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Monday, October 15, 2018

Talking in Code

             
                                             
Image result for path of crumbs


A far-right leaning Facebook friend of mine once told me to "follow the Q" to know what is really going on in the world. She is a faithful follower of QAnon. I didn't know what that meant but I began to see more references to the organization on social media and people carrying Q signs started appearing a Donald Trump's rallies.

I eventually went to the Q's website (which I could not find again when I tried to go back although there are Q pubs and chat rooms galore).

The basic premise of Qnon is that the man who developed and operates it is high in the American intelligence community and thus, can guide the people to the truth. For instance, the Mueller investigation is not at all what it promotes itself to be. The truth is that Donald Trump and Mueller are actually working together to bring down the globalists who are trying to destroy America. In fact, there are already thousands of sealed indictments ready to be filed, including on Hillary and Barack Obama, who, according to some Q members may already be wearing ankle bracelets to insure that they don't try to flee the country.

Q members call this anticipated day when indictments and warrants will be executed en mass, The Coming Storm", based on words used by Donald Trump.

The thing is, the Qmaster, doesn't explain any of this in plain language. The Q-ers call the bits of information he discloses "crumbs". They are tiny hints that his followers can then interpret however they choose. For instance, the number 17 has great symbolism in their Qcode (Q being the 17th letter of the alphabet). You may not have noticed but what Trump used to call "13 angry Democrats" has now become "17 angry Democrats". Every time their president says this number, the Q fans feel validated.

Believing in The Coming Storm is one reason you still hear enthusiastic chants of "Lock Her Up" at Trump rallies...because they believe it is imminent that she will be locked up any day now. According to Q, laws to prevent this from happening have already secretly been rescinded. Martial law will be declared. Trump will presumably become our Dictator for Life on that great day. If you follow Q, you know this is what the recently tested presidential communication system is all about - so Trump can tell us all at once what is going on.

Here's what alarms me the most: not that there are many Americans who believe in loony conspiracy theories. They have always been among us, no, what upsets me beyond that is the further deterioration of our language.

When humans first developed language, it was mostly gestures, grunts and single words like "food". Rudimentary, but the entire community understood what was being said, for that's what words are all about. Sharing information. Gradually, we developed more fluency in the use of words.

Since then, we have devolved. Crumbs aren't meant be be universal sources of shared communication, but rather as a code to deliver information to the chosen few, shutting everyone else out from knowing the "secrets" so the codetalkers can seize power from the rest of us, who are seen as evil.

Crumbs don't mean anything except in the brains of those who believe. They are basically gibberish but dangerous gibberish. When a society loses the power of joint communication, it will end up losing itself.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Excerpt: Rafe Vincennes Vol. 9 - Vengeance is Mine, Saith Rafe

                                             



To be published in 2018


Rafe had spent his entire life in disguise, so despite not enjoying it, he was an exceptional actor, having won critical acclaim and an Academy Award. His popularity went beyond his natural ability though because the quality of blatant animal magnetism that came across on the screen made his following, as many males as females, fanatical, cultish even. Often his NASCAR fans and movie fans were one and the same. It wasn’t that they were necessarily drawn to either films or racing, so much as they were drawn to him.

He never read his fan mail but Rhiannon sometimes did. She would point out to him the differences between the two groups of writers. For the most part, those who loved her were content to be admirers from afar. They were protective of her and came across as normal. They wished her well, they weren’t even especially sexual, they prayed for her happiness.

Meanwhile, his fans wanted to devour him. They suggested perversions they would like to perform on him or vice versa, acts that went beyond mere sex, involving handcuffs and riding crops, candle wax and whipping cream, dog collars and branding irons. They sent pictures of the tattoos of him they had on their bodies. They mailed photos of rooms, or whole houses, dedicated to his film posters and NASCAR paraphernalia. They named their dogs or cats after him, even their children. They joined together for Rafe movie marathons. More than once, a plane carrying an “I Heart Rafe” banner had flown above a NASCAR track or across Lake Norman. Rhiannon’s films had all been extremely successful, each of them going to number one immediately upon its release but all of the movies in which he also appeared had stayed at the top longer, held aloft by obsessed Rafe Vincennes fans, who saw them over and over.

Because of all this, the idea that one of Ree’s co-stars thought she was in love with him was no big shock. Lots of women thought they were in love with him. The difference was that they weren’t all in a position to make his wife’s life miserable. That, he thought, would have to be dealt with.

She appeared on the set, though in the background, on his last day of filming. Even in street clothes, a fitted pink jersey dress with a deep vee-neck, she carried herself with the imperiousness of a queen. He could see how, properly outfitted, she might fit the part of Queen Elizabeth, with her long swan’s neck, round brown eyes, auburn hair and strong features.

When the shoot was over, she approached him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ree make a sour face but then she turned and left, knowing it would be no use to try to deflect him from whatever course he’d decided upon.

