Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 20, 2018

Art vs. Commercialism, Round 2.51


Below, another small gem, passed on from sci-fi novelist John Scalzi’s “Whatever” blog (which I had kind of gotten away from the past year, but it’s good to keep in my back pocket for practical encouragement, about writing and about life in general).

commercially accessible” is a mode, not a limit. Nor do I think it limits what one can do in terms of artistry. I think you can make a strong argument that staying within the bounds of which is “commercially accessible” in any era means that you prioritize some elements over others and that the amount you can “stretch the envelope” is less (or perhaps better stated that you can stretch it in fewer simultaneous directions) than if you feel free to disregard a commercial imperative — that the art goes to where the audience already is more than it challenges the audience to follow. But I don’t think it makes it any less art, or that commercially accessible art can’t move and affect people with the same intensity as art that has less overt commercial intent.

The item above catches my attention for two reasons:

1) because as I work on a novel of my own– a crime fiction/coming-of-age piece about nightclubs and organized crime at the dawn of the turbulent Sixties– I need to find a tone and style that is accessible to a wide audience, even though it is now fifty-plus years beyond the world of my fictional and historical characters…

2) because jazz, beatniks, poetry, abstract painters and other “bohemian” subject matter have almost never been million-dollar juggernauts, even when their stars were changing the creative landscape and language for generations to come.


To quote Paul Simon, “Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.” (Boy In the Bubble, from the classic Graceland album).


Be it in music, theatre, visual arts, film, television or (dare I say it?) literature, no creative person ever set out to be a “starving artist”. But some did set their sights on being popular, and others on being innovative— yet being both is like catching lightning in a bottle.

To say the right thing, in the right voice, at the right time, and get the attention and support of market forces or social groupings which will ALSO benefit from disseminating that message… that’s my own version of the American Dream.

It would also be nice to finally make a decent living, free from financial anxiety, so I can tackle other problems, either my own or those that God throws into my general vicinity.


So while you’re throwing Bruno Mars or John “Fault in Our Stars” Green up the pop charts in 2018 (two accessible artists available st your local Target store, whom I nevertheless hold in high regard), throw up a prayer that I have the confidence, stamina and luck (grace?) it will take to finish and distribute my own work of art, or entertainment, or whatever the sales people want to label it after the fact.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 15, 2017

Net Neutrality: The Blind Leading the Blind?


I started out putting portions of the political opinion piece below onto another person’s Facebook post, his general inquiry about his Friends’ stance on net neutrality. I ended up blathering on far too long… so I decided to paste it over to the Marking Time blog, so that it wouldn’t be lost in the ether of the Facebook Temporary Universe forever, with an expiration date of about eight hours, tops.

So here, with a warning that it’s not necessarily well researched or carefully edited, is the sum total of my life’s gathered thoughts on media conglomerates, the internet, and the role of government in regulating our lives (and in keeping watch over the companies which spend big money to get our attention, so that we will give them still more money) :

A big part of the issue with net neutrality is monopolies, where the big players know their holdings or history or partnerships are not known to the general public with any clarity. Hulu, for example, is co-owned by several networks or companies which would seem to be competitors, like NBC Universal, Disney/ABC, and Fox.  But soon we find out we’re beyond the realm of traditional broadcast tv. Broadcasters, content creators, advertisers, electronic hardware manufacturers, telecom companies and government stakeholders have all blurred the lines that used to separate them. For example, Trump’s FCC Chairman,  Ajit Pai, is a former Verizon legal counsel.

So the danger of especially broadband/cable companies having the handcuffs removed regarding what they owe the public, is that soon they  are setting their own rules (and prices), driving the smaller players out of business. Eventually it could involve control of information too, subtly, in terms of who even sees/hears dissenting or accurate messages, or participates in a specific marketplace. It’s bad for privacy, for competition, for democracy and for tech infrastructure and innovation.

As for those who think governments need to get out of our “business” in general, tell that to the people of Flint, Michigan whose conservative governor not long ago ruined their water, probably by entrusting a private consultant or trying to cut corners like some ordinary business.

