Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why? -- On Writing

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See all these books? Your public library probably looks very like this. Prefer to read on your electronic device? You can probably get ebooks from your public library. Your favorite bookstore will either have the book you want or they can get it poste haste. That bookstore most likely will help you get the electronic version if that's what you want. And there's always and

Now why, with all these choices would you read a book that doesn't suit your purpose?

And as far as television and movies go -- same question. Why would you willingly, or worse yet unwittingly, donate your time and intellect to a production that will not meet your needs?

As a writer I have three needs that should be met by the books I read and the movies and television I watch. 1.) inspiration   2.) education  3.) entertainment. Yep. It's all about me.

(Well, okay there's one more but we're not supposed to talk about it.  4.) kill time, exercise denial, and avoid. All available on demand from the internet.)

The thing is, if what I'm reading or watching meets any or all of the first three needs, I'm less likely to spend time on the fourth. And more likely to get the laundry done, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and write.

Good writing inspires me. Barbara Kingsolver's work is an excellent example. She is a maestro of English. Much of her work is in first person which in the hands of many authors actually distances me from their characters.

She uses simple language beautifully. Here's a sample from Animal Dreams published in 1990.

"It was hot and my mind was fraying at the edges. I wiped the sweat out of my eyes and massaged my prickly scalp, thinking I must look like a drowned hen, but maybe nobody would recognize me today. Living without a lover was beginning to produce in me the odd sense that I was invisible."

Here is a woman returned to the small Arizona town of her unhappy youth after an absence of fourteen years. She's broken up with her boyfriend of ten years. She didn't belong in that town when she was in high school and she didn't feel that she belonged there now.

I am inside the character. I can feel what she is feeling. Inspiration.

Compare that with Andy Weir's The Martian.

"It's a strange feeling. Everywhere I go, I'm the first. Step outside the rover? First guy ever to be there! Climb a hill? First guy to climb that hill! Kick a rock? That rock hadn't moved in a million years!"

If he didn't use exclamation points I wouldn't know he was experiencing any feeling intensely. And what was his "strange feeling?" I don't know. Expletive deleted! Here's a man alone on Mars with little chance that he'll survive long enough to be rescued. Surely something is going on inside him. Wonder? Amazement? Sheer terror?

Okay, to be fair, Weir is writing his castaway as though in his mission log. And a log is traditionally a formal document expected to hold fast to unembellished facts. That would seem to preclude exclamation points. Or an exploration of the astronaut's emotional response to his predicament.

I understand that the very situation should give the reader a "feeling." But a writer is supposed to show that the character is having a feeling. I just never could get close to Astronaut Watney. It's hard to be inspired by someone I can't relate to. Need number one -- unmet.

Education from The Martian? Hardly. Either Mr. Weir chose to ignore Martian reality or he didn't do his research.

Mars does have dust storms. And they do present problems. They temporarily block out or reduce sunlight which is the major energy source for equipment on Mars. According to NASA "The winds in the strongest Martian storms top out at about 60 miles per hour" but with an atmosphere only 1% of Earth's atmosphere, that 60 MPH wind would not be enough to do the damage ascribed to it by Mr. Weir.

Emotion is hard for me to write, too. My own writing weakness is enough reason for me to read someone who does it well and learn how it's done. Inspiration and education.

So, yes, I threw Weir over for Kingsolver. And now I'm also being entertained.

If you're a writer, you will probably have the same needs, but those needs will be met differently. The trick is to find out what suits you and don't pay too much attention to what meets my needs.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Newsroom -- A Review

         Please take the time to click on The  Newsroom and watch the opening scene.

I've never worked in a television newsroom. I have worked in a newsroom. The newsroom for a small town daily newspaper where we didn't measure our stories in minutes, but in column inches. We had to leave space for our advertisers because that's where the money came from. Subscriptions and street purchases wouldn't have been enough to pay for the paper our news was printed on.

The Newsroom is television. It covers real news stories that occurred far enough in the past that the writer knows what happened and when. But recently enough that most of us remember following the stories as they happened and were reported from real TV newsrooms.  

