Before I explain fracturing one of the great literary openings, I want to apologize for the extended period I’ve taken off from writing Monday posts. We’re way past my planned reappearance in January when I said I’d re-open. There have been deaths, potential lives (I’m going to be a grandfather to twin girls), a son moving out of the house, a rescheduled release date of my first three Matt Jacob novels by Polis Books, a decision to issue the fourth (TIES THAT BLIND) in fall of 2015 as both a print and e-book, and a great vacation in Mexico. From here on in I intend to post every other Monday and occasionally have different interesting and talented writers filling in on the off week.

As for the post’s title, it popped while watching an episode of Cosmos. I don’t have many regrets about my lack of formal education and perhaps that lack has added to my incredible delight and amazement as I begin to discern the scope of information and understanding we, as humans, have at our fingertips. In fact, it will take decades to decipher the raw data we receive every day from the rovers and probes that have been sent to space. It makes me tingle the same as listening to Rubinstein playing Chopin’s Nocturnes, Miles, reading Raymond Chandler, or seeing a Eugene O’Neill play.

It’s not just astronomers who might be living in the best of times. We’ve been discovering new species that survive at the ocean’s depths via modern submersible technology. And what of neurologists and neuropsychologists mapping the electrical pathways of the brain and the implications for treating diseases like Parkinson’s, for example. Hell, it’s only been about a decade since the completion of the Human Genome Project and we’re already reaping its benefits, and not just in medicine. Frankly, the discoveries that have occurred during my lifetime have dropped my jaw.

And let’s not ignore technology and the Internet, which has changed the way people interact, the ‘size’ of our world, politics all over the planet, and offers the opportunity to disseminate information faster than our wildest dreams.

Yeah, I know. A lot of people won’t like the paragraph above. I often hear complaints about the loss of the “real” world to the “virtual.” The massive erosion of privacy. Have listened as people derided the “Arab Spring” since the results have been considerably less than desired. I understand the issues, see the complications, appreciate the downsides, but continue to say bring it on.

From where I sit, the potential far outweighs the negative. Furthermore, whenever societies go through seismic change, many people decry the loss of the past. I’m just not one of them. Does anyone really believe the world would have known about the kidnapping of 250 Nigerian girls without the Internet?

That last fact brings me to the second half of the title. With all this great knowledge tumbling into our lives, we still live in a world better known for atrocities than humanity. That, to me, is a sick mind fuck.

People are going to tell me “twas ever thus” and they may be accurate. But until my dying day I’m never going to believe it has to stay this way, that we’re not better than this. That the gentle acts of kindness, compassion, and generosity we see between individuals every day can’t be translated into the greater society everywhere.

Why? It’s isn’t because of anything rose colored. I’ve been lucky to have seen some serious change for the better over the course of my life. From changing attitudes toward Trans*, LGBs, and women to issues that include income inequality–(1% versus 90)–and, to a much lesser degree, institutional racism.

Then add to that the commitment and work being done by those coming after my generation. Despite the economic hardships that younger people now face, they are still growing Teach For America. Still finding ways, inside and outside the system, to work for social change. Again, not just in the U.S., but places where it’s even more difficult and the risks much, much greater.

But yeah, you gotta be blind not to see that way, way too much totally sucks—and it behooves us to never forget. But however ugly it is and/or becomes, there’s really is an awful lot of wonder, awe, art, music, science, and good, good people to love and respect.

(Please remind me of this column when I get into one of my negative rants. Thanks.)

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.
Langston Hughes


  1. welcome back, brother. I hope you return with joy, and the break made space for your batteries of energy and love to be restored revived and re-filled!

    As always, provocative thoughts. As an Incorrigible optimist, I can only say – welcome to the light!

  2. Welcome back. Been a long time coming.

    People are people, old hoss. Teenaged girls don’t go on Facebook or Tweet that they had an average day, or even if they helped an old lady across the street. No, It’s always something more dramatic–in their eyes at least.