This net thing too is about good/careful governance vs. corrupt/inept  governance, not less vs. more governance. It’s about better oversight, fewer back-room deals, and whether consumers and unbiased expert voices will even be heard …over the din of lobbyists and profit-motivated companies with their rhetoric machines well-entrenched.

The internet is approaching “public utility” status, but in contrast this is looking like the Disneyfication of America. Thus, creating/enabling a pro-corporate FCC is no different than misunderstanding how a Clinton/Bush pro-corporate, de-regulated SEC and Treasury Depts led to the 2008 financial collapse, or how the toothless current EPA lets the energy industry run roughshod over us (and the planet). The answer is better regulations, created and enforced by impartial and informed consumer advocates, legislators, judges, etc …not *fewer regulations* or lax enforcement (see the dozens of pro-monopoly “loopholes”, especially in the tax code).

If govt (and a bought-off Congress) stops even trying to create conditions for a level playing field in key industries, then who’s gonna mind the store? We likely can’t get net neutrality back, from a tech perspective, once we give it away. Equality gaps will just continue to widen, mostly because of the high learning curve in IT and telecom, plus fewer high-quality watchdogs within government keeping an eye on the common good.

The “pro-competition” myth/lie of the Republican platform is clear here, when *the inventors of the internet itself* are warning us this net neutrality deregulation is anti-competitive.

And yes, corruption or “pork” or ineptitude are rampant in both parties (and in unions, and in corporations, etc). But the principle –that I am a citizen in need of some *protections*, not a consumer with a target on my back (and with nothing but a slingshot to defend my interest in truth, privacy, diversity, innovation and controlled costs)– this principle or ideal still holds true.

The law was created to limit kings (govt), and yet also to limit kings of industry (who resist fair governance if it costs too much [see taxation, safety compliance, wage regulation, etc] ).

Since NASA and the military and public funds (say public universities, or govt grants and contracts) were the *originators* of much of this internet and satellite tech (i.e. if my taxes paid for the building blocks), then I deserve ongoing say-so on how my investments (or those of my parents) benefit the majority population in the future. Free markets are not inherently moral. Such big money being at stake creates potential corruption, and some would say capitalism defaults to inequality by its very nature.

Plus I’m not inclined to trust cable CEOs and Murdochs in collusion with each other, or colluding with government de-regulators (who in four to eight years will work for the very companies they’re granting favors to now). FCC Chair Pai defended white collar criminals like Lehman Brothers before he came into government, and in my view he’s still doing it.

Yes, I’m simplifying. But the public record under net neutrality at least provides the info/content I can see for myself and interpret this way. Yet if the distribution channels for that info itself are up for sale to the highest bidders, if ONLY  the HOLY MARKET rules in ALL cases… then how long till we are ONLY seeing/hearing/reading/knowing what our Big Brothers *want* known?  What may result of this erosion of oversight (witness also how many presidential appointments in all governmental departments are still unfilled, a year into Trump’s term)  is not suppression of information or free speech thru govt action, but public ignorance by default, and/or thru corporate “narrowcasting”. We won’t know what content/info we’ve lost, because it never got made, or it’s too hard to find, or to disseminate.

When everything is “members only”, who are the real winners? I’d like to be able to watch the new Star Trek tv series, for example. But I can’t justify the monthly CBS Streaming subscription fee.

Meanwhile, while we’re not looking, what may be gaining a foothold this week is BIG DATA (a vague entity not unlike Big Pharma), those marketing and demographic data processors who help power elites even beyond the above media moguls preach to and market to and filter and delude a choir they themselves created: a smallish choir, a measured and managed one, one which can afford their premium services. In internet usage, or at least in ease of access, there will eventually be a two-tiered system, in one more area of American life where there didn’t used to be. We don’t have members-only roads, or sewers. So why are Time Warner Cable, Comcast/NBC/Beelzebub, Verizon and T-Mobile allowed to re-package and inequitably carve up the main means of staying informed, paying a monthly bill, or keeping in touch with grandma?