The first season starts with the Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, who is a pompous ass news anchor concerned only with himself and his ratings. Luckily for him, though he doesn't appreciate it, his boss, Charlie Skinner, played admirably by Sam Waterston, hires a passionately idealistic new Executive Producer.  British actress Emily Mortimer plays MacKenzie McHale, the new EP. She has a past with Will.

Will's redemption brings me to tears. The first season of this show is, if not the best, one of the best written and acted series I've ever seen. And I'm a died-in-the-wool Downton Abbey-Maggie Smith fan.

The second season runs through the Romney campaign while all hell is breaking loose in central Africa and Syria is gearing up to collapse in the tragedy the world is still dealing with today. This season deals more with romance. Okay, so the course of true love does not run smooth. There is humor. There is pathos. There is "Are you kidding me already?!" We get the private lives of the characters -- all the characters, the main characters, the supporting characters, the cleaning crew. (No, that's not true. We never find out who the cleaning crew sleeps with or wants to sleep with or used to sleep with.) I don't believe it lives up to the first season's promise.

But even with the second season being less-than, it is so far above standard television fare that I came back for the third season. And I'm glad I did. It is as good as the first.

The third and final season begins with the Boston Marathon bombing. This season deals with the downfall of the news organization -- battered on all sides by market forces, the competing interests of its owners and its news people, and ultimately the passage of time and life.

The Newsroom made me laugh out loud. And I cried because it was so touching and because it was so sad. That, for me, is the mark of good work.

Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin is the writer, the man who conceived of and wrote The Newsroom. He proves that Americans can write. I was beginning to think your middle name had to be Julian Fellowes and you had to be British to write and sustain quality TV material. Thank you Mr. Sorkin.

In this year of our country's history, this election cycle, this media frenzy, I cling to a life raft. A life raft of ideals lashed together with oft maligned ropes -- information, education, ethics.

And today's media? It is a child who wants to be popular, to have the highest ratings. It participates in a political arena that's been taken hostage by a circus. It's a regular kid being bullied by a spoiled rich kid. It's caught up in a maelstrom along with a certain portion of our electorate who are Pinocchio to that spoiled rich kid's Lampwick. I hope we don't all grow donkey's ears and a tail.

The sad truth is Walter Cronkite doesn't live here any more.

We are facing a choice between two less than inspiring people, each of whom is roundly disliked by portions of our society. And for good reasons.

Me? I'm going to vote for the person I perceive to be the lesser of two evils, and I believe The United States of America is strong enough to survive the next four years.

America may not be the greatest nation in the world. I don't think there is a 'greatest nation in the world.' But I do believe 'It can be.'

Sunday, June 26, 2016

My Daughter's Ruining My Life -- Nonfiction

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My daughter is ruining my life. She has infected me with Binge-Watching. It's a thing. There's even a Wikipedia entry for it. Click here.

There was a time when television series were available once. And once a week, at that. I watched Upstairs Downstairs one episode a week. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. I, Claudius. M.A.S.H. Northern Exposure. There was no Hulu or Netflix. No Amazon Prime.

I watched Downton Abbey for years. One episode a week. Even when I got the season's DVD early for contributing to my local Public Broadcasting Service affiliate. I would watch on Sunday night. Then I would watch that episode online at RMPBS again during the week -- maybe a couple of times. There were so many details that I wouldn't catch the first time through. I only watched the DVDs while I waited for each new season.

Grace tried to get me hooked on Orange Is the New Black. But there was a time when I attended meetings with inmates in the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center when it was in Oklahoma City. I understand they now have a newer facility in a small town east of the City. Let me just say prison is no fit place for anybody to live. You don't get to choose your roommate and if you get a difficult one, you damn well better be sure she takes her meds properly. Somehow I just couldn't get into the 'humor' of Orange.

You know how folks offer you a month's subscription free? Well, I got started watching Bosch on my free month of Amazon Prime. It's a police detective show based on Michael Connelly's novels, most of which I've read. In spite of the habitual cliff-hanger endings to each episode, I started out watching one show at a time. Often with several evenings in between. Toward the end of the second season I found myself watching two at a time. My husband liked that series, too.

Did you know there's something called commitment rings? You and your partner each wear one and they keep you from watching a TV series without each other so no one 'cheats' by watching ahead. (This one's for you Doctor Who fans. You know who you are.)

