Life’s What Happens While We’re Making Other Plans

Out of the Blue...

Photo of woman headed out to surf

Beatles/John Lennon fans will recognize how I’ve paraphrased him here, slightly. And while nobody ever asked me, is this line not in the running for one of the wisest things anyone from pop culture has ever said? It applies to all of us, sooner or later. Whether we’re one of those over whom life washes like a wave or we’re a compulsive planners, sooner or later, life teaches us that no matter what we do, we’re really not in charge.

Nyra's Plan

Nyra Westensee has successfully transitioned from college to her first career professional position in marketing. She’s not proud of how long it took and she’s still not truly independent, but she has a path she’s following to get there—and she’s pretty sure the light she sees at the end of the tunnel isn’t an onrushing train.

But her dream of a live-aboard sailboat balancing her love for speed with enough comfort to be home is still out of reach. And while there’s no way she’s giving that dream up, she realizes it’s not going to be this year, or the next…or probably even the year after. She really needs something to do while she’s not working. Something that keeps her energized while she saves for her ultimate goal.

Ambush at San Onofre

Remembering how much Kip—her older brother—enjoyed surfing, Nyra decides to take surfing lessons. After some looking online, she runs across a surfing school at San Onofre State Beach, sponsored by a surf shop in San Clemente whose name she’s heard of somewhere. The reviews are mostly positive, she notes. The least favorable are posted by reviewers who became frustrated by the learning curve. Not a problem, Nyra thinks. She is athletic, a strong swimmer and doesn’t give up, easily. She knows what she’s getting into, and she’s prepared to stick with it.

What Nyra is totally unprepared for is the instructor. Tai Abrega is drop-dead, traffic-stopping gorgeous. Less than a year after two disappointments in rapid succession, Nyra is still nursing a slightly wounded heart. But Tai is interested and it’s obvious. Nyra is painfully aware of her own physical flaws and can’t help wondering why Tai can’t seem to keep his eyes off her for long. But Nyra can’t help soaking up his attention and loving it.

Romance had been the last thing on Nyra’s mind when she decided to take the class, and she doesn’t really believe in serendipity. Yet here it is, literally daring her to ignore it. Tai sticks to her thoughts like warm taffy. And she likes it. What started out as “no way in hell,” is rapidly morphing unconsciously into a tentative “maybe.” Will she get her heart broken—again? Maybe. But maybe Tai will be different. Maybe Tai will be  the gift she never expected. Her own “life that happens while she was making other plans…”

The Year of Maybe, Act II of Nyra’s Journey continues Nyra Westensee’s journey from a thoughtful young woman with more questions than answers to her dawning maturity, sophistication and life of promise and purpose.

D.B. Sayers is a retired, decorated Marine officer turned corporate trainer turned full-time author with six titles in print and two more in the works. Snag your free copy of Dirk’s short stories, entitled Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives here.

The Loudest Voices and Binary Choices

Not that anyone asked, but I'm not buying it...

People who know me well also know I have a pet peeve or two. And when triggered, I’m inclined to rant. I’m working on resisting the (at times) irresistible temptation, but if I’m brutally honest with myself, it’s an uphill battle.

Occasionally, I try to make a virtue of it, by observing that my rant means I care. I do, by the way…but that’s not the point. As I said, I’m working on it. This month, however, I have to cop to acquiring a new pet peeve — or perhaps just finally becoming aware of it. Either way, bear with me, please.

Binary Choice in the fog
Nobody asked me, but intuitively, my answer is no. Few things are that simple.

Pernicious Certainty

It has become a cliché to observe we are an increasingly polarized nation. Thoughtful men and women are quick to point out it isn’t just here in the United States. True, as far as it goes, but I am guilty of caring most about my home.

So as the United States crawls tentatively toward the 2024 elections, we are reminded of how our stove piped, for-profit media serves to narrow our vision, encouraging us to see our choices as binary. Yeah…I know. With only two practical alternatives by way of political parties, they are binary, for all practical purposes. And if we’re getting our news from Fox or MSNBC, it’s hard to imagine an alternative, today. But an August 2022 Gallup poll suggests more Americans (40%) identify as Independents, than identify as Democrats (30%), or as Republicans (24%).

And if my casual conversations on the street are an indicator, I’m by no means the only one with a distaste for the hyperbolic rhetoric of the extremes. Yet the de-facto model of a divided, (and essentially binary) America persists.

Occam’s Razor and Reductive Simplicity

Most of us are familiar with the popularized version of Occam’s Razor, to wit: “the simplest explanation is usually the right one.” And on the surface of things, this feels intuitively true. And after all…who wants needlessly complex explanations or solutions? KISSKeep it simple, stupid! Right?

And that’s not an entirely naïve of silly notion. Occam’s Razor can be used to pare down conundrums to cognizable (and theoretically manageable) dimensions. But does that make sense, in all cases, or do we do it simply because we’re more comfortable thinking in those terms? Is it possible that our habits of thought are at odds with how our world functions? Let’s wonder together for a few minutes and see…

In a Maelstrom of Uncertainty

Most of us have (at least) a nodding acquaintance with independent and dependent variables from our science, mathematics, or philosophy studies. And are not many of us inclined to think of variables in those terms?

But in the “real” world, most complex systems are driven by a constellation of interdependent variables. Variables that affect each other, in a muddy confusion of conflicting and interrelated outcomes. And the clues we can glean from observation are often in conflict — both with regard to causation, and the range of remedies available. As Donella “Dana” Meadows, author of The Global Citizen and Beyond the Limits once observed:

“Words and sentences must, by necessity, come only one at a time in a linear, logical order. [But] Systems happen all at once. Their elements are connected not just in one direction, but also in many directions simultaneously.” As quoted in Systems Thinking, 3rd Edition, Managing Chaos and Complexity,” Jamshid Gharajedaghi, © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved.

