Forgotten Art: Norman – Mel 6

A reply to: A letter from Mel


Dear Mel,

First, an apology. I am sorry I haven’t written sooner. I wanted to write to tell you the good news, but life got busy.


In your last letter, you wrote:

“I see that you now refer to Aari as your stepdaughter. Is it what I believe it means, or would my celebration be premature?”

Well, truth is, in my last letter, I referred to her that way as a type of short-hand. Or maybe it was wishful thinking. Or maybe, some combination of both.

But by now, and this is part of the reason for me writing so late, she is, officially, my stepdaughter.

Yup, her mom and I got married.

And, your premature celebration was right on time! You always have been good luck for me. Thank you, Mel.


It was a real wedding, with Ira looking story-book, and all our friends and family in attendance. Well, almost all. My uncle Jasper was coming down with a flu and didn’t want to spread the germs, so he stayed home.

Everybody there had a great time. Everyone except my sister, that is.

She wore her grumpiest face throughout the ceremony and even during the party after.


Ira said she cornered her before the reception to ask philosophical questions about the institution of marriage, like, “Isn’t it a patriarchal relic?” And how does she reconcile it with her feminism?


But Ira was too happy to let Meadow’s cultural analysis stifle her mood.

We danced til dark.


After all the guests left, Ira insisted on doing the clean-up herself.

“We can hire someone to do this tomorrow,” I said.

But she wouldn’t hear of it.

“But is this how you want to spend your wedding night?” I asked.

“I want to get us off on the right start,” she insisted, “and leave nothing undone. Besides, this won’t be how I spend the whole night. This is just the opener.”


I never saw a more glorious dishwasher. Of course, I stayed up with her to dry and put the dishes away.

I’ve seen her face first thing when I wake for many a morning. But now, it feels different. It feels permanent, somehow, and like maybe, it’s a step towards undoing–or at least getting past–all the bad things that happened to her and all the lonely selfish days of my own youth. We’re a couple now, official-like.


I was happy to hear about your horse. I hope both your boys are healthy and that Gari’s ear infection cleared up OK.

In other news, the family business is going well. We’ve got more investors than we need now. I guess solar energy is all the rage these days, and I’m busy. All the staff we kept are working hard, and we’re even hiring new folks. We are, even after our previous set-back, ahead of schedule.


I got a lot to be thankful for, Mel. Sometimes, I stop and think about who I was when we first started writing–a lonely guy, struggling with my business, struggling to find connections, struggling to do right.

Now, I’ve got the business on track, in good shape financially and, more important to me, in line with my environmental ethics. No more windmill raptor deaths in the Windenburg hills! Solar power firing up our town.

My home life is on track, too, more full than I ever imagined it could be.

I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for writing in the busy future. Each day seems more full than the next. Aari has said that she would like to write to you, so if you’re able to write back, maybe you would have the patience to read a letter from her. Or maybe she could write to your boys, and you could read over their shoulder to learn what’s up with us.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever know how to thank you for being a friend and bringing me good fortune. But I bet that you can see into my heart, so look close. All this shining rose color? That’s for you. Thank you.


Wishing you lasting happiness, good health to you, your boys, and your horse, and…

Love always,


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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 9

A reply to: A letter from Newt


Hey, Newt.

Hope you don’t mind me writing you long-hand. It was Aari’s idea. Apparently, we’ve got to do everything together now. Ha! That kid.

Well, I am sorry it’s taken me so long to reply.

I hope you didn’t give up on me.

Life’s been taking pieces of me lately, and the biggest pieces deal with time and energy.

We just came out of a tough situation at work.


I think I explained how we were switching from wind to solar. Our financial team and I had it all planned out: how we could cover everyone’s salary during the switchover so we wouldn’t have to lay anyone off.

Then, it turns out that the company we contracted with to build the resonating bowls (I think I explained about those, right? Solar panels constructed on the theoretical basis of Tibetan singing bows?)–anyway, it turns out that company was using substandard materials, so there was NO way their units would produce the volume of energy needed to serve our community and clients. It was a bust.

[Hang on a sec–Aari’s getting ready to have a melt-down…. ]


[OK. I’m back. She’s OK. It was just long division.]

So, long story short and a dozen meetings with attorneys later, we’ve contracted with a new company and we’re eighteen months behind production schedule.

It’s not a total disaster. Many of the employees volunteered for a one-third reduction in salary during the interim. I can’t accept it. It would mean a hardship for some of our families, and if some of the company takes it, and some don’t, then that erodes morale. I’ve got savings to put back in the company. My sister and uncle said they’d re-invest to tide us through. We’ll make it without having to reduce payroll. I sort of made a promise to myself that we would make this change without laying off anybody or making anyone go without pay.

[Oh, God! Aari just said, “Last problem. Finally! Do you have any idea what I’ve been through?” Oh, that kid cracks me up!]


Anyway, financially, what with the business complications and all, it’s tight for us. But it’s worth it.

If you see one of those singing bowls–Man! A piece of beauty! That’s the future, Newt.

How are things with you?

It’s been a long time since I wrote–I’m sorry, again. I’ve been thinking about you, though.

Fill me in!

[OK. Aari just finished her homework, and I promised her that once she was done I’d watch the puppet show she wrote. She’s been practicing all week. So I’d better start wrapping this up…]


Aside from trying to resuscitate our flailing business, I’ve been a family man.

