Return to Sender

For those of you who have read my memoir, Southern Fried Fiction, you already know that my third wife, Linda, had reached a point in our marriage where she had to drop me from her payroll, cut me loose. Given the mess I’d become, I can understand her reasoning more clearly now. And accept responsibility for my actions. ‘For better or worse’ was interfering with her life and ambitions. I’ll leave it at that.

In draft after draft of the manuscript, I kept taking blame out of her hands and putting it into mine. I thought my story was fair and balanced, and I was especially careful to avoid discussion of her midlife shenanigans in order to protect her stellar career. By the way, her real name isn’t Linda Murphy.

When my book was published in May, I thought about sending her a copy, but I didn’t. I’d be getting married again in July and wanted a smooth engagement. I thought I’d wait until my marriage to Lisa was behind me.

With nothing but good intentions, I put two copies of my memoir in the mail last week: one to Linda and one to my estranged son, Sam. He’d never heard my side of the story before and I thought it was about time. He’s twenty-nine years old, has a good job and is financially secure. This would be the prefect time to share my story with him. I couldn’t get through to him otherwise, so what did I have to lose?

Apparently, everything.

Linda immediately returned my book, which I received today along with the following handwritten note:

Stuart —

Thanks for the gesture but I couldn’t be less interested. I’m sure people in your life have a very different perspective about what happened. Your story telling is a such a gross invasion of privacy. I fear if you ever hoped to have a relationship with Sam (or others), writing this book insured it will never happen.

Linda

The book looked sterile and unopened. But her words sprung off the page in an unmistakably ominous fashion. Whether or not Sam reaches such a conclusion on his own is moot. She will try and insure that I never have a relationship with my son. Her stepson.

Still, as a father, it is a blessing to be able to continue loving my son, unconditionally. No one can take that away from me. Except me.

I welcome reader comments.

Stuart Hotchkiss
August 14, 2015

Moving Week

Keep it or throw it?

I’ll ask myself that question a hundred times or more this week, and if I’m right at least half the time, I’m a winner!

Yes, moves are stressful. This will be my eighth move in six years. No, I’m not a gypsy; I’m not being pursued by creditors; I love my neighbors as myself.

Each move has been circumstantial. Divorce. Fresh start. Better accommodations. Lower rent. Playing house. And every relocation has resulted in at least one positive: downsizing.

Most of us have way too many possessions. Better yet, most of us own a horde of crap. Most of us can’t let go. Most of us, and I am a common offender, empty and reload. I don’t know why I can’t reduce and stay that way. Kind of like my body weight. Actually just like my body weight, now that I think about it.

My wife, Lisa, and I started in earnest yesterday—Saturday—to pack. We are to be out of our apartment in four days—that’s Wednesday. We are moving into the Boise residence of a lovely couple from Oregon, to become their house sitters, for let’s say five months or less. We’ll have our own bedroom and bathroom and share the rest of the relatively small house one week a month with our Lord and Lady of the Land. I can’t share details of the arrangement, but trust me when I say it’s a “win-win” for both parties.

So, our goal is to take what we need to the house; put “valuable” and sentimental stuff into an existing 10-foot-wide by 15-foot-deep storage unit; and give the rest of our belongings away. It’s great to see the look on a friend’s face when you say, “I don’t want anything for it; you enjoy it for a while and then pay it forward.” We’ll make our goal, even if it turns out that we should have sold some of the items, even if we do save a bit too much because we’re not quite prepared to let go. Not yet.

As many have told me, when in doubt, take a picture of an item “on the bubble.” If it’s given away, you’ll still have a reminder and can keep those memories fresh in the present.

What has to happen in any joint move is the offer of decency and respect towards one another. No insults, tacit or implicit, about each others belongings or reasons for keeping them. No second guessing, unless asked. No eye rolling. Allow each other to wax nostalgic over a piece of formed clay, a crayon drawing, or a cheap piece of furniture. It’s just stuff and if it can all fit into the storage bin, just concede. Don’t argue over material goods. Fight over infidelity or reckless gambling—something big—if such a life-sucking monster ever tests your marital mettle.

