Friday, November 28, 2008

Torches N 'Pitchforks

I just finished reading Torches n’ Pitchforks, an independent student literary journal sponsored by a friend of mine, Jim Churchill-Dicks, who teaches in Prineville, Oregon. He is a fantastic person as well as a fantastic teacher.

The students contributing to the journal have a lot to say, and as he commented, “If the standardized test scores told the whole story, they would say that Crook County High School has the worst student writers in the state of Oregon. Not that it matters, but maybe this will provide some alternative 'data' for those keeping score. What does matter, is that a handful of powerful kids who have spent their lives being discounted are getting to show a glimpse of who they truly are.”

I urge you to check out Torches n’ Pitchforks by clicking on the title. You will be blown away as I was. The journal is in the students' words, their vernacular, their syntax and punctuation and spelling. But don’t let that get in the way of their messages. We too often overlook substance because we are distracted by form.

I urge you to pay attention (that is, read!) editor’s note, about t n’ p, and the submissions sections, even if you don’t intend to submit. Then subscribe.

Don't bother to comment. Subscribe instead.

And check out Jim's blog, listed to the right, Beyond Telling.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Free Hugs Redux

I hate to have my picture taken. I’m already too fat, and the camera puts on 10 pounds. Or so they say.

But I had my picture taken a lot yesterday afternoon in front of the Art Institute while Ann and I participated in the Free Hugs Campaign, and so did Ann. I hope you accepted my challenge and did your own Free Hugs wherever you were.

We took the noon train downtown, and even on the train heard a college student tell her mother about her friends who would be participating in the Free Hugs Campaign. Already we were validated.

Ann was nervous, but I figured the worst that could happen was that we would be told to stop and move on. We decided that the Art Institute of Chicago would be a good place to ‘set up shop,’ so Ann stood with her Free Hugs sign in front of the northern lion by the crosswalk from the other side of Michigan Avenue. I stood at the southern lion with my sign. It was cold, but we dressed for the occasion.

My first hug was from a friend at the opera (Lulu) Tuesday night, a lucky hug from Marianne.

But my first hug yesterday was from a woman who came up and said, “I’ve seen you on television.” I told her this was my first time, and I hadn’t been on television, but she could have a hug anyway. She smiled and we hugged.

After that probably ten to fifteen percent of the people who walked by hugged me, about a hundred by the end of our two hours. Frequently one member of a couple would hug me, and not necessarily the woman. A lot of twenty-somethings hugged. I got a group hug from about eight young people while one of them took our picture. An Asian trio wanted hugs and a photo. A lot of people took photos without hugging me, and I could almost read their minds: The crazies are out the day before Thanksgiving. I suppose we were.

Most of the people who didn’t hug found something fascinating in the architecture of buildings across the street so they didn’t have to make eye contact, or just stared stonily ahead. I suspect they were the people who most needed a hug.

Others who didn’t hug told me the smile I gave them was enough. Cool. Even cops waved, and taxi drivers honked.

I hugged and chatted with people from Athens, Ohio, where I was a grad ass for a year at Ohio University. With people from Texas, who told me how friendly Chicago is. With a woman who wanted to go to the Cloud Gate sculpture (the Bean) at Millennium Park and wanted to make sure she was headed in the correct direction. With a young woman from Long Island who told me I am an activist and only wanted to shake hands, which is also fine. She thought New York was friendlier than Chicago. I don’t think I’m an activist. And I find Chicago very friendly. Moreso since the election.

Ann had a young man with his own Free Hugs sign hug her and say “Eighty-nine.” (We didn’t count. I started but forgot to continue.) Another man rushed across the street, hugged her and said, “This is the real deal.” Whatever that means.

Two young Chinese women hugged her and told her that they knew of the Free Hugs Campaign because they have it in China. They asked if she were Christian, and told her they had never met a Christian before, that they are Buddhist. Ann told them she’s an Episcopalian with Buddhist tendencies, which probably confused them.

One man, close to my age and very serious, seemed astounded by the Free Hugs Campaign. After we hugged, I told him that everyone can join, all they need is a sign, and there are no membership forms. He said that it is an important activity, “We live in perilous times.” He seemed very moved by the free hugs idea. I expect to see him with a sign some time when I’m downtown.

He was balanced, unfortunately, by a woman in her seventies with an Airedale that nipped at everyone they passed. She told me that no one would hug me because there is too much sexual abuse. Wrong.

After standing in the cold for a while, a woman came up and asked how many people I had hugged. When I told her twenty-five to thirty, she hugged me and said, “Now it’s thirty-one.” I felt warmed up.

In fact, despite the cold and not wearing gloves, I was warm the whole time I stood in front of the Art Institute Lion with my Free Hugs sign.

Please feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Thanksgiving is Thursday, and it is a time to reflect on what we are thankful for - besides too much to eat and too many football games on television and too many dishes to wash.

I have a lot to be thankful for, beginning with family: My wife of 41 years, Ann. My son Daniel who died almost 16 years ago, but is still with us in our hearts. It is amazing to me that he has been gone almost as long as he lived. His girlfriend Sandra, who continues to be in our lives, and her Mark, who puts up with us gracefully.

