Sixty years old

Michael Gollin
July 3, 2017

Sixty years old
At fifty five, I slowed down.
I had been going fast and faster.
I lost running, walking unaided, walking at all, standing.
I lost typing, driving, using tools, gardening.
I lost eating solids, eating liquids.
I lost hugging and kissing.
I have my five senses and the sixth one, love.
I am grateful for the insurance and money
to afford round the clock care.
My eyes work, and I have a little motion in my neck and left arm.
All night I dream I am healthy.
I am enveloped in love.
It  is a tragedy to die in your fifties,
but it’s just bad luck to die in your sixties.
An improvement.

Terminal Disease and President Trump

Terminal Disease and President Trump
Michael Gollin
March 2017

The election of Donald J. Trump was terrible for me, but I am no stranger to bad news. My experience with a progressive, incurable, terminal disease–ALS–for over four years has given me a unique perspective on how to survive and make the best of the time we face under President Trump. This is not incurable: there are therapies we can do for our country. It is not terminal: we will survive, absent nuclear war. And though it may be progressive in the medical sense of the word, certainly not in the political sense, our efforts can surely mitigate the damage.

I joked for months that if Trump won, I could pull the plug on the vent. A harsher remedy than moving to Canada, my bit of gallows humor. Concerned friends were afraid to call me after the election, in case I meant it. But I awoke the next day, realizing I was still glad to be alive and that I still have plenty of fight left, even though I am quadriplegic and can’t talk due to the tracheostomy and ventilator. I have to write with my eyes using eye gaze technology, which is slow but magical.

I admit that on inauguration day, my pulse started to race and my blood pressure shot up, and I had shortness of breath. If Trump was trying to kill me, he failed. I started listening to relaxing classical music and turned off the news. I soon felt better.

I have woven these thoughts about persevering into my manifesto. Helpful links are below.

Maintain hope is rule one. With hope, any effort seems worthwhile. Without hope, it hardly seems worthwhile to make any effort. Do activities that refresh your hope, like exercise, spending time with loved ones, art, and charity. On election day, I sent an email to friends and  family, saying the sun rose today and would continue to do so every day in the future, and that the election did not change  my feelings of gratitude for being American, and to my ancestors for coming here. Many replied that my note gave them hope. Do activities that give hope. March in protests, if that works for you.

Stand up for others. There is a lot of new ugliness across this country, and more to come. When you hear other people saying hateful words, speak up if it is safe to do so. Ask “Why do you feel that way?”, then listen. If you witness someone in aggressive hateful acts, intervene and get someone to videotape it, and comfort the victim, and report to the police. If you read about some hateful act in your community, write a letter to the local newspaper. Attend interdenominational events in your community, and interracial activities, so  you can become the solution to these problems. The Muslim ban airport protests and the volunteer lawyers that came out were an example of  this kind of altruism.

Dedicate more money to charity. After the election, Planned Parenthood received an unprecedented infusion of donations, most “in honor of Mike Pence”, like ours. We have increased our giving and focused on the losers in Trumpian USA. Lawsuits will be an instrument of leverage, the courts remaining independent, so the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center are good bets.

Frame your terms to get your message across. Lakoff has a book, Don’t Think of an Elephant. It’s impossible not to when you hear that phrase. Republicans are better at this than Democrats. Here are some suggestions. When talking about Russia, call it TREASON. Say Flynn is a Benedict ARNOLD, and Trump may be, and we must find out. Label them. Don’t say conflict of interest, say corruption and bribery. Don’t say nepotism, talk about dictators who appoint family members. Say lies, not untrue or false. Say Trump is mentally ill, not bizarre or hateful. Narcissistic pathology, pathological liar. He needs to be framed this way to stand a chance of impeachment.

Follow the Indivisible manual for persuading members of Congress to act with conscience. Look it up. Here is the gist. Concentrate on your own representatives. Call regularly to both their D.C. and home offices. Go in force to forums and town hall meetings and ask provocative questions, framed as above. And make them feel that they will pay dearly for supporting Trump.

Support challengers. Democrats against Republicans, and feisty Democrats in primaries, just like the Tea Party did but for good. Run yourself, if you can, for local office. Join your local democratic club.

Be selective. Focus on a single issue or cabinet department. You don’t have the time to resist the entire U.S. government. Share the burden.

Vote with your money. Boycott Trump and his supporters. Buy from resistors.

So much for tactics, here’s the strategy.

Take as many seats as possible at every level, starting this year. Take back states, one by one. It almost doesn’t matter what position. Run for town council, school board, state legislature, or support those who do. Whatever is available in 2017. And follow up next year.

