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Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Facebookization of America

Image result for blowhards      Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah!


As a writer, one of the things I hate most about the 21st century is the Facebookization of our communications. We have embraced over-the-top hyperbole to such as degree that everything is capitalized and dramatized. Every issue is surrounded by superlatives and contains it full complement of exclamation points. Every missive ends with a laughing or crying or winking or frowning emoji, the words themselves obviously considered too weak to stand alone.

These are examples of what I found on my newsfeed in just one morning Facebook run-through.


"Every judgement about women DESTROYED in just over one minute!"

"NY Times throws Ted Cruz off bestseller list for cheating, conservatives go INSANE!"

"Watch former confederate flag-defending hypocrite Haley flip-flop on its banishment!"

"Pink SLAYS flat-shaming trolls!"

"Politically incorrect cartoon NAILS the media double standard!"

"Toning down the rhetoric won't change as racism is as rife in the Republican base as maggots are in rotten food."

"In the U.S., you are free to live as you wish unless your white, straight, Republican, a gun owners or southern."

"BOOM - the awesome cartoon nails Hillary!" (Three for the price of one here - boom, awesome, nails.)

"Toby Keith has a BRUTAL message for Barack Obama about GUN RIGHTS!"

"Ted Nugent has a message for all Trump haters and its AWESOME!"

"Oh. My. Gosh. Megyn Kelly just went OFF on the White House!"


And this goes on day after day. No one ever simply responds effectively to their critics, they CRUSH them, or ANNIHILATE them or DESTROY them! Everything is beyond excellent, it is AWESOME or INCREDIBLE or AMAZING. And some things genuinely are awesome or incredible or amazing but we don't save those words for those things that really qualify. We use them for the just good and the simply okay as well.

We don't disagree with certain politicians. They can't just be wrong in our eyes, rather they must be EVIL beings who want to DESTROY America!

Naturally, I think the worst of the excess is perpetrated by the right but I don't deny that my side does it too.

What I wonder is where do we go from here? Can writers actually keep readers interested in mundane words when they have become so habituated to hysterical rhetoric? What will we call wonderful things when you label your fast food burger incredible and your new shoes fantastic?

How will we recognize true evil when a president trying to do the best he can has that awful adjective hung around his neck?






Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Inevitability of Change

Image result for royal poinciana trees    Image result for frigate bird



          Image result for southernmost point key west



Image result for everglades     Image result for florida keys sunset pictures


It's easy to take something for granted when you've experienced it so many times and I suppose I'd gotten rather blase about the Florida Keys. I've been there often since my kids have lived there so many years. But this time, I took my friend, Brenda, so I got to see it through new eyes and that helped me appreciate southern Florida all over again.

When we left Indiana, it had been gloomy and gray and rainy for so long, we longed for sun and warmth and riotous color and we found all that in the Keys. Brenda got to see many firsts - the weirdly twisted gumbo limbo trees, Frigate birds like flying Batman logos high in the sky, the Royal Poinciana trees in full spectacular bloom, the vast sweep of the Everglades, the incredible Keys sunsets, the southernmost point of the United States.

Beyond my daughter-in-law's pier are a line of mangrove islands that create a kind of protected harbor between them and the seawall. Many boats, extremely upscale cruisers and yachts and sail boats, anchor out there. We'd go out each night to sit on the benches at the end of the dock to watch day turn into night. The boat people have a tradition of blowing conch shells in tribute to the sun as it falls below the horizon leaving shades of tangerine and fuchsia and scarlet and gold behind. It is an eerie, otherworldly sound.

During the day, we admired the blooming bougainvillea spilling down the sides of fences and watched pelicans and seagulls cruising above. Sometimes, we spied an iguana and other smaller lizards. Sitting on Lisa's balcony, we heard the rustling of the graceful coconut palms and palmettos.

We drove to Key West one day over the Seven-Mile bridge where the waters swirled in hues of royal blue and emerald, turquoise and sage under a powder blue sky. We ate grouper and shrimp po'boys and sandwiches mounded high with barbequed pork.

It was exactly what I needed to find a new lease on life after John's death. The vivid colors and hot sun and plants and animals so different than what we're used to at home encouraged me to acknowledge that life isn't static but filled with constant change. There is nothing to do but accept it and move on to see what good can be found in what comes next.



