Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Luck of the Draw -- Nonfiction

Three or four times a year, I buy a Powerball ticket. Just one. And I don't pay the extra dollar for the "Multiplier." I figure if my ticket is the right ticket, $448 Million, or whatever, is sufficient. No need to be greedy.

Back in February I got that official looking bit of mail. The highlighted words "LEGAL DOCUMENT: JURY SUMMONS" was what made it look official. There's nothing like correspondence from the IRS or a summons to court to make a person nervous.

I've been in Colorado for seven years now and this is my first call to jury duty.

In Colorado, prospective jurors are randomly chosen from a pool that includes voter records, driver's license and non-driver ID records, and state income tax forms. I guess if you don't vote, drive, or pay income tax, you don't have to serve. I, personally, don't know anyone over 18 who would not qualify to get such a summons. Amazingly, some people never get called.

It's the luck of the draw.

Most people's experiences of courtroom activities are limited to television cop shows. I suppose, in a way, I'm more experienced with real life courtrooms than most of my fellow citizens. Many years ago I was a reporter for a small-town newspaper. I did feature stories, obituaries, edited the Women's Page, some photography. I did pretty much whatever my editor wanted me to, including covering the Federal and District Courts.

It was a pretty small town -- but big enough to have a daily newspaper, three banks, a McDonald's, and a Walmart. And, being the county seat, meant it was home to the Federal Court and County Court Houses. Plus, since it was in Oklahoma there were umpteen gas stations and churches.

I covered all kinds of trials -- fraud, breaking and entering, rape, murder -- but the one that got my by-line on the front page and most excited my editor was an Alienation of Affection suit. What! you say. One woman was suing another woman for stealing her man?

Yep, the local Presbyterian minister's wife was suing the local Episcopal priest's wife for stealing her husband. Apparently the affair had been grist for the local rumor mill for weeks, but without something formal and official, the local newspaper couldn't print it. Oh, yes and the offending woman was the daughter of one of the local bankers. Such scandal!

But, I digress.

The above jury summons came with instructions and information. Call this telephone number. "If your number is within the range of numbers stated,  you will need to report for jury duty." There's a long list of conditions and situations the court will accept to excuse you from service.

There are also provisions for punishment if you fail to obey a juror summons. Up to $750 and/or imprisonment for up to six months.

I have no condition or situation that I can legitimately claim for exemption from jury duty. Actually, I don't necessarily want to be excused. I feel that, like voting, jury duty is a civic responsibility to be accepted respectfully and done diligently.

So the Powerball drawing was last Wednesday. Of the six numbers necessary to win so many millions of dollars, I only had one number right. Then Friday I called the courthouse to check my number with the range of numbers and -- guess what -- I only had one number for that too, but it was easily "within the range of numbers stated." Yep, I win.

Now to stress.

The summons said they're doing repair work on the parking area so parking will be limited and they recommend taking public transportation. Cool. I love the light rail. My husband and I drove over to the courthouse yesterday while it was closed to see how close the light rail station is to the courthouse's front door. It's an easy block and a half or so. And if it rains I have an umbrella.

What should I wear? I've given up wearing make-up in favor of painting my hair. A splash of pink to go with a pink t-shirt. Or a rainbow of colors to go with my John Lennon t-shirt. Green for St. Pat's Day. You know.

My husband says anything that won't offend the judge. So, maybe painted hair is out and, as for clothing, sad to say, I don't think I own anything that would offend a judge. Still, should I wear pants or a dress? A blazer with the pants or maybe a sweater? Floral or paisley for the dress or black? And shoes! Probably shouldn't wear sneakers -- even though I'll be walking that block and a half from the light rail station -- or flip-flops.

What about food? We're supposed to plan on being there from 8 til 5. Is there a snack bar that sells food in the courthouse? I don't know. I've only been in the courthouse twice and neither time was I concerned for food. Or coffee! Will they have coffee available?

