One second before the change

I PICKED HIM UP after karate. We have “one-boy nights,” but they got disrupted this month, and I’ve seen my children for about an hour over the last nine days. I don’t usually miss them when they’re not here; I’m just sad to see them go and happy to see them come back. (“Yeah! Me too!” he exclaimed on the drive home.) But this time I’ve missed them since they went to Mom’s.

His brother has started puberty. He turned his back and walked away from me three times after karate class, while I thought we were still engaged. He came back and gave me a hug when I called him, because he’s still a sweet boy, too, but it’s started.

But the other one…not yet.

“What should we do tonight?” we asked each other on the way home. “Do you have work?” he asked. “I hope you’re done with everything and you don’t have to work.”

“I’m not done with everything,” I said, “but I don’t have to work.” But then we couldn’t think of what to do. Sometimes we like fixing things together, but there’s not really anything to fix. Plus I’m very tired. It’s been an emotionally rough week, and today was jammed from 7am, when my alarm went off and I drove to their mom’s town to see them off at their first day of middle school, until I drove there again to pick him up after karate. I’m a month overdue for a haircut, and people who are supposed to be paying me aren’t paying me.

(They’ll pay me. They’re just not doing it when they’re supposed to.)

It’s the kind of tired where you look in the mirror and see what the karate teachers saw: You missed patches of whiskers when you shaved.

“I kind of feel like…” he said. “I dunno…just hanging out and watching a movie.”

“You know, me too. What movie.”

“I don’t know.”

“Me neither.”

We thought hard. The car was filled with the sound of our silent brains.

“I know!” he said twenty minutes later. “I want to watch Yojimbo.”

“But we just watched that recently.”


“Yeah. Didn’t we?”

“Well, a while ago… But we watched Throne of Blood. That was July 4.”

“July 4 was Throne of Blood?”


“Oh,” I said. It was? “But we’ve seen Yojimbo twice now, right?”

“Yeah, twice.”

“Yeah…I don’t want to see it again yet. How about Sanjuro? The sequel. It’s the same character without a name.”

So he looked doubtful and then approving, and then we rejected one dinner idea after another, and neither of us wanted to cook. We ended up getting cold roast beef and warm mashed potatoes at the grocery store, and some Ramune and mochi because they accessorized the movie.

I have done so many things wrong, as a parent, and I don’t even know what they are yet. His brother’s got a foot cocked out the door of adolescence. I’m juggling bills and learning a kind of hustle at 49 that I never got together in my 30s. Autumn’s coming. But for probably the final summer, my boy still wants to watch Sanjuro with me.


HE LEFT HIS stuffed sheep at Mom’s.

“You said that was OK and you were going to use a pillow.”

He can’t really sleep without the sheep.

“I know,” he said. He was on his mattress, which I haul down the stairs to my room every time he’s here without his brother. “But…”

“Do you have any stuffed animals here at all?”


“Well you need something. What are we going to–oh, I know,” I said.

I still have my stuffed animals from when I was little.


“SCOOT,” I ORDERED, and lay on my back next to him. “This would be a lot better if there were stars up there, and we were lying in a meadow or something.”

We both looked at the dark ceiling.

“There’s something I want from you,” I said.


“I know you guys are brothers, and that means you bug each other. He’s gonna do that hiss thing, and you’re gonna give him the squinty-eye face, and that’s just how it is. But I want something from you. If you see people joining up and going against him, you go join together with him. I know we all pick on each other sometimes, but if someone picks on one of us, we pull together.”


“And if you forget and you don’t join together with him, then when you remember, just go do it.”


“We stick together.”

We looked at the ceiling. That had all seemed a little macho and a bit earnest.

“And then when they’re gone, we can pick on each other again,” I said.



THE WE-STICK-TOGETHER conversation went into some stuff about his brother’s new behavior, and I said something about the need to self-define and detach that comes with adolescence, and how it takes a while to get used to those feelings and handle them well.

