Thursday, May 30, 2013

A bit of poetry: Samples from University 3

So, since I have declared May my personal poetry month, I will be posting some of my "found" poetry throughout the month (I've written very little recently unfortunately).

You may read earlier posts on poetry here and here and here.

And, as usual.....

For your entertainment or potential edification, a few poems of mine from the early 1990s. Which, yes, means I was very young. Very young.

This poetry -- be forewarned -- is a sampling of some of my more "intense" writing.


-- February 20, 1991

I grasp the shattered fragments of reality.
      - But are shattered fragments true?
      - Can bits of reality be reality?

I have lost my delusions.
      - I have lost my illusions.

My mind no longer wanders down the beaten path.
      - The path trod down by imagination
      - By the figments in my mind.

The plain is free, wide, open, expansive
      - There is no end
      - There is no beginning
      - Only space.

                  Space            Space

      - The heavens of infinite width, length
      - No point of return; for nothing exists.

Existence? Once I had the question formulated....
      - There was a worn grassy path.

......Dirt scattered and trampled weeds......

A grey stone - no markings; round, smooth
      - a marker; a marker to existence.

- I kicked the stone aside before.
      I wanted to uncover the truth.

There is no truth.

There is no longer a path.
There are no longer any paths.
They've all disappeared...raked over to fresh unmarked earth.

      I am lost again.
      In Nothing.
      In Space.

In my wide open expansive field. My mind roams, no sense, no direction. Only shattered bits of the stone as simple ironies. Mocking. Marking the nonexistent path...(to nowhere).


The Fly
-- February 21, 1991

I know an old woman who swallowed a fly
I don't know why
            she swallowed that fly.
I know a little girl who burned her arm
Why would she harm
            her own tender arm?
I don't know why
            she swallowed the fly.

                  The fly didn't do any harm
                  So why did she burn her arm?

            I don't know why.             I don't know why.
                        So stop asking me why.

                  The fly swatter was not to be found
                  So how else can a problem be got around?

I know an old woman who swallowed a fly
I don't know why
            she swallowed the fly.

      Physical pain is so much easier to solve and deal.
      A dab of neosporin, and a bandaid seal.

I know a little girl who burned her arm
Why would she harm
            her own tender arm?

      The emotional side of her was in shambles,
      Her heart nestled in the thick brambles.

I don't know why
            she swallowed the fly.

      Outside, the girl is the woman, strong and tall.
      Inside, the girl is the fly, trapped and small.

Why would she harm
            her own tender arm?

      The fear, the blackness, the other within her: so meek.
      Now there is a door, an opening, a small tiny leak....

I don't know why
            her own tender arm....

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tragedies, Prayers, and What Really Matters

UPDATE: This post also appeared on the Huffington Post website on May 22, 2013.


Tragedies happen every day, whether here in the United States or across the world. The tragedies may be small (such as one person shot dead) or mid-sized (such as tens or hundreds killed in a plane crash) or they may be huge (such as thousands killed in a terrorist attack) -- but whatever their size, they are an awful and emotional situation for at least one family.

From the "outside", it can be difficult -- actually impossible -- to know exactly what to do. We watch, dumbfounded, and it's hard not to feel helpless; it's hard not to feel that we must do something. The question is, what?

The latest tragedy is the monster tornado that hit a small town just outside of Oklahoma on Monday, May 20, 2013.

I watched the horror unfold in Moore, Oklahoma, the way many of us do these days: via social media. As soon as I heard even the trickles of news, I immediately started (obsessively) checking Facebook, Twitter and "trending news" on Yahoo online. I got to a television as quickly as I could, and then couldn't stop watching -- my cell phone in one hand, so I could still monitor Facebook, Twitter and "trending news" on Yahoo online. One source was not enough.

I am not alone in being glued to the news when something awful happens. Perhaps its because we think the outcome will change if we watch; more likely it's because we cannot fathom the horror, and have to watch again and again, ad nauseam, in order to make it real to us.

It is so easy, in this age of incredible Hollywood special effects, to find reality impossible and unbelievable. It's funny, the more special effects become real, the more reality seems false. We watch a movie, thoroughly involved and suspending any disbelief, hooting and hollering at even the horrible scenes -- we watch the news, and stare slack-jawed in horror, mumbling, "It can't be, it can't be."

