Durn Politikin’

Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past Tuesday morning a lady came to the door and asked for me by name, so I said “This is Me.”

“You’re voting straight Democrat in this election, right?”

“Nope.”

“You mean you’re voting for the Republicans?”  She sounded aghast.

“Yep.”

“Well, go blow it then,” she said in disgust, walking away.

I had to laugh.

Edmund Burke (1729-1792) once wrote about conciliation with America, “Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together.”

Thing is, we gave ’em a chance. We would have given ’em a couple of more, except the last two years have been close to devastating for too many people. All those bail-outs. Banks didn’t go under but they certainly weren’t giving out any loans where people needed them either. The banks were bailed out of desperate times, but turned a deaf ear to people who were living the desperate times.

If Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae had been allowed to break … then and only then could there have been a possibility of fixing something. Because they are still floundering (yes, that’s a flat fish flapping around on the dock before it dies from lack of water). I’ve checked with the Houston Housing Authority, the Harris County Housing Authority, and several others, the waiting list for available housing paid with government assistance is closed with no possibility of filling out paperwork, getting in line, nothing. What happens to people who lose their house to foreclosure?

Now, I’m not sold on the Republicans doing anything amazing. Call me a skeptic, I’m not thrilled about this election. From where I stand what I see of Democrat or Republican is – they’re like two sides of the same plug nickel. They get up there to Washington and pass a bill or two, maybe three, and they get fat, either in the wallet or literally. Seems to me very few actually communicate well with their constituents. Maybe I’m wrong. But I watched the town meetings where the state representatives tried to sell the health-care agenda. I don’t think any of them knew what the bill was about. Few could address specifics, and those didn’t know much of what the bill included. Made most people furious is what I saw.

Here’s what I would say, if I could.

First. What we want is for our roads to be re-poured, for crumbling bridges to be rebuilt, for those who can’t find work to be able to work rebuilding America’s infrastructure. This would be a good job for our military service people coming home to NO jobs and facing homelessness. Shame on us. Those who volunteered to go over and fight a war or to keep peace to no avail and then come home to – what? No wonder so many recruiters are committing suicide. Shame on us.

Second. What we want is the same insurance that you have. That’s right. It’s real simple. We want your medical insurance.

Third. We want you to finally do something about term limitations. We think six years is plenty of time to change the world. You have a lot of power at your fingertips. Show up to vote, for every bill. And vote for term limitations.

Here’s another quote from Edmund Burke. “Society is indeed a contract …l it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born.”

I usually try to stay out of the political discussion. I’m just not that serious about party politics. I don’t mind others being serious about it. All this has impact on how we live and function daily. When politics collide with everyone around me is when I have to speak up. Even if I don’t really want to.

Edmund Burke is attributed with saying, “It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph.”

Letting Go Again

Side mirror with warning legend
Side mirror with warning legend (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just finished a heated exchange with my daughter. We’ve been over this ground before. It isn’t easy to let go of a child at any time, but it is worse to say goodbye after an argument.

The same child who would copy everything I ever did, from reading her books with me at night, to having tea with me in the morning (she had her own teacup), to checking with me about where I was and what I was doing, this same child wants me to stop putting up roadblocks every time she wants to go away. She’s an adult.

So let her go.

This morning’s heated exchange began after my daughter declared her intention to drive across Texas for a job interview at a distant city’s school district for a temporary position. I spent some years working in a public school district and know from experience that they are always desperate for warm bodies who know how to read and write, and more so for a body with a college degree in a biology and chemistry.

My thoughts out-loud, which is always a mistake, was “why are you driving clear across Texas on a rainy day to interview with someone desperate to have you in the first place?”

Never speak to the girl-child without a well-thought-out, well-rehearsed, written dissertation beforehand should be posted all over the house for me and me alone. She listens to her father.

This morning she didn’t explode right off. No. It was more of a quick boil and spill-over into – “You don’t want me to ever leave! You want to keep me here in this prison (meaning our house) forever!”

“No,” I said. “I do want you to leave. I’m looking forward to you moving out. We’ll have more room …”

“You want me to go! You don’t want me here?” Tears.