“You’ll see when it gets here for you.”

“How do we know it’s not already here for me?”

I didn’t talk for a bit. “That’s an excellent question.” (I know very well it’s not here for him yet.) “You’re certainly more mature…”

“I am?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“But I’m a goofball!”

“I’m a goofball too, but I’m quite mature. And I’m forty-nine.”

“Mature? YOU?”

Some humor has to be decided in a sliver of a second. “Shut up!” I said.

He grinned and chuckled.

Not hurt by the shut up. Just pleased to be a trusted peer.


It’s been a rough week, and I know I’m already emotional.

But oh, my boys. My little boys. They’re almost gone.

Come back and let me do it right.




Filed under adolescence, Divorce, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Kids, Kurosawa, parenthood, Parenting

THE MAN WHO DESIGNED BOOKS (an advance peek at my new TYPEFLOW marketing piece)

This is designed to be printed at 11×17 and show up on the desks of production managers, production editors, and art directors, as though it’s a book they’re already working on. I’m sure I’ll tweak it over the next few days, while I figure out the envelope and mailing label, but—it’s done!

Click each to make it bigger, or download the PDF. (It reads better that way. Less clicking.)




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Filed under Arts, book design, book production, Books, design, ebook design, ebooks, Favorite, InDesign, marketing

In that case, I have questions too

[CHILD IN BED, goodnight song sung, parent about to leave.]

I have a question about my adolescence.

What is your question?

My question is, how come you have all that hair? Like hair on your arms? I’ve noticed I’m getting more.

Just part of growing up.

That’s all? Just part of growin’ up?

Yeah, basically. It doesn’t do anything for me. It’s just hair. It doesn’t keep my arm warm or anything. Really, humans just haven’t finished evolving away from it yet. We do come from apes.

Yeah. They kind of look like us.

Just hair, that’s all. It doesn’t do anything.

Yeah. Like hair on your head.

Well, hair on your head keeps you warm, keeps you from getting a sunburned scalp…

Yeah. [Chuckles.] If you didn’t have hair, you’d have to put sunblock on your head.

Which I do.

You do?

Yeah, I’m losing my hair up here.

Oh. [Grins.] Just part of growin’ up.


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Filed under adolescence, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Parenting

Hoyt’s Hill

Child on bike, resting at top of hill


“I DON’T WANT to hear any woohoos. I want to see serious descending.”

He’d just climbed 300 feet over about three-quarters of a mile, and now we were over the crest and he was feeling the start of his reward, rolling T-right onto Spring Hill Road on his little 20″ kids’ bike and aiming it dead-center at gravity.


“ONE,” I’D SAID to him after making him stop with me at the crest. I was holding one finger up. “You’ll have to brake a lot sooner than you usually do. So do it way early, so you don’t shoot into an intersection and get squished by a car. Got it?”

He broke in with something happy and excited about the climb. I nodded and said, “Did you hear what I just told you?”


“What did I say?”

“You said…”


“Oh, right. I have to brake sooner than I think I will.”

“Correct. I’ll help you with that. When I tell you to do something, you have to do it. Got it?”

“Got it.”

“OK, that’s one. Two is, if your bike starts to shimmy, clamp your knees on the top tube.”

“Oh, I do that anyway.” He showed me.

“So clamp, and also slow down. Don’t do it abruptly, or roughly. Nice and easy, controlled. Got it?”

“Got it! Let’s go!”

He was already rolling.


FIRST LEG, HE overshot the stop sign by a couple of feet. A mother on the other side of the intersection, twenty-five feet away, just barely started reflexively pulling her kids aside, but it was mom-protectiveness, no danger, and there were no cars anywhere.

I raised a hand in thanks and smiled, and she did the same.

“He just climbed it for the first time, so now he gets to descend it for the first time,” I said as we started up again from the stop, explaining why I’d been calling out directions.