So, what started this rant? The Newsroom which Grace recommended. I've finished the first two seasons and am well into the third. In what? Less than a week.

Look -- I'm supposed to be writing a book, a literary piece of short fiction, a murder mystery short story featuring my senior citizen walking group crime solvers, and these blog posts. My father has dementia which presents as severe anxiety (among other things) if he doesn't see me daily and he lives thirty minutes away from my house unless there's traffic which there almost always is. (It's just a good thing he's cute.) I have a bad cat and clothes to take out of the dryer and hang up because I do not iron. (It's a good thing the cat is cute, too.)

And I've been reading the same book for a week. I'm a writer. I have to read. There are too many books out there I've never read and new ones coming out every week. Maybe every day. I don't have time to spend a whole week reading one book.

Binge-watching TV has no place in my world!

Did I mention HBO NOW? You don't have to have it in your cable package. I can get it for a monthly fee of $14.99 without upgrading my bare-bones Spanish Language Cable Package. I know. I know. No one in my house speaks Spanish, but that's another story.

Gotta get back to The Newsroom. I'll write a review when I finish watching.

I'll read the book when I go to bed.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday's Walk -- Nonfiction

                                      Teri, Mary Catherine, Barb, Marlene, and Ruth Ann

Hudson Gardens! Who knew? A shade less than 12 miles from my house. Our walking group met there this morning. Rich and Sally happen not to be in this picture, but they were there.

I'd never heard of Hudson Gardens before but some of the people who've lived here longer than I, gave it such a glowing report I was all in favor of doing our Saturday walk there. It didn't hurt that my favorite restaurant is just up the street and around the corner.

The thirty-acre botanical gardens are open to the public free. It is also an event center complete with a summer concert series (which includes artists I've heard of and some I've not. The outdoor concerts are not free, but the tickets are fairly reasonable.) Then in September is the Brews and Views Fest. Truly, I think Colorado must be the micro-brewery capital of the world. And from Thanksgiving through New Year's it's home to the Denver-metro area's premier holiday light show.

And they have miniature trains! Designed to replicate Colorado's landscape, the G Gauge railroad runs on more than 700 feet of track, complete with trestles, waterfalls, and bridges. They run two trains at a time Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays through the summer.

There are roses and roses and more roses. Every turn in the trail brings more beautiful flowers.

                                                         water lily and reflections

                           Then we went for a late breakfast at Lucile's Creole Cafe -- beignets!

Lucile's Creole Cafe - Littleton, CO, United States. Beignets

             A lovely way to spend a bright summer morning. And, yes, we'll definitely do it again.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Letter to the Landlord -- Flash Fiction

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Dear Mrs. Bertrand,

I'm sorry if you want us to move. The girls and I've only been here for six months. Our lease is for one year with an option to buy, which we are seriously considering.

I do understand that we are not allowed to operate a business in this residential area, which of course we do not, so the city should not be concerned about us in any way.

We love your house. It suits us perfectly. Lots of parking. Even unobtrusive parking in the rear.

Perhaps you're concerned with the minor changes we've made. In the basement mostly. So each girl has her own personal space.

Plenty of bedrooms upstairs. And let me tell you, the elevator you had installed for your mother when she lived here is a Godsend.

Each bedroom has its own decor. One is all in pink like a little girl's room. And there's one with an African motif -- you know fake animal skin fabrics and a big ficus tree in front of the window. The one at the head of the stairs is more like a psychiatrist's office with a desk and book shelves and a couch.

The open design of the dining room/family room is perfect for entertaining, which we do only on a limited basis. We feel our parties fit in nicely with this quiet neighborhood. No loud music. No rowdy outdoor behavior. Nothing to draw undue attention.

I'm sorry if the neighbors complained about that time our friends arrived on their motorcycles. I assure you that will never happen again. But they certainly were not a motor cycle gang. In fact they were, every one of them, professionals. A couple of doctors, some accountants, even a judge. I know Harleys are loud and Harley riders do enjoy the sounds of their own engines. But did the neighbors tell you there were almost as many BMW's as Harleys in the group? Probably not. And BMW's are quite quiet. And expensive.

