Friday, December 30, 2016

December 29, Surgery Day



Alarm at 4:30 a.m. MST. Surgery scheduled for 8 a.m. Have to check in at 6. Kinda like catching a flight. While the airport is an hour away with traffic, the hospital is only 15 minutes. So much closer. But not more reassuring. Only a shorter trip to think of my mortality.

It's my cousin Gerald's birthday. Then it's a good day to have surgery because good things happen on this date. A good omen.

Not that I'm superstitious. Like Tuon the Seanchan Princess/Empress "may she live forever" in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time fantasy series. She is a strong, brave, independent woman who believes in omens. I'm reading the fourteenth and final book in the series. It's my third time through. WoT is my security blanket. No matter what turns my life is taking or what else I might be reading, I can always go back to WoT. There I am spirited away to a world where the wheel turns as the wheel wills and good conquers evil.

4:35 I took my shower with the special antiseptic wash. Dry with a clean towel. Don clean clothes. Because knee replacement involves the implanting of a foreign material into my body, I must be especially careful of the possibility of infection. For the rest of my life.

I didn't turn the 4:30 news on.The news folk will only talk about Debbie Reynolds. She died yesterday. The day after her daughter died. Carrie Fisher, another Princess. Whose character in another fantasy series is strong and independent and brave. And she is younger than I. There's that mortality thing again.

My computer bag was packed -- my laptop, two changes of clothes.

Loose fitting clothes like the nurse who taught the pre-op class said. My exercise class clothes. We didn't have exercise class Monday because it was the day after Christmas and even exercise class teachers deserve a day off now and again. But I walked with my walking group Tuesday and we went to Panera's after.

The exercise class is for my physical well-being. The walking and good food amidst good friends is for my mental well-being. One of the walkers -- technically, she doesn't usually walk with us, but she often meets us for coffee after -- was worried. She'd had a lipoma on her back for many years and now it had started hurting. She was worried that it may have become cancerous. She was having to wait until Wednesday to see her doctor. Dammit.

A reminder of our mortality.

And I had to wait until Thursday, the 29th.

The paperwork was safely stowed in the computer bag. A copy of my Advance Directive and one of my Durable Medical Power of Attorney. Just in case. My chances of surviving a total knee replacement were excellent. But one of my husband's good friends had a fairly routine back surgery last month. He threw a blood clot and died.

Another reminder.

My husband drove me to the hospital and our daughter met us there. We did not mention mortality.

Three chargers were in my bag. One for my cell phone, one for my e-reader, and one for my laptop. I would need to call my son and my brother and my uncle to let them know how the surgery went. And I would need my reader so I could read myself to sleep -- I was on page 343 of 894 in that last Wheel of Time book. I had emails of good wishes to answer. And blog posts and short fiction and books to write.

Bye-the-by, my walking group friend has shingles. Not fun, but not cancer either.

And I now have a new knee.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

I'm Curious

image from oaktable.net

I'm curious.

This blog is intended to explore the work of writing, to showcase my own flash fiction and flash nonfiction.

But if you know writers, you know we'll write about everything. Well, I don't usually do recipes or the best way to get grass stains out of football uniforms. It must have been a man who ever imagined white was a good idea for football uniforms.

If you don't mind, would you please leave a comment and let me know where you are in this world, why you read my blog, and which kinds of my posts you particularly like.

Thank you.


Weather! -- Nonfiction


Who is this mystery man?

Me? I write mysteries. And a man like this can be inspiring. Dressed like this and entering a convenience store or, God forbid, a bank, this man would draw all kinds of unwelcome attention. But, dear friends, this is my husband dressed to do battle today. In our neighborhood. We had 8.5 inches of snow, the biggest so far this season. That's official because he measured it.

     
         This is my neighborhood, a view from my desk.                  And this is how my bad cat
                                                                                                    Kocka enjoys the view.

As I write this we have warmed up to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Thank goodness the wind is not blowing or it would feel even colder than it does. And it feels pretty darn cold.

The writing gurus exhort us to avoid writing weather. The old "dark and stormy night" thing.

But, having grown up in Tornado Alley, the weather has been an important character in the story of my life. The last thing I watch at night is the local weather forecast and then, again, the first thing in the morning. I quickly develop strong preferences for this meteorologist over that one. I think I would recognize them anywhere -- even at the dentist's office, and Goodness knows I go deaf, dumb, and blind the minute I pass through the doors to my dentist's office.

In Oklahoma, where super cell tornadoes can be a problem, we watched for the local TV stations' helicopters and storm tracker trucks. If David Payne, an Oklahoma City meteorologist, passed you on the highway in bad weather, the best thing to do is to turn around 'cause wherever he's going, you don't want to be there.

Now I live southwest of and a little more than 600 feet above Denver, Colorado, where they give the weather by altitude. Even if you don't watch the weather news, all those pickup trucks running around town with blades on the front should be warning enough. It's gonna snow.

There are some good things about snow in Colorado. One of our major industries is tourism fueled in the winter by skiers and snowboarders. And, although Denver is located on America's High Plains Desert, we have snow melt for the water necessary to modern life. After last night the snow pack in our watershed the South Platte will be at more than 100% of average.

Another good thing is the large force of experienced snowplow drivers ready, willing, and able to come out in the cold and dark and clear our highways and streets. Luckily we live on a street that is regularly plowed so we've never been trapped in our home by the snow.

And down here where we live, the sun comes out the next day or second day after at the most, and dries the streets and warms us so that coats are usually not necessary. Regardless of the ambient temperature, we can resume our outdoor lives.

On mornings like this, I wake before dawn with soft white light sifting through the blinds. It's not moonlight. It's snowlight. I'm surrounded by the hum of the heater promising me safety from the cold. I lie in bed listening for the first snowplow to break the quiet of the neighborhood. It moves on, leaving no shadow of its sound.



This snow was different. The flakes were so tiny and so dry that they didn't stick together at all. They fell through the openings on the picnic table and between the floor boards on the deck. Only where they stacked up on the railing did we get an idea of how much snow had fallen.

                       
Yep, that's my husband. He cleared our driveway and the sidewalks around our house and in front of our neighbors' houses. He actually worked up a sweat following that snowblower. The neighbors here do that for each other. Last snowfall it was our neighbor Heather with a double-wide snow shovel who cleared our walk and drive.

It's now midday. We've warmed up to six degrees. The sun is not yet out, but the clouds are thinning and the future promising. There's the odd car, now and then, breaking the silence on our street. Tomorrow will be sunny and warmer. We're supposed to get up to 30 degrees.

Hope y'all can enjoy your winter as much as I'm enjoying mine.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The 4th Estate and the 1st Amendment

Investigative Journalism,image from UNESCO

The term The Fourth Estate is used to refer to the press and, in today's world, to television and radio news, and internet news sources. According to 19th Century Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, the term was first used by Edmund Burke in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on whether to open the House of Commons to reporters. Burke said "there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

Four years later, Amendment I to the United States Constitution was adopted, recognizing and protecting five rights necessary to sustaining the freedom of a people to govern themselves. It reads:

     "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
       the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the
       right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a
       redress of grievances."

These civil rights were originally intended to protect individuals from laws made by the U.S. Congress -- the Senate and House of Representatives. Of course in those days that meant only white men. Not women, not slaves, not Native Americans, etc. etc. etc.

Gradually, those civil rights have become recognized as belonging to the rest of us. And now they protect us from State and Local governments as well as the Federal Government. We achieved that recognition as a result of people exercising those rights before they were officially law. Exercising them at great risk to themselves, their families, and their livelihoods.

