On being gregarious when things are precarious

I used to think that I wasn't gregarious
but now that everything seems so precarious
and sometimes even just downright nefarious,
and everyday pleasures grow mostly vicarious,
I see my old thinking as almost hilarious.

Stay well, my friends, and keep your distance.

B.J.

The New Desiderata (2003)

Pulled from the archives…


With apologies to Max Ehrmann
Desideratum = something desired as essential. – Merriam-Webster

Go noisily among the silent and apathetic and remember what virtue there may be in saying what you think. Suffer not the fools of the earth but be on good terms with all others. – Think carefully before you speak, but say your truth plainly and loudly enough for all to hear. – Yes, listen even to the dull and ignorant, especially those who became so through no fault of their own. The purposely ignorant deserve nothing more than your scorn; they have their stories, too, but none that are worth knowing. – Avoid telemarketers, insurance salesmen and yammering pundits; they are vexations to the spirit. – Compare yourself with others only to see how you can grow as a human being; find someone to be like who is worth emulating.

Sunday Goose, Lake McIntosh, Longs Peak, Colorado

For your successes, give due credit to your maker and your parents and your teachers; your failures and mistakes are your own. Forgive yourself and go on. – If you can, devote yourself to meaningful work that you enjoy, but remember that any honest labor is worthwhile if it contributes to the well-being of your family. – Steal from no one; if you want something, be willing to pay for it. – Entertain no silly ideas about the inherent honesty and goodness of the people; many have high ideals, but many hold to no universal truths other than their own consciences and desires. – Be true to your school.

Trust those you love; with others, verify. – Give no one reason to doubt your word or sincerity. In the face of cynicism and reality that is only virtual, your word is still your bond and your good name all you can take with you. – Unless misfortune or disease strikes you down, you will get old; deal with it. – Few things are as bad as you imagine they will be. Think of all who have taken your path before; they managed somehow.

Being here is a gift you have been given and there are strings attached: You are here to help the universe unfold, and others are counting on you. – Live a good life, and do nothing that would displease your mother. – It really can be a beautiful world if you treat it that way. Don’t worry. Be happy.


Found on a PC in East Central Iowa, circa 2003.

© B.J. Smith

On reading to an audience

My legs shook as I stood in front of the others in my 6th grade class to deliver a mandatory speech, every bit as hard as they shook the first time I stepped onto the high diving board at a swimming pool in West Des Moines.

At Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa

The sheer terror of being in front of an audience somehow evolved – slowly, so slowly – into nervous excitement at the prospect of talking about something I love to do. The debilitating fear of heights is now a healthy respect for the law of gravity that keeps me a safe distance from sheer mountain cliffs and other high places.

Lately I’ve found myself actually going out of my way to get in front of people as an author, to do some readings and even sell and sign a few books. Three more events scheduled! Details sometime soon.

I’m surprised at how much fun it can be.

How about you? Are you comfortable in front of an audience or not so much?

Expecting things to last forever

When I was a boy, I expected things to last forever.

Then I learned that toys and families break, that friends move away and new friends are made, that loves and loved ones are lost and found. That joy and sorrow coexist and that nothing stays the same.

Transient, too, are the wonders of the world, whether shaped by wind and water or formed by our own hands. We mourn their destruction or decay, their ultimate absence from our world.

Then we build again or leave a space to remember, with tears and a smile, what we once had.

Pixabay image

It’s inevitable

Woke up this morning

Woke up this morning
to the obnoxious beeps
of a garbage truck in reverse
that turned out to be
emanating from a new
but defective coffee maker
that almost always drips
some of my favorite dark roast
outside of the coffee pot*
so it sizzles on the warming plate
before making its way
to the countertop
in a hot, brown puddle.

* Under the circumstances, I hesitate to call the pot a carafe or decanter.

Fiction and the old neighborhood

No one has asked me yet, but I have the answer.

The question has to do with the title of my new Detective Red Shaw novel: North of Grand.

Why that? I’m glad you asked.

Much of Des Moines, Iowa, is north of Grand Avenue. It cuts through the city east to west – or west to east, depending on your point of view.

I was born there, grew up there, and lived there for a long time. I worked there. Mrs. Smith and I bought our first house there, a block north of I-235 in a neighborhood known as North of Grand. We lived there when our son was born.

South of Grand was another world. It’s where my mother took me and my five siblings on occasion to marvel and gawk at big, beautiful, expensive homes when we were kids. They were especially awe-inspiring when lit up for the holidays. She took us to a different neighborhood on the southeast side sometimes, too, to see how the truly poor people lived.

We were somewhere between rich and poor, a family of seven in a three-bedroom home on Merle Hay Road. (Why seven? One divorced woman plus six kids. She slept on the sofa.)

In high school I worked at a pharmacy just a block north of Grand Avenue, delivering prescription drugs to old folks, driving a car with a manual transmission that I learned to operate in a panic on my very first day on the job.

The same little store housed the best soda fountain around, with real ice cream made right in the store. I served malts and shakes and cherry cokes and lime phosphates and great sandwiches and other treats to pretty Catholic girls from the nearby high school, to the friendly florist from across the street, to other people that I don’t remember quite so well.

I was a drug-running soda jerk. Last time I checked, the soda fountain was still there.

The people and the crimes portrayed in North of Grand are purely imaginary. Really bad things do happen in Des Moines, of course, but none that I’ve witnessed.

A young guy did threaten to kill me and a friend when we were in high school, but we managed to talk him out of it. One night years later someone reached in our son’s bedroom window at our little house on Iola Avenue and took off with a diaper bag, but that’s the closest thing to crime that came our way.

All things considered, Des Moines is a pretty good place to live or to be from. We’ve been away for years now, but it never seems that long ago.

Why North of Grand? It’s in my blood. It’s in my bones.

Read on.

B.J.