Unbiased journalism is already almost dead. Who will be the new gatekeepers of honest communication, and the providers of affordable but still effective service?

What are the non-monetary costs of our eventual difficulty in finding fair and *affordable* access, especially to *unbiased, unpopular or controversial* content?

By comparison, have we looked into the undemocratic b.s. China is doing in their control of internet content and access?

Again, I’m oversimplifying. Neutrality itself is a myth, in public policy and economics especially.

Everyone has an agenda.

But unquestioned trust in this vague idea of “competition” implies that everyone competes fairly and plays by the same rules. Yet that has not been the case. So throwing away an imperfect rule, in favor of no rule at all [i.e. de-regulation, in any industry but especially in the media, which pays big money to shape our very perceptions], is a step in the wrong direction. It only benefits the greedy minority looking to perpetuate confusion, and thus cravenly increase an already alarming disparity between those with power, influence and clarity, and those with none.

Nor have I even mentioned the other big players, the Amazonians, Facebooks, Twits and Googles of this new Wild West. On that, for now, I’ll point you toward an interesting, shorter article called The Dopamine Economy: The Mad Men Created Consumers. We’ve Created Algorithmic Addicts, by Umair Haque.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 13, 2017


Above: Bill Murray, with a Cubs t-shirt cannon in hand, on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, talking about poet Walt Whitman and classical music with Bill’s German pal and musical collaborator, Jan Vogler.

This always happens. Just when I think there is nothing left to love wholeheartedly about America, a miracle like this renews my hope a little bit.

Now for the Cubs, it’s on to Los Angeles. For Bill and Jan, it’s on to Carnegie Hall.

And here I am, stuck in the middle (of the country) with you.


But I can get a Chicago Style Hotdog (complete with sport peppers, of course) whenever I want, including making them at home like today! So I’ll be all right.

Let’s Go, Cubs! Let’s Go Poets! Let’s Go Cellists! Let’s Go Humans! Play like a team out there, ya nutjobs!

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 11, 2017

“Backlash” -protest rap by Mark Nielsen, Public Enemy #13


“Backlash” -a Mark Nielsen Joint,

in the spirit of Public Enemy



Power. Take it back,

from that backslash

Backlash/Bad “President”,

since it’s evident

we hold his so-called truths to be negligent.


Obama built a legacy,

and its mega, see,

But not meta,

cuz I ain’t gonna let The

Man have a chance,

to deconstruct Justice,

cuz the dead can’t dance.


Lies, in red power ties.

Why? You know why:

To make dough, to feed your ego.

And grab a little pussy

just for fun as we go.

“You’re fired!”

I’m hip to your jive–

Now I’m wise, guy.


Fool me once, shame on you,

But I won’t be fooled again by these tools

of the devil.

I’m on the level.

So what if I’m

a little disheveled:


but I’m well-read.

And I’m very Old School,

Like Francis of Assisi on a toadstool,

Wearing natty dreads…

And multiplying fishes and bread.


Power. Take it back,

from that backslash

Backlash/Bad “President”,

since it’s evident,

we hold his so-called truths to be negligent.


So get lost fool,

Cuz my boy Jesus says

true believers rule,

But you drool.

You wouldn’t even know

“Birth of the Cool”

if Miles himself lent you some coke–

Which he woulda did, maybe,

in the roarin’ Eighties,

back then, the first time

that you drove us crazy.

And the last time

you did something right,

besides running your mouth off

and pickin’ a dumb fight.


Power. Take it back,

from that backslash

Backlash/Bad “President”,

since it’s evident,

we hold his so-called truths to be negligent.


Since then, two more wives,

and family values died,

and all our patience put to the test,

As you’re holding those tax returns

close to your chest.

You ran a dozen bad businesses into the ground,

as you invest,

destroy, ignore, digress, ingest,

At a rapid pace that is truly profound.

But not nearly as weird

As my million silly peers

who elected you,

who respected you,

Even as the old elephant party rejected you.

They ignored the pink elephant

here in the room.

So now it’s boom,

as you lead us rapidly to our doom.