Yes. That’s right. Me. Solitary Norm. Windenburg’s most eligible… no more.

Aari came home from school one day and declared me her “Primary Care-giver.”

“What about your mom?” I asked.


“My mom’s my mom, silly!” she replied. “‘Primary Care-giver’ is for the person who’s not your mom and not your dad but who takes the best care of you–that’s what ‘prime’ is for–that can be! And that’s you!”

Funny kid.

She asked me the other day for career advice. The only thing is, her chosen career is ninja.


“Um… try to develop your hiding skills?” I told her.

Wrong advice!

Now, we need to allot an extra half-hour before school, supper, and bed-time so we can find her.

Things are pretty sweet with Ira. I mean, they just keep getting better. I felt a little worried when I had to direct so much attention to the business for the past few months. And then I felt nervous she might be jealous or something, with Aari laying claim to me.

But she seems pretty happy. And, like I keep saying, when she’s happy, I’m happy.


Hope it’s all going OK with you, Newt. Remember: Life doesn’t have to be great to be good. Just hanging in there, getting through a day, and then a next, sometimes, that’s the most important work that can be done.

I’d better get out there and watch that puppet show. It’s called “One Thousand Reasons Not to Cry–And if You Don’t Believe Me, I’ll Beat You Up.” It’s gonna be a classic.

Wishing you the best,


p.s. I’ll try to reply quicker next time!

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 8

A reply to: A letter from Newt

Hey, Newt.

So, read your letter. And I’m writing back.

While I was reading, I kept flashing on this story my uncle told me when we were hiking at the bluffs.


It’s about the charnel ground. Have you heard of that?

It’s a burial site. But for Buddhists. It’s also a literal place for transformation. Figurative, too.

See, according to my uncle, that’s where the bodies would be left–above ground, so that vultures and jackals could feed on them and all the flesh and stuff would decay and then the sun would bleach the bones. So when the process is done, all that’s left are clean white sun-bleached bones. But the way there stinks.

My uncle had way too much fun describing it:

“Vultures descending, tearing the sinews, gulping down eyeball. Entrails stretching across the plain. Jackals sneaking in after dark, howling with their strange laughs that sound like a child’s cry, grabbing the muscles, gobbling the rotting fat. Hair, loose, dry, brittle hair, flowing everywhere.”


My uncle is strange. I never know what he’s trying to say. Growing up, I called him “Uncle Obtuse.” He wasn’t going to volunteer the point of the story. So I asked him.


He shrugged. “Life is messy,” he said.


At one of the first group sessions I went to at HoH, they showed a film. The purpose of the film was to show how PTSD is PTSD, no matter from what or experienced by whom. So, they interviewed war vets. They interviewed witnesses of 9/11. They interviewed people who experienced domestic violence. They interviewed refugees.

Afterwards, the group talked about how they felt watching the film.

When it was my turn, I started analyzing the camera angles, which were generally really low, looking up at the person, or really high, looking down, and so the effect was one of disassociation, and then I started analyzing the lighting, which was weirdly bright, and then I started talking about the effects of digital film vs. celluloid. Everyone listened. I thought I was doing pretty well.

Then the group counselor asked, “What did you feel watching the film, Norman? What do you feel now?”

“I don’t do emotions,” I replied.

One woman spoke up, “If you don’t do emotions, emotions do you.”

I stopped doing emotions when I was was a kid. It was a day that started out as the best day of my life, and ended up as the day I stopped doing emotions.


My dad took my sister and me out to see the wind turbines.  It was a big day–Dad was featured in all these articles for bringing wind power to Windenburg, and he was making a name for himself.

At the time, I kept half an eye on the sky. I was a big fan of raptors and other birds of prey. When we reached the field below the turbines, I spotted an osprey. At the time, they were my favorites. I had this idea they were lucky. I watched it soar. I was about to point it out to Meadow when it flew too close to the wind-blades. There was a white explosion of feathers. And then–nothing. Not even a trace.


I didn’t know how to respond. Dad and Meadow were talking, facing the other way. I didn’t know how to tell them what had happened.

I decided to not say anything. I stacked the emotions. I didn’t know what else to do. My dad was my hero. He was this big environmental leader guy. And his big project that was getting all the attention was killing birds of prey. The dissonance was too much.

When I took over his business, I still had my emotions shelved. I knew ethically that I wanted us to find a way to do wind power without killing birds. Did you know that some years up to 250 birds of prey were killed? That’s owls, osprey, falcons, kestrels, eagles, vultures, and raptors of all kinds.

After I met Ira, I decided I had to do something. That’s why we switched to solar. It’s gonna cost us. It’ll cost the business big-time. If we encounter any delays or set-backs, we’ll probably have to issue bonds to see the project through. But even if it bankrupts us, it’ll be worth it. I can get a job as a chemist.


We’ve been learning in group about the ways that trauma and stress change the brain. It’s true that if you don’t do emotions, emotions do you. Something got split off in me when I turned away from what happened to that osprey. That’s what allowed me to run the company for so many years.

We’ve also been learning that the heart has its own mind, and just like our brain can influence our heart, our heart can influence our brain. It’s a two-way path.