Guard the right to vote with all your might. Voter ID laws very well may have cost us the election. I fear that worse is coming if Republicans have their way. This is strategic because voting is necessary to change our political reality.

Impeach after midterm for corruption and treason. History tells us the  Democrats will win seats, and they might win big. And Republicans may be forced to take anti-Trump positions in order to win. The bottom line is that impeachment looks more likely after 2018. Depending on the Russian investigation, it may come earlier. Pence is terrible, but he won’t start a nuclear war in response to an insult. And he understands the constitution, unlike the current president. Pence we can handle.

Plan B is the 25th Amendment, which provides a process for replacing the President when they are unable to discharge the powers and duties of the President. The president can do so voluntarily, like going into surgery. This is only going to happen if Trump gets bored or angry at his position. Next, Vice President Pence can depose Trump with a majority of the cabinet. This is possible, because Trump has no prior relationship with most of his cabinet. If the President disagrees, the congress decides. This option is most likely  after the midterm, assuming the Democrats pick up seats.

I have learned to overcome many difficulties with my disease which causes progressive paralysis, so now I have almost no muscles that work. My hard-earned lesson is to adapt with the help of loved ones, recognizing that life is getting more difficult. I try not to fear the changes, and recognize the love and  beauty that surround me. I have adopted a Buddhist practice, showing compassion for everyone and everything. And that includes Trump supporters. Proceed in love, and you can’t go wrong. You should love humanity, love nature and the environment, love justice, love civil rights, love our country, and love yourself. John Lewis talks about good trouble, nonviolent and based in love. As the saying goes, love trumps hate.

So there are my thoughts. Be brave, be persistent, be optimistic that our efforts will make America better.

P.S. Here are several links on practical ways to defend democracy under a Trump Presidency:



I voted, and more (part 2)

I voted, and more (part 2)

Michael Gollin
December 2016

(Click here to read part 1, published November 2016)

In 1988, I spent a few hours as a poll watcher at my local polling place in New York’s Chinatown. The poll workers spoke no Chinese, so the interpreter was working hard. I then formed my theory that there are errors in voting, but only a fraction of a percent. Dukakis lost by more than that.

When we moved to Bowie, Maryland, I continued canvassing and poll watching. When Bill Clinton won both times, I got tickets for each inauguration from our Congressman Steny Hoyer. We didn’t go to Bush’s two.

In 2000, we watched the slow-moving disaster through Thanksgiving. I went to the Supreme Court to witness the arguments in Bush v. Gore. The decision was terrible. I wanted the House to decide. It was clear that we were in trouble.

Bush missed the warnings for 9/11 and then seized power to do all kinds of harm. The beat of war drums was relentless for a year and in 2003, when Bush invaded Iraq, I resolved to do everything I could to defeat him. I had concluded that political action such as demonstrating was powerless to change those liars and con men.

My partner, Tom Quinn, invited me to the Massachusetts delegation fundraiser for new candidate John Kerry and I liked him for president. I started giving money and gave a lot. I got called by a Kerry activist to sign up as a delegate. He asked me if I knew any women that could run. I hesitated and then suggested my wife, and he said okay.

We signed up in Annapolis as nominees to be candidates to be delegates to the DNC convention in Boston to nominate Kerry as a candidate for the presidency. I met the coordinator for Howard Dean, the front runner, and said “Enjoy Boston.” Kerry took the lead a few weeks late after the Dean Scream.

I got placed on an advisory committee, and we ran a fundraiser on U.S. presidential yacht Sequoia. On primary day, Kerry won, and both of us did too. Jill got more votes. Maryland has votes for both candidates and delegates.

Our local Democratic club invited us to come speak. We went and joined and participated for a few years. The Bowie City Council members and state legislators were members along with other local activists. The relationships we formed served us well when we organized our neighborhood to block a housing development and have the land bought by the county as a park. Such clubs exist all over the country, but you have to look for them.

The convention was exhilarating. We met all the Maryland politicians and many national ones. We saw the speech by the then-unknown Barack Obama. Everybody said “He’s the One.”

Kerry took a vacation in August and got Swift Boated. I served in West Chester, Pennsylvania as a local voter protection lawyer. There was some voter suppression with leaflets at the local college saying students were not allowed to vote. I reassured the locals to ignore the flyers. The three kids and Jill assembled hundreds of signs. Then we drove around the local roads putting them up. By the time we finished, the kids only got twenty minutes of trick-or-treating. It was Halloween. They forgave us.

On election day, I was assigned to the Prince George’s County Board of Elections, and I can’t forget the bipartisan way they solved problems like the polling place that had non-functional machines. If every bipartisan body functioned like that, we would have a great improvement.

Kerry never recovered. We had four more years of the torturers. And they brought us the Great Recession.