“Oh, that’s fine,” she said, smiling as we passed, and then it changed to, “Oh, wow!”

We flashed down past a roadie coming up the next grade. He was mashing. We were a kids’ bike whipping downhill and fenders and bags behind it yelling NICE! GOOD JOB! NICE TUCK!

“OH MY GOD!” the kids’ bike shouted at the bottom, as we coasted on a short flat. “THAT WAS SO AMAZING! THAT WAS SO FUN! OH-MY-GOD!”

“Nice job. Left turn coming up. See it? That’s the next descent.”

I saw him searching, saw him find it. “Oh my god. That’s–”

“Stay right,” I said, and we tilted down.


I HAVE LANDMARKS along this hill for braking. Approaching Hoyt’s Hill on Fawn at full tuck and 223 pounds, the white mailbox is too far.


In a couple of seconds, there was a tiny wobble in his rear wheel. I knew what that was, and I saw him ease off and get back inside it. He wasn’t to the intersection yet. Apprehension got me, as if there was anything I could do if he overshot now.

We put our feet down at the limit line together. This time yesterday, all three of us were out charging around a parking lot in a downpour. This kid’s just like me in a storm—he nearly glows with the thrill. He was very nearly that electric now.

“OH MY GOD, THAT WAS SO AWESOME! How fast do you think we were going? Oh, you don’t know, you weren’t going as fast as I was. Oh my god THAT WAS SO COOL.”

“No, I was right there with you. I’m thinking maybe thirty.”


“Maybe. Maybe thirty. Maybe mid-twenties. We’ll see when we get back and see what it looks like on Strava.”

“I think it was thirty! Dad, I could hear it in my ears, like–” he imitated the noise.

I grinned and nodded. Now it was something we both knew. Not just me.

“Okay, we’re going to cross and then stay right. … Go.”


TEN AND a half.

Next summer, adolescence. This summer, “I don’t like being home alone. Can I go too?” and a little red bike and a little white jersey in a tuck.

Going 30.6.


Filed under Bicycling, Bikes, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Kids, Parenting

THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, translated into kidspeak


As translated into kidspeak
For later this afternoon


WHEN ONE BUNCH OF PEOPLE decides to be a new country, it’s only fair that they tell the other people why.

We think a few things are obvious:

  • Everyone’s created equal and has the right to live, be free, and try to be happy.
  • Governments are created so people can protect these rights, and people agree to give the governments their power.
  • If their government works against life, freedom, and happiness, the people are allowed to either change it, or get rid of it and start a new one, whichever seems better for safety and happiness.

It’s common sense that changing a government for silly reasons is a bad idea, and people usually won’t do it anyway. They’d rather suffer with what they’re used to than change it.

But when the government keeps doing bad things that all seem to make the people less and less free, the people have to get rid of it and figure something else out.

That’s what it’s been like for the British colonies in America. It’s why they’re breaking with Great Britain and making a new country. Great Britain keeps doing bad things to us and taking things that don’t belong to it, so that it can control us completely.


Every time Britain has done bad things, we’ve asked for fairness, but the only answer is more bad things. That’s how a tyrant acts, and a tyrant is not fit to rule free people.

We’ve tried to talk to the British people directly, too.

  • We’ve told them that their government has been unreasonably controlling to us.
  • We’ve reminded them why we left Britain and settled here.
  • We’ve asked them to be fair to us, reminded them that we all have family ties in common, and asked them to speak against the bad things their government does, which will break those ties.

But they haven’t listened, either. Not to words about fairness, and not to words about family ties. So we are forced to give up, and to say that they’re not family anymore. They’re just like everyone else in the world now: enemies if we’re at war, friends if we’re at peace.

As of now, these British colonies are no longer colonies. They are their own country, and can do all the things countries can do. They can start and end wars, become allies or make business agreements with other countries, and all that stuff.

We who sign this declaration pledge loyalty to each other, and hope God will protect us.