Ira, Aari, and me, we each learned the same exercise in our groups. It’s called “heart breathing.” For a slow count of five, breathe into your heart. Hold it and rest. Breathe out for five. Pause. As you do this, start breathing from your heart, as if it is your heart breathing in, breathing out.

Don’t think about how it doesn’t make sense. Just do it.


Aari does it when she starts getting mad. Pretty soon, she’s laughing again.

The trick is to remember to do it.


I took Meadow up to the hills the other day. I wanted us to look out and see what it was like without the turbines.


Yeah, I shut the turbines off two weeks ago. They’ve been dismantled.


I looked at the sun. That sky stretched. Next time I see a falcon or osprey cross that sky, I won’t have to turn away. It’s safe. I can let myself feel the thrill of watching those wings spread.


So, here I am writing. Newt, I think it’s probably best if you don’t count on me to help. I honestly don’t know how. I am not the kind of guy who helps other people or who even knows how to be helpful, especially when it comes to emotions and feelings.


You’ve got your therapist for that, thank God.

I’m a friend. I stick. Maybe you can share with me what you learn about doing emotions. I got a lot to learn in that area.

Keep writing, buddy! Keep hanging in there through messy life.



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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 6

A reply to: A letter from Newt


Salut, Newt!

Sorry it’s taken me time to write back. I had no idea having a kid around would keep me so busy. No surprise to you, I’m sure.

The latest thing Aari wanted me to do was to make her a puppet theater. I took an old chest of drawers, sawed it up, put it back together, and now we’ve got a theater good enough for Punch and Judy. And I’ve got splinters to show for it.

Man, I am so sorry to hear about your cousin. I think I read about him in the Gazette. A real hero. Our company has a hero’s fund, so if he needs any help with medical expenses, or even paying mortgage or rent when he gets out, just let me know. I can pass on the word to the foundation president.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said about me being in denial about my feelings.

In fact, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

When I think, I turn to art. I guess I never mentioned to you that I’m an artist in my spare time, did I? Maybe I did.


I haven’t just been thinking about Ira. I’ve been thinking about work, too.

Soon, Windenburg Wind and Sun is going to become Windenburg Sun. In fact, we’re going to do it before raptor breeding season. I’ve decided I can’t have another osprey, eagle, hawk, or falcon on my conscience. Even if it means losing money. A lot of money.

I’ve been thinking over the records and plans, over and over. We can do it. We’ve got enough in savings and investments to tide us through for a few years, to cover salaries and expenses, while we complete the conversion. I’ve worked out negotiations with power collectives in other areas to take up the slack until we’re back up to capacity. It’s going to be tough. But it’s also going to be really good.

I wish I could tell you what’s going to make it so good, but we might be going public. You don’t want to get caught up in insider trading scandals. Neither do I. Let me just say this: Imagine Tibetan singing bowls. Now dream big.

So, the other day, business was on my mind. And Ira was on my mind. And I was stuck between the end of the legacy of wind power and the beginning of something really big.

You know how they say some things are worth waiting for? I figure they’re right.


So I did what I always do when my mind is stuck and I need inspiration–I turned to art. I went to the art center in the city where my sister’s art group meets. Ira’s in that group, too, but she wasn’t there that day. She had to go to a parent-teacher conference. Something about Aari “acting out.”

I tell you, that kid has a mean streak. I love it. To me, it signifies strength. There is no way that what happened to her mom will happen to her. It’s the other guy we got to watch out for. Aari is not going to end up in a shelter for abused women, but anybody who tries anything with her might just end up with broken nose.


I found my sister in the studio. Class had just ended.

She could tell I was deep in it.

“How’s the painting feeling?” she asked.


It felt all right. Kinda twisted, actually. I chose all the wrong colors: blacks, grays, and red.

“Here,” she said. She handed me some clay she’d been working. “Don’t look at it. Just feel it.”


I pounded that clay for a while. I started loosening up. My mind got quiet. You should try it sometime, next time you’re stuck in the thoughts.  Grab a lump of clay and pound it!

I was starting to relax when one of Ira’s friends came up to me. She’s also in Meadow’s art group.

“You’re Norm,” she said. “You know, you should really talk to her.”


We sat down. She told me that Ira talks about me all the time.

“I don’t know what you’re waiting for,” she said. “I mean, you two live together, right?”


I told her I didn’t want to ruin a good thing.

She said there was a fine line between not ruining something and spoiling it.

“You know,” she said, “the Rose Petal Festival is tonight. You should ask her. I’ll watch Aari.”

“You’d do that?”

“Certainly,” she said.


So I called up Ira, and when her friend got to our house, Ira caught the speed rail and met me at the festival.

It had this really hip vibe. Everybody was feeling it.


Ira and I headed into the karaoke joint across the way. She walked right up to the stage, as if she were some rock star, and started singing.

The way she moved her hips. I’ll tell you. That Ira is something.


I sat at a table and watched her finish her song. When she joined me, I told her I’d never seen anyone so hot before.

I was feeling it.

She looked at me, and she went white. The whole mood changed, just like that.

“I can’t do this,” she said. “Not yet. I’m just not ready.”


Now she’s never told me what happened that caused her and Aari to end up at that shelter. I’ve never asked.

Once, I saw the scars on her lower back when she was getting out of the shower. She covered up real quick, and I turned away and didn’t say anything.

I don’t know how to ask about that.