“Hi, I’m Malaya Crowley also known as Queen Elizabeth,” she giggled. “I’ve been dying to meet you and today is my last opportunity.”

“Nice to meet you too, Malaya,” - still in the character of David Rizzio, he made a small bow and kissed her hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Should that worry me?”

Slowly and deliberately, he slid one brown hand into the neckline of her dress, cupping and lightly squeezing her breast.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Are you the type to worry a lot?”

“No, I’m the type to go after what I want and let the chips falls where they may.”

He grinned, saying, “I’m like that myself.”

He was still caressing her breast. Her breath quickened and she moved a step closer.

“Maybe we want the same thing?”

He nodded. “Maybe.”

“My apartment is just a few blocks away, do you want to go there with me and see?”

“Give me the address. I’ll come as soon as I get out of this idiot costume.”

He used dissolving solution to rid himself of the sticky gum that attached the beard and mustache, then took a shower, after which, he slipped into jeans and a blue button-down shirt. He always preferred buttons when he thought he might have to make a quick departure. Pullovers came with that moment of blind vulnerability when you slipped them off over your head. Rafe tried to avoid even the slightest of vulnerabilities.

Her apartment was in a complex that would have looked more comfortable on Cape Cod. Gray weathered shingles trimmed out with white shutters. A series of pairs of townhouses separated by garages. He wandered the curving streets until he found 4012 and pulled into the drive.

She’d obviously been watching because she opened the door before he even knocked. It opened directly into the living room – white wall-to-wall carpeting, white and blue patterned sofa and two solid blue chairs, rustic paintings of split-rail fences and clusters of birch trees.

She’d changed into a satiny cream-colored floor-length gown with straps over the shoulders and a plunging neckline. She instantly moved into him, putting her arms around his neck and her mouth on his.

He was glad she was a down-to-business kind of woman. It would mean less time he’d have to spend here if they could by-pass the flirtation dance. Which wasn’t to say he didn’t take his time to bring her to a state of heightened lust. He kissed her mouth and face and throat, then moving down to extract a breast from her gown, sucking and rotating his tongue around her pebble-hard nipple.

She was unbuttoning his shirt and unzipping his jeans.

“Let’s go to the bedroom,” she whispered.

He pulled her gown up and slid his hands slowly up her thighs, one moving to her mound. A finger penetrated her inner sanctum, came out again, wet with her juice and lightly massaged her clit.

“No, let’s do it right here.”

She didn’t protest.

He stepped out of his jeans and shrugged off his shirt, then pulled her to the floor. He kissed her, then spread the sections of her loose top apart to reveal her breasts. His tongue teased and taunted her nipples. His hand teased and taunted its way down her belly, tickling her inner thighs. He turned his body so that he could bury his face between her legs, licking and sucking and circling, until she was writhing below him. Then he came up and entered her, stroking slowly and smoothly, drawing out the anticipation for them both. Her legs came around his waist as her hips rose to meet him.

“Oh, God,” she cried, “now, now, please, now! Fuck me hard! I’m going to come, I’m going to come!”

He let himself go then and rode her until they both lay satiated on the white carpet.

She rolled over to him. “Oh, Rafe, I’ve dreamed about you making love to me for so long.”

He cocked one black eyebrow. “I think you have this all wrong, Malaya. Making love is what I do with my wife. What I just did to you was fucking, the same as I’ve done with probably a thousand other women, most of whom I forgot within hours, as I will with you.”

Her eyes grew wide and shocked as his words sunk in.

“Something you should always remember, Sweetheart – there is a world of difference between a partner and a piece of ass.”

Her mouth twisted in fury. “You bastard!” she screamed, hurling herself toward him.

He rolled on top of her, holding her down with his thighs. He held her wrists with one hand, reaching for his jeans pocket with the other. She heard the “thwick” of a switchblade opening. She screamed again, this time in fear. She tried to scrabble away but he held her fast.

The knife carved a small R between her breasts, the tail of the last stroke curling under the bottom of the left one.

Blood began flowing down her chest.

“It’s not too deep,” he said casually, “you’re not going to bleed to death but it probably will leave a scar.”

He watched for a moment as she lay sobbing on the floor, crimson blood soaking into the white rug.

“I have a rule, Malaya. It is inviolate. No one screws with my family without paybacks.”

Then he got dressed and left.

Ree was lying in a lounge chair in front of the pool. She didn’t look up. He stripped and leaped into the aqua water wanting to dispel the scent of sex and Malaya’s musky perfume.

When he got out, he took the lounger next to her.

“Trina is in the house,” she commented.

“Trina’s seen me naked before.”

They both lapsed into silence until her curiosity won out.

“So, did you talk to Malaya?”

“Yep.”

“And...?”

“I don’t think she’ll be giving you a hard time again.”

“You didn’t hurt her, did you?”

He laughed shortly. “I didn’t beat her up if that’s what you mean.”

