December 18, 2020 – A Little Girl’s Christmas Credo

Pardon the misspellings.

Actually, don’t pardon the misspellings. They are part of the charm of this essay that Ella, my daughter, whose 24th birthday it is TODAY, wrote when she was in 3rd grade. The essay is called “What I blevin!”

If you haven’t figured it out, that’s “What I Believe In!” To also help you get started, Sannat Clus is Santa Claus. So, yes, this essay is about believing in Santa Claus (I’ve translated the essay below for those who have difficulty with “invented spelling”).

Take a look:

What I Believe In! – 11–27–06

It’s sad that people don’t believe in Santa Claus. Once you’re at a certain age you stop believing. But I know that people do believe in but they don’t say because they’re trying to be cool. When they’re not. If you believe in Santa you are a lot happier because the joy of him is so big that you just have to believe in him because you feel so good. My questions are how old is he? How did he become Santa? Why does he give presents?

For Andy!
by Ella Smallman Shaw

What Goes ‘Round, Comes ‘Round

What once did flourish
withers in the days of lives.
What goes ’round, comes ’round.

The bright sun on a crisp fall afternoon is among my favorite weather days. The scent of leaves decomposing reminds me of playing outside as a kid. Whatever we played, we’d end up on the ground at some point, rolling around. Merging with the moist soil in the midst of the cushion of fallen leaves is reassuring.

I remember reading something about this in the classic novel “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Along with others, Paul, the protagonist, a German foot soldier in World War I, often has to burrow into the earth for safety. There’s a passage where he presses his face to the ground and embraces the earth. Staying low to avoid enemy fire, he needs to become part of the soil to survive.

I wrote the Haiku above in response to a prompt of “withers” on a website I follow. It got me thinking about the cycle of nature. To wither at one point requires a flourishing at its opposite point. It’s a necessary polarity, like the two sides of a coin.

Paul, the soldier, like all of us, began low to the ground. Then we grow taller, moving onto two legs. As we age, we shrink a bit, being pulled by gravity closer and closer to the ground. As we shrink, others grow. Those leaves that wither today will provide fertilizer for what will grow next spring.

What thoughts, what beliefs, do I have today that are withering, helping bring me a fresh perspective tomorrow?

10 Things Many of You Probably Know About Me

(A couple years ago I was asked to write a blog post under the title “10 Things You Don’t Know About Me.” The following piece was the result, which I’ve retitled here to reflect that a number of my readers here know me pretty well.)

When I was a senior in high school, I decided not to attend college

My senior year I was the night manager of a bookstore, working 40 hours a week, closing out the till each night, balancing the books, locking up, and making the night deposit at the bank.

The only thing preventing me from graduating early was a half-credit in “Occupational Education.” I met with my guidance counselor and explained my job. “Is my job experience worth half a credit?” I asked.

“What you do on your own time, has no bearing on what credit you earn in school,” the counselor explained. “You have to spend time with a certified teacher.”

So I grumbled, forced to stick around for the final semester, and signed up for a morning accounting class. I eventually graduated, in a camouflage jumpsuit, a velvet red bow tie, and red shoes, and decided to skip college.

FWIW, I did eventually go to college, starting at age 22, and by age 29 had a graduate degree.

During my senior year, I missed seeing Elvis Costello in concert because I had a horrible case of Salmonella

The show was on a Monday. On Friday I closed up the bookstore and went to a sandwich shop for a late dinner. Earlier, on a break, I had had a late lunch at Jack in the Box.

On Saturday night, my girlfriend came over and we listened to all the Costello records in preparation for Monday’s show. She latched on to one of his ballads, “Just a Memory,” and even started playing it on the piano.

She asked if I thought there was any chance of him playing the song. I said, “No chance.”

Sunday morning I got up feeling queasy and nearly fell through the glass shower door, having passed out. For the next three weeks, I battled the worst pain of my life, actually praying to die. Late in the ordeal, our family doctor performed a rectal biopsy and finally, we got the Salmonella diagnosis. I had lost 25 pounds.

The Department of Health called to investigate how I had contracted what turned out to be a very rare strain of the illness. When I told the investigator all the places I had eaten in the 72 hours prior to showing symptoms, he laughed. Maybe he threw the file in the trash.

So, yes, I missed the concert. And how did the show open? Elvis walked out on stage alone and sang “Just a Memory.”

I spent most of 1982 in Seward, Alaska working as a disc jockey

In the summer of 1980, a man walked into the bookstore where I worked and talked himself into a job with the manager. He and his wife were in the midst of walking from Alaska to Arizona as a way to bring attention to the Baha’i Faith, of which they were members. They ran out of money in Seattle so they started looking for work. He was in his early 30’s, I was 17. We became friends.