Cabinet members, lookie here,

They’re dropping like flies,

Like rats off a ship

going down in a storm of lies.

Then you gambled healthcare

with our money and lost

–two times! And at what cost?

Just to show the world

you have the biggest balls?


Obama built a legacy,

and its mega, see,

But not meta,

cuz I ain’t gonna let The

Man have a chance,

to escape Justice,

cuz the dead can’t dance.


Power. Take it back,

from that backslash

Backlash/Bad “President”,

since it’s evident,

we hold his so-called truths to be negligent!


[created 10-11-17, Bloomington, IL… come ‘n get me, you goons!)

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 1, 2017

Trump, The Mafia and Me


Above is a classic wedding celebration photo of my Italian-American grandfather, Sebastian Stella. He was decidedly working-class, never owned a house (tho he did own a condo rather late in life), and was in the produce/restaurant supply business, mostly potatoes. He was also a son of immigrants who, despite himself, was a Republican–apparently over some beef with FDR. When certain Italians have a vendetta, they hold that sucker tight, and they hold it forever.

I find myself thinking about Grandpa Buster a lot lately, partly because my work-in-progress novel is set in 1959 south Manhattan (the place of his birth in 1904), where Little Italy’s quaint storefront restaurants hid many a dirty deed being planned in some smoke-filled back room, over a $100-a-hand card game.

Speaking of gambling moguls and dirty thugs… I’m also wondering these days if Trump would have changed Grandpa’s mind, finally, about the Republican Party. Not that there isn’t corruption that runs rampant among Democrats, too. Growing up in Chicago, he (and I) saw plenty of dirty deals, Mob-sponsored union corruption, rich-WASP-sponsored anti-union/anti-poor-person sentiment, and (mostly in his case) thinly veiled bigotry against Italian-Americans.

But we are in unprecedented territory now. For example, the new loan sharks that Trump likely owes big money to are in the Russian Mob, not the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. The Chinese are our main business partner, not the “godless Communists” they formerly were demonized as. And we weathered a Second Depression from 2008-2012 under the careful (if hamstrung) leadership of–Buster wouldn’t have believed it!–a black man.

Yet now the Backlash President has made us second-guess even our most sacred (and equally mis-informed) former stereotypes about the relationship between criminals, businessmen, and politicians.

So when I discovered the item below during my novel research, I was not at all surprised.


It was at a sort of Mafia fan site called “Friends of Ours”. I didn’t track down the details about Felix Sator, nor of Trump’s likely dealings as a real-estate developer with dozens of other mobsters from the famous Five Families of New York. I should find out more, shouldn’t I?

Or do I instead want to bury my head in the sand –like we have since at least the Kennedy era (his millionaire father was a Prohibition bootlegger, and good buddies with The Other Dons!) . Yes, the line between “businessmen” and criminals is razor thin. It’s a dotted line at that, with plenty of grease (and men with greased palms) flowing back and forth between the two worlds.

Am I supposed to just excuse that, like my forefathers did? Is how things USED to be done just the way of the world, or is there a better way?

If I end up “sleeping with the fishes” by the time I finish this novel, just for telling the truth, then please leave your sympathy comments in the space below… and continue to tell my story to the muckraking bloggers and history students of the future. I want Grandpa Buster to be proud of me, that I stood up for something, that I’m trying to advocate for poor working schmucks like him.

Even though nobody with ACTUAL POWER listened. They never do.

[This is David with his little slingshot, signing off…]

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 27, 2017

Hacking the 2016 Election Apparatus in 21 States

C-Net, the leading tech news site, reported this week that while we were distracted by NFL anthem shenanigans, DHS slipped a crucial election-tampering story past us.

For those who were too busy on hurricane watch this week, or watching the Trump vs. NFL “Battle of the Network Boobs”, you may have missed an important political story:

The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security confirmed on Sept. 23, 2017 that in the run-up to the presidential election of 2016, the electronic/computer voting systems of 21 states were hacked by outside sources… including the swing states of Wisconsin, Virginia and Arizona.

21 states.