I don't know what kinds of cases they try in the court I've been summoned to. I know I can't serve on a capital case, because I do not support the death penalty and could not vote to convict if that were a possible sentence. Anything else, I could do.

You know what else I don't know? Out of all the people summoned to serve I don't even know if I'll  be chosen for a trial. Guess I'll find out tomorrow.

If I'm not chosen, that'll be okay. If I am, that'll be okay, too.

Luck of the draw.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

My 2018 in Books

Nebula NGC 6302

This beautiful photo by the Hubble Space Telescope is of a nebula sometimes called the Butterfly Nebula. This vision from 3,800 light years away. From so far away and so long ago. These cosmic wings are the perfect metaphor for the flight of 2018.

I'm a writer and many years can be measured in what I've written. But not last year. I have not been writing like I have in years past. 2018's flight must be measured in the books I read.

Not all the books I read in 2018. I can't remember them all. And I didn't make notes -- which I should have done, because at my stage in life I've read so many and forgotten so many that sometimes I realize two chapters in that I DID read that one and I don't have time to read it again when there are so many out there that I haven't read once.

Sometimes I do remember that I've read them before, but I wonder if I would still think they are as good as I thought the first time through. This year I reread John Irving's A Prayer for Owen MeanyFor years I've said it's my favorite book ever. I read it again, because I recommended it to a friend and she didn't like it. I still like it, though maybe it's not my all-time favorite anymore.

In June I went to Washington, D.C. for a History Vacation with my son and his two sons. Thinking I would read to them in the evening after full days of exploring the city and the histories it tells, I took Tuck Everlasting. I hadn't read the children's book by Natalie Babbitt published in 1975, the year after my son's birth. So I read it before we went to D.C. and took it with me but never opened it again while we were there. The book's premise is that immortality isn't a wonderful thing at all. "You don't have to live forever, you just have to live.” Our days were too full of living.

While in D.C., as my souvenir, I bought The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. It's nonfiction -- a history of three families who went north during the Great Migration and the Second Great Migration. It was the time when African Americans moved in great numbers out of the Southern United States into the Midwest, Northeast and West, a period of time from about World War I until after World War II. Being white and having grown up in the South, I knew nothing about the Great Migration. Like a lot of African American people in the South, I always thought of the North as being sort of a promised land, where people were treated equally and fairly regardless of their color. Boy, did I have my eyes opened.

As it turns out, The Warmth of Other Suns was good preparation for Michelle Obama's Becoming, my first book in 2019. ( For my review of  Becoming Click here.) Her grandparents had come North in the Great Migration.

A retired librarian friend of mine (Everyone who loves reading should have librarian friends!) introduced me to Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley mysteries. Mysteries are my goto for fiction and, of course, I'd seen the TV productions on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery. But I gotta tell you, Sergeant Barbara Havers is even better in the books than she is in the TV series.

There were other nonfiction books -- I wouldn't go a whole year without David McCullough. 2018 was the year of "The Great Bridge." I know, I know -- it was published in 1972, but I didn't run into it until last year. It's the story of the building of The Brooklyn Bridge, the very one that still carries six lanes of traffic across the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Before the bridge was built, crossing the river depended on ferries.

McCullough's book follows the bridge's building from the suspension-bridge-builder John Augustus Roebling's efforts to sell the concept of bridging the East River and the start of construction in 1869  just four years after the end of the Civil War, to its completion in 1883. With a main span of 1,595.5 feet (486.3 m) and a height of 276.5 ft (84.3 m) above mean high water, it was the world's first steel-wire suspension bridge. It originally carried horse-drawn vehicles and elevated railway lines. This is an epic story about the problems they encountered and solved -- steel cables long enough and strong enough, laborers afflicted with the bends, political conflicts between the then separate cities of Brooklyn and Manhattan (New York City), and the ever present problems of financing any public project of any size faces.