Rather than continue their pilgrimage, in 1981 they returned to Alaska. My buddy hooked up with a guy who ran a string of radio stations and invited me up to Alaska to, as he put it, “play radio.”

Here’s one of my radio shifts that I archived on the Internet Archive.

The TV show “Kung Fu” changed my life

So up in Alaska in 1982, we had two TV channels to watch. One was specific to Alaska and the other was WGN from Chicago. So not only did I get to watch and listen to Harry Caray call Chicago Cubs baseball games, I got to watch whatever syndicated shows the station was broadcasting.

“Kung Fu,” the story of a Shaolin monk who escaped to the wild west of North America in the 19th century, was played on the weekends. The show introduced me to Taoism and quieting the mind. It shifted much of my thinking by introducing me to Eastern thought. I credit my interest in the show in my late teens as one of the turning points of my life.

I lived in a trailer in Chillicothe, Ohio with 5 other guys for 5 weeks

It sounds like the premise of a reality TV show, I know. But the reality is I attended The Recording Workshop to hone my audio engineering skills in early 1983. It was located in Chillicothe. Still is, actually.

The living arrangements left something to be desired and I determined a trailer was my best option. It turned out to be a wise choice as I parlayed the living situation into having my housing and food paid for by the other 5 by agreeing to be their chef.

My specialty was fried chicken cooked in Crisco. They, quite literally, ate it up. And I’m not aware of any food poisoning cases.

I was a professional racehorse handicapper

I grew up attending racetracks, first in the midwest and then in the northwest. My father, an English major, was a candy salesman who sidelined by writing handicapping articles for a couple of national publications. I loved the intellectual exercise of weighing various factors to develop a theory as to why a particular horse was going to win a race.

As I’ve often said, “The best standardized test question I’ve ever seen is a field of 10 going 6 furlongs for $10,000.”

Having discovered that audio engineering wasn’t my bag, I walked into the Daily Racing Form office in Seattle in late 1983 and talked myself into a job. I started as a statistician and worked up to that of handicapper. I was the “Sweeps” handicapper for the Form for Playfair racetrack in Spokane in the summer of 1984. I gave my top 3 picks for each race, a summary of what to expect, as well as a set of probable odds.

I was named Big Brother of the Year for King County (Seattle area) in 1984

Settled in at the Daily Racing Form, I sought an experience that gave me some additional purpose. My girlfriend at the time suggested the Big Brother program. I completed the lengthy screening process in the spring and that summer was matched with my little brother.

It was an experience that completely changed the direction of my life, making it plain that I had a calling to work with children.

It was this experience that pointed me to college and pretty much everything I’ve done professionally since.

Telling a 6-year-old brain-injured boy that it was okay to say the word “shit” as long as he confined doing so to his room turned out to be not such a good idea

I started at The Evergreen State College in the fall of 1985. By the next year, I was doing quite a bit of school-approved independent study, all of it involved understanding learning differences. I spent several hours a week with a severely brain-injured boy and his family as an intern helping with their home-based program.

I put the boy to bed one night per week, reading him stories that I had written. One night at dinner he kept repeating the word “shit,” much to his mother’s chagrin. He had discovered the power of the word earlier in the day and now that power had extended to the dinner table.

I offered to take him into his room, having the idea that if he, his father, and I formed “The Shit-Sayers Club” that met regularly in his room and was the only place the word could be uttered, it would put a stop to the dinner distraction.

Yeah, it didn’t work.

Melinda and I did not actually elope

Just because we didn’t tell anyone in our families that we were getting married does not mean we eloped. I think of eloping as something a couple does quite spontaneously. In October of 1990, we made the decision to get married on New Year’s Eve that year. That’s more than two months from the decision to marriage ceremony, an amount of time greater than we had been dating prior to deciding to get married!

Admittedly, our decision to get married was a spontaneous one. We were having breakfast at a place called The Gravity Bar on Capitol Hill in Seattle, chatting about our two common best friends, Kevin and Bruce, the two people responsible for us meeting. Bruce was in Seattle at the time but Kevin was living it up in New York as an MTV VJ. He was due to be in Seattle over the holidays.

I think it was Melinda who said something to the effect of, “Wouldn’t it blow their minds if we took them to the justice of the peace on New Year’s Eve and told them they were the witnesses at our wedding?”

So that’s what we did.

Melinda, our two girls, and I lived in France for 13 months beginning in July 2010

That’s when I started blogging, posting a photo and a short description of what we did every day. Yes, I posted EVERY DAY for 13 months. I think the funniest post came when we were visiting Italy and bumped into Rick Steves.

Not Prepared to Lose

Years ago, in my early 20’s, I took out an ad in a long-gone Seattle area music magazine called The Rocket to find a songwriting partner. It was a fertile time in my life in that I had an easy-going job and little responsibility.