“No, I’m not suggesting that. You’d never be that unsubtle. You’re far too devious.”

“Let’s just drop it. It’s over.”

She knew it would do no good to keep at him. Once he considered the subject closed, he wouldn’t budge.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

As a Democracy Falters, Language is Often the First Freedom to Go

                                               


When I was young, the "n" word was in pretty common usage. I never heard the mothers say it much but the Dad's did - the factory dads and the trucker dads and the mining dads and yes, even the doctor and lawyer dads - in other words, the Archie Bunker dads. I also heard people called Kikes, Wops, Spics, Dagoes, Hunkies and Polacks. There never seemed to be much malice associated with those labels and, honestly, the members of those groups themselves were often the worst offenders.

But, eventually, we began to realize that those terms were demeaning and for the most part, they faded away with the younger generations (which was me back then). I don't think I ever used the "n" word in my life unless I was quoting someone and being critical of their lack of sensitivity.

Now there are questions about whether or not there is a tape floating around of the president of the United States using the "n" word but really, what does it matter if there is a tape? Do any of us doubt the he has used the pejorative label many times in his life?

For God's sake, his entire campaign and presidency have been built on a foundation of racism. Muslim bans. Separating little children from their families at the border despite our laws saying they have a right to an asylum hearing. Putting Latino babies in cages. Allowing his federales to turn cold hoses on Native Americans for protesting a pipeline that threatens their water in the harshness of a freezing winter. Calling African nations "shithole" countries. Rescinding the sanctuary given to 59,000 Haitians (all of whom, he claims, have AIDS). Giving a pardon to a bigoted sheriff who ignored the legal system. Deporting  retroactively, Hispanic veterans. Mexicans are rapists and murderers (that was practically the first campaign allegation he made.

Trump's NFL statements are all about racism. His favorite put-down of blacks is that they are dumb. Maxine Waters is a low-i.q. wacko. Don Lemon is the dumbest man on t.v. "He even makes LeBron James look smart and that's hard to do" ha!ha! Omarosa is a crazed dog. Other women are fat pigs. Lying whores.  Nasty women. And of course, sexism is the other face of racism.

I believe Trump is taking America down into the sewer and degrading our language is one way to do it. Make it, and us, ugly and hateful to one another. Calling our free press the enemy of the people and fake news. Vilifying our law enforcement officials and our criminal justice system and our intelligence agencies. "Deep State, witch hunt, hoax." Pressing compliments and admiration on despots like Putin, Kim Jung Un and Duterte while criticizing decades long allies like Canada and Britain and Germany, the NATO Alliance, the G7.

Common understanding of our language defines who and what we are. Now we speak in two languages. Both are English but one is the language of democracy while the other is the language of demonization.  America simply can't prosper when we are two enemy camps firing lethal word missiles at one another..









Thursday, August 09, 2018

What To Do About Twitter?

                                           

I've belonged to Twitter for years but I've seldom paid much attention to it. I think my blogs do appear on my Twitter account but I'm not really sure. When I checked in recently after quite a long time, I had forgotten my password and had to request a new one.

As a column writer, I'm used to editing to make a piece precise and compact but even with the increased characters Twitter now allows, small darting statements just aren't my cup of tea. I know you can link and click onto articles but then why is that any different than any other social media platform?

I've learned to dislike Twitter even more now that so many, including our president, have weaponized it.

Recently, some social media has taken at least a lukewarm stand against the malevolence of the flat out lies of Alex Jones and his InfoWars site. I consider Jones to be a source of slander and dishonesty, part of what is dividing Americans, stoking hate. and promoting violence. Twitter has basically decided that anything goes on its platform. It isn't up to them to monitor the information they deliver to so many believers. If is is untruthful, well, that's part of free speech. They say Jones doesn't violate their standards but how lax must those standards be if InfoWars' vileness fits within them?  What in the hell would you have to do or say to be rejected?

I have been an anti-censorship proponent all my life but even in our no-limits society there have to be some lines which are too far to cross. Even the First Amendment doesn't allow you to cry fire in a crowded theater and that's essentially what Jones does. Denying that the murder of 21 first-graders at Sandy Hook ever happened crosses that line. So does the declaration that Hillary Clinton was involved in a child trafficking ring in the basement of a pizza shop (which resulted into a Jones supporter taking a gun into that shop looking for a basement that doesn't exist). So does stating  that 911 was an inside job on the part of our government. Those are all simply untruths but it is amazing how many people follow and believe this loony conspiracy theorist.

So my question to myself is what to do? Should I simply write off Twitter and delete my account or should I engage and become more active  to use my, admittedly minuscule, voice to join the fray and pit my principles against Jones and Trump?

Retreat goes against my grain so I'll probably stand and fight with no hope of making much of an impact. 