Sunday, May 31, 2015

Living Through Another Droughtlander....Sigh




                                              Image result for the outlander finale


I never thought that I'd be writing a review of a television show, mainly because the only television I ever watch consists of news or NASCAR. People have told me about their favorite series - Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad. I ignored them all....until The Outlander.

Then, because I had loved Diana Gabaldon's books so well and for so long, I ordered Starz simply for this one program. I wasn't at all sure I would like it. I almost never think films are as good as the books on which they are based. Where movies and television usually let you down is in the casting. No real life humans can live up to the larger-than-life heroes and heroines of fiction.

But the cast of Starz have done exactly that. Sam Heughn is perfect as Jamie Fraser. He captures the essence of Jamie - courageous, funny, stubborn, tender. And there could not be a better Claire than Caitriona Balfe. She is spirited and independent and brave. Tobias Menzies is superb as the cruel sociopath, Jack Randall. Every member of the supporting cast is excellent as well.

Scotland, in all its magnificent glory, is one of the main characters in The Outlander. Her towering mountains and sweeping green vistas and breathtaking waterfalls are awe-inspiring, especially when Jamie and Claire are galloping across them on a black horse. The program is also true to its era, the Highlands in the 1700's. The castles, the villages, the food and the clothing are all exactly authentic to their time. Because it is on cable, there is more leeway for realism in language, sex (first time I had ever seen full-frontal male nudity, for instance) and brutality (as when Black Jack nails Jamie's hand to a table).

We had eight weeks of the first season, then a break that was labeled Droughtlander, because fans, me included, missed it so. Finally, the next eight weeks began and now it is over as well and we're into another frustratingly long dry spell. Sigh. I have recorded all the episodes and I guess I will watch them all again while I wait.

The only thing I can say is that I have loved this program. During its two runs, it was the high point of my television week. I have no basis for comparison so I can't tell you how it stacks up against other popular shows. Other reviewers have dissected the way it handles the female point of view with more sensitivity and consideration than most or the way the rape scene between Jamie and Black Jack flowed from the story rather than seeming gratuitous in order to titillate viewers. Believe me, there was nothing titillating about it, unless you have a taste for sadism.

To devoted readers of The Outlander novels, the television series is satisfying because for the most part it has been faithful to Gabaldon's writing, with a few minor exceptions. Naturally, there isn't room for every scene and bit of conversation in a 700-page tome to be duplicated in eight hours of film but readers could generally count on knowing who was who and what was coming next based on the book.

The Outlander, as both novel and film, is part fantasy, part romance and part adventure intertwined into an enthralling story, peopled by unforgettable characters. It doesn't get any better than that.

I can't wait for the start of the new season and the entrance of Lord John Grey, one of my favorite characters. I hope whoever is cast as Lord John is as perfect as the rest.
 

  



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Writers Write

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Writers write. That's the bottom line. It's what they want to do; it's what they need to do. I have written newspaper columns for 30 years. I've written blogs for at least 15 years.

I wrote when my husband died, when my mother died and a couple of weeks ago, when my son died. Non-writers asked me how I could stand to do it. How could I write about subjects that broke my heart. The fact is that I couldn't not write about them even when I was staring at my computer screen through a flood of tears.

It's how I put them in some kind of bearable context. It's how I come to terms with them. It's how I release my feelings. It is how I find closure (a word I generally hate but I can't think of a better one).

Writing is an act that returns normalcy to an abnormal circumstance. Over my decades of writing, I have had many kind and thoughtful letters of appreciation from readers who were grateful because I was able to put their own thoughts and feelings into words, something they couldn't do themselves.

That pleases me but the fact is that I don't write about these things for anyone but myself. If they sometimes touch others, that is a happy by-product. If I didn't have access to a newspaper column or a blog, I would write them into a journal. The words are there and they would harass me until I freed them.

Writers write. They have no choice.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What Happened To My Time Management Skills?

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I've gone back to work at my old job and I'm glad about that but after being retired and living totally without a schedule for almost four years, I haven't quite got the time management thing down the way I used to when I balanced my outside work with my personal writing.

I once had it all down pat. Most of my own writing took place very early in the morning as I'm one of those people whose creativity lessens as the day wears on. By evening, the sludge factor has totally taken over. I'm lucky if I can think of a witty comment on Facebook by then.