An educated electorate is necessary to oversee our elected government. By educated I do not mean certified by some educational institution. I mean we need to know what our government leaders and employees are doing. This is where The Fourth Estate comes in.

We don't have time in our own lives to attend our respective state houses on a daily basis while they are in session. And most of us live too far from D.C. to observe Congress, or the Supreme Court while they're in session. We, as individuals, have no access to the President as he conducts the daily business of our nation.

We do have access to proposed laws and regulations if we want to take the time necessary to look them up online. We can opt to watch Congressional debates and hearings on CSPAN. We can read Supreme Court decisions, including dissenting opinions, again online. But we can't question the people arguing in those debates and participating in those hearings. We usually don't have access to experts who can discuss or explain the pros and cons of this law or that regulation. Often, because our thoughts as rightfully caught up in our own affairs, we don't take time to even imagine how actions they take and decisions they make might directly affect us.

Because I am retired, I probably have more time to do these things. I'm seldom too tired to watch anything more demanding on TV than 'Dancing with the Stars.' But many of my fellow citizens are. I don't usually need to decompress from my real-life life by playing 'Minecraft' or 'Sims.' But many of my neighbors and friends do.

Whatever our situation, we need a free press to keep us informed about the business of government -- not just the national government as it operates in D.C. But as it protects me and mine on the open seas and the battlefields and in the foreign government and corporate offices of the whole wide world. As it functions on my neighborhood streets by monitoring the safety of our automobiles. As it operates in my kitchen by monitoring the safety of our food. As it works in the medicine chest over my bathroom sink by monitoring the safety of my prescription medications.

I need a free press to keep me informed about the business of government at my State Capital. As it works with the Federal Government and on its own. I need them to help keep track of my local government, my local school board, my state and local courts.

Our Federal, State, County, and City governments are all there to take care of OUR communal business and it is ultimately our responsibility to oversee their work. There's no way we can keep up with them without the much maligned 'media.'

From the beginning of our Republic our Fourth Estate has been shot through with news people more concerned with selling ads and papers. Easy news costs less to collect and is less likely to alienate advertisers and patrons. It means more profit for the news provider. News like who got a ticket for speeding, which local society dame attended what cotillion, who died and when their funeral is scheduled, how the local sports teams are doing, what building permit has been issued, and how much black-baldies are selling for a-hundred-weight. It's all news of interest to somebody.

Then there is the sensational news guaranteed to attract news consumers and thereby sell ads. This news is also fairly easily and inexpensively come by. News about which celeb is in trouble with the law, who's sleeping with whom especially if they have some sort of celebrity status, or shocking declarations from someone with or without legitimate standing that are guaranteed to incite public passions. Again news of interest to someone.

Then there is investigative reporting. That's when news people spend time and resources exploring illegal, unethical, and/or immoral practices by people in responsible positions within our core institutions. This is the news that brings The Fourth Estate into its own. It's usually not easy and seldom inexpensive. On top of that, the results may not be popular or pleasant.

In the mid 1800s Harper's Weekly exposed New York City's corrupt Tammany Hall machine. They reported in print and Thomas Nast's political cartoons, taking aim at the political machine's head honcho.

  

Pretty good resemblence, doncha think? Boss Tweed is reported to have said "I don't care a straw for your newspaper articles, my constituents don't know how to read, but they can't help seeing them damned pictures." He didn't want people to 'know.'

In 1954 Edward R. Murrow, a television journalist, responded to a personal attack on him after CBS News reported on Joseph McCarthy's tyrannical behavior in the U.S. Senate. People needed to know. Something needed to be said. Murrow said it.

Click on the date to see and hear what this journalist had to say.
April 13, 1954


In 1972 Woodward and Bernstein brought Watergate to light resulting in indictments of 40 administration officials, the resignation of President Nixon, and the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

In 2003 members of The Boston Globe's Spotlight team received the Pulitzer Prize for their series exposing the cover-up by the Catholic Church of wide-spread sexual abuse of children. How much longer would this despicable behavior been allowed to continue if the world had waited for the Church to fix it? For the law to discover it?

These are but a few examples of the news that people needed to know so something could be done, but we would never have been able to dig it out ourselves.

An informed electorate. That is what is necessary for a free people to govern themselves. It is the responsibility of journalists, regardless of their medium, to provide us dependable information in a fair and unbiased form, regardless of whose ox is gored. That doesn't always happen.

Sometimes they have profits to make. They have pet projects to promote. They have people or beliefs or plans for their own futures to protect.

Sometimes we have to be skeptical and do a little research of our own. We have a vast set of governments to oversee thus insuring the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment. Media news people are valuable tools for us to use. It is up to us as individuals to responsibly consume the news.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Arrival -- Reprise


Arrival image from The Playlist

Didn't you just see a blog post from me reviewing this movie a couple of weeks ago? (http://bit.ly/2eQadud) You surely did!

I went to see it again. Today. And teared up in the same place. No, not because it was sad, but because it was so beautiful and hopeful.

I like it even better after having seen it a second time. This time I could watch it analytically. For its structure. The first viewing I got caught up in the story.

Arrival is complex. It questions our understanding of time. Must time be linear? Must it always flow forward? Is there another way to perceive time?

I took my daughter and her fiancé with me then out to lunch. Grace saw the movie with me the first time I saw it. Bob did not. So during the 'post-movie quiz' I could question him as a newby. When did he realize what was happening? Were the interspersed scenes with her daughter flashbacks or foresight? Did her understanding of the aliens' language change the way she could perceive time?

What new discoveries had Grace and I made during our second journey through the movie?

I don't buy many movies. Heck, I don't even go to the movies very often. But I'm gonna buy this one as soon as it becomes available.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Anna, Babette, and Charlie or Why She's Late -- Flash Fiction

A 1900s postcard from Zazzle


The girls had their showers and bath last night before bed. Anna and Babette take showers these days. Charlie still takes baths.

We are scheduled to eat a late lunch with Neil's mother then sit for a family portrait in front of the Christmas tree.

I reminded Anna, my thirteen-year-old going on 20, of our departure time as she disappeared into her room. We had agreed that she would wear her new blue dress. Her first dry-clean-only dress. Nothing would do, but she have that exact one. And she did look lovely in it. She's a rather fastidious child so it seemed an acceptable choice.

"Babette, have you decided what you're wearing?"

"The white one with blue stars," she shouts over her shoulder as she plunks down on the couch next to her dad.

At eleven, Babette is the athlete/artist in the family. She couldn't care less what she wears as long as it's not "too girlie." I'm never quite sure just what "too girlie" is. Pink is fine. Flounces around the hem are fine. Ruffles at the neckline are not fine. "Too girlie." White with stars is perfectly fine for the portrait, but she is not a careful child. Not with her art supplies or eating. I don't know why Neil's mother planned a portrait sitting for AFTER lunch. I'm tempted to take a spare outfit for her. Babette, not Neil's mother.

Charlie (Charlotte MacKenzie) the baby of the family loves clothes. That child can change clothes more times in a day than the Crawleys on Downton Abbey. I decided to wait until the last minute to dress her.

"Mom," Anna calls. "I can't find my blue tights."

I poke my head into her room, the cat and Charlie close on my heels. "When did you wear them last?" I ask.

"Tuesday."

"Then, they're probably in the dirty clothes. Did you look?"

