• An Oversharer’s Cautionary Tale

    In 2019 I decided I was ready to pitch my first novel, Schopenhauer in Love, to literary agents for the first time. I taught myself how to write a query letter, researched agents for those most likely to have an interest in a work of historical fiction about a 19th century German philosopher[1], read the […]

  • You Can’t Chop Your Mother Up In Massachusetts

    It was the fall of 2014. I had returned from a delirious trip to my first writer’s retreat in North Carolina, not knowing that my mother, Carolyn, had dementia. I had clues, two of her siblings had already died from it, but denial being the stock and trade of the human race, I gallantly did […]

  • Metaphor and the Quality of Experience

    The greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances. Aristotle from the Poetics Abstract During a rare reunion, an old girlfriend tells me I have chronic foot pain because […]

  • Carolyn Just Died and Now We’re Short 86 Billion Neurons

    Carolyn Poplett died on May 18, 2022. This is the eulogy I gave for her at First United Church in Oak Park on July 23rd, 2022. Years ago, driving my parents out to O’Hare, suffering the critical presence of my father, who for some obnoxious reason had decided to sit in the back, positioned to […]

  • Having a Cow: Carolyn Poplett and the Figurative Imagination

    It was in the seventies. Bart Simpson was not yet a sparkle in Matt Groening’s creative eye. I was on a landing at the front of a large house, a landmark Prairie School architecture home in Oak Park, Illinois, restored by my parents, a few stair rungs below my mother who had come charging down […]

  • Grace, Gratitude, and a Wonderful Life

    I can take you down to Goldy’s a neighborhood pub that hasn’t changed since Mike took over the business in 1986, famous for its Goldyburger, where on Fridays they serve deep fried perch, and there introduce you to Una the handsome Irish barkeep with the handsome Irish lilt. I can show you the barstools where […]

  • The Mystery of Carolyn’s Daring Escape from Incarceration

    “This is my son, John. He’s the one who incarcerated me.” Imagine that the person making this introduction was your mother in an assisted-living home. Imagine you were standing next to her, and this is how she chose to introduce you to her fellow inmates—very cheerfully and void of foul intent, venom, rage, or any […]

  • Inveigling and The Kung Fu Mind of Carolyn Poplett

    Time and time again, Carolyn has proven—thirty years beyond the death of her spouse, through a stroke, day in and day out after the onset of dementia, right up to last evening—that now no matter how many times the disease shaves off another thin slice of her mind, all it succeeds in doing is to […]

  • Long Day’s Journey into a Mind Going Dark

    Returning from a road-trip that kept me away for two weeks, I knew to expect that my mother, Carolyn, who is fast approaching her 92nd birthday, would impress me with how dementia had robbed another tiny piece of her mind. It’s hard to go away without some dread of the return, knowing how she depends […]

  • How to Fulfill a Boyhood Dream in Cumberland Gap, TN

    Routinely in the sixties and early seventies my parents would load me up with my kid brother in a borrowed station wagon and buzz down from Chicago to Asheville, NC as fast as centrifugal force and the likelihood of sliding sideways over the edge of a mountainous road would allow. Dad always drove and he […]

  • Ode to the Adventure Prone

    Inaugural East Coast Cascade Campers Owners Convention I was among the privileged few, there were ten of us in all, to bring my Cascade Camper campervan to Western Virginia to convene for a few days of birds-of-a-feather style camaraderie combined with interludes of revelry. It was—to be precise—a “hoot”. The Cascade Camper van is a […]

  • Would you please please please please please please please stop worshipping this jackass?

    Notes on the Ken Burns / Lynn Novick 6-hour documentary on Hemingway The documentary aired over three days from April 6 – April 8, 2021 on PBS. Moral of the story: don’t drink alcohol (straight or in any of its diluted forms), a tendency for ideation and alcohol don’t mix. It is—at the very least—a […]

  • What is Willful Fantasy?

    The opposite of willful denial is willful fantasy. It is the idea that we can exert mind over experience so forcefully that experience starts to conform to the fantasy. The practitioner is constantly aware that what he wills is fantasy and its discord with things as they otherwise seem but is charmed by his fantasy […]

  • Mrs. Leonard Schools Punk: You’re Not That Important

    My first best friend, Tim Leonard, a boy wedged in the middle of a pack of ten siblings, grew up a Catholic in a big, rambling house that teemed with life and always felt more crowded than any scene in a Bruegel painting. My parents, then youthful and aspirational white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs!), moved in […]

  • How to Spot a Liar in Eighteen Seconds or Less

    How to Spot a Liar in Eighteen Seconds or Less

    When you get the chance, treat yourself to Bo-Diddley’s heart-thumping rock ‘n roll rendition of the Willy Dixon song, You Can’t Judge a Book by The Cover. Enjoy Willy’s lyrics. George Eliot originated the expression in her 1860 novel, The Mill on the Floss. I don’t know where or when or how I got it […]

  • Why I Don’t Pack Heat (a Love Story)

    To the confusion of a few of my friends, whom other friends of mine might crassly dub “libtards”, I took my adult-age daughter to a shooting range a couple of times earlier this year. It’s not like I keep up on my NRA membership dues. It’s not that I want her to be a gun-toter. […]

  • A Case for Authenticity in the Fake News Pandemic

    Authenticity is the absence of any difference between persona, the way we project ourselves, and our internal state of mind. It has to do with not just how we project ourselves but in how much our projections are reflected back to us from others. When that is achieved, you have a perfect example of success. […]

  • When you see God, Run for Cover

    At least, that’s what Adam did in a moment which we could reasonably call without melodrama the birth of consciousness and self-awareness. It was a brief instant thereafter when God said to Adam (in the greatest rhetorical question of all time) Who told you you were naked? ~ God A question that begs another rhetorical […]