Saturday, May 16, 2009

Anything is possible

These hours are all mine, this time just before the first blush of dawn and when the sun rises high enough in the sky to be ignored. This is when the breeze is cool on sleep fevered skin and body and mind are waking and preparing for the day ahead. The occasional rushing swish of tires on the pavement on Colorado Avenue are a soft counterpoint to the chirping birds and the tick of the keyboard as I compose my thoughts for the day, answer emails and navigate the mine fields of various news services in search for connection with the outside world.

After Dad died two years ago and I made a vow to write more, this was the time I was most creative and productive. I produced stories for six anthologies last year in these brightening hours when the gem bright lights seen through the seasonal changes of trees screening and outlining the horizons dimmed as cotton candy clouds flamed and faded to white while the sun rose in a molten pool of bronze and was born anew. These were the hours of profound silence before the rest of the world stirred, the soft strains of the city tuning up for another symphony of the streets.

The city comes to me in drifts of sound, but the view is very different here. Where once I looked out past the rooftops of the neighborhood to an unbroken view of the mountains, now I see the backs and sides of buildings and the dilapidated, weathered fence of a neighbor's yard out my bedroom window. I cannot see the mountains unless I go outside where hoary-headed Pikes Peak majestically rises above the shoulders of the surrounding mountain range. I miss seeing the mountains from the windows of my glass-walled aerie, but I enjoy the silence and peace of my ground level perch.

As the sun rises and warms the gathered dew, lilac drifts through the open windows. Its sweet scent fills my head and my lungs and pushes away the last of the morning congestion. It's difficult getting up for anything during these few hours of peace before I must heed the call to duty and responsibility and chores, so I enjoy each second, the afterglow of the night's dream lovers and travels, making ready for the day.

Most of my life, I've been a night owl, and can still be at times, seeing dawn from the backside instead of head on. I enjoy the solitude of night when the rest of the world settles in for the night, but I have become a devotee of approaching dawn seen through fresh eyes not wearied and weighted by a full day's work and worries. This is bliss and the promise of a new day where anything is possible.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Shattered dreams

Someone or something screamed, a wild, desperate, angry scream that cut through my dreams and yanked me back from my dreams. In the darkness I listened, heart pounding, pulse racing, cold and on edge. Another scream ripped through the darkness. Leaves and weeds rustled outside my window. A harsh barking scream clawed at me. It was closer. It was outside the window. It was answered by a coughing screech of pleasure or pain or something that iced the edge of awareness. I tiptoed to the window and looked out and there it was crouched beneath the window, eyes painfully bright stabbing up through the weeds.

It's nights like this lately that I can't sleep. The cool frost-tinged breeze through the window feels good against my skin and I am comforted and relaxed enough to sleep until something rips through my dreams and drags me painfully back to the reality that things prowl the darkness on the other side of the screen. A thin stretch of woven metal separates me from the predators in the night and I am no longer one or two floors up where the worst that will peer in at me through the open window are restless squirrels and birds heralding the dawn. Screams in the night failed to pierce the veil between reality and dreams because I was safe from harm. Living on the ground floor has it advantages, but on nights like this there are more disadvantages and I can't sleep with the fresh air wafting through the meshed wires and across my uncovered body.

Fox or raccoon crouched beneath my window last night, but it could have been a cat in heat (as it often is) or someone in pain. Darkness shrouds the form that gives voice to such peace shattering yowls and howls and the thin barrier that separates me from the outside is not enough protection for my always alert and waking mind standing watch while I am vulnerable. Memories of a dark time when the sound of a knife ripping through the screen mere inches from the bed where I slept woke me and shattered my peace. The flaring stab of light scared my would-be attacker away, but his intrusion and violation of my vulnerability stayed with me, leaving me always on the razor's edge between dreams and the real world, never able to give myself completely to the bliss and comfort of healing sleep.

I am now awake and nothing has worked to take me back to my dreams, so I write to probe the shadows and lay bare the formless fears of a world wrapped in nightmares.

In the meantime, I soothe my restless uneasiness with thoughts of friends and anniversaries. To Nightspawn and my old friend and companion, a very unique Luddite, I offer best wishes and much happiness since you both share the sixteenth day of May as the anniversary of your births. Many happy returns of the day. When you blow out the candles, I hope you get your wish.

As for me, I will close and lock the window, deprive myself of fresh cool air, and court sleep a little longer before I rise and begin another working day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Then and Now

Scenario 1:

Jack goes quail hunting before school and then pulls into the school parking lot with his shotgun in his truck's gun rack.

