Six Takeaways From Watching a Conversation Among the Deaf

Sign Language by Darwin Bell

I had occasion to watch a quintet of deaf people have a little social gathering at my neighborhood pool one afternoon last week. Though they also used their voices and formed words, it quickly became evident that their intense and ongoing gesturing with their hands was not due to a common Italian heritage.

Though I could make out an occasional word from where I sat at only a slight remove from them, their speech was not quite clear and it was apparent that they were complementing their verbalization with sign language (or vice versa, actually). I felt a bit like a voyeur as I subtly gazed their way while otherwise keeping my nose in a book, but writers being natural voyeurs, I wallowed in virtually zero guilt as I took note of the following:

1. A couple of people arrived with small ice chests and bags out of which they produced plentiful food and drink...

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What Are We To Make of Pope Francis?

Hands by Iglesias en Valadolid

We are so used to schtick, spin and PR in this world that we hardly want to believe anything anymore. Or believe in anyone.

“What’s your game, and what are you trying to sell?” is our default stance, aided and abetted by a media inordinately pleased with itself in finding contradiction upon contradiction in every human being and endeavor. And truth to tell, that job is easy, because we are all as shot-through with contradiction as clay pigeons on a rifle range. Always have been.

All of which begets jaundice and jadedness as our modern coins of the realm, and everything that would attempt to circumvent them by a measure of sincerity or goodwill we either ignore, shout down, or almost worst of all, treat with an “Isn’t that precious?” irony that becomes virtually indistinguishable from cynicism, the last refuge of the fallen idealist.

So within that tableau of dialogue-stoppers and despair, what are ...

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The Tides As Science and Metaphor

Ebbing Tide by Andrew Hidas

I’ve been steeped in tides on two different occasions over the past several months, luxuriating for several days each time on different coasts, watching the tides do what they seem to have been doing for quite some time now.

I’ll bet you know the drill:

The tides come in…

The tides go out…

Kind of repetitive and boring, eh?

Truth to tell, for all the time I’ve spent seaside, growing up in Southern California and then living on the beach for a couple of years in my adult life, I haven’t investigated the science of tides all that much. I have always vaguely understood them to be controlled by the moon with some kind of mysterious gravitational push and pull, but beyond that, I have enjoyed tides mostly as a balm for my soul, a kind of hypnotic transitional happenstance resembling the passage from day to night and back again, summer to fall and so on.

The rhythms of nature.

But of course, science ...

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Postcards From Puget Sound

Lawn Chairs Samish Bay by Andrew Hidas

I’m no photographer and my now hopelessly outdated iPhone 4S is not much of a camera, but when you’re on vacation at one of the many dazzling garden spots of our world, it is right and proper to send a few postcards to friends and loved ones. Since I didn’t quite get around to doing so on this past week’s journey to Puget Sound (you noticed your empty mailbox, did you?), I’ll make up for my oversight now with a few snapshots that I hope you’ll enjoy.

So without further ado (and with brief accompanying commentary):

Ebey’s Landing is part of the National Park Service outside the town of Coupeville on Whidbey Island. Among its delights: a fort, a trail that hugs spectacular coastal cliffs, and a rocky beach that at some points gives way to tiny stones which make the incoming tide sound like the world’s noisiest bowl of Rice Krispies.

Morning comes to Samish Bay…

I think these are lilies ...

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Notes on That Man-Manly Stoic Thing

Vogelsong Family by Randy Chiu

Up until last Thursday night, San Francisco Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong had never hit a home run in a major league career that began in 2000 and has included  extended stints in the minor leagues and in the Japanese professional league. Then in a game against the Colorado Rockies in Denver, Vogelsong launched a ball over the right field fence for the First Home Run of His Major League Career.

That is always a seminal, uniquely gratifying moment in the life of anyone who has ever dared to dream of being a big league ballplayer.

As he circled the bases and began to approach the dugout where his giddy teammates waited for him with high-fives and backslaps at the ready, Giants announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Keiper had the following exchange:

    Krukow: Do you think he’ll smile?
    Keiper: “No.”
    Krukow: “Not even with his first big league home run…Down two runs, he will not smile…...

