Friday, June 25, 2004

To be or not to be -- famous

Did the ancient artists who painted scenes on cave walls or laboriously turned over rocks on the desert plateau of Nazca care about whether or not they were famous, if what they did would have hundreds, thousands, even millions flocking to the sites to marvel at their artistry, their vision, or were they crackpots, crazy idiots who had nothing better to do with their time?

Today, the only thing that matters is if a book is a best seller. It doesn't matter whether or not the book is useful or even visionary, if it advances literature or is just plain artistic crap selling out like meatballs at a community fund raiser spaghetti dinner or bean feast.

The latest hype is dedicated to Bill Clinton's autobiography and everyone is surprised at the clamor for the book before it even launches. Small surprise, as the On the Media article states, since the media have hyped Clinton's latest public shell game like the second coming. A 957-page journey into the heart and mind of the most self aggrandizing and unrepentant publicity hound in recent history is worth about as much as a trip to the public library to read in the stacks. But the hungry masses will clamor for their own personal copy like anxious parents stampeding toy stores for Tickle Me Elmo or the latest must-have toy. Give me a break.

When did words cease to matter? When did literature become artistic crap that sells better than gold and lasts longer?

Earlier today I pondered those ancient artists who painted on cave walls, wondering if they were visionaries, priests, or crackpots. Did they know their work would remain for all time and mark them as the voice of their age? Does it matter? Isn't the fact that they existed enough? And if so, why does it matter that a wealthy parasite, who will feed off the bodies of the masses and take a percentage of their earnings for his own comfort for the rest of his life, has found yet another way to dip into the dwindling well and gather more wealth at the country's -- and the world's -- expense?

That time and circumstance made it possible for those ancient artists' work to endure doesn't mean we should be bilked into buying into yet another media hyped book with the staying power of dandelion fluff in a fire storm. How do we want to be remembered when our time is past, by the egotistical sensibilities of a Freudian wet dream or by the vision and words of true artistry? I guess in the end only time and circumstance will determine what will be saved and what will be lost to the ages. Of course, Clinton's book stands a chance of outdistancing everything worthwhile of words, thoughts, and deeds since there will be more of his books left behind for time to attempt to swallow. After all, it is harder to digest a dinosaur turd than it is to swallow a hummingbird's tongue.


I'm high. Not on drugs...on books. I found this incredible web site called Book Slut and have spent countless hours reading reviews and info on books and magazines and horror and erotica and so much more but I have to take a breath now. *deep breath* The site has been out there for two years, but I am new to the whole blogging thing and LJ and Dead Journal, and now Blog Spot and just getting around to what most of you probably already know.

In the parlance of Book Slut, I'm a research slut, a reading slut, a slut for all things literate and wordy and wonderful. I admit I'm a bit behind the times, but I've been working and traveling and making my way thru the world and didn't have time for anything else, other than some of my own writing. I have a stack of books on the bench at the end of my bed I have yet to get to read, but I'm getting there. I have boxes of books back in Ohio in storage and I have read all those, some of them more than once, and you should have seen the hundreds of books I sold off before I hit the road and ended up in the glorious Rockies. And that isn't even the half of it. I have been reading since I don't know when. A description from To Kill a Mockingbird is apt. Scout is talking about when she learned to read, sitting on Atticus's lap and watching his finger move across the page until the words began to make sense and she could read. I don't remember sitting on my father's lap while he read the newspaper or a book, but I do remember the moment when the words made sense and I was pretty young.

I was born with a love of books and now I have lots more to investigate and read and catch up. Oh, if I only had a hundred lifetimes and could read everything written: good, bad and indifferent. The feel, the scent, the touch of a book on my mind and heart and emotions, the way I feel when I read a really stellar piece of writing or laugh out loud with the really witty parts, even the groans when something really awful has been written. I am constantly amazed at the wondrous (and sometimes really bad) ways that people can take the basic plots and turn them into stories. I want to hold and caress and read and re-read every single book, but funds are a bit tight now. I need Helene Hanff's bookish and oh-so-British Frank Doel's help to find those inexpensive and wonderful volumes slotted on dusty shelves at 84 Charing Cross Road, although Hamilton Books does a really good job with the $1.95 remainder specials. You can find almost anything, but not everything, and I need everything. I want everything. I want to be fed intravenously and just read. I don't want to sleep or walk or do anything but read and then write what strikes my mind, stirs my passions, moves me. I want to be entertained, appalled, frightened, and transported to worlds of imagination and reality. I want more books.

