Today’s Comment of the Week: On Hamlet Dad

Wonderful Reader cducey2013 comments on A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #9 – The Intersection (aka “Hamlet Dad Goes to the Movies”):

“We’ll all get to the same place eventually.”

This certainly reminds me of the graveyard scene in Hamlet, as well as the general sentiment throughout the play of “you are dust and to dust you shall return.” But, do remember, Hamlet also says:

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will.”

Hamlet isn’t freaked out about death so much as he’s freaked out about life– he’s been “prompted to [his] revenge by Heaven and Hell.” So, rightly, this post also talks about how one is to live one’s life. Death isn’t the only scary part. . .

Yes! Life is scary too! Especially if you’re trying to avoid harming others.

For a lighter touch on parenting, check out Object #8 – The Burger Car (Proust Dad Goes To Five Guys) or Object #14 – The Bass Guitar (Van Halen Dad Stays Home). Or pick and choose your way through all the Objects by visiting the main Objects page or listening to an episode of the Jacke Wilson Show.

My thanks to cducey2013 for the Shakespearean gloss. It’s about time somebody classes up this joint a little. And speaking of class…

Authors I Love: Penelope Fitzgerald

I’ve written before about the great Penelope Fitzgerald, an author who I think gets woefully overlooked these days. Which is too bad: I love her beautiful, understated style, her deadpan sense of humor, and sneaky-great themes. You should give her books a try if you haven’t already.

But really, why do I like her so much? There are a lot of books I like, and a lot of authors I admire, but something about Fitzgerald resonates deeply with me. I think there are three reasons:

  1. She was a late bloomer
  2. She wrote short books
  3. She was a great aficionado of failure

Those certainly hit close to home!

Yesterday I ran across a great article in the New York Review of Books about Fitzgerald, including this wonderful opening:

Just before Penelope Knox went down from Oxford with a congratulatory First in 1938, she was named a “Woman of the Year” in Isis, the student paper. She wrote a few paragraphs about her university career, dwelling solely on what had gone wrong.

Ah, Penelope. How can you not love such a person? I’ve been laughing all day, just thinking about it.

Here’s my own passage on failure (from The Race):

“Who’s he?” Tina said to the Governor in the foyer.

“My biographer!”

I explained that it was actually an autobiography – I was just helping him do some organization.

“Don’t sell yourself short!” the Governor said, gripping my shoulder.

I had not intended this comment to be self-deprecating – in fact it was something of the opposite. I wanted her to know that he had been writing his memoirs, that he was paying me – not that I was so drawn to his story that I, on my own initiative… I was not a vulture looking to feast on their marital carcass… but at that moment one of his boys crossed through the room we were standing in and disappeared into the hallway and the Governor chased after him to see how he was doing.

I stayed with Tina in the foyer. She clearly didn’t know what to do with me. I had no options but to stand there. Finally she invited me into the living room where we did not sit down but ventured into small talk.

It surprised me that she recognized my last name.

“Are you Mandy’s brother?”

“She’s a second cousin,” I said.

“And you live in D.C. now? What do you do there?”

I saw a flicker of approval, or at least curiosity. I was one of the ones who had left. Yet I was not such a success that she’d heard of me. I told her I was basically a lawyer.

“Basically?” She smiled faintly. I got the sense that she liked people. She hated her husband, but he was not in the room at the moment.

“I guess I am one,” I said. “It’s not something I ever thought I’d be.”

“A long story?”

I nodded.

She looked down the hallway. Now I saw her full smile; it dazzled me. “We’ve got time,” she said with a shrug.

“It’s strange,” I began, “to feel, every minute of every day, that you’re only pretending to be something that you’re not. I went to law school, I’m a member of the bar, I get paid to do the tasks that lawyers do. I meet with clients, go to court, conference with judges – and yet I never feel like it’s me doing these things. It’s not what I feel like I really am.”

She smiled warmly. “And what do you feel like you really are?”

“A failure,” I said.


The Race: A Novella by Jacke Wilson is available now at A longer excerpt is available here.

Worst Thing I Ever Did? Had a Secret Orgy…

Wow. The confessions keep pouring in. I’ll save a few for the podcast, as I promised in the original post. But I’ll share some on the blog too.

Reader Anonymous writes:

Not quite sure why I’m doing this but I’m sure you can handle personal!

