SPEAKING OF HOPE – Marilyn Armstrong

Much as I don’t like answering endless questions, I do like great quotes when I come across them. The problem with most quotes about “hope” is that they are treacly. Sweet and phony.

Hope is not a solution. It’s a key, something to keep you going when all you want to do is crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head. It manifests in various ways.

For me, it’s curiosity. I can’t bear the idea of not knowing what will happen. Many times when the world was a dark and dangerous place, my curiosity kept me moving towards … whatever. Good, bad, or indifferent, I want to know what it is.

Here’s one from Bradley Whitford (he was Josh on West Wing for those who remember the show).

Hope-Bradley Whitford

Thank you, Melanie!
Also, a poke at Rory who I think got this started.

And let me know what the other selections are. I will do them if I can. I do some challenges, but they are always writing challenges or photography.

What I do NOT do are the “oh look, another nomination that wants me to answer a lot of questions I’ve long since answered and then ask 473 people to participate.”

I don’t really know more than two people, you being one of them, who still does these. Trust me, there will come a time when you aren’t interested either. But – if the challenge is a challenge and not a chain letter … and it holds some interest for me, I can be cajoled.

Sometimes twice.

If anyone else feels like jumping in, please feel welcome.

Hope is a good thing to keep in your cupboards, much like canned soup. Just in case you run out of everything else, it’s good to have a casket of hope to fall back on.


FOWC with Fandango — Heart

Yesterday was some kind of turning point for me. My heart broke. Because the same shit that I went through as a young woman is still happening and now we are going to sit one of these shitbags on the Supreme Court.

Shame on us, shame on our political system and its keepers.

I’ll vote. I’ll write. But I think I’m losing hope, heart and any kind of faith that we are capable of running a nation.


A Glimpse into 2017: You and Your Site in the New Year (Part II)

First and foremost, despite all of WordPress’s improvements which make it so much more difficult to manage this blog and keep putting out quality material, I intend to give it my best shot. As will my co-conspirators who I thank from the bottom of my heart for their contributions, love, and support.


A huge thank you to Ellin Curley who has completed a full year of blogging and never missed a deadline! In any business, that’s a pretty big deal. Her witty, cultured, and humorous observations on the human and doggish condition have vastly improved the quality of Monday morning for me and many others!

Contemplating the years

Contemplating the years

To Rich Paschall who has not only never missed a day, but always been there to pitch in when I’ve been away, on a vacation or rather more frequently — in the hospital. Thank you, Rich. From the bottom of my heart, I have never regretted inviting you to become a part of this … whatever we are. I only wish you lived nearby so we could slurp coffee and plan projects! More than three years during which time you have written fiction, travelogues, and deeply moving LGBT stories — documentary and fictional. Your writing has made a difference in lives all over the world. You have had an impact on the community and woken up a more than a few people who might otherwise never have paid attention to a reality in which they don’t personally live. Several of Rich’s pieces are among the most-views posts published on this site.

Rich, you are a treasure!


Garry, who is as I type this writing a piece … you are always my star on Serendipity. Your stories of the people you’ve met, the things you’ve seen, as well as your wonderfully warped sense of humor and great eye for a picture are of incalculable value to me, personally and to this site. I couldn’t do it without you. I wouldn’t even want to try.

And Tom. You haven’t written much, but each thing you have contributed has shown brightly. You make people laugh and you tell the truth in a way that people can both understand and enjoy. That’s a rare gift. Now, how about a little more output in the year to come? I know you’ve got stories. Between you and Garry, you’ve got an encyclopedia of stories. How about the time you met Timothy Leary? Huh? Now that buying pot in Massachusetts is legal — but selling it is not (huh?) …

I couldn’t have better friends or a better team. It’s a rough world out there and this is, for all of us, the one place where we can say how we really feel … and at least so far, no one can stop us from expressing ourselves. Let’s keep the world smiling, thinking, and remember to check the facts. Let’s have the best reality-based-with-wild-flights of fancy weblog in the world! We’re almost at half a million views as I write this. Lets get there and keep going. Yay team. Yay each of us.