In the meantime, in my temporarily (I hope) embarrassed financial circumstances, I will have to settle for my first taste of Salman Rushdie and A. S. Byatt from the public library's plastic encased volumes. And I am going to have to revisit Douglas Adams's Restaurant and Hitch Hiker in borrowed volumes. I may even take a quick foray back to the Known Universe with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson among those crowded and public shelves instead of pulling a well loved copy from my own boxes and shelves. But read I will until my eyes can no longer see and my ears no longer hear and I must learn Braille to get my literary fix.

Time to go dress for the trip and pick up my public copies so I can rush back here to read and wallow and explore yet another adventure, discovering new faces and places and ways to write.

I don't need proof...

I sit here in the semi-darkness, the computer screen the only light in the loft and a small light on in the kitchen downstairs and beneath where I sit, pondering a phone call from my mother. It was past midnight in Ohio when she called and we picked up our usual half-argument about calling late and wasting money calling so often. "Didn't I just talk to you yesterday?" I asked before she could say it to me, although she called yesterday and tonight. "Well, if you don't want to talk to me..." At this point, I give in and our hellos are finished. It's a hold over from all the years of arguing and there is love in the exchange and a bit of laughter within the mock battle.

"Your father got your letter today," she said, her voice soft and almost secretive.

"I thought he might've and I was going to call but I know you would have a fit so I waited."

"He didn't say anything. You know how he is. Then he gave it to me to read and said it was nice."

Nice is my father's highest praise when he says anything at all, which is rarely. He doesn't read books. He reads the newspaper and watches television, but he doesn't read books and that is something I didn't realize until a little while ago. I can't ever remember seeing him read a book.

"Then your father started talking about growing up in that log cabin and how poor they were when his mother died. He said he wanted to give his children everything he never had and then he cried. In 54 years of marriage I have never seen your father cry."

"I saw him cry once at his father's funeral," I said, pushing the words past the growing lump in my throat and the rising tide of tears.

I wrote a poem for my mother for Mother's Day and she keeps reading it and tells me she still cries. I cried when I wrote it and she tells me I will never understand how much it means to her.

I don't have a lot of money and my father has a tendency to kill Bonsai trees, so I decided to make something to give him for Father's Day. I tried to write a poem, but nothing seemed right. Nothing came out the way I intended. Poetry isn't easy for me most of the time and other times it flows out of me like water from a hole in a dam. But my father loves to write letters so I decided to write him a letter.

"Your father put your letter back in the envelope and put it in his desk. He went into his office to write you a letter."

I am a writer and my gift is words. Lately, it seems my gift for words makes people cry, specifically my mother and father. I don't mean to make them cry, but I want them to know without a doubt how much I love them and cherish all the memories we share.
I have been plaguing my parents to sit down with a tape recorder and record all their stories and memories about their life so the stories, those bits of history, will not be lost when they are gone. I have had to face the fact that my parents won't always be there, that they are not the immortals I believed them to be as a child. They still see me as a child and I still see them young and strong and eternally there. We all have our illusions. But I do not want the illusion to include any doubts about my love and affection and respect for my parents and for the journey we have shared. I want there to be no doubt in their minds or mine about how precious and special each moment we share really is, and that includes all the fights and misunderstandings and mistakes, because without the path we have walked together none of us would be who we are at this moment.

My father has always feared letting those he loves know how much he loves them because early in his life everyone he loved disappeared. I think he now knows I understood his love even without the words.

This is what I wrote:

Dear Dad:

I wanted to send you a card, but funds have been tight. I thought about writing a poem, but wasn't sure if that was something you'd enjoy or even read more than once. Then I thought about just writing, knowing how much you love to correspond, and giving you a taste of my memories.

Most of all I remember dancing with you, my pudgy little hand in your strong giant hands, so gentle and yet so protective. Spinning me around and making my skirt fly out in a circle while you held Carol or Jimmy on your hip. I remember having to go to bed by myself while you carried Carol, telling me I was a big girl and too heavy to carry, but I went to my room and laid on the floor, pretending to be asleep, so you would have to pick me up and put me in bed, hoping I wasn't too heavy for that short little trip. I remember your smell of sunshine and after shave and the feel of your hands and fingers as you combed my wet hair into long curls and ringlets just like Shirley Temple. I remember the deep etched dimples in your cheeks and the crinkles around your eyes when you smiled and the sound of your laughter that tickled my heart, my ears, and my soul. I remember a green clad Santa carrying an olive drab duffel bag up the snowy sidewalk when Carol and I were making snow angels on the front lawn, your shoulders covered with falling snow and the unmistakable vision of you walking toward us.