My chosen family, including grandsons David and Jonathan, and their dad Tim, who gave them to us after Daniel died. Their mother Priscilla who agreed to that arrangement, still honors it, and has done her best to raise them well. Tim’s new wife Karen, who happens to be a former student - who’d a thunk it?- and her kids, our new grandchildren Alexa and Grayson.

Of course, Derek and Shannon who chose me their dad. I tease that I’m their old dad and their new dad. And Bill and his son Carter, who are like son and grandson. And chosen sister Laurie, my sister the doctor, who received her Ph.D. from Stanford earlier this year. Go Laurie! And my cousin Rochelle, whom we love dearly, and her family. And my other cousin Margaret.

And our close friends, especially Theresa and Mark. Our wonderful neighbors, especially the “G” neighbors: Gertzes, Godfreys, Graces, Gordons.

Our church friends, and school friends, those I taught with as well as those I went to school with. And my writing friends.

My dog park friends, many of whom I know by their dogs: Monte’s mom, or April’s mom. But I know many by their own names: Beth, Kathy, Fred, Connie, Pat, Gail.

My opera friends Marianne and Gary. Certainly our travel buddies Ted and Carol. And . . . Well, the list goes on.

I am especially grateful this year for Barack Obama, who as a graceful politician earned the presidency and is now leading the country, W having taken a grateful back seat apparently. With time I can see President-elect Obama becoming a statesman as well a politician and leader.

What a joy to have the “Irish Mafia” back in the White House: the O’Bamas and the O’Bidens. That, of course, is a joke, but Obama’s great, great grandfather (or something like that) was from Ireland, and he does have Irish “blood” on days other than March 17.

I am thankful that we are able to continue to live a comfortable life, despite the current economic mess. And that I can say and publish whatever I want on my various blogs. I do try to keep them from being too nonsensical or too much of a rant.

Thursday we are going to our friend Theresa’s for dinner. Theresa doesn’t have a sports gene either, so there won’t be television blaring out football games (I know, how un-American!), and we’ll be able to talk, and play board games or dominoes, to settle the world’s problems after we eat.

That alone is plenty to be thankful for.

Don’t forget to join us for the Free Hugs Campaign either in your own town or in Chicago, something else to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

As always, feel free to click comment below and leave your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Free Hugs

Thanksgiving is coming up and certainly we as Americans have a lot to be thankful for.

Despite the economic turndown (crash?), we still have a lot to offer, and I have a suggestion that won’t cost anything except a trip to your local downtown area.

Ann and I are a part of the Free Hugs Campaign, and we’re going to “demonstrate” for the first time Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving, for a couple of hours in the Loop in Chicago. We don’t know what anyone’s reaction will be. We hope for positive results

The Free Hugs Campaign is a loosely disorganized group of people who stand in busy pedestrian areas and silently offer, you guessed it, Free Hugs. They/ we hold up a sign and people are free to participate or not. Most don’t. Our grandson Jonathan (he’s 16 and a junior in high school) has participated in the past, and we were touched by his stories, mostly simple stories of people who ignored him or got a hug.

The Free Hugs Campaign was started by Juan Mann. Here’s his story:

“I'd been living in London when my world turned upside down and I'd had to come home. By the time my plane landed back in Sydney, all I had left was a carry on bag full of clothes and a world of troubles. No one to welcome me back, no place to call home. I was a tourist in my hometown.

“Standing there in the arrivals terminal, watching other passengers meeting their waiting friends and family, with open arms and smiling faces, hugging and laughing together, I wanted someone out there to be waiting for me. To be happy to see me. To smile at me. To hug me.

“So I got some cardboard and a marker and made a sign. I found the busiest pedestrian intersection in the city and held that sign aloft, with the words "Free Hugs" on both sides.

“And for 15 minutes, people just stared right through me. The first person who stopped, tapped me on the shoulder and told me how her dog had just died that morning. How that morning had been the one year anniversary of her only daughter dying in a car accident. How what she needed now, when she felt most alone in the world, was a hug. I got down on one knee, we put our arms around each other and when we parted, she was smiling.

“Everyone has problems and for sure mine haven't compared. But to see someone who was once frowning, smile even for a moment, is worth it every time.”

Will we accomplish much next Wednesday? I don’t know. I suspect people will react to us differently than the man, evidently a preacher, who shouts on State street in front of a major department store. He tells people that they are going to hell if they don’t repent. That God hates sex and certainly despises gay people.

My God is a God of love. He is probably too often disappointed in me and my friends and humanity in general. But I can’t believe He hates us. This Thanksgiving, despite my sin of gluttony, I’m going to try to pass along some Love.

I invite you to join us, if not in physically in the Loop on Wednesday afternoon, then in spirit. If you can’t be in Chicago, try your own city or suburb. See what happens.

Pass it along.

I invite you to comment below as always. If you join us, please let us know how you fared.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Agent of Change

I sent the out blog below Congratulations America! as an email before I decided to post it.