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Conquer Your Fears



                                        



I have flown many times because of my writing. I flew to New York (from Indiana) twice to appear on television shows. I flew to Youngstown, Ohio to be a keynote speaker at a Writer’s Conference. I flew to Los Angeles to appear on a show. I flew to Washington D.C. to testify before Congress because I’d written about unemployment. I was terrified every time but I went because you can’t let your fears limit you.
I was told when I first started my job that I would be expected to attend a week-long conference some time during the year.
“Where?” I asked fearfully.
They didn’t know then but when it turned out to be Minneapolis, I relaxed. Driving distance!
I know 9/11 was the onset of a fear of flying on the part of many people but I was lucky as I had long ago reached my saturation point of terror about being in a plane, so 9/11 made my phobia no worse than it had ever been.
I am the appointed person among my friends and family to drop them off and pick them up at airports. It is a favor I’ve always enjoyed doing because I like to walk happily around airports thinking, “some of these people have to get on an airplane but I don’t – ha ha!”
            I’ve never let my fear of flying stop me from doing anything I wanted to do. For instance if our work conference was in Denver, I’d stiffen my spine and go. All things being equal though, if I could get there in approximately the same amount of time via high speed rail or a Star Trek-type atomizer, you can bet that’s the way I’d do it.
            I’ve gotten anti-anxiety pills from my doctor sometimes when I’ve flown. I took one the last time I went to California and I can’t say I noticed any difference.  Sweaty palms? Check. Clenched stomach? Check. Pounding heartbeat? Check. I thought about taking two pills but I was afraid they would knock me out, causing me to miss my disembarkation destination so that I’d be groggily coming to just as the plane landed in Paraguay.
            The take-off is the most terrorizing part for me. My body goes rigid as I chant under my breath, “please, please, please,” in a personal effort to lift the plane into the air by sheer force of will.  It never feels to me that it’s going to make it as it lugs its way upward.  When it levels off, I relax the tiniest bit, going from 100 to 99.2 on the stress-ometer.
            Once when I went to Las Vegas, my seat partner looked at me very calmly and said, “I’m a young mother and I don’t want to die.” I calmly replied back, “My son is raised and I guess I could die if I had to but I’d rather not do it by falling out of the sky.” We decided the airlines should make a greater effort not to assign high anxiety passengers seats next to one another.
            I’ve heard folks complain that since the new security measures have gone into effect at airports, everything takes longer now. Exactly! I figure anything that delays the actual boarding of the plane is fine with me.  You want to remove everything in my bag and analyze it piece by piece, up to and including the individual flakes of tobacco in my cigarettes?  Hey, no problem, take your time.
            I’ve never gotten out of my seat on a plane.  I’ve gone to California without going to the bathroom for fear the redistribution of my weight will cause an imbalance that will tip the plane over.  I sit stock still, trying not to even move (not that you can move in a plane seat).
            I’ve also heard passengers complain that airline services have deteriorated so badly that the great meals you used to get have turned into a bag of 5 honey-roasted peanuts. I don’t see how anyone can have an appetite while flying anyway.  I could eat dinner on a plane and when it was over, not be able to tell you whether I’d just had filet mignon or roast of steel-belted radial.
            And I stay awake no matter how tired I am because I’m convinced the pilot needs me to help navigate.  Taking the red-eye back from Las Vegas late at night, exhausted from three days of non-stop activity, I nevertheless remained starkly wide-eyed, staring into the darkness as everyone else on the plane (probably even the captain) snoozes.  Sometimes I sort of resent the others for not helping me with the responsibility of worrying.
            I take a book on the plane but I don’t waste one I actually expect to enjoy.  I can read an entire mystery on a long flight and not have the faintest idea who did the murder.  My mind might have appeared to be concentrating on reading but in reality, it was primarily focused on the thought, “oh, my God, there are CLOUDS outside my window!”  Every fiber of my being is convinced that humans have no business being at the same altitude as CLOUDS!
 I don’t mind landing simply because the relief of knowing the trip is almost over is so huge.  Whatever is going to happen, it will happen soon.  Once we’re on the ground, I heave a sigh so heartfelt, I realize I’ve been holding my breath for 2,000 miles.
Still, the next time I get an opportunity to do something exciting, I know I’ll do it again.
           


Saturday, July 21, 2018

I Wish I'd Known You



 


This is an update to the family mystery I wrote about a few weeks ago when I discovered my mother had gotten pregnant when she was 16 and given the baby boy up for adoption. That was a secret she kept until her death.

This weekend, that boy’s two daughters came from Mississippi to see me (along with three of their daughters) .  We looked at pictures while they exclaimed over family resemblances. It had been their father’s hope to find out who his family was but he never did so my two nieces, Kristy and Kathy, took up the search after his death. They found me through DNA.

We exchanged stories about our respective parents and discovered points of reference in common. For instance, when their father was sick, the doctor told him he needed to quit smoking but he replied that he enjoyed smoking and wasn’t about to quit.

“Yes,” I said, “that settles it. He was my brother for sure!”

