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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Purple Rain is Playing in my Head

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I think Purple Rain will be playing in my head on a continuous loop for oh, about the next year! It is there right now, playing in the background - "Purple Rain, Purple Rain...."  It was there when I went to bed last night. I noticed myself stirring the gravy to its rhythm this morning, fat old hips swaying in tune.

There are artists of every stripe in our world - painters, musicians, writers, poets. They all deserve a little credit although they may have touched our lives only slightly and barely rate the title. (I consider myself in that light). Some are mediocre. Some are good. Some are great and some are sublime...and Prince was one of those.

In a time when poor black boys so frequently fell by the wayside of drugs and gangs, Prince didn't just crawl out of the ghetto, he blasted out with the force of a rocket, leaving a trail of stardust for others to follow.

In a time when poor black boys were so anxious for a way out, they were willing to sign their lives over to a publishing or recording company, Prince did that too....until he marshaled his forces and through sheer talent and courage and determination, forced Warner Brothers to back down and sign a contract written exactly the way he wanted it written, even if he had to change his name to a symbol to do it.

In a time when poor black boys were expected to be non-threatening, leaving the bawdy hip-shaking to "safer" white musicians like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, Prince oozed sensuality. He was sex personified in both his lyrics and his movements. He was in-your-face about it. "Fuck you if you don't like it." And we liked it even if Tipper Gore and the Parent's Resource Council didn't, putting him at the top of their list of unacceptable dirty boys.

He was so hot, he was cool, rocketing past all the conventional norms. He wore mascara and lace but none of us women were fooled. We knew a man when we saw one.

He forced us out of our musical comfort zones.

"Think you don't like rap? Think you don't like hip-hop? Think you don't like disco? Whatever it is you think you don't like, listen to this and I'll change your mind."

He was an outlaw but he didn't spray bullets just to make noise. He was so in control of his environment that every shot hit the bullseye whether that was in arrangement of his music or perfecting his brand or helping young musicians find their voice and their confidence in themselves.

He gave millions to charity but he didn't talk about it. He was never involved in any scandal that I ever heard about. He was a consummate showman but he kept his private life private. He never "went Hollywood" but stayed in Minneapolis and supported his own community. He'd told his family that when he died he wanted "no drama" and so it was.....just the family at a private ceremony and cremation.

His Super Bowl half-time show was indicative of who he was. When others would have canceled because of the pouring rain, he said, "can you make it rain harder?" And so he played in the drenching downpour and gave the best half-time show ever.

He was that rarest of humans - the Artist Sublime.

Rest in peace, Beautiful Man.





 










Sunday, March 20, 2016

Writing on Social Media Comes With Responsibility

                                                   

                                                      Image result for mean politics

Facebook is a polyglot combination of disparate things. Almost anyone can find what they want and block what they don't want. Maybe you don't like kittens or recipes or being guilted into giving someone cyber-hugs or reading religious exhortations. Or maybe you don't like politics.

That's all fine. To each his own. But kittens and recipes and hugs and sermons don't have the affect of changing lives on a large scale the way politics can. We should all be interested in politics because what our country is and does depends on it and that impacts you and yours.

Do you think abortion should be legal or illegal? Do you think Syrian refugees should be taken in to America? Do you think guns should be allowed in your child's school? What do you think we should do about ISIS? Should the minimum raise be raised? Should 11 million illegal aliens be deported or allowed to stay in the U.S.? Should torture be illegal? Is climate change a real thing?

Those who say there is no difference between the parties and that all politicians are the same are absolutely wrong. Look at the list above again. Depending on your answers, you are either closer to conservative Republican thinking or closer to liberal Democratic thinking. If you throw up your hands in disgust and ignore the political process, you are a lazy American.

The political junkies among us (count me in) have all become writers thanks to social media. We all try to put words together that will convince others to our way of thinking. Often the posts on Facebook are 100% perception and 0% facts. If you are trying to figure out whether someone's words are true or not, see if there is meat on the bone of their contention. If they are bitching about Obama leaving Iraq too soon, have they read the actual Status of Forces Agreement George Bush negotiated with Iraq? If not, they don't know what they are talking about.

If they are whining about NAFTA, have they actually read the Agreement? Do they know what NAFTA actually said and did? If not, they are making an emotional pitch, not a reality-based one.