Tragedy is just that: incomprehensible. It leaves us dumbstruck, wringing our hands, certain we are useless. It is as if we can do nothing more than watch the news, out of some sense of "solidarity"; some sense that just by watching, we are helping -- we are ensuring the tragedy is not lost in the constant hum of nonstop information.

After all, far too many tragedies are lost, whether not covered at all or simply drowned out by the ongoing rush of stories or, self-centeredly, not in our own country. That in and of itself is a tragedy. Unfortunately though, the likelihood of that changing is slim: it is the "local" that we focus on, and the unfathomable that catches our attention; the unbelievable, the bewildering.
(In its special coverage on Tuesday, May 21st, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams opened the show by saying something to the effect of, "There is no place sadder or more destroyed than here tonight..." Ummmmm. With all the wars, famine, pestilence and such going on around the world -- you so sure of that Brian?
And it is the very unfathomableness, unbelievableness, bewilderingness, that leaves us feeling so helpless. We can give money -- and so many do and immediately did here -- but that still leaves us feeling unsatisfied, with the helplessness a bitter taste still in our mouths. It is why we reach for prayer -- even if we're not the praying type, and may not even know what that means. It is why the hashtag on Twitter for this incident quickly became "#PrayforOklahoma".

Yet just as quickly, the naysayers -- the nattering nabobs of negativity as U.S. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew put it -- jumped on the hashtag and on the people repeatedly using it, repeatedly saying "pray". Many huffed, "I hope you're actually praying, not just writing it." Many sniffed, "What does prayer have to do with it?" Many snarked, "If God couldn't stop the tornado, what makes you think He can help now?"

All I could think at the time -- all I can think now -- is, "Seriously??? Because prayer is somehow inappropriate right now? Now of all times?" As that's just it: even if one doesn't pray; even if one doesn't truly pray when you write that you are; even, for that matter, if you don't even mean it at all -- this is a case when the thought truly counts.

For (many of) those who are impacted by a tragedy, it can be comforting, meaningful, helpful, reassuring, heartwarming to know that others are praying for them -- even if they are not religious or people who pray themselves. From personal experience, it doesn't even matter if the prayers are not "sincere" -- as I am not going to judge another person's sincerity during these sorts of times. Whether it's just a word or actual spirituality, the point is that another person is thinking of you, is worrying about you, is wishing you the best.

And that matters. A lot.

So when something is incomprehensible, unfathomable, unbelievable, bewildering -- tragic -- do not hesitate to pray. Whether you know how to, or not: pray. Whether you truly do it, or not: pray. Whether you mean it, or not: pray. It will make a difference. Both to you, and to the people you are praying for: It will make a difference.

And that matters. A lot.


Of course, you may (and should) also give money:
Red Cross: Text REDCROSS to 90999
Salvation Army: Text STORM to 80888
And find more options in this article here

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A bit of poetry: Samples from University 2

So, since I have declared May my personal poetry month, I will be posting some of my "found" poetry throughout the month (I've written very little recently unfortunately).

You may read earlier posts on poetry here and here.

And, as usual.....

For your entertainment or potential edification, a few poems of mine from the early 1990s. Which, yes, means I was very young. Very young.


-- November 26, 1990

Words have always been so inadequate.
It is easy to forget, but true.
They can never express the real emotion,
or explain exactly what color's blue.

Usually words have the habit,
of just getting in the way.
They don't seem to accomplish much,
but to let people have their say.

They just trim the tree of life,
they never quite reach its core.
They can only make a study
of black on white -- nothing more.

I used to believe in the power
of the spoken word.
The magical influence it had
on everyone who heard.

Now I hold on to the one idea
that can keep me sane,
and will help me to accomplish
much, with my brain:

That words are not everything.
They don't make the sky blue,
or the simple birds sing,
But they let me say: I love you.


Something to Believe In
-- December 9, 1990

I need something to believe in,
I need something to have faith in,
And it's hard to remember
That it may not be what I want.

      The leaves are all gone,
      They are lying dirty and brown,
      On the cold, wet cement.
      The brisk air is forbidding,
      Yet the room is so alone.

I need something to believe in,
I need something to have faith in,
And it's hard to remember
That it may not be what I want.

      Relative truths are so unsure,
      They are often just façades
      Of blatant lies or falsities.
      The truth is forbidding
      Yet the untruth is so cold.

I need something to believe in,
I need something to have faith in,
And it's hard to remember
That it may not be what I want.

