Sunday, May 17, 2015
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
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
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
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.
Monday, February 16, 2015
I've read several of the reviews about the movie, Fifty Shades of Grey. The most commonly expressed reaction seemed to be outrage. Feminists were outraged at what they deemed an exploitation of women. Conservatives were outraged by what they saw as prurient sexuality. One male reviewer was outraged at Anastasia for being what he considered a manipulative, gold-digging bitch. BDSM enthusiasts were outraged because they thought the film wasn't an accurate portrayal of their particular fetish. Some viewers were outraged because the movie didn't show enough graphic sex.
I read all three books in the trilogy. I thought they were fun and Christian was hot...and no, I did not suffer any feminist angst about enjoying them, even though great literature they are definitely not.
I didn't figure I'd see the movie, mostly just because I don't do movies much, but also because I thought they made a terrible mistake casting Jamie Dornan as Christian. He didn't fit my fantasy of Christian at all.
Recently though, I had someone give him kudos for being a terrific actor. "He'll convince you," this person (a male) told me. And also, I guess all those reviews make me want to decide for myself what my take is.
As to all the larger questions brought up by the critics, we might want to ask, not just about Christian, but why so many of our favorite characters are less than lily-white heroes. What was the other movie that recently came out and set box office records? Oh, yeah. American Sniper, for God's sake. I'm good with Chris Kyle....some of my best fictional friends are snipers but it is telling that the movie isn't about American Missionary or American Teacher or American Doctor.
Look at so many of the best-selling books. Their main characters are assassins (Jack Reacher, phone home!) or spies or rogue cops. Of course, we are always thrown the bone of patriotism or revenge or defense of friends and/or family as the justification, but still, these are all men can kill without remorse.
And look at some of the television we love. Tony Soprano - the guys on Breaking Bad - Jack on 24, to whom torture is just doing what you gotta' do - to mention a few. Confession: I rarely watch television and haven't seen any of these but I have heard about them. I'm sure there are more.
So, I'll stick up for both the 50 Shades books and for the movie and say, lighten up, people. They are fiction. Writers have the right to write anything they want. It doesn't mean they are pro whatever that is. Writers who write about serial killers aren't pro serial killing. Producers have the right to produce whatever they want. And readers and viewers should have the right to read or watch whatever they want....without having to listen to lectures or being talked down to.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
A friend recently sent me this post on Facebook - "with all the recent banter...and continuing lawsuits...challenging the name of the Washington Redskins, I had not thought of this angle;
but it actually strikes a very good point!
The federal government, which has Tomahawk cruise missiles and Apache and Lakota helicopters and used the code name "Geronimo" in the attack that killed Osama bin Laden; officially objects to the name of the Washington Redskins."
Most often my friend's and my on-going debates would be a better fit on my political blog - Red State Blue Collar - but I thought because this one dealt with words and the connotations of words, it would be more appropriate on this one. Because words do matter.
And, yes, just as my friend's post said, the U.S. Military has often named its planes and helicopters and weapons and even missions, such as Geronimo, after Native Americans. There are actually many more than just the ones listed here, over 20 of them - Black Hawk, Chinook, Kiowa, Cayuse, Creek, Iroquois, Choctaw, Shawnee,Cheyenne, Comanche and Arapaho helicopters as well as Huron, Ute, Seminole, Mohawk and Mescalero aircraft, along with the Navajo cruise missile. (Some of these are now retired and some were proposed but never used).
Why do you suppose the American military has such a penchant for naming its proudest possessions after American Indians and is that reason a badge of pride or shame to the Native Americans thus "honored"?
In my opinion, this is done because we still appreciate a view of Indians as bloodthirsty savages (as seen represented in countless old westerns) and that is the image we want to portray of our mightiest war weapons. Whooping, painted warriors on spotted ponies would race through your town to scalp you and rape your women and take your children to sell or enslave.
That's the same reputation we want our most wicked helicopters to have. We want our enemies to think there is no use trying to run and hide. We will find you and kill you. Our weapons are brutally conscienceless....just like uncivilized wild Indians.
But you have to wonder why these naming decisions were made...because, in fact, though the poor Native Americans won some battles, their entire desperate struggle not to be taken over by the Whites was a rearguard action from the start. They never had a prayer of actually prevailing.
So seeing how they were the big losers in the war between red and white in America, why would we name our ships and planes and missiles after them?
You'd think we'd want to call them for the triumphant ones - us. Why not White Guy helicopters and Christian Caucasian drones and Pale Face Intelligence Aircraft? Why not Cowboy cruise missiles since in the game of Cowboys and Indians, the Cowboys were the good guys and always won. Oh, yeah, maybe the truth is contained within that sentence - the phrase "good guys". We were the good guys so we certainly wouldn't want those death-dealing weapons and aircraft named after us!
Saturday, January 17, 2015
There seem to have been more than the normal number of deaths in my little circle lately - friends and daughters and fathers. Whenever I know people are grieving, I can't help but think of my friend, June.
June had asked me to give her eulogy when she died and she had very specific instructions for what I was to tell her loved ones.
Seven years previous, she'd gone into cardiac arrest in the hospital and almost died. I say, almost, but actually she did die...for a while. During that time, she had an after-death experience and when she came back, she was exalted by it. During the remainder of the years she lived, she was joyful, as if she had a special secret knowledge that made life a different thing altogether than it had been before.
She told me all about it right after it happened, of course. I've read a lot about ADE's since and her experience was typical. She heard all the bells and buzzers going off around her, heard the intercom announce that help was needed in her room stat, heard the sound of feet pounding down the hall.
Meanwhile, her being went up to the ceiling and hovered, rather interested in the furious actions being performed on her body although she didn't feel personally involved. Eventually, she went out of the room and into the tunnel that is usually a part of after-death experience....at the end of the tunnel was the Light. And she made it there.
The most exceptional quality of the light, one she repeated over and over, was its welcoming warmth and the complete serenity she felt being bathed in it.
"Vic," she said, "no human on earth has ever felt absolute peace of mind. Even if your life is going well, you're anxious about something, be it money, your kids, your health but this was total...imagine the most stress-free moment you've ever had and multiply it by a million. That's what it is like in the light."
Suddenly though, she was back in her body. Her doctor was pounding on her chest.
"Come back, June, come back," he was urging.
"Just let me go," she pleaded, "let me go back."
He told her that all her children were on their way to the hospital and she surely didn't want to go off without seeing them.
That was another element that was so distinctive about the after-death experience, she told me.
"Time is completely different there, not at all like it is here."
So she told the doctor, "it doesn't matter, I'll see them again in just a little while anyway."
He reminded her that her daughter was pregnant with her first grandchild and she'd told him how much she was looking forward to being a Grandma.
She was able to return, briefly, and in the light her soul touched the baby's soul. She knew him, knew he was a boy and knew that if she left now, they would would miss each other as one departed and one arrived.
So she came back and she fought to live.
She told me what I was to say to her children and her friends at her funeral.
"Tell them please not to be unhappy and not to worry. Tell them not to say good-bye but wish me Bon Voyage for I'll be going on a trip to a place I've always wanted to go and soon enough, we'll meet again when they make that same exciting journey."
She almost glowed when she told the story of what it was like to die.
I tried to think of that when my little mother passed, that she was on a ship eagerly cruising to a fascinating destination. She was no longer old, her mind no longer broken by dementia. I tried to say Bon Voyage, rather than good-bye.