We only have one lifetime to cherish something. You can’t take it with you. Oh, it’s sentimental, precious, or otherwise valuable? Worth too much to just give away to someone other than a family member? Then let your children have it now if you don’t use it. Let them enjoy it while you can see them do so.

Once this concept is grasped, a person is truly set free: less is more.

Stuart Hotchkiss
August 9, 2015

Update: While we did move into our new home on schedule, we just moved the last item—a black, portable Oreck vacuum cleaner—out of our apartment at 10:14PM MDT on Sunday, August 16, 2015. It was just one more offering left at the makeshift altar, also known as the dumpster.

An excerpt from my memoir, “Southern Fried Fiction”

Try to imagine a promising, forty-five-year-old executive suing a Fortune 100 company with a flimsy-at-best claim of fraudulent inducement. You’ll have to read my memoir, Southern Fried Fiction, to get the full back story, but this excerpt should provide some insight into my state of mind at the time.

“The journey from filing suit in November 2000 to jury selection on a Monday in May 2002 was exceedingly nerve-racking. Over this year-and-a-half-long period, I suffered mood swings like never before. The night after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, I walked down from my apartment to the West Side Highway and along the unprotected footpath that paralleled this always-busy six-lane thoroughfare. I stared into oncoming traffic, trying to imagine if I’d experience any pain by taking two steps to my right. The slightest imbalance on my part could have ended the lawsuit.

I must have made that same five-minute walk at least a half dozen times during the pretrial period. Each outing occurred during the evening, when it was either twilight or dark and nearly impossible to judge the speed of oncoming traffic. I was setting myself up for tragedy. Sometimes I ran across the full six lanes—as well as the raised median barrier— just to see if I was faster than a speeding bullet. It wasn’t exactly Russian roulette, but it was both certifiably manic and potentially lethal.

What had happened to me? Why couldn’t I hack the role of plaintiff? If this game—and it was a game, I now realize—was too hard to play, then why didn’t I pick up the phone and call Julian to suggest we stop? Why couldn’t I confess my suicidal ideations to Linda. She was my wife, for Pete’s sake! Of course I know why, at least now. I was sick in the head—depressed, mentally ill, emotionally unstable, whatever you want to call it—and, as such, I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t tell right from wrong, and I most certainly couldn’t share my feelings of utter despair with anyone. Honestly, how could I talk about something I couldn’t label? I was truly stuck in my own world, my own universe. I was thoroughly obsessed listening to my own alternative station called “Radio Stuart.” That sole stream of information was no more fair and balanced than what Fox News disseminates today.”

Stuart Hotchkiss
August 5, 2015

The Wedding Homily

Lisa Crandlemire and I received the blessing of Holy Matrimony on July 11, 2015 at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Boise, Idaho. That’s right, we got hitched. The service followed the liturgy found in the Book of Common Prayer according to the use of The Episcopal Church.

There were two readings, one from the Book of Colossians and another—a bonus reading—from Khalil Gibran (The Prophet). The Holy Gospel was from Matthew and The Great Thanksgiving (Communion) included Eucharistic Prayer B.

I think that’s more than enough proof that we had a church wedding.

The homily was delivered by a very holy man, John Stuart Thornton, former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho and now retired in name only. Bishop Thornton has been very active in the life of St. Michael’s Cathedral, preaching, administering pastoral care, creating new ministries such as “Poetry as Theology” and “The One Buck Seminary.” He and his wife Jan have hosted movie nights, Sunday morning brunch, and a variety of other social events around the Cathedral. Mind you, he’s done all of this in his eighties and in his spare time. Most days he’s not even in Boise, but tending to his beloved Taucross Farm in Scio, Oregon, where he and Jan reside permanently.

The Thorntons had planned to be in Oregon for the entire summer, away from the Cathedral and tending to the farm, fingers in the soil and all that. Earlier this spring, I asked John if he would consider delivering the homily for our wedding. Selfishly, I needed him to do that for me and, thankfully, Lisa understood those reasons. John immediately agreed to do so and, after clearing it with our celebrant, The Very Rev. Rich Demarest, he began to prepare his remarks.