"Can you wash them?" She asks.

Might as well, throw in Neil's dark colored dress shirts. My dad was a welder, so he never wore dress shirts unless it was to a wedding or a funeral. Somehow, it always seemed kind of fun to wash Neil's "work" shirts. Almost like I was a kid playing house. Fancy house. But they had to be taken out of the dryer as soon as it finished or they'd wrinkle, and neither he nor I like to iron.

"Babette, do you need anything washed before school tomorrow?"

She races past me down the hall and into her room. The cat and Charlie flatten themselves against the wall.

All calm and in control she steps into the hall and hands me her soccer uniform. "Thanks, Mom. I almost forgot."

Thank goodness her team colors are blue and grey. They'll wash just fine with her sister's tights and Neil's shirts. But they're another have-to-take-them-out-of-the-dryer-quick.

Not a problem. I've got time.

Neil passed the laundry room on his way to our bathroom. "Gonna take my shower now."

"Okay," I say rummaging through the dirty clothes to find Anna's tights.

I hear the shower start and thank goodness for the new water heater. We haven't run out of hot water since we got it.

"Gloria, Hon, I forgot to get a towel."

"Just a minute," I say interrupting my search for the tights. "Charlie, don't let the cat get in the dryer."

I get Neil a towel, find the tights, and start the washer. Charlie and the cat have disappeared and I can't hear them over the washer and Neil's singing. He always sings in the shower. Opera, usually. He actually sounds pretty good when he limits himself to the baritone parts. Not so much when he does all the roles. But he enjoys it.

The dishwasher is finished so I put the dishes away. That's when I heard the most mournful yowl. Having survived two girls as toddlers, I knew I'd better see what Charlie had done to the cat. It wasn't in the dryer. I checked.

I knew they weren't in Charlie's bedroom because the door was wide open. My next guess was the hall bathroom.

"Charlie, have you got the cat in there with you?"

There was much scrabbling going on and things falling on the other side of the door.

"Charlotte, why is the door locked? Open the door."

Nothing. The hall bathroom had gone silent. Neil burst into his falsetto soprano part.

"Charlotte MacKenzie Smith. Open this door. NOW!"

Charlie opened the door and a wet cat streaked past me, sliding as he made the turn to tear down the hall. The four-year-old stood there, shoulders hunched, eyes huge in terror, her mouth puckered in an O.

"He's wet! He's all over my stuff!" Anna screeched from her bedroom.

Charlie was soaked. Toiletries lay scattered across the flooded bathroom floor. The picture of the young man tap dancing in New Orleans hung askew and the wall clock was practically upside down.

Babette peeked out of her door, took one look at me, then ducked out of sight.

"Babette, you come back here. Bring me a towel and take one to Anna."

"Yes, ma'am," she said sidling carefully past me.

Tears began trickling down Charlie's face. She didn't move. She didn't even blink. She waited for retribution of biblical proportions.

The shower in my bathroom stopped and Neil called, "Did you get deodorant for me? I can't find it."

"The cat walked on my library book," Anna wailed. "He's ruining it!"

Babette offered me two towels.

"No. Take one to Anna and tell her to dry the cat. Then you come back here and dry your sister."

"But ...." she started to object. After another look at me, she thought better of it.

"Thank you," Neil said as I removed the new can of deodorant from the top shelf in the medicine cabinet, less than an arm's length from him, and handed it to him.

"You're welcome," I said.

"Are the girls about ready to go?" he asked.

I didn't answer. How could he not hear the four-year-old down the hall, sobbing? Her big sister making soothing sounds.

I got the mop bucket out of the garage and sopped up the water on the bathroom floor, straightened the picture and the clock, and dried the toiletries before replacing them on the shelf. At least the cat hadn't knocked the shelf down or ripped the shower curtain in his wild careening around the room.

It wasn't until after I'd put the laundry into the dryer that I calmed down enough to wonder whether or not my youngest had been maimed by the near-drowned cat. But there hadn't been blood in the water on the floor, so I figured she must be fine or at least fine enough.

"How do I look?" Neil asked smoothing his tie. He was freshly showered, deodorized, shaved, and dressed in a white shirt and his navy pinstriped suit pants.

"You're barefoot," I said.

"Couldn't find any blue socks," he said.

"Wear black," I said.

It wasn't until then that he actually looked at me.

"Is something wrong?"

"No. Nothing is wrong. Now."

"Okay," he said cautiously. "I think I'll go clean out the car,"

Anna and Babette got themselves dressed and ready to go. Anna without her blue tights. I'll run the laundry again when we get home. Charlotte MacKenzie is dressed and I put a change of clothes in her Elsa backpack. If Babette spills food on her dress, we'll just turn it around back-to-front for the photo.

We're out of hot water and I've still got to shower. I have no idea where the cat's got to.

My husband sits on the couch reading the paper. His three beautiful daughters perched all lady-like around him watching "Meet the Press" or some such on TV as though they're interested. He checks his watch, waiting all too obviously patiently. He doesn't dare ask how much longer I'll be.


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Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Man Called Ove -- Book Review

So would you like to know how to pronounce this man's name? http://bit.ly/2fd53xy  Check it out.

I think this is the best book I've ever read. Funny and beautiful and sad -- all tear inducing. That's the problem with reading. You read a really good book and get all teary-eyed and you can't see to get past the funny, beautiful, sad pages. At least when it's a movie, the movie goes on. Or an audio book.

But I read the book. My friend Lou handed the book to me after our walking group on Tuesday, November 22. Her only caveat was that I return the book to the library before December 5th. (Thank you, Lou!)

I am not a particularly fast reader, but this book I finished this morning -- two days after receiving it. Yes, it's that good.

A Man Called Ove (by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch) is about a difficult, lonely man who has lost the only person who ever understood him, his wife Sonja. He has decided to commit suicide and join her. Such a simple, honest decision. One would think.

But he is surrounded by humans. Totally incompetent, treacherous humans. These humans, completely innocent though they may be, inevitably bumble and stumble their way into his life and interfere with his plans.

Ove's attitude toward everything and everyone except his Sonja is summed up in the following paragraph. He's driving the everything and everyone in his Saab.

          "Ove looks at the group assembled around him, as if he's been kidnapped and taken to
     a parallel universe. For a moment he thinks about swerving off the road, until he realizes
     that the worst-case scenario would be that they all accompanied him into the afterlife.
     After this insight he reduces his speed and increases the gap significantly between his
     car and the one in front."

Backman's (or the translator's, I'm not sure who to credit here) language is pristine. He employs Hemingway's mot juste to say the most with the least and best words. And interestingly, anyway to me, he tells much of his story in present tense. The present part of the story. The rest he tells in the more commonly used past tense. (I know. I know. Only you grammar Nazis will even notice.)

Ove's present is explained as we read, discovering his past. As clearly and gracefully as a river winding its way through the countryside to the sea. And as inevitably.

I finished this book with my own cat annoyance snuggling in the throw on my legs (as long as I didn't try to pet him. My cat doesn't like to be petted. He bites. Rotten cat.)

Definitely Five Stars out of Five!

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Ride -- Flash Fiction

image from Dependable Auto Transport

He first saw her at the service desk in the Oklahoma City Lexus dealership. Tall, older woman with I-Love-Lucy red hair. Not bad looking in that rich-old-lady sort of way. Well-dressed, expensive hand bag and shoes -- flats. Without a doubt, his grandmother would have recognized the brands.