It was a good year for nonfiction. September found me at the Jaipur Literature Festival in Boulder. JLF, a wealth of writers of every form, from all over the world -- an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, a Nobel nominee playwright, poets, novelists, journalists, historians, and much more. And they sell books. "Oh, no, don't throw me into that briar patch!"

I met Wade Davis, Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society. I bought his River Notes: A Natural and Human History of the Colorado and read it. Since I've moved to Colorado, I've become hyperaware of the importance of water in the Western United States, the Colorado being the major source of water for seven southwestern states so it was perfect. It's very well-done, as dense with information and as engaging as are his lectures.

Astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan, Yale professor of astronomy and physics was there. She writes science so people like me can understand. Her Mapping the Heavens follows astronomy/cosmology from myth to string theory. Brilliant!

And then ... I went to Houston in October and heard Barbara Kingsolver read.  So of course I bought two more of her books, her most recent Unsheltered for a friend and Flight Behavior from 2012 for myself.

Flight Behavior takes on Climate Change and personal growth. Her main character Dellarobia Turnbow is an intelligent young mother, trapped in her own lack of education and her too early marriage to the wrong man. Climate Change has brought migrating monarch butterflies to her wrong valley in Tennessee instead of their right valley in Mexico. Change is inevitable.

Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible may be my favorite novel now. I read it back in 2014. Check out my review of it.

I ended 2018 with another John Irving novel, Avenue of Mysteries. Irving writes books for writers. His main characters are often writers who think about things writers think about. In Avenue of Mysteries, the main character Juan Diego gives good advice to writers -- "Characters in novels are more understandable, more consistent, more predictable. No good novel is a mess; many so-called real lives are messy."

Certainly not an exhaustive list of the books I read in 2018, but these are the ones that I particularly remember. I hope your 2018 in books was as enjoyable as was my own.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A Walk in the Park -- flash fiction

"Ach, du meine liebe Gute! Your costume!"

My costume? I was wearing cargo pants, a plaid, flannel shirt, and sneakers. She, on the other hand, was wearing some sort of long black corseted dress, a top hat with lace, and high button-up boots.

"And your hair. So short." Her accent was British, though not exactly like my friend Ivor's. "And you're so tall."

How should I respond to that? Yes, I am tall and you are short. I don't think so. My Momma taught me better manners than that.

"Yes, ma'am. Isn't this a nice place to walk?"

She dropped her scrutiny of me and gazed at the river.

"The River Dee. It is beautiful. I used to ride here. My husband and I. He bought this land for us many years ago." She was distracted by a squirrel racing from one tree to another on the river's edge. "Here all seems to breathe peace, and make one forget the world and its turmoils."

Although the sky was overcast, the air was clear and we could see snow laced mountains in the distance. A view very familiar to me. But something about the squirrel was decidedly foreign -- its tufted ears.

"So, this is your place?"

"My place, indeed. All this land is my land. This is my country." She studied me closely. "Do you not know where you are?"

For a moment I felt dizzy, as though I had missed a step.

In that same moment she grabbed my arm to steady herself.

"Are you all right?" I asked.

"I'm not quite sure." She continued to hold my arm. "Are you all right?"

"I don't mean to frighten you, ma'am, but I'm not sure I am. I honestly don't know where I am or how I got here."

No taller than my own grandmother, a bit heavier maybe, she took command seating me on an outcropping of rock.

"I, too, feel a bit dazed," she confessed. "To see someone so odd as you. Someone so oddly dressed."

She stood in front of me eyeing me from head to foot. "Are you a Campbell?"

"Like the soup?" I ventured.

From her quizzical expression my mentioning soup was just as odd to her as everything else about me.

She touched my shirt and explained "The Campbell tartan."

"No, ma'am. I don't really know anything about tartans."

She settled beside me seemingly satisfied not to know who I was or why I was there.

"Alas," she considered the scene before us. "Sometimes I fear I'm going insane."


"Meeting someone like you," she explained.

"Like me?"

"My grandfather, you know -- George the Third. He was quite mad."

