Sometimes I wonder how I keep writing, and then someone will use a new word or introduce a new movie or suggest that beans belong in chili, and clarity ensues. Off to the dictionary, Google, the opinion file/pile. This week, I’d planned one thing, found another opportunity, and will be doing something completely different. As flip as all that sounds, I’ve been awed, surprised, and brought to tears.

The word this week is actually a phrase: the sunk cost fallacy. If you don’t know the term, you’ll understand the concept. If you have already spent money on, say, a ticket to a baseball game, and after three innings dislike the entire experience and want to leave, this fallacy suggests that you are more likely to stay because you’ve spent the money and would “lose” it if you left. Similar themes of behavior can involve sticking with a plan even if it is no longer viable or making a decision based on past efforts. Besides learning a new concept, I was reminded that people know different things; no one knows everything. Age doesn’t seem to matter. A teenager visiting the household presented the concept, and an uncle confirmed it. It also links the book Thinking, Fast and Slow that a third person recommended years ago. We have two approaches to thought: fast, emotional, instinctual or slow, deliberate, logical. As you can imagine, we make more mistakes in that first. All that aside, I was in awe of the teen knowing the fallacy, even though I kept trying to call it the lost money fallacy. I kept getting corrected.

Next, a brief discussion of Bach’s Prelude in C Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier. This version is straightforward and has light effects. Here Lang Lang plays dreamily, with vignettes abounding. “Just short of ragtime” one commenter says about this snappy version. Sally Christian gives a lesson on it, the playing and the harmonics; early on she turns to us and stops to talk, so don’t be distressed. And while she says it can’t be played slow enough, this anonymous person does a reasonable performance in 1:36. Finally, we can have it for 10 hours here. I don’t know why that might be necessary. Only one comment there: “thanks.”

This piece is the only one we all play. It’s easy, for one thing. I used it for an object lesson once, the point being that the ease comes from the fact you only play one note at a time. The eldest of the personal children does an adequate job, (puzzling since he can snap through “Waterfall,” a piece his father came to hate. This kid plays it without as much drama, and I like that he has a Band-Aid on one finger.) The next child plays it well after working on it daily for months; his son can do it from memory. Recently, the youngest sat down to play and did so evenly and effortlessly. Then he took up Riemenschneider’s collection of Bach’s harmonization of chorale tunes, from our music school days. The first page has some harder ones, so I suggested “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” or “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden.” Here is an Australian version from April, socially distanced of course. It is familiar in most hymnbooks, but the first one he tried was in a different key than he knew. The next page had the one he remembered, the one from a hymnbook I have. He played it well, and I was moved to tears. Feelings don’t always have names: proud, happy, sad, glad he was there, any and all such things.

That led to the song “Turn Around,” which I remembered incorrectly as being from The Fantasticks, a popular musical written in 1960 by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. The song from that work is “Try to Remember,” sung here by Jerry Orbach, the actor who played Lennie Briscoe in Law and Order and who also, which I didn’t know or had forgotten, starred in Broadway musicals. The song I was trying to remember was actually “Turn Around.” Not a musical at all, but a song by Harry Belafonte from a 1959 album, Love Is a Gentle Thing. My great-aunt gave me a musical figurine with this melody, but I can’t find a link to it. There is a mother holding a baby and at her back is a little girl holding a doll.

As it happens, Harry Belafonte is still alive at 93, “The King of Calypso.” He is a Jamaican-American with Scottish, Dutch, and Sephardic Jewish ancestry. You probably know “The Banana Boat Song” at least from Beetlejuice, or by it’s famous “Day-O” refrain. Here he leads an audience through the opening in a 1997 performance. The dinner party in the movie and the final scene with “Jump in Line” contrast Belafonte’s styles.

And if that wasn’t enough, I learned Belafonte was (and is) an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He was a confidante of Martin Luther King, Jr. More recently, he endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2016 and was an honorary co-chair of the Women’s March in 2017. But the most interesting little fact came as a surprise: In 1959, his support of an African student initiative gave a grant at the University of Hawaii to a Kenyan student named (of course) Barack Obama, the father of the future president.

This, gentle readers, explains why I continue to write. It’s not always intentional that I discover so many connections. That would take real effort and not serendipitous discovery. Final note: My grandmother never told me what a word meant when I asked. A trip to the dictionary was required. Hence, serendipity, perhaps her favorite word. In OneLook’s etymology dictionary, I learned it comes from a 1754 letter in which Horace Walpole coins the word using a Persian fairy tale about three princes from Serendip who make accidental but fortunate discoveries. Serendip is an old name for Ceylon (Sri Lanka now). Tears and surprises. It was a great week.