1957 - Vice Principal comes over, looks at Jack's shotgun, goes to his car and gets his shotgun to show Jack.

2007 - School goes into lock down, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.

Scenario 2:

Johnny and Mark get into a fist fight after school.

1957 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.

2007 - Police called and SWAT team arrives -- they arrest both Johnny and Mark. They are both charged them with assault and both expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario 3:

Jeffrey will not be still in class, he disrupts other students.

1957 - Jeffrey sent to the Principal's office and given a good paddling by the Principal. He then returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.

2007 - Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. He becomes a zombie. He is then tested for ADD. The school gets extra money from the state because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario 4:

Billy breaks a window in his neighbor's car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.

1957 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college and becomes a successful businessman.

2007 - Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. The state psychologist is told by Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has an affair with the psychologist.

Scenario 5:

Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.

1957 - Mark shares his aspirin with the Principal out on the smoking dock.

2007 - The police are called and Mark is expelled from school for drug violations. His car is then searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario 6:

Pedro fails high school English.

1957 - Pedro goes to summer school, passes English and goes to college.

2007 - Pedro's cause is taken up by state. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against the state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English is then banned from core curriculum. Pedro is given his diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario 7:

Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from the Fourth of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle and blows up a red ant bed.

1957 - Ants die.

2007 - ATF, Homeland Security and the FBI are all called. Johnny is charged with domestic terrorism. The FBI investigates his parents -- and all siblings are removed from their home and all computers are confiscated. Johnny's dad is placed on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario 8:

Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.

1957 - In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.

2007 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy.

Do or die, but don't apologize

She asked him why people didn't like her and I had a ready answer. When you have an open wound, she pours lemon juice all over it and grinds salt into the violated and raw tissues with too much vigor. She's abrasive and rude, arrogant and insensitive. Why would anyone like her?

There are some people who will know the person I'm talking about, but I won't name her.She's not unique by any standards. There are lots of people like her. These are the people you are nice to, give a break and then have to finally give up on when you realize they have no desire to get to know you or be nice to you. They are oblivious to the world around them except when it suits them. Call them by whatever label -- users, predators, liars, cheats, con artists, grifters -- but they are pretty easy to spot and it's best to stay away from them.

Then there are people just like them with the same goals, to part you from your family, your money and everything you work for, but they are much subtler. They let you think that when you help them out it's your idea while they pile on the drama and pretend to be embarrassed when you empty your savings and take out loans to help them. These predators are the worst because they play on your emotions and good nature. They pretend to be your friend, lover or even spouse when all they want is to bleed you dry. Call them vampires, but they are simply amoral predators, and more often than not narcissists.

It's the same way with countries, but at least it changes depending on who is at the helm. Take for instance the battles between Mexico and the United States. Americans, frontiersmen and statesmen, pushed out west from Plymouth Rock and over the Mississippi River to extend the boundaries of America by manifest destiny; governments, local and national, call it eminent domain, the right to take land from the owner and use it for the common good. In plain and simple terms, it is war. It's how the U.S. ended up with California and Texas and all land claimed by indigenous people and Mexico. It's ours now. America owns it.

There were atrocities committed, but no one apologized for it. That is the price of war. Two sides fighting until one of them comes out ahead because they were smarter, had more sophisticated weapons or outlasted their opponents. It's how colonists won their freedom from the British and established this country and it's how this country has continued to grow beyond its continental borders. It's all about predators. Sometimes it's about protecting what you've won by right of combat or purchase. America gained a lot of land by outright purchase from Spain and France, for starters. However, now that we own and live on the land, you won't see anyone offering to give it back or standing by and allowing world opinion or other countries coerce us into giving it back no matter what means we used to get the land. Not going to happen, at least not here. Israel is another situation altogether.

Through several wars since 1948 when the major powers partitioned the Middle East to give the Jews a homeland, America, Britain and other European countries have bullied, lobbied, coerced and shamed Israel into giving back the land they won by force of arms after being attacked. They gained a little land and, in the aftermath of an unsettled peace, began building and rebuilding, creating wealth and prosperity where before there was only desert and desolation. Nothing grew, but the Jews know how to make the most out of what they have, and they did.