"I'm sorry." What else was there to say? I was disoriented.

"I don't remember him," she continued. "I was quite young when he died. But there were always stories."

Maybe I was losing it, too. I was quickly approaching the age when my own mother's dementia had started and my grandmother's the generation before.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Outside the Window -- flash fiction

     She felt it more than heard it.
     She'd been tired, so tired she'd gone to bed leaving Carl in front of the TV.
     She didn't open her eyes. She heard only silence and drifted off.
     There it was again. A distant rumble, like a bowling ball running down the lane. She and Carl bowled a lot when the kids were small. The Bowlarama had thirty lanes, a bar and grill, and childcare. She turned over and went back to sleep.
     A different sound -- like a door shutting. Then rushing air. She kept her eyes shut. Maybe it was the heating unit. Or the wind. She felt Carl's side of the bed. Empty. He must still be in front of the TV. What time was it? Maybe she could go back to sleep.
     She opened her eyes.
     The room was dark. Totally dark. She reached for her glasses. The night light must be out. Maybe the battery. No, it didn't have a battery. It plugged into the wall. Did those bulbs ever burn out? She couldn't remember how long they'd had it. She touched the base of her reading lamp. Nothing happened.
     The power was out. Where was her phone? She'd use it for light. Yes, of course -- on the charger in the kitchen.
     She stepped into one of her house slippers, but she couldn't find the other one. Just another good reason to be more intentional about putting things away. Her keys, the remote control, the house phone.
     Carl was much better at that than she. He hung his coat in the hall closet as soon as he came in. He always recradled the house phone no matter where he'd been using it. Each of his tools hung in its place on the south wall of the garage.
     The living room was dark.


     No Carl. No TV, either. Of course not. The power was out.
     Maybe a breaker had kicked off. They did that sometimes, like when Carl was in the garage welding. Many years ago her father had shown her how to push the breaker switch all the way off, then on again. She couldn't think if the breaker box was in the garage or outside somewhere.
     Lightning flashed through the closed blinds, lighting the room in eerie strips. Too little light for too short a time. On then off like a strobe. Silence for a three-count, then thunder.
     First the wind. A gust front. She could feel it against the house. Then the rain started. From the popping sound against the chimney cap, they must be big drops. Or maybe hail.


     Maybe he'd gone into the garage to do whatever it was needed doing to get the power back on.
     She opened the blinds and looked out. The whole neighborhood was dark. So dark she couldn't see across the street. It wasn't just her house.
     Again, a flash of lightning. Wind driven rain lashed the window. Their beautiful bay window -- the window that sold them on this house.
     In that moment, she saw someone coming toward the house. Through her roses. Carl knew better than that. Her Mister Lincoln had been there for years. Her mother gave her the cutting. And the Tropicana, the most beautiful orange rose. Not the aggressive orange of a hunter's vest. More like mango sherbet. Carl said it didn't look right, next to the Mister Lincoln's deep red.
     Dark again, leaving only the bright blindness of eyes trying to adjust.
     Thunder and a scream. Amidst the raging wind and rain, something smashed through the window. Sounds of shattering glass and clashing Venetian blinds filled the blackness. Her chest constricted. She couldn't breathe. She pressed herself against the wall.
     Another flash lit the room. Harsh white light exposed a concrete bowl sitting on her living room floor -- the bowl and broken glass. Her birdbath. Carl told her it was too near the window, but farther away and it would have been on the other side of the roses. Where was he?
     Moaning wind battered at the front door. The moans sounded almost human. The moans became shouts, calling her name beseeching her to "please open the damn door."


     Lightning flashed as she opened the door. Carl stood there, silhouetted against the glare. Thunder roared over their heads, as though to shake the world. She pulled him inside.

     Too exhausted to be afraid any longer, they huddled in the hallway until the storm passed.

     Dawn came right behind the storm. In that quiet, first light, she examined the damage. Their living room was in shambles. Rain soaked the glass strewn carpet and most of the furniture. Blood streaked Carl's face.