Thanks Giving

For the last several years, I’ve shared this post that ran originally as a column 5 years ago in The Dallas Morning News. Since mid-March 2020, we’ve been living in a plague world. There is no place to flee. I have nothing worse to say about that than has been said. And now, an election in which more people voted than in any other–contentious, dividing, unresolved in the minds of some–has heightened already fracturing emotions. The advice below, then, remains adequate, if nostalgic. Pandemic and politics aside, we’ve been getting on each other’s nerves for a long time.

And yet: The sun does come up. It goes down, and the stars and moon come out. We may be hurting more this year, a little or a lot, but it’s still one foot in front of the other. This 11-minute video is perfect, far better than anything I can write. Consider taking time to listen to a “prescription” for happiness and peace through thanksgiving

This week’s picture features stained glass called The Glory Window in the spiral tower of the Chapel of Thanksgiving at Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas. It’s been my privilege to work on the Interfaith Council that calls this beacon its home. I think it’s not only for religious people, however. You can find this meme everywhere: “It’s not happy people who are thankful; it’s thankful people who are happy.”

So this year, with drastically reduced opportunities for families and friends to gather (eating outside, distancing, masking, singing fewer of those Thanksgiving carols we’ve been asked to avoid), let’s do our best to be our best.

“It’s November: The pumpkins are out, along with their various spiced lattes, cream cheeses, and sausages. Christmas trees made a showing before September ended in some stores. Yes, it’s that time again. The holidays. After Halloween, it’s all over but the shouting.

Help is here! Four words to improve your season: Boundaries, expectations, change, and change.

We call boundaries many things. Manners and good sense make the list. Simply put, you don’t do or say things that you shouldn’t. If it were that easy, of course, Thanksgivings with family would go a lot easier. Children would spring forth fully operational, Minerva-like. Love really would mean never having to say you’re sorry. Oh, and no more wars. If the human race were good at boundaries, though, we wouldn’t need police, or parents. In a word, set some, for yourself anyway.

Now we get more personal.  Expectations have ruined many a holiday. Set too high, the right events, the perfect gift, the happiness, the thrills are not enough. Too low, and the time goes by with drudgery and boredom. Expectations are not reserved for parties and pleasantries. You wanted a pumpkin pie made from a real pumpkin with hand-grated nutmeg? Mom bought one at Costco this year. Expecting the reverse works as well. The holidays offer a swell opportunity to monitor your expectations. See the section on boundaries if you need help being quiet. The exception? Do more good than you expect to get.

Even closer to home. Change, twice, is not a mistake. First, you can’t change other people. Lots of clichés help with this—Horses to water comes to mind. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” has more detailed instructions and could avert many a political rampage. Yet many of us would so like to improve our fellows that the idea blinds us to the impossibility. It’s a boundary issue, yes, but a field so rife with abuse that it needs its own category.

Second, you can change yourself. Hurray! Gyms memberships will explode in January. Self-help books do a booming business. AA works. Negative cycles are broken every day. But it’s not easy. Try this exercise: Clasp your hands so your thumbs cross. Then draw your fingers up and cross your thumbs the other way when you clasp. It feels most uncomfortable. Really, most of the time, we’d just rather not. Perhaps it’s no accident that the last gasp of the holidays is that wondrously impossible list, New Year’s resolutions, some of which actually get done.

If you’ve been paying attention here, you may have realized that this piece violates all its own precepts. It gives unsolicited advice and asks you to expect something positive for your trouble by changing. An intrusion, no? How, then, is it possible to instill some sense of “I-know-this-is-right-so-please-listen”?

I’ve struggled with boundaries. For years, I had an account with a florist for the times I made too big a misstep for a simple “I’m sorry” to make me feel better.  As for expectations, one more year is here when I’ve not planned and saved for cruises for all my kids. (Sorry, guys.) Change? I feel pretty good about this one. I’ve asked any random relative to remind me to stop if I begin a sentence with “What about…?” The world is tough. At home, let’s be safe, even if it’s from each other this year. I wish us all a happy and a merry.”

Dear Friend (D), Dear Friend (R)

This topic has been brewing for a long time: How to explain one political side to the other. The task has proved daunting: Some 77 million Americans do not understand why 72 million Americans voted the way they did, and vice versa. Usually one side rants against the other to call names, to sling accusations,  to foment conspiracy theories, (both sides), to claim mistreatment, and to worry about the loss of the country (both sides).