Indeed I can! Do go on…

I often refer to this as the ‘worst thing I have ever done’.

My pulse has quickened…I’m at the edge of my seat…the hair on the back of my neck is tingling…

I was in a ‘complicated’ relationship with a girl ‘R’, complicated in the sense that I was strict about not wanting to be in a relationship at this time in my life. I was sexually involved with a few partners at the time and was straight with all parties involved about this.

However, I spent most of my time with ‘R’, I was in a bad place and she took good care of me. She was very in love with me but, in relationship terms, we were not suited. Through the fog of roller coaster depression I could not see the lighthouse-bright fact that I was using her.

Oh no…oh no… I can see this one coming. There’s a pattern here, which fills me with ache. So often the worst thing we’ve done comes from letting down people who have treated us the best… you’re not alone, Anonymous! I’ve gotten dozens of these already!

So! We went to visit my friends in their cosy [location undisclosed] home where the two other people I was seeing were also staying. ‘R’ was uncomfortable from the start, I took great care to not be openly romantic with the others…

Whew! Dodged a bullet there. Good move, Anonymous!

…but we are an affectionate bunch who don’t see each other often…


…and even us cuddling up and watching a film was too much for her. She spent both days isolated in the corner not saying anything.

Oh no! This is not going to end well, I fear.

On the second night she went to bed in the attic early, I was frustrated at her for ‘bringing the mood down’ on one of my precious few times with this company and told her I’d be up later.

Okay, I think I see where this is headed. You flirted with someone else. Well, of course you did. You were feeling low, you were frustrated with R, and a little flirtation was in order. Maybe it even led to something physical, like a kiss on the cheek, that you regret now. Am I right? Don’t be too hard on yourself, Anonymous! R should understand a kiss on the cheek, given the circumstances. It might feel like this is the worst, but maybe you’re just being too hard on yourself.

(Am I right? Is that what happened?)

Very soon after, I went up to a bedroom with three others, barred the door and we all had sex.


She was upstairs devastated and I was downstairs sleeping with other people.

Argh! Well, look. I’m sure you handled it well. You told her, right? Told her what had just happened? Had a good talk about it… maybe a cry… came to some kind of understanding…

I then went up to join her and we cuddled to sleep.

Oh no!

How often did you think about this, Anonymous?

Not nearly often enough at first, that time in my life is a complete blur. Now I think about it often.

And what bothers you? Why do you think it’s the worst?

Because I didn’t even feel that bad about it. In hindsight I am distraught with myself but at the time I could see nothing but my own sense of entitlement to ‘happiness’ and excitement. Depression does that to people.

I now think about it whenever I encounter something that seems utterly unforgivable. I don’t consider myself to be a bad person and this made me realise that no one does. There are no bad people, just bad things.

Words to live by. You are definitely not a bad person, at least not as far as I can see. I think your description of your remorse is very human and full of empathy. Depression does put people in a bad place, but one doesn’t even need depression for things like this to happen. Sometimes people are in a selfish place because we have to try to make ourselves happy (if we don’t who will?), and life is hard to figure out.

We all make snap decisions every day. Some of them are poor – hopefully not too many of them are, and hopefully the damage is limited. But it’s inevitable that something, somewhere will go wrong with something we do. All we can do is keep trying.

We’ve all been there, Anonymous! We have all needed that forgiveness, and we’ve all been in a position where forgiveness is called for (even if it’s hard to give). I think you deserve it in this case, for whatever that’s worth.

Many thanks for passing along this story, which I learned from and found to be agonizingly human. And good luck with the rest of your relationships! If this is your worst, and nothing worse ever happens, I think you’ll be just fine.

Readers, I’m still taking entries! Tell me your worst! Leave a comment or shoot me an email at Anonymity completely guaranteed!

Previous entries:

Contest Winners! The Brilliant Readers Who Guessed the Cover Themes

So here was the contest: guess the cover art themes to my book The Race and win a free copy of the book.

As a reminder, here’s the cover:

Race_12_28_final (1)

I also gave a brief description that had a few clues. I was looking for two things, or maybe three.

The book is about American politics, which the blue background and white stars reflect (as if we’ve zoomed in on a corner of the American flag).

It’s also about twilight, as a politician’s career heads toward darkness. The black and yellow at the bottom reminds me of a Wisconsin highway at night, your headlights lighting up the road as you head toward the horizon with an open starry sky ahead of you. (A good image for the loneliness of the campaign trail, at least for this particular candidate and his erstwhile biographer.)