Once again Israel is being coerced into giving up more of its small parcel of land to their enemies, people whose only aim is to destroy Israel as a sovereign state and wipe it's people off the face of the Earth, and the U.S. is spearheading the campaign, forcing on Israel an untenable solution. The price of cooperation is high; Israel loses a big chunk of land they made bloom in the desert to terrorists who have no desire -- or need -- to build anything. The U.S. and the world powers have pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the Palestinian economy, but where are the roads, schools, hospitals and infrastructure to maintain their society? They don't exist. The people live in poverty at the point of terrorist guns and are used as shields while the terrorists continue to lob missiles and wage war with Israel, and still the U.S. and the world pump more money into the black hole of terrorism and death, throwing good money after bad, money earned and paid by American taxpayers, all in the name of peace. There will never be peace, but the Jews already knew that. Too bad the rest of the world, and the current U.S. president haven't figured that out. Instead BO has decided to put pressure on Israel to give up its land yet again, land they paid for in blood.

Americans would never stand for that, and yet those who govern us have taken a "do as I say, not as I do" stance in a rush to play nice with the Arab countries while bowing low before them and apologizing for being the strongest power in the world. As Spike said in the fourth season of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, "You won. All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That's what conquering nations do. It's what Caesar did, and he's not going around saying, 'I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it.' The history of the world isn't people making friends. You had better weapons, and you massacred them. End of story."

Time to face the truth, people. War isn't pretty and you can't change the past nor can you bargain your way into the hearts and minds of men. Instead of apologizing for the past, especially when you're the winner, it's better to acknowledge the truth. We came. We saw. We conquered. People died and got hurt. Atrocities were committed on both sides. Time to move on and do it differently the next time, but be ready to fight -- and support your allies because you might just need them again. In the end, there are predators and victims, but a wolf in sheep's clothing is still a wolf. At least in the animal world, wolves don't feed other wolves to a bigger predator or apologize for being wolves. It's not their nature.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Queen for a day

While I was laboring through edits and reviews and all things literary this weekend, my mother was being feted and celebrated by my siblings. Several weeks ago, taking a page from me, Carol requested that we all club together for Mothers Day and give Mom a day at the beauty shop, something Mom has not been able to afford for a while. I agreed and my share of the money and waited impatiently to find out how Mom liked being pampered for a change, especially since she's been complaining that her hair is getting too long. (Mom has a sort of mullet and the fish's tail is drooping down her back.) Mom received her gift yesterday and she was ecstatic, but her hair is still unwashed (by salon hands), uncut and uncurled.

Mom thought her gift from Jimmy was being taken out to dinner, probably to Bob Evans, her favorite restaurant next to Denny's, which is now closed in Columbus. That wasn't it. Carol decided to give her the money and explained she would take her to the salon whenever she was ready. Mom had different ideas. She bought a bag of Tootsie Pops, complaining that there were no chocolate suckers in the bag, and a big bag of dark chocolate-covered peanuts. "They cost $16.49 a pound. That's really rich," she said. "But I'm in heaven. Carol is disappointed, but it's my gift and I'll spend it the way I want."

At church, Tracy took Mom to the restroom where Mom pulled up her skirt and her pantyhose and panties down at the counter. Beanie was ready for her. Mom wasn't ready for Beanie. Mom slung her purse onto the counter and pushed the plunger, forcing most of the B12 liquid out into the Baggie. Beanie fussed and Mom stood there with her hind parts exposed while Beanie sucked the liquid back into the syringe. "This isn't very sterile or sanitary, Mom. Why do you have to sling your purse around?" Mom shrugged and Beanie jabbed Mom's hindquarters and pushed the plunger. "Well, happy Mothers Day."

On Friday, 15 minutes before Beanie's day ended, she emailed and said I should write something for Mothers Day since I wouldn't get to sign the card. "I'd like to print it out before I go home at 10:30." By the time I got the email, I had ten minutes to write something so Beanie could print it out and take it home. I came up with something and sent it. Mom got it with her cards and money yesterday at church. Mom was touched, somewhere other than in her head for a change. My birth mother, Aunt Anne, was there, too, and Mom let her read my poem.

"I told her it was for both of us," Mom said when we talked yesterday. "She got this big smile on her face."

After church, the siblings took Mom out for lunch: biscuits and gravy. They must have gone back to Bob Evans. Mom's a one-note kind of person, at least one note at a time, especially when it comes to food. She's not adventurous at all, but she does get some strange cravings. Dark chocolate-covered peanuts are mundane compared to the usual. She is a junk food junkie and I think it's all the preservatives that are keeping her alive despite intestinal resectioning and removal, monthly blood transfusions and B12 shots, colon cancer, and numerous surgeries. And she's turning that dog, Dink, her baby, a little Chihuahua, into a junk food junkie, too.

"I have a sucker and I give Dink a sucker. Whatever I eat, Dink eats, except for my pudding. I don't share my pudding."