A girlfriend had recently broken up with me, something that, as it turns out, can generate a lot of angsty, post-adolescent song lyrics. I got a couple of replies to my ad, including one that yielded several meetings with a young singer about my age. We wrote several songs together, including one that he told me some relative of his started playing in a band in Europe.

I never really knew where that went…

Anyway, our partnership ended when my job was lost to technology and I moved from Seattle to start college. I’ve kept writing song lyrics on and off as time has passed, though. And a few years ago I reached out via an online site to Seattle-area musicians looking for a lyricist. Again, I got a couple of replies. And again, one yielded a couple of rough demos, this time of some song lyrics I wrote while in college.

Like before, other things took precedence and the potential songwriting partnership drifted away before it could solidify. About a year ago, while cleaning up some email, I found one of the demos. I listened to it and found it kind of engaging, reminding me that this itch for my creativity still wants to be scratched.

The song is called “Not to Prepared to Lose.” I wrote the original lyric in 1985 and it’s been sitting in a notebook with dozens of other songs, some pretty horrible and others with some potential merit, since. My co-writer is Bob Kopatich. He wrote the music and is doing the singing and guitar playing. He changed a couple of lines to suit his phrasing and his understanding of the song.

Take a listen:


NOT PREPARED TO LOSE — Lyrics

Here I am hanging on,
A rope around my neck
A trap door under my feet
I’ve been here a time or two
Didn’t mean to hurry back
As a single tear dances on my cheek.

Running the race
I know the next step
Can’t resist
So I double the bet
Ohhh
And I’m not prepared to lose.

Here I am rambling on,
Pen in my hand
Paper in front of me
You can’t read my mind
if I don’t write it down
So I spell it out for you to see.

Here’s the catch
I know the meaning
Down the stretch
I run screaming
Ohhh
And I’m not prepared to lose.

The thrill of the game was found when we kissed
Rolling the dice, I took on the risk
Risking romance, all for you
I bet on a second chance
And I’m not prepared to lose.

Here I am drifting off,
A dream in my mind
Hope in my eyes can’t be seen
I envision your lovely lips touching mine
As you breathe your life into me.

I count the mistakes
I know I’ve added
You raised the stakes
Bankroll padded
Ohhh
I’m not prepared to lose
I’m not prepared to lose
I’m not prepared to lose you.

Poems From Page 143

There is a poetry concept in which you make a copy of a page from a book you like and blacken out most of the words. You choose the blackening mindfully, though, thus leaving behind words that form a poem. In this way and in a fashion, you are collaborating with the book’s author to write a poem.

As an example, here’s one I made from the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front:”

A clean shirt.
Yes, socks too perhaps.
The conversation becomes smutty. Intercourse. He enjoys himself.
Who isn’t smutty?
On the other side there are women, three women.

But why page 143?

The answer comes from Tom Junod’s brilliant article / interview / biography of Mr. Rogers (yes, THAT Mr. Rogers) that was published in Esquire magazine in 1998. The reader learns that for as long as he can remember when Mr. Rogers steps on his scale each day he weighs 143 pounds:

“This has happened so many times that Mister Rogers has come to see that number as a gift, as a destiny fulfilled, because, as he says, “the number 143 means ‘I love you.’ It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three. ‘I love you.’ Isn’t that wonderful?”

So that’s the 143 part of my project.

To submit an entry, email me a picture of your blackened out page 143, not forgetting to include the title and author of the book. Including a few sentences about why you’ve chosen this book and who you are is a plus.

Assuming I’m not inundated with entries (or those not suitable for work), I’ll post all I receive at page143.org. And for context, here’s the actual blog entry for the “All Quiet” poem above so you can see how it looks.

Of interest, at least to me, is that I found the Esquire article about 15 years ago, back when I was the Director of the Puget Sound Community School. I was introducing a small group of high school students to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and chose Mr. Rogers to be the illustration of self-actualization.

I read the article to them, something that brought many of us to tears. In fact, reading the article worked so well I did it again, and again, and again in other classes. Soon, it was referred to as my “Mr. Rogers Lesson” and I was giving it at other schools.

Several students and I got so excited by the idea of promoting the 143 concept that we created a store on Café Press and started selling 143 t-shirts, hoodies and buttons. I just looked it up and the shop is still there!

Also of interest, the Esquire article was the inspiration for the Mr. Rogers movie that came out last year starring Tom Hanks.

Where I’m From

My personal take on the brilliant poem by George Ella Lyon.

I’m from Sour Cherry Jells, a candy my dad sold that made my tongue, my lips, and my teeth turn red, from Dixie Cups to drink cool water from the bathroom sink at night because it tasted better in tiny paper cups than what came out of the kitchen faucet into a glass.

I’m from Kool Aid ice cubes.

