all that I got wrong in 2018, but there was also much that went right.

Shirley Watson – the Game is Afoot!

I watched my daughter play a lead role in her school play, trying hard not to embarrass her from the audience as my face, my hands, my posture all shouted  “OH MY GOD, I LOVE YOU AND I AM SO PROUD OF YOU” louder than my voice ever could. She hit her stride in school. She sang in choirs and bands and alone, to herself, in happy moments.

There is little that makes me happier than that sound.

My wife/best friend/partner-in-crime and I moved even closer together in a year of intense triumph and intense sadness, though it was hard to conceive how getting closer was even possible. Sometimes as you weep for what is lost, you desperately need to hold, and be held by, the love that remains.  I was never judged when I wept for the loss of my parents. She knew she was marrying a man who loved deeply, at least in part because there was no hiding how deeply I love her.

But there is much of 2018 I will not seek to carry forward. I turned inward. I read, somewhere, recently that creating art is writing a love letter to the world. But I’ve not felt great love for the world-writ-large this year. I’ve been shown great kindness by friends and strangers. That doesn’t mean I’ve wanted to send a love letter to the world.

I have to change that in 2019. There have been other periods of my life where I was a writer who didn’t write, a sailor who didn’t sail, a guitarist who didn’t play. They were not happy times. Wisdom isn’t about not making mistakes, but not making the same mistakes over and over. And I know from experience that we act our way to right thinking, even if we wish we could think our way to right acting.

So my wicked cool 40th-birthday-present guitar is coming out of its case today. I will see if I can still play the Smiths’ song I mastered in the fall.

Happy New Year, Mr. Martin.

This blog post is going up for no one, really, but me.

I will exercise. It is too cold to sail on Buzzards Bay, but I will walk in the sunshine at least literally today. And I will try to reconnect with the people I have neglected. I wrote the first essay in what may become a (long-contemplated) collection this morning, sitting in the same blue chair where I drafted my novel in 2015.

At some point, we must turn our attention to the living.

Soldier, scholar, horseman, dad

Soldier, scholar, horseman, dad.

William Butler Yeats’ brilliant and haunting In Memory of Major Robert Gregory played in an endless loop in my mind last week. More exactly, I heard Ted Kennedy’s voice paraphrasing, in his eulogy for his nephew,   the closing line of Yeats’ eleventh octet: “We dared to think that [he] would live to comb gray hair.”

Arthur C. Traub, Jr., at different times in his life a soldier, scholar, horseman, and daddy, lived to comb gray hair. And then, robust and strong, on the day after Christmas he lived no more.


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Some way out of here


The first time I heard Bob Dylan’s song “Hurricane,” about the controversial murder conviction of black boxer Ruben Carter, I pulled my 1972 Chrysler New Yorker into a rest stop off the highway so that I could allow myself to be riveted. In my memory it is summer and I fumble for a pen not yet gummy and ruined by too many hot days in the car, and for a napkin in the hope I would be able to record the name and search for it at a record store.

Times were different then. Google did not facilitate such searches.

The story surfaces because it so closely tracks Emily Dickinson’s much-echoed remark to a friend named Higginson : “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”  And because this weekend, Bob Dylan was to be in Sweden, months after the Nobel Prize banquet, where members of the academy were to meet up with him before a previously arranged stop on his current concert tour.

After the announcement that Dylan was being given the prize for 2016 that Faulkner got in 1949 and  Camus was given in 1957,  the boo birds came out in full voice. Writers from every part of the talent spectrum started responding in green ink, tweeting and posting on-line their disdain for the selection. Several took the easy cheap shot, asking haughtily if they could submit their fiction works for Emmy awards, or nonsense along those lines.

As so often happens in the world where social media values immediacy over all else, the boo birds – while seductively snarky – are mistaking ignorance for wisdom.

The first literature was sung.

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Another kind of love song

Another kind of love song.

There was no singing today.

There should have been. One of the traditions that Carrie brought with her into our marriage is calling family members on their birthdays to sing the happy birthday song, sometimes in tune, sometimes in time, sometimes both.

Such a thing never would have occurred in the Traub house growing up. That is less a good thing or a bad thing than it is just a thing. But the Carters never missed the chance to call and sing, and that practice is now as deeply rooted in our house as brushing our teeth before bed.

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