Mr. Davenport -- you know the Davenports? The neighbors to the north? He was most interested in an old Indian -- that's a motor cycle they don't make any more. He stayed the whole evening and has been back a number of times since. A charming man, Mr. Davenport. I believe their oldest son and your oldest play on the same lacrosse team. Both have visited us. They are fine young men. Very polite.

The living room is a wonderful room for greeting our guests. We are so looking forward to lighting the fireplace come winter. We've hung beautiful drapery on the french doors. Wine colored brocade, which we can close to give it that sense of warmth and intimacy. Judge Adams -- he rides the Indian, Mr. Davenport was so taken with -- he especially likes the living room. I believe Mrs. Adams is in your bridge club. She's never visited, but she seems pleased that the Judge has found some place to relax. Some place other than that smelly old bar where he used to go. Gets him out from under her feet, she says.

And the back garden with its hot tub is perfect. I especially like the wall and shrubbery. They  provide complete privacy. The Reverend, Mr. Smithwick sometimes takes advantage of the hot tub. Some days his work is just too stressful for words. And he so misses his dearly departed wife. You know him. He lives in the parsonage at the end of the street. Next to St. Lukes. That is such a beautiful church. I believe Mr. Bertrand has mentioned that you are members there.

If you are concerned about the minor changes we've made, you're welcome to come and look around. Although Mr. Bertrand has seen them all and he thinks they're grand. Early afternoons would probably be best for us. We tend to be late risers.

Very truly yours,

Victoria Shepherd

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why I Admire Good Fiction

Why I admire good fiction. It's because fiction tempers reality. Pushes it away from me, at least for a little while. Gives me an image of a better way, a better world.

Last week a man shot to death forty-nine people and was, himself, shot to death in a night club.

Last week an alligator killed a toddler in an amusement park. His father and mother couldn't save him. Alligators live in almost all bodies of water in Florida. The child's Nebraska family were not used to protecting their children from such a threat.

Last week three three-year-olds died in closed cars of heat stroke -- a pair of twins in Bossier City, Louisiana, and a little boy in Houston, Texas. And it doesn't look like the parents were necessarily negligent. The children all died in vehicles parked at their homes. It is so easy for little ones to slip away and they all like to play in the family car. A dangerous choice in the heat of summer, but children don't know about that.

Last week a mountain lion attacked a five-year-old boy in his front yard near Aspen, Colorado. The boy's mother was able to pry the cat's jaws open with her bare hands and save her child. Although this story ended better, more like the plot line of a piece of fiction, I can only imagine how long this terror will haunt them.

That was last week's reality.

Real life makes me seriously reconsider my chosen writing genre. I write murder mysteries. My favorite recreational reading is the old fashioned murder mystery. The same with my go-to television and movies fare. How can I spend so much time with such reminders of reality?

I don't like thrillers that involve graphic torture or sexual assault. Those are worse in books than in movies or on TV. At least the Indiana Jones movies have musical scores that tell me when it's safe to uncover my eyes. And most TV shows give me enough warning that I can head for the fridge or go put a load in the washer when I need to. Maybe with the rise of ebooks we'll get some kind of musical score or trigger warnings that will tell us which pages to skip.

What makes a murder mystery I like? We find out who killed the victim. We find out why they killed them. We get satisfying endings. Often, like the nightclub shooter, the villain dies at the end. Even if the book or show ends with the murderer arrested, but before they are tried, sentenced, and removed from society, we know that they will be removed from society. We can sleep safe in our beds.

That's fiction.

Real life never gives us trigger warnings and seldom has a satisfying ending. We might get a pretty good idea who dunnit. Maybe even some idea of why. Whatever the reason why, it never seems like a good enough reason. And the thought of neither imprisonment nor of capital punishment truly satisfies. The victim's losses are too great to be 'paid for.' Our losses as a society are too great.

And good fiction? Ahhhhh. The best is when the author gives us a protagonist who does the right thing for the right reason, no matter how difficult it is. And they do it without fanfare or medals, satisfied that the good guys win.

Fanfare and medals are never enough to fill a real hero's loss. They can never unknow the wrong that was done or what they had to do to try to right it. And, somehow, winning just isn't enough.

I'll keep writing fictional murder mysteries, hopefully good ones. No doubt reality will continue to happen and I'll have to reconsider the morality of writing fiction. Again.