I’m from parents who this November will have been married for 62 years and are together still, who as far as I know have always been together, parents who raised three boys in a meat and potatoes home, who created a midwestern life in the 1960’s that allowed my den-mother-president-of-the-PTA mom to be home at the end of every school day to offer my brothers and me a snack and a reminder to change out of our “school clothes” before heading back outside to play.

I’m from Velveeta Cheese and Spam and Miracle Whip.

I’m from the smell of rosin bags, sweat, and baseball glove leather on the dry, cracked baseball diamond in the humidity of July, from scraped knees on the vacant lot we called “The Dirt Hill”, and the scary time I got the wind knocked out of me while playing football on the Elders’ front lawn.

I’m from KOIL radio and Casey Kasem and Stella’s hamburgers and “Trip someone, get a statistic!” the year I played ice hockey.

I’m from my dad driving home from Rexall on Saturday morning, the Racing Form open across the steering wheel.

I’m from the 1970 Topps hockey card set that started it all, that 23 years later was the down payment on a house, go figure. Melinda and I had a baby now.

I’m from night terrors so bad I’d scream until everyone in the house was awake, that forced my brother to convince my parents to disassemble our bunk bed and let him sleep in peace in the basement, to the absolute knowledge of what peace feels like when your mom lays in your bed next to you at 2am and strokes your head.

I’m from Dr. Oberst telling my parents that behavior modification would cure me, that responding to my screams was reinforcing them.

I’m from the chart on the refrigerator that awarded me points that translated into hockey cards if I could just keep quiet at night.

I’m from being hospitalized in 4th grade because I just couldn’t keep quiet, from tiny orange sleeping pills I proudly swallowed without water to electrodes being attached to my head to figure out why I was, why I was so, so…

angry
mad
frightened
scared
sad
unhappy
don’t you say crazy

the shame, the shame
the SHAME.

I’m from blocking it out, blocking it out, this “scared of the dark” thing, it’s my biggest secret, my hidden shame.

I’m from a temper so bad I would slam doors and scream, one time breaking a clock radio that belonged to my grandparents and that would play “The Last Song” by Edward Bear and “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” by Lobo — did you know Boo meant grass which meant pot which meant marijuana, what’s that, the song got banned? Why?

I’m from my 3rd grade teacher pulling me by the earlobe in front of a gymnasium full of people present to see my parents honored as lifetime members of the PTA.

I’m from believing that’s what started all the shame, and then from realizing that my shame gave birth to my greatest strength, empathy.

I’m from Saturday morning speech therapy with Mrs Veizer, saltines and water, tongue thrusts and Th’s.

I’m from eighteen months with a headgear, 8pm to 8am, then another 18 months with braces, hey gang, that’s 3 years visiting Dr. Cameron not counting the retainers.

I’m from glasses at age 12. Glasses and braces, why not a red clown’s nose? Oh, I got that, too.

It’s called pimples, pimples and more pimples that I’m from.

I’m from the days I wore my mom’s cover-up to high school.

I’m from Salmonella Group D my senior year, the rectal biopsy, and praying, praying, praying to die — the stomach cramps were that bad.

I’m from Strat-O-Matic with Scott and the 1969 Minnesota Twins, César Tovar is a double A, 1–17.

I’m from bowling with Steve and yes I actually did bowl a 234 with 5 strikes in a row.

I’m from getting kicked off the bowling team my senior year after wearing a pink vest, tight black pants, mascara, and rouge to a party at the coach’s house.

I’m from door-to-door Mason Shoes and a work ethic that means you don’t stop until the job is done and you do your best, from a grandmother who gathered blackberries no matter how many times she was stung so we could have that cobbler and a grandfather who ate just one piece of candy after dinner because he cherished it more.

I’m from the still-dark silence of walking the neighborhood on weekend mornings to deliver The Seattle Times, my alarm going off at 4:52 to wake me, and the hustle of weekday afternoons to get the paper delivered by 5 while avoiding being bitten by that mean dog. 30 homes, $30/month.

I’m from Hunter’s Books and a 40 hour workweek at 17, closing the till and making a night deposit and my high school counselor saying no you can’t get Occupational Education credit for that.

I’m from second semester senior year sitting in accounting class, so bored, looking out the window, writing short stories, waiting to ace the tests so I could get the credit so I could graduate and get the heck out of there and why would I want to waste my time going to college?

I’m from Gray Whisper losing by a nose at 9–1 (I still have my two $10 win tickets) and Bokeet being sold to someone else but now Tom and I won’t be moving to Portland.

I’m from, “It’s time now for the marine weather, brought to you today and every day by Bob’s Market,” from Hank having brought me to Seward to “play radio” for a year.

I’m from Matt, and Si, and Kristopher, and Eric, and discovering I had something to offer children, that working with children was a calling.

I’m from all of this and more.

I’m from I wouldn’t change any of it, even if I could. I think that’s called privilege.

Yeah, I’m from that, too.