If there was ever a time when reductive thinking was counterproductive, surely it's today!

As readers of some of my other posts know, I view our time as a paroxysm of transition. A transition at least as profound as the one accompanying the Industrial Revolution. Between 1760 and 1900 (+/-), industrialization swept away the medieval system. In the process, it demolished many of the prevailing political, economic and social myths of the Middle Ages.

The social, economic, and political churn of the Industrial Revolution feels eerily familiar, today. Then as now, the changes of the period erased old norms, along with many of the rigid social strata that until then, had been taken for granted. Are we now on another historical cusp, similar to the Industrial Revolution?

If so, perhaps part of our problem tracks back to some of the conventions of thought and communication derived during that period. Perhaps the linear thought processes and the communication skills learned then serve to channel our thought processes along binary lines. Much as water tends to seek the easiest path downhill. Perhaps we humans remain an odd mixture of logic and magical thinking, resorting to whichever works in the moment, all to conjure up certainty and security, soothing our anxiety.

Complications and Courage

But in today’s environment, both certainty and the resultant sense of security may be more illusive than real. That said, since binary thought is tidy and easier to grasp, we’re still inclined to think in terms of binary alternatives — without regard to whether the inferences drawn and decisions made using that model are in our best interests.

In our multi-variate future, our ability to hold several thoughts in our head at once, some of which feel intuitively contradictory, may be necessary. It’s a spooky proposition, insofar as interdependent variables and multi-variate analysis are both fraught with uncertainty. It has always been so in the past, whenever the paradigms are shifting. How much more so must it be today, when all the paradigms seem to be shifting all at once?

But like it or not, we’re all going to have to get more comfortable with unaccustomed levels of uncertainty. The age of cocksure certainty and loud voices, haranguing “the other side” over binary choices must end. The age of Uncertainty awaits — for which kinship, humility and optimistic courage seem to be the only antidotes.

D.B. Sayers is the author of six thoughtfu and thought-provoking  books with two more on the way. You can subscribe to Smoke Signals, his newsletter at the top right of this page.

We’re the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For

Trump was right about the problem, but wrong about the solution

Woman in the desert looking for something
In Search of (Photo courtesy of Katerina Kerdi on Unsplash)

It's not working...

“Why the hell did so many Americans buy Trump’s lies?” one member of my author’s group wondered obliquely, just before the 2016 election. It was a common question to which many self-appointed thought leaders have since trotted out an almost bewildering range of answers.

As his administration was wracked by scandal after scandal, the inevitable follow-up questions were, “How is he getting away with it?” along with the sotto voce observations, “If Obama did this…” And “Why are Republicans” going along?” Especially now in 2023, with Trump gone, why are the likes of MTG and Lauren  Bobert apparently trying to outdo Mr. Trump?

Theories abounded and still do. A few explanations most of us have heard include demographics, Dems’ rhetoric alienating the working class, too many “Hillary haters,” gerrymandering, etc. All true — up to a point. But I wonder: Are we and the pundits overlooking an uncomfortable truth? One that few seem willing to consider?  Maybe Trump was right!

Truths Hiding in Plain Sight

End-stage capitalism and decaying democracy are real things, and don’t most thoughtful humans recognize this painfully apparent truth? Washington is a swamp of double-dealing, cronies — all lobbying perpetually money-starved legislators. Many of those legislators then “misrepresent their actions to constituents, to phrase it more politely than their actions merit. All the while, way too many gerrymandered districts immunize the hypothetical stewards of the public trust from the consequences of their corruption.

That Trump was clearly the last one likely to drain the swamp does not invalidate the truth dribbling from his frequently lying lips. The swamp most definitely needs draining. But is there another dirty little secret most of us are ignoring? We—the people—are encouraging this pattern of behavior by permitting it. We uncritically allow ourselves to be seduced by corporate America’s deceptive messages bombarding us on television, in print, social media — or all the above.

We all know lobbyists have woven themselves so inextricably into the fabric of our government, that even well-meaning legislators struggle to implement the changes we (and they) all know are needed. And many if not most of us have shrugged our shoulders, muttering under our breath that it’s hopeless.

In so doing, we perpetuate the tyranny of a minority. We’re allowing the privileged few to leverage bottomless advertising budgets, while the for-profit news media consciously shapes opinion to artificially divide us.

So, yeah. Trump was right about the decay in the system. He was just wrong about the solution. Not only can he not fix it, he would actually make it immeasurably worse. And now that he plans to run in 2024, we need to resist the temptation to underestimate him again.

"Through a glass, and darkly..."

In a sense, Putin’s war on Ukraine is a salutary reminder of where the journey to the dark side leads. The tyranny of a strong man or even the quasi-democratic dominance of kleptocratic billionaires rarely works out for most of us. As seductive as the notion of “getting things done” may seem in our age of partisan gridlock, it often reads better than it lives.

Bombed out Homs, Syria
Homs, Syria another of Putin's Playgrounds (Image under license from Big Stock Photo)

When the perpetuation of power becomes our decisionmakers’ principal focus, detachment from reality often follows. Arrogance, fear or both increase distance from reality. And there are way more toxic examples of “populist” leaders like Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, and Putin than historically benevolent autocrats like Marcus Aurelius.