I can understand that she’s not ready to go there. It hurts.

I also know that some things are worth waiting for, and I decided right then that will wait forever for Ira. I decided I would wait as long as it took.

I headed across the way to the festival. I found the easels they had set up for the public art event, and I painted, just so I could release some of these feelings.


As I was finishing up, Ira joined me.

Pardon moi, monsieur,” she said. “‘Ave you zeen mon petit chat?

It’s our running joke. I realize it doesn’t sound funny at all when I write it. But it cracks us up every time.


The tension dissolved. We ordered some phở from the vendor and poured ourselves some tea from the festival tea house.

And we started to feel pretty good.


It got late really quickly and we had to catch the speed rail home.

I slept on the couch that night. I wanted to give her space so she would feel safe. If that’s what she needs, that’s what I give. She’s worth it. Like I said, I’d wait forever for her.

The next morning, we had breakfast together in the study while Aari played math games on the computer.

Ira was full of stories and jokes. It was like she was a different person from that white-faced ghost that sat next to me at the table in the karaoke joint.


When we finished eating, I did the dishes and then helped Aari with her homework. She’s already doing elementary chemistry, and I get such a kick out of helping her work out equations and formulas.


When Aari went out to play with her new puppet theater, I joined Ira in the living room.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “You’re amazing.”

I’m not making this up, Newt. She actually said that to me. I guess the little things make a difference. Things I don’t even think twice about, like making the puppet theater, scrambling eggs for breakfast, doing dishes, helping Aari with her homework–even sleeping on the couch the night before–those things actually mean something to Ira.


I felt a little weird when she told me how much those things meant.

“Cupcake,” I said, “I don’t do those things to make you think good about me. I don’t do them because I’m trying to get physical with you, if you know what I mean.”

She took my hands then. “I know that, Norm,” she said. “And that’s what makes them special.”


She told me then that when she’d said that she needed time, I’d given her time. And now, she didn’t need anymore time. Now she was ready.



She was ready.


I tell you. I gotta tell you. Some things are worth waiting for. And I would still wait forever for this woman.


Newt, you gave me the courage to talk to her. It blew up in my face. And then once the smoke died down, there she was, smiling crooked at me.

I’ve got a feeling my smiles will never stop. I got you to thank for it. You’ve been here all through that awkward time when I first met her. I’m no lonely bachelor anymore. I’m somebody’s boyfriend. It was a long haul to get her, but with you on my “support team,” as my sister would say, it’s worked out great.

Thanks, pal.

Now: What can I do for you?


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Forgotten Art: Norm – Mel 3


Dear Mel–can I use your full name? Semper Ad Meliora,

Always onwards towards better things!

That’s what my life has become since we started writing.


Did I tell you that my sister is a folklorist? Not just by training and profession, but naturally. She taught me how to listen to a story to hear it true.

It’s with half an ear and a whole heart, that’s what Meadow says.

That’s how I read your story.

Meadow always told me, “Truth comes through. Trust the story.”

She’s right.

I know she’s right because your story hit me that way. I see the difference in my life since I began receiving your letters.


Do you remember how lonely I was when I filled out my profile?

I wonder if that’s why you chose to write me.

It was after you wrote that my life started always onward towards getting better.

That’s when I met Ira. She’s my best friend, and more. She lives here now, with her daughter Aaradhya.

Yesterday, at homework time, Aari griped, “Why do I gotta do algebra again?”

“Always strive for improvement!” Ira replied, half-hearted with tongue firmly in cheek.


But Aari laughed. “OK, Mom!”

“No, she’s right!” I said. “That’s it! Always getting better! That’s life!”

I thought of you, though, Mel.

I don’t even consider your sister–I mean, why? When the other force is this–this movement towards improvement–why even give an ounce of attention to the other possibility?


I am not a lonely guy, anymore. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.


And my best friend Ira has a home now.

And so does Aari.


Do you know what sounds my house used to be full of? Crickets.

Now, my home is full of laughter.


I’ve never been religious. Are you religious? Are you made of faith or based on faith?

I’ve never had much truck with faith.

I had science. I had business. I had the bottom line.

But now, I’ve got gratitude. And it makes everything else feel like a pale substitute for life.


The funny thing: I don’t feel like I did anything to deserve this.

I filled out the pen pal profile. You wrote me. I wrote back. My life changed.

It’s like I’ve been playing a video game. (Well, actually, I have. Ira and I play all the time.) But it’s like I have actually been playing my life like a video game. One move. The next. It starts coming at you quick, quicker, you just respond–level up.

Always level up, that’s what it’s like, Mel.


Always leveling up.

Thank you,


P.S. When are Zee and Gari’s birthdays? I can see if I can find you llamacorns–or maybe even something better! Aari’s got these sweet rubber ducks made of natural rubber and to squeeze one! I know it sounds weird, but truly. You haven’t lived until you’ve squeezed one of the eco-friendly, fair-trade, Spanish-natural-rubber ducks.

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 5

A reply to: A letter from Newt


Hey, Newt!

I am so glad you understand me about the appeal of collectibles. I was getting worried we’d have this area of miscomprehension. But you get it! Yeah! It’s just like collecting trading cards.

My latest acquisition is something really special: It’s an original Spanish-rubber rubber ducky made from 100% organic, fair trade rubber.