John knows me quite well. We’ve worked on a number of projects together. He read the entire manuscript of my memoir, Southern Fried Fiction, before it went to press. He agreed to be the first of my friends to meet Lisa after I fell in love with her. He took to her instantly and confirmed that I had made the right decision. I confessed that as a financially poor man, I might be an unworthy suitor.

“Lisa’s father is a very rich man and may not approve of me,” I confided.

John thought for a moment and reminded me that in the years since arriving at St. Michael’s, I had become a wealthy person, a true believer. Then he proffered this thought, “What makes you so sure that Lisa’s father deserves you?”

Wow! He’s right, I realized. John had emboldened me right into the proverbial driver’s seat.

Indeed, John’s homily captured a lot that has wrapped this holy man and me together for most of the years I’ve lived in Boise, Idaho. Let me share a few excerpts with you:

“Stuart, I remember your excitement, your giddiness and glee, when you told me that you had found the woman you had looked for all your life. It was with the intermediacy of the Internet. Old Luddite that I am, I asked myself, Can any good come out of that Nazareth? Was this marriage made in heaven or was it made in cyberspace? But, when you took me to meet her, over breakfast at Café de Paris, I took one look at Lisa and said, Wow! This darned thing works! I knew right away that, not only had you found the woman you had been looking for all your life, you had found yourself in her. A few bites later, I knew that she had found herself in you too. I can’t remember what we had for breakfast, but everything had the taste of all that’s right and all that’s good, with all the sweetness of them.”

This ‘darned thing’ was Match.com, and it took two separate tries to get Lisa’s attention. The day of our first date, she had lunch with me and then drinks at Happy Hour with another fellow. Two dates, one outfit.

“I said that you two had found yourselves in each other. It’s the work—no, it’s the play—of the unconscious, which always takes your side. (Your unconscious knows when you can give yourself away.) Though you’re both smart, it’s the sense of Someone—that’s “Someone” with a capital “S”—who’s a whole lot smarter than either of you or both of you together. I’m talking about the Spirit of God. The Church is right to call it “the mystery of love.” And it’s not only a mystery, it’s a miracle. Every act of love is miraculous. Though some scientists might like to, it can’t be reduced to something neurobiological, as if we were only the human animal. It’s God acting in us, exceeding the limits we’ve set for ourselves—or our societies and cultures have set for us—and revealing our capacity for everything from empathy to sacrifice.”

The miracle and mystery of love had touched Lisa and me in a way that made it impossible for us to not marry.

“Speaking of mysteries, Lisa, in the beginning Stuart was a mystery, though you felt safe in it. (That unconscious again.) As the days and weeks went by, he became less and less so, until, now, he’s literally an open book. You’ve read it, Southern Fried Fiction. This is the man I’m going to marry! This is the man I’m going to play house with! This is the man I’m going to grow old with! I’ve read the book too, from manuscript stage on. Two-thirds of the people in this congregation have read the book. (If you are in the one-third who haven’t read it, Google Amazon immediately following the reception.) He’s not hiding anything. Few among the people I know are so willing to risk that much transparency—and other people’s judgments, not to mention other people’s envy. You know what you’re getting, Lisa, and what you’re getting is an unusually brave man.”

As is the case after a Thornton sermon, eyes teared, hearts pounded, souls lifted. This was classic John Thornton—every word, inflection and gesture—only this time at a wedding, not a Sunday service, or an installation, or a school graduation, or some other celebration. For Lisa and me, it happened with the usual pleasure of first hearing John’s words and then reading them later. And rereading. But it was more than usual, it was über-special, because, that day, we were the center of John’s universe for twelve and a half minutes. Some people, if they are so fortunate, have to wait until they are dead to have “fame” like that!

I don’t want to reprint the whole homily. That’s a decision John needs to make shortly as he compiles his third and final book of sermons. The first two are in print, but not commercially available. Once he adds the third edition, I will urge and help him market them, perhaps on Amazon or the St. Michael’s Cathedral website. They are too precious and profound to remain in the hands of a few hundred people in Boise, Idaho.