Inevitably, necking down decisions to a few “best and brightest” plagues decisions with the limitations of the few deciders. Putin’s decisions leading to the morass in Ukraine is a case in point. If he felt answerable to the Russian people writ large, would he have invaded? I think his silencing of the independent news outlets in Russia is an eloquent answer. We must not permit ourselves the self-delusion of believing it can’t happen here, where Republicans now suggest “Ukraine is not our friend and Russia is not our enemy.”

Disruption as a Catalyst

Returning to the U.S. as it is today, Trump may ultimately prove to be the necessary disruptive force we need to re-energize our representative democracy. But as Professor Mastrovik cautions in West of Tomorrow, “never confuse the necessary with the good.”

The damage done not only by Trump but the many taken in by Fox Noise’s reinforcement of his falsehoods will require our concerted and collective effort to repair. Some on this platform have opined we may already be too far gone. Too dysfunctional to get back to a place where renascence is even possible.

And in the interests of honesty, I have doubts of my own. But my doubts, however well founded, do not relieve me of my duties as a citizen to work toward what I think is right. And the self-appointed realists notwithstanding, who has had the greatest impact on our world? Is it the pessimistic realists or the dreamers persevering in the face of “hopeless” odds?

Surely most of us will acknowledge it’s the latter. The Spartans’ defense of Thermopylae; the soviet defense of Stalingrad in 1942; Martin Luther King and so many others’ epic struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. Or the Ukrainians’ courageous defense of their way of life, at immense and continuing cost all come to mind. These are the stories that fire our soul with renewed hope.

Nobody asked me, but...

As painful as these uncertain times are, we’ve been here before. The nearest recent analog for what we’re going through today seems to me to be the Industrial Revolution. The confluence of the Enlightenment and rapid technological advancement swept away what was left of the Middle Ages, giving rise to the modern world as we know it.

Today we enjoy the benefits. But history reports that the benefits weren’t — and even today still aren’t — equitably shared. For generations, angst, despair, and excruciating pain were the lived experience of the majority.

Fast forward to the third decade of the 21st Century. In the throes of multiple, mutually reinforcing paradigm shifts, we find ourselves in a place where — like the Industrial Revolution — the familiar frames of reference have been swept away.

Trump’s backward-looking message — to the extent we can dignify his words with the term — rely on uncertainty and fear to work. And because there are (as yet) few if any obvious landmarks to replace them, doomsayers once more herald the looming apocalypse.

Most of us sense “The System,” is failing us. Whether we’re talking about politics, the mechanics of daily life, or our daily interactions with each other, divisiveness and discord seem woven into our lives. In a comment I read on a post here on Medium recently, someone commented that the leaders aren’t proposing any solutions to the problems we can all see.

Really? What movie are you watching? It’s not that the problems are going unnoticed or that solutions aren’t being proposed. It’s that they can’t get through a congress too divided to even honestly consider them on their merits, never mind work out compromises.

This is true not because it must be, but because we have allowed it. If we don’t like the outcome, shall we not get off our tuckus and be part of the solution?

The journey we must take is signposted above all by both a sense of personal and shared responsibility for outcomes. Shrugging our shoulders and blaming some mythical “they” while trying to monetize doom is the coward’s way out. In the final analysis, whatever happens nationally and globally, we are responsible. Are we not all part of an interconnected, mutually dependent world? Few of our individual or collective decisions, however hypothetically trivial, are without consequences.

Considering a Shift in Thought

We are the answer to most of the problems we have, as potentially scary as that is. I’m neither wise enough nor eloquent enough to sell a prescriptive solution applicable to all. But are not most of us at least half-right, and in consequence, a potential part of the solution?

As citizens of this world, cannot all of us offer some small portion of ourselves for the benefit of all? Some tiny sliver, if you will, of the solution? Angst aside (and I feel it too), shall we not act in a way congruent with our conscience and an awareness of our neighbors,’ our nation’s or our world’s needs?

As surely as I’m gazing with my slowly failing, bespectacled eyes into this LCD, I am certain everyone reading this can do something that will make our world just a little better. If you haven’t already, I urge you to find it and take it up. Forget the angst and move on, with or without hope. Someone on this site has some of the answers. We are the ones for whom we have been waiting.

D.B. Sayers is the author of six  books with two more in the works. You can subscribe to Smoke Signals to stay up to date on his work.

Lessons My Horses Taught Me

Horse, Rider and caption, "Things My Horse Taught Me..."
Who and what we love defines who we are without us even being aware of it.

People who know me well know that I have always had an enduring “thing” for horses. They’re inherently beautiful in motion, even the ones with objectively imperfect hocks, with “unnaturally” high withers or with thin, scraggly manes that need to be roached, rather than grown out. I love feeding and grooming horses, picking out their hooves and yes, even cleaning their stalls. For years, horses, along with surfing were as close to obsessions as I get.

I haven’t always had horses & I don’t right now. I literally can’t afford them, never mind not having a place to keep them, here in Orange County, California. But the days when the beginning and ending of every day revolved around my horses are still vivid in my memory. There is something inherently satisfying about entering the barn first thing in the morning, just as the sun is rising to find your horse(s) heads craned out of their stall, bobbing as your approach.

I know what you’re thinking. Horses are nothing if not masters of associative learning. They’d learned to associate my approach in the early morning with a flake of hay and a generous helping of Omolene 200. They were just hungry, which is why Ran and Breeze always bobbed their heads at me when I entered the barn.