    Paramedics don’t write posts or Tweet about prying someone out of a car wreck and stopping fatal bleeding. They do that every day. They’re much more apt to bitch about the government or their wife’s chicken soup or the crummy mileage they get on their truck. Those who work in schools don’t write about the 99% good kids. They just write about the twerps. Waitresses don’t write about the thoughtful and polite couples who tip well when they come in. It’s always about the loudmouth jerks who stiff them.

    You can see where this is going…

    Yeah, we get our news from different sources now. Closer to the action. Even more blood and anger and terrible things. But we’re all as bad as the lamestream press. If it bleeds, it leads. No one–well, very few anyway–talk about stopping at the grocery for a few things for Mrs. Smith, ’cause she’s not been feeling well this week. Nobody ever dares mention they loaned their car to someone–but it happens many times daily. Nobody writes that they sat on their front porch and petted a stray dog and fed it, or went over to Old Man Murphy’s house with their stepladder to change an overhead light bulb for him–especially if Mr. Murphy offered to pay them and they refused to take a dime.

    There are some things that for whatever reason we either see as everyday occurrences, not worth mentioning, or–for reasons known only to ourselves–we just don’t talk them electronically to the entire world.

    M’self, I think the world’s going to hell in a greased hand basket. But when I get away from this damned screen and am actually around human beings, the picture is totally different. There is selflessness. There is kindness to strangers. There’s hope that came from out of nowhere. There are still people that who–when the young mother with two crying kids ahead of them in the checkout lane finds she it $3.78 short of paying for their groceries–will quietly tell the checkout girl, “Go ahead and bag her up. I’ve got it for her…”

    I’m going to write your post off as a delayed reaction to Mexican beer. That will screw a guy up for weeks. And you were pretty wobbly before you left, so it may take a few more days. But there is good in this sad old world, and it does not come from Congress, or the astronomers, or some twit that wrote a new program to more quickly sequence a strand of DNA. The news laws talked about now, and the new discoveries have an achingly long lag time and so are newsworthy.

    Running out into the street and tossing a soccer ball back to the kids playing in Charlie’s yard might have saved a child. Might have kept an innocent driver from facing jail. Might have saved an entire family from shattering and falling apart, or maybe even two of them.

    But we don’t write about that. Just everyday stuff.

    And it happens so often–and is so UN-newsworthy–that a guy actually has to stop and remind himself of that sometimes.

    I know I do.


    • Kent–First, thanks for taking the time and effort to read the post and comment. All in all I think your were making a part of my point. If there’s any disagreement it has to do with the benefits of human achievements and even there I;m not certain we disagree. But yes, The Genome Project is important, the brilliance of our discoveries are important, the ability to be “closer to the action” is important.

      The world has *always* been going to “hell in a hand-basket” but it’s the very examples you gave of kindness, sharing, and concern which has always kept us from getting there.

      And no, I didn’t drink the water *or* the Mescal in Mexico–though I did have some grasshoppers.

  3. Perhaps the bigger question, Zach, is how we address this expanded awareness and access to information to the betterment of humanity. I remember as a teen being struck by the Greek philosophers & wondering if humans 2 centuries later are any more intelligent than they were. I find it so frustrating that we must keep re-discovering and re-learning so much in our development – as individuals and as societies. Yet we do progress.

    One of the greatest failing our educational system (and families, because we have to work in concert to educate our youth) lies in not adequately preparing ourselves & training our youth to be discerning in this overload of information and circumspect in evaluating it. What is fact? What is fiction? What is “yellow’ journalism? What is spun and in what direction? Who said it & why? Is this representative of a/the larger group? Access to information is just a 1st step, what you do with it is much more complex. I am alarmed at how readily people accept data as irrefutable fact (I love Snopes!). Then, have the arrogance to spew forth conclusions based on personal bias, ignorance and ulterior motives…or even mood at the moment. And everyone else runs with it.