Right. Now that I write that out it sounds a little… OK. Hold the innuendos. It’s not what you think

I’ve been looking for more natural rubber products. The company needs to make some investments, and I’ve been pushing for the natural rubber industry. It’s more eco-friendly.

The antique collectible cat that Ira collects, Mistress Mew-Meow, is made from natural volcanized rubber. It’s a fascinating process, developed in the 1840s–it was patented in the U.S. in 1844 by none other than Charles Goodyear–you’ve heard of him–so, this process involves adding sulfur to the rubber to form cross-links between the polymers, thereby rendering the structure more durable and firm.

Chemistry lesson for the day–at no charge, I might add!

Anyway, the llamacorn that I collect is also made from vulcanized rubber, which is why it’s so hard. (Not so the rubber ducky, which remains a soft, pliable rubber.)

The other day, Ira and I were out for a walk in the neighborhood when a teen tourist tried to buy my pink and purple vintage Lollicorn–the one I told you was so rare.

I made a show of asking Lolly, “So would you like to have a new home with this nice young lady?”

But Ira was all like, “No. Get real. The vintage pink and purple Lollicorn is NOT for sale. Do you KNOW how rare these things are?”


Man, did I tell you? She’s an awesome woman.

We had so much fun the other day. As soon as her daughter ran off to school, Ira turned to me and said, “Babe! We’re free!”

GeekCon was in the city, so we hopped the speed rail and got there in time to enter the Ultimate Gaming Contest.


We didn’t win. I was distracted because I kept looking over at Ira. She looked amazing in that gaming rig. And she said she was distracted by my jokes.

I can’t help it. I can’t seem to stop cracking jokes when she’s around.

We were hungry and thirsty so we headed over to the bar across the street, and we ran into my sister.


She and Ira go way back.

Smooth, my sister is not.

“So are you two like a couple now?” she asked.

Ira IS smooth.

“Well, I’m not sure we’re together together,” she replied. But then she went on to talk about how we’re best friends and how she and Aaradhya moved in. I kept thinking that labels mean nothing–except for maybe the label of “best friends,” which, for some reason means a lot to me.

And all the time, I had this raging grin.


My sister looked at me, smiling, too.

“That’s so nice, Normie,” she said. Ah! I just wanted to pull her hair like I did when she was a bratty twelve-year-old! I settled for laughing with her.

“You’re laughing with me,” I told her, “not AT me.”

“Right,” she replied, laughing all the harder.


Look, I tell you: things are just about perfect.

I’m not sure I know what you mean or even believe you when you say you weren’t in love with your wife. I mean, you had kids. What does “in lust” even mean? Can you separate the two?

I’m not so sure I can.

I guess it makes me a dweeb to admit that. But hell. I’m a dweeb. I’ve been called worse.

So, you asked, “Maybe if you are in love with Ira, you can tell me what it’s like.”

I’m not really in touch with my feelings, so I can’t tell you what it feels like.

But all I know is that I’m smiling all the time.


I guess that’s what it feels like. It feels like a smile that starts with an irrepressible grin and spreads inside until I laugh at the stupidest things.

Like algebra. Who the heck laughs at algebra?

But last night, Ira was explaining to Aari what “solve for x” meant, and I couldn’t stop laughing. “X.” What the heck is so funny about that? “Solve for x.” Even now, it makes me laugh. It must have to do with Ira’s delivery.


I’m in touch with my thoughts, Newt, even if I’m clueless about my feelings.

And my thoughts seem to be all wrapped up in Ira and Aari. I want what’s best for them. I want them safe, happy, healthy. For me, I want them to live here, but if Ira were to tell me tomorrow that she got a great job in Timbuktu, and they had to move, I’d be happy for her. Of course, I might sell Windenburg Wind and Sun and move with her, but the point is, if she’s happy, I’m happy.


Thinking about her happiness has become like my number one mental pursuit these days.

I know it’s whacked, but the thing is, it makes me happy.


And I think it’s doing something good for her, too.

Did you know that people can laugh in their sleep?


Well, this letter was all about me. Sorry about that, man. I guess maybe that’s a sign of being in love. I’ve always heard that there’s no one more self-absorbed than new lovebirds.

It’s a disease, man, but it’s a smiling disease, and I’m not really interested in the cure.

I’m sure I’ll be over it the next time you write, and then I’ll be able to be a better pal.

For now, maybe you can just overlook that I’m a dweeb and a sap and chalk it up to a rash case of raging grin infatuation.

Stay cool, Newt.


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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 4

A reply to: A letter from Newt


Hey, Newt.

Ugh. You can’t tell from my keystrokes that the tips of my ears are bright red, can you?

Don’t worry. I waited to write. I wanted to make sure I got my cool back. Wouldn’t want you to know I was embarrassed out of my skin.

Dude! Where did you grow up? Antarctica? Didn’t you watch the Lambastic Legends of Llamacorns when you were a kid?

A Llamacorn, my friend, is a cross between a unicorn and a llama, and the vintage Llolicorn edition issues are special and very rare.


You have no idea how sought-after Llamacorn action figures are today. I’m talking triple–sometimes even quadruple-digits. Those things are keen, especially the Lollicorn editions.

Look ’em up online. And if you happen to notice the gold and blue one for sale anywhere, let me know. I need it to round out my collection.