Monday, June 13, 2016


I am human

This is so hard to write about.

I spent too much of yesterday in front of the TV watching images of a broad street in a Florida city, I've been to only once.

A street sometimes shown in pre-dawn darkness fractured by flashing emergency vehicle lights. People helping each other away. Away from the night club. The chaos. The terror.

Sometimes in daylight. It could have been anywhere, USA. There were no identifiable buildings. There was no ocean in view. No mountains. No expanse of prairie. Just crime scene tape and police cars. And network news crews giving us bits of news, bits of speculation. Telling us over and over "the investigation is ongoing." There will be a news conference when the officials have new information.

Law enforcement, news people, us -- we're all looking for information about the shooter. Who he was. The news people seem to be just one step behind the FBI. And we watch online, on TV. At the scene in Orlando. At the apartment complex where he lived and his parents' home, 130 miles away. In the White House, 850 miles away. In the home of his ex-wife in Colorado, almost 2,000 miles away.

Was this a terrorist act? The constant refrain of "was it ISIS directed or ISIS inspired?" They took credit, or maybe ISIS didn't exactly say they ordered this particular individual to kill these people.

Or a hate crime against the LGBT community? Someone said the shooter was furious about seeing two men kissing in public. Someone else said he beat his first wife. Someone said he hated blacks and women. Someone said ....

Did he act alone? Are there others here who will be directed or inspired by who knows whom or who knows what to do something as bad or worse?

What can we do? Make a law? We've got laws and murder is against the law -- no matter the motive or method. Gun control? What about airliners? New York City, 9/11/2001, nearly 3000 killed. What about fertilizer? Oklahoma City bombing, 1995, 168 dead. Gasoline? Happy Land social club, 1990, 87 dead.

Do we -- you and I -- think bad things about people we don't know? "They're lazy and dirty. They don't pay taxes." Believe bad things about people we don't know? "They're not like us. They don't value life. They are ruining my way of life." Say bad things about people we don't know. "They are anathema to my God. They don't deserve to live."

Do other people listen to us? Our children. Our relatives. Our neighbors. Their children. They know us. Which one of them might do something about "it."

We've got to change our culture, our society. Murder must not be the go-to solution for anything. ANYTHING!

Impossible? And what could I do anyway? I'm nobody important. Nobody listens to me.

Bull shit.

Like someone said, "Let it begin with me."

I am Pulse. I am Orlando. I am America.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Jim Morrison, My Friend K, The Trip, and Someone I Know

Fallon does Morrison on YouTube 

That video reminded me of the time my son John​ Ryan and I helped my friend K Brown move to Minneapolis from Guthrie, Oklahoma.

I hope you're sitting down to read this and have a minute or two, because I tend to wander while telling a story.

At the time this story starts I had been divorced for nine years and had not been in a relationship for more than a year. Scott was the first man in that nine years that I had actually wanted to live with. We broke up because I wanted a baby. At thirty-eight, I thought my time was running out. He didn't want a baby.

The break-up was painful, but unlike my romantic eleven-year-old son, I knew no one dies of a broken heart. I had no contact with Scott for more than a year. The amazing part was that I made no attempt to contact him. I used that year for me -- got physically and mentally healthy.

K was my best friend. She was my mother's age and probably the wisest person I ever knew. And the most elegant smoker in the world. Made me wish I smoked, which I just never could do. One of the few vices I didn't pick up. Thank goodness.

Minneapolis was her home town. Hers was a large family but none of them lived in Oklahoma. Her son lived in California and her grandchildren in Kansas. She had a vast array of friends near her, but as a widow, I think she just needed family. She needed to go home.

Plans were made, a U-Haul truck rented, and plane tickets back to Oklahoma for my son and me purchased. We'd be in Minneapolis for Thanksgiving.

Then a couple of nights before we left Scott called. He wanted to take me out to dinner. Hmmmm. Okay. But not until I got back from Minnesota. K's advice? "Don't worry about it. Let's just have a good trip."

K's friends helped us load the big truck with all K's worldly goods. I don't know how big, but really big. Bigger than anything I'd ever driven. It was big enough that I was grateful it was an automatic with power steering and breaks. Big enough that John Ryan had to CLIMB on top of the hood to wash the windows. Of course he wasn't as tall then as he is now. That was thirty years ago.