Probably drove a black GS, he thought. Or maybe one of the hybrids. He was wrong. Completely wrong. There she stood. Beside his truck, her Atomic Silver LX on his truck.

"I heard you're going to Houston," she said.

"Yes, ma'am." He wondered how that SUV got on his trailer.

"I want you to take me and my car with you."

"Excuse me."

"I need to be in Houston for Thanksgiving. At my granddaughter's. Always wanted to ride on a long-haul."

"How'd that car get on my truck?" he asked, knowing already that he didn't want to know.

"The tracks, or whatever you call 'em, were down, so I just drove it up there."

"Lady, you can't do that. Just drive it up there. It's got to be loaded right. Tied down."

"Okay," she said. "I put it in park and set the brake. You do whatever it is you need to so it'll travel safely. I'll ride up front with you. I-35 to Dallas then I-45 into Houston, right?"

"Yes, ma'am." He shoved his Minnesota Vikings cap to the back of his head and considered the situation.

"Is this your truck, or do you just drive for some company?"

"It is my truck," he said. "And my company. Small, but my company."

"How small?" she asked.

"Four trucks counting this one." He didn't see what this had to do with anything.

"Then that's settled."

"Actually, Lady. It's not settled at all. I don't take riders, and I don't haul cars without a contract."

"No law against taking riders. You set the price, I'll agree to it. We'll shake hands and you'll have your contract. An oral contract. All perfectly legal. Do you take plastic?"

"Plastic? Lady, its ...."

"Mary."

"What?"

"My name's Mary. Mary Schroeder. What's yours?"

"Paul Larsen."

"Well, Paul Larsen, you take care of the car and I'll go ahead and get in the truck. Is the rider-side door unlocked?"

"Yes, ma'am, but ...."

She was gone around the front of the truck on her way to the rider-side door. He pulled his cap down to his eyebrows. He could tell she was used to getting her way. An awful lot like his Grandma. He dug a couple of tie downs out of the tool box and climbed up on the trailer.

As they crossed the North Canadian River headed south, she asked "Are you married?"

"No ma'am," he said taking a sip of coffee. "I've got some cokes in the box behind the seat if you want one."

"Not now, thank you. Originally from Minnesota, are you?" She asked.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Been in Texas long enough to pick up some manners though," she said.

He laughed.

"Katy's not married either."

"Katy?" he asked.

"My granddaughter."

Her granddaughter. This might be a long drive. Maybe she'd buy his meals.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Arrival -- A Review

image from Wikipedia


I love Science Fiction in books. In movies, I like Science Fantasy. With Star Trek and Star Wars in the movies, you don't have to worry about the science, because they're fantasy. And their violence doesn't disturb me. I love the flash-bang of those movies as much as anybody. I guess because it doesn't seem real. (See my reviews "Star Wars!" from January http://bit.ly/1VbH7VF and "Star Trek Beyond" from July http://bit.ly/2acaJ5w)

Science Fiction in the movies, on the other hand, is often problematic. They just simply too often get the science wrong. A recent example of that was The Martian. (See my review from October, 2015 http://bit.ly/1QmsE73)

Arrival which opened here in the Denver area Friday gets it right. I heard a review on NPR that described the movie as "furiously intelligent." Okay, so furiously is an odd choice of adverb to modify intelligent. But, hey, it got my attention. The reviewer went on to say that the hero of the piece is a professor of linguistics. Now, I'm interested. Throw in the sentence "Carl Sagan would be proud" and I'm hooked.

So I make arrangements to go to the movies with my favorite movie companion, my daughter Grace.

As you know, this has been a rough week for me what with the election debacle. I began to worry about the movie. I hate it when Hollywood blows Science Fiction. The reviewer described the aliens in Arrival as "leggy insectoids."

I pointed out to Grace that the aliens couldn't be very big, because an exoskeletal creature of much size couldn't stand up to Earth's gravity. And I didn't think I could stand it if the whole thing devolved into a chase scene shoot 'em up like so many Hollywood products. She suggested that I shouldn't be looking for things to be wrong before we even got to the theater.

The movie is eerily reminiscent of 9/11. It starts out on a very ordinary, sunshiny day as Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) crosses her college campus. The students out and about, seem unusually distracted by their phones. When she gets to her classroom, she notes how few students are there, but begins her lecture anyway. The cell phones in the room start going off and the students answer them. Finally a student asks her to turn on the television to get some news.

We didn't all have cell phones when 9/11 happened, but classes everywhere were interrupted by people turning on televisions to get some news.

In the movie UFOs have arrived at points scattered around the Earth -- Shanghai, two locations over Russia, Italy, Montana, etc. Maintaining her sense of rationality, she quietly waits for a bit in the parking lot before joining the chaotic exodus away from the school. This attention to detail and the very realistic reactions to such unusual news gets us off to a good start.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) for whom she'd done some translations before shows up and requests her help translating the aliens' language. He is terse and to the point throughout.

Weber -- a name valued in my family -- teams Louise with physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner.) I like Donnelly. The writer got him right. He is appropriately geeky complete with him protecting his mathematics turf.

The first hint that this movie was not going to be the usual Hollywood cock-up came when our heroes boarded a helicopter and they didn't all duck.

Then on their way to their first contact, Drs. Banks and Connelly experience the altered gravitation of the aliens' space pod. Insectoids dealing with Earth's gravity -- solved. As it turns out they're not "insectoid" at all. They're more a variety of cephalopod. But, whatever. Earth's gravity would still have been a problem unless the creatures were buoyed in water.

Scenes of Dr. Banks' lost child and failed marriage appear in, around, and among scenes of emerging American attempts at intergalactic diplomacy. For once, humanity's response is not shoot first and ask questions later. Of course as the story moves on, other governments around the world are not so forward thinking and begin to opt for war thus tipping the U.S. to do the same thing.

I won't give away the ending, but I will tell you I'm revising my opinion of Hollywood upward. And Arrival has revived my hope for the world.

Friday, November 11, 2016

What If Donald Trump Were a Woman -- Nonfiction


image from Open College
"Me! Me! Call on me!"


America, we have a problem. We have addressed the Race Issue, not successfully, I agree, but we've at least addressed it. Most of us recognize that being nonwhite in the United States still presents serious problems. What about the Gender Issue? Do most of us recognize that being female in the United States still handicaps us?

What if Donald Trump were a woman? Would he have gotten the Republican nomination and gone on to become the President Elect?

I know. I know. You're right, he'd be a pretty ugly woman. He's not that great looking as a man. So let's disregard this joke and not minimize the problem.

Let's imagine if Donald were a woman.

To make this a believable hypothesis, the female Donald would need to be as rich as Crassus and star of a TV show. The closest we've got to that is Joan Collins' Alexis Carrington on Dynasty. (I understand Dynasty is available to rent from Netflix if you're too young to remember that particularly glittery soap.)

Okay, just bare with me.

So we've got the wealth and fame in mind. We'll assume that our she-Donald made it through the nominating process despite the way he/she spoke to and of the other Republican candidates. The rest of the tale will be just the real Donald as a woman in a one-on-one contest with Hillary Clinton.

Hillary is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She has been married once which of course got her her first liability. Her husband Bill, the 42nd President, was impeached for lying and obstruction of justice. Not for sexual improprieties with a 22-year-old employee, but for lying about them. There is nothing to indicate that Hillary herself was involved in sexual impropriety.