I remember the wonderful smells that came from the kitchen when you cooked and the times you decided to teach us all the value of a dollar by making the meals from your childhood: cornbread and beans with fresh onions and fried cornmeal mush. You thought we'd feel sorry for you but all I felt was glad because the taste and smell of those meals linger with me still. I even buy cornmeal mush to fry and simmer beans in a pot all day just to be closer to you when I am far from home. I remember sharing secrets with you and learning about your childhood, scenes that have never faded from my imagination. I remember the log cabin sinking into the ground among the tobacco fields behind Great Grandma Cornwell's house in Cynthiana and the smell of the barn where tobacco leaves dried in the shadowy darkness. I remember riding roller coasters and exciting rides with you at Cedar Point and how much joy you got from just being alive.

I remember watching with pride as you marched in parades on base in Panama and other Army bases, knowing you the moment I saw you by the twinkle in your eyes and the distinctive way you walked. I remember purses you sewed from banana leaves when we lived in Panama and how you enjoyed the snakes as much as I did. I remember you lying on the tin casing of something or other in the back yard on our house on Terrace baking and broiling in the sun with your own concoction of baby oil and iodine, and the way you smelled of apple cider vinegar. I remember the way you worked with the German Shepards we raised and the way you played cards on weekends with your friends.

I remember the letters and pictures when you were posted to Korea and other places we could not go and the excitement and happiness I felt when we saw you again, not to mention the stories and tales of your adventures while you were gone.

But most of all I remember wanting to find a man as good, kind, devoted, loving, and wonderful as you to marry and spend the rest of my life with. I wasn't successful because you are a one of a kind item that has never been reproduced or can be replaced. It doesn't matter that sometimes you have a short temper or love to gossip because you are the best father a girl could ever have. You are a constant reminder that there are miracles in the world and I see them every time I look at you and remember and each time I hear you tell me you love me. I can still remember the first time you said those words to me and I never tire of hearing them. I love you now. . .

As always...

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Free music

It seems that while I was sleeping the government, specifically Orrin Hatch, Rep senator from Utah (somewhere I used to live), is helping to draft a bill to curtail music theft on the Internet. I read it at

The article says, "Proponents argue that the bill focuses on curbing illegal activity on the Internet. "In the film 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,' the leering 'Child Catcher' lured children into danger with false promises of 'free lollipops,'" said Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Tragically, some corporations now seem to think that they can legally profit by inducing children to steal; that they can legally lure children and others with false promises of 'free music'."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't music that comes over the air waves, AM & FM, free music? And can't you copy the music from the air waves, just like copying a movie on VHS, onto casette tape or burn that onto a CD? Can't you even make copies of that music and give it to your friends or copy your tapes and CDs and give them (or sell them) to your friends, relatives, etc.? Doesn't that also make music that you can listen to over the Internet air waves from Internet radio stations fair game?

That's not to say there isn't some free downloading and burning going on, but we aren't talking about people pirating music to make and resell CDs at a much more reasonable cost, but people listening to music over the digital air waves and burning a copy.

I'm not against making a profit -- and the music companies have made an obscenely large amount of profit at the expense of the consumer and the artist -- but doesn't this begin to smack of another loss of freedom? Think about it. If you can't download music from the net and burn it onto a CD or capture it on your MP3 player, then legally, with this bill in place, you also will not be able to do the same with music on the radio, television, or tapes you currently own or have borrowed from friends. It may seem like a big leap from a bill to shut down theft of music on the Internet, but it's really not. Give them an inch and the government will soon take a mile -- or much more.

A lot of this comes from the music industry who are down in the mouth about low bottom line profits. They are matching current sales since the advent of Internet music theft and piracy with sales in the recent past that show a distinctinly downward trend. Let's face it, the music industry has made us dance to their tune, like the mice in Hamelin dancing to the Pied Piper's tune, every time a new innovation in listening pleasure hits the market place. Old 78s gave way to 45s and LPs, which gave way to 8-track tapes, which gave way to casette tapes, which gave way to CDs, which gave way to MP3s and personal players like iPod. Every time a new way to listen to music comes out the consumer has to buy their favorite music on the new format, thus producing a very big spike in music sales, which the music industry execs believe should continue.