Admittedly, it’s probably just wishful thinking, but it always felt to me like it went beyond that. Breeze, my Appaloosa mare, for example, would invariably attempt to steal my hat when I entered her stall. Maybe she was just bored and found the game a distraction. Except she never did that with anyone else when my absence required me to find someone to fill in for me. I know because I asked. And when I let trusted friends ride her, she’d never crane her neck around to nibble gently on their jean rivets, as they picked out her hooves. She did that with me, regularly.

And maybe it was just anticipation of sharing a beer with me (Ran-Man LOVED beer) or an apple that would send him into a cavorting frenzy when I’d call his name while he was turned out. He’d amble up to the fence—treat or no treat—to renew the bond we shared. However either of them felt about me in their equine brains, I loved them both with that special affection that often grows up between horses and humans.

But as gratifying as these little interactions were—& whatever I or anyone else thought they meant—my biggest takeaways from being around horses was how much their communication is non-verbal. Over time, that recognition has spilled over into my interactions with humans.

To this day, I’m of the belief that one of the most important reasons to have and care for horses is to help teach us sensitivity—how we’re being received and to how we might be coming across to others. I have not and never will completely master either reading or controlling non-verbal communication. But I am certain that Ran, Breeze, and the other horses I worked with made me just a little kinder, more sensitive and a little better than I would otherwise have been.

Looking back on those days, I’ve come to believe that kindness, love and giving is perhaps best taught to us by our interactions with critters (or people) who so different from ourselves, that we can only relate to them meaningfully with conscious, continuous effort of heart. Perhaps it is that very effort that brings out the best of who we are, enabling us to see ourselves more clearly in others.

As 2022 winds down, I find myself thinking about those collective “others” who make up my immediate community—they who are part of my life and (more inclusively) that glorious, larger community that all life calls home.

Is it a function in part of my growing awareness of my own mortality? Of how much or little time I may have left to get me and my relationships right, whatever that means? Probably. There’s way more runway behind me now, than lies ahead.

I don’t know what life, however much I have left has in store for me. But acknowledging my own fallibility, I nevertheless hope to be true to my quiet pledge to myself for the coming year. As 2022 winds to a close, I pledge in 2023 to be kinder, within the limits of human frailty. Kinder with my eyes. Kinder with my words—even in the expression of sometimes painful truth. And my thoughts. Mostly especially in my thoughts. Namasté.

DB Sayers is a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, former corporate trainer and two-time district manager turned full-time author with six books in print and two more on the way.

America’s Mid-Terms & Weaponized Resentment

We used to know better...didn't we?

Divisiveness in antithetical to good governance...and we all know that.

At any level, in any organization however large or small, weaponizing resentment not only closes minds, it works against cooperation and problem-solving. Republican talking points in the 2022 mid-terms are almost wretchedly illustrative.


It’s pivotally important to self-appointed “thought leaders” on the right to pin the current inflationary spiral on Uncle Joe. And to be fair, it’s a tempting target — rendered all the more irresistible by Joe’s reluctance at self-advocacy on this issue. If he were a little less shameless, his opponents might find it a little less attractive issue.

Suggesting inflation is the current president’s fault ignores the “minor” details of the inherently inflationary effects of COVID-19, the unmanageable snafu that the global supply chain has become in the pandemic’s wake and the multi-faceted effects of the war in Ukraine.

However little comfort we may derive from this little factoid, it’s worse by orders of magnitude in many places globally. Investment Monitor reports that, out of 171 countries analyzed, over half the world is experiencing double digit inflation. And much of the developed world has inflation rates greater than the U.S. Which isn’t to say that inflation is good or that we should do nothing about it.

But laying whole can of worms at the current administration’s door, is myopic if not transparently deceptive. It demonstrates (at best) an adolescent appreciation of the degree to which world markets, production and distribution disruptions drive our own economic realities.

The notion that the President, Congress, or the Fed can regulate them out of our lives is demonstrably false. It also ignores the degree to which corporations are leveraging the current situation to price gouge. As the Economic Policy Institute notes in their April 2022 analysis of inflation:

“Strikingly, over half of this increase [to inflation] (53.9%) can be attributed to fatter profit margins, with labor costs contributing less than 8% of this increase.”


The outrage over the “invasion” at the border is understandable. Who is happy about the images of what looks for all the world like a cattle stampede? The barely managed chaos at the border can’t be making thoughtful citizens happy. But blaming it on the current administration in general or Biden in particular ignores pressures we don’t control. Climate change and political/criminal churn down south is only part of it.

And while the response may not meet our lofty standards for order and security, there are international laws governing asylum to which civilized societies must (or at least should) adhere. Nor is it unfair to point out that the immigration system in the United States has been broken for decades.

Rather than weaponizing immigration as an issue for the midterms, would it not make more sense if both political parties worked together to solve it? Blaming one administration or even one party for the ineffectiveness of our immigration system today ignores decades of neglect by both parties.

Should it be fixed? Sure. But border walls aren’t going to do the job. What might help are sensible policies most Americans can get behind. Policies balancing security, humanity, and our continuing need for regulated immigration into the U.S. With unemployment as low as it is, we need more workers than are currently available, across a broad spectrum of sophistication and skills.

While I’m not particularly impressed with Democrats’ handling of immigration, McCarthy’s “Commitment to America” isn’t an answer. Beneath gassy rhetoric about “fully funding effective border enforcement strategies,” and “ending catch and release” policies, there’s no actionable alternative plan.

And it is in the details that effective policy lies. Precisely the thing Republicans have in recent years repeatedly shown themselves to be unwilling to tackle.