Anyway, I was feeling pretty full of myself, sitting up high above much of the rest of the traffic north bound on I-35. We pulled through a weigh-in station as we came into Kansas. Just like those other truckers. And discovered we didn't have to, because our truck wasn't that big.

We stopped in Wichita for lunch with K's grandchildren and former daughter-in-law. K's son and his family are Native American. That former daughter-in-law makes dee-luscious Indian tacos. From there I-35 angles northeast to Kansas City, Missouri, where I planned to meet a friend.

I had no idea Kansas City is so hilly. The rest of Kansas is just across the river and is flat as a pancake, as far as I could see -- literally. The skies were threatening, the temperature was dropping, and snow plows passed us as we turned into the parking lot at my friend's office building. Making sure I parked where I wouldn't have to back out.

I hadn't seen a snow plow since Gallup, New Mexico, on a trip some five years earlier with my son and my grandmother. (But that's a whole 'nother story.) I didn't know it was going to snow in Kansas City. And me driving an unfamiliar truck. A big truck. We didn't stop long.

I hoped to get ahead of the snow. Well, I didn't and it snowed. And snowed. By the time we got into Iowa, we had driven out of the snow. It wasn't sunny, but it wasn't snowing.  The plowed fields in Iowa were black with snow wind-scattered across them. They were so black I thought there must have been a terrible fire.

K was quick to explain to this red earth Oklahoman that that was the natural color of the soil. Black!

It rained most of the way into Des Moines. Everything was muddy and drizzly. It was near midnight. I was the only driver on this trip and I was exhausted. (K did not know how to drive. I had endeavored but failed to teach her in my standard transmission yellow Chevette. My son summed it up nicely, "Mom, she makes the car fart!" If you've ever tried driving with a clutch, you'll understand.)

And most of the motels along I-35 were full.

K and John Ryan let me take a shower first and go to bed. They were watching TV. You know how those motel rooms are -- two double beds and a couch.

(And this is what the Jimmy Fallon bit reminded me of.)

Through my half-awake eyes, I saw what looked like The Doors on TV. Now you know and I know that Jim Morrison died before my son was born, so it couldn't have been him. And music videos were not that common on TV in 1986.

I thought it was pretty odd that someone was impersonating Jim Morrison and The Doors. Elvis impersonators were weird enough, as far as I was concerned. I drifted off into much needed sleep.

Weeks later I learned that it had been old film of The Doors. And years later I saw the Fallon impersonation of Jim Morrison. Very funny, but not weird.

So we got K moved and flew home to Oklahoma. Minneapolis, by-the-bye, was a beautiful, clean city. We first saw it glinting in the setting sun. All glass and steel rising from the winter brown prairie.

After we got home, Scott came to pick me up for dinner. He asked me to marry him. And I said yes.

I called my brother, who did then and does now, live on the Texas Gulf Coast. "Guess what," I said.
"I'm getting married."

"You are? Is it anyone you know?" he asked.

Yep. We married New Years Eve. And he's someone I'm still enjoying getting to know.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Muhammad Ali

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The original title of the blog post had the word Memoriam in it. Because I was feeling sad. Not sad that Muhammad Ali -- The Greatest -- died. I am not sad he died. I am amazed he lived this long. I am sorry that he had to live with Parkinson's. I am sad that a man who is touted as the greatest boxer who ever lived lived so long in a body that would not do his bidding. I am sad that a man called The Mouth lived so long unable to speak. I am sad that while he lived he reminded me that "Life's a bitch...."

"...and then you die." And now the world is remembering him and I feel loss.

I never met him, but he used to come to The Meadows in my old hometown of Edmond, Oklahoma. It's called The Meadows Center for Opportunity, Inc. now. Years ago, when Ali was still able to travel, I knew it as just The Meadows. It was then and continues to be a sheltered workshop for adults with developmental disabilities.

He would come and visit the kids there. Without fanfare. Without lights, cameras, sound. Without news releases. Not anonymously. They knew who he was. Maybe not how big he was, at least as far as the rest of the world knew he was. But they knew he cared about them. He respected them and he believed in them. And they loved him.