They tried to soften the blow by saying that only voter databases or lesser sections had been compromised, not “vote-counting” apparatus. But even that is alarming, for two reasons.

  1. The voter databases have your and my basic personal information in them. Whether it was Russian hackers who got access to that information, or Chinese, or your garden-variety American punks looking to steal stuff, my government just assisted somebody in gaining identity-theft level information on millions of citizens. This is not a simple hack of customer or credit card info at Target or some private company. This is an entity (or several)– with criminal intent –gaining access to basic voter-registration information on probably over 60% of the entire U.S. population! Just ponder that for a moment. ………………………………………………………………………………..                                                                 …
  2. Their criminal ability to access voter databases may imply the ability to alter voter databases.  Now look, I come from Chicago, where the long-standing tradition of dead people voting has been well-established for generations. But if modern technology now allows for the possibility that nonexistent voters with fake info can be:   a) invented out of thin air,   b) their virtual identity then can be placed into a local or state database,    c) their FICTIONAL VOTE can later be placed,  and  d) it may be unknowingly counted by computers in their home district or state (either virtually, by mail, or in person), …so now we may have that old Chicago/Boston/New York dead voter problem, with a new high-tech twist.

It’s a set of problems bigger than buying elections. Bigger than gerrymandering. Bigger than voter suppression. Bigger than “hanging chads” (lest we forget that fiasco). This is a potential crisis that may completely destroy voter confidence in the electoral process itself… a confidence that has already been tenuous at least since 2000, Russian hackers in 2016 notwithstanding.

So now hardened criminals and politicized techno-gurus are not just damaging reputations or gently swaying opinions with propaganda anymore. They’re proving that the SYSTEM is damaged. It’s been damaged with the blunt object of high-tech codebreaking.

It’s hardcore computer hackers doing a good old-fashioned “breaking and entering” job. Only this time it’s not one little DNC office and some paper file cabinets in the Watergate building that they’re breaking into… it’s the voting systems of 21 state governments– all this, in the most “developed” nation in the world. Ha!

As if we didn’t look like a backwater dictatorship and kleptocracy already, now I gotta worry about whether all privacy has been permanently lost, by all of us, while we petulantly argued about Clinton’s failures, unjustified wars, Trump’s fraud cases, and too many dumb Twitter wars to count anymore.

Start the countdown on my move to Tahiti, and permanent self-removal from the grid. I give it about three more years, and if they don’t pull it together, I may just pull the plug entirely. Do I sound like the Unabomber today? Well, I ain’t going to hurt anybody. Nevertheless, maybe the guy did have a point, one which kind of went over the heads of the majority of Western citizens.

Not all of us, though.


Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 24, 2017

“Take a Knee”–Pro Sports and Protests, 1968-2017

The Oakland A’s Bruce Maxwell, and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, and (thank God!) the *owners* of the Golden State Warriors all just made Colin Kaepernick’s protest/ feud with Trump and the political establishment a LOT more interesting. 

Meanwhile, Trump has once again talked and tweeted himself into a corner, one that even King LeBron James is proud to put him into with a tweet of his own, and then put a dunce cap on The Don’s silly bobblehead.
Long story short: 1) Steph Curry went public with his desire to not visit the White House with his NBA champ Warriors. 2) Trump tweeted out an “uninvited” message. 3) The Warriors management backed their guy, made a generic but important statement about inclusiveness and free speech, and 4) are now opting not to visit the WH as a team. 5) Now their entire trip to D.C. (which  is still going to happen), will be a high profile act of protest. Aaaand 6) LeBron and other high profile athletes can and are safely backing Curry, who has a better rep (and more talent) than Kaepernick ever did.

Donald, you dope!

In another part of the SanFrancisco Bay Area, rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland A’s just became the first MLB player to take a knee during the national anthem, though he did keep his hand over his heart (which is consistent with being the patriot and Army brat that he is).