My goal, however difficult, is not intended to sway or convince, only to inform. I could say simply “Read the platforms.” The Republican one is 67 pages long, unchanged from 2016. The Democratic Platform is new, and, just as the Republican one did in 2016, rebukes the policies of the sitting president. At 92 pages long, it covers the same topics and adds others. The problem, of course, is that neither (D) nor (R) would get past the first sentences, much less the first paragraph, without collapsing. 1) “We believe in American exceptionalism.” 2) “We honor the communities native to this continent, and recognize that our country was built on Indigenous homelands.” If you don’t know which belongs to what party, well, you are not reading or listening to anyone’s news.

Having changed the letters below many times, having talked to multiple people on each side, I believe that capturing the essence of the parties’ cores can be accomplished by reflecting on one word each: liberty (R) and compassion (D). I’ll feel successful if you can say, “I didn’t know that. Wow.” We can be friends (a la Ginsberg and Scalia), but a cease from judgment and, more importantly, argument, are likely necessary.

Dear Friend (D),

Liberty. The ability to be free goes back to our nation’s beginnings. From thousands of miles away, an English monarch thought he could tell us what to do. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” formed the basis of all the complaints Jefferson listed, and when the 56 signers pledged themselves to it, they became, officially, traitors. As Republicans, we believe that the gifts and blessings of liberty set our nation apart, that the founders’ sacrifices were not in vain. When that freedom is imperiled, even by its own government, we cannot abide the transgression. We are the party of Lincoln and believe that people do better when free, not fettered; when informed and educated, not manipulated by bias; when expression is open and robust, not threatened with cancellation.

The phenomenon of Donald Trump captures the essence of a continuing battle for liberty. For all his flaws, especially his communication style and language which proved a bridge too far for some Republicans, Trump delivered on promises of liberty from government intrusion through lower taxes, a stronger military (even a Space Force!), a return to strength on the world stage, a lessening of regulations on businesses. He weakened ISIS and brokered a Middle East peace many thought impossible. Immigration policy tightened loopholes better than any fence could have done. He signed the first federal bill implementing reform in the criminal justice system. Before the pandemic, unemplyment rates were the lowest in over 50 years. Despite his unpopularity, 56% of polled registered voters said they are better off now than they were four years ago.  And despite an impeachment and the negative media coverage—90% by some estimates—he received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history, except for Joe Biden.

We believe most people prefer to manage their lives, and if the government must do more than defend the borders and deliver the mail, it should have our consent. We believe in submitting to just laws. When we feel the disdain, the hate from the other side, we do not become “bitter clingers” who defend the indefensible.  But we do choose new leaders, those willing to make startling changes that are restorative.  We do not follow anyone blindly, a principle that would go against the grain of liberty.

To conclude, it is important to dig deeper into the meaning of the word “liberty.” Freedom “to do” is as important as “freedom from.” Trump was not re-elected, but the base of those pursuing liberty increased, as has its availability. Liberty has as its most ancient root pri, which means “love.” We do not believe in loving our country, right or wrong. We believe America is founded on inspired principles within the frame of a Constitution and its amendments, that will, if rightly honored, see her through the ages. We also believe the best way to love others is to respect their homes, their families, their beliefs, and their hopes; to give them a hand up, not a hand out. There will be–with effort, change, and, yes, love of freedom–liberty and justice for all.

Dear Friend (R),

Compassion. Democrats care. While that concept may not seem related to the wording of the Declaration or the Constitution, we believe that the most vulnerable among us must receive our attention. That vulnerability extends to the environment, to the refugees of unnecessary wars, and even to the foundations of a country we love and believe in but know must change. This cause cannot be left to individuals or charities or corporations; the scope is simply too wide. While the rule of law is essential, its applications and enforcement need deeper scrutiny and, in places, adjustments. Regulations go hand in hand with the law to extend additional protections. Education and opportunity must extend to all, not just a favored few.

The old and the young have suffered most obviously. We support programs that address their needs.  All Americans should have access to health care and food and housing. Other groups—long marginalized—have inspired us to extend a helping hand: People of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, Indigenous peoples, workers in low-paying jobs, the disenfranchised, the homeless, and the poor. We have the resources in this country, and we must use them wisely and well to reduce suffering. It is in this regard that we have taken issue with the president. From the beginning, his words denigrated women, ethnic minorities, Muslims, even our beloved veterans and their families. It has been intolerable, causing division and strife at a level not seen in our history.