How did that happen?

Ten minutes after she left she called and said something fell off a freeway sign and sheared off her side view mirror. She pulled off the road and examined the spot the mirror had been. Only a chip out of a rubber seal besides the blank spot where the mirror had been. I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. A few inches to the right and whatever took off her mirror would have landed where she was seated.

She made there. Her interview is tomorrow. I have no doubt she will be asked back.

The whole idea of letting a child go, whether the first five steps across the living room at ten months old, the first day of kindergarten, the first solo drive at sixteen, or the first  time you drive away leaving your child at college, it doesn’t get easier. It never gets easier.

I’m sorry she and I parted with tears and words we probably didn’t mean to say in such and such a way. But I’m thankful she made it there fine.

A wise woman once told me that worrying has its place but don’t count on the children doing what you expect them to do all of the time. God’s plan for my children will not necessarily be the same as my plan for my children.

And as much as it hurts to say it, I’m thankful my daughter doesn’t need me.  I’m thankful that she is a great young lady with a fine brain and a rocking sense of humor. It’s just that I have to keep telling myself to stand back, hands off, let her make her own mistakes, let her fall a few times. She’ll always be my daughter and I’ll always be her mother. That’s all that really matters now, I guess.

And I must be reminded to let go, again.

Book Friends

English: Open book icon
English: Open book icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s funny how some books feel like old friends. It seems I have a lot of them. Madeleine L’Engle‘s first book of her Crosswicks Journal, A Circle of Quiet, is such a book. In it the author reveals so much of herself, both good and bad, that I felt I had met someone I could have spent a lovely afternoon with, walking in the woods, sitting by the stream, retracing foible life in the quiet stillness of the sun-kissed woods.

While I’ve been known to throw a book in the waste bin if, in my opinion, it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, most books I purchase stay in my house a short while and then are moved on to other homes. The best ones are given away. I have been known to sell some good ones to the half-price shop. But that isn’t often, and only because I don’t know who to give them to. The best of the best of what I read remain on my shelf. Those are my friends, the ones I plan to read again and again.

Thing is, I can’t keep a copy of A Circle of Quiet. It keeps slipping off into a friend’s hands and more often than not, time goes by and I know I must buy it again. They are becoming thin on the ground, these good little books. The last one was part of the set but I might be able to find it on Amazon again. They’ve been out of print for so many years.

Another lovely read is Rosamund Pilchner’s The Blue Room. I’ve got my copy back again after lending it out. The stories are sweet but not too. A good book of short stories. None of them end in violence or death. Despite the author’s best-sellers, I wonder if such a book would have ever found a publisher these days. It’s so nice, no death, no violent or shocking endings. It’s got two marks against it. The niceness and it’s short stories. I doubt it would be published today. I really do.

My mother had many book friends. She had been collecting all her books for so many years because there was no library near enough for her to be able to use. Her house was impacted with books. Unfortunately when my father passed away suddenly three years ago, she had to be uprooted and she lost many of her books. It was a completely tragic time for her.

I had to move her from her five-bedroom house to a small one bedroom apartment. She was able to squeeze in many of her cherished things but not many of her books made that transition. To assuage her book-friend loss I now take her to the library every two weeks. At eighty-five my mother reads everything. Her two favorite authors at this moment are Deborah Crombie and John Gresham. I only wish those two had more books at my mother’s library.

Her love of books rubbed off. I hope when I’m her age I have as many beloved book friends as she has.

Odd bits of Texas History: The Last of the Karankawans

English: Historical Marker for a Karankawa ind...
English: Historical Marker for a Karankawa indian campsite and burial ground located in Jamaica Beach, Texas on Galveston Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1819, Jane Long followed her husband James to the wild frontier of Texas. Her husband was always on some mission of one kind or another. He kept leaving Jane behind, first he left her in Mississippi to go to Texas to fight the Spanish, then left her to go to Galveston to recruit the pirate Lafitte, and then he went to Mexico to fight the Mexicans. The Mexicans caught and killed him.