We think the connection to my Mom and his adoptive family was made through the church they all attended (which Mom always said was made up of “shoutin’ Baptists”. Both my grandmother and their grandparents had a particular animus for Catholics to the point that when Mom was young, she thought she’d recognize a Catholic if she saw one (horns and a tail?) She got over that, of course, in fact, my father was Catholic. Perhaps that was a common attitude back then but the virulence expressed against Catholics seemed exceptional.

We haven’t found out too much about their father’s real father. An obituary showed that he died in 1985 in the same small town in Illinois where they all lived at one time but we haven’t discovered what kind of work he did. I’d like to know if he was a prominent person in that town and thus could get away with impregnating a young girl with no repercussions when he was 17 years older and married.

Kristy and Kathy said their adoptive grandparents  never wanted anyone to know their father was adopted and never told him anything. I wonder if that’s why Mom never shared  her story? If they didn’t want her to disrupt his life and asked her to promise not to reveal it, she would have honored that promise.

This story stunned me at first, mainly because I simply could not picture my mother in that situation but we’ve found too many facts to deny it and I wouldn’t want to deny it. Kristy and Kathy, and their daughters are sweet and beautiful. We all got along great. Now I love the idea of having nieces and grand-nieces.

I gave them the portrait of Mom that was painted when she was 34. I wondered who would want it when I died. Now, it is wonderful to think it will be in a granddaughter’s  house. I gave them family pictures. My grandfather, my Uncle John, my son and their father all had exactly the same muscular build with wide shoulders and thick, strong arms.

I gave them each one of Mom’s favorite teapots so they’d have something sentimental of their grandmother’s. It give me a warm feeling to know things she loved will still be a special part of a family history.

I believe in my heart that Mom would be thrilled to know that her daughter and her granddaughter s have come together after all this time and that I finally know about her baby son.

Here’s to you, Kristy and Kathy, love you girls!

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Mom's Buried Secret

                        


Recently, I wrote about how important it can be for writers to preserve their family history. Even events that seem mundane today will be fascinating for generations to come. Little did I know that a few short week's after I wrote that, one of my family's deepest secrets would be revealed.

When you are my age, you assume there are no more mysteries in your life. You are familiar with all the parts and pieces of your family and your history. Then something happens that leaves you shocked, excited, intrigued.


I had my DNA done. I didn’t pay much attention to it. I was hoping to find something exotic in my bloodlines – Arabic, African, Jewish, Native American. But nope, it turned out I was as white bread Caucasian as you could possibly get – mostly English, Irish, Scots and a little German. I put up the paperwork and never looked at it again.

Then a few weeks ago, a woman contacted me. She’d had her DNA done too and it came back that she and I were first cousins. Her father was adopted and had spent the last years of his life trying to discover who his parents were. He never did so she and her sister decided they would pursue the search for his sake.

She asked me if I knew of any boys in the family who’d been adopted out. I didn’t so I contacted my cousin in Illinois. She, in turn, talked to her mother, my mother’s sister, who is 90 now and the last of her generation.

My cousin came back and said, “according to Mom, Aunt Jane (MY MOTHER!) got pregnant when she was 16 and gave the little boy up for adoption in Joliet, Illinois in 1938. In the phrase favored on the internet, my first reaction was OMG! My mom! I almost couldn’t believe it but the facts indicated that it was true.

I was able to find out a little about the father of her child. He was 17 years older than her and married. That implies to me that there was some element of coercion involved. Either he totally seduced a naive young girl who’d just moved back from a homesteaded ranch in Arizona or it was assault. Either way, it was statutory rape. The town where they lived was very small. My assumption is that my mother and her family thought it would be harder on her and them to face the scandal confronting him would have stirred up than to bury it in secrecy. 

Mom died when she was 94 and she’d never mentioned this to me and neither had any other family member who probably knew. My mother’s generation was nothing if not closed-mouth about keeping their secrets. I guess my aunt figured it was all right to tell me now that Mom was gone.

The woman, Kristy, and I have stayed in touch. Her father would have been my half-brother. She and her sister are my nieces. Accepting that has required a startling reorganization in my thinking about my family and especially my mother.

Mostly this makes me wonder about my Mom. She came from a big sprawling family in a small town in Illinois I can’t see them giving a family baby to strangers so probably his adoptive parents were members of their church or someone they knew and trusted.

Did Mom ever keep tabs on him? Did she know she had two granddaughters? Why did she never tell? Was it because having an illegitimate child was so shameful to her generation? Or was it simply too painful to talk about?  She had to have known, me being the person I am, I wouldn't have been embarrassed or disappointed in her. 

In a way, I’m glad this wasn’t discovered until after Mom died. Obviously, it was extremely important to her to keep it secret. I think if it had come to light when she was alive, she’d have been totally demoralized. On the other hand, I would loved to have talked to her about it. As it is, the mystery will remain a mystery.