And finally, there’s the small star that’s hanging on. Falling? Rising? Just hanging on.

“There’s some dignity in that little star!” I cried to my designer when I saw it. “It’s hanging on in spite of all the odds. No one knows why!”

My main character is elliptical in that way. Why hang on? Well, maybe he’s not capable of anything else…

I know, I know: I get a little carried away. You have to remember that I love like these, from a great Kafka series:


Aren’t those great? The eye motif, so perfect for Kafka. And the art is bold and full of expression, and the meaning has some playfulness and thought to it.

Kafka is a hero of mine, and while not at all trying to compare myself to such a genius, I thought some of the absurdities of The Race had some affinities with Kafka (also Svevo and Poe). If the spirit of the art above could work for the covers of Kafka, I thought it would work for mine too. Hence, the lowly little star, struggling to maintain its place in the heavens.

Okay! Did anyone guess? Indeed they did! Readers nailed this.  Continue reading

The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done? Fooled My Significant Other with a Fake Online Persona…

I’m getting some great responses to my request for “the worst thing you’ve ever done.” What I’m interested in exploring is not just the act itself, but the aftermath and the impact. Why does it seem like the worst? Why does it stick in your head?

A reader reports the following:

I was in a serious relationship for over a year when my significant other had to move across the county due to a family emergency. They didn’t know anyone there aside from family and decided to use social media to reach out.

Okay, sounds harmless. A family emergency? Who wouldn’t need a little social comfort?

By social media I mean they created a dating profile but insisted it was just for meeting new people and nothing else.

Hmm. I could see where this could cause some problems. A dating profile just for meeting new people? I would expect suspicion. Maybe jealousy. Maybe a complete lack of trust. On the other hand, this is someone dealing with a family emergency! A little slack seems to be in order.

How does one handle this? Our reader handled it this way:

Me, half way across the county alone and feeling insecure decided to test this idea of befriending on a social network. I created a fake account (using pictures I found online) and befriend my “significant other” and by befriended, I mean seduced. They didn’t give in, though their conversation was definitely questionable.

Oh no! It’s finding out your worst fears coming true…it’s awful, awful, awful when that happens. And then?

I stopped going on the site after a few months, it became difficult to balance as my partner often talked about their “new friend” and the guilt because overwhelming as I realized they really did have pure intentions.

Oh man, this is so painful! It’s those last nine words that kill me. That’s the dagger to the heart. I can just imagine how horrible that must have felt! We’ve all been there, right? Obsessed to the point of reckless behavior?

A friend of mine once called a girl and let the phone ring a few hundred times (this was an era when some phones didn’t have voice mail or answering machines), thinking that she would get home, hear the phone ringing, and pick up immediately. He wanted to talk to her as soon as possible! Later he learned that she and her friends were sitting outside at the pool, listening to the phone ring and wondering what kind of creepy idiot would let the phone ring for that long. She recounted the story to him and he sat there pretending to be shocked, terrified that somehow she’d trace it back to him.

Back to our confession! Here’s the reader’s self-analysis:

I think about this often because it refers to a state of mind I never want to find myself in again. The amount of insecurity I possessed at the time is sickening and the things I did because of the insecurities is inexcusable.

In case you’re wondering, at some point I did tell my significant other that I was in fact, their long lost friend. It didn’t go over too well…

That must have been terrible! On the other hand, it was probably the right thing to do. It was certainly brave. I admire the reader for confessing, which I’m not sure I could have done. My phone-calling friend certainly never did.

This topic fascinates me. I’m planning to devote the next episode of my podcast to it – what we choose as the worst things we’ve ever done, and why we choose them. I’m not looking for horrible crimes here. I’m looking for things that even normal, healthy, law-abiding citizens carry around in their minds, thinking back on their behavior and cringing.

So let’s hear it, people! Tell us your secrets, either in the comments section or email me at Anonymity – and a sympathetic ear – are guaranteed.

Special thank you to the reader who submitted this entry. I found the story brimming with tenderness and humanity and courage. Take heart: what you did is perfectly understandable, you learned from the experience, and it sounds like you’re in a much better place now. Life is hard, and being a human being is often a terrible ordeal. Together we all make it through (somehow)!