 

I don’t know which is worse the part about James’ propensity for leaving his wife or the part about Jane following him. I think when he went to Mexico the only reason she didn’t follow him is because she was so pregnant. It would be one thing if he left her in a nice, cozy place but no, he left her in a mud “fort” on Bolivar Peninsula which is across the bay from Galveston.  There are no trees there hence the mud.

 

That would have been where I drew the line and would have gone home to mama, but not Jane. This woman was plucky, gotta hand it to her.

 

The Karankawan Indians were the true natives of South Texas. Supposedly they used smeared shark liver oil or alligator fat to ward off mosquitoes. So not only did they smell bad, but they were reputed cannibals.  The important thing to note they didn’t just snack on just anybody. They only ate parts of their conquered enemy. In so doing they were conquering them on the outside and the inside. Something to think about.

 

Their blood-thirsty reputation didn’t win them any awards with the neighbors. So in the winter of 1821 when Jane Long was cast alone on the narrow strip of land called Bolivar with crashing waves on one side and Karankawa Indians on the other side, she didn’t know what to do. The one time she saw the Indians crossing the bay in canoes coming towards them, she strung up her red underwear as a flag and loaded her only cannon ball in their canon and shot it. The Karankawans turned back.

 

The weather grew more dire. Jane, her children and Kian (her maid or servant or slave, history is unclear) had nothing. They were starving. Cold weather gave way to freezing weather. Kian gathered the fish as they froze and rose to the top and floated ashore. They ate what they could.

 

Winter grew even more frigid until the bay froze over. They just knew the Karankawa would cross the water, on foot, and eat them. But they didn’t. Probably because the Karankawa were probably freezing, too. Some passing immigrants saw Jane’s fort, came to investigate and found the women and children. They were rescued.

 

The Karankawa’s reputation continued to spiral downward with more and more immigrants crossing into Texas. By 1850 the Karankawa were almost non-existent. But because of their reputation Stephen F. Austin decided they needed to be annihilated. In 1858 a band of Texans led by Juan Cortino killed the last one. Or did he?

 

Another theory is that there was one Karankawa left from that expedition and he disappeared but a Texas Ranger chased him down and killed him a few years later.

 

Jane Long went on to buy an Inn and then a plantation where she lived during the civil war. She is called the “Mother of Texas” and Stephen F. Austin is called the “Father of Texas”. Both didn’t like the Karankawa.

 

About Language

Madeleine L'Engle
Madeleine L’Engle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Madeleine L’Engle wrote in Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art, that “We cannot Name or be Named without language. If our vocabulary dwindles to a few shopworn words, we are setting ourselves up for takeover by a dictator. When language becomes exhausted, our freedom dwindles – we cannot think; we do not recognize danger; injustice strikes us as no more than ‘the way things are’.”

My stints as long-term English high school substitute would last a semester at a time. I had been doing this since my own children began high school. When my youngest child graduated, and I was contemplating my return the following fall, and the other English department teachers were begging me please, I realized I couldn’t. I had to say enough was enough.

I had a hundred and fifty-six students. The majority were great. But my last class of the day got to me. Too many times the police would come for one or two and take them out in handcuffs, because they had been reported abusing drugs on campus or worse. I called them my “Welcome Back Kotter” class and they didn’t know what I was talking about. (Look it up!)

What struck me the most, I think, was their lack of language. These students grew up in affluent neighborhoods, had all they needed, never went hungry but when anger got the best of them they couldn’t come up with better adjectives than the over-used oldies everyone knows. These unacceptable words punctuated their every other sentence. It’s all they had for adjectives.

I even gave them lists of alternatives.

I handed my students tools on how to memorize grammar rules or spelling rules in order to get by with a wider range of vocabulary, but so many still couldn’t define the difference between an adverb or an adjective. I have to admit I didn’t like grammar in school either. So my attempts at making it fun fell short. Very few showed serious interest, which is normal for high-school kids. School being the waste of space between getting up and partying.

That was six years ago. Recently I saw one of the boys who was one of those removed from school. He delivered my pizza. He didn’t recognize me, and I didn’t set him straight. He was probably too high in class to be able to remember what I looked like.