That’s something Ira and I have in common. We both collect antique toys. Though she happens to prefer Mistress Mew-Meow.

Stop, Newt. Don’t even go there. It’s not what you’re thinking.


Ok. Now my ears are red again.

What was I even going to write?

Oh, yeah. My homework. Well. I blew it. Failed the course. It’s not for lack of effort. It just hasn’t been right yet.

Ira came over right after I got your letter. I was ready to do just what you instructed: “When you’re sitting next to her, yawn and let your arm stay around her shoulders.”

The thing is, she sits next to me, but not next to me. I’m in the love seat. She’s in the chair. Adjacent. Next, but not next.


She’s my best friend, man. I don’t want to blow it with her. Besides, once we get talking, I have so much fun, I forget about everything else.

Still. I gotta admit. She makes me feel… you know. Like, very much so.


We did almost have a moment the other day. We were playing Party Frenzy on the console. Somehow, our arms got tangled up. Like interlaced. Like linked. Arm-in-arm. I was so into the game, I sort of didn’t notice. I just felt kinda warm on one side.

“Um, Norm?” Ira said. “My arm? I can’t get my guy to the dance floor!”

We were on the dance floor level of the game.


I apologized and let her go.

I’m kind of not worried, though. I think I’m going to have plenty of opportunities to get close to her.


You see, I kind of asked her to move in.

Now, don’t go yelling at me about being too fast! Or putting the cart before the horse. Actually. I guess I put the horse in the barn before I even got the cart out. Or. Whatever. Don’t go there.

The thing is, she needed a place.

I asked her one day, “So we always meet up here. Let’s go to your place one day! How about tomorrow?”

“There’s just one thing,” she said. “I don’t have a place.”


Turns out, she’d been staying in some shelter, all this time. That’s why she always wore the same black outfit. That’s why her shoes are these old canvas worn-out things. Here I am, one of the guys with the most resources in town, and my best friend, the person I care most about, is half a step away from being homeless, living in a shelter for women and children.

Oh, yeah. Did I mention? She’s got a kid. A cute, spunky little girl named Aaradhya.


Well, they don’t live in a shelter anymore.

That’s right. I asked them to move in.


So, maybe I haven’t made my move yet, but Ira made her move–she moved right in with me!

I tell you, Newt. I’m starting to understand your feelings about being a family man. I may not yet have even gotten to first base with Ira, but she’s made it to home with me already: literally and figuratively. She’s sharing my home, and she’s planted herself right smack square in the hearth of my heart.

I never thought I had it in me to love this deep.

And I haven’t even yet started to tell you about my new sorta, kinda, maybe-one-day daughter.


I owe it all to you, man. I never would’ve had the guts to ask her to move in if you hadn’t inspired me to speak up for what matters. If I didn’t know how much a guy like you could have a soft spot for family and a good woman he loved, I probably would have let her go right on living there in the shelter and wished her well. Maybe I would have written the shelter a check from “an anonymous benefactor” and designated the funds for her. But it wouldn’t have brought near the joy that opening my home has.

Thanks, man. I only hope that you get to regain some of the happiness you lost. I owe you, big time.

Your flunking student, who’s learning more than you can know…


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Forgotten Art: Norman – Mel 2

A reply to: A letter from Mel


Dearest Mel,

I’ve been thinking about your question every since I got your letter:

“What are your feelings towards reincarnation?”

I’m not sure what my feelings towards it are. Like I said, I’ve been thinking about it.

In fact, I’d say, since I read your letter, reincarnation has been on my list of top-five-things-I-think-about. (The others, in no particular order are: 1) When will another vintage Llamacorn be available on e-Bay? [preferably a gold and purple one to round out my collection] 2 a) Will we ever be able to develop a bird-safe method of harvesting wind power, and 2b) if not, how long will it take us to switch Windenburg Wind and Sun to Windenburg Sun and Sun?, and 3) How can WW&S attract more innovative physicists?  and 4) Why?)

My thinking about reincarnation didn’t get me far, though, except to realize that I’d never thought about it before.

I decided to talk to people. First question: Whom did I know well enough I could ask them about their feelings or thoughts on reincarnation without them thinking I was a nut-case? Or… to reframe: who already thought I was a nut-case and wouldn’t mind talking with me about subjects esoteric and strange?

Of course, my kid sister was first on the list. I ran into her at a party at the Von Haunt Estate.

“I need your educated opinion, Meds,” I asked her. “Reincarnation: Yes or no?”


“Yes!” she replied. “Think about it, Norm. In every culture, there are references to it in folklore! And I’m not just talking about Hindu, Janis, Sikh, or Buddhist tales. Even in folklore from Christian cultures, you can find modified versions–for example, Cinderella’s mother becomes a dove, another departed mother becomes a juniper tree. There are so many instances!”

“But those are fairy tales,” I told her.

“Sure, yes,” she said. “But fairy tales always point towards experiences so deep in our collective unconscious that they can only come out in story! And, what comes out in story always indicates truth so strong it can’t be suppressed. Not even by religion or science.”


Then, a few nights later, I made a new acquaintance downtown. OK, so he didn’t know me well. But he seemed open to conversation. We were talking about stars. I said something about stars dying. He says, with no prompting whatsoever, “It is not death. It is the perfect cycle that goes on everywhere.”

“Kind of like reincarnation?” I asked.