Our Lady Donald is also a wife and mother. She has five children by three men. That in itself would be a liability in our society. And of her own making, at that. Our Ms. Donald is caught on tape bragging about her own sexual improprieties. She/he is then accused by multiple people of improper sexual behavior, including against underage people. Again, liabilities of her own making.

One of the women running for office could point to being twice elected to the Senate from New York State. Not Mistress Trump. She would be able to point to no service in any elected position. But, at least she's not a politician.

And as Secretary of State Hillary could tout interactions with international leaders, both allies and antagonists.

Not to be outdone, Ms. Trump publicly admired long-time Russian antagonist and threatened to ignore treaties with long-time allies. Did I mention that she espoused the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Hillary, as Secretary of State and recognizing the long-held tradition of "the buck stops here," accepted responsibility for the tragedy that was the terrorist attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The female Donald, rather than accepting responsibility for her/his own insufficiencies bragged about his/her business acumen in using tax laws to avoid paying her fair share of income tax and bankruptcy laws to avoid his business obligations.

Our Mistress Donald disrespected American war heroes and their families. She/he liberally laced public speeches with profanity and easily provable lies. He/she carried on feuds using middle-of-the-night tweets, exhibited aggressive behavior during presidential debates, encouraged violence during public events, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  

Be honest. If Donald Trump were a woman running against anybody and behaved as he has, would he now be the President Elect?

Women, we have a long way to go. Don't let's get caught in a mess like this ever again. Letting men determine our future will never get us or our society where we need to go. We have to take responsibility and actively participate in determining our society's future. This must be the only Unity that counts.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Rage -- Nonfiction


Anger 2 by Theuukz on Deviantart


I know I'm not alone in this. There are demonstrations across the country. My friends and family are reacting with sadness, depression, rage.

My friend Ruth Ann shared an email her assistant minister sent out. In part it said "Even those of us who share the same overall values about this are going to be in different places at different times, because we react differently. That person reacts with rage, this person reacts with tears, this one goes numb."

I am that person who reacts with rage.

Hillary gave a gracious concession speech encouraging us to "work together." President Obama gave a speech reminding us that there will be a peaceful transition to the next administration. He will do his part to make that happen and we should do our part, too.

Did their words do anything to assuage my anger? No.

I went to my morning class to be around people I know. People that I don't know how they voted. I can continue to believe that these people are good people. I can believe they are not people filled with fear that their place in American Society is endangered by people who don't look like them, people who don't pray like them, people who speak accented English or who do not embrace the same sexuality they do. I can continue to believe they are not threatened by people who are better educated or less well-educated or are richer or poorer than they. I can believe they do not translate fear into hate.

The election shattered my faith in the general American electorate, those people beyond my morning classmates.

I have been exhorted by Hillary and President Obama to accept the election results. How can I accept as my representative to the world, a buffoon who spouts profanity, denigrates women and people of color, perpetuates lies, and encourages violence?

We are expected not only to accept, but to endure. We have endured. For generations we have endured. How much longer must we endure?

My friend's minister's email offered reassurance. “You do not have to be brave today. You do not have to roll up your sleeves and get to work. You do not have to take steps toward unity or peace. You don't have to move from grief to resolve.

You get to be you, you get to feel your feelings."

The minister offers endurance delayed.

I'm not yet willing to embrace endurance.

My rage has only begun to cool. And harden. Into glittering, sharp-edged crystals. Maybe I will scatter them in my hair. Diadems to catch the cold starlight of that great goodnight it feels like we have been cast into.

"One foot in front of the other, friends," the minister's email said. "Let us be gentle with each other; let us be gentle with ourselves."

And maybe those steps will lead into the sunlight. Maybe an end to the need to endure bigotry and hate is nearer at hand than it feels like it is. Maybe behavior that was accepted by too many during the campaign will not be accepted any longer. Maybe. Maybe.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lawrence Alvin Weber 05/30/1925 - 10/03/2016


Picture taken February 8, 1944

Lawrence Alvin Weber died in his sleep October 3, 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. He was 91 years old and a long way from home. But he didn’t know it.
 He was born May 30, 1925 in Luther, Oklahoma to Lawrence Leland and Emma Mae Jarvis Weber. He was the second of four children, the only son in this farming family, surrounded by a thriving rural community of 613 according to the 1930 census. And of those, a good many were members of his extended family.
So much of his life’s focus must have come from his beginnings. He was a child during the Great Depression and Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl years. Being a child and busy with school and sports and his family and friends these hard times probably weren’t as much a concern for him as they were for the adults. Because his family farmed, they had food to eat. As long as the weather cooperated and their crops came in. But the national sense of unease, of not knowing where the next meal was coming from, must have filtered down to the children.
He would always be concerned about people having enough to eat. All his life, even when he lived in town, he grew a big garden and produced enough food to can or fill his own freezer and the extra he gave away. You couldn’t visit Momma and Daddy in the summertime without going home with fresh vegetables. After he retired, he volunteered at the Edmond Hope Center where he worked in the Food Room.
On the heels of The Depression and the Dust Bowl came World War II. In October 1943, his senior year in high school, he enlisted in the Navy. The Seabees, the Construction Battalions.
I asked him why the Navy. I knew he couldn’t swim. In fact he never was comfortable swimming even after he learned. He said it was because they were required to provide better food than any of the other services. Plus he liked heavy equipment and they would teach him to use it.
The Navy took him out of the small rural town where he knew everyone and sent him off to Rhode Island where he knew no one. In those days joining the Navy was “for the duration.” And nobody knew how long that duration would last or what the world would look like when the duration was over. The Allies were not necessarily odds-on favorites in the war against Hitler’s Germany. And the survival of any individual member of the armed services was far from guaranteed.
From Rhode Island, which must have felt very foreign compared to Oklahoma, Daddy was sent across the country by train to California.
That was the first time he’d been to Colorado. The trains were still steam locomotives. And they were routed north from Denver into Wyoming then west through the South Pass because the Rockies were too high in Colorado for the trains to pull.
From California, he was shipped out to the Solomon Islands. On April 1st 1945, the 82-day battle for the control of Okinawa started. Daddy was there. In all, the 10th Army had 182,821 men under its command including over 88,000 Marines and 18,000 Navy personnel (mostly Seabees and medical personnel.) Nearly 250,000 people died during that battle. 14,009 American soldiers. More than 149,000 of the island's 300,000 civilians, and more than 77,000 Japanese Soldiers.
His 20th birthday fell two-thirds of the way through that battle, in the midst of such death and destruction.
The only thing, really, that he ever talked about Okinawa was when they were hit by a cyclone. That must have been the one thing like home to a young man from Oklahoma.
When I wanted us to go to Mexico one vacation when we were on the South Texas gulf coast, Daddy said he'd promised himself when he was in the Navy that if he ever got back to the United States, he was never leaving it again. And he didn't.
It’s always frustrated me that he never seemed to feel that the apocalypse was at hand, like I did. Not during the Cold War when the magazines were filled with bomb shelter blue prints and the nation was stock piling water and dried food in public bomb shelters. Not during the most violent days of the Civil Rights Movement when American cities were burning. Not during the war and anti-war days of Vietnam.
I didn’t know that maybe it was because he lived most of his childhood in a world on the verge of disaster. And came of age in the midst of incomprehensible death and destruction.
I don’t think he’d have been too worried about this year’s election cycle even if he’d have understood what was happening.
I did appreciate that when we would move to a new house, if it didn’t have a storm shelter, he had one built and always one that was big enough to accommodate our family and any in the neighborhood who needed a safe place to come.
He grew food and provided safe shelter.
I think the thing I most admire about my Daddy was the way he took care of my mother. During her last years she developed dementia. To the point that toward the end she didn’t know any of us – even Daddy. She’d see him coming up from the barn and she’d ask “Who is that man?” But when he spoke she knew him. She always recognized his voice.
My Daddy concentrated on what needed to be done and did what he could. With grace and good humor.
He enjoyed babies – any kind of babies – calves, puppies, chickens, goats, grandkids and great-grands.
He liked to play. Cards with Momma and friends – the women against the men. Work-up softball in the yard after work with my brother and me and all the kids in the neighborhood. Or a pick-up basketball game at family get-togethers. He put up a basket down by the barn after he retired to his acreage in Logan County. That was so Momma and the grandkids could play HORSE.
And he cooked. And he ate. He was the best person to cook for because he liked everything. And he always appreciated good food.
When my brother and I were growing up, Daddy’d take us either to the Texas Gulf Coast or Colorado for formal vacation. When we moved to Colorado after Mother died Daddy would always comment that he never thought he’d ever live somewhere as beautiful as Colorado.
Oklahoma was always “home,” but his home in Colorado always looked “just like a picture.” And he felt at home there.


