Library Journal Award Entry

I just submitted Endgame for the self-pubbed indie Library Journal Award. The contest is free and is open now for books published in 2016 (closing July 31st).

This, from my perspective, amounts to something. Not much–a marble catapulted into the night sky to compete with stars–but something.

I could talk ad nauseum about agent searches, visibility problems and the myriad obstacles to wide readership (think 50,000 people trying to get through a revolving door).

Instead, I go back to that old adage. What happens if I don’t try? Nothing.

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Poem – Start of the Day

Clean arcs of water in buttery just-dawn light.

A rustle of tree leaves.

Distant mountains silent. Roars yet to be discovered.

Cinnamon smoke.

Mornings of cloud, plaintiff meows, one-counts for 2% dispensing.

Engine rumbles.

A puffy white blob–pursed lips with trailing attendants–against a sheet of blue-gray. Turning slowly.

The mother-ship has finally come for me.

 

Asiatic lily, magenta color

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Man-Hash Recipe

(For lack of a better title.)

I goof around in the kitchen, fair enough. Since I’m not afraid of incendiary events (rather, I’m not likely to cause one) I’ll occasionally throw stuff together. On my honor: Though I offer these creations to the kids and my wife, they are under no obligation to try anything–thus saving my ego the gratuitous ding.

So, Man-Hash:

  • 1 package of bacon (kitchen shears are a plus for this)
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas
  • red cabbage (1-2 cups) chopped
  • apple (1-2)
  • onion (1-2 cups) chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper and spices (I threw in some thyme and maybe marjoram)

Spray the skillet. Using the kitchen shears (at $10, a real moss-free, tape-free bargain) cut the bacon up into 1-inch pieces. I cut 3-4 strips at a time. It all separates in the pan, anyway. Cook the bacon to desired crispiness. Set the cooked bacon aside (the manly way is to put it in the bowl you’re eventually going to use to eat–fewer dishes, cha-ching!). Drain the bacon grease however you see fit. (The way I do it is to pour it on a section of cedar-tree litter. It looks a little trashy, but it’s efficient.)

Edison's man hash, a skillet dish of bacon, onions, chickpeas, red cabbage, olive oil and spice

Without cleaning the pan (unnecessary!!!) apply cooking spray and start cooking the onions. As they’re cooking, you can chop the red cabbage (1-inch pieces will do) and apples and anything else you want to add, like carrots. (No worries: cooking apples takes out the strong flavor, so the finished product works in a lot of autumn recipes. You can also use old apples for this.) Throw in a can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas, the olive oil, salt, pepper and spice. When the onions are soft and grilled-looking (a real chef knows the term for this) add the bacon and stir it all for another 5-10 minutes. The cabbage is pretty stiff to begin with, so cook and stir until it’s softer.

[For those who don’t know: Red cabbage and chickpeas both have a mild taste while being high in protein and fiber. In other words, they’re awesome for you!]

Serve as a side for steak or burgers, probably with a beer. Bam!

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Auto Choices

Yesterday, while making a turn in my town, I noticed an all-electric BMW i8 turning to follow. The car is jazzy, no question. With the air channels down the sides, it looks capable of taking off like a 737.

I live in an affluent area (sometimes, my wife and I feel it’s too fancy for us) so sights like this aren’t rare. Nor are the Teslas, or the black Ferrari 458 that occasionally cruises by our house. While I admit I wouldn’t mind a sunny-afternoon ride in one of these cars, I’d never drive one or own one for myself. The i8 runs around $145k. The Ferrari 458 would be an especially ridiculous choice–as I can’t even properly drive a stick shift (how sad) and costs around $300k. That’s a flashy liability, at best.

A red Ferrari 458 with racing stripes.

These are beautiful objects, no doubt. Toys, really. Nobody regularly commutes to downtown Seattle in an Italian race car. As my mother is fond of saying, ‘They’d have to have their head examined.’

Confession

Because I’m a judgemental person (yup, guilty) and a kind of anti-snob, I wonder about the motivations at work. These are–I’m guessing–predominantly male drivers with wealth and healthy egos. (The Teslas are a little more understandable, based on price and eco-friendly green technology.)

I drive a minivan. My wife is happy driving her 2008 Highlander. What really puts our choices in perspective (thanks to her hard work, we have these choices) is the older gentleman in the neighborhood who drives a gold late-model Camry. The first time I saw him, I was impressed. He appears well north of 70 and this was the car he chose for what was most likely his last auto purchase. It’s a solid, good-looking (if boring) car that costs half of what some of his contemporaries are driving. (Here, it’s pretty common to see retirees in Porsches and Jaguars and Mercedes SUVs.) This man’s choice is functional rather than flashy. It’s un-impressive. I think it’s admirable. Assuming he (like so many empty-nesters) had ample resources, he chose to do something else with his money. Help for the grandkids, charitable giving, whatever.