Unless you are writing fiction, your writing is expected to be honest. There is a lot of political fiction out there in cyber-space that tries to pass itself off as non-fiction. Political posters need to be specific. I have a friend who believes Obama is the worst president we ever had and is engaged in the destruction of America. I asked, "so you think things were better in 2008 than they are now?"

"Absolutely," she said.

I asked her if she could be more specific (employment? stock market? Americans in harm's way? foreclosures? oil dependence? auto industry?) but she declined to answer.

In my opinion, anyone who is interested in politics needs to listen to every side of the story and seriously consider who may be right. If you surround yourself with either a conservative or liberal media bubble, you don't have a clue about what is real. If you block all the friends with whom you disagree politically, you're out of touch. I have a long commute for my work and I listen to all sides of political talk radio. I have Facebook friends of all political persuasions and I try to listen to the other side with respect.

Votes are really the main thing. The voting records of politicians aren't hard to find via Google. Look at the list of issues again. Did your favored representative vote in a way that pleased you most of the time or did you just pull and R or a D in the voting booth because of habit?

If you question whether something is true, you can always go to www.Snopes.com. You can monitor the fact-checking websites like Politifact or Factchecker.com.

Choosing whom we want to vote for is serious business and determines the future of the country. Granted, kittens are precious but kittens aren't going to raise the minimum wage or send our kids to war.








Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Spring Writing

Image result for spring         Image result for spring


Image result for spring              Image result for spring


Ah, spring. It always seems to me that it is the most creative season. I don't know if that's true for writers, it's just a theory I've long held. I've never kept a calendar to see if my output is actually more prolific or my writing is more profound in the spring of the year but I choose to believe it is.

Spring represents awakenings and growth and birth, not only in fact, but in our souls. Every season has its beauties but spring is when we hunger for beauty most. The colorful hues of Daffodils and Tulips, Crocus and Hyacinths, seem more exhilarating after months of brown grass and gray skies. Seeing trees erupt into clouds of pastel color warms the heart. So does seeing rosebuds fatten under a spring sun.

We used to take rides in Spring just to see all the babies - gamboling lambs, awkward colts, curious calves  who'd come over to the fence and snuff you with fat wet noses. Military-like lines of chicks or ducks following in Mama's footsteps. Signs would begin to appear on fence posts - "free puppies" or "free kittens". Not so many farmers keep free-running livestock anymore which I find sad.

Springs brings its own characteristic smells, delighting the nose. The entire kitchen is overtaken by the fragrance emanating from the bounteous vase of Lilacs on the table. The odor of grilling drifts across backyards. There is an earthy muskiness in the air that comes from spring rain and thawed earth and  reborn plants. And nothing can beat the smell of a cast-iron skillet full of morel mushrooms, fried in butter.

And seasonal sounds - we begin to hear the joyful songs of birds before dawn celebrating the matings that will lead to a new generation. I associate the sound of spring with the throaty roar of motorcycles flying past my house as well as trucks with windows down, booming with base. Nah, it doesn't irritate me. I'm old now but I remember the blood-stirring of spring and the wish to advertise the glory of it. No different than the wild singing of geese and ducks heading for home or the haunting howls of coyotes. For most species, spring equals sex and babies, subconsciously if not consciously, and they extol it in different ways.

For Christians, of course, spring is the season of Easter - the ultimate act of being reborn for them. When I was young and we were still church-going Catholics, Easter meant new clothes - pastel dresses and straw hats and patent-leather shoes. Now it means (hopefully) getting Good Friday off work.

Spring means freedom from coats and gloves. It means a return to porch-sitting, cleaning out closets to cast away the old.

For writers, perhaps it means the birth of a new idea, a new manuscript, a new motivation. That's what spring does.








Monday, February 15, 2016

Deadline-driven.

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I am a person driven by deadlines. Maybe it is because I've been a columnist for so long. Columnists simply can't miss deadlines or they won't be a columnist for long. Even before that though I think my way was to ignore a task until the pressure was licking at the back of my neck.

I wait until April 15 to do my taxes even when I think I'll be getting a refund. I simply don't want to face such an ugly chore until I absolutely have to. I turned in homework on the last day it was due, because I probably hadn't finished it until the night before. I usually only balanced my checkbook over concern about an overdraft. I wait until my car reminds me that its time to change the oil. I postpone appointments until my doctors are practically threatening me before I accede to a physical check up, a teeth cleaning or an eye exam.