Confession Time! What’s The Worst Thing You’ve Ever Done?

Readers! I’m putting together the next episode of The Jacke Wilson Show and I could use your help thinking through some issues.

Let me know (email or comments) your answers to the following:

  1. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?
  2. How often do you think about it?
  3. Why was it the worst?
  4. Why do you think about it as often (or as little) as you do?

Got it? That’s it! I’ll keep everything anonymous.

I have a special corollary question:

  1. Is there some small bad thing that you’ve done that you think about way too much?
  2. What is it?
  3. Why do you think it sticks in your mind?

Feel free to answer some or all of the above questions – or craft a response that has nothing to do with any of them. No pressure to follow rules! Just let me know what you’re thinking! Pour your heart out on the page!

International Feedback on The Race!

Yesterday I posted a quick little request that summarized my thoughts on the U.S. elections. And of course, I wrote a book about a politician, based on some personal experience I had ghostwriting the autobiography of one of our nation’s gems. The politician in my book, a former governor recovering from a sex scandal, exemplifies everything bizarre about our system.

What is it about democracy that produces such creatures? Is there something about the process itself that turns people into these aliens? Is it an American phenomenon or is it true of democracies everywhere?

Well, I’m happy to report that at least some of the ideas in The Race translate rather well. Here’s a report from a reader in India.

Some highlights:

I admire the governor’s character-someone who is more than determined to fight and make a comeback no matter what people think of him. Even after being humiliated by his Italian mistress, his sons and his wife he still goes strong with this character, smile and determination to fight against a stronger opponent.

Yes! There is something admirable about the governor. Something sympathetic. A pathetic creature. But dogged. He exists.

The story has its own pace and takes you by surprise on every shameless and unplanned statement the governor has to prove himself.

Thank you! I know this will sound a little self-serving, but it took me by surprise as well. I vividly remember the day when I thought, “Wait, we’re ending every chapter with someone telling him how much they hate him…well, all right then! Let’s get it on!

The story showcases a lot of American humour which clearly shows how people from different parts of the country think and behave differently in a particular situation.

Glad you liked it! It’s Wisconsin, for sure. But it’s also Anywhere, America.

All in all a hilarious piece of work…


…with two different characters who come together to shape up the life of the governor in words and in turn realise how sensitive and greedy can human nature be at times.

Readers, could I ask for a better review? It’s so generous!

A great political comedy wrapped with insight on changing human nature.

Thank you!

You can check out The Race at and elsewhere. Paperbacks still less than 5 bucks, e-book versions still less than three. And of course, free books available to all reviewers. Aha, you say: I don’t review books for some fancy news organization or million-hit blog. Discrimination in action! No, dear reader, you’ve misunderstood. Any review counts – even on your own blog, even at Goodreads, even a plain customer review at Amazon. It all works for me!

My thanks to Janak Mistry for the wonderful book review (which I lost in the shuffle for a while – sorry for the delay, Janak!). And check out Janak’s writings about Tibet, we all need more Tibet in our lives.

Onward and upward!

Election Day Request

A request for Election Day:

On this national day of voting
Can’t we put aside our differences
And recognize the great source of our unity:
We all hate politicians

Go vote, everyone!

And then, after you’ve recovered from that, take a look at my book The Race, which is about a disgraced former governor trying to make a comeback after a sex scandal. He has it all: name recognition, funding, political savvy…and the hatred of a nation.

Onward and upward!

Good Luck NaNoWriMoers!

It’s National Novel Writing Month! And once again, I’m astounded by people who hate this project. (Has Laura Miller written her annual screed yet? I can’t wait.) Here’s a post from a year ago:

NaNoWriMo: A Full-Throated Defense

Democracy, Tolstoy (again!), NaNoWriMo, and hate. A good post.

Onward and upward, everyone! Good luck with the writing!

Small Press Shoutout: Enchanted Lion Press!

Happy November! In honor of the holiday season, we’re resurrecting the Small Press Shoutout Series, in which I highlight some of the most amazing small presses around.

Today’s small press is  unbelievably good. If you have a child in your life under the age of, say, ten, head on over to Enchanted Lion to check out their books. It will be time well spent: your holiday shopping will be complete.

Take a look at this:

And this:

And my personal favorite:

Here’s a list of our previous small press shoutout-ees, with links: Continue reading