Oh and lest we forget, MLB has it’s playoffs right around the corner. Plus 162!!! games NEXT season, ten times more than Kaepernick’s 16-game NFL season. Plus they have more teams than either the NBA or NFL… not to mention lots more moderately paid players at the bottom of each baseball roster– kids and veterans, some maybe without much to lose by joining Maxwell’s call for justice and free speech, if they so choose. It may raise their profile, in fact.

Come in from the cold, Colin Kaepernick. You did your time (despite the absence of a crime), and we thank you for it.

The Big Question: How long will it take for more *white* athletes (especially a superstar or two, those who are worshipped by Trump’s base) to start joining the Warriors’ management, to have the guts to kneel down?

Bottom line, this was never JUST a race issue. Not in the Civil War. Not in the Sixties. And not now. It’s about human rights, and it’s about money (isn’t it always?)

This National Anthem Dilemma all feels increasingly familiar, with each new development. Maybe it’s the very current and relevant (and superb!) PBS/Ken Burns & Lynn Novick Vietnam series that makes me think of this

That was at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. 

Here’s a bit of lesser-known background.

 ” In an immediate response to their actions, Smith (Gold medalist) and Carlos (Bronze) were suspended from the U.S. team by Brundage and banned from the Olympic Village. Those who opposed the protest said the actions disgraced all Americans. Supporters, on the other hand, praised the men for their bravery.

….Peter Norman, the Australian sprinter who came second in the 200 m race, also wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during the medal ceremony. Norman was the one who suggested that Carlos and Smith wear one glove each. His actions resulted in him being ostracized by Australian media[15]and a reprimand by his country’s Olympic authorities, who did not send him or any other male sprinters at all to the 1972 games (despite easily making the qualifying time)… In 2006, after Norman died of a heart attack, Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at Norman’s funeral.” (Wikipedia)

Then there’s Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted, and his readiness to go to jail over it.

That was all before doping, or the sports marketing explosion, or Islamic terrorists, or trigger-happy police and vigilante private citizens gunning down unarmed black teens or drivers in the streets, who weren’t protesting a damned thing.

Meanwhile in 2017, the plot thickens. There are certainly many things that matter a lot more than grown men throwing a ball back and forth for money. Especially since the female half of the population (of ANY color or faith) barely gives a crap about LeBron or Ali, let alone Bruce Maxwell. But pro sports and the media that promote them are a key piece of the U. S. economy.

#Dolt45, The Man Who Would Be King, the former owner of the New Jersey Generals pro football team, one Donald J. Trump, just woke the bear out of hibernation. If he thinks he can demonize the likes of Stephen Curry, he may even find friends like Tom The Patriot Brady turning on him soon enough.

Some Great White Hope –please, somebody!– is gonna break ranks in pro sports, and soon.wheter it occurs before or after Special Investgator Mueller and his team find the smoking Kalashnikov gun, and bring down The Don, that’s anybody’s guess. 

Either way, at that point, cowardly athletes and plumbers and CEOs and soccer moms and insurance clerks and fickle “front runners” will desert Trump like rats from a sinking ship. 

Thank you, Colin, Stephen and Bruce. It’s like the Pied Piper himself just said there’s some good barbecue downstairs in the kitchen, so what are we doing upstairs listening to this racist, sexist billionaire as he insults us to our faces?


( by Mark Nielsen, 9-13-17… with a debt to the William Burroughs documentary “A Man Within”, (c)2010 )


I’m in love with Kim Gordon,

who’s in love with the most, 

with more, always More

(with thirst on the moors, 

since Moore is less). 
I was once in love with Bill who Burrows,

who’s ever in love with Allen Ginsberg,

who’s only ever been in love 

with himself. 

Don’t be a Beat.

Be like Mike Stipe. 

Don’t believe the hype. 
We are, all of us, 

a shitty, pretty, chaotic mess

(knots of neuroses, webs of lies, 

all shades of a type: rotten-not-ripe),

a miasma of cataclysmic phantasmagoric lysergic surgical merging

on the verge of collapse.
Stay away, for your own safety.

Don’t even think about joining us.

We don’t even want to be here,

where we are.

Except Allen, of course.