Stuart Hotchkiss
August 4, 2015

The Income Tax Issue in the United States

Let’s face it: taxation is a hot button for politicians and ordinary citizens alike. No one likes to receive less money than they earn, but we all need to contribute something in order to make this country operate.

Are the millionaires and billionaires paying their fair share in income tax? No. Not in this country. I’ll leave it at that. Just ask the Swedes, the Danes, the Dutch, the Japanese and citizens of other countries. I don’t believe — like Donald Trump once did, before running for President — in raiding a person’s wealth today to make up for our far-too-lenient tax codes of the past. Let’s educate the rich on becoming good stewards of their wealth — many already are — and reassure them that, no matter what they may believe and practice in the way of philanthropy, “you can’t take it with you.”

I believe in a consumption tax, in lieu of or perhaps in addition to a lower income tax, far greater than the current gasoline, alcohol, tobacco, and other such taxes already in place. I want to change the tax paradigm to look beyond income and consider consumption of our land, our water, our roads — our entire infrastructure — and ensure that everyone is paying their fair share. Look at your footprint on this planet and ask yourself, “Am I paying a fair amount for what I use?”

As an apartment dweller with a bicycle, yes, you probably are; as the owner of two homes, two cars and a pickup, an RV, a boat and a swimming pool, no, you probably are not. I know these are generalities, but I propose, in terms of taxation, to reward those who live simpler and more environmentally responsible lives and put a heavier burden on those live “large.”

This goes for businesses, too. A factory with a plant on ten acres of land using large amounts of electricity and water should pay a much higher percentage of tax than an internet darling operating out of a one-room office. How could a steel and aluminum and other such companies afford higher taxes, you ask? By passing along the higher price of doing business to their customers. Most of us blindly purchase items without regard for bigger and longer-range consequences of our decisions. I’m as guilty as the next person.

I’m thinking out of the box, here. I have not run financial models or spoken with implementers of such an idea. But I want to believe that, in some point in our future, those in charge of running our country will begin to think this way.

Stuart Hotchkiss
July 31, 2015

Help, when you least expect it (but really need it)

There comes a time in everyone’s life when the least likely of friends, or even acquaintances, steps up to lend a helping hand. It’s so unpredictable sometimes that it’s simply and prophetically precious.

Such is my experience with an old friend, Glenn Mason. We first met in 1987, when Glenn helped with my corporate relocation from Alexandria, Virginia to London, England. He was an accountant then, and several years later, he left the company to become a public school teacher in New York City. We stayed in touch, mostly through mutual friends, but months and years often went by without any contact between us.

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Glenn Mason

We were then and still are different men. Glenn has a phlegmatic personality; he is a northerner and a man of color, not a southern WASP like me; he doesn’t smoke or drink; he goes to bed way too early and only after eating a pint of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Yet, Glenn was the one person I knew I needed to contact when I moved to Boise, Idaho, six years ago. I can’t explain why; I just accept it as the will of God.

Here is an introduction I asked Glenn to write for my intended memoir after I finished a first draft over two years ago. It does not appear in the current published version of Southern Fried Fiction, but I plan to add it to my next update. Those of you reading this post are kindly invited to validate this intention.

“A phone call in spring 2010 started it all. Sitting in my classroom at the end of a long school day, I was happy to hear from my old friend, Stuart. I hadn’t talked to him in a while.

I had barely said hello when Stuart excitedly asked me to guess where he was living. I asked if he was back in New York, and he said no. “So you’re still in DC?”

“Nope, I’m in Boise, Idaho” he replied with shameless gusto.

After letting this news sink in for a moment, I cautiously asked if his wife was with him in his new home.

“No, she cut me loose!” he chuckled.

Over the next fifteen or twenty minutes, Stuart updated me on the recent events in his life. As our Q&A went on, I was filled with sadness, compassion and a degree of worry about his last couple of years. But I was also filled with a sense of admiration for his strength, courage and perseverance.

As we ended our chat, I observed that his life had been far from conventional; in fact, I said, it might be called unorthodox, atypical or even bizarre at times. So I encouraged Stuart to write about his experiences – the happy and the sad, the good and the bad.