     "Sorry 'bout the roses." He said. "And the birdbath. I fell against it."

     She gently plucked a deep red petal from above his left eye and a mango sherbet petal from his left cheek. Carl had been wrong. His face was beautiful. Even with the Mister Lincoln rose's deep red so near the Tropicana's orange.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The 2019 Women's March in Denver

Today was the third Women's March in Denver.

The first was held January 21, 2017, to protest Donald J. Trump's positions and Presidency; to promote women's rights, immigration reform, climate science, and health care reform; to counter religious discrimination, violence against women, and LGBTQ abuse; and to address racial inequities, workers' issues, and environmental issues. Other than protesting Trump's policies and his presidency, those goals have not been fully achieved. But we're on our way.

I missed the first Women's March. I had just had knee replacement surgery. By the 2018 March, I was there. I don't know that that March was responsible for getting out the second-highest midterm election voter turnout rate in the nation. It was certainly an indication of Colorado's response to the 2016 election. Democrats swept into office.

And if that 2018 March foretold what would happen in the midterms, I hope today's is indicative of what the current administration in D.C. has to look forward to.

Here's a sampling of what today's March was like. Keep in mind that I am not a photographer by training -- just by enthusiasm.

This was the same sign I carried last year. It's sturdy and speaks for me. It'll be good for next year's March, too.

Last year I went with my friend Lou and my daughter and her now-husband. This year they were all else where so I went alone. But as you can see I certainly was NOT alone.

There were lots of signs -- some serious, some witty, some snarky, some irreverent, some very, very  pointed. But the participants were friendly and upbeat.

        This sign pretty much covered it all.                    "Hang On Ruthie Hang On" referring to
                                                                                    Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

      This beautiful calligraphy was done by this man.               and this is what was on the back.
                                 This sign says "Women are the Wall and Trump will pay"

                                                                  'nough said!

                                   In Our America              This woman was there with her walker   
                                      All are                                                                             
                           Welcome, = , &  (heart)                                                                               

I was afraid yesterday's snow storm would keep people away. And it probably did some. The neighborhood streets were snow-packed but the main streets were clear. And, of course, the light rail was running just fine.

All ages participated -- from babies in strollers to octogenarians. This reassures me that as my generation leaves the scene, there are new generations who will continue to persist and resist as needed.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Becoming by Michelle Obama -- a review

Michelle Obama's memoir is perfect to start 2019. It's open and eye-opening. This book scatters seeds of Yes-we-can, gently telling us little bits about people who are not to-the-manner-born, but learn,
do well, and make a difference. It's her view of herself and her experiences and of the people around her that strengthens my optimism about America. And about humanity in general. Optimism that is being sorely tested.

Wikipedia identifies Michelle Obama as "Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (born January 17, 1964) is an American writer, lawyer, and university administrator who served as the First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017." This paragraph identifies her as her, not just the wife of Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, first black President of the United States. Not just as first black First Lady of the United States.

More than half the book is about her life before her husband ran for president. And that life was amazingly normal, working class, American. Her father, Fraser Robinson III, worked for the City of Chicago at a water treatment plant. And her mother, Marian Shield Robinson was a stay at home mom until Michelle went to high school. Both were born in Chicago to people who'd come North during the Great Migration. (I knew nothing about the Great Migration until I read Isabel Wilkerson's book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, published in 2010 by Random House.)

Like my own family, there were only two children -- Michelle and her older brother Craig. Being less than two years apart, they were always close (also like my brother and me, although I'm the older one.) The Robinsons maintained close ties to their extended family, grandparents, aunts and uncles, great-aunts and -uncles, and lots of cousins. All, of whom lived close enough to get together easily and often. And, let me tell you, from personal experience, a small family of four doesn't feel small at all with that many kin close by.

Michelle says she wasn't really aware of racial problems until she was older.

When she was small, Michelle's South Shore neighborhood was more diverse than my white one was. Oklahoma was determinedly segregated.