I have a feeling that in the future, DNA will effect many families in both positive and negative ways.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Motta Bread and Carottles




One of the valuable services writers perform is to preserve things. I'd guess at least a third of my writing students were in class because they wanted to preserve the history of their family or their church or a particular person or story.

Sometimes, what we save isn't very important in the scheme of things but nevertheless, it is worth keeping. I was reminded of that today. One of my Facebook friends told us about eating grilled peanut butter and sugar sandwiches. Most of us didn't think much of that recommendation but she said she learned to eat them from her grandfather. The family was poor and peanut butter and sugar sandwiches were cheap to make.

That reminded me of my Grammie and aunts and uncles. They ate bread with cottage cheese that they dipped in coffee. They called it Motta Bread. My God, I hadn't thought of Motta Bread in years. I don't believe it was a tradition that was carried on after the older generation passed on.

All this brought to mind Grammie's words. She practically had her own language. I think most of the words were originally German or Yiddish. It always tickled me that so many of them had to do with giving things a lick and a promise. For instance, if you swept out the kitchen but did a half-assed job, you swintzled it. Or if you ironed a blouse but didn't take many pains, you roshpeled it. A favorite faded old robe was a drunzel and a comfortable old pair of shoes were dopas.

That whole family called itself The Carottles and I think that was kind of a pidgen German version of hillbillies.

If Grammie left something, like beans cooking on the back of the stove, she let it brutzle, which was not a boil but slightly harder than a simmer.

If one of the men came home tipsy, she said the were pusufa. That was a generous term. You could be falling down but you were never drunk in Grammie's eyes but always pusufa.

I can remember crawling up in her lap. She'd pat her chest and say, "lay copesha (head)" It was the safest feeling in the world although normally she wasn't an very user-friendly grandmother. None of us kids would have dared go in her room without being invited.

They are just words, silly little words. I doubt if anyone in my family thinks of them anymore, like they don't eat Motta Bread. I'm still glad they are written down though. They are part of my family history even if no one knows them but me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Four Goals

                                                            

My editor at King Features always told me - "think about what you want to achieve with each column.

There are four main reasons, columnists write columns.

1) You want to persuade. You probably have delusions of grandeur if you think this is going to happen very often. You may actually give someone insight to a new way of thinking but if you want to change someone's political or moral philosophy, it's most like not going to happen. It's fun to debate these issues but it is rare that people can be induced to change long-held beliefs.

Perhaps you only want to persuade them to action - to vote, to adopt a pet, to support a charity. You might have more success here if they already have a positive leaning toward your suggestion.

2) You want to tell a story, hopefully, one readers haven't heard before. When I wrote about two boys who died in the Civil War, based on their letters home that had been loaned to me, I was thrilled with how those columns turned out. Those two boys had been completely forgotten in the intervening years. I was able to bring them back to life. I fell in love with them and so did my readers.

3) You simply want to provide what you believe is interesting information. After a 'possom began coming to my house, I did research on them and discovered they weren't the ugly vermin so many people think they are. They are actually rather fascinating creatures and I hoped more people would see them that way after I wrote my column. My 'possom, Cletus, still comes to visit quite often.

4) And this is probably your highest mission - you want to touch someone. When you can make a reader laugh or bring a tear to their eye, you've accomplished your goal. Sometimes, you make them cuss as they write a furious letter to you in response to what you wrote. Perhaps you bring back nostalgic memories that make them smile.

Sometimes you can accomplish two or three of your column-writing goals in one column and that is a great feeling.

When I sold real estate, my happiest moments as a writer were when I showed a house and saw one of my columns hanging on the refrigerator door. Making the effort to cut out a column and tape it to the door went beyond just enjoying them. I felt as if I had earned a trophy every time I saw one.





Thursday, May 03, 2018

Memoirs: The Most Valuable Writing You Can Do.

                                                                                         

                                             







Were you at Woodstock? Were you a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan? Have you worked as a nurse in a trauma unit? Did you march for gay rights? Did you adopt a child? Are you a farmer?


A friend on Facebook told me today that he was bored. He has led an extremely interesting life so I tried to talk him into writing a book....not even for publication necessarily but to get the facts of his life down both for something interesting to do himself and to tell his tale to others.

In fact, I wish everyone would write a book, maybe not an actual book but a memoir of some kind detailing their memories. We think of autobiographies as being about famous people. We know a lot about the lives of our movers and shakers through history – kings and queens and presidents. But I think our lives, the lives of the ordinary people of their day, are even more fascinating.

I’ve been reading on the Wabash County Historical site about a family named Anderson who came first from Culpepper, Virginia and moved to Ohio from there. They traveled on horseback on the rough trails that passed for roads in that era, carrying their child with them. It was such a difficult trip that when they were within two miles of their destination, one of their horses died from exhaustion.