But the biggest thank you goes to my followers, readers, and friends. They say that friends you meet and get to know on the Internet are not “real,” but a lot of you are very real to me. You have encouraged me when I’m down, told me I’m great when I feel anything but, sent me little gifts that made me feel incredibly special. I don’t know that I deserve your love and support but you have — all of you (and you know who you are, or I certainly hope you do!) from the farthest east, to the mountains of Switzerland, to the glades and glens of Shropshire, Cornwall, and the mysterious standing stones in England … you have taken me to places I had only dreamed of.

I’ve seen the sun rise over the Jura mountains and in the Arizona desert.We got there in person —  you can’t top that!

I’ve seen the wilds of Australia and Tasmania. Learned how much our Canadian neighbors are just like us … but different, too. We’ve shared our kids, our dogs, our fears for our country’s futures. Our concerns for the climate and the natural world.


We’ve talked about our life, loves, and many happy hours about our cats and dogs and horses. I’ve learned about growing up in places that to me are as mythical as Oz or Valhalla … and met people who have traveled and lived all over the world. And all of you have helped me feel as if finally, I fit in somewhere. I belong to this world, this strange and marvelous world of blogging we share.


Let’s all take a bow and stride forward bravely into the new year.  Go team SERENDIPITY!


What direction are we going? by Rich Paschall

My closest friend lives in France and is one of the nicest people I know.  He avoids conflicts and always has a sunny disposition.  I could sing his praises all day and yet, he surprised me with a facebook post recently.  It was totally out of character.  He exclaimed, “Fxxxxd up world…”  He said nothing more.  It was the day of the massacre in Paris of 12 at the French satirical publication, Charlie Hebdo.  It sparked a massive manhunt and additional killings in France.

The proliferation of terrorist attacks, the wars and various conflicts around the globe, as well as the accusations against police, make the day’s news disturbing at the very least.  Scandals and corruption stun us.  Political hijinks appall us.  Societal polarization dismay us.  The daily news offers little source of comfort.

Recently I followed back someone on Twitter who followed me.  Her followers in turn followed me.  Unfortunately, this led to a group of thugs and rappers that have absolutely no respect for anything,  In addition, there was a substantial number of young men posting the most lewd and disgusting opinion of women (ok, they did not say women, exactly).  Worse were the women who followed them.  I had a year’s worth of disgust posted to my Twitter feed over a few days.  Yes, I followed back everybody, but then had to unfollow many.

All of the crap in the news and on social media feeds can certainly lead one to a low opinion of humanity.  When you couple that with some of the unsettling news of recent times, you can surely conclude that the world is “going to hell in a hand basket.” as my dear departed mother might have said.  Yet, there is a ray of sunshine in the dark, dank and depressing depth that humanity will sometimes find itself.

Voices are rising up from the streets to shout out a more encouraging word.  It comes from society’s young members.  I have mentioned before the comments of young rapper Prince EA in This World Should End and In Search of Peace on Earth.  Consider this rap:

Rapper An0moly was surprised when some social comments on facebook became his most viewed video, despite the many he has on You Tube.  Now he comments in his street wise style:

Young You Tube blogger Alfie Deyes turned his nearly 5 million subscribers onto this anti-bullying song from another You Tuber:

You Tube and social media sensation Tyler Oakley hoped for the second year in a row to use his birthday to get his subscribers to raise money for The Trevor Project, fighting teen suicide in LGBT youth.  His goal this past year was 150,000 US dollars.  He raised over a half million according to The Trevor Project’s web page.  He is not the only You Tuber to raise money and awareness for social problems.  Many have turned the social media spotlight on causes around the world.

Screenwriter, director Dustin Lance Black teamed up with British Olympic diver, Tom Daley, to raise money.  Half going to Black’s charity, Human Rights Campaign and half to Daley’s charity, The Brain Tumour Charity.  Daley lost his father to a brain tumor before he could see his teenage son carry Great Britain’s hope for a diving medal into the 2012 Olympics.  Black promised his now deceased big brother that he would fight for LGBT equality, and so he has.  The two raised a quarter million dollars with one contributor rewarded with a trip to meet the young men in London:

Fundraising organizations like Omaze and Prizeo have teamed up with young stars to bring awareness to social causes and raise money for charity. A Who’s Who of social media and entertainment stars have joined forces with organizations to better the world.  “The Ian Somerhalder Foundation aims to empower, educate and collaborate with people and projects to positively impact the planet.”  Matt Damon and Ben Affleck put their star power behind Eastern Congo Initiative and Water.org.  Jennifer Lopez gave all contributor of 20 dollars or more a chance at meeting her to benefit American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Club of America, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  Of course, the money rolled in.  I could give you many examples of this.