During the past four years, we believe campaigns designed to frighten the American people have led to serious misunderstandings. Democrats do not believe in open borders, for example. Immigrants and their children must be treated humanely. Nor do we plan to abolish guns. Common sense protections from violence can be improved through universal background checks, a move supported by 90% of Americans. Taxation is nothing new. Democrats believe that those who can do more should pay more. Defunding the police became a catchphrase recently. Not only does president-elect Biden not support this effort, but he has also called for more police—better trained and better able to serve and protect their communities.

As we look at the word “compassion,” we learn just how specific it is. According to Merriam-Webster, compassion means “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” The Constitution is a wonderful document, but we do not believe we can enjoy its promises unless all of us, each of us, has access to them.


Observation 1: All about us, all the time, things are going on that we don’t notice; hidden bits of information are available for the taking. Examples abound. When I was a senior in high school, driving around a neighborhood with a friend, she pointed out all the wisterias growing up into the mesquite trees. Until that moment, I’d never seen the purple-flowered vine. Suddenly, they were everywhere. (I announced “hysteria for wisteria,” but no one thought it was terribly clever.) Just last week, I found the cabin filter in the glove box. Never knew such a thing existed, but it obviously needed replacing. I also learned the term “baking sheet dinners” and found dozens of recipes. My foray into newly-discovered ice cream bread was an abject failure, but maybe you’ll do better.

Observation 2: I’m not the only one. Scientists go about all the time discovering things they didn’t know about, but they seem to take such events in stride. For example, we’ve been living in these bodies for thousands of years. Only last week, in a PET scan, scientists found what they are calling “tubarial glands” in the area behind the nose and functioning as part of the salivary system. I love how the researchers worded the news: “To our knowledge, this structure did not fit prior anatomical description.” In private, they’re probably doing a “Oh my goodness, look what we found!!! dance. Sometimes, of course, such stories are hoaxes. The Memory Palace podcast recently featured the tall tale of traveling stones, a joke from 1867 in which journalist Dan De Quille reported finding metal spheres that, when separated, travelled back to each other. PT Barnum offered him $10,000 take them on tour. Scientists wrote to him from around the world. De Quille tried without success to get out of the loop by directing people to Mark Twain. It didn’t work.

Observation 3: It’s a big world, so such opportunities abound, no matter your expertise. If you’re feeling confident about your savviness, look over this list of hundreds of misconceptions. Usually, if my field is words—grammar or punctuation, usage or plurals, vocabulary or literary terms—I think I know a good bit though obviously not every. When the term “contranym” (one word that can mean two opposite things) swam into my ken, I saw that I should have noticed. When I asked a clever grandchild if he’d heard the term, he said he hadn’t but then rattled off several: “Oh, you mean like…” Yes, like that. I am not as bright as that.

Observation 4: The introduction of new material can be overwhelming or can inspire new thought. Often both, of course. I particularly liked the contranym “leave” and “left.” Kids and grandkids typically leave their things when they leave. When I started working on the poem below, I thought it would be a new and clever sort of thing but found that it led me places I didn’t know about. It wasn’t until I was discussing the problems I was having with it that I saw the solution. So, not simple work but a puzzle. As now-almost-forgotten novelist James Branch Cabell once said, “Cleverness is Not Enough.” Just that way.


When you leave, you leave

Socks, toothbrushes, wolf ears.

We rush through the house

“It’s time to go! Everything loaded?”

But you always leave something

When you leave,

For me to find through the tears

To pile for next time.


The cobwebs remain,

Left only the fly’s dust

Which I dust and destroy

But no laughter stuck there

Caught in the spinning out of days.

I wish I could catch hollers, smiles

Screams of delight

Or horror or hurt knees.


Oh, just stop: Cleverness will not do.

I miss you, all of you, but perhaps especially

The four-year-old, whoever he is right now

On his way to five.

I need how he loves me.

It’s not a technique,

Some new figure of speech.

No. I just need to hear him

Call my name. A tear comes.

There. That’s better: Joy.



Yes, it’s a real word. One of the grandkids had it as Word of the Day recently. We have “tomorrow,” of course, and “overmorrow” is the day after tomorrow. Archaic, but useful…today.