I see signs in shops all over town with incorrect spelling and incorrect usage of apostrophes.

Men haircuts

We have best wing and shrimps

The English language is a morphing language. It changes. It grows. It is alive. Since educating the care-less teens is like pushing a barrow of bricks uphill. My hope is that we can better educate the adults who make signs to strive to be better. Because at least they are trying. I fully support Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson in the quest to change America’s typos. (The Great Typo Hunt) Good for them. While not quite walking on water, they are making waves.

New Things in the Yard

Male Carolina Anole with partially expanded de...
Male Carolina Anole with partially expanded dewlap. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

It isn’t news that the Mexican White Wing dove has flown its Mexican coup, probably because of the violence, and is now setting up huge colonies in the Houston area. I have just discovered an astounding fact. The white-wing dove eats the seeds of the Chinese Tallow Tree!

 

Now, it has been my contention all these years that the Tallow tree is totally worthless. Okay, save for the fact that it might be the only tree in Houston that truly turns into colors in the fall. So for all those of us native Houstonians who have bemoaned the lack of fall color in our landscape – look around at the Tallows. I just saw a purple one yesterday. They do turn purple, red, orange and yellow sometimes all at once, and on one tree. Other than that bit of something, the Tallow being a non-native to America has never contributed to the wildlife food chain. Nothing will nest in it, except a perhaps a newbie crow or some such bird who learns soon enough not to ever do that again. Brittle Sticks! But now, these new big doves eat the seeds. Nothing else eats the seeds, nothing else uses the tree, for anything.

 

It’s like a huge deal. This is big news. Big.

 

The other new thing is the brown lizards. I don’t even think they have a name. I’ve been researching them. Can’t find them. They are too new for a name, I suppose. They must have a name somewhere but not in Houston. Here in Houston we have green Anoles, we used to call them chameleons because they change color. You know the lizard they magnified in the old movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth? That’s what the Green Anole looks like. They’re cute. We have horny toads, too, though rare. Don’t laugh. They are stickery. Then we have the relatively new Japanese House Gecko, which looks nothing like the Geico gecko. These have clear skin over their stomach and you can see their insides. They chirp. They run really fast, like a roach. And the fact that they come out at night and crawl across the porch ceiling doesn’t help their image. They came over on cargo ships like many of our non-natives species come, whether intentionally or not. Obviously lizards were not an intentional shipment.

 

The new brown lizards are small, fast and hang out in the heat of the day like a desert creature might. Their colors range from dark to light and they have some light markings. The distinguishable coloration is the light strip down a bony ridge of a backbone. Unlike the Green Anole, their mouth is blunt tipped. I haven’t seen any leave part of their tail behind when chased like the Green Anole does.

 

I wonder what the brown lizard’s impact will be on the biodiversity of my yard. Is it a predator of insects like the other lizards or is it a predator of other lizards? I have seen a decline in the Anole population but that can be due to the hugely wet summer and then the long dry spell we are experiencing now. Will the brown lizard wreak havoc on the toad population? I haven’t seen many toads at all. Will the brown lizard ever receive a name? Has anyone else seen them?

 

And will the abundant and voracious white-wing dove eat the brown lizard? I’ll just have to watch to find out.

 

One Question in The Beginning

English: Herman Melville in 1860.
English: Herman Melville in 1860. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The number one question the writer of fiction asks when beginning a new work is “What if?” It’s a good question. But what about the other questions your English teacher taught you? What about Who? When? Where? Why?

Of course those questions are the nexus to the main question asked when beginning a work of fiction, but I think asking “What if?” is the beginning. For example: What if the captain of a ship decided that the cause of all his troubles lay in one single fish (albeit a mammal in this case.) I think that was what Herman Melville must have wondered as he began Moby Dick. The who came next, “Call me Ismael”, the where was a given, the why is what the novel explores, but the when isn’t important. Why? Because the book addresses the universality of the human condition and the when becomes “now, any time, whenever”.