From the streets to the studios, from the stages to sports, from Main Street to Manhattan, young people, You Tube and Social Media stars, rappers and performers of all kinds are rejecting the message of violence and offering up positive responses.  The news will give you plenty of reasons to despair.  Plenty of youth will give you reasons for hope.  They raise money, they preach nonviolence, they hold out for something better.    Sleep better tonight, they hold out light in the darkness.  There’s Hope In Front of Me.

Daily Prompt: Silver Linings: The Very Picture of Ugly


– – –

If we never experience ugly, how can we recognize beautiful?

I do not believe in silver linings, but I believe in hope and hold the fundamental belief that all things change. Nothing — good or bad — is permanent. There are dips and valleys and each has its flavor.

We travel to dark places, but climb out of them to  find light. Evil exists, but so does good. Darkness shows us light. We weather storms and know we are strong. Such is life. The good, the bad, the ugly, the up, down and all the way around. We don’t need fake silver. We have the real thing.

My mother always said it. It was her mantra. Now I understand:

And this too shall pass.

– – –


Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense – Into the Light

This is the main hall of a university. It’s dark in the hall, but there’s a bright light ahead … literally the light at the end of the tunnel. It holds all the hope of the future.

Towards the Light

Obama wins second term!

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

Elected on hope in a season of despair, President Obama won his first term by being the right guy at the right time. He won his second term making Mitt Romney the wrong guy.

Obama turned what could have been a stinging referendum on his economic stewardship into a pass-fail test on Romney’s character. A multi-million dollar media blitz casting aspersions on his extraordinary wealth and successful business career began weeks before Romney had even earned enough delegates to claim the nomination. In a campaign reminiscent of former President Bush’s takedown of John Kerry’s military record in 2004, Romney was not only stripped of his greatest asset in a race about how to stimulate economic growth, it became a liability.

“Obama won by thoroughly and completely trashing Mitt Romney and his reputation,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “It is the classic definition of winning ugly.”

But to exclusively blame the attacks from Obama and his super PAC allies for Romney’s defeat overlooks the Republican nominee’s own shortcomings. The smoothly coiffed, buttoned-down financier struggled to come across as a man of the people, a problem exacerbated by his vow to perpetuate tax breaks for the wealthy, several foot-in-mouth gaffes on the campaign trail, and a secretly recorded video of him at a tony fundraiser dismissing “47 percent” of Americans whom he said pay no income taxes and consider themselves “victims.”

The first African-American president also capitalized on an increasingly diverse electorate and used sophisticated turnout tools to make sure supporters, even casual ones, cast votes. “It’s like the demographic changes are making the old rules about unemployment sinking an incumbent obsolete,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. “The Obama campaign knew they weren’t supposed to get re-elected, so they figured out who they needed to register to vote and turn out to change that.”

Again, Romney didn’t help himself amid the changing demographics, alienating the fast-growing Hispanic community by shaking an iron fist at illegal immigrants during the GOP primaries. He would have persevered over his more conservative but politically implausible Republican rivals, anyway — though as a Mormon who had spearheaded a government-led overhaul of health care as governor of Massachusetts, Romney was ill-suited to tap into the energy of the social conservative and tea party movements. He accepted the nomination as the least popular nominee from a major party in decades. Wrong guy, wrong time.

Romney badly misread the electorate, assuming the dragging economy would automatically turn voters against the president. Yet many still blamed the recession on former President Bush and were growing accustomed to incremental economic growth. It was a pitiable recovery, but a recovery nonetheless. Offering few details about his economic agenda, Romney didn’t look like a tempting alternative.