Is crime “up?” Yep. And the crime statistics the Republican House Minority Leader has been decrying are both real and illustrative. But what House Minority Leader McCarthy hopes we overlook is that, despite his attribution to the rise in crime in “Democrat-run” cities, the truth is a bit more convoluted.

Let’s start with the fact that over time, crime rates have been trending down since 1991. Which isn’t to suggest that a rise isn’t something that should concern us. Perspective, however, might make sense.

It’s also probably worth noting that despite McCarthy’s claims that crime is worst in “Democrat-run” cities, in fact the per capita rate of violent crime which gets most of the attention is higher in Republican-run states. Alaska, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas and Arkansas, for example, all have higher per capita violent crime rates than either California or New York, long Republican bugaboos as examples of “Democrat-run” cities/states.

And Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas and Arizona, (listing just the Republican-run “A”states) — have higher per capita property crime rates than either California or New York. So, while Mr. McCarthy is correct in noting that crime is up, , the statistical realities make it hard to buy the notion that electing Republicans will do anything to lower it.

Nobody asked me, but...

Weaponizing statistics and resentment is something of a tradition in American politics, so it would be an exercise in futility for me or the Dems to cry foul. That’s how politics in America have been played as long as I’ve been old enough to follow them. But thoughtful citizens should not be taken in or swayed by them.

And while the first two years of unified Democratic governance have not been perfect, it has succeeded in getting us through the pandemic, taming COVID-19, restarting the economy post-pandemic, and enacting historic climate change mitigation legislation to mention just four significant achievements. Compared to Republicans’ record during the previous administration I’ll roll with the flawed governance of the Democratic Party any day. But by all means, if paying more of your taxes on a percentage basis than CEO’s floats your boat, vote Republican.

And if you needed a final reason to vote Democratic in this election, listen to the nearly three hundred Republican election deniers running this year, some promising Republicans will never lose another election in their state if they win. If you would like your vote to count in the next election, you know what to do this year.

What’s on the ballot this year, along with thoughtful policy aimed at responsible governance is the right to throw the louses out, when necessary. Reporting for Reuters, Linda So, Peter Eisler & Jason Szep write:

“Election workers in Arizona’s most fiercely contested county faced more than 100 violent threats and intimidating communications in the run-up to Tuesday’s midterms, most of them based on election conspiracy theories promoted by former President Donald Trump and his allies.”

And that, perhaps more than any other factor, should make us all cringe at the thought of Republicans taking over.


D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, former corporate trainer turned published author with six books in print. He is also a former Republican turned Independent who above all other things, believes in balanced, centrist government.

The Whisper of Somewhere Else

The Other Day in the Gym

The other day at the gym, I was on the leg press machine when someone sauntered into the squat rack next to me. He nodded and smiled, before grabbing a couple 45-pound plates to load up the bar. His Iowa State t-shirt caught my eye. “Cy,” the familiar Cardinal with his caricature grimace of determination marched across the front of his t-shirt, emblazoned above with “Iowa State Cyclones.” It took me back to my days as a student there.

Iowa State T-Shirt
Used with Permission

In between sets, I asked him when he went to Iowa State. He hadn’t, it turned out. His daughter a Veterinary Medicine student was in her third year, there.

     “Why Iowa State?” I asked.

     He shrugged. “Beats me. She had several scholarship offers, but…” He left his sentence unfinished and returned to the squat rack for his next set. “It is a beautiful campus, though,” he admitted, before shouldering the bar.

     “I’ll sign that.” I agreed.

And it’s true. Despite being flat as a tabletop, Iowa has its own special beauty. And that was the end of our conversation. The gentleman finished his squats and moved on.

Later in the day, I was sitting at my laptop, working on the next chapter of my science fiction novel when my college years at Iowa State crept back into my head. I’m sure my conversation earlier that day in the gym was the catalyst.

The Influences of Environment

If you didn’t grow up in the Midwest, it might be difficult to fully appreciate the nuanced feelings that might lurk in the back of the mind of someone who grew up in a part of the country prone to wild swings of weather. The Great Central Plain is home to some unpredictable and occasionally violent weather. In Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives, the environment and the weather is almost another character in the stories.

In Sinbad’s Sofa, a cat seeking shelter from a blizzard at the gas station where the author worked teaches him something about himself and the nature of human’s connection with critters. In The Last House in Town, one human’s unexpected kindness leads the author to a deeper understanding of life and other’s pain.

In Heartland, the author invites readers to confront the pull of horizons and the how the limitations of where we are can awaken the restless spirit living in all of us. And it was this latter thought I found myself focusing on, as I reflected on my conversation earlier in the day at the gym with the Dad whose daughter was attending my Alma Mater.

Wide Open Western Spaces
From Unsplash-Used with Permission. The Influence of Envrionment is undeniable, if imperfectly understood.

People who know me well also know that I’m drawn to wide open spaces, and that I am (occasionally) afflicted with an almost irresistible wander lust. How much of this has to do with the tantalizing lure of open horizons, whispering to me of new sights, sounds and scents? How much influence (if any), did growing up on the plains have on my decision to join the Corps or to spend the first 20 plus years of my adult life in the nomadic world that is the life of a professional warrior?

The influence of environment is generally an accepted concept, even if the details of how/how much influence they have. I’m convinced the wander lust that frequently calls me to head off for parts unknown is at least partially a function of growing up in a place where open horizons beckoned.

Through the Windshield

Which brings us to Through the Windshield. Day or night, whether it was a vanishing point on the horizon or the cold, distant glitter of lights in the distance on a winter’s night, the plains tend to remind you that there are other places to be. That there are other things to see and experiences to be had for those willing to stray from the familiar in pursuit of a different level of knowing.