I've been listening to all the public good-byes. Beautiful tributes from his family and famous friends. But one man speaking as though with authority just flat made me mad. The speaker was someone important. A Black man with status. He said Ali "rose from the gutter."

Ali did not rise from any gutter. Maybe he grew up in the Black part of town, but it wasn't the worst part of town.

He came from a good family. His Momma and Daddy were respectable people. They worked hard to support their family and encourage their children under difficult circumstances beyond their control. The Jim Crow South. And I call it that meaning every bad thing that stands for.

But, having said that, I've read Muhammad Ali's own evaluation of Louisville, Kentucky. He said it was a great town to grow up in. When he suffered defeat and injury, he went home to his family, his neighborhood, his town to heal.

He said a lot of things. Including that there were plenty of White folks who bought tickets to see him fight because they wanted to see him lose. That they hated him. He was right. They did. And I'm sorry to say, many of them still do.

As far as they were and are concerned, he was the worst kind of n-word. He attracted attention to himself. He bragged. He abandoned the prevalent religion -- their religion. He refused to be drafted. He said he'd win and he won. Even when he lost, he did not go quietly. And he came back.

He was important to famous, important people all around the world. But I think he was most important to the world's unimportant people. Some of them do come from "the gutter." The bottom of the ladder, whether socially or financially or physically or mentally.

Ali said that he said "I am the Greatest, even before I believed it myself." I think he had it figured out. We all need to say we are the greatest until we believe it and be it.

Of course it'll take hard work to prepare ourselves -- Ali called it "training." Courage to do what's right even if it costs us the things we value most. The grit to keep coming back no matter the depth of our defeat. The strength to endure, not just the slings and arrows of those around us, but of Mother Nature herself. And the final measure of Greatness -- being great enough to recognize the greatness of others no matter their place in life.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Fiction -- Literary vs. Genre (Popular)

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It's a contest! Short fiction. Deadline June 30. Glimmer Train, an American literary journal of outstanding repute. And they pay!

Yes, yes. I have been rejected by them before. But THIS TIME! This Time. this ti....

I forwarded the contest requirements to my daughter, Grace. She's an excellent writer and into "literary." She refrained and hurled the gauntlet back to me, saying "You should submit something."

This is her Poetry Period. Which, by-the-bye, she does exceedingly well and is on her way to recognition. (Fame and fortune do not exist in poetry. Fame, maybe. But certainly not fortune.)

"Okay. Which of my pieces, excepting the one they've already rejected, should I submit?" I asked.

"None. You should write something new. Something literary."

"The deadline is the end of this month," I pointed out.

"That's enough time. It's a short story."

"I don't do literary," I said.

"You could," she said and hung up.

We've talked again since. Several times. We cover the same ground.

"I don't even know what literary is," I argue.

"You read literary," she says.

According to Wikipedia -- "Literary fiction, also known as serious fiction, is a term principally used for fictional works that ... offer deliberate social commentary or political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition."

Our beloved online free encyclopedia goes on to say "Some have described the difference between them in terms of analyzing reality (literary) rather than escaping reality [genre or popular.]

It goes on to say, "it is common for literary fiction to be taught and discussed in schools and universities." Which is, no doubt, how Mark Twain moved from popular fiction to literary.

And then Wikipedia goes on to give examples of literary fiction including "The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, The Lord of the Flies, 1984, Pride and Prejudice, Slaughterhouse Five, and Of Mice and Men."

And, yes. I've read all of them with the following results: didn't like, loved, loved, hated, liked, liked, loved, and loved.

Then the truth comes out -- "The contrasts between these two subsets of fiction is highly controversial among critics and scholars who study literature."

Yep. The experts don't know either. It's kind of like economics and economists, isn't it?

So here I go. It should be serious. It should leave the reader with something to think about. Maybe even change their perspective.

The main character will be an ordinary person with an extraordinary ethical dilemma on at least two levels. Lyrical language, optional.

Oh, my. I may be wading into deep waters. Not being the best of swimmers, I can only hope I'll float.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

In the Shade -- flash fiction

image from

It wasn't the desert that killed Jack. It was the city.