His kneejerk response was to say, “no.” Furthermore, he added, “Who would want to read about me?” The simple answer was that his life has been interesting and that I thought others would enjoy discovering it on a page. But more important, I said, why not just write it for yourself? I thought he might get some comfort or better understanding about himself if he simply put pen to paper. While I wasn’t trying to be an armchair psychologist, I was certain he’d benefit from the exercise.

But he wasn’t willing to commit. At least not yet.

So I took a different tack. I wrote an introduction to his life’s story as I understood it and emailed it to him. He called me right away and asked if it would be alright if he made a few changes to what I’d written. Happy that he was on some level intrigued with what I’d sent to him, I told him to make whatever changes or corrections he saw fit to make.

He rewrote much of what I had written and sent it back to me. Reading the introduction, now in Stuart’s words, I was pumped, and I could tell he was, too. Most important, he indicated a readiness to continue writing about his life and asked if I would be willing to read what he wrote.

And so began the process of exploring Stuart’s life, a process in which I was, at times, Stuart’s writing instructor, editor and muse. Some ingredients of Stuart’s story were easy for him to write about; other, more painful, parts of his life proved difficult to draw out of him. But eventually, his rollercoaster journey spilled out onto the pages.

Stuart’s journey was exciting and revealing for us both. Now I invite readers to try and share our experience.

They’ll find, in these pages, a man who has had more than his share of tragedy, adventure, love, heartbreak, and disappointment. But each time life knocks him down, Stuart eventually dusts himself off and starts all over again. As his life journey continues in Boise, I wish for more happiness and adventure to return for Stuart. I want this for my friend and so much more.

God willing, he’ll have it all once again.”

Glenn Mason
New York City

Finding Nonnie Jules

A week ago, I was sent a friend request on Goodreads from a fellow author named P. H. Solomon. Mr. Solomon lives in the greater Birmingham, Alabama, area and strongly dislikes yard work. Voilà, an instant bond! Furthermore, his profile revealed that he had been chosen as a VIP member of Nonnie Jules’ Rave Reviews Book Club.

Nonnie Jules was a name I did not recognize. I admit that I am rather new at marketing myself as an author, so I did not judge. I simply researched. My first stop was to one of Nonnie’s Web sites, RaveReviewsByNonnieJules.wordpress.com. (By the way, Merriam Webster suggests capitalizing Web if using two words, and no capital if using one word, website.) Nonnie is not only an author herself (3 titles on her own, co-authored another, and a contributing author to RRBC’s Rave Soup for the Writer’s Soul Anthology, 1st Edition), but she is also committed to helping other authors thrive—a bona fide author advocate!

I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. And there was a lot to see. Nonnie has more information packed into that site than a tin of expensive caviar! Sixteen tabs and a bunch of sidebars with links and news got my attention alright. And so did the offer of a book review! Not some namby-pamby, sugarcoated review, but a real and raw, tell-it-like-it-is one. Only for authors with strong constitutions. And meant for those who want to join the Rave Reviews Book Club and take an active interest in such.

I joined. Easiest commitment of $25 I’ve ever made. Heard back from Nonnie the same day and sent her my book, Southern Fried Fiction, to review. Yes, indeed, I hope she likes it. But if she doesn’t, I equally hope she points out its strengths and weaknesses. I’ll listen and react. I’ll improve my story if it helps to reach a broader audience. That’s one of the benefits of going the self-published (CreateSpace), on-demand printing route.

Tomorrow, July 25, I will tune in to AUTHOR SCOOP! with Lead Host, Harmony Kent, at 12 Noon (CDT). It’s held the 4th Saturday of every month to dish out scoop on RRBC members. I’m expecting a range of news, from Blog tours, book releases, cover reveals, author events, book signings, awards won…even the birth of a new baby, marriage proposal, job promotion, etc.

Here’s my scoop: despite all my past mistakes and imperfections, the former Lisa Crandlemire agreed to marry me on July 11, 2015, at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Boise. I’ll post a copy of the amazing homily delivered by Bishop John Thornton as soon as I receive a digital copy!

Stuart Hotchkiss
July 24, 2015