      Absolute truths are ludicrous,
      There is no black and white
      Except on the objective paper.
      The conclusion is forbidding
      Yet the absolute is so distant.

I need something to believe in,
I need something to have faith in,
And it's hard to remember
That it may not be what I want.

      Inanimates are so solid,
      They are real and concrete,
      And can be held on to.
      The unreal is forbidding
      Yet the concrete is so removed.

I need something to believe in,
I need something to have faith in,
And it's hard to remember
That it may not be what I want.

      People are mostly variable,
      They change from time to time,
      As the seasons change.
      The changing is forbidding,
      Yet the solitaire is so empty.

I need something to believe in,
I need something to have faith in,
And it's hard to remember
That it may not be what I want.

      Love is very fickle,
      Its arrow strikes where it goes,
      And hits to the heart.
      The love is forbidding
      Yet unlove is so unfulfilling.

I need something to believe in,
I need something to have faith in,
And it's hard to remember
That it may not be what I want.

      The choices are innumerable,
      Knocking down my door,
      Clamoring to be believed in.
      The crowd is forbidding,
      Yet ignoring it is so unsteady.

I need something to believe in,
I need something to have faith in,
And it's hard to remember
That it may not be what I want.

      And so the search continues...

Manufactured Holidays

UPDATE: This post also appeared on the Huffington Post website on May 16, 2013.


This past Sunday was Mother's Day in the United States (it is celebrated in other countries, just on different days). It certainly is a lovely thought (according to Wikipedia):
Mother's Day in the United States is an annual holiday celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Mother's Day recognizes mothers, motherhood and maternal bonds in general, as well the positive contributions that they make to society. Although many Mother's Day celebrations world-wide have quite different origins and traditions, most have now been influenced by the more recent American tradition established by Anna Jarvis, who celebrated it for the first time in 1907, then campaigned to make it an official holiday. Previous attempts at establishing Mother's Day in the United States sought to promote peace by means of honoring mothers who had lost or were at risk of losing their sons to war.
Absolutely lovely sounding.... Sounding.

As the recent reality is that Mother's Day seems to have become nothing more than a commercialized, manufactured guilt fest -- as well as a peer pressure competitive guilt fest. It's all about how much you can spend to show how much you care -- as if money is the only measure of emotions; it's also all about how much you can talk up your mother as the best of all mothers in comparison to what someone else -- posts on Facebook.

(And yes, I am absolutely guilty of all of the above.)

In all that, it is not actually lovely. It's frustrating and annoying and depressing. And it's all that several -- and several more -- times over if you've lost your mother.

My mother, the artist Karen Laub-Novak, passed away on August 12, 2009. A week before my birthday, and two weeks before her own birthday. She lost to cancer, but the cancer never won: until the very end, her humor remained -- always one of her best characteristics.

It was her belief and humor that first turned me off to Mother's Day. While we would still acknowledge it, her attitude to me was that we did so, "because why not take advantage of an excuse to go out to dinner?" Not because she cared about it. She once snarked to me: "What? I need a day to remind me I'm a mother? As if the pain in the ass that you can be, doesn't remind me all the time? A day -- one single day out of 365 -- to thank me and show appreciation for all I do? As if I'm only a mother for one day, not on the other 364?"

That's just it. It's lovely to think about making a point of acknowledging mothers, but we should be doing that every day, not just when Hallmark -- or Congress -- says that we should. Just like every other "manufactured" holiday, such as Valentine's Day. We should be acknowledging our love every day, not just on one day.

So while I greatly appreciate all the friends who reached out to me on Mother's Day, I have to point out that I think of and miss my mother every day. If there are days that are especially hard, it is not when Hallmark says I should feel bad, it's when I do: my birthday and her birthday.

To be honest, Mother's Day is meaningless to me, representing (obviously, since I'm in the middle of a rant about it) nothing more than forced, false, money-purchased emotion, rather than the real thing. I am happy to acknowledge it and celebrate it for others, but I can't help but want to say (scream) "What? I need a day to remind me how important you are? A day -- one single day out of 365 -- to thank you and show appreciation for all you do? As if you're only important for one day, not on the other 364?"

So I try to spend every day thinking of and feeling grateful for the amazing people in my life. No, I don't send gifts to them every day or take them out to nice dinners every night or even talk to them every day -- or post on Facebook about them every day.