But let's be realistic. Even if a bunch of kids burn copies of their favorite music from Internet web sites, how much does that really amount to in dollars and cents? It's just like Bill Gates and Microsoft so upset about people sharing computer programs and causing them to lose a few hundred thousand dollars in a multi-billion dollar industry, so they made the new program CDs single use, which means you can't share files or programs and you can't even use the same program on more than one computer in your own home unless you either buy multiple programs or multi-user programs, which cost a great deal more.

What bothers me most about this, other than the beginning of the end of personal freedoms, is that the major American past time is no longer baseball, football, or even tennis and soccer, it's making money no matter how many people you have to step on or kill in the process. It doesn't matter that these corporate executives and bean counters make more money than they can possibly spend in their own or their offsprings' lifetimes for a good ten generations, but that it has all come down to money and the acquisition of money no matter what.

These wealthy piranhas talk about money as if it was the American dream, but that's not so. The American dream was a home of your own, a family, and a reasonably comfortable lifestyle. But watch out, folks, because that has been change, irradiated by greed and inoculated by selfishness to the point that the American dream has been perverted into wealth at any cost...and that includes the little people who make these people wealthy in the first place.

I'm not advocating theft, but I do believe there has to be a limit to what the greedy can take away from us. The question is whether or not we will continue to let the wealthy make policies that open the way for more loss of the freedoms we have all taken for granted or if we will all rise up and show them they can no longer climb to the top on our backs.

You don't realize it yet, but you and I are the ones who put the coins in these greedy biscuit eaters' pockets. We have the control and the money and if we keep it in our hot, grimy little fists they will not be able to take anything more away from us. We outnumber them and, as Rome found out in a very costly and dangerous campaign against an untrained band of slaves and gladiators, we can end their tyranny. Question is when will you get enough and put a stop to the greed and the parceling away of our freedoms bit by sneaky bit.

The Child Catcher indeed lured children with lollipops and treats, but this time it's the people who are being caught and sold a prison for the price of sugar candy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Behind Friendly Lines

Several years ago I was given an assignment to interview a woman for a front page article in a local newspaper. I spent a lot of time with the woman as we talked about her past. After backing up the interview with a great deal of reading and research I wrote the article only to have the lead watered down, politically dampened, because the publishers didn't want to be controversial. That has always bothered me. When I sent a copy of the article to the woman I also sent her a copy of my original article, which I do not have here (it's in storage in Ohio). But the thought of how my lead was killed continues to bother me. So I offer the original lead here and a new lead closer to what I originally wrote. You decide which is more powerful and more telling.

Summer camp is a childhood institution in America, but for one Columbus woman, contemplating photos of herself as a child at "camp" brings back bittersweet memories of those times.

Here's the rewritten version:

While Hitler and the Nazis rounded up and confined Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, and dissidents in concentration camps throughout Europe, America, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, rounded up Americans and confined them in camps. Their only crime was a Japanese heritage.

As American pundits debate the merits of demanding an apology from the Japanese for their role in the war that concluded with an atomic blast 50 years ago this month, Karen Jiobu looks back with mixed emotions on a childhood spent in part in an American internment camp.

In March of this year, Jiobu and her husband, Robert, their son, Eric, and other relatives and friends, gathered at the former Butte Camp internment site in Arizona to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their liberation, and to remember a family member who had died at Hiroshima.

In a halting, trembling voice, Karen Jiobu said in a recent interview: "I really never thought about camp until after I went to the reunion and took a communications class. I had to give a speech. I decided to talk about my experiences. I didn't have many memories. As I gave my speech, I started to cry. I didn't realize I felt such deep emotions." She smiles slowly, eyes bright with unshed tears.

Karen, now in her mid 50s, is an executive director of a medical laboratory here. She speaks willingly, but in a soft voice, of her experiences as a Japanese-American child growing up in a nation filled with fear. Her brothers and sisters tell their stories as though the happened to others; her mother and father never talked about their internment.

Robert Jiobu, a professor of Asian-American studies at OSU, declines to discuss his experiences at Amache, Colorado, where he was imprisoned on an isolated Indian reservation. Many more Japanese-Americans also prefer to remain silent.

