Thursday, January 03, 2013

Are You a Real Writer?

I've been a writer for decades, quite a few decades, but one person kept telling me that no matter how much I published, how much I wrote, I wasn't a REAL writer because I didn't have my name on the spine of a novel. The 15 anthologies didn't count and neither did the hundreds, even thousands, of articles I had written. Not even the shelves of journals I had been writing for decades counted as me being a writer. None of the speeches and PR work I'd done counted as writing and certainly not the stories and books I'd written as a child when I dreamed of being a writer.

I should thank the person who kept upping the stakes because out of need to prove myself a REAL writer I wrote more stories for more anthologies and several books, the first of which was picked up by a publisher and made it to the book shelves with my name on the spine. I have since ended my contract with the publisher and am getting ready to self-publish the book (with appropriate additions) and written and published another novel, the sequel of which comes out this year -- at last. I also have several other books nearly ready to publish that will be released one at a time this year to help raise my author profile, but . . .

I have always been a writer since I picked up that pencil and wrote my first book as a child of 8 about a girl who is lost in the jungles in Central America and stumbles into a lost city. I was a writer every time I penned a story or wrote an essay that was published or won awards, and there are quite a few of those. Mom kept them all.

So, what has me going back over this old chestnut? An article by Kristen Lamb: Lies That Can Poison Your Dreams: Don't Eat the Butt. It's a funny article, but it's also very serious about writing and what being a writer means, as well as when you have the right to call yourself a writer.

I am always reminded of Emily Dickinson who never published a poem during her lifetime. She wrote poetry all her life and kept them from view in a trunk in the attic of her home. She also carried on a tremendous correspondence and critiqued other poets' work. She was a poet, not after she died and her work was found and published, but when she put pen to the paper and wrote the first words that became a poem.

There is no doubt that my great great grandmother Amanda was a writer, though she never had anything published. She too carried on a large correspondence and bred in her children the desire to be more than immigrant farmers from eastern Europe and end up breeding more farmers and food animals. We need farmers, but we also need dreamers and writers and Amanda was both. I wrote about Amanda a very long time ago. I wrote about the letter I was given that sparked the essay that was published in A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Families. The essay was originally called Anna's Seeds but was changed to Amanda's Seeds for publication -- the third time.

Colleen Sell, the editor of the Cup of Comfort series, read the essay I sent her many years ago and she kept it because she knew there would come a time when the right book would come together. Colleen wanted the essay to be featured in a different anthology than the one I submitted the essay for: A Cup of Comfort for Writers. She finally found a place for it and contacted me for permission to use the essay. I say yes, of course. I was a writer even before the essay's inclusion in the anthology.

I am a real writer. Every time I put fingers to keyboard or pen/pencil to paper and write, I am a real writer. I make no apologies for my dreams or for the results of my dreams, most of which can be found in the Library of Congress. I need never look the person in the eye who kept raising the bar and challenged me to prove myself. I need never have listened to her, but I did and the results are there for everyone to read, in anthologies, novels, and magazines . . . and here on Red Room. I am a real writer and I have been for nearly 50 years, ever since I picked up a pencil and wrote a story about a girl lost in the jungle.

J M Cornwell, Writer

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

We Are What We Eat

The first new year's resolution on most people's lists is lose weight. James Strauss made a connection between the growing problem of obesity in the United States and the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in the food chain. I don't know why no one else has asked that question, but it is a good one.

A quick Google search provided me with some interesting information. Enhancing animal and poultry farms with growth hormones has been going on since the 1960s and factory farming really took off about the 1980s to become a widespread business, pushing out generations of farmers that worked the same land for decades, and even a couple of centuries in some cases. Fewer animals fed growth hormones to get the most meat, dairy products, eggs, and poultry out of the fewest animals. It sounds like a good idea unless you begin to connect the dots. Add antibiotics to the mix and the growth of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, like MRSA and MSSA, and a picture begins to form that no one, except James Strauss on one of his rants this morning, seems to have seen.

MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and MSSA (Methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus) are of nearly epidemic proportions in the U.S. and in the world, and no one is immune. Once these bacteria get into your system, treating the disease assumes the proportions of stopping a wildfire with bucket and shovel. And these are just two of the super bugs that have been spawned in recent decades.

I have read that these bugs and bugs like them are the result of the indiscriminate use of antibiotics. I think the problem goes deeper, right back to our food sources. Evidently, Europeans feel the same way because they have banned the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in food animals, but what about the effect on humans.

According to the studies I read this morning -- and I didn't get to all of them, there are just too many -- the amount of hormones and antibiotics remaining in tissue after it has been processed is negligible. First, I'd like to know what constitutes a negligible amount and, secondly, I want to know if there have been any studies connecting hormones to the current problem of obesity in humans.

I have seen photos of dairy cows with massive udders and pigs, chicken, beef, and lamb twice and even 3x the size of the same types of animals just a few decades ago. The animals are bigger and have more meat on their bones, and a considerable amount of fat. The animals eat less but their bodies grow and fill out faster, which means less money in feed for more meat on the hoof. That must make those corporate farming bean counters very happy. Unfortunately, it also seems to have a direct effect on humans.

Haven't you see children at the age of 5 or 6 that are bigger than 10- and 12-year-olds 30 or 40 years ago? I have, and it's frightening. More and more people point to sedentary lifestyles and eating more fast food, but I'm beginning to see a very different picture emerging. Sometimes it takes just one question in the right place to set the wheels in motion.

What I see is factory farmed animals and the eggs and dairy products from factory farmed animals full of growth hormones at the heart of the obesity problem facing most Americans. Some people seem to be more resistant to the growth hormones, but there are other additives in their causing equal problems, additives like steroids. Ever hear of 'roid rage? I'll bet there is a connection between steroid use in factory farming and the increase of violence and road rage in the past 30 or so years.

I eat less now than I ever have and weigh more than I ever have. I don't think it's the yo-yo diet syndrome, although I have been down that road a few times. I mostly eat organic, but spent too many years eating the same things everyone else eats, and I didn't spend a lot of money on fast food. Once upon a time, I ate more sugar, more fat, and a considerable amount of food, but I stayed in the plump region. Now I eat less and eat as healthy as my budget allows, but I keep gaining weight. It's not about how much I'm eating but what I'm eating, and the damage done to my body by factory farmed food. The weight increase has become worse in the past 20-30 years than it ever has been before, and I didn't have a weight problem until then. (I don't count baby weight as the problem I'm currently struggling with.)

It all goes back to one maxim. We are what we eat.

Look closer and more problems begin to shake out. The increase of autism, immune deficiency disorders, multiple sclerosis (MS), fibromyalgia, lupus, etc. Chronic diseases that were statistically rare in the population now affect more and more people every year. Add to that, the over use of antibiotics and the increase of super bugs and we probably need look no farther than the factory farms that produce the food we eat for the root cause of most of our modern ills.

We can give up eating fast food, go vegetarian, work out like we're planning to compete in bodybuilding competitions, and eat only organic, but the damage has already been done. It may take another generation before the tide is turned and the damage begins to heal.

Factory farms are profitable, but we were all healthier when our food came from family farms and not corporate farms focusing on making more money. I'm not saying that farms shouldn't be profitable. What I am saying is that profit should not be the only reason for a farm to exist. We need to ban the use of growth hormones, steroids, and antibiotics in the food chain and get back to the basics. Corporate farms may go the way of the dodo, and good riddance, but at least we won't be poisoning the well any more.

We are what we eat.

Think about it.