He only ever leaves to go looking for God’s pusher, 

aka Od Byblan.
What if the Prince of Peace 

threw a wedding and nobody came, 

not even the bride?

Would He call Crate and Barrel 

to see who had bought him gifts, 

but kept them for themselves?

Would he hunt down his bride 

and shoot a shot glass off her head?

Would he seek a hustler instead?

Take two Perky Dans and go straight to crooked bed?

Make some bread?

Stay with Yoko for a honeymoon week in bed?

Or grab a Magnum and end up… Republican?

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 3, 2017

Confessin’ and Redressin’

I was struck by the public prayer of confession we read in Church today. I was in a foul mood –still am, really — and this seemingly simple text is one of the few things that got through to me today.


I grew up Catholic, and there was plenty about it that was really worthwhile. I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time, but I was being taught and shown many essential and powerful life lessons. Like confession as a way to stay unburdened, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to be honest about ourselves. 

How Roman Catholics do confession as a sacrament is a good thing, although the reading of the above prayer today reminded me that at times, confession itself only goes halfway. The re-connection to community, to family, to my True Self and ultimately to God, is the real point. Confession enables repentance, and the guts and hard work of letting myself be changed. Confession is merely the doorway to healing. 

Ask any AA or recovery practitioner.  If you don’t let yourself be changed, and then KEEP inviting God to move the furniture around when necessary, then all the confessing and apologizing you could ever do won’t by itself keep you from picking up the bottle again, especially the next time you’re looking to hide from something painful.

To use a hockey analogy: if private confession and a prayer of penance are just treated like one’s time in the penalty box, but there is no repentance or personal discipline to change –like, if you’re the goon who goes right back out on the ice and throws another elbow to the next guy’s nose because, after all, that’s just how you play your game— then the sacrament (or the saying of prayers like the one above) is meaningless. You’re just going through the motions. 

Sure, you’re forgiven anyway because… let’s face it, God is that good. God forgives all manner of sin and sinner not because we deserve it, but because it is God’s inherently loving nature to forgive. God can’t help but to welcome back the Prodigal Son, as often as necessary, regardless of how or why or how badly the son strays.

Lord, change me. Make a clean heart in me, even the dusty corners I have not swept in decades. Amen.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 29, 2017

Dime-a-Dance With Dame Despair



Dime-a-Dance With Dame Despair  – by Mark Nielsen, Aug. 29, 2017 


There used to be these dance halls

in the cities of America

where a guy could go in

and dance with a dame for a dime.

The big band would be playing,

the girls in pretty dresses

who worked there would be waiting,

and asking a doll to dance

took no confidence at all.

It was just a business transaction.

“Here’s a dime. Hold my hand.”


Sometimes I miss those days–

even though I wasn’t born yet.


So instead I’ve built a Brain Ballroom,

in the Man-hattan of my mind,

and I go there when I’m blue.

I dance a little.

I chat with my inner citizens,

catch up on the news

(which is seldom good,

since my own Mind Mayor is blind and boorish).

I listen to the band,

which is technically wobbly but always amusing,

and at least keeps a good steady beat.


Mostly, though, I doodle

on digital cocktail napkins like this one right here.

And in my doodling,

my over-cooked noodling,

I often wonder why I came back here again–

back to this shabby joint out near my private muddy river,

back to the Bowery where I no longer belong,

among bare-knuckled mugs and bums from Palookaville.


I thought I wanted out.

I thought I’d gotten out.

Maybe for awhile I did.

But Park Ave is no different than Palookaville.

They just put on nice gloves before they slug you.

So I slunk back here,

tail between my legs.


Sometimes it helps to be here.

Mostly it just kills time.

The million waves of dead,

unfruitful hours in my wake are mind-boggling,

but I try not to look backwards too often.


Meanwhile the dames I pay dimes to dance with

are various equally-flawed fantasy versions of me

–all maudlin and mopey,

all fake-happy sad and slightly lost,

all familiar to me because I’ve made them all up:

they all have my nose or my sense of humor or my love of Stravinsky.