But I do try to think of them, to reflect upon what they mean to me and what they have done for me, and say some little murmured words of thanks. Nothing major or impressive or even Hallmark-worthy. Yet still worthy, vey worthy. The best part? How great I feel when I do this.

Try it. You'll like it.

Which means: know what these manufactured days are for in my mind? Beyond a reason to pull out my soap box yet again? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

And that is actually lovely sounding.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A bit of poetry: Samples from University

I missed the official poetry month, which is April, but as I recently seem to be repeatedly stumbling on old poetry of mine, I have decided that May will be my poetry month.

Today I came upon a very fat folder filled with what appears to be just pages and pages and pages of neatly typed up poetry I wrote a long time ago. All of the poetry would be prior to 1992, as I vaguely remember interning in the Vice President's office (yes, of the United States) and using the down time after the election loss to type up pages of hand-scrawled writings....

I had always assumed I had lost these writings, as there was no digital version, and I hadn't seen the folder in, well, decades. Apparently I did not.

So, for your entertainment or potential edification, a few poems of mine from the early 1990s. Which, yes, means I was very young. Very young.


-- December 10, 1990

Sometimes life seems so meaningless,
It comes and goes,
In an endless circle of continuing questions.
It never really reveals itself,
It remains hidden,
In the recesses of greater minds.

Sometimes life is so complicated,
It twists and turns
With neverending choices and problems.
It is always a different shade of grey,
Never black or white,
Only understood by the gurus on the mountaintop.

If life were an easy task,
So many wouldn't have died in the search.
So many wouldn't still be searching,
For the meaning of life.

Black and white without different shades,
Is boredom.
The complications, the confusions are the spice,
In an endless pot of variety.

Time will iron out some of the wrinkles,
But new ones will always be formed.
A smooth sea signals a monsoon;
Troubled waters can make the adventure.


Cold Fear....New Tomorrow
-- January 23, 1991

Cold fear
Tightening its steely claws
      - grasping my heart.

Hold dear
The songs of our yesterday
      - within your heart.

Short breaths struggling to be free
      - releasing the pain.

Near to you that which is.
      - forget the pain.

To remember but never regret
      - the loneliness.

Is the future to erase
      - the loneliness.

Of the love of a foreign heart.
      - near to you.

To the dreams of a new tomorrow
      - close to you.



To sleep or not to sleep.
That is the question.
For it is not for nobler minds
To waste upon an afternoon's nap
But to be profitable -- to be awake.

To sleep perchance to dream.
Of a faraway place.
A land of exoticness
Where silence can be interesting
And the profit lies in the illusion.

To dream perhaps to dream.
Is it a love that never occurs.
An emotion too unreal to be felt
An insanity to believe in
But to profit the sane.

To dream perhaps of sleep.
Not of the darkened eyes
But the smoldering flames.
To lavish within another's arms
Profiting from another's love.

To dream, sleep
And to sleep, dream
The insanity of sanity
Which keeps the notion of love alive.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A bit of poetry: "Confessions of a Lover.... A Word Lover"

I was recently going through old journals of mine, and happened upon quite a bit of the poetry I wrote when I was younger.

Much of it is -- as to be expected from a teenager -- angst filled, and so almost comical. Some of it was actually quite good. Not all of it were things I would want to ever publish publicly, but I thought I would try to go through and find some things I was actually willing to publish.


For your delight, humor or simple entertainment, one of the poems I did think was a bit more "public ready"...


Confessions of a lover.... A word lover
-- October 14, 2002

How often times we've tossed it about....

    Oh I love that....
        .... jacket
        .... dress
        .... shoes

    Oh I love that....
        .... television show
        .... movie
        .... book

Oh I love that.... with a solitary pout.

Yet do we ever mean it?
Can we ever mean it?
When it is no more than a word,
Nothing more than a sound heard.

For objects are not love,
And objects cannot be loved,
They cannot receive because they cannot give,
And to truly love, one must live.

How often times we've declared it without care,
Yet do we ever mean it?
Can we ever mean it?
When a jacket and a person are held up to compare.

How often times we've tossed it about,
How often times we've declared it without care,
Ignoring its philosophical clout,
Never playing its meaning fair.

But words such as love are a treasure,
Inadequate spoken yet filled to its measure,
Hardly profound yet deeply moving.
Seemingly simple and always soothing.

So once understood, never forgotten,
Cherished, honored, and held in the heart,
A promise made and never begotten,
Soul, mind and spirit always playing their part.