Another example: What if the writer asked what if there was woman who wasn’t too happy in her marriage to a missionary and they had several children and were roughing it in Africa when a civil war broke out? That might be how the author of Poisonwood Bible began or it might be the same question I would have if I were going to write about my grandparents who were missionaries in Africa.

Every person has a novel inside. Because every person has asked at one time or another the What if question about something. Just the other day I was reading a local story about the man executed for burning his children to death in a house fire. The investigation into that incident was revisited after the execution and is presently ongoing with his guilt called into question instead of his innocence. Not just his guilt but everything else about the fire is being re-investigated. My thought was “What if he was innocent? What if he confessed to protect someone else? What if the fire wasn’t even arson?” There’s a non-fiction novel in those questions.

Whenever I confess to someone that I’m a writer, I often get this response. “I have a great idea for a novel. When can we get together? You can write it for me.” I somehow get out of this by saying that I’ve got too many ideas for my own novels to get them all written in a lifetime. But,” I add, “I do know a ghostwriter who would love to write your novel. That’s how she makes a good living.” I don’t use those words but in a kinder, gentler way the meaning is there. Interest is lost and the subject is changed.

We begin at the beginning with the initial important question when writing fiction but I end this with the caveat that there are so many elements to writing nothing can be boiled down to this or that one thing.

Serial Peeping

English: A view of the break-action of a typic...
English: A view of the break-action of a typical double-barrelled shotgun, with the action open and the extractor visible. The opening lever and the safety catch can also be clearly seen. Photo taken by Commander Zulu, April 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While reading “The Anatomy of Motive” by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker I can’t help but wonder what ever happened to the “peeping tom” from my old neighborhood.

Back in the seventies, I lived in a one-bedroom duplex with three other girls on the East End. I am modest to a fault but in those days probably more so because I remember getting dressed in the bathroom. So I don’t believe I was ever a victim in this story. The duplex was tight living quarters for four girls. I slept on a mattress in the living room. The kitchen had a stove and a refrigerator. The stove had two burners that worked. I remember making my specialty – bean stew – in a crock-pot. The only reason I remember the incident of the bean soup is because we all got sick from it. Sorry, Roomies.

Late one night, one of my roommates slunk into the living room and turned off the light. “Becky,” she whispered. “I just saw a shadow on the curtain.” The other roommates were out and the two of us were alone. I glanced out the curtains and didn’t see anything. She was clutching her throat, a gesture I’d seen her do before when she was truly frightened.

I tried to reassure her. “It’s just someone trying to scare us.”

“No, I’ve seen the shadow before. But this time, I could see more. Someone was watching me undress.”

When the other roommates returned we discussed all of our options. In the seventies in Houston, calling the police would have resulted first, in the policeman calling us “little ladies” in as condescending a manner as possible, and secondly, our never actually seeing a result, a report, a follow-up, nothing. Instead, we called three guy friends who lived a street over, told them there was a “peeping tom”.

They hatched a plan that involved sitting in the bushes outside our window with a flashlight and a double-barreled shotgun.

The next evening the four of us girls couldn’t decide if we wanted to put extra curtains up or dress with the lights off when suddenly, there was a shout, and a KA-BOOM!

Outside, one of our guy friends was sitting on the stoop, with his head in his hands. He told us what had happened. The three of them were in the bushes well hidden in shadow when they saw a fourth guy stealthily slip up to the window and stretch to look. Our guy friend pointed the flashlight at the stranger’s head. The peeper turned. The guy holding the gun yelled, and apparently was so startled he pulled the trigger. Luckily, the shotgun was pointed at the sky.

The peeper took off down the street in the dark, the rest of our “watchers” after him. The shooter, our friend told us, was startled because the peeper was someone we all knew, from church.

The end of the incident went like this. They guys caught the peeper when he tripped on some railroad tracks. They took him to the elders of the church who told him if he ever peeped again they would have to ask him to leave the church, and it would be their civic duty to report him to the police.

The peeper moved away. That might be an unsatisfactory end of the story, but it wasn’t the end. The end being far more unsatisfactory.