I received a lot of responses, which seems interesting to me because the counter shows that people check out my blog on a pretty regular basis, but they hardly ever leave comments - it's probably too cumbersome a process to write a comment.

I am printing (without permission, forgive me) some of the comments I received.

Darlene, a friend from Goddard College wrote, "Jubilate! Thank you for this moving account, Bill. How wonderful that you were there to take it in. I thought McCain's speech was beautiful as well--generous, sensitive, responsible--he seemed freed from the shackles of his handlers and hate-mongers."

Our late son's girlfriend, a wonderful, beautiful, kind young woman wrote, "Ah... thanks for sharing Bill! I got teary reading this while on a call with a lady trying to set a dr's appointment. I don't think they noticed. I'm very excited about our future!!! "

My daughter, also wonderful, kind and beautiful, wrote, "Yes indeed. It didn't hit me until I was on my way to work this morning, and it occurred to me that for the first time in very many years, I am proud of 'us.'"

Elana (also wonderful, kind and beautiful) said, "What you've written is really beautiful, thanks for including me." Thanks, Elana, for the kind thought!

Bill said, (and the Supreme Court is deciding on his language - at least broadcast - as I write this), "What a night!! I haven't been this proud to be an American in a long fucking time . . ." I, of course, quite agree.

One of my jazz singer friends wrote me: "Hi Bill: Thank you for that wonderful story (Rochelle forwarded it to me). What a subtle but huge example of what we pray America (and the world) can become. You brightened my day and tuned up my focus. I believe God is doing a new thing in the hearts and minds of people...and I am ready." I have already added her email to my address book.

She refers to this response from my cousin Rochelle (who, as I think about it, is a warm chocolate brown): "This is from my 'cousin' - Bill Moser. Most of you know him. He happens to be an author. I wanted to share this beautiful story with the special people in my life. He happens to be white, and I always tell people when I introduce him and his wife as my 'third cousin on my mother's side' that 'it's a long story.' Bill and Ann have done much to improve if not change the way I feel about other races. Here's his story. I hope you enjoy it."

Rochelle's comment was the one that touched me most deeply. She labels us as agents of change, a role I never considered for myself. A long time ago, when I was in high school in a racially divided city, I decided that I could not, can not teach or live hate. (As a man who is flawed, I stumble. Damn!)

Since I made that decision I have learned that I am who I am by a total accident of birth, that I could have been born -or not - anywhere in the world, into any circumstances, and who I am is a gift.

I have also learned from the example of a lot of people like Marilyn and Chuck in Joliet who were our late son's god-parents; from Tim who gave us his boys to be grandparents to; from former student Tim who lived with us for seven years rather than choose between his separated parents; from Liz who ran the residential boys' camp in Wisconsin where I worked for a couple of summers; from Cyndie at our current church; and from Rochelle. All these people - and many more - taught me that God is Love by living that truth.

Rochelle issues an implicit challenge to me to continue to be that agent of change. I pray that I can live up to her expectations and that role.

Feel free to comment below, despite how cumbersome it is.

Congratulations, America!


I am walking on air this morning, to coin a phrase. We are seeing a change in our country, a change in the way the world will view us, a change from the politics of fear to the politics of hope.

I was downtown at the Opera last night and caught the tail end of the Obama Rally on my way to the train home. The air was electric with cars and taxis honking their horns, people yelling out of car windows and waving flags and pictures of Obama, pedestrians erupting into shouts of OBAMA! OBAMA! I laughed and cried all the way from the Lyric Opera to the Metro Station at Millennium Park. I'm not sure my feet touched the ground.

The Opera (Bizet's Pearl Fishers) ended about 10:30, and McCain was giving his concession speech when I left. I was floored. I expected the vote count to take well into the night. The skyscraper canyons prevented the signal from reaching my little radio completely, so I got a lot of static, but I was able to hear most of it. It was the finest, most sincere speech I heard him give, a speech to unite the country behind our President Elect Barack Obama.

As I neared the train station, huge crowds clogged the streets, and I was able to talk to people who attended the rally. On the train, I got a seat and we took off in a nearly three quarter empty car. The first stop was closer to the rally, however, and the rally-goers packed the train. A woman and her grandson who was probably six or seven got on. She sat next to the woman in front of me, and the little boy, Michael, sat next to me. It seems superfluous to mention, but they were black. At this point, I hardly notice. I asked if he had a good time, and he nodded.

As the train took off, his eyes started to droop, but he kept tight hold of the three balloons he held - red, white and blue, and covered with little stars. By the time the train reached Hyde Park, about a quarter of the way to Homewood, he had curled up on me deeply asleep, and I didn't move or disturb him until it was time for him and his grandmother to disembark. She didn't notice he had fallen asleep so comfortably, and apologized when she did. "I told him it was past his bedtime," she said. But people around us - both white and black - noticed and smiled and waved at me. When she tried to wake him from his very deep sleep, he finally stood up, and they got off at Hazelcrest, about three stops before me.

This is the way America should be.

We all have a stake in this country, and I look forward to your comments below.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


As you know I am an Obama supporter. But that is neither here nor there when YOU enter the voting booth.

The important thing is:
If you haven't already voted, VOTE!