NOTES FROM AN ISLAND Day 322 - February 8, 2021 - Wotthehell

In my youth, my family loved bookstores. No outing was complete without an hour or more browsing through the luxuriant shelves. We would fan out to our perspective pleasures: David would head to the Fantasy section or the Classics, Allison would beeline to SciFi, my mother would peruse the bestsellers and pick out five or six titles that would serve both her and my father. All of them were avid and omnivorous readers. For me, it was sampling, unsure of my reading destiny.

My father, by and large, would stand in the front of the store, benignly smoking his pipe (it was a different time) and content in the happiness of his brood and the knowledge that my mother would provide him well with reading material.

On rare occasions though, my dad would walk into the store, perhaps moved by my aimlessness, take a volume off the shelves and hand it to me with a definitive, “Read this!” Which I always did, grateful for the guidance and the personal contact.

One book that he gave me was a poem called “archy and mehitabel” by Don Marquis.  Now largely overlooked, it relates the musings of a cockroach named Archy who lives at a newspaper office and communicates with Marquis through typewritten notes. Because the roach hits the keys by jumping on them one at a time, he cannot capitalize and rarely wastes his time and energy on punctuation. The whole poem cycle is a flow of free verse and association that talks in a hard-bitten and world-weary voice about life and death and disappointment.

Archy’s cynicism is balanced by the other title character, Mehitabel, a cat who claims to be reincarnated from Cleopatra. She recalls glorious and pampered times in palaces surrounded by servants and feasts while all the while recounting her dingy and sordid current existence surviving in alleys and garbage cans. Tragic as she is, she is never beaten down. She is imbued with hard worn wisdom and fatalism. Life is difficult, bleak and chancy, but it is life and there will always be opportunities to live.

Mehitabel’s favorite interjection is “wottheehell” which rings like a refrain through her wonderful songs. This remarkable neologism captures a sense of both disbelieve and of perseverance. It reflects the shock that bad things happen (What is going on here?). But it also contains a cosmic shrug (Who cares if they happen?). It is both vulnerable and defiant.

By the time I graduated college, I had read “archy and mehitabel” dozens of times (much like father had in his youth) and then set it aside. I have only recently discovered it afresh, during a time of turmoil and uncertainty. I find it comforting both as an old friend and a new source of inspiration.

Not quite as cynical as Archy, I do not have the brashness of Mehitabel, able to toss away privation with the arrogance that I have earned and deserve better things. But wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of courage and the certainty to shrug and dance, lilting in time with your own sense of assurance and immortality. “there’s a dance in the old dame yet” says Mehitabel the cat “so wotthehell wotthehell”





NOTES FROM AN ISLAND, Day 318 – Feb 4, 2021 - Verse


Hope lies

Just beyond a windowpane
Beyond a moment
beyond a whisper or a

Hope waits

Bare-faced and welcome
Beyond a needle
beyond a touch or an

Hope sits

At open tables
In beery suds
in uncorked bottles and shared

Hope bides

With eager patience
In watchful dreaming
in expectation and

Do you see her still?


NOTES FROM AN ISLAND Day 315 – February 1, 2021 - Unity

Many, many months ago, when I was writing these notes daily, I turned to the old trick of alphabetical subject matters. I got as far a T before losing my taste for it. The intervening gap is serendipitous because it allows me to pick up where I left off with a timely and fascinating word that seems to be on everybody’s lips right now – Unity.

It is true that everyone, particularly lawmakers, is bandying the word about like an Apple Jack jug at a fish fry. To quote Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, however, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

For most people, Unity is more apparent in the absence than in the presence. It is easy to tell when two sides are at opposite ends of a spectrum and are stubbornly refusing to accept the validity of the other’s ideas. We recognize when there is a failure of accord, largely because everyone is so quick to point fingers at the other side and define the chasm between them. But too many assume that Discord is the opposite of Unity.

Cries of condemnation follow anybody exerting their democratically earned authority, saying that to move forward on one agenda against the will of the minority is fomenting anger and division. It is convenient that the most strident cries for Unity come from that very minority.

Disagreement is not mutually exclusive of Unity, because the latter does not mean to march in lockstep. There is no single idea on which everyone agrees. To find such a cause or ideal is beyond the scope or even the desires of a healthy society. We all need our own beliefs because all our needs are unique.

Unity is not agreement of thought but of direction. We don’t need to agree that we should eat only pizza, just that we should do something to slake our hunger. We do not need to agree that everyone should be given healthcare coverage by the government, just that everyone should have access to medical care. We do not have to agree with a specific legislation, just that the need for action is vital.

Unity is not capitulation, nor is it really compromise. It is the ability to define a common goal and the will to work to achieve it through some means that is somehow acceptable to the greatest number of people. Unity is negotiation and cooperation. It is give-and-take.

Most important, Unity is a situation where everybody at the table has a voice that is respected and considered. By extension, Unity means that everyone at the table must in turn respect and consider all other voices.