“The Romney team was convinced it was a time when likability was a secondary factor,” said Republican strategist John Brabender, who advised Romney’s one-time GOP rival, Rick Santorum. “They forgot they had to give people a reason to vote for Romney, not just against Obama.”

While Romney was still fending off Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, Obama was quietly opening campaign offices all over the country, re-launching his vaunted ground game from 2008. Then the Obama campaign went into overdrive; from the time Romney emerged as the likely nominee in April through most of September,

Obama outgunned him on television nearly three times over with predominantly negative ads, according to Kantar Media CMAG. Republican super PACs evened the score but didn’t control the damage. The Obama campaign and its allies branded the former chief executive of Bain Capital as a tax-dodging, job-outsourcing villain who would shred the safety net holding up the elderly and the poor.

Romney also blew silver-platter opportunities, fumbling through a high-profile trip overseas and allowing a cringe-worthy bit by Clint Eastwood to overshadow an otherwise carefully choreographed convention. In contrast, Obama made hay of his accomplishments, touting the auto bailout to overcome resistance from blue-collar workers and brandishing Osama bin Laden’s death to shore up his party’s traditional vulnerabilities on national security.

Democrats also drove wedges between Romney and two influential swing voting blocs – women and Hispanics – with ads attacking his positions on abortion and immigration. The ads suggesting Romney opposed birth control and abortion even in cases of rape and incest simply weren’t true, but he, not Obama, paid the bigger price.

It wasn’t until after the convention in September that Romney got serious about investing in Spanish-language advertising, and it wasn’t until the October debates that the self-described “severely conservative” candidate narrowed the gender gap by pitching himself as a political moderate. Then came Hurricane Sandy. In the pivotal homestretch, the focus moved off of Romney’s momentum and onto Obama’s role as commander-in-chief.

In the end, the damaged wreaked by the storm on the New Jersey shore was an apt metaphor for what Obama and his allies had done to Romney’s reputation.

See on www.theatlantic.com

Buying the Big Lie

I posted about this subject a while back, but yesterday, when we were out visiting friends, the conversation over dinner turned to chasing dreams versus using your abilities. Both Garry and Jim have spent their lives working in media, though from different sides of the camera.

We all agreed was that advisers, parents, and others who influence young people to choose a career path usually have an agenda. Mom and dad want to see their kid be a “professional.” Pastor thinks Joey would be a great minister while the lad’s guidance counselor is telling Joey that he should try for that sports scholarship. The voice of the youngster is lost in a cacophony of bad advice.

I watched my brother, who wanted to be an engineer, who had always wanted to be an engineer, be bullied into pre-med by my parents who didn’t think engineering was a real career (no, I do not know why). Matt didn’t want to be a doctor and lacking whatever that something is that lets some kids swim against the tide, he went along until flunked out of school.Self-destructive rebellion: if he could not do what he wanted to do, he wouldn’t do what they wanted. He would have been a great engineer.

I was a more strong-willed than the average kid. My mother felt very strongly that I should become a teacher, because teachers, in her experience, always had work … even during the depression. Once I got past my side drift into music, I said “I’m going to be a writer.”

Dire predictions of a lifetime of poverty living in unheated garrets notwithstanding, I never strayed from that path and guess what? When many of the kids with whom I’d grown up  and who had taken “safe courses” were out of work, I always had work. My future was limited only by my unwillingness to trade a bigger career for a personal life.

The lie has is so ingrained in our culture that we accept it without question:

“If you want it bad enough and try hard enough, you can achieve anything.”

That is not true. You can try until your heart breaks, but to succeed you need more than a dream and determination. You need the right skill set, the right instincts, and usually, some actual talent. A bit of luck doesn’t hurt either.

We cannot achieve anything because we want it. Working hard can take you only so far. The rest of the distance requires ability in your chosen field: the talent to make the dream come true.

You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write when you’ve no gift for words. You can’t be physicist if you find mathematics incomprehensible. You can’t be a carpenter or an engineer if you cannot visualize in three dimensions. You can’t take pictures if you don’t see them in your mind’s eye. There are things you cannot be taught.

For several years, I taught technical writing to adults who were trying to change career paths, often from computer programming, developing, research, or accounting to technical writing. They figured that what they had done before was so much harder than merely writing, it would be a snap. Many of my students were far better educated than I was. Some had advanced degrees in mathematics or a hard science.