    I also agree with a couple comment above that so much of the information widely disseminated (from Facebook to print media) represents the extremes. Sometimes the true power is in the quotidian acts of compassion, inspiration and succor that go undocumented.

    We are going through “seismic change” globally: technological, demographic, cultural, economic, environmental forces are creating a “perfect storm” of instability and transition. The few people that recognize it are ill-equipped to navigate it. THIS is where we need to focus resources, creative problem solving and engagement. And anything from a simple social media post to a world leader’s pronouncement can contribute. The popularized (and much distorted) saying that Edison discovered 700+ techniques that don’t work is not failure, but part of the scientific process holds true. One problem is that today – perhaps because the information can be disseminated promptly – people try something once (without regard to variables and factors leading to success) and declare failure.
    Thus concludes my arrogant spilling forth!

    • Debbie–No arrogant spilling above. Rather it seems like a really thoughtful response to much of what is happening around us. And much of your comment rings absolutely true (and well written). Let me know if you ever want to write one of my “off-week” columns. An d thanks for taking the time to read this and comment.

  4. I have missed your weekly opinions/ideas/information, so it is a great ‘good morning’ to find you here. I love your thoughts here and feel that positivity is just as authentic as negativity. They co-exist. So my attitude is that it always makes me feel more sane to move into the light as opposed to sitting in my funky dark. I truly do believe in our youth. I believe in the future they will discover and invent and create. I like young people tremendously. They will see us through with the same passion we ourselves flew forward with our passion. The evidence is upon us for all the things you name. I could not achieve any of those great things, but feel I did not live in vain. I am still pushing my own envelope. I’m part of all that the twins you await will become. Part of my own newborn grand daughter’s future. Part of the eggs she herself carries within her for the grand daughters she will one day celebrate. I believe in recognizing and naming the darkness, and always readjusting my ideas to the challenges that change affords me. As I grow older it is change that disturbs me, and change that challenges me to my highest artistic degree. Also, I liked very much your acknowledging your lack of formal education as I also do. So that’s interesting on many levels. Education happens when we wake ourselves up and open ourselves to the world around us. It is a gift when given formally, and a gift when given through our natural need to absorb. And I am rambling. Joyfully. Thank you for writing… I’ll love reading your next piece. The World According to Zach…always insightful and stimulating to the grey matter that that floats around above me…

    • Kathleen–Thanks for all the kind words. I enjoyed your comment almost as much as I enjoy your poetry. Thanks for taking the time to read this and comment. I especially liked your comments about the kids. On the money!

  5. I like what you are saying and it goes along with the way things really work quite well. Progress is rarely revolutionary, instead being a gradual series of victories followed by a long series of reactionary conservative battles to overturn these victories. Eventually, if we are lucky and the conservative sentries become even accidently relaxed, then the progress sticks and society creeps along as usual. 3 cheers to progress, however patient we must be to usher it in!

  6. I’ve been remiss. I read your comeback and kept meaning to comment, but it would take more time than I had available. I considered writing “Nice one”… That seemed inadequate.

    Ray Bradbury once responded to the question “Is your writing an attempt to predict the future?” with the nailed shut response, ” I don’t try to predict the future, I try to prevent it.” . Everything old is new again. Differing only in packaging and marketing.

    A thousand miles wide and microns deep sums up our increased information. Of course, you are free to delve deeply into anything that catches your attention, but just as sure; you will stop when you are satisfied, not when you are educated or informed.

    I try to keep a perspective. It’s never simple or what anyone else considers adequate, but I keep it anyway. I refuse to view life as unrelated. Everything has a place. I tend to connect things to previously collected information and group like things together. A good process, flawed only by the recurring patterns.

    I admire your spirit in thinking we’re learning.

    • Bill, who should be paid—truth is I have no choice. I’m just too 60s to give up the belief in our species. And I hope you aqlready know I appreciate and respect your take on our world–whether we agree or not.

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