Their son then migrated to Grant County, Indiana. He arrived with a horse, saddle, bridle and thirty dollars to begin his new life. In 1847, he married and four weeks later, his log cabin was complete. He and his bride started housekeeping with a skillet, a tea kettle, one chair and a bed. The nearest town, which is now Somerset in Wabash County, had exactly two buildings at the time – a tavern and a blacksmith shop.

The Andersons prospered and eventually built a large house and raised fourteen children in it.

We know these fascinating tidbits, like what the Anderson’s took up housekeeping with, because someone bothered to write them down. Reading them now, we try to think what it would have been like to live surrounded by wilderness with only a few distant neighbors and under the roughest conditions? Who do you suppose got the one chair?  

You might say, the Andersons lived the American Dream. They started with almost nothing but they worked hard and became solid and well-to-do citizens. Do you think it is possible to do that today?  It was free land that allowed so many pioneers to succeed but we don’t have that stake now. Would many of endure that much hardship for the opportunity?  

I have a book myself, written by my mother’s cousin. It is a story of the family’s history homesteading a ranch in Arizona. She had it published and bound, making a copy for each family member. It is one of my most prized possessions.

Think how you would feel if you found papers, be they letters or a journal or a book, written to and/or by your great-grandmother or grandfather, describing the town (perhaps the one where you still live but 200 or more years ago). How did they farm then and how did they cook? What were they taught in school? Did great-grandpa fight in the Civil War? What made them happy and what did they worry about. What did they do for entertainment?

If you would be thrilled to find such a treasure, then your grandchildren and great-grandchildren would be equally as thrilled to find a trove like that from you. We take our lives for granted because they seem common but they really aren’t.....not to the generations that come after us.

I told my friend to make an outline of the natural divisions of his life – childhood, school, relationships, work, fun. Then just begin filling in the details. I told him to write down whatever he can remember. It doesn’t have to be professional, it just has to be real.

You could do the same.  Posterity will love you for it.   


Saturday, April 14, 2018

To Curse Or Not To Curse

                                                

Should you use profanity in your writing? You have to decide whether your readers would find cursing offensive or not. On the other hand, realism is always one of the goals of writing. One reason, old movies and books now sound stilted is because it is highly unlikely that American soldiers would have seen lines of Indians coming over the hill toward them and said, "Gee Whiz, Charlie, we're in big trouble."

No, they'd have more likely yelled, "Fuck, we're in deep shit!"

Same with soldiers and sailors being attacked by the enemy. Not for no reason did the phrases "cuss like a sailor" or "curse like a trooper" come into being.

When I was a teenager, we cussed in front of each other but never in front of grown ups (although they weren't nearly so delicate around us). Then our guys started coming home from Vietnam and that was pretty much the end of our sensitivity regarding profane words. My husband was a Vietnam combat veteran and he and his friends cursed prolifically and emphatically. Fuck became an all-purpose words which was used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb or simply to add emphasis. There was hardly a sentence that didn't include it. Cocksucker could be a harsh negative or an affectionate title for a friend.

I was always tolerant of cursing. My father was a machinist who often used colorful language although he had a point beyond which he would not go in front of women. The "ef" word, for instance. When Jim and I got together, it was no holds barred.

Even newspapers, like the New York Times, which used to ban "dirty" words have now loosened up and use the actual words people say in a quote. Donald Trump himself is notoriously foul-mouthed. The Times evidently believes we have gotten beyond being shocked by blasphemy.

So I have no qualms about people cursing in my writing if I think it would be realistic for them to do so. I use a lot of "bad' words myself so it comes easy for me to allow my characters to do the same.

Maybe you are careful about your own language. If so, maybe you'd be better off to excise profanity from your writing. There is a kind of rhythm to cursing that will sound non-authentic if you're not familiar with it.

You have to decide for yourself where you stand. I already have. If people don't like it, "screw'em".




Saturday, March 31, 2018

Walk for our Lives

Writing doesn't have to be lengthy to pack a powerful punch.  Sometimes, a few words are all that are needed to have an impact. A dozen words can be a shot to the heart.


 



Five words can deliver a clear, concise, no-holds-barred message.  They can serve as a warning to those who ignore them.


   




Five words and a picture can cut deeper than a five-page essay. They can contain a world of mockery or contempt or disgust for their opponents.


















.

Two words can contain an entire political philosophy.

                               







And sometimes silence can reach even farther than words.   

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Secret Story






(First published as a Logansport Pharos-Tribune column)







Several years ago, I was invited to direct a work shop at the International Women’s Writing Guild annual conference on the campus of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. I had never done anything like this before. I’d never even attended a workshop much less developed and directed one. I’d never stayed on a college campus, slept in a dorm or been to upstate New York. I’d never been thrown together with 1,200 women.
 
I barely remember anything about the conference itself. I don’t recall what other workshops I attended or what I taught in my own. If I learned valuable writing lessons, they have been processed subconsciously.