Picture taken December 2013

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Election Cycle 2016 -- Nonfiction

 2016 Colorado Ballot
(Page 1)

You notice I've labeled this blog post "nonfiction." Would it were not so, but it is. This election cycle has made me long for the old TV shows 'Dallas' and 'The Bob Newhart Show.' Remember when they woke up and the whole previous season had been a dream?

Well, not so this election.

Above is the Colorado Ballot. Beginning Monday, October 17, more than 3,125,300 of these are being mailed to active, registered voters.

We Colorado citizens are being encouraged to contact our county registrars if we do not receive our ballot in the mail, but we think we are registered. Perhaps our mailing address is no longer valid. Perhaps we haven't voted in a long time. Perhaps we're not actually registered. Not a problem. We can do it Online. If we register before October 31, they'll mail out a ballot. We do have until the Official Voting Day, November 8, to register. But if we wait until then, we'll have to go to an actual polling place.

The ballots can be completed at our leisure and returned anytime before 7 p.m. November 8. They can be mailed via the U.S. Postal Service. (Postage required.) They can be hand-carried and deposited at a Ballot Dropoff Site. Or you can find your official Polling Place and take it there beginning October 24.

And you know what I think? I like it. I think this is exactly as it should be. No excuses. We all can and should do our civic duty.

I got my handy-dandy 2016 State Ballot Information Booklet three or four weeks ago. Well, it's not really my booklet. It was addressed to "All Registered Voters" at my address. So technically I have to share it with my husband.

I read it cover-to-cover.
It gives the full text for six Amendments to our State Constitution. One of which is an amendment to make it more difficult to amend the Constitution. It also gives the full text for three Propositions to change State Statutes. Plus biographical information and reasons for and against retention of 20 judges.

There are blank pages in the back headed NOTES. I didn't make any notes.

The ballot itself lists 22 pairs of names for President/Vice President and a blank for a write-in, seven names for U.S. Senate and a blank for a write-in, three for Congressman but no blank for a write-in. It also lists umpteen state and local government officials to be decided upon. And all those Amendments, Propositions, and Judges.

It took me 38 minutes to carefully complete, properly refold, insert into the Secrecy Sleeve, insert into the Official Ballot Enclosed envelop, and stamp it.

I used two first class stamps -- kinda like wearing both a belt and suspenders to be sure your pants don't fall down. I drove it to the local post office and handed it to the nice letter carrier emptying those big mail boxes outside.

After weeks and months and years, probably even generations of election news, campaign ads, charges and counter-charges, I am done. And no, I didn't watch tonight's debate.




Friday, October 7, 2016

My Daddy Died -- Nonfiction


My Daddy was truly a good man.

His kindness showed in the way he cared for his wife, his children, their children, other people's children, his animals, his children's animals, wild animals. He'd carry spiders outside. Momma had an unreasonable fear of spiders. I think it must be genetic, because I'm afraid of them, too.

I always said Daddy raised three only children -- me, my brother, and my mother.

My mother was a passionate, quick tempered woman. And stubborn. I may be a bit like that myself. And my brother certainly is.

I only saw Daddy get really angry with Momma once. At breakfast.

Now, Daddy always got up first. He'd make coffee then wake Momma and she'd have her first cup and wake up a bit then start breakfast. Daddy would wake Matt and me. Or when we had a willing and able dog, he'd send the dog to wake us. And we'd all eat breakfast at the table together.

Pancakes were almost daily fare in our home. I don't remember what Momma did that morning that so frustrated Daddy, but there was a wrapped stick of butter on the table next to his plate. Margarine actually. Well, he snatched up that stick of margarine and hurled it to the floor. Not at Momma, just at the floor by his chair. Such an act was so uncharacteristic of Daddy that, let me tell you, we all hushed up.

Even at work Daddy had a rather peaceable method of correction. He supervised the maintenance and grounds crews at Oklahoma Christian College and had lots of students working for him. If he felt that one of his employees was shirking or otherwise not doing their best, he didn't chastise them or berate them. He had them work with him. Daddy was always pretty high energy and got a lot done in short order. The employee in question soon discovered what it was like to keep up with Daddy and came to the conclusion that it was just a lot easier to do their work properly and efficiently on their own.

Most of the time, Daddy didn't get angry with Matt or me either, mostly he'd just be disappointed with us. That was usually enough.

But there were times.... Momma and Daddy raised us to think for ourselves, then they'd be dismayed when we did. I won't go into detail, but I'll just remind you that my brother and I were growing up in their essentially southern, conservative household during the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Daddy didn't care much for hunting or fishing, but he'd take Matt. Daddy liked to tell the story of the first time he took Matt squirrel hunting. Matt asked "Where should I shoot him?" Daddy responded, "Behind the ear." Daddy had a dry sense of humor. Armed with Daddy's Dad's single-shot 22, Matt took his shot and, sure enough, he shot that squirrel behind the ear. Daddy suggested they look for another squirrel, but Matt had brought only the one bullet so they had to go back to the car first.

And when Daddy would take Matt fishing, Daddy'd put his line in the water, prop the pole up with a rock, curl up around it, and take a nap. He'd sleep until Matt needed something or was ready to go home. I don't think Daddy even bothered to bait his hook.

Daddy left school early to join the Navy in 1943 where he spent his time in World War II as a Seabee in the Pacific Theater. After returning to the U.S. he worked for a few months on road construction for his old Chief Warrant Officer. Then he moved back home to Luther and married Momma.
They were married August 6, 1946, by a judge
at the Oklahoma County Courthouse. As you can see in their wedding picture, Daddy wasn't too concerned about clothes. He left his tie hanging over the review mirror in the car when they got to the photographer's studio. Daddy had turned 21 the previous May and Momma was not quite 18.

They farmed in the Luther area until after I and my brother were born. Daddy left farming to be a lineman for Central Rural Electric Cooperative and they moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma, more than 40 miles away. This was in a day and time when speed limits were well below today's 75 MPH interstate highways and long distance telephone calls were all toll calls. That was the first time Mother had ever lived away from her hometown. It must have been hard for her, leaving her family and friends. And, by extension, for Daddy, too. Then he supervised the CREC district out of Jones (fewer than ten miles from Luther.) We lived in and Momma ran the office in the CREC house there.