Filed under Favorite, independence, independence day, Parenting, united stated, usa

WTF, Willoughby?

WHEN WE’D ONLY been here two months, my new town had its “Trick or Treat Street,” a daytime candy stroll before Halloween arrived. Families strolled, kids ran ahead, shops shoveled candy into bags and little orange buckets, and the local GOP headquarters handed chocolate bars with political stickers on them directly to children.

2014-10-25 14.07.41

Next to GOP headquarters is an Irish dance place. I’m not sure which storefront these two revelers were affiliated with:


In case it’s not clear: Picture is of two white people dancing to loud music in front of a store. One is in a gorilla mask topped by a rasta hat and dreadlocks, the other is in a fake mustache and Afro wig. They are being applauded by the other white people around them. (I’ve cropped/blurred the photo to avoid showing faces without permission.)

I stood and just looked for long enough that people noticed me.


MY KIDS DON’T go to school in my town. They go where their mom lives. She’s not rich, but it’s where a lot of rich people live. (When I drop the boys at school, there are beautiful women out jogging or waving goodbye to schoolbuses when the rest of us are on our way to work. AHA, I thought. I know where I am! I’m in Upper West Side, Connecticut!) That must be why the schools are so highly ranked, which was one of the reasons we moved to the area when separating.

My kids participated in an afterschool program for a while. The auditorium is right at the school entrance, and when I went to pick them up one day, there was a group of kids practicing a song and dance onstage: Aw, Lawdy, pick a bale of cotton…


THE SCHOOL HAS a DARE program. They had a graduation, where the kids sang a song and presented the cop with the gift that cops always seem to want at these things. (They did repeated collections for their own gift when I attended the NYPD “Citizens’ Police Academy,” too.)

One of the speakers was a selectman. I don’t know what that is, but he had the bearing of someone who thought he mattered. He told the kids to watch out for drugs, and gave them the example of a boy who’d died of overdose only the year before.

“No one would ever have expected it,” the selectman despaired. “He was an all-American kid. Blond hair, blue eyes…”

There were a couple of kids present who weren’t white. I tried to imagine how they’d hear that statement. Then I tried to imagine how the rest would hear it.

I know how I heard it.


I GOT INTO a conversation with a young woman of color when I was riding my bike around the area. I’d just discovered a little trail that let out on a sidewalk by the train station.

She pointed out where she’d encountered a pickup with KKK members in it, over on the main street.

I told her about having “KKK” and swastikas painted on my house growing up.

I work at home a lot, and sit facing the street. Police cars sweep by my house a lot.


THIS IS WHERE my kids will grow up.

We moved here from Inwood, at the top of Manhattan, where the cabbies at the airport all tell you it’s the Bronx. It was a largely Dominican neighborhood; my little white boys were in the minority. I think that’s a healthy state for a little white boy. Now they’re in not only a majority, but a near-unanimity. And I’m just Dad. Their friends are about to be more important.

“They get it at home,” says the standard line about various bad -isms. But in our family, they got it from school. The sexism in our neighborhood in Inwood was blatant. Street harassment was nearly unceasing. The leader of a kids’ group was excoriated by parents (of both sexes) for letting boys cook on a camping trip. (That leader was male.) Local women running a summer day camp at a school had the kids put on a skit in which the main character, a boy, went to college and all the girls sat on stage, admired him, and served him food.

My kids didn’t get it at home; they brought it home from the playground, and I had to tell them their friends were wrong.

They just barely believed me. Sort of. Dad countering their friends’ declarations did fly, somewhat, when they were six, seven, eight, nine. Now they’re ten, and starting middle school in a few months. They’ll be big deals, and their friends will be one big barely-differentiated sheet of white.

And the selectman will probably speak again.


IT’S WHITE, I say, when I’m done saying the things I love about my new town, and start on the things I don’t. Like white. Like white-white-white. There are isolated exceptions, here and there, but it’s white. The main time I see nonwhite people is behind shop counters. Overheard conversations during Baltimore were about why they would do that to their own neighborhoods. Were they stupid?

