(on occasion of the Great North American Solar Eclipse, 04/8/2024)

So, there it is…
A celestial light show.
A profound, orbital reminder of the clock mechanism of the universe.
The cosmic dance that has been going on since time as we know it began.
Good. Now,
Can we only remember…
Tomorrow, when the sun rises
When we sit down to dinner,
Or gather to pray,
Or assemble to pass legislation
Can we only remember
That which we allow to separate us
That brings foe against foe
That with which we justify hatred, murder, oppression, jealousy
And all the countless things that keep us awake at night
Can we remember
We are but a minuscule participant in this astounding Timepiece
Where individual lives tic by as seconds, a generation in minutes,
A civilization perhaps an hour.
No more.
Tomorrow when the moon and sun go on with business as usual,
While the clock (which needs no winding) continues reeling
Can we remember how we stood in the false dark of midday
Together in our awe
And shouted for the light to return.


an intimate portrait of the author; side view x-ray
an intimate portrait of the author

I awoke alive to my own aliveness,
The kind of awareness that feels like invincibility;
The kind of aliveness that makes you want to solve everything:
To make every man aware of his soft underbelly,
To make every white person aware that Black Lives Matter;
To make every nut-job awaken to the reality of pandemics – biological, ethical, and environmental.

I awoke facing my own aliveness in a way that feels like victory over self;
Like I could finish every project:
every book, every poem, every screen play, every video clip, every blog post I’ve ever started
but left scattered to the never ending march
exhaustion, futility
the overwhelming burden of consciousness,
and time.

I awoke inhaling the very essence of aliveness,
through every pore of my skin, 
in a way that feels like belonging;
like today will be the day I stare down mortality and make IT shake in its boots
(for a change).

I awoke alive to my own aliveness in that quiet plea of every living human
That says:
I’m here
I matter
And my brief time must somehow
make sense.

You Had One Job (and you just lost it to a robot)

{submitted to the editorial staff at University Communications}

I appreciate innovation as much as the next person; and, I appreciate a witty headline. But, the two collide when one chooses humor over acknowledging impact – especially upon some the more vulnerable among us.

Such a collision happened recently when the INSIDE UW newsletter ran a link to the news story “University Housing Launches New Starship Robot Delivery Service” under the linked headline “How much is the standard tip for a robot?” Now, again, I understand the tongue-in-cheek reference here – but I wonder does your staff understand the real and present threat that technological innovation presents to low-wage workers?

Tipping itself is already an under-appreciated facet of service work – as a former waitstaff, I continue to be astounded how many people still don’t understand that the people who wait on you in most restaurants make far below minimum wage per hour and are taxed at 15% of their sales REGARDLESS of how much they actually earn in tips.

This smug headline did nothing to prevent further marginalizing this issue by inferring that everyone benefits from a world where things will be done for us without having to pay a gratuity. Far from it; those who manufacture and sell these machines, and those companies that deploy them because of the advantages of not having to pay workers (or their health insurance) – not to mention the ability to do transactions online and never having to deal with face-to-face interactions with customers (heaven forbid!) are the ones who stand to benefit.

I understand the development of autonomous machines is an important technological advancement; robotics have brought some incredible benefits, and self-driving machines have taken on some of the burden of going into dangerous and even hostile environments, sparing the risks to human life.

But food delivery is not one of those situations. Waitstaff and other service workers are often those living at the lower end of the economic scale. And since such jobs are often a first job during high school, college, or directly after graduation, this population includes the very students whose welfare Starship Technologies claims to have in its best interest.

As for the $40 million dollars of venture capital that Starship has raised, which has given them access to this, and about a dozen other college campuses, I have to wonder what other, innovative solutions they might come up with to address food distribution inequities, wage issues, and poverty. But clearly they’re focused on sky-high returns for their investors, not practical issues here on planet earth. How’s that for a witty closing?

– Stephen Montagna
Madison, WI
UW grad class of ’94


History is not what happened, but what survives the shipwrecks of judgement and chance.” – Maria Popova

L | 50 | fifty-five | 11111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111

Or: MCMLXIX–MMXIX which is shorthand for “holy shit, doesn’t fifty years go by really, really fast?!”

How does one capture that? The passage of time. The ephemeral experience of existence in a Universe driven by natural laws, but measured by the measly human system of time?

Way back, ten years ago, I marked my fortieth with a blog post, “Moon Child”:

I’m proud of the writing. I’m also ashamed of it. Truth be told, not a lot has changed in ten years. Oh, a lot has HAPPENED – but not a lot; certainly not enough (loaded word, I know, but roll with it) has changed.

And of course, as with any assessment, the conclusions arrived at are pretty dependent on the scope. I can sit here, frustrated with what I haven’t fixed, addressed, or improved upon over the past ten years, as my forties come to a close; or, I can widen, and reflect on what, if anything, have I learned from a half-century on terra firma? 

And that is what, exactly?

There are very few absolutes. Gravity. And death. Everything else is “frameworks” – and by frameworks I mean a system of beliefs, habits, cultural myths “a story” that has been built up over decades or millennia. Money is a framework; a human invented mirage that consumes us. Gender is a framework. Race is a framework.

We go through life following the signposts set down by our culture. We experience and express through the limits of language. The older I get, the more I grapple with the dissonance between “existence”: what being a living, breathing biological entity is, and “life” – the multiple layers of frameworks that shape our perceptions and expectations. 

Every day, I awake with the anxiety of what I haven’t become; the teaching career that never materialized; the documentary I never fully finished; the vacant space next to me in bed.

I know. They say it’s good to have goals. Well, at fifty I got plenty. And I will continue to “fight the good fight”; but today, I’m going to work hard to keep the regret-monsters at bay and give myself “grace space” to celebrate merely making it this far. It’s farther than many have the chance to make.

Today, I’ll revel in having survived the shipwrecks of judgement and chance.

“Black” Friday…

How like an addict we all appear, promoting “Black Friday” like some sick joke; it is transparent, a desperate plea, a junkie strung out on the thing he thinks will take the pain away. It is sold to us as inevitable.

It is not.

Do not let them fool you. You were born naked and perfect. You do not need stuff. And stuff does not speak love for you to those you hold dear. This consumption is our common affliction, and the larger issues — the wars, the sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, poverty, and oppression — will not go away until we grapple with this disease, this mythology that selling stuff to one another, that using profit and capitol as the gatekeeper of justice somehow makes this a great nation.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It is a dark time; a bad economy dominated by power mongering elite; federal and state legislatures held hostage by ideologues who want to wrap us in their fear and roll us back to the 1950’s (or earlier); a planetary eco system reeling from millennia of exploitation and neglect.

But give thanks. Give thanks for living, and breathing, and loved ones around you (and those that are no longer with us). Give thanks for the here and the now – they are all we truly have, and they are transitory.

And then, on Friday, remember that it is international Buy Nothing Day.

You will not help the economy by spending vociferously. You will not help yourself. You will not be “missing out” on anything special if you fail to show up. You will not be failing to show your loved ones you care because you do not buy them the best that money can buy at bargain prices.

This is the frenzy that big corporations want, not only because it keeps them “in the black” financially, but because it reifies their world view; it institutionalizes greed and justifies their actions (“we’re just giving people what they want”).

So instead, take the day to breathe. Keep the wallet in your back pocket, or purse. Take a walk outside. Call or write a friend. Contemplate your time on the planet and what impact (positive? negative?) you want to have on it and those that will come after you.

Let’s make this the year that common folk will find their way into the black. Financially. Spiritually.