Too many morning alarms so he could be at work on time. Too many days at work. Too many people he only knew by names on the screen and phone-call complaints. People with too many problems and too few solutions. Solutions they would resist anyway. Too many phone calls.

How could she have forgotten her phone? She never went anywhere without it. Damned car. Poor old thing. She'd call Trenary Towing when she got home. A walk would do her good.

Living in the desert, they woke up when they woke up. Usually before the sun came in the bedroom window. A window with blinds closed on summer days to keep out the heat. Open every night, rain or shine, so they could watch the sky. A sky so dark they could travel the stars back to the beginning of the Universe.

Walking in the early afternoon sun, she missed the dark. Heat shimmered across the macadam ahead of her. Only three miles to the house.

Jack had insisted on a wrap-around porch. For shade. Even in the winter, the sun would send him into his chair in the shade.

They walked in the city. Not every day, but some days for miles. The buildings confined the sky to a strip no wider than the street. And the wind blew all the time, moving up and down the streets, in and out of the alleyway tunnels. Kicking up odd bits of paper and grit. With all that concrete, where did the grit come from?

Out here, as far as she could see in any direction, was all the grit in the world but no wind. Not this afternoon. Not a whiff of moving air. A bright pink string fit snugly under her chin. She would not lose her hat if the wind did blow. A hat provided the only shade between there and home. On a day like this it could save her life. Of course, a breeze would be nice.

There were hills in the city. Not steep or particularly noticeable with the buildings and trees. Except when they walked. Walking, she knew where the hills were. Even if she didn't notice the extra effort needed going up, she felt the relief coming down.

Desert terrain was more subtle. When she first came there with Jack, she thought the road was flat and straight for as far as she could see. And Jack always said "you can see as far as you can look."

Even now she couldn't see the house. The road rose gradually to the west. So gradually that she never noticed it in the car, but she could feel it now. Maybe she was getting too old to live in the desert.

In the city, there were always people. Day and night. She never adopted the trick of avoiding eye-contact. She connected with people on the street, fleetingly most of the time, but comfortable.

Growing up in a largish town, she enjoyed knowing some of her neighbors, but didn't miss knowing all of them like she might have had she grown up in a small town. She found it surprising and fun when she ran into someone she knew on the street in the city.

She knew all the people likely to come down the road in the desert that hot afternoon. All four or five of them. Most of them'd still be in town at work. Or finishing their lunch in the air-conditioned comfort of home. There'd be no "Hey, Miz O. What you doin' walkin' this time o' day?" The letter carrier wouldn't come through until after three.

There'd be no ride today. She was glad she wore her good walking shoes. And it wasn't that much farther.

In the city people sounds were everywhere. Horns honking, people murmuring to each other or shouting at each other. They talked on their phones. Music tumbled out of the bars, and trucks rumbled through the streets. Even birdsong. Sparrows were everywhere.

In the desert, especially in the heat of the day, it was quiet. Nothing to hear but her thoughts.

Unlike in the winter when the city and its people were drab and dark, in the summer the city's sights were almost a visual assault. People's clothes were a jumble of design and color. Eye catching signs were everywhere -- "Est'd 1907" carved in stone, orange flashing numbers counting down seconds left to safely cross the street, garish Going Out of Business signs, small neon signs discretely naming an upscale restaurant or club.

Signs in the desert were more discreet. Tiny tracks in the sand. Three toed prints of birds. A sinuous line left by a snake. A lizard's toes on either side of a line. But in the heat of the afternoon not much moved to leave tracks or signs. Life sought shade.

She stopped at the side of the road for another drink from her water bottle. Her car was always properly stocked for life in the desert. And she was still hydrated well enough to sweat. A good sign of life in the desert. She'd learned that from Jack. Sweat was the body's natural evaporative cooling and in that heat she could use whatever cooling there was to be had. She walked on.

She should have taken the car in for an oil change last week. They would have checked the engine like the warning light said to. But it wasn't flashing yet. Didn't she have until it flashed for problems to be eminent? Jack, Jack. Would she ever get used to doing the things he always did?

Still, she was in pretty good shape. "For the shape she was in," Jack would have added, then laughed.

She topped the rise and there it was. Her house with Jack's wrap-around porch and a chair in the shade.