Daddy changed jobs pretty regularly, always moving up and we moved with him -- but never very far from Luther.

They truly were a team -- Momma supporting Daddy when he took on a new venture, and Daddy supporting Momma when she did.

After I left home, they moved back out into the country. I was determined never to live in the country and Daddy loved me enough to wait until I was on my own. They raised cows, pigs, chickens, and, best of all, prize-winning dairy goats. Nubians to be precise. And a huge garden. Daddy was always a farmer at heart.

That acreage was their dream home. He would say, after he retired, that he "didn't see how he had had time to work, there was so much to do on the place." Their place in the country was a second home to each of their three grandchildren, representing stability, peace, and wonder. Momma provided daycare for my son John and Matt's daughter Julie from birth until about two. They were born 36 hours apart at the Edmond hospital. Daddy was great with babies of any kind, human, canine, whatever. Fifteen years later they got to reprise that role with my daughter Grace.

While my husband Scott, Grace, and I lived in Arkansas, Mother started to fail. She had dementia. Daddy being Daddy sold their goats and gradually let their livestock dwindle so they could come and visit us. Then our business failed and we moved back to Oklahoma, putting a mobile home next to them.

During her final years, Daddy took tender, loving care of Momma. At the end, she didn't recognise anybody, including me. She'd see Daddy coming up from the barn and ask me "who is that man?" But she always recognised his voice. She died December 21, 2004. They had been married fifty-eight years.

Before Mother got so sick, Daddy volunteered as a Master Gardner for the Oklahoma Extension Service. Then after we moved back to Oklahoma he volunteered with Edmond's Hope Center in the Food Room. He got Grace and me to volunteer there, too.

He did things because somebody needed him to. He had no hobbies. Somehow the term hobby meant "not useful." About the only way to get him to come visit was if we needed him to do something. And he could do just about anything you might need done -- electrical work, carpentry, auto repair, lawn and garden -- you name it. He was also an excellent cook.

Scott took a job in Colorado and I stayed in Oklahoma with Daddy for a couple of years. Daddy and I joined him in December of 2011. As far as Daddy was concerned he came to take care of me. Scott's work took him away from home as much as two weeks out of the month, and Daddy knew it would be easier for me if I weren't alone in a new place so far from home. Also, he didn't want me to worry about leaving him in Oklahoma.

As it turned out, because he needed care, he did take care of me. He had heart surgery in early 2012 and needed cardiac rehab which rolled into regular exercise at the local rec center. And, of course, since I had to drive him, I just stayed and participated, too. He needed to walk on a regular basis, so I did, too. I fixed healthy meals for him and ate them, too. We went to lectures on healthy living. We entertained out-of-town guests (his, mine, and ours.)

Then Grace and her fiance moved to Colorado and stayed with us until they got their own place. So for a while, he was spending time with her everyday like he had when she was a baby.

He loved living in Colorado. We live at the base of the foothills of the Rockies, so almost anywhere we went in our daily lives was downhill toward Denver, away from the Mountains. And when we came home again it was toward the Mountains. Almost every time as we were coming home he would look at those mountains and admire "It looks just like a picture."


And we both learned to love the snow.

As his dementia progressed we got in-home help from Visiting Angels and I met some wonderful, caring people. Then he went to Atria Inn, an assisted care facility, and I met more good folks.

From there he went to Serenity House, a kind of group home where he again got good care. While there we took our last real outing to Hudson Botanical Gardens with my son John Ryan and his family. They live in Texas. Daddy enjoyed it thoroughly and he knew them.

As Daddy's world closed down, mine expanded. I learned to celebrate the little things. Like when he imagined his granddaughter Julie had been to visit him and he was worried that she might not have gotten home safely. Julie lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and has not been to Colorado. Daddy didn't remember that he no longer lived in Oklahoma. He enjoyed visiting with his cousin and best friend Melvin. Melvin was gone. He waited patiently for Mother and wondered why she wasn't there. He'd visit with his Grandpa, gone before I was born. There was no reason for me to explain that they hadn't been there. That many of the people he thought he was visiting with were long dead or lived too far away to visit. His world was suiting him just fine.

  Finally, in August he went to New Dawn Memory Care where he apparently had a stroke and Compassus Hospice came into our lives. I thought it was ending then and made arrangements, but he rallied. Not back to where he'd been. He slept a lot and he didn't recognise me, but he was responding to the people around him.

And there was the day I visited him at New Dawn just a couple of weeks before he died and he recognised me from across the room. He introduced me to his hospice social worker. "This is Claudia, my daughter," he said.

I'm grateful and sad that he is gone. And I am glad I am Claudia, his daughter.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Where I Was 3 Years Ago Today -- Nonfiction




In 2013 my daughter Grace invited me to write as a guest on her blog Sin and Inconvenience. This is what she published Tuesday, August 27, 2013, three years ago today. Facebook reminded me. And, yes, the novel in question is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle additions -- Murder on Ceres.


My first novel, first draft almost finished. How did I get here? If I were Michener I would start--In the beginning, God. This blog post begins only a little later than that, but well before cell phones and the internet.

I used to write and submit poetry for publication. Acceptance letters along with the standard thank you and a promise of two copies of the issue in which my poem would be published thrilled me. But in those pre-cell-phone days, it cost a fortune to call all my friends and relatives long distance to tell them the good news. Not to mention the expense of buying additional copies of said issue and postage to send those copies to friends and relatives.

I’ve worked for a small-town daily newspaper. I’ve seen my by-line and my name in cutlines enough. But the idea of a book with my name on the spine sitting on a shelf in the Edmond Public Library seems much too grand. It shimmers above me in the night sky, brighter than the moon. A dream, a desire, a star too brilliant to look at and too distant to touch.

Knowing that a novel was beyond me, my book started out as a short story. I’ve written short fiction. I took a course in college. I understand how it works. So all I needed was a prompt of some kind and a deadline. My daughter provided the prompt and the deadline allowing me to choose the genre.

I ignored her prompt and chose murder and science fiction. And I went to work.

The deadline came and went, and the work proved to be as undisciplined as I. The story would not limit itself to short fiction. So I reconsidered the situation and decided to do a little book, a murder mystery that takes place on a colony in low orbit around the asteroid Ceres. But I needed help.

I happened to attend a monthly meeting of Oklahoma City Writers, Inc. at which William Bernhardt was doing a two hour presentation on novel writing. He talked about outlining. An instant turnoff since my research paper days too many years ago. But he made sense and showed how to plan the structure of my book. He was talking about the actual nuts and bolts of constructing a book-length story.

Three years plus several months, three of Bill Bernhardt’s intensive writing workshops plus a conference here and there, and I am coming around the last turn on this full-length murder mystery science fiction novel.

Bill said write every day. Four hours a day. If I had done that the book would have been finished long ago. Did I mention that I’m undisciplined? I heard somewhere that Stephen King says to write four hours a day and read eight hours a day. Or was that Mark Twain?  The eight hours reading I could go for, whoever said it.

There was a recommendation that I join a writers’ critique group for support and critical input. But that meant I had to also give support and critical input. I left every one of those meetings feeling bad because I had said harsh things to people as earnest about their writing as I was about mine. Tact is not one of my virtues. And have I mentioned lack of self-control?