A few years later. Still the Seventies. Same neighborhood. I was living in a little bungalow next door to another friend. Her’s was a large house converted into four apartments. She lived in the downstairs left corner apartment.  The peeper, for that is how I thought of him, lived above her. One evening while relaxed in her tub, she was staring at the ceiling and saw a board slide across what she had thought was an old hole. She quickly dressed and called the police.

The police came but told her that they couldn’t do anything because the “peeper” wouldn’t answer his door. She would have to come downtown to fill out an incidence report. She did. They told her that because he hadn’t touched her, they couldn’t do anything.

A few weeks later, the girl in the apartment across the hall from the peeper, was brushing her hair and saw a movement behind her in the mirror and turns. The peeper had scaled a pole and was looking in her window.

Police said they couldn’t do anything.

The peeper moved away. All the secret passageways he had created in his old apartment included not only the crawl space between floors but holes in walls and floors of the attic.

We thought that was the end. That wasn’t the end.

Fast forward to the Eighties. I was attending a different church and was having a church spaghetti dinner at my apartment on the other side of town. It was Houston,  a big town. Guess who shows up? I told the peeper if I ever caught a hint of a breath of his presence in or around that church or anyone in that church I would reveal all.

So while reading “The Anatomy of Motive” where the writer talks about the “peeping tom” being one of the early steps of a downward progression into serial rape, I wonder about the peeper I knew. Where is he now?

And while I haven’t seen anything of him in these past twenty years I wonder, has he seen me?

Button

So, you know now who to call if YOU loose a bu...
So, you know now who to call if YOU loose a button 😉 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

It’s hard to stop and post something but I’m committed to writing something new every day. It isn’t hard to write something new, it’s hard to stop and sit down. My life is complicated. I don’t know anyone whose life is not complicated.

 

Having a place to park and post is fascinating, though. Throughout my day I’m tempted to jot notes about what I’m going to post, but I don’t because I think it would sound self-conscious, self-absorbed. My blog is about the writing life, not me, so I don’t think I’ll walk around making a note every time I have a sudden “light-bulb” moment. I’m certain everyone has those moments, and am equally certain mine aren’t so brilliant as all that.

 

I think it is important though to encourage other writers to “park it” and write. I’ve heard some conference speakers use the button analogy. They hold up a large button and say, “this is what I have at my computer. I means butt on chair.” Cute. But go for it, anyway. Just ten words a day amounts to a lot after a while. It doesn’t matter what words. Any words. Stupid words, ridiculous words. Who’s looking? After some time you could go back and look over your “words” and maybe combine, delete, refine. Pretty soon you’d have a nice bit of writing under your “belt”.  You could even write a book.

 

Button.

 

About Writing

English: Stephen King's House in Bangor, Maine
English: Stephen King’s House in Bangor, Maine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Actually, I should post something about what my blog is all about.

I write. Today my blog is about success with writing. Did I say success? What exactly is that? What success have I had? I’ve had a short story published. I’ve had poetry published. I’ve had newsletter articles, a small story published in a children’s magazine, my artwork published in small and large-scale venues.

However, I measure my success with whether or not my novels have been published or not and they have not been. So I do not consider myself a true success. And even if I have one published, will I be a success if the others are not? Every day I fight the voices real and imagined that harp at me. Why don’t you give up? Don’t worry about it, just stop writing. Give up. Give up. Give up.

No, it isn’t for me to give up. True writers must never give up. Look to those who have gone before, the success stories of writers. Were they successful when trying to publish their manuscripts at first? No. Sometimes it took many years and reams of rejections.

Jack London’s first story was rejected over 500 times.

Stephen King’s novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times, so he threw it in the trash.

27 publishers turned down Dr. Seuss’s first book.

Charles Schultz was turned down for a job by Walt Disney. Schultz later created Peanuts which is still syndicated and in most major newspapers in the USA are using repeats. Because he doesn’t draw them anymore. He’s dead.

So this I say to you who write. True writers must repeat daily that it isn’t the most talented of writers who have novels published. It is the most persistent.

"Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style." (Matthew Arnold)

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