First, some disclosures. I am a Republican, technically a National Review Republican, not a Trump Republican. In January 2016, as Trump was heading to the party’s nomination, the editors at NR ran this scathing piece called “Against Trump.” They called him a menace, and the party retaliated. More recently, an issue ran three articles: yes, no, and maybe. Perhaps you’re not interested enough to read all three, but the point is that the magazine is no cheerleader for the president though in some quarters he has gained some respect. That’s sort of half of a half. And if this isn’t clear, you should know that I am a Republican after years of saying I was independent. You have no right or reason to know for whom I vote, however. In the past I have been wrong discussing my vote and those of others. Jay Nordlinger, a favorite at NR, left the party after Trump was nominated. He discusses both that decision and the vital importance of a secret ballot here.

Second, I was in an elevator with Joe Biden in August 1974. So was my husband. I think we said hello. Irrelevant, of course.

Today, November 2, may be remembered for many reasons, not the least of which as the day before a momentous, contentious election. It’s overmorrow we need we need to think about, maybe worry about. Various scenarios are offered below.

Biden wins decisively. Polls have him ahead by a little or a lot. On the 538 site, here, you can see a zillion polls. A landslide for Biden is unlikely, though not without its proponents.

Trump wins decisively. One pollster, Robert Cahaly, who was right in 2016 when no one else was, says this is a possibility for the Electoral College at least; here is his website at The Trafalgar Group. Cahaly is an outlier. A landslide for Trump is unlikely, though one hears that in certain quarters.

There is a literal tie. This happened only once, in 1837. This is probably more than you want to know, but to summarize, the Senate votes for a vice president, with each member getting one vote and a simple majority deciding the winner. It is the House of Representatives that elects the president, with each state getting one vote. If the House can’t come to a 26-24 win, they must work until they do, essentially. The vice-president-elect governs until a majority is reached, but if the Senate has not been able to reach a decision by January 20, the Speaker of the House takes the reins. This writer sees the situation as reason enough to abandon the Electoral College. This writer gives five reasons to keep it.

There is a delay, briefly. This is likely because of the length of time some states allow mail-in ballots to come in. Landslides aside, this would be my bet, but the wait should end by the end of the week. Vastly more are voting early this year than did in 2016; the New York Times says more than half of the number cast then have voted by now. (Update: In Texas, more than entirety of 2016.) Two reasons: the pandemic and concerns about the post office.

There is a long delay. Some of us remember the 2000 election between Al Gore and George Bush. Florida’s results were not in on election night because the margin was so narrow that a recount was mandated. The resulting discrepancies (see hanging chad) led to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision that favored Bush. Only 537 votes separated the two when the recount ended,but Bush won Florida and the Electoral College with 271 votes. Contentious, indeed. (My freshman comp students were asked to write an essay using process analysis to explain the winner for the day after the election. They couldn’t, obviously. I used eyeshadow to give myself a black eye, symbolic of having assigned an impossibility. The students understood, but it was interesting to watch my colleagues’ reaction. The ones I knew well asked, “What happened to you?!” My artwork was that good. The ones who didn’t know me well just ignored it. Lessons learned.)

Realistic fears: Already people hide their conservative views; only 22% of Trump voters were willing to share vs. 90% of Biden’s. I know that from the experiences of friends on mine who made it very clear that I was never to disclose their information to anyone. Sadly, that meant I couldn’t even tell them about the others. What used to be simply “political correctness” has evolved into “thought police” and “cancel culture.” Further friend and family schisms are likely. Don Lemons’ unfortunate wording for “getting rid” of “delusional friends” chills. Violence is assumed, regardless. Trump has engendered such hate that his win obviously will incite. A Biden win will not turn Republicans into maniacs but may embolden violence against them.

Unrealistic fears: Re-education camps (sensitivity training? see this article by John McWhorter at The Atlantic about Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility; McWhorter happens to be Black.) Targeted identification of conservatives (markers for the people that people like Keith Olbermann wants “expunged.”) Loss of free speech. Dissolution of the Union. Civil war. Financial collapse. Communism or socialism won through smiles and promises made by  power-hungry, vision-less millionaire politicians. Pooh-poohing my unrealistic fears (wait: that belongs in realistic fears.)

Conclusions: None. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or overmorrow. No one else does either. A pandemic has only heightened already-existing tensions. Tribes and echo chambers, idle hands and fearful minds–many factors have culminated in out general malaise. The curse “May you live in interesting times” (probably not Chinese ) rings true anyway. Actions for today: Put in some food storage and water. We learned about toilet paper and Clorox wipes this year, too. I assume you voted. Pray 2024 will bring better options. Have a good breakfast. Call a friend. Finish that novel. Best plan: Enjoy today.