Then somewhere else the advice was to just write it all the way through, do not do any editing until the story is complete. What a good rule. But mine is a murder mystery. As I wrote I discovered things that needed to appear earlier in the story. That required a rewrite of a scene. Editing? Even sitting down to begin the next writing session without looking at what I’d done the day before was impossible. Reading the work from the day before required minor or major changes. Did I mention that I tend to break rules even when I impose them myself?

What have I learned these past three-hundred, ten pages, and counting? Somewhere I heard that the definition of the verb to persevere is to begin again, and again, and again. No matter how many times my discipline fails, my control is lost, and my rules are broken, I can begin right now where I am. My book will be written and I will be launched into the night sky to find my name on the spine of a book in the Edmond Public Library. Just gotta finish this book first.

Claudia Wagner

I was born in Oklahoma. I learned to read under my mother’s ironing board. I learned the importance of stories around the dinner table during holidays and in the cellar during storms. I started writing to entertain my classmates. I continued to write because classes or work required it. Sometimes I wrote to understand my life. I have been office help, a welfare case worker, a fast foods manager, and a roustabout in the oil patch. I have also worked for the USDA. I’ve managed a veterinary clinic, helped care for my dying mother, and been a Page at the Edmond Library. I am a woman, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. I believe the future of humanity is as unlimited as the Universe. And I believe that we as a species are imaginative enough and brave enough to move beyond the Earth into that Universe.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Barbara's Law -- A Review


image from Amazon.com

It's courtroom drama with a French twist. And it's good. Not so much because of the plots, but because of the characters.

With so many viewing options available to us these days it's odd to me that I have so much trouble finding something to watch. Traditional television, cable, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu. Even HBO is getting into the mix. I think if it weren't for local weather and news I'd just drop cable and get all my entertainment over the internet. (And that's probably the wrong preposition -- maybe 'from' the internet? 'on' the internet? 'off' the internet? You know what I mean.)

But like diamonds in Arkansas's Crater of Diamonds State Park and gold in Colorado's Clear Creek, if you sift enough sand, you're bound to hit pay dirt. I know, I know. Too many clichés.

The French television production 'Barbara's Law' is one of those welcome gemstones of television virtuosity. It's well written, well directed, and well acted.

The plots begin when our lawyer Barbara meets her client. The plots twist and turn just enough to keep you guessing about what really happened and whether or not her client might be innocent or at least innocent enough.

The characters are glorious and well-played. Barbara is a woman of a certain age with hair going to gray, somewhat overweight, and more than a little bossy. She sometimes likes her drink too much but she always cares even more about justice.

Her associate is erudite, intellectual, and gay. Her secretary is no-nonsense, efficient, and tolerant. Without these two, she'd get into more trouble than she does.

And her ?? -- I don't know what they call them in France, but I translated his role as private investigater. He's a fisherman whom she meets in places that may be typical for fishing but atypical for professional consultations. She trades envelopes we can assume to be stuffed with money for information.

Then of course, there's her dog Darius. I have no idea what his pedigree is. Think big, brown, destructive Newfoundland.

So far this mini series of three episodes is available on Amazon Prime. ('from' Amazon Prime?) I understand there is a second mini series but it is not currently available in the U.S. I tell you this up front because after you watch the three episodes that are available, you'll want more.

Another caveat is that it is in French. Yes, go figure -- a French TV show in French. What were they thinking? This means if you don't have more than my one semester of college French, you're going to have to use the subtitles.

Ah, yes. Subtitles. Many years ago when we moved to a small town in far southeast Arkansas, I visited a movie store there. If you're old enough, you'll remember movie stores. Blockbuster, Hollywood Video those were the big chain movie rental stores, but our town was too small to attract them. We had two independent movie stores and neither of them had a 'foreign film' section.

The first time I went to the larger of the two, I asked, "Where are your foreign language films." The young man told me they didn't have any. Then he asked "How many languages do you speak?" And I said "Just English, but I read it very well." He had no idea what I was talking about. He'd never watched a subtitled film.

My family's taste in movies tends to be global, but none of us speaks more than English -- a common failing in American public education, but that's another blog post surely.

Barbara's Law is subtitled and the subtitles flash across the screen pretty rapidly so it's best to be well-rested and turn off your cell phone when you watch because if you nod off or get a call you'll miss out. Of course, the good thing about watching on the internet is that you can back it up to get anything you miss.

Oh yes. In the interest of full disclosure, I do speak Southern and used to be reasonably fluent in Pig Latin.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Monkeydo -- Nonfiction

Image from emery.edu


"Did you sleep well?" my husband asked.

"I did," I said. "After I put the cat out of the bedroom."

"You got us a bad cat," he said as he fished around under the cook stove for cat toys. Finding none, he wadded up a bit of aluminum foil and proceeded to play kick ball with Kočka. And fetch! Who ever heard of a cat playing fetch?

But that's not what I come here to talk about. (A corruption of a line from Arlo Guthrie's slightly more than 18 minute long song Alice's Restaurant. If you haven't heard it since you were a rebellious teen in the 60's click on the link, lean back, inhale, and enjoy. If you've never heard it, then you should. And if you think you don't have eighteen plus free minutes, you definitely should.)

What I did come here to talk about is words.

At 6:14 this a.m. my phone sounded, waking me to let me know I'd gotten a new email. Apparently I had been working on a writing problem while I slept, because I awoke with a much needed monkeydo. (You probably have the same bemused expression my husband had when I used that word to explain how successfully I'd slept. And by-the-bye, bemused pronounced bih-myoozd, is an adjective meaning bewildered or confused. It has nothing to do with the word amuse unless, of course you see it in a blog post exploring words as a means of entertainment.)

When you write, you need believable reasons for characters to say or do what the plot needs them to. That's a monkeydo. Or if you need them to be in a particular place or situation, getting them there is a monkeydo. Else you have a deus ex machina.

I don't know where the term monkeydo comes from, but I don't think I coined it myself. Which brings me to terminologicalinexactitudinarian. That's my favorite word. I googled it to use in this post. And Oh my god! this is what I found

Writers sometimes think about big words... - Claudia Weber Wagner ... 

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=427583950611349&story_fbid...

Writers sometimes think about big words -- and I don't mean terminologicalinexactitudinarian -- today I mean justice. Check out my latest blog post....

That's right. The ONLY thing Google brought up on that word was me. How many times have you googled something and it only brought up one? Much less that one being you. Talk about feeling important! I'm still smiling like the proverbial Cheshire Cat.

Now that wasn't my first reaction. My first reaction was that I must have misspelled it the exact same way I must have misspelled it in the said reference listed by Google. I thought it was a term coined by Winston Churchill, one of my favorite word-coiners. (Terminologicians?) So I connected it to his name and googled again. This time I got "about 4,050 results." Here's one:

terminological inexactitude - definition of terminological inexactitude in ... 

www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/.../terminological-inexactitud...

OxfordDictionaries.com
Definition of terminological inexactitude in English: Share this entry. email cite discuss ... Origin. First used by Winston Churchill in a Commons speech in 1906.

Now I must question my whole understanding of the word. I don't think I made it up, nor did I make up the story wrapped around the coining of the word. I'm sure I heard it somewhere -- The Dick Cavett Show, my humanities class at Central State, one of the Muppets on Sesame Street. And the context sounded so Churchill.

The story was that the politicians in Great Britain's House of Commons are not allowed to call each other 'liars' so . . . . Apparently the part of the story about using that word in Parliament is true. I googled it.

And one more thing, which has nothing to do with this post other than I got it when I googled "words images." Isn't the picture at the top of this blog beautiful?