Even though few of the stories in this anthology are true absent embellishment, they are all self-reflective, at some level. In common with many authors, the original impetus to write was for me, all about self-expression. These days, however, I seek to balance self-expression with the broader observations about humans in general and who we are stripped of the masks behind which most of us hide.

Cover of Through the Windshield an anthology of short stories
Through the Windshield is the perfect introduction to Dirk's writings...

Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives is the perfect introduction to my longer fiction. If you would like to read the stories, you can get your free copy here. If you’ve never read anything by D.B. Sayers, before, you can snag your free copy of this anthology, here.

America the Flawed

If you're wondering, you're not the only one. (Images under license-colllage by the author)

An American Identity Crisis?

Everyone has an opinion (and is entitled to it) as to how we got here. And to be fair to so many thoughtful and thought-provoking writers here on Medium, a lot of what I read on this forum resonates with me, including many of the observations about where America is today. Opinions vary, of course. Some opine that the demonstrably dysfunctional state of our “union” can be attributed to:

(a) Trump — A favorite of many. And I get it. He’s a bit like herpes — the gift that keeps on giving.

(b) Systemic Racism — A favorite of many angry disenfranchised, especially of color. With credible evidence justifying the inference.

(c) Money in politics — Another strong contender. Is there anyone left who ever gave a dime to a candidate of either party who doesn’t get dozens of emails daily asking for more?

(d) Stove piped News Media — A favorite of eight in ten Americans surveyed. Predictably, it’s always “the other side’s” news sources to blame for the existing polarization.

I suspect most thoughtful readers on this platform would agree at least in part with all the above. As do I, not that it matters. But as thoughtful readers have also already anticipated, I’m about to propose some additional causative elements, together with thoughts suggesting partial (if imperfect) solutions.

Why didn't somebody warn us?

Somebody did. A couple, actually. In The Power Elite, (1956), C. Wright Mills made a starkly compelling case against big government, business — and against large, monolithic organizations in general. It met with mixed reviews. A few years later, President Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address warned against, “…the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex.”

Eisenhower and Mills had perceived how the emergence of American power post WWII was already affecting domestic society. Whatever average Americans of the day thought of the United States and its global intentions, the potential pitfalls were obvious to both Mills and Eisenhower. In retrospect, their warnings seem uncomfortably prescient. Despite some of Mills’ observations resting on a political homogeneity of the time, neoliberalism remains an uncomfortable and toxic reality in the third decade of the 21st Century.

Change...the Lei Motif of Our Age

Fast forward 7 years, from Eisenhower’s farewell address and we see the warnings continued. In 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, warning of the dangers of overpopulation. At the time, world population stood at 3.5 billion. Fifty-four years later, we’re 7 billion (plus), and well on the way to fulfilling many of Ehrlich’s most disturbing warnings.

Two years after Ehrlich’s book debuted, Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock warned of a world in which an accelerating rate of change would shift the once-familiar frames of reference. It would leave significant portions of society disoriented and struggling to adapt, he warned. Among other things, Toffler observed:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn…”

There is a practical upper limit to how much sensory input humans can process. In self-defense, we filter out what seems irrelevant, allowing in what we perceive rewards us. In an age of information overload, we consciously or unconsciously choose what gets past our filters.

And now, a thought experiment for you. How much of our collective “social dysmorphia” can be attributed to change rendering portions of our population uncertain of their “place?” The growing body of writings dealing with information overload suggest it’s not a trivial question, but I’ll leave that for readers to decide.

Why #MAGA Worked

Fast forward again, to 2015. As noted earlier, there are a lot of hypotheses explaining 45’s appeal to so many men and women we would have thought should know better. Disaffection with the Clintons or dissatisfaction with “politics as usual” are common explanations. But if we’re honest with ourselves, didn’t “Drain the swamp” resonate because Washington truly is a swamp? Whether you voted for him or not, it’s hard to argue with Trump’s observation.

While among the least likely to actually drain the swamp, most of us knew Trump was right about the need to do so. “Make America Great Again” resonated with many of us because we sensed the American century was over. Unless we’re a statistically rare “meritocratic” exception or privileged by luck of birth, most of us are subject to the whims of the powerful who neither see nor hear us.

So we focus making the most of the talents we have and “minding our own business.” But in so doing, might we guilty of ceding power to the very people people addicted to it? What we permit, we encourage and even some of our best-intentioned representatives in congress have been seduced by lobbyists. This was evident even before Citizens United effectively forced legislating to take a back seat to fund-raising as a top priority.

Today, throngs of lobbyists representing monied interests drown out our voice while our congressional representatives and PACs of impenetrable origins bombard us daily for contributions. It’s not hard to find reasons for disgust at how governance works today — even on the occasions when it works at all.

And while all the foregoing trends were emerging, the self-appointed “thought leaders” in many organizations were busily down-sizing/right-sizing/streamlining “traditional” employment. As a result, the still-employed have been obliged to work longer and harder, while many others have been obliged to take multiple jobs in the emerging gig economy to survive.

So Where Are We Now?

The combination of overpopulation, runaway change, and the multi-faceted effects of shifting climatic phenomena have combined with an increasingly divisive political landscape to render consistent, effective governance all but impossible. In a system that seems tilted at least, if not consciously rigged, many of us have checked out.

But inattention — irrespective of how we justify it — has enabled the very conditions of which both Eisenhower and Mills warned. Arguably, our collective disgust and/or inattention, justified by relative calm and comfort may have hastened it. Power abhors a vacuum…

Having ceded power to those addicted to it, should we not have expected the outcomes we now deplore? Or that someone addicted to it, might try to hold onto it, Constitution be damned? If we despise our politicians and the political process, how long will it be before we have despicable, self-aggrandizing politicians?