Karen was three years old when she "went to camp." Her father, mother, grandfather, three brothers and three sisters went with her. Another brother was born at the camp, she said.

Karen's father, Mr. Yoshimoto, was a second-generation Japanese immigrant, a Nisei, born in Hawaii and educated in japan. Her mother was a first-generation immigrant, an Issei, from the west coast. Karen, a Sensei, or third-generation immigrant on her father's side, and Nisei on her mother's side, call herself "Nisei-and-a-half." She says she is American-, as was her father.

Karen describes her father as "a strict man who sought only to make a better life for his family." Before the war, he provided camp housing for laborers he contracted with for local grape growers.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, catapulting U.S. forces into Word War II, Karen's father worried about his family's future freedom. He feared repercussions.

In the meantime, U.S. officials, themselves fearful of Japanese involvement with Germany, had been keeping a wary eye on the japanese-American community on the west coast through FBI investigations. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had been changed from the protective jurisdiction of the Department of Labor to the punitive control of the Department of Justice, and an Alien Registration Act was enacted in June 1940.

Though FBI agents failed to find any evidence of subversive activities among the Japanese-American population, they continued to watch-and wait.

The future that Karen's father dreaded became reality on February 19, 1942 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066, which forced more than 100,000 Japanese-American families to be incarcerated in hastily constructed wood-and-tarpaper barracks in the desolate, arid, harsh interior of America on Indian reservation lands.

"I was only three years old when a stranger came and told my father we had three days to pack. Many things were sold or left behind," Karen said. The Yoshimotos were taken to Stockton, California and housed in animal pens on the fairgrounds. They had to clean out the horse stalls at the Santa Anita racetrack stables where they lived while waiting for other internees, who were being assembled, processed and assigned.

Karen's family was sent to Gila River, a bleak expanse of scrub, rocks, and desert just outside Phoenix on the Pima Indian reservation.

"I had never seen so many Japanese people in one place before," Karen recalls.

Freedom could be obtained-but at a price. Draft age Japanese-American males could secure the freedom of their families by signing a loyalty oath.

The price was too high for Mr. Yoshimoto. "My father refused to sign," Karen states. "He was an American, born in America, raised in America, and treated like a criminal because of his race. He was hurt and angry. It's like being the victim of rape. Everyone wonders what you did to deserve it. We did nothing; we were just different."

At Gila River, Karen's entire family was housed in half of one barracks building. Her aunt and her family lived on the other side. A wall separated one family from another. "There was a pot-bellied stove, and mother always told me to watch out for Gila monsters," poisonous lizards common on the Arizona desert. "I played and had fun. I don't remember much," Jiobu commented.

"My older sister Bev was 16 when we went to camp. She graduated high school there." Karen has Bev's high school yearbook. It shows the haunting faces of young men and women playing basketball, baseball and attending meetings, school and dances at the camp. "I can remember running up a hill to see movies at the amphitheater the government built," Karen recalls, with a smile. She points to a photo of a large, flat-topped hill. "The water tower was on top of a butte. That's why the called it Butte Camp.

"When we went back to the camp in March [of this year] I picked up a piece of barbed wire and kept it. I shouldn't have; it's probably illegal. I thought it was from the camp, but my brother, Bob, told me they took the barbed wire down after six months and put up chain link fences."

Karen has two albums full of pictures of Block 30 where her family lived. "Not everyone had to go to camp. Bev had a friend who lived near the camp. She was Japanese-American, too. Her family wasn't interned." Karen's voice breaks.

"Once when Bev wanted to visit her, she had to write to Washington, D.C. to ask permission. Even when she wanted to spend the night with her friend, she had to write to Washington for permission."

Some Japanese-Americans were never interned because they lived outside what the U.S. government considered the "danger zone" on the Pacific west coast.

"When Bev graduated from high school she left. If you were old enough, you could leave early if you moved to the east coast and had someone to sponsor you. Bev's sponsors lived in Michigan."

After the war ended, Karen stayed in camp because her father refused to sign the loyalty oath. "He was angry and hurt. He was American. He shouldn't have had to sign." Eventually Karen's family was freed, though her father never signed the oath.

When they returned to California, the Yoshimotos settled in Woodbridge in a house on two acres. It was very different from the home they had left in 1943. They had to start over. "Before we went to camp my father had just bought his first new car."