Because I'm such a terrible procrastinator, I need deadlines to keep me on the straight and narrow and to keep my goals from floating around aimlessly as dreams.

As a columnist, my deadlines are presented to me by whatever newspaper I'm writing for. I currently write a column for the Logansport Pharos-Tribune (approximately 650 words) every Sunday without fail. It has to be at the paper by Monday. Thank God, for the internet to send it to its destination within minutes unlike back in the day, when I depended on the postal service and delivery could vary by a day or two. The internet allows me to procrastinate a while longer.

I've learned to impose other deadlines on myself and to see them as inviolable. I try to update my three blogs every week (somewhere between 500 and 1000 words each) and I mostly stick to it. In the case of blogs, your readers are really your deadline determiners. If they expect to see a new post regularly and they don't, they'll stop dropping by. You have to keep them satisfied if you expect to maintain their loyalty.

With long fiction manuscripts, I have to make bargains with myself. "You cannot light another cigarette until you finish this page." Or, "you cannot get dressed and go to the store until you complete this chapter." My goal is usually to finish a novel in three months. I don't always exactly make it but I usually come close. I fell way behind when my son died and my inspiration seemed at first to die with him but I seem to be getting back on track now.

I think I manage my writing deadlines pretty well but the ones I set for myself regarding marketing are abysmally ineffective. I don't like marketing. In fact, I don't really like to think about books at all once they are published. The fun part is done and I want to move on to writing some new exciting thing - new characters, new locations, new plot lines.

So my poor books tend to wither on the vine of non-publicity. My dream for 2016 is to put more time and energy into marketing. So far, it remains a dream and not a goal.




Thursday, January 07, 2016

It's Time to Bring Your Son Home

       
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I will tell you something that happened and you can decide for yourself whether you believe it or not. First, let me say, that my family has always leaned toward believing in reincarnation and psychic phenomena of certain kinds (while agreeing that there are lots of charlatans claiming to be seers out there). My father had psychic abilities. You could not live with him without believing that some people have brains that can hear more and see farther into the spiritual realm than others.

I myself have never had a spiritual experience. I went to a psychic once who told my friends many true things about themselves but she gave me my money back saying she could not read me because I was too "earthbound". She gave me a postcard before I left that showed a girl behind a tree trying to get the attention of another girl who remained oblivious to her presence. She told me I was the unseeing girl while the girl behind the tree was my guardian angel.

I have my own rather quirky belief system but mostly I call myself an agnostic. I don't know the answers and I don't think anyone else does either. I'm open to most possibilities but I cannot say: "this is it, this is what I believe for sure."

I went to Sedona, Arizona recently to visit my cousin who has a house there. Sedona, he told me, is a healing place. People come there to find spiritual peace. He thought because of my especially heartbreaking last couple of years, losing my mother and son, I could use a little spiritual healing. I certainly couldn't deny that.

He paid for my friend, Brenda, and I to go get a reading from a psychic he and his wife trusted. I had told her about John's death and my plan to plant wildflowers this spring in what I call my Six-Tree Woods and spread his and Mom's ashes there.

I had not told her that he was currently in a box in my friend, Jan's, back bedroom because I simply didn't think I could face a small container that held all that remained of my son. (When Indiana University finished with Mom's body and cremated her, I had them send her to Jan's also so she and John would be together.

Toward the end of my reading, the psychic said, "you know, it is really time for you to bring your son home. All you are doing is denying your grief but it has to be released. If you don't bring him home, his flowers won't be beautiful."

Well, I came back to Indiana and had Jan bring Mom and John to me. I thought, seeing those two boxes, that I would cry and never be able to stop but I didn't. I put them on a shelf on a bookcase in John's room that he'd made. Instead of being negative, it was comforting to have them home with me.

So, there it is, make of it what you will.

I will let you know if my flowers are beautiful in the spring.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

When Names Don't Match Personalities



This looks a little like my new kitten, threatening expression and all. I named her without really knowing her, oh-so-inappropriately, Filigree or FiFi, for short. Filigree - it sounds like such a dainty, gracious, sweet name, doesn't it. My FiFi is none of those things. I should have named her Jezebel instead.