The America We Have Made

Effective representative democracy relies on a delicate balance of a reasonably well-informed and well-intentioned voting citizenship — and reasonably enlightened stewardship. Leadership if not entirely devoid of considerations of personal power and gain, at least tempered by civic interest in the public trust. Is it reasonable to expect the latter without the active, consistent engagement of the former?

My gut feeling is no. We are not simply affected by the policies our elected representatives enact; we are responsible for them. Democracy thrives on citizens’ sense of personal responsibility for outcomes. We might do well to remember that, in 2022 and beyond.

How that sense of responsibility manifests itself remains a personal decision. But if ever there was a time for informed voting based on a clear-eyed understanding of who stands for what — and the long-term impact of what they stand for — “now” must qualify. Honest, solution-oriented engagement is the necessary accomplice of vibrant democracy.

I can think of no time in recent history when the issues have been more important. Or the margins for error less forgiving. So…in 2022 and beyond, what are all of us doing for our country? What form will our engagement in our governance take and how will we teach it to our children?

D.B. Sayers has six books in print with two more works in progress. If you would like a free copy of his anthology of short stories, Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives, click the link above and receive Smoke Signals, his monthly update as well.

How Marriage Works-Or Doesn’t Time to Rethink?

Traditional Cathedral Wedding

Medium, one of the online magazines for whom I write, regularly publishes articles about marriage and relationships. The takes on marriage and relationships run the gamut, from what could only be described as “traditional,” to a proposed socio-political-financial re-think of what we have come to think of as marriage.

One take particular stuck in my mind. Written by Matt Sweetwood, the article was entitled,  “It’s Time to Change the Way Marriage Works.” It’s still there and I don’t think it’s behind the paywall, so you can read the whole post yourself. But summarizing imperfectly, Mr. Sweetwood opined that marriage as currently practiced was a failed institution, to which failure he proposed the following remedies.

  1. Marriage should have a two-year expiration date with an “automatic renewal option, provided both parties agreed within 60 days.
  2. The marriage contract should specify the division of assets and custody (as applicable). If you can’t agree, Mr. Sweetwood suggested, you shouldn’t get married in the first place.

This approach, Mr. Sweetwood concluded, would: “fix the fundamental issue with marriage, to wit: “…a lifetime contract that requires no performance.”

His post elicited comments and for anyone who knows me well, they will be equally unsurprised I was one of them. To my surprise, a gentleman commented on my comment, suggesting I should share some of my thoughts under a post of my own. Having more guts than brains, I took his suggestion. Here it is.

Marriage…what is it today?

Can we start by agreeing on what we mean by marriage? Because like so many other things, in the the 21st Century, it has become something of a moving target. To illustrate what I mean, consider the following definitions from my “go-to” dictionary.

Merriam-Webster’s Online dictionary defines marriage as: “The state of being united as spouses in a consensual and contractual relationship as recognized by law.”

Alternatively, my older, hardbound Merriam-Webster dictionary (circa 1998) defines marriage as: “1 a: the state of being married. b: the mutual relation of husband and wife. c: the institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding & maintaining a family.”

Traditionalists & free thinkers alike recognize the needle has moved with respect to marriage. After reflecting on both Mr. Sweetwood’s post and the responses it elicited, I caught myself wondering if we aren’t collectively chasing the butterflies while all the elephants get away? Is there maybe a deeper embedment at work that most of us miss with respect to habits of thought? 


Marriage and Myth.

Even if you’re not an anthropologist or historian, it the thought experiment of how partnered couples (and groupings of partnered couples) might have formed isn’t much of a struggle. procreation and protection. Given our relative individual frailty as a species & unusually long maturation process, procreation and protection seem like blinding flashes of the obvious, even setting aside any emotional component. But many of us can’t resist coloring the bunny.

Quote attributed to Plato on Love with hearts in the background

Plato seems an unlikely source for this flowery quote, but it serves to illustrate how deeply myth and magical thinking have become embedded in our notions of marriage. As empathetic humans, the foregoing quote, whoever was responsible carries a lot of truth in it, despite how ephemeral that truth proves in the harsh realities of life. Isn’t there more going on besides attachment? To a former organizational man, the answer seems obvious.

As societies grew more complex and we settled down around fixed crops rather than simply following game and gathering as we went, it’s easy to puzzle out how our fondness for stories and myth might have become interwoven with our pragmatic relationship options. Nor is it much of a reach to see how a relationship we now call “marriage” might become first expected, then codified to protect the social fabric.

Marriage...Fortress of the Establishment

Are not those myths (including the religious myths to which many of us fearfully cling) so ingrained in us now that we are simply blind to them? Or (alternatively) did priesthoods and “divine emperors” weaponize our vulnerabilities, exploiting until we began to believe our own propaganda? As a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer, and sometime Board member, that’s been my experience.

Organizations irrespective of size are self-protective, not unlike the individuals who gave rise to them. Organized behavior almost certainly arose out of the notion of safety in numbers. But I’ve come to believe that over time, organized behavior evolved to serve a broader social purpose. Do we not now join organizations to leverage the power of many to ncrease our own?

Is this rather cynical interpretation open to alternative spin? Perhaps. But in many of our socio-religious, economic & political traditions, it’s hard to miss reason and change are amending our view of many of our most time-honored traditions and habits of thought. Habits at least in part responsible for the internecine strife of America’s culture wars. Maybe it’s time, as Mr. Sweetwood suggests in his post, to re-examine what we mean by marriage.

