My Friend Mike

When I was seventeen, my friends and I went to see The Empire Strikes Back at the Phipps Plaza Mall in Atlanta. That night after the movie, I rode back to Lilburn with my friend Mike Garrett. As he drove down I-85, Mike excitedly recounted the best parts of the movie and speculated about how Luke and Leia would rescue Han Solo in the next episode. It couldn’t come out too soon.

Passing into the late-night darkness of Gwinnett County, Mike glanced over from the driver’s seat. “Use the force,” he said — and closed his eyes. He scared the crap out of me.

Mike loved Star Wars. Luke Skywalker always reminds me of Mike. Mike had a kind heart and innocent soul. Always saw the good. Always gave his best.

I hate writing in the past tense.

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Adriana

The woman in the waiting room is anxious. She leans on her cane and looks across at the friend who drove her to the doctor’s office today. She is around sixty and heavyset, with swollen ankles. She has the kind of coppery hair with gray at the temples that betrays repeated hair coloring that is beginning to fade.

“Your ex-husband had this same operation on his back, didn’t he?” she asks her friend. She speaks with an accent, not Spanish, but possibly Greek, Italian, or Portuguese. Her friend nods but her brow tightens. The reminder seems to be a sore subject with her.

“Was he able to lift things afterward?” the woman asks her friend. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to lift things.”

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Corporate Culture Isn’t Culture

Lately, journalists and business pundits have blamed culture failures for every corporate scandal, whether it’s Uber, Volkswagen, or Wells Fargo. Corporate leaders talk of culture as if it is simply a matter of values, principles, and rules.

The way they talk about corporate culture demeans culture.

It’s as if the president or prime minister of a nation picked a few values, slapped them on everyone’s mouse pads and drink cups, and called it a culture.

Culture is not that simple.

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Middle America

Television has never quite gotten middle America. Aside from The Andy Griffith Show and The Middle, TV producers have tended to portray the people living in the small cities and rural towns of the U.S. heartland and the South as backward rubes and zealots. At best, colorful and quirky.

The news media underestimates them. Politicians look down on them. Reality TV lampoons their worst side.

Which brings me to Fixer Upper. The ubiquitous home renovation show opens a window on red state America like nothing else on television. In place of the usual stereotypes, Fixer Upper highlights a small town America populated by people who are much like people living anywhere else in the U.S. They love their families, friends, houses, and hometowns. They work hard, but they have their fun. Aside from Joanna Gaines’ obsession with wood-paneled walls and ceilings, the people on the show seem perfectly normal.

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Charlottesville and the Heritage of Shame

It’s history, they say of the monuments. You can’t erase history.

It’s heritage, not hate, they say of the Confederate flag.

After Charlottesville, after the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists, and the murder of a young woman who stood up to them, how can they stand for anything but hate?

I was born in the South, in Georgia. I grew up there in the 1960s and 1970s. In school we learned about history. When we studied the Civil War, we would learn about the events and people leading up to the war: the Missouri Compromise, Dred Scott, the abolitionists, and the election of Abraham Lincoln. And year after year, when class was over, our friends, some of our elders, would take us aside to educate us about the “real” reasons for the fight.

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Ticking Clocks

The question comes up often: Why don’t I do this full time? Travel. Write about travel. Make it my job, my life.

I envy some of my fellow bloggers who have put careers on hold, sold their belongings, and set off around the world. The guy who writes the voluminous how-to guides, the Australian midwife, the intrepid budget travelers, all those couples on open-ended global honeymoons. It’s what I should have done at their age. In my twenties, I wanted to live abroad. Sometimes I regret that I didn’t. Sometimes.

The thing is I have a career. I’m a writer, an editor, a journalist. I work on magazines. I’ve worked for a long time to become good at my vocation. I endured crap jobs that paid so little I lived on rice and macaroni & cheese. I moved from city to city following the next job.

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