I became involved in county politics when our elected school board was replaced with an appointed board. I was very active in outreach and lobbying and when a bill passed reestablishing the elected board, several people suggested I run. But I didn’t want the responsibility and the long, boring hours compared to my day job as a patent attorney.

I worked on the election of Martin O’Malley as governor in 2006, and discovered fraudulent flyers purporting to be a Democratic sample ballot but showing the Republican Michael Steele as the Democrat, and having homeless people bused from a shelter in Philadelphia hand them  out. I bought the local guy lunch and took a statement. There was an article in the Washington Post but my memo to the state Democrats outlining a winning case for trademark infringement went nowhere. The Republicans were clearly infringing the Democrat trademark.

In 2008, I supported Hillary Clinton, based on experience, over Obama. When he won the nomination, I went all in. I phone banked  and canvassed with friends, strangers, and my 11-year-old daughter Julia, who gamely helped me navigate a suburban Virginia high rise and surely won some votes with her cuteness.

Election eve, I drove to Richmond and handed out packets for election day. The next day, I rose very early in the cold rain and went to my assigned polling place, a school, where I was astounded to see thousands of voters lined up around the building and into the road in the wet, cold predawn. The polls were not open yet, so I made it my mission to keep them there. I needn’t have worried, as people were singing and in great spirits. There were no big problems, and  I saw the afternoon results before I drove home, very encouraged. And as the results came in, it felt much better than in 2004.

The inauguration was joyous, including the one finger salute we gave to Cheney’s helicopter. And we danced at one of the official galas, where the president and first lady came to dance.

In 2012, I had just received my diagnosis of ALS, but I wanted to make a contribution. I voted early with first-timer son Max, and he will always remember that it took four hours. I served on a phone bank in Virginia advising people with voting problems. Then I went to a suburban polling place and helped six people who were in line at 8 PM to vote with provisional ballots because the poll official said that they were late. The results were gratifying again.

I have learned several things from my forty year experience voting, and more. It feels great and is great when my candidate wins, and making an effort makes me feel invested in my government. When my candidate loses, it feels better to know that I tried. And it gives me faith in our democratic system. I see there is no fraud, just citizens trying to vote, and sometimes it is hard. Voter suppression, on the other hand, is real, and getting much worse. We are going back to the days before the Voting Rights Act if we don’t block new voter restrictions. A signature should be enough at the polling place.

I did very little, compared to many I crossed paths with. But I saw how people get started in politics, and I admire many of them. In short, I am proud that I voted and more.

I voted, and more (Part 1)

Michael Gollin
November 2016

I voted two weeks ago by absentee ballot because it would be too complicated with my wife and nurse and power wheelchair and quadriplegia. Jill had to fill in the blanks and swear that the choices were mine. She threatened that if I said Trump, she would fill in Clinton. Fat chance.

In 1972, I learned from friends how to take a bumper sticker for war monger Buckley, turn the stars in the flag into a peace sign, and cut off the ‘ley’, and edit the B to an F with white scraps. When we saw a car with a Buckley sticker, it was our political speech to paste the peace sign over the flag, and the edited Buck before the Buckley. This vandalism satisfied my teen antiwar rebelliousness.

In 1976, I voted for the first time. It was Carter and as I recall, Republican Frank Horton ran unopposed for congress. I voted absentee from college. Later, I joined Horton as a partner at Venable. He was a good man.

I was in Switzerland in grad school in 1980 when I was shocked by Ronald Reagan’s election, so much so that I decided to leave my biology studies and return to the USA and enter law school to become an antidote.

I discovered in law school in Boston that I could be an official partisan poll watcher and I signed up for the mayoral race in about 1983. I spent a few hours at a downtown poll for half a day. The duties were to watch the official administrators to see if they were being fair, and to counsel people who had problems. Mostly that meant giving a phone number for a phone bank with people who could help. My candidate lost.

In New York in 1988 I did canvassing by phone, calling to see how people expected to vote and encourage them to do so.

(Look for part 2 soon.)

Power of light

Through impossible distance,
the star shines into my eyes.

The waxing moon, much closer,
mirrors sunshine across the night sky haze.

Airplanes’ blinking beacons trace travel
from treed horizon to treed horizon.

We seek to see the Perseids, shooting stars
of August, meteor showers, patiently.

My wife finally sees one but I have my head down
while the nurse suctions saliva from my mouth.

There were more meteors last night I hear.
But the darkness, even diluted with city lights,
is worth watching for the sake of the show.

100 Words

When I lived in Switzerland for graduate school in 1978, I took a Christmas trip to Italy with a friend. I was worried about not speaking the language but my friend’s roommate, who was studying linguistics, said to just learn 100 basic words and use them freely without regard to grammar. A word for me, you, them, goes with a verb without conjugation. A word for later and earlier substitutes for tenses. I tried it and he was right that people really appreciated the effort and made sense out of very few words. I have followed this technique repeatedly and regretted it when I didn’t.

