Saturday, May 06, 2006


As a journalist I've always been most interested in the connections between various pieces of information, the themes that tie stories together. Being a specialist has never much interested me.

My view of relationships with people is similarly biased -- that for every two people who get involved with each other, there is a third entity -- their connection with one another -- that is created in the process. Outsiders can observe, but ultimately never really know about the depth of that connection. It's a mystery much of the time even to the twosome in question.

So, over recent years, I've become fond of saying there are these three entities -- person A, person B, and their relationship (A+B=C). Both A and B might be absolutely fine and C can still fall apart -- and often does. After all, half of all marriages end in divorce. Unmarried couples must have an even worse success rate.

But that is only measuring a relationship by how it ends, which is a questionable metric, at best. It takes work for C to work. But until very recently, I always assumed that if A and B loved each other, C would be okay in the end. The main problem, I thought, was when either A or B started falling out of love; then C would be doomed. And that had been my personal experience in life.

I had never had the experience that A and B could remain very much in love, but C would have to end anyway.

Now I have, so I am in the midst of learning this hard life lesson. Or, I assume that is what is going on. So, if I were to play the part of B in this story, and my lover were to assume the role of A, I have become the one left behind as A has moved on, insisting as goes that we are broken up, even when it has been hard to honestly feel that she is right about this.

As we all realize, conventional wisdom dictates that my role as B is to let her go, get over her, and learn how to move on.

As in all such cases there are outside observers, however, who beg to differ, at least slightly. These include those who have been watching what is happening and have insights that we may not have. They may not be able to see into the relationship's opaque aspects, but they see what they see, nonetheless. So today, I received a message from somebody in a far better position than I am to gauge what is really going on with A, because she has known her much longer than I have, and has been closer in most ways to her than I have been able to be. Here is what she wrote me:

"I think time just needs to pass, take great care of yourself and we
shall see what happens. Who knows how this story will end."

This is the kind of sentiment that I expressed several posts ago when I said a story is never over until the writer has found the life-affirming aspect. In my case, although I am doing my best to play my appointed B role -- letting A go and moving on myself -- I can't quite suppress an instinct that my correspondent sees complexities among our possible outcomes that do not fit quite so neatly into A's "break-up" scenario.

In my ABC analysis, however, both A and B have to do their part to keep C's chances alive. One cannot do it alone, can he? Tonight, late on a Saturday in chilly San Francisco, I cannot help but wonder what my counterpart, the aforementioned A, might be thinking and feeling far away from here in warm Mississippi. Can she allow her own ambiguities to continue to breathe when she has made such dramatic moves, and been so blunt with me about what is happening to us?

It's much too early in this process for me to harbour any kind of realistic hope that my correspondent is correct that our outcome remains very much up for grabs. On the other hand, it was B herself who recently said to me, in another but related context, "Anything is possible." I've spent my whole life seeking the truth, and here is what I say: It's not over until it's over.

It isn't over yet.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Lies, Secrets, and Interviewing Techniques

One thing reporters, cops, and shrinks have in common is our supposed skill at detecting lies. There are all sorts of tell-tale signs. The most obvious is how defended the subject of our questioning becomes. If he is angry beyond what might be considered appropriate at simply being asked an innocent set of questions, that's a pretty good indication that he has something to hide, and that we've probably pushed the right buttons.

My own personal belief about secrets is that they don't actually survive very long in this world of ours, anyway. With enough effort, any secret can be outed today. Someone is always watching, so if any party really wants to know what another is doing, all you have to do it locate the right observer, and the deal will be done.

But none of these tools can even begin to compete with our most powerful weapon of all -- our personal intuition. If you have spent your life investigating people and institutions, you learn to rely on your own sixth sense to reveal those awful betrayals and lies and corrupt behaviors that cause so much pain in this world of ours, both personally and politically.

And, when you think about it, there really is no moral or ethical differences between those who betray a personal trust, and lie about it, from those, like our political leaders, who betray the public trust, and lie about that. Either way, the people involved have made choices to hurt people who are depending on them.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Leaf

When I was a boy in Michigan, one summer day I was lying on my back in a field staring up at a large tree. It was one of those windless days, hot and still. I was alone.

After a while, I realized I was staring at a single leaf on the tree that was, for no discernable reason, turning on its stem. As far as I could see, this leaf was identical to all the other leaves, with the exception that it alone was moving.

I watched it for a while more. It kept turning slowly.

In later years, I've mentioned this incident to various people and asked them what they thought could have caused it. Someone suggested maybe an insect or other small creature had caused the motion. Someone else suggested the stem was weakened and the leaf was preparing to fall.

Today, when I was sitting on a bench overlopoking some water near my office, I noticed that despite the stiff breeze rippling the surface of the water, a small item that looked like a red can was holding absolutely still in place. Eventually, I figured out it was not a can but a float, anchored as part of the navigation system in that waterway.

Suddenly, I remembered the leaf again, and my fascination for people and things that differentiate themselves from the crowd. It is a lonely craft, at times, of the journalist, being an observer, a witness. We often seek partners. We always write, seeking to connect.

Even when we aren't sure exactly what it is we are trying to say. Maybe someone who is listening will reflect back to us the truths that, to us, remain elusive.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

All Things Must Pass

Three and a half years ago, I got a phone call that my mother was dying, two thousand miles away in Michigan. She was 87, and had been ill for a few days, but still, the news came as a complete shock. I shut the door to my office at Stanford and cried for a while. Then I told the people who had to know, and called an airline to book an overnight ticket, hoping I would get there in time to see her before she lapsed into unconsciousness. (I did, the following day.)

Next I stumbled out into the sunshine and found my car. As I was driving across a bridge over Interstate 280, I suddenly saw something I never had noticed before. As I looked at the highway wending south through the hills into the October glare, I could see every flaw in the pavement standing out in sharp relief. Dark lines of fill criss crossed the roadway like irregular black ribbons draping it as far as my eye could see.


The other day, mourning another type of loss, this time of love, I found myself driving south to work along Highway 101 when I suddenly realized I must have been frozen in place for miles and miles. My hands gripped the steering wheel, my eyes stared straight ahead. I hadn't checked a mirror or glanced right or left for probably twenty minutes or more. I blinked: Where was I?

My mind clearly was somewhere else. Following another driver in another car thousands of miles to the south and east, as she sped away from me, from us, and from what we had built together. As I struggled to reorient myself to my daily commute, I wondered who would care if I just kept going beyond my normal exit, following the lay of the land south and east in the direction where my love had disappeared.

Most of all, would she care?

I didn't keep going, at least not that day. I exited at the normal place, and went into work as I always do. But the visions of the highway glare both on that afternoon I learned my mother was dying, and on the morning that it hit me my love was really gone won't leave me. Maybe the world always looks different when we are in shock.

Time, I'm told, heals the pain that follows our losses. Time cannot, however, remove the images seared into our brains at those times we suddenly feel so utterly alone.