“Ah, well. That is. Um, yes,” he replied. And then he had to leave suddenly.


My uncle Jasper was next on my list. Now, Jasper lives for this type of talk.

“Reincarnation. Yes or no?” I asked him.


Of course I didn’t get the short answer. First he launched into a recitation of reincarnation in literary traditions. Then he began a dissertation on “what can be known and what can be sensed and the difference between the two.” Then he said, “Now, Bess. She had memories. And Bess’s memories are not to be doubted.”


Turns out, my aunt had three spontaneous memories of past-life experiences. Each one hinged around a moment of decision, and each decision affected life themes for her in this life. In one, she was a peasant who avowed never to live in poverty again. In one, she was a warrior who promised to protect his family and tribe. In another, she was abandoned by a faithless husband, and she swore never to let that happen to her again.

Jasper said he believed the memories, since each had been made at what he called “a decisive moment of power.”

“The themes,” said Jasper, “these were what were ripe for her in this life: to learn to trust abundance; to protect kin and clan; to choose someone who could be faithful.”


That got me thinking. That got me feeling. I loved my aunt Bess. She was a good person, Mel. I think you would like her. So, if this was part of what made her good, maybe there’s something to it.

My niece was there that day Jasper and I talked. I decided to ask her.

“Did you have another life before this one, Jena?”

Of course, she had. She’d been born in a refugee camp. Coming here, getting adopted by my sister–that was reincarnation in and of itself. I know it’s not the kind you’re asking about. But it’s dying to an old life and being reborn in a new one, all the same.


The last person I asked was my best friend Ira.

“I’m taking an informal poll,” I asked her. “Reincarnation: Yes or No?”


“Oh, yes!” she said. “Most definitely!”

She pulled out Mistress Mew-Meow from her pocket. You see, Ira is also a collector of antique toys.

“Take Miss M-M,” she said. “This was once something very different! What’s plastic made of?”

“Oh, hydrocarbon. Natural gas. Coal. Minerals. Plant stuff.”

“Very different, yes?” She squeezed Mistress Mew-Meow to make her meow. “And now! Here she is, a little cat with a bright smile! If that’s not reincarnation, I’m not sure what is!”


I’m not sure that’s reincarnation. That’s more like the recycling of matter into another form. But then, that was what my new acquaintance called it. When a star dies, its matter becomes the stuff of life somewhere else in the galaxy.

I thought long and hard. Eventually, I realized what I’ve always known: what my dad taught me when I was knee high. Science only goes so far. I’m a scientist. My scientific training schooled me in the method of proposition, trial, blind-trial, repetition, quantifying, measuring.

I’m a scientist. But I’m also a human. So my feelings, my feelings are that there is so much more that lies outside of the territory of science: there’s folklore. There’s religion. There’s experience and memory and the collective unconscious. There’s feeling. My feeling, when I think of my sister’s bright eyes, when I think of Aunt Bess’s big heart, when I think of my niece’s little scowl, and when I think of Ira’s laughter–my feeling is that there’s more to us that endures and finds its way into a new form–carbon-based or otherwise–than not.

Some things, like the starlight in another’s eyes, simply can’t not exist.

I’m not making sense. But then, that’s why I usually stick to the realm of thought, rather than feeling.

And you, Mel. What are your thoughts–or rather, feelings–about reincarnation?

Is it silly for me to say that I hear your voice–or rather, a voice I imagine to be yours–when I read your letter?

I hope you keep writing.



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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 3

A reply to: A letter from Newt


Newt! Hey, man. I hope you like this letter. I’m sending it snail-mail. Throw-back to the past, geek-moment.

Do you think paper letters are geeky? More like retro. I use them all the time for work. We do business with a bunch of old-school folks. Kinda weird, since we’re a new technology. But the investors like paper. How weird is that? We’re a green business.

Ever notice how sometimes values-one-says and values-one-does don’t line up? We see that all the time with our investors.

I digress.

Your letter got me thinking.

Do you want to get back with your wife and kids? Do you want to patch up a marriage you weren’t happy in? I know it’s none of my business, and you’ll do what works for you. But, dang, man. You sound so happy as a single guy, getting to be with anyone you want, anytime you want. No strings. No fuss. No muss.

I just don’t really see you as a family guy.


Like I say, none of my dang business. I’m just thinking: if you’re happy as you are, and your wife and the kids are off starting a fresh life somewhere, why not just make it official, send them alimony, and be done with it?

Not my business, though.

What is my business is trying out your advice. Dang! You give some good advice!

I went back to the café, alone this time.


Turns out my uncle Jasper was there, anyway, but he was back in the reading room.

Something crazy happened. Really weird.

This guy, one of the baristas, sort of caught on fire. Spontaneous combustion.


He expired, man. It’s that tragic.


See what I’m saying? Life is short. We were all pretty shook up about the expired barrista.


Especially Uncle Jasper. He was horrified. One guy who’d rode the train from San Myshuno with my uncle thought it was radical, as in cool. Weird and twisted is what it was.


I’d had enough. I mean, it was really unsettling.

I rode the RapidTran to another café out on the waterfront. I tried to get my mind off what I’d seen with reading.


I was still shook up. I didn’t notice who was there, who’d come in, who was working, nothing.


Then I heard somebody humming a song. It was the theme song from Llamacorn Lollicorn–you remember that show?