So, remembering my previous way of doing things, I tried to go back to that but so far, it hasn't happened. Over my time of being retired, I gradually stayed up later and got up later until my wake/sleep hours were roughly: bed at midnight or so, up at about 8:00, nap in the afternoon. I still did my writing in the morning only now the morning began at 8:00 a.m. instead of 4:00.

I've tried setting my clock for zero dark thirty again. Mostly, I just hit the snooze button a hundred times but on the few occasions that I actually got up, I didn't write, I just sat groggily in front of the computer screen. Even strong coffee didn't help.

So far, the only productive time for writing at home is the weekend but that's not enough hours for all I do - three blogs, one newspaper column, on-going novel, an occasional Linked-In piece, updating my Facebook writer's page on a regular basis.

Maybe I will eventually get into a routine and become more organized. Maybe I will re-train my body to go to bed at 9:00 and rise at 4:00. Maybe I will learn to once again be able to function without an afternoon nap.

But right now, my time management skills seem to have atrophied from lack of use.



Monday, March 16, 2015

Marking Time - A Book of Collected Columns

                                                 



I have published a non-fiction book, Marking Time - A Book of Collected Columns, that readers of my fiction may not recognize as coming from the same author. My novels are graphic and gritty. My main characters are as much anti-hero as hero. My subjects are sometimes controversial.

By contrast, Marking Time contains 87 columns that run the gamut from humor to slice-of-life pieces to philosophical essays about larger issues. I write about people and pets, places and politics. I've worked as a bartender in a rock and roll bar, as a Mayor's secretary, a legal assistant, a machine operator in a factory and a transporter of prisoners, among other jobs, so my experiences encompass a cross-section of people - the movers and shakers; the cops, the courts and the criminals; the well-off and the down and out; the farmers tied to one piece of earth by love of the land and the musicians who live a gypsy life for love of music.

These columns are reflections about a rural Hoosier county in all its guises. Nature and human nature, the celebrations of our history, the bonds of family, the generosity and the meanness. Over the years, I have written honestly about my own struggles with life, warts and all.

Simply, Marking Time is about one person's effort to find beauty and love and laughter wherever it may be while acknowledging that there is darkness in the world as well.

Friday, February 27, 2015

New Book - Leaving the Gypsy Life




JUST PUBLISHED!  

Leaving the Gypsy Life can now be purchased from Amazon or Smashwords.

Farren, Devlin, Nicky and Autumn Coffey's forebears came to America during the great Irish Potato Famine in the 1840's, when Ireland lost half its population. Unlike other immigrants though, these Irish did not assimilate but banded together in their own self-contained communities, mostly in the south, still speaking a language called Shelta or Cant. They were called gypsies and while, not ethnically related to the Romany gypsies, they did live a gypsy lifestyle. Originally, they worked as tinkers or knackers (knackers bought horses too old to work for rendering). In modern times, Travelers turned to home repair jobs, such as roofing or asphalting,  or they sold tools. The Travelers were looked upon with suspicion by both law enforcement and "settled people" and, in truth, some of them were scammers (though certainly not all). They did shoddy work or sold cheap goods and were long gone by the time their victims realized they'd been conned.

Patrick Coffey was known as the King of the Pickpockets while his wife, Shayla, was a cutthroat pool player. They and their four children spent most of their lives on the road, traveling to fairs and festivals, sporting events and concerts, anywhere their marks could be found, returning to the Traveler village of Shay's Knob in South Carolina only occasionally. It was a free and unstructured life for kids whose parents were nonchalant disciplinarians.

When Farren was 13, Devlin was 11, Nicky was 10 and Autumn was 5, Pat and Shayla decided to break with the Travelers so their children could grow up as normal American kids. They bought a farm in the North Carolina mountains, Persimmon Bend, and confined their travel to the summer months.

It was a drastic lifestyle change for the Coffey kids - attending school for the first time, going to church every Sunday, sleeping in the same bed every night. Each adapted in a way dictated by their individual personalities. Farren, dark and impassive, excelled by flying beneath the radar screen of attention. Christian, brightly blonde and charismatic, won over his new neighbors with his charm. Nicky, shyer and slower than his older brothers, happily settled into a life that was predictable. Autumn was satisfied to be wherever her parents and her brothers were.

Coming of age while being torn from the world as you've always known it, to be thrust into a completely different life wasn't easy for the Coffey children. This is their story.