The most visible way we Americans show off our social status and accomplishments is by the vehicle we drive. You can’t take your house around and show people. Clothes (especially for men) seem kind of vapid. I, for one, am not interested in $300 jeans with stitched swirls, and I certainly can’t spot them from a hundred yards down the street like an Italian sports car. There’s a fair number of muscle-car drivers who pass my house, guys who want the world to know about their big engines by revving them or peeling out. Why? Oh, right, because anyone within earshot is going to be impressed. Really?

Wealth and Character

One of the quirks (drawbacks/advantages/puzzling attributes) of being an altruist is that I don’t see material goods as an indicator of sterling character. In this increasingly me-first country, I’d rather award the lottery jackpot to the special-education teacher driving a 15-year-old Honda Accord. The world, of course, doesn’t work that way. Trickle-down-economics (for those old enough to remember Reagan-era policies) was a nice theory, never a reality.

Last summer, on a Lake Washington cruise, I saw the house belonging to the founder of the Value Village chain. It’s a grand palace occupying a “corner” of Bellevue lake-front property. It probably costs more than the combined incomes of…how many Value Village regulars? Hundreds? Thousands? (While I haven’t checked up on this man’s charitable giving–it’s really not my business–there was a sharp irony in seeing this abode purchased with profit from what many of us see as a kind of public service.)

Guilty as Charged

So, I’m judgemental. And a bit full of myself. And, to some, an insufferable prig. My sister once chided me along these lines, certain that I would, in fact, own that BMW X5 someday (when I’ve worked hard enough for it). Naturally, I swore on my life that no such thing would ever happen (like me ever voting for the GOP, the decidedly un-altruistic party).

There’s so much need in this world, in this country. So many people who could just use a leg up, a little relief, a kind act. I recently helped my son’s school group chip in at a food bank, and it was a rewarding experience. The people in line were good people. They just need a little help, that’s all. What do you choose to do with your time and resources?

Flawed or not, silly or not, I have a feeling my last car will also be of the un-impressive Camry variety. I hope, when I’m done, I’m fortunate enough to have resources and can make choices. I hope my kids hold me to my word. The sleek Beamer? No, Dad. Take the gold sedan, and donate the rest. You’d look ridiculous in a sports car, anyway!

Author Justin Edison, looking unimpressed with his reddish goatee.

 

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Damage

Listening to social media (dangerous for its utter lack of filter or categorization) I would have to count myself one of the lucky ones as far as relationships go. I’m happily married. I haven’t been damaged, now or in the past. That’s saying something.

Just now, an acquaintance from my kids’ former elementary school jogged by. She’s a nice, soft-spoken woman I’ve chatted with a few times. (Let’s call her Z.) Though I am ever-curious, I haven’t pried into Z’s colorful past. She has three kids–and a husband or ex-husband who lives with his partner in Seattle.

A boulder which fell and crushed a roadway in Ohio.

I don’t know if their marriage is/was an arrangement, or if this was a sea-change development during groggy days of diapering and bottles. “Oh, by the way…”

In case of the former, what does it say about Z that she thought it was an agreeable compromise for her life as a woman? Romance tossed aside? Motherhood re-defined? (There’s no written law, of course, which says a woman has to have children.) In the case of the latter, how does she feel about herself now? “My husband/wife chose to play for the other team,” is a line that’s been trotted out in many stand-up routines–usually to good laughs. And yet, how often do we think about the person who’s experienced this?

If our present mindset is a constant reconciling of our history, current status and foreseeable future, what does that in your past do? I have no doubt: If Luanne one day told me she preferred the ‘company’ of another woman to me, my self-esteem would resemble that highway in the above picture. Whether from change of mind or heart (these revelations, I’ve read, often happen independent or other people’s behavior) might seem irrelevant. That would be the emotional equivalent to the line, “It’s just business.”

Busted

Rocker/poet Dave Matthews says a rolling stone (a woman the speaker pines for) will “leave a trail of busted stuff.” He knows it’s going to happen, he’s not going to be blindsided. In some cases, we’re talking really busted stuff.

Gillian Flynn provides a bizarre twist to the idea of a psycho relationship in Gone Girl. Even if the brilliant story could be reduced to a cautionary tale–This is the marriage you don’t have!–it closes with lines both startling and persistent. “What have we done to each other? What will we do?”

It’s not likely to send many people headlong to the altar.

Here and there, I’ve wondered about the wreckage left behind from the whole Mary Kay Letourneau saga (two broken marriages, six children). Even if Mary Kay and Steve L. emotionally and psychologically trashed each other (fodder for People and “Entertainment Tonight”) before the appearance of Vili Fualaau, what becomes of the kids? Imagine that conversation at Christmas dinner. “Your mother did what?

I have a good friend who admits to being a home-wrecker. She’s not proud of it, and she married the man in question (this was no casual fling). Still, I wonder (I haven’t asked) if she wakes every day feeling utterly hated by another person (the first spouse).