But I do remember all those women and how intimidated I was at first. They congregated into groups with common interests. There were several New York poets, all elegantly dressed and accessorized. They considered themselves the Artists, existing on a slightly higher plane than the rest of us. 


There were the Earth Mothers in sandals and long skirts. Generally, they came from little self-sufficiency farms where they raised goats and organic food. You could usually find them in the yoga classes or making mandalas. (Mandala is a Sanskrit word roughly translated as “circle” – a mandala is a cosmic diagram, if you will).


There were the hard-core Feminists, many of whom had become lesbians voluntarily as a way of making a political statement. They tolerated no dissent from the party line.
Then there were the rest of us. I considered us the Regular people. We had no agenda beyond learning how to write or how to sell what we wrote. 


Some wanted to do just one particular thing. One wanted to write her church’s history, another wanted to produce a cookbook featuring her southern granny’s recipes. One, with an autistic son, wanted to write about coping with that condition.
St. Patrick’s Day always makes me remember one woman in particular. This St. Patrick’s Day was no different.


Her maiden name (I’ve changed the names because it’s not my story) was Hummel or Schneider, anyway, a very Germanic-sounding name. Her family, she told us, had been of proudly German origin for generations, on both sides. 


But her mother had a peculiarity in that her favorite holiday was St. Patrick’s Day. Every year, she made green-iced cupcakes decorated with four-leaf clovers on top. She made a big bowl of green punch. She filled the house with green balloons and hung green crepe paper garlands above the door sills. The centerpiece on the table was a cut-out of a leprechaun. She put Irish music on the record player. And she always took the kids to the St. Patrick’s Day parade.


If the rest of the oh-so-German family thought this over-the-top celebration was odd, they never said so but just enjoyed the green cupcakes and punch.


Many years later, the mother was very old and ill in the hospital. The doctors said she wouldn’t live much longer. She called my friend, her daughter, to her side and said, “I have a secret to tell you.”


Her daughter leaned in close because her mother’s voice was weak and trembling by then. 
“I was adopted. I’ve known about it from the time I was very young. I was rummaging around in a trunk in the attic and found my birth certificate. I never said a word about it because I was afraid if I asked questions, it would hurt Mama and Papa’s feelings. They never wanted me to know they weren’t my real parents. I never wanted them to know I knew because I considered them my real parents in every wonderful way it is possible to be a parent.”


Her daughter was astonished, hearing her mother’s confession.

“My birth mother’s name was Kathleen McCarty. She was 17 years old when I was born. That’s all I know. It’s all I ever tried to know although I wondered about her often. I’ve always given her the benefit of the doubt for doing what she must have thought was best for me. Since I couldn’t recognize my little Irish mother in any outward way, I always gave her a special celebration on Patrick’s Day.”


My friend wanted to ask questions but it was too late. Her mother was too weak. She’d said all she had to say. She died a short time later.


So, that’s why she was at the conference, to learn to tell her mother’s story. I don’t know whether she accomplished her goal or not but if she didn’t, I’m sure hearing it is something none of us who were in the cafeteria the day she told it has ever forgotten. I bet I wasn’t the only one to think of her on St. Patrick’s Day.


I’ve discovered since then that there really are no “just Regular” people – every one of us has a special story inside us – if we are willing to tell it and if someone is there to listen.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Romania? Really?

                                                 

As writers, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to style. We can improve on the areas where we falter, of course. I've gained many techniques from reading other writers I admire, such as how they handle transitions but over all, we are what we are and it's best to just go with it.

For instance, I could never develop a plot no matter how I studied how other writers did it. My books have no plots. They just ramble. That's the way it is.

When I was young and poor, my friend worked at Hooks Drugstore. When Harlequin paperbacks exceeded their shelf life, the store threw them away or gave them to employees. My friend read them, then brought them to me. Oh, God, I read so many Harlequin romances. They were so formulaic, it was like reading the same story over and over except in one, the hero was a pirate and in one he was a rancher.

When I got a little older, I thought I should write for Harlequin. It would be easy. They sent you guidelines that practically laid out what had to happen in every chapter. Just follow the formula. Except I couldn't do it. My romances always took a turn for the twisted. Not Harlequin material.

You have to be organized to write a nice, concise plot but I'm not organized. I never know what if going to happen next. I just start out and let it happen. I think I have a fair talent for characterization but that's not on me, it's on the characters themselves. They come to me full-blown.

For example, one of the protagonists in one of me books was born and raised in Romania before coming to New York as a teenager.

"Are you kidding?" I asked him. "Why Romania? I know nothing about Romania and could care less."

"Nope," he insisted, "it has to be Romania."

So I had to do a ton of research to to be able to write realistically about Romania. It turned out to be quite interesting but I'd never have chosen that country if it had been up to me.

So, my advice is to read a lot and yes, pay attention to how authors write about people, places and things but don't model yourself on anyone else.  Whatever your voice is, that's the important one to focus on.