And so, all for one and one for all,
Makes up true love's natural call.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Curses: Motherly Approval of the President

I recently was invited to become a columnist/blogger for the Huffington Post. Below is one of my recent posts for the HuffPo site.


This week, on May 1, the new George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will be opening to the public. As per all presidential libraries, it has a simple purpose according to its mission statement: to serve "as a resource for the study of the life and career of George W. Bush, while also promoting a better understanding of the Presidency, American history, and important issues of public policy."

That's all well and good, and certainly wonderfully high-brow. It also served to remind me of a wonderfully "low-brow" personal story I have about President Bush and my mother.

My mother was an amazing woman and a talented artist. She loved dirty martinis and maple bars, and had a fantastic sense of humor: when she lost her hair completely from the cancer that ultimately killed her, she simply joked that she was just trying to look like the "avant garde chic" artist that she was.

But most important of all her personality and characteristics is the fact that I grew up with a mother whose absolute favorite bad word, favorite curse word, was "shit." Truly.

To the extent that in our guest half bath on the main floor -- the one that senators, congressmen, Supreme Court judges, and ambassadors used when attending dinner parties at our house -- we had a lovely poster of a huge locomotive hanging off a destroyed bridge into the abyss, with a one word description: "SHIT!"

But, in relevance to the opening of the G.W. Bush Library, her love of the word was such that she used it in conversation with the president at the White House. Truly.

My father, Michael Novak, had received an invitation for the two of them to attend a White House dinner in July 2006 to welcome the incoming Archbishop of Washington Donald W. Wuerl and honor the outgoing Archbishop of Washington Theodore Cardinal McCarrick. Even the Papal Nuncio at the time, Pietro Sambi, was to be there. It was a big deal. Unfortunately, my father was out of town.

This, of course, was not going to deter my mother. Of course, neither was her cancer, nor her weakness, nor her lack of hair. She called the White House, asked if she could attend without my father, but instead bring me as her date, as she was too ill to attend on her own. She's a very persuasive woman. The "non-transferable" invitation became transferable.

I, meanwhile, will admit that I grumbled and whined a bit about the evening. Really? I have to get all dressed up and go to some huge, boring White House dinner? Really? Because yeah, I was that spoiled and blasé about White House dinners after nearly 10 years in politics.

I should have known better.

We get to the dinner, and it turns out it is a very small, intimate affair, held in the private dining room of the first family, perhaps 40 people total. Um, wow. Yeah, I was impressed, seriously impressed.

This dinner happened to be right after -- and I do mean right after, the dinner was the very next day -- President Bush was caught using the word "shit" in what he thought was a private conversation with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was at lunch at the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. President Bush said to Prime Minister Blair: "The irony is, what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over." But as so often happens in this wired world, his words were caught on tape.

It caused quite the hullabaloo. Quite the hullabaloo.

Not to my mother.

The dinner started with a "receiving line" whereby all the attendees could greet the Papal Nuncio, the outgoing archbishop, the incoming archbishop, the president, and first lady Laura Bush -- in that order. My mother, so seriously ill with the cancer, looked radiant but horribly thin, and had a bright, colorful scarf covering her bald head. She moved through the line before me, smiling, laughing, making small talk with each of the honored guests. Then she got to the president.

She took his hand, looked deeply into his eyes, and said: "You know, I thought it was an excellent choice of words. Sometimes the situation does not call for anything else." The president looked startled, and at a loss for words or any response at all. So she pressed on: "Shit. That situation absolutely called for the word shit."

The president just stared at her. The two archbishops and the Papal Nuncio looked horrified, dumbfounded. My mother just smiled serenely. She started to turn her attention to the first lady, grasping her hand, as the president put his out to greet me, still staring at my mother, now bemusedly. After a moment's pause, the president laughed, and said, "Well, my mother certainly did not approve." To which I promptly replied, "Well, my mother certainly did!"

And... Apparently, this whole exchange so impacted the president and first lady that upon the conclusion of the dinner, the first lady immediately sought us out, spent several minutes talking with my mother offering her encouragement and prayers, and then insisted that we take the first family's private elevator down to the exit, with her as company.

Um, wow. Yeah, I was impressed, seriously impressed. Apparently, curse words sometimes bring about positive outcomes. (At least with my mother's karma they do.)

So, on the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, I salute the president and the first lady -- this shit's for you!