"I can't think without a pen in my hand!" - Me

"I can't think without a pen in my hand!" - Me

A Friendly Guide to Navigating this BLOG

If you have visited this blog before, you will notice I've made some changes. A Pen in My Hand is going to be dedicated to lighthearted anecdotes and whatever else I feel like writing. I have started another blog for topics that are more serious/spiritual in nature. See the link in the sidebar to visit that blog.

I sincerely hope you find something here worth reading; but if not, take heart. There are about six billion other blogs out there to choose from.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Who Knew?" (or, "The Value of Asking the Question")

“What is the song ‘Hotel California’ about?” a younger-generation friend asked me.

“Devil worship,” I answered without hesitating. “At least that’s what I was taught as a teenager,” I added. “But now that I think about it, it might not be true.”

Memories flooded back to me of Christian school chapel services, during which speakers projected images onto a large screen, pointing out the Satanic symbols on album covers, or played segments of songs backwards to reveal the hidden messages, all in an attempt to frighten us away from listening to “the devil’s music.” It didn’t work. We still listened to the music – not because we didn’t believe the propaganda. We assumed everything the grown-ups were telling us was true. We just didn’t care all that much.
But now I started to wonder.

I turned to Google curiously, ready to question what I had always thought I’d known. Ten minutes and two articles later, I texted my friend back. “Never mind,” I said. “It’s about materialism and the ‘dark underbelly of the American dream’.”

The articles I had found were transcribed interviews with Don Henley and the other members of the Eagles. They were first-hand accounts, direct quotes from the original sources. It was a little embarrassing to read in these same articles Henley's bemused reaction to the “urban legend” interpretations of his song, one of which I had been taught – and had believed without question, until this very minute.


Most of the dogma I was raised with clung to me throughout my twenties. My kids were little, and I wanted to raise them “right”, so I didn’t dare deviate far from how I myself had been raised. But as my kids entered their teens, and I my thirties, I began to give myself a little room to explore. I started systematically examining not just what I believed but the rules by which I lived. I pulled doctrines and philosophies and assumptions out of my metaphorical “box” and examined them one by one. Most of them I put back into the box for safe keeping because I was still fully persuaded of their truth and importance. But others I discarded – some with a touch of bitterness, others with an amused smile.

Today was a good reminder for me. As I discard my previous understanding of “Hotel California”, I am confronted with the fact that clearly I have not finished sorting through the box of my assumptions. I have not consulted primary sources for every view that I hold.

In my college classroom, I warn my students that it is tempting to “read into” a fictional text what you want it to say when analyzing literature, just as it is tempting to take statistics out of context when supporting a thesis. Both are dishonest. But even worse, both are the sign of a person who is more interested in defending their preconceptions than discovering the truth.

Today I learned something new. I set aside an erroneous belief for a correct one. Sure, it’s not life-changing to finally understand the bizarre imagery in a confusing old song. But I think the real lesson for me was how easy it was to find my answer, once it occurred to me to ask the question.

Friday, February 27, 2015


“I can’t face him,” I say.

              “You have to. Just go in and tell him,” my friend urges me. “It’ll be okay.”

              I walk into the glass-walled lobby and scan the crowd, palms sweaty, heart pounding, and then I spot Joe. He walks toward me, his smile warm, his face eager.

              “Hi there,” I say, then stammer out the rest. My voice is higher than usual, my tone pleading. It’s not you, I tell him; it’s me. And I’m sorry.

              Joe’s smile fades a little, and the light dims in his eyes. I waver.

              “I am really sorry,” I tell him. “I would almost buy the Camry just so I don’t make you feel bad. You’ve been so nice.”

              “I would never want you to do that,” he tells me. “You need to buy the car that’s right for you. Even if it is from another dealer.”

              Joe refunds the money I put down on the Camry. We shake hands and part as friends.

              I drive the three miles to the other dealership where Alex is waiting for me. I hurry because I don’t want him to worry that I have changed my mind. He had been reluctant to let me leave. Even the $500 I gave him did not seem to set him at ease about me having another encounter with Joe.

              I walk through the glass doors, and Alex appears in a flash.

              “I told you I’d be right back,” I say. “I fixed things up with Joe. I’m ready to sign the papers.”

              Alex is clearly relieved, and I am glad. I pay the full price for the car because it doesn’t seem right to dicker. Money is really just numbers. Alex is a human being, and I don’t want to make it harder for him to do his job.

              I slide behind the wheel of my new car and take a moment to check my phone. I find two texts and a frantic voicemail from my nephew, who works for a car dealership. He is positive Alex has robbed me, and he is concerned. I text back assurances that all is well, but later, when I am home and in bed, I begin to have flickers of doubt.

I wonder if maybe I have a problem.

I wonder if perhaps there should be something like a medical alert bracelet for people like me. Chronic people pleasers. People who can’t bear to hurt other people’s feelings. People who can’t say no.

I wonder if there should be laws to protect people like me.

What if I could have marched into that dealership with a stainless steel warning badge dangling from my wrist? A badge that let Alex know it would be immoral to take advantage of me because I am a pathologically easy mark. Then he would have said, “The price on the window is for the benefit of normal people, but the real price is $3000 less.”

That would have been nice.

But I won’t think about that. I love my new car, and I am glad that I made Alex’s day. I am glad that I did something to help him send his daughter to Keene State so she can become a nurse.

I am still a little sorry for Joe, but his kids are young. They won’t be going to college for many years yet. Probably right around the time that I’ll be in the market for my next new car. When this car dies, I think I will go find Joe and make it up to him.

Yes, that will be nice…