They dutifully dance and listen to my litany of complaints

(complaints by me, to me, and often about me).

They dance to keep me company,

but I know they’re bored with me by now.

Isn’t everyone?


For instance, Goth Girl Gabby,

who is me,

is all tatted up, with a sterling silver post in her ear.

She seeks attention by being bad,

or at least seeming bad,

which is just her cover for being sad.

She’s a cutter,

and the blood gets on my zoot suit now and then,

but I don’t say nothin’

’cause we both already know the score.

I do the Pity Polka with Gabby now and then,

And it doesn’t matter

who’s pitying whom.

We take turns leading.


Then there’s Honey the Hick

–also me, mind you: a beautiful, self-possessed, simple girl–

but very elusive, of course.

Honey the Hick,

she does this trick,

where she puts her hands between her thighs

like a football center.

I grab those hands from behind her–

like the quarterback I always hoped I’d be–

and with a happy hillbilly yelp,

she kicks her leg backwards,

then over my head,

and comes back ’round to face me, giggling.

It looks fantastic

(to the crowd of onlookers in my mind),

and I feel like a million bucks every time she does it–

even though the only work I ever do

is holding on tight to her hands.

I’d do that anyway,

or even less,

just to be lifted off the floor a few seconds a day by that silly yelp.

But Honey’s dance card

is pretty full most of the time .


So instead I pick another lonely, more demure girl

from among the rent-a-doll dancers

waiting impatiently along the walls of the Brain Ballroom.

Then I listen to her sad stories,

we dance half-assed to a tune I don’t even like,

and I sulk,

dragging my feet,

plodding through less thrilling dance moves,

following the conventions of the day.

Together, this Soccer Mom Sadie and I

(still both me, both bitter and bored)

do the Telecom Twist or the Big Mac Mambo,

while across the room, Honey the Hick

lindy hops with a different guy in my head.

He’s the Not Me Guy,

(my nemesis, let’s call him Clark)

so of course he dances better than me.

And he sneers at me. The prick.

He’s taken over my own private ballroom.


But hey, what else am I gonna do?

Wait in line behind two dozen other Clark-Not-Mark’s

for Honey’s high-priced ten-second flight to freedom,

only to crash back to earth

when the next song starts and she moves on?

So I try to ignore Clark-Not-Mark and Honey the Hick,

but they’re real good

at making the rest of us ballroom bozos look pale by comparison.


I ought to tear down this whole damned joint.

But what would I build in its place?

Where would I go instead?


Besides– where’s the Me who will come home from the new joint with me

and hold my right hand, and not let go,

and then take the knife out of my left hand,

the Gabby hand?

Where’s the Me who can save me from me,

and from all the not-me’s,

inside and out?


It’s a rough neighborhood in here.

Plus I’m all out of dimes,

and running out of time.


— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

The following is an excerpted paragraph from the book Acedia and Me, by Kathleen Norris, which inspired the above poem [especially the bracketed typo, which spawned the above dance hall metaphor].


“The advice to blame oneself, a scholar has written, assumes that a person is already ‘anchored in an essential disposition which puts one at peace with God.’ Thus ‘there is no guilt complex, since the *me* being blamed and accused is in no way the authentic me, the deep me, but the apparent me.’ This superficial me may show a confident face to the world but inwardly is plagued by fears and compulsions, and remains blind to its true condition. All too often, it harbors an acedia that arises from on acknowledged anger and manifests as passive-aggressive behavior. Evagrius believed that acedia in its most dangerous form derived from a lack of self knowledge, ‘coming into being when someone does not perceive the meaning of his temptation and as a result fights against it without understanding.’ I am often without understanding in my attempt to navigate the [dance tickets] dense thickets of my good thoughts and bad. When I am mired in acedia, enthusiasm seems foolish and false. And it is no easy matter to spurn the comforts of pride even though I know that only a proper and balanced self-respect can free me to love myself as I am, and also better respect and love others. I am slow to respond to my heart’s wisdom, although I know that anything less is deadly. So, I struggle.”

-Kathleen Norris, _Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life, pg. 139-140

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