I didn't even want another cat. I have two of my own plus a little dog. I felt like my happy family was complete. All my animals are mellow and laid back. They all get along. They aren't noisy; they aren't destructive.

Then FiFi came to my friend's house. Jan had three indoor cats, one indoor/outdoor cat and two wild cats that she feeds, so she didn't think she could take on another. She keeps a heat lamp burning for the wild ones in the winter. Fifi found the food and the lamp and began hanging out.

Jan felt sorry her. She was so tiny and scruffy and thin. Jan (who, if she isn't quite a crazy cat lady yet, is getting closer and closer) thought she should be saved from the harsh outdoors. She asked if I would take her. I kept saying no, until she caught me at a weak moment and I gave in.

Jan caught her in a live trap. During the course of getting her out to put her in a carry crate, FiFi practically tore off her thumb. Jan took her to the vet, something I insisted on before she came in with my pets. I paid $84 for shots and flea treatment and worm medicine and antibiotics for an infected bite on her back. She came to my house snapping and snarling.

I kept her in a cage for a couple of days and then I let her out. She instantly took off and I never saw her again. But I knew she was still around, oh, yes, because she hadn't a clue about a litter box. She peed and pooped wherever the mood struck her. Every morning and every night, I did potty patrol. One night, as I climbed into bed my knee hit a wet spot. She had urinated right in the middle of my bed! Furiously, I pulled off the covers to bring them downstairs to wash. I cleaned the spot with Resolve and trained the fan on it to dry. I slept in the downstairs bedroom.

That was the last straw. I told Jan we absolutely had to catch her. We each took a flashlight and searched room by room, closing the doors behind us. We got to the last room, the laundry room, when Jan spotted her behind the freezer. Jan poked her with a broom handle while I stood at the ready with a towel to grab her. She came flying out from under the freezer and I got the towel around her but she was halfway behind the shelving so I couldn't get a good grip. She turned and latched on to my wrist with her teeth. It hurt like hell. I had no idea a five-pound cat could have so much power in its jaws.

"Don't let her go! Don't let her go!" Jan yelled.

"Let her go?" I cried back, "the question is whether she'll let me go!"

By that night, my hand had swelled up like a cantaloupe. I was fiery hot and bright red. I couldn't move my fingers. I went to the doctor the next day. Turned out, I had Cat Scratch Fever, something I'd only ever heard of in Ted Nugent's song. The doctor put me on mega-doses of antibiotics. (My cost: $25 for my co-pay). I was deathly sick for three days. The pain in my hand receded a little each day. The antibiotics gave me a yeast infection. I bought more medicine. (My cost: $15).

We had put FiFi in a large crate on my dining room table with food, water and a litter box. She was close by the computer where we hoped she'd become familiar with seeing me and hearing my voice. Familiarity only bred contempt. She stared at me balefully the whole time. She hissed when I cleaned her cage and gave her fresh food. (Her presence didn't seem to bother my animals and they didn't seem to upset her).

Google said she would probably always be wild. A feral cat, I read, that has no contact with humans in its first 2 months (the veterinarian thought she was about 3 months) will never be become tame.
 Brenda and Phil said they'd take her out to their barn but not until she'd been spayed. They have two elderly male cats and they were afraid if she came in heat, she'd draw feral toms and they'd fight the old ones.

FiFi stayed in her crate for two weeks and then I couldn't stand it anymore. She looked so miserable crouched into her corner or hiding behind a towel.

I told Jan I was going to leave the door open so she could get out. I said I didn't care whether she ever got friendly. The only factor would be whether she had learned to use the litter box (she used it faithfully in her cage). Other than that, she could be a ghost cat if that's what suited her.

She left the cage in the night. She comes out sometimes in the day time (which she never did before). Once she was laying on the rug in front of the door with Channie. She eats and drinks from the big cats' bowls in front of me. And yes, she uses the litter box! Are we making progress? I can't really say for sure. She still runs and hides under the bed if I try to approach her.

We'll give her time. I hope she'll eventually decide to trust me. I think she'll always be more of a Jezebel than a Filigree though.







 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Scrambled Semantics


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We Americans are like a reverse Tower of Babel. The words we say are the same but the meanings are entirely different. We talk past each other with neither side understanding what the other is trying to say, almost as if we are speaking two different languages. If this keeps up, good old Webster is going to have to start printing a conservative dictionary and a liberal dictionary.