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My Early Jobs: A Labor Day Reflection

Vintage Jack in the Box by George

You know what book I’d buy? A collection of interviews about people’s first or early jobs. There are such riches to be gleaned from our employment histories, all those tales of burger flipping and cashiering, sheep-shearing and babysitting.

My first sort-of-real job was as understudy for my brother’s paper route. He was three years older than me and once he landed the job, he appointed himself CEO. Then he hired me, his 9-year-old younger brother, to get up with him twice a week at 5 a.m. to deliver the Eagle Rock Sentinel up one side of the street while he did the other. We did this over a whole bunch of streets.

For this, he paid me the princely sum of one dollar each day, $8 a month. He made some $30 or so as CEO, so this was my early introduction to capitalism, which is sometimes used as a synonym for “hire someone else to do a gob of work while you keep most of the money.”

Many other wonderful...

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We Are All ADHD Now

Digital Art by Tina H

I watch my 17-year-old as she goes about her home life, her smartphone cradled in her palm like an extra, permanent appendage while she eats, watches TV, sits chatting with her friend or responds (distractedly) to a conversational overture from me. She’s rarely not looking down at and acting upon it in some way, whether scanning Facebook, posting a quick shot of her cat on Instagram or Snapchat, or playing an inexhaustible supply of games adapted to tiny screens with all the engineering expertise Silicon Valley’s finest have been able to bring to bear on the matter.

I worry about how much has become passé in her world—books, magazines, phone conversations, street games, even email, voicemail, and undivided attention on a television show, which she never gives any of them, even though she claims she’s following every step of the action just fine, thank you.

Last week I suggested we go to the movies...

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The Cynicism of Donald Trump

Trump Caricature by DonkeyHotey

There were some truly extraordinary exchanges in the Republican Party debate earlier this month. To read the full transcript available here is to come to a deep “appreciation” for the circus-like atmosphere that characterizes so much of our politics in this media age.

And make no mistake, that circus is every bit as much (or more) a creation of the modern news industry, with its personality/ratings/polls-driven sensibility, as it is of the candidates. And the candidates have certainly taken notice—every one of them looked to have been schooled and rehearsed to death by their handlers in the fine arts of cliche-mongering, sound bite policy proposals, question-dodging and general fact-twisting bloviation.

That impression only grew for me in reading the debate transcript...

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“But” And “Yet”: The Arrogance Antidotes

Mongolian Highway by NMK Photography

Back when I made my living as a journalist editing a weekly newspaper for which I wrote the editorials, I noticed something over time.

I got far and away my most laudatory feedback when I was the most certain of my position and conveyed as much in no uncertain terms. When I fired away with all guns blazing, rat-a-tat-bang with an occasional grenade of  humor, I would draw admiring comments from a cohort of readers who collectively said, via one expression or other, “You go, Boy! Take it to ‘em!”

And when the subjects deserved to be taken to, as in the stupidity and just plain heartlessness of so much of the AIDS-phobic anti-gay rhetoric of the time, it was easy—bringing a kind of smug satisfaction—to carpet-bomb the opposition and consider it a good day’s work.


It bothered me a little that in cases where I wasn’t nearly as certain of my “position,” where there were at least valid cons...

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A Poem: “The Last Japanese Soldier”


(Hirō Onoda was a World War II Japanese army officer who surrendered only in 1974, having hunkered down in the jungles of the Philippines for nearly three decades, refusing to believe the war had ended. He returned to a hero’s welcome in Japan, where he died in early 2014.)

I’ve been tracking him, trying to ascertain
what has caused this severance from reality,
this deep ignorance of the situation awaiting him.

Duty-bound to a fault, he goes about his pinched days
calmed by routine and subservient to no one save
the fear of exposure from the dark of his hut.

The world closes in.

It’s tragic, how he missed the good news that
followed the bad, the war’s disconsolate
end opening to vistas so long obscured.

I go in alone, no cover or air power behind me,
hoping to coax him into conversation and the
beginnings of trust, understanding, rapprochement.

My heart goes out to him...

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