I haven’t seen any burning crosses. I haven’t heard the N-word.

Still. Willoughby.





Filed under Divorce, Favorite, Parenting, racism, sexism

June Writing Challenge

May went pretty well—except for all the people who didn’t finish. That is not the goal. It needs to be a real challenge, but it also needs to be possible. Rules have been tinkered with for June.


In June, 2015, write for at least half an hour every single day.
Go for 60 if you’re feeling tough.
Yes, that’s it.


“A” TEAM: Write for 60 minutes a day
“B” TEAM: Write for 30 minutes a day

24-HOUR TIME TRIAL: 60 minutes a day for 24 days
12-HOUR TIME TRIAL: 30 minutes a day for 24 days



IF YOU WRITE AT A COMPUTER: “Writing” means you are physically present at a computer, and your word processor is the only app that’s open.

IF YOU WRITE ON A NOTEPAD OR TYPEWRITER: It’s in front of you, and so is a pen or pencil.

In writer talk: Your ass is in the chair.

  • Staring at the screen counts as writing, as long as you do it for the appropriate amount of time, with a word processor (and nothing else) open.
  • Going to the kitchen does not count toward writing time.
  • Going to the bathroom does not count toward writing time.
  • Talking on the phone does not count toward writing time.
  • Looking at your phone does not count toward writing time.
  • Playing games does not count toward writing time. Yes, even if it’s your PROCESS.
  • RESEARCH DOES NOT COUNT. Research is not writing.
  • Interruptions do not count toward writing time. That’s right, even though they weren’t your fault.


RULE CHANGE: YES. This is all on the honor system. You know if you did the amount you’re claiming.



  • ONCE A WEEK, you accrue one “double up” day, for making up a missed session
  • YES, your double-up days roll over to the next week.
  • NO, they do not roll into the the next month’s challenge


You don’t sign up. You show up.


NO. You know what the four ways to win are. Aim for one. I don’t need to know which. (Though you can feel free to say so, either here or on the Facebook Group.)



Also, there may be stickers.


No clue. That’s your business.


Nothing. To quote the guy I ripped this off from: As is true for all worthwhile things, this is on the honor system.


Iron Rider, a fellow randonneur (look it up), proposed a 30-day cycling challenge in March: The “A” Team was challenged to ride 60 minutes/day, the “B” Team would ride 30, etc. It didn’t matter how fast, how much elevation gain, whether it was an official event or a grocery run, or even whether the bike had wheels. (Indoor exercise bikes were allowed.) The only thing that mattered was that your ass was in the saddle and your legs were pedaling.

I demurred, claiming (honestly) that I didn’t think I could commit to 30 days with my custody schedule being what it was. Next thing I knew, the “TIME TRIAL” options had been added, allowing more days off. So now I had to either do it or admit I’d been full of crap with my “I’d love to, but the kids…”

So I did. 30 minutes/day, 30 days. “B” Team. If it was snowing, I went out. If it was raining, I went out. If I had a long car trip, I put the folding bike in the trunk and stopped along the way to ride my 30 minutes, and when I got to my destination, I rode there too. But mostly I rode around my new town, aiming the wheel onto roads I hadn’t been on before. My Strava heatmap blossomed. When the challenge ended, I was riding again.

There are things about endurance cycling and novel writing that are the same, not least of which is this:

The truth is, you’re generally the only one who cares if you finish, except maybe your family, and mostly they just want you to be nicer to them.

That will be a blog entry for another time.

But fundamental to both is this: Put your ass in the right place, and keep it there. All things grow from there. (Not from your ass, wisenheimer—you know what I meant.)


Right here. Feel free to talk about the challenge, post pictures of your desk, or…you know…whatever.

Facebook does not count as writing.


Honestly? I have no idea.


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Filed under Whatever, writing