Bryn Mawr, her elementary school was considered one of Chicago's best public schools when she started kindergarten there. The children in her class picture are described by a classmate as "five little white faces and 23 shades of brown faces and one Middle Eastern face.”

By the time she finished the 8th grade, there were only brown faces. The children may not have questioned where their white and wealthier classmates went, but the grown-ups knew what was going on. At least some did.

When Michelle was entering the seventh grade, the Chicago Defender, a newspaper widely read by the African American community ran an OpEd describing Bryn Mawr as a "run-down slum" governed by a "ghetto mentality." Michelle's school principal, Dr. Lavizzo wrote his own letter to the editor in which she says he made it clear that "he understood precisely what he was up against. Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It's vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear."

She says "There were predatory real estate agents roaming South Shore, whispering to home owners that they should sell before it was too late, that they'd help them get out while you still can." They used the word everyone was most afraid of -- 'ghetto' -- dropping it like a lit match."

In Oklahoma City, it was 'busing.' My parents bought it and moved us to the suburbs.

Mrs. Robinson did not. Michelle describes her mother -- "She'd lived in South Shore for ten years already and would end up staying another forty. She didn't buy into fearmongering and at the same time seemed equally inoculated against any sort of pie-in-the-sky idealism. She was a straight-down-the-line realist, controlling what she could." A yes-we-can kind of mom.

And one thing Mrs. Robinson could do was to lobby for "a special multigrade classroom ... grouping students by ability rather than by age -- in essence, putting the brighter kids together so they could learn at a faster pace.

 Dr. Lavizzo's background is a yes-we-can seed. The multigrade classroom "was the brainchild of Dr. Lavizzo, who'd gone to night school to get his PhD in education." Night school.

The importance of education is emphasized throughout this book. Michelle's brother Craig was offered basketball scholarships to the University of Washington and Princeton. Washington's offer was a full ride. Princeton would cost $3,500 per year. Although Craig told his father he'd rather accept the University of Washington offer so it wouldn't cost the family anything, Mr. Robinson, being a yes-we-can kind of father, wouldn't hear of it. He wouldn't let his son choose based on saving them money. They'd figure out a way. And Craig chose Princeton, no doubt, breaking trail for his sister.

Michelle was a determined student. She was salutatorian of her high school graduating class. Her inspiration to follow Craig to Princeton? A high school counselor told her that she wasn't the sort of student to go to Princeton. Hah! Another yes-we-can seed. She graduated cum laude from Princeton then went on to Harvard where she got her law degree. And, yes, she was a normal, working class daughter who achieved a big salary at a prestigious law practice back in Chicago which she needed even though she continued to live with her parents in South Shore so she could pay back her college loans. And that's where she met Barack Obama. She was his mentor. It was part of her job to lure him to work for the law firm when he graduated Harvard Law.

As it turned out, he lured her away. And into the White House.

There is so much in this book. So much. So much. Becoming is a good read, an inspiring read. I could fill pages with Michelle Obama's words. Her fears. Her aspirations. The places she went and the people she met.

And she explained something to me that I did not understand. Why, or at least part of why, we could celebrate electing an African American man to be our President, a face to prove that America truly does hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That all people are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. From that to the shameful situation we have now.

Here's what she said:
         "For more than six years now, Barack and I had lived with an awareness that we
          ourselves were a provocation. As minorities across the country were gradually
          beginning to take on more significant roles in politics, business, and entertainment,
          our family had become the most prominent example. Our presence in the White
          House had been celebrated by millions of Americans, but it also contributed to a
          reactionary sense of fear and resentment among others. The hatred was old and
          deep and as dangerous as ever.

        "We lived with it as a family, and we lived with it as a nation. And we carried on,
          as gracefully as we could."

I do believe that we, as a people and as a nation, will survive this regressive period in our history and again move forward. We will work toward the American dream of true freedom and equality of opportunity for all.

Yes we can.