My first assignment was a test to give me an idea if any of my students had a hope in hell of succeeding in the field. I asked them to give me a no-more-than 4-page set of directions, including illustrations, explaining how to use a ballpoint pen, written for someone who’d never seen one. They were to assume the person could use a pen and could write, but had never used this implement. Sounds simple, right?

I got 20 page essays on the history of writing and writing implements, ink and quills. Before the first real assignment, I already knew who had any chance at all and who was wasting his/her money. That first class had 31 students; probably 2 of whom went into the business and stayed.

The question that always made my heart sink was “How do you know what to write?”

If you have to ask, you are already in trouble. Writing “how-to” material only looks easy. It isn’t. You have to be able to look at a piece of hardware or software and see it as a process, be able to visualize all the steps that someone with no prior knowledge of this “thing” will need to know to make it work. It’s a way of seeing things, a fundamental of the job along with the ability to use words. It is as basic to a technical writer as seeing a picture in your mind is to a photographer.

These days, anyone who objects to the myth that effort can substitute for talent is labeled a defeatist or an elitist. I am neither. I am a realist.

I don’t know when realism morphed into defeatism and/or elitism. It infuriates me. It’s cruel. It takes people with all kinds of potential and makes them feel like failures, not because they can’t succeed, but because they are doing the wrong stuff. When someone tells me I shouldn’t give up on a dream because if I keep trying, I will surely succeed, I get angry.

It is neither courageous nor wise to spend a lifetime tilting at personal windmills. It’s a foolish waste of time.

I’m in favor of dreams as long as you recognize the difference between a dream and a realistic expectation.

I’m very much in favor of having a thorough understanding of who you are, what gifts and talents you have, knowing what you want to do, then doing it with your whole heart. Other people’s expectations and childhood day dreams are baggage that will weigh you down.

If you combine your own abilities, passion, and determination: that’s a winning ticket. But you need the whole package. One or two out of three won’t get it done.

We all have dreams and gifts. Sometimes the two come together and you can ride your dreams into a fantastic future, but this is not in everyone’s cards.

Sometimes,you are better not taking that other path. Going the wrong way won’t get you where you need to be.

I used more than half my college years trying to be a musician. I was pretty good. The problem is that “pretty good” is not good enough. My real talent lay in words. I could write as soon as I could read. It was as natural to me as breathing. I never even thought much about it because it was so easy. I figured anyone could do it.

I had to revise my thinking and self-image. I also had to rethink the definition of writer and separate it from “author” in my mind.

It was difficult. I kept music as a hobby, refocused my energy on writing and life turned around. I stopped plodding and leapt forward. I started working as a professional writer with my first job after college and never did anything else professionally for the next 40 years.

I never took a writing course. Not creative writing, anyway. I don’t think creative writing courses help anyone become creative or a writer … at least not the ones they teach in college. I did start one, lasted two sessions, dropped it. It was clear the professor was not a writer.

I learned my profession on the job. It turns out that The Great American novel was not in my personal future, but there are many other career paths requiring writing skills, from academia, to news and journalism, to Madison Avenue.

No one can create talent. That’s why talents are called gifts. You get them free of charge along with the breath of life. Gifts come from God, not hard work.

Yet we keep hearing that same enchanting deadly lie. Don’t give up your dream! You can make it happen!

Thus we waste years to achieve the impossible often dismissing the achievable. We neglect our real gifts in favor of magical thinking. If I were God, I would find that really annoying.

Dreams are not the goal.

Creating a good and satisfying life should be everyone’s goal. We all need to take stock of ourselves, look at what we do well, focus on our strengths, hone our talents, and build a future that works.

The freedom you gain when you stop trying to do what you can’t and put your heart into using your natural gifts is inestimable. You stop feeling like a failure. You find that you love your work. You dump the dead weight of childhood dreams and other people’s expectations.

Distinguishing dreams from reality is a winning strategy.

Like it or not, dreams are not real. Don’t buy the lie and don’t foist it off on your kids. Help them be themselves, the best selves they can be. They weren’t put here to fulfill your dreams.