I turned, and there she was. My barrista. Looking right at me.


Quick as I could, I tried to remember all your advice.

OK. I had it memorized. Yes. That much of a geek.

“Take your laptop or tablet and pretend to work.”

Dang! I’d forgotten my laptop. I hoped the romance novel would do.

“But watch her enough that she knows you are interested.”

It was kinda hard to watch her because she was watching me.


“Make sure she sees you checking her out and smile at her when she makes eye contact – maybe act embarrassed that she caught you.”

I was about to smile, when she started cracking up.


Instead, I went over there to see if I could read her name tag, like you suggested. She didn’t have a name tag.

“Hi, I’m Ira,” she said. “You’re Meadow’s brother, aren’t you? You’re Norm?”

“That would be right,” I said, “Norman Mccumber of Windenburg Wind and Sun.”

Right. Casual, I’m not.


She giggled. Ira. She’s got the cutest giggle.

We started talking. I guess she knew a lot about me already from my sister.

Man, we talked about everything. Wind power. Photovoltaic cells. Star Trek TNG. Kadinsky. Antique toy collecting.

I told her about my latest acquisition, a vintage Lollicorn edition purple and pink llamacorn.

She actually squealed. “That’s Ramoo! I’ve been looking for him forever!”


Before we realized any time had passed, her shift was over. It was past midnight, we’d talked all night, and now it was time to go home.

Here’s where you’ll think I’ve got the moves down: I asked her if she wanted to come over the next morning to check out my new vintage Lollicorn. Didn’t even mention I had it in my pocket the whole time!


She showed up early the next morning. Dude, she wears black even when she’s not in her black barista uniform! Very classy.


We talked some more. I asked her how she was. She said she was good. We talked about our favorite breakfast foods–she’s a steel-cut-oats-with-chopped-apples-walnuts-raisins-and-cinnamon girl. I like popcorn for breakfast.


She said she looked on e-Bay, and there were currently no Lollicorns available, anywhere. She said I could get maybe four figures for mine. If I wanted to sell. But we both agreed I’d be crazy to sell.


Then I remembered to open the door.

Yeah. We’d been talking through the front door for about fifteen minutes. Smooth it wasn’t. We sat on the porch and talked some more.


I could listen to her forever. I could talk to her for longer.

I told her things I’d never told a soul, not even my sister, and she took it all in, and she didn’t look at me like I was weird. Even when I was weird, she looked at me like I was her friend.


And then it was time for her to head off for her shift.

“I didn’t even get to see the Lollicorn,” she said, as she was leaving. She had a little pout.

“We can easily remedy that,” I replied.

So guess who came back over after work?

I showed her the llamacorn. “It really is purple and pink!” She said. And she laughed. But she wasn’t laughing at me. She was laughing because she liked it. And I started thinking, wondering, if maybe, she might like me, too.


So, thanks, Newt. I seem to have a friend. Not a girlfriend. But a friend who is a girl. We’ve got a lot in common, and I think she’s cute. And that’s a start.

How can I pay you back, buddy?

Take care,


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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 2

A reply to: A letter from Newt


Hey, Newt! You wrote back! Guess that means we’re pen pals.

So, how do we go about this sort of thing? I tell you about my boring life, and you tell me about your exciting one?


Hmm. I’m wondering if I didn’t get the right “How to Be the Boss” manual, because my experience heading up the company doesn’t include one-on-ones with any good-looking women, unless they’re the chemists and engineers in R & D, and then we’re talking formula and design, not dinner at five.

I guess I still follow my dad’s rule: no dating members of the team. Sort of had it drilled into me.

You asked if I could some use moves or pick-up lines.

Will you totally not respect me if I say yes? Because, yes. I could.

I was at the café the other night with my sister and uncle, and I saw the cutest woman in braids and a black barista’s outfit. I’ve always had a thing for baristas.


I stood at the end of the line, like a moron, trying to think of something witty to say.

Meadow, my sister, was no help. She had her nose in a book.

Finally, I came up with, “I hear dark roast is higher in caffeine, but lighter in acid. Smooth, you might say.” Then I was going to ask her what she was drinking.

But she was gone.

My uncle, Jasper, was there. “What’ll you have, Norm?” he asked.

“A hot cup of plum,” I said. And my uncle ordered me Chinese plum tea.


My sister was in a total good mood. “We should do this more often,” she said.

Maybe it cramps my style to go out with my uncle and little sis.

What do you think?

I do it because it’s fun, and they’re good company.


I try to act cool, but I am such a dork.

If you go to a party, and you see a guy in the center of the room, talking to all the cuties, that guy’s not me.

I’m the guy at the bookshelf, reading up on mycelium. I’m the guy standing on the back porch, looking up at Venus in the arms of the crescent moon.


I guess that’s why I love hanging with my sister so much.

She must be a bigger dork than me because she thinks I’m cool.


I’ve been thinking about your advice on working out. I run. But maybe I’ll hit the gym. I got myself a cool jersey from my favorite team.

Yeah, I’m a big Raging Llama fan. Are you?


All right. You’ll probably want to stop writing once you learn how clueless I am.

But hey–you could be my mentor!

That’s an even exchange, right? You teach me how to get to know a few nice women, boost my cool factor, and I’ll help you check off that therapy homework.


Take care, man.


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