Marriage and Shifting Paradigms

The simpler societies in which our antecedents lived and died (often within walking distance of where they were born) were radically different than the society we have now. And if you’re anything like me, you may already be muttering under your breath, suggesting we really don’t have to go back very far to make that case.

And arguably, it not just the contextual realities of our times that have morphed. It’s both the paradigms that gave rise to marriage as we’ve traditionally thought of it and marriage itself. So in defense of the question Mr. Sweetwood raised, might we be better off acknowledging the validity of the author’s question, while also recognizing that traditional marriage still has a place?

Someone commented in response to Mr. Sweetwood’s post that social expectations have led us  to see marriage as what mature, productive members of society do, encouraging many to marry who (maybe) shouldn’t. If you’re one of those who have been single “too long,” I’m sure you can relate. Marriage has become a kind of default, and many those opting out will invariably characterized as “commitment-phobes,” irrespective of how well-reasoned their decision to opt out may be.

Marriage and the Ecosystem

With 7+ billion humans on this planet, with many, if not most apparently doing everything they can to render it uninhabitable, might not some of the reasons we used to marry now be counterproductive?

Yes, we need children, and yes, they tend to do best immersed in the love and nurturing traditional marriage often but not unfailingly facilitates. That said, if with fewer children overall, might we be (collectively) better at loving and nurturing them?

But if we remove children from the marriage context, what is the pivotal argument for marriage as we’re inclined to practice it? Perhaps marriage for the childless becomes an aesthetic choice with profound practical implications. Perhaps there’s valid place for Mr. Sweetwood’s modest proposal in some form.

Room, if you will, for more than one paradigm of love/passion/marriage - if we can all get over our own prejudices. And maybe taking the pressures of financial ruin and (in my opinion) misguided notion that marriage necessarily should be forever, maybe we can save a lot of unnecessary angst and heartbreak. Just speculating out loud…

D.B. Sayers is a decorated Marine officer, former corporate trainer/manager, and unredacted multi-genre author of thought-provoking contemporary fiction, whose characters are all dealing with the maelstrom of change that is our age.

The Year of Maybe-Act II of Nyra’s Journey

Tai's nothing like her hopeful dream-and everything she wants...

Nyra’s transition from college grad scrambling for her first career job to full independence is as on track as it can be, these days. With her new marketing job is going well, even if she’s still living at home,Nyra’s pretty sure the light at the end of the tunnel is not an onrushing train.

Still, she gets bored, sometimes. A whimsical decision to take up surfing brings her together with Tai Abrega, a professional surfer and shaper so delicious Nyra’s imagination hasn’t even gotten around to fantasizing about a man like him, yet. Surfing awakens a latent, mystical connection with the sea along with a driven passion for the man himself.

But embracing one possibility often demands abandoning another. How can Nyra fit Tai and the seductive siren song of freedom into her “safer” vision of perfect? Can she blend her conventional world with his freespirited lifestyle, or is she doomed to disappointment and heartbreak? New Adult fans of It Ends with Us and Finding Perfect are sure to enjoy this upbeat tale of hope.

The Year of Maybe Act II of Nyra’s Journey continues the story begun in Best-Case Scenario. For a limited time, get your free copy of Best-Case Scenario, and be up to date on Nyra’s story when The Year of Maybe is released in November. Then go to Amazon and pre-order your copy.

This is D.B. Sayers’ sixth book and the second in the Nyra Westensee series. If you haven’t already, subscribe to Smoke Signals, his newsletter by adding your email address in the subscription box in the upper right corner of this page.

Isn’t Hope in Some Form Our Best-Case Scenario?

Relentless Hope.

Sometimes you can sense it, even from a distance. The down-cast eye, an aimlessness in their gait. Something—or someone—has extinguished that flickering flame of hope that elevates existence to vitality. At some point in time or another, most of us have been there. But not Nyra.

After a college career in which Nyra’s sincere desire for connection and her driven sexuality has been frustrated by an almost impossible series of bad luck, she could be forgiven is she thinks being alone and disappointed is her fate. Living but not not quite alive. Wishing, but not really hopeful.

On the surface, that’s the Nyra readers think they’re  meeting in chapter one of Best-Case Scenario. But entitled Relentless Hope, nothing characterizes Nyra’s most persistent state of mind. Despite disappointments that haunt lesser souls for years—even a lifetime,

Nyra still believes in her future. The possibilities she senses, even if the tangible evidence of hope still elude her are at the driving centrality of her soul.


But hope is one thing. What continues to feed it? Is it that faint tickle of apparent interest radiating from someone we know and secretly desire? For Nyra, there are two. Toni, at work, a lovely woman of color whose kindness directed to a younger woman leaks soft sensuality. Is she interested in me? Nyra wonders more than once. What will she do if she is? Nyra isn’t sure. But she would like to find out.

And then there’s her more conventional “love interest.” Kevin, the night manager at the Blue Macaw. Handsome, confident without being an ass, Nyra sometimes catches him looking and wishing he’d do more than look. Surely one or the other of her two potential playmates will make a move.

But what will she do if they both make a move? With no experience with either gender and aware she’s attracted to both, how does she even decide? And then there’s the continued frustration of somehow being unable to snag her first professional level career job.

In the final analysis, doesn’t maintaining her positive outlook depend on a catalyst, either romantic or professional—preferably both? Nyra guesses it might. In the meantime, she keeps trying. After all. Isn’t hope in some form everyone’s best-case scenario?