While striving for some normalcy in this post-war world, the Yoshimotos suffered a serious setback. News finally reached them from Mrs. Yoshimoto's family in Japan, where two of her sisters owned a slipper shop. One sister had left the city and asked the other to stay behind and mind the store. That day an atomic bomb destroyed their home in Hiroshima, killing one of Karen's aunts. "My aunt always blamed herself for leaving her sister at home. My mother was devastated. She never went back to visit.

"After the war I saw the Hiroshima maidens. They were young women disfigured in the blast who were brought to the U.S. to have plastic surgery. They visited all the Japanese-American communities and spoke. I can still remember seeing their veiled faces."

Karen has no picture of the Hiroshima maidens, but she has an album full of photos, souvenirs, and memories from a recent visit to Japan. The blasted, broken carcass of a building sits like a stark monument amid modern Hiroshima's cars, people and temples. The shadowy figure of someone caught in the hellish atomic blast is darkly etched on two marble stairs. A children's memorial rises through flowering trees where it is decorated with heaps of thousands of brightly colored origami chains. "It is so beautiful," Karen whispers.

"When I talked to Bev, she reminded me about what happened after we moved back to California. My father saw someone coming up the road and ran out to look. He said it was a stranger. He called to mother and told her to pack. Mother didn't questions him. She began to pack. I hadn't remembered that until Bev told me.

"Father always lived with the fear that the government would send us away again. I don't understand what [the government was] afraid of. Most Issei were too old to fight the Nisei and Senseis were Americans.

"I just wish my parents could have lived to see President Bush personally apologize to all the Japanese-Americans who were interned. A couple of years ago the government gave each survivor $20,000. The apology was enough; I was very touched, but the money made it real for [the rest of America]."

What's your verdict?

This article originally appeared in Columbus Alive!, an alternative newspaper.

I don't know

In going back thru all the files and emails I save on acceptances and rejections, I discovered I've been busier than I thought. I missed a few in the first go around, but hopefully I have caught them all and now I can keep better track of what I write and submit. I do keep copies of everything, but I like to have them in a couple places just in case. One thing is certain, the new program will keep me from shuffling papers. I tend to forget to write things down and by the time I get around to it I forget half of what I should write down. I love my new program, although it is a bit difficult to handle right now. I'll get better and I feel much more organized and in charge of my writing and submissions.

Submission. That word conjures so many different thoughts, most of which should like in my memory and not be expounded on here. Like a certain private joke with someone who is gone from my life. If he ever wandered over here and read this he would know exactly what I mean and might even smile. You just never know. I keep hearing about how the world is getting smaller and smaller and the degrees of separation are shrinking. Personally, I'd rather have no degrees of separation in this instance, but what I want usually has very little context in reality. C'est la vie.

My mind flits and flutters from thought to thought and there have been few people who can keep up when I'm thought hopping. One of those is [info]elementalmuse. We share many attributes. Don't worry. They're mostly good ones. There are many parallels in our lives and I see myself ten years ago in her, and not just because she is nearly 10 years younger than I am. See us together and you'd think we were either sisters or very good friends. In many ways we are both.

Back to thought hopping.

For some reason, writing and how much space we take up popped into my mind.

I was watching Hearts In Atlantis and the difference in how we write and how much space we take up was right there while Brautigan was writing on the inside of a matchbook cover. Have you ever noticed how much space you take up as a child? When you first learn to write, the letters are sprawling circles and lines written with pencils that small hands clutch with a death grip, just trying to hang on. The awkwardness of untrained muscles and ligaments and tendons forced into an unfamiliar exercise that becomes easier with time, the lopsided and disjointed circles and loops coming closer together, merging, taking on a reality that conforms to the letters banding the top of the blackboard. As we get older and learn more, the pencils are smaller and the letters corresponding smaller to fit the smaller lines on the paper. When I was a child, we progressed to cursive and then to ink pots fitted into the strange and incomprehensible metal banded holes in our desks and the first scritch-scratching ink-bloody letters from a metal nib on a tooth-marked and gouged wooden pen. No, it wasn't in the 19th century, but just a few decades ago back in the 1960s. I'm not as old as you think and I'm older than you know, but that's another topic for another time.

Then the advent of ink pens, usually blue capped Bic pens (black for the rebels), and theses and themes and papers written in ink to be handed in. The letters are smaller, more precise (for most of us), and they acquire character, a reflection of who we are. Just as the big circles and lines made with tree trunk pencils on gray-brown big lined paper when we were children, we took up more space as children -- not physically but really. We were short (most of us anyway) and grownups towered over us, but we were important, special. Our shouting and dreams and wishes and emotions took up all the space and air around us...just like the letters we fashioned.