When my family spent the summer of 2006 in Europe so I could write my first book, Driving Innovation, I made a list of what I thought the 100 words should be and I had the children write the translations in tabular form for Spanish and French. We used it in our travels to good effect.

We recently found the yellow sheet with the list of 100 words. (Well, it was actually 75 words.) It was in a phrase book for most European languages that was my traveling companion for many years.

Now that I can’t talk and spelling is slow with the Tobii eye gaze system and slower with a glance chart, I make do communicating  with nods and shakes of my head or directing my stare at the thing I am concerned with. If people are patient and ask me lots of yes/no questions, we can communicate successfully.

If you are reading this, you are capable of memorizing 100 words. In writing this post, my two college graduate children and I have added 25 words to the original 75 from the yellow sheet to make it an even 100. Feel free to customize the list as you desire. Here they are:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Hello
  4. Goodbye
  5. Please
  6. Thank you
  7. I’m sorry
  8. Excuse me
  9. Where is…?
  10. How much (cost)?
  11. When
  12. Who
  13. I/me
  14. You
  15. He/him
  16. She/her
  17. It
  18. They/them
  19. Man
  20. Woman
  21. This
  22. That
  23. Here
  24. There
  25. And
  26. Or
  27. Toilet
  28. Police
  29. Restaurant
  30. Hotel
  31. Bank/ATM
  32. Taxi
  33. Do you speak English?
  34. I don’t understand
  35. What does ___ mean?
  36. Help
  37. I want…
  38. To eat
  39. To drink
  40. To find
  41. To sleep
  42. To read
  43. To have
  44. To be
  45. To do
  46. To make
  47. To need
  48. More
  49. Less
  50. A lot/lots
  51. A little
  52. Earlier
  53. Later
  54. Open
  55. Closed
  56. Good
  57. Bad
  58. Hot
  59. Cold
  60. Vegetarian
  61. Meat
  62. Fish
  63. Poultry
  64. The check
  65. Monday
  66. Tuesday
  67. Wednesday
  68. Thursday
  69. Friday
  70. Saturday
  71. Sunday
  72. 1
  73. 2
  74. 3
  75. 4
  76. 5
  77. 6
  78. 7
  79. 8
  80. 9
  81. 10
  82. 11
  83. 12
  84. 13
  85. 14
  86. 15
  87. 16
  88. 17
  89. 18
  90. 19
  91. 20
  92. 30
  93. 40
  94. 50
  95. 60
  96. 70
  97. 80
  98. 90
  99. 100
  100. 1,000


​Michael Gollin
July 2016

I am lost in a strange land between life and death.

My body rebels. 

My mind resists. 

I know the destination.

It is unavoidable.

The question I confront is how will I get there and when.

Most people don’t even recognize that this land exists.

But some admire me just for being here.

I am a pioneer.

I can’t use my hands or legs and I can’t talk or eat or breathe without a ventilator.

But I will find my way in the end.

House plants (or slow-moving pets, or Darwin is my gardener)

Michael Gollin
October 2015

The first frost sunset with fingernail new moon did not catch us unprepared. We had time to bring in the house plants before it got too cold. My favorite is a citrus tree I bought in Chinatown when I lived there in the 1980s. I used to stop by the florist sometimes on my way home from work, and one day I saw a cheerful plant with scented flowers and small green citrus fruits. I bought it for my loft apartment and each winter it blooms and fruits. It has been with us in Bowie the whole time. You can see where I pruned it decades ago.
My house plants are survivors.

In my office, colleagues praise my plants and tell me I have a green thumb. My response is that Darwin is my gardener. You don’t see my failures because they died and were removed. Dead twigs and leaves are pruned away. What’s left is green and healthy. Some were gifts. Some were cuttings. Some were rescued from trash. A few I bought. There’s a jade plant so big it is a shrub and a bushel-sized aloe vera, both of which have progeny around the office from cuttings. Everyone has a green thumb if you keep trying and occasionally learn from your mistakes. 

(Are house plants at the office “office plants”?)

Back at home, African violets are supposed to be temperamental. Not mine. It’s ten years old and gets no special treatment, but it still flowers throughout the year.

Snake plants can live a year behind the refrigerator according to a tale a friend told me. I haven’t tried that but I’ve never killed one.

I had a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla)  that grew from three feet until it hit the ceiling. I tried a fancy technique of rooting the top but it failed and the tree stayed outside that winter and froze. I should get a new one.

For me, house plants are like slow-moving pets.