If Dink eats as much junk food as Mom does, she'll last a long time, too. Circus peanuts, the big pinky-orange hard marshallowy kind, was the favorite for a while and now it's Dove dark chocolate candy. She goes through about a bag a day of Dove chocolate and a half bag of Tootsie Pops. Peanut brittle, Russell Stover chocolates, Bit-o-Honey miniatures and candy of every description have all made their appearance. She went on a pinwheel kick for a while. Pinwheels are graham cracker cookies with heaped high with marshmallow and covered with dark chocolate. The one thing she hasn't become tired of is chocolate pudding and she has at least one box of pudding every day. In addition to the other junk, she is now on a homemade milkshake kick, chocolate, of course.

Mom's favorite holidays are, and have always been, Easter and Halloween because of the candy. When we were all little, Mom hunted through our bags, ostensibly for anything containing needles, razors or other dangerous foreign objects, but in reality she was culling all the chocolate for herself. At Easter, she bought Cadbury cream eggs for our baskets; we each got one. She got the rest and another bag or two for herself. Her purse always smelled of Kleenex, lipstick, powder, Wrigley's gum and candy, usually butterscotch. She hasn't changed, and yet she complains that she's getting fat again. She weighs 112 pounds and looks like the running gears of a katydid.

She's beginning to remind me of Aunt Lyda, her mother's sister. Aunt Lyda was 4-feet 10 inches tall and could eat like a team of ranch hands. At least, Mom doesn't drink alcohol like Aunt Lydia did, so it's unlikely when she does end up in a nursing home or senior community she will ever get kicked out for habitual intoxication. I'm sure they'll find other reasons to let us know she is no longer welcome, like feeding Dink in the dining hall.

For all of Mom's idiosyncrasies and rough spots, she has a good heart that continues to beat to its own rhythm, probably covered in dark chocolate.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Harried, harassed and hopeful

There is nothing like an editor marking up your work to make you feel like you are a hack. I know. I just went through it again. The editor said she was impressed by my writing and that my novel wouldn't need another edit after this one. When I starting hitting comments and changes, so many changes, I began to wonder if that was her way of sugar coating the horrible truth, that I really can't write. The inevitable feelings of doubt and insecurities slammed me like Refrigerator Johnson hitting the Steelers' defensive line. I can't write. I don't know what I'm doing. How could I have missed that? And that? And that? I was only sixty pages in had over two hundred more to go. My lunch repeated on me and I ran for the bathroom. As I rifled the medicine cabinet, I kept asking myself why I had no dangerous drugs. Oh, yeah, because I wanted to be healthy and live. Cursing my lack of chemicals, I went back to work.

I almost feel sorry for all the writers I've edited. I put them through more than one or two edits, usually more than ten.

Actually, the changes weren't too bad, but they did point up a few little literary tics and habits I need keep an eye on. It took ten hours to go through everything, but it wouldn't have taken so long if I hadn't spent considerable time rewriting scenes, trimming dialogue and adding a few new scenes. There's always something I feel I could have done better. I wrote this novel ten years ago, rewrote it from scratch a couple of years ago and it finally found a publisher after being rejected twice. That's not such a bad track record and now the worst is over with. The editor assures me that I won't have to go through another edit unless I really feel the need.

Let me check. Do I really feel the need to go through this humbling experience again?

Nope. I'm good.

If I go through it one more time I'll tweak and fiddle and fret, so it's best to end things now. Like parties and relationships, it's best to know when to get out -- usually before you get kicked out.

The only thing left is to go through the galleys, take a look at the cover art and wait for the book and check. Stick a fork in me; I'm done with this one. I also have a few other projects that had to sit on the back burner while I focused on this one. I'm ready for a change. I have a whole pile of reviews to get through this weekend and I need clean clothes so I'll be shuttling between laundry and reading while I fit in a few hours of operative reports. I'll bet everyone thought I was off on a hot weekend of dating, drinks, dinner and decadent pleasure. Ha! Fooled you.

There is one other reason for my non-journal focus this weekend. We're hammering out the details of a contract for another book, nonfiction this time, that will be tied into two movies headed by two Oscar winning directors. The details are very confidential right now because there are still details to sign, seal and deliver, but putting together a complicated contract like this one takes time and intense focus, at least on my part. It's nothing new for the others involved, but I promise to reveal all when everything is in place and I can breathe again.

On another note, I want to wish all you mothers out there a very happy Mothers Day. May all your troubles be little ones that bring you flowers and chocolate.

And for all the writers, a little gift.