Way back when, a college friend of mine carried on a long affair with an older, married man. She was ‘la otra,’ as an Ecuadorean colleague once put it. What are the odds that his wife didn’t find out? How did she feel?

Hurray for boring normal

Being tied to someone for all time isn’t easy. In Independence Day, Ford’s hero Frank Bascombe still defines himself by his (prior) marriage to a woman he loved–pieces picked up and swept, priorities reorganized, hopes gone to seed. Who could blame him?

“No marriage is perfect,” the saying goes. (In Gone Girl the ‘ideal’ marriage of the Elliotts is what gave rise to their ‘victim’ daughter Amy’s monstrous behavior.)

Every day, I look around and find myself grateful for the normal relationship I have. That my fingers are neither groping nor bleeding.

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Celebrating Differences

A couple weeks ago, a bunch of parents and teachers accompanied my daughter’s entire elementary school to Camp Seymour north of Olympia. As Transportation Coordinator (a job title more impressive-sounding than the actual task) I was driving my minivan full of gear for my cabin–six boys and two adults. The Sienna’s a big vehicle, so there was plenty of room for another parent. A dad I’d met once before, T.L., needed a ride, so it worked out great. I’m always up for company, and I’m definitely keen to utilize the HOV lanes. (These days, Seattle traffic seems so bad that the presence of either rain or sun seems to be sufficient reason to slow it all down.)

I didn’t know much about T.L., other than he had a first-grade daughter at the school and both of them are soft-spoken. He needed to return his Honda to his house, 20 minutes away. After the full school buses took off, I followed him home and then we got underway.

T.L. is younger than me, thin and tall, and is probably more handsome (I’ve stopped asking my wife about such comparisons). As a software developer, he makes a hell-of-a-lot more than I ever will, and he seems happy with work. [So there, in the span of two sentences, we’ve covered the bulk of how men hold themselves up to other men on paper.] Because I’m a modern man with no ego left (or any to begin with) I can plainly say I’m not jealous. And such comparisons are stupid, anyway.

Another World

T.L. and his wife (whom I briefly met after the trip) are from Pakistan, which is like another world to many of us. Before the drive, I knew embarrassingly little about his home country. Hot. Populous. Split from India not long after India’s independence from Britain. Predominantly Muslim. Lots of political turmoil. Islamabad rules with an iron fist. There’s a slew of lawyers in Lahore (T.L.’s home city) pushing for reforms (they’ve been in the news), stuff like that.

So, naturally, we spent the bulk of driving time comparing his home country to his new one of five years, the United States. For one, they speak Urdu as the official language, but Urdu is one of dozens of different languages spoken in different provinces. T.L. wouldn’t be able to communicate at all with people from a mountainous region (the Himalayas, capped by K2) in the north. Also, it’s bloody hot. In Lahore, summertime heat will push the thermometer to 49 degrees Celsius, which equates to 117 degrees Fahrenheit. He observed that widening use of air conditioning (in affluent areas) is a bit of a problem. Pakistanis are becoming “spoiled” and losing their tolerance for extreme heat.

Naturally, there are other problems of the first-world and third-world variety, but what strikes me is how similar he and I are. Obviously, we’re both English-speaking men who are concerned about our children’s futures. Questions linger about the environment, politics, policy, the disparity between rich and poor, the availability of jobs–all of it matters. But hope, for most any parent, flows in one direction.

Working for the Future

Without picking his brain, I can safely assume the biggest reason T.L. came to the U.S. (after earning a master’s degree in Germany) is the same reason my Persian “family” left Iran, which is the same reason my potato-farming ancestors got on a western-bound steamship several generations ago. This is, of course, the Land of Opportunity. Here, our children (especially our daughters) have the chance to grow into doctors, physicists, propulsion engineers, soccer coaches, teachers, or whatever else they want. The best way to foster such possibilities and dreams is to offer a world of diversity and inclusion and ideas. The more options on the table–wherever they come from–the wider range of directions to consider. Maybe T.L.’s daughter grows to become a veterinarian or a flight manager for Space X. Maybe my third-grader goes on to be a farmer in Uganda. It’s all open to them. That’s what makes this country so great, and that’s why so many people want to come here.

Backlash

As I was writing this blog, there was a xenophobic act of violence on a train in Portland. Two men who believed in equality or diversity–or at least weren’t going to watch women be hurt–died while stopping a crazed assailant (a white male) from doing what angry men like him so often do. It obviously wasn’t the first attack of this kind, and it won’t be the last. Across the globe, there are daily news accounts of people who turn angrily on their neighbor, the new person in town, worshipers of a different faith. What seems most important is for the rest of us to not give in to irrational fears or ridiculous notions of have versus have not–to not give up hope for an egalitarian future. We have the strongest say in what kind of world we want.

That, in my book, may be the most American ideal of all.