As we grew taller and older, our letters were smaller, conforming to the world around us as we conformed to the rules and expectations of parents, relatives, friends, and society. Some of us kept writing in big bold letters, topping Is with hearts or smiling faces, precisely placing cross bars on Ts, drawing big loops to take up more space. Those were the school rulers, the elite, the beautiful and athletic, the rulers of our youth. Occasionally, some wallflower made their letters big and bold, a bluff, a wish, a desire to be more. The rest of us wrote smaller, some with precision and style and others almost to disappear into the lines and flesh of the page. Left handed writers' words slanted oddly, the letters thin and cramped like their fingers as they fought to train their muscles to perform right-handed tasks with left-handed minds.

Then came typing. Pica fonts at first to better able to see our mistakes and then elite fonts for a precise small look, taking up less space, letting the words speak for themselves. But the size of our letters and the space we take up is already indelibly etched in the curves and whorls of our brains. Our personalities, maturity, dreams, wishes, and thoughts revealed in signatures and handwritten secrets laid bare to the knowing eye. Even our moods can be traced thru our writing. Nothing is secret if you have the key.

But time marches on and the space we take up changes, expanding and contracting with changes in our personalities, our dreams, our lives, until in old age we are back to gripping larger pens and pencils, some with rubbery centers to accommodate arthritic fingers unwilling to obey mental impulses, our letters growing in size as we diminish in height and importance. At last, we are back to big circles and lines that may or may not connect as flailing arms and wide based gaits help us balance and move thru life taking up more space for our shrinking forms. Life comes full circle. The little flat chested pot bellied forms of childhood revert to sagging breasted flat chested pot bellied forms of old age. We end where we began: uncoordinated entities taking up much more space than our size seems to need.

Like I said, thought hopping.

I'll shut up now.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Books for soldiers

There is a certain sense of trepidation in writing to someone you have never met and know nothing about. I have had pen pals in the past, but always knew a little something about them before I wrote. As I looked over the listings of service men and women who wanted and needed news from home, books, hygiene supplies, and to know that someone cared, I was caught by the overwhelming response and wondering where I could fit something in, give a little something back. I don't have much and lately I have had a lot less, but I feel a kinship with these people who are so much like the men and women among whom I grew up as a child of a career Army NCO. I know how much they miss their families and how difficult it is to get thru the days without news from home or news from anyone.

I found one order for books unfulfilled and offered a hand, but I kept looking, half afraid that I would not be equal to the task of corresponding with a stranger. Not that talking (or writing for that matter) has been a problem for me before, but I really know nothing about any of these people. I finally chose a staff sergeant (laughing as I did at an entry to the call for letters asking what SSG stood for) and hopefully he will find something to give him a smile or just a moment to know he is not alone.

On another tack, I am faced with a clear slate at last -- well, mostly a clear slate. I find that the editor in chief of The Rose & Thorn has not publicized the staff issue or the contest, thus making sure there will be very few entries to judge and my last official act will die ignobly. So I'm asking all my LJ friends to get out there and buy a copy. Surely you can afford $3.00 for a superb and beautiful magazine you can read at your leisure during those long hot summer days while you bask by the pool or gobble ice cream and iced tea, water, or coffee, something shorter than a novel and sometimes even short enough for a quick read before you head to bed or to the beach or wherever. You don't have to enter the contest, but you could buy the issue and send the entry information to a poor writer friend who would like to enter but cannot afford the modest entry fee. I guarantee you will enjoy at least some of the issue, dependent upon your tastes and proclivities (there's even a bit of erotica between the otherwise PG-rated chaste pages) and an incredible three-way interview with three of the best known, award winning writers of science fiction & fantasy of our generation: Mercedes Lackey, Elizabeth Moon, and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. So you see there is something for everyone's tastes: a little romance, a bit of horror, some poetry, a taste of tittilation, and some really great illustrations, which I chose personally.

So, if you love good literature, funny and poignant stories, or poetry of every stripe and you don't mind a bit of high brow pedantic writing, go check out the staff issue and make me proud. Make my swan song one that will echo for a while and not go unheard and unremarked.

That is all.

I'll shut up now.