For instance, the Paris bombings. At the Democratic debate the moderator questioned the candidates about their reluctance to use the term "radical Islam". This, of course, is something that incenses the right who accuse Democrats of being soft on terrorism because they prefer to say radical jihadism instead. They criticize President Obama because to them, he pussyfoots around and won't call a spade a spade.

Democrats don't like the radical Islam characterization because they believe it paints with far too broad a brush, in effect, putting an entire religion under suspicion. There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world. They make up 22 percent of the world's population. They are .8 percent of America.

The vast majority of Muslims are not radical jihadists or radical Islamists, however you want to phrase it. In fact, as reported by Think Progress, "Muslims around the world condemn Paris bombings." So to imply, as the Republicans seem to, that we are at war with Islam itself is not helpful. Muslim countries are our partners in fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda. Muslim Americans are soldiers in our military. The Republicans make a mistake to try to turn this into a Christian versus Muslim holy war. We need the moderate Muslims in our battle against terrorism. Let's not allow our own fear and intolerance turn them away.

Three other simple words that get people passionately aroused are Black Lives Matter. Did the people who coined the phrase mean to say that only black lives matter or that black lives matter also. As a liberal, it seems clear those words should be defined as - "we want to be treated like everyone else."

We want our sons to walk down the street or play in the park and not be killed because, to whites, they look like thugs. We want to be sentenced to the same punishment as whites who commit the same offenses. We want to be treated with the same respect by police and other authorities, not shot because we're having a heart attack or tasered to death in jail because we're having a seizure. We want to be hired or not based on our qualifications and not our skin color.

But the American right has taken Black Lives Matter as a call to arms by African-Americans who want special rights. They deny that blacks are treated in a lesser manner. They pooh-pooh the idea of White Privilege. Although they've most likely benefited from it their entire lives, they simply can't see it for what it is because it feels so natural to them. Black Lives Matter protesters are simply violent criminals as far as they are concerned.

Gun control is another code phrase. Ask a liberal what gun control means to them and they'll probably first say, background checks and closing gun show loopholes and stricter penalties for straw sales. Indeed, some of them might very well say a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. But I don't know a single liberal who wants to rescind the Second Amendment. Many who support stricter gun regulations are gun owners themselves.

Ask a conservative what gun control means to them and nine times out of ten, they'll say gun confiscation. All the rest is simply trying to get the camel's nose under the tent, prior to banning all of the over 270 million guns in the United States. You can't talk them out of it no matter how hard you try.

Political correctness is another idea that puts us in a muddle. I'm not even sure exactly what it means in 2015. It began as an effort to be aware of the feelings of people not like us. How hard was it to quit calling African-Americans the "n" word if they found it offensive? Or Mexicans wet-backs? Or gays queers?

As time went on, it became a little more difficult to color between the lines of political correctness. Was it wrong to name our sports teams after Indians? A tribe name like Seminoles doesn't sound so bad but Redskins, which used to be a pejorative term for Native Americans, maybe so. Is the Confederate flag offensive to black people. Yeah, I expect it probably is.

Is it offensive to conservatives to be told Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. I guess it must be. I used to send out Christmas cards without giving it a thought. I just took the next one in the box for whoever was on my list. It might be a cute little mouse or Santa or a manger scene or silver bells. It was the thought that counted, right? Then I discovered that I might have been unknowingly upsetting people so I quit sending cards.

Both sides are constantly horrified by what they consider the other's political correctness. And truthfully, both carry PCness to idiotic extremes. Little boys should not be expelled from school for eating their sandwich into the shape of a gun. Little girls should not be expelled from school for wearing a sleeveless blouse.

How did we reach the point of being convinced that we have a "right" not to be offended anyway?  We all need to toughen up. None of us get through life without experiencing hurt feelings but let's save our indignation for serious injustices.

I often listen to political talk radio on my commute. I constantly hear conservative talk show host pontificate about me - "liberals say...." or "liberals believe...."  My silent response is "hey, wait a minute, I never say that," or "That's not at all what I believe."

Presumably, conservatives believe liberals make the same wrong assertions about them.

Maybe we should try to get together and talk about it.