Month: November 2016

IS THIS WHAT YOU BARGAINED FOR?

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Questions for my Republican friends (yes—believe it or not—I do still have a few!) and other Trump supporters:

Is this really what you had in mind?  Is this what you envisioned for America?

–Putin’s puppet in the White House?

–Our government to be run like the Russian oligarchy, with DT  and his billionaire buddies raking in the spoils?  (Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave!)

–The weakening of alliances with other countries by threatening to abandon NATO and attacking other individual nations?

–Ties with neo-Nazis, the KKK, and others of that ilk?

–An administration clogged with rank amateurs in terms of governing experience?

–People in power who are on record as despising specific minority groups?

–Subtle and not-so-subtle threats against folk who refuse to make nice with your man in the WH, who will not become sycophants in praising him or printing only flattering images of him?

Is this really what you thought you were voting for?  If so congratulations.  You got it.  And in the process you have weakened democracy egregiously and you are in the process of reducing this once truly great nation to a satellite of Russia—wittingly or not.  (Again RR must be whirling in his grave!)  I prefer to think it was NOT done wittingly, for I still have hope.

But I have to tell you: it hard to hang onto that hope when we see such things as:

–a racist/misogynist running things in the White House for a President who has already announced that he will be only a part-time resident there;

–an Attorney General with a reputation of suppressing civil rights (wonder how vigorously he will pursue hate crimes?);

–a Secretary of Education who does not believe in public education (the very foundation of democracy!);

–threats against Medicare and Social Security.

Are we entering the “let them eat cake” phase of our republic?

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BATHROOM READING

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100-banned-booksWhether soaking in the tub or sitting on the “throne,” many of us find time spent in the “little room” put to better use if we have something to read while we’re at it.  (I once heard—probably read—that if you spent a mere fifteen minutes a day reading, you could read twenty books a year!)

So—like so many others—I read in the bathroom.  But, not wanting to get involved with characters and their escapades in such short spurts of time, I read things that present a whole idea in a paragraph—or less.  Well, sometimes in 2 or 3 pages— but no more.  Things like those collected lists of Harper’s Indexes or a book discussing 2,000 things that might have merited only a footnote in longer treatises.  Magazines like Readers Digest and People make perfect bathroom reading.

For the last few weeks, I have been reading 100 Banned Books by Nicholas Karolides, et. al. (Checkmark Books, 1999).  By no means a complete list of banned books, it manages to present an overview of books outlawed over time from Ovid’s poetry and The Canterbury Tales to The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird.  It would appear that, as soon as Guttenberg lifted the first works off his marvelous printing press, the thought police were out there trying to stifle his efforts.  Karolides and his collaborators have divided their selections into four categories of reasons for banning: political, religious, sexual or social.

For each title discussed, they present a summary of its content, its censorship history, and suggestions for further consideration.  Among the one hundred titles, you would immediately expect to find D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and the anonymously written Fanny Hill of the Nineteenth Century.  And you do, but there are surprises too—such as Anne Frank’s diary and William Tyndale’s translation of The New Testament.  (Tyndale was burned at the stake.  In the Sixteenth Century, those thought police took their work very seriously.)

Most of those advocating censorship do so from an arrogant assumption that only a few people should be permitted to pass judgment on what the rest of us may read.  Of course their battleground of choice is the world of education—English classes in particular, from middle school right on up to university classrooms.  There is little consistency in the final decisions on whether given works remain in school curricula.

Personal note:  In my first year of teaching I ran smack dab into this issue.  Teaching American literature to 11th graders, I gave students a two-page, single-spaced list of books from which to choose for individual book reports.  One parent—one!—called the principal to object vehemently to the inclusion of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  I took exception, of course, but my principal suggested that the way to avoid a confrontation was to give students a list of authors, for most parents, often as not, would not recognize authors.  He was right.  But really—The Grapes of Wrath???

ALVIN TOFFLER’S “THE THIRD WAVE”

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In the 1970s, Alvin Toffler wrote the best-selling book Future Shock.  He followed it up in the early 80s with The Third Wave which I finished re-reading a couple of weeks ago.  Thirty-five years later, the book holds up quite well. [I thought it could do with some examples and anecdotes to flesh out some of his ideas, but as is, the book is over 400 pages long.]  This time around, I found it quite interesting to see if his prognostications for the future were even beginning to play out.  I think the world is not moving as fast as Mr. Toffler had thought it would (though, to be honest, he did not set time frames).  I also found it extremely interesting—and apropos—in light of recent political rhetoric.

For Toffler, the First Wave occurred when humans became food producers rather than food gatherers.  A settled, agricultural way of life revolved around the home with family units producing and consuming such things as they needed to survive and make life easier and more comfortable.  Anything extra, they sold in local markets.  This was the prevailing way of life all over the world for not just centuries, but for millennia.  Political organization—such as it was—tended to be patriarchal (despite an occasional female leader) and structured along a well-defined hierarchy that was, nevertheless, rather remote from most of the people.

The Second Wave (Toffler always capitalizes these terms) came with the industrial revolution and brought with it tremendous upheavals in society as populations were forced to move from the country to the city for viable livelihoods.  Their jobs required more structured (restrictive?) ways of doing things to ensure that standards were met.  This, of course, brought changes in social institutions, especially in government and education, which were expected to serve the needs of the new structures not only for the workplace but for most social interactions.  This period lasted for a few hundred years and Toffler argued in the early 80s that we were in transition from that age to the next.  We still are, for such changes literally take generations to achieve.

The Third Wave arrived with incredible advances in technology—particularly those dealing with communication.  The book was written before the advent of Facebook and Twitter and all those other instruments that allow us to communicate with others (after a fashion) while never encountering them in person.  Third Wave people are not as tied to the workplace as in previous times—they can live farther and farther from actual job locations—hence, the flood of Americans who have escaped to the suburbs and beyond.  Toffler sees the attendant changes in lifestyle as requiring new thinking about the institutions of government and education that were once designed to further the causes of the Second Wave.  He also suggests that these changes bring a degree of anxiety that have not been known before, and that many people keep looking to a past that no longer exists for guidance in choosing leaders for this new age.

His most profound points (for me) have to do with how external aspects of life have influenced how we think and how we form communities, large and small—our individual and collective personalities, if you will.  I found the book just as interesting this time as I did way back when (though I would still argue with him about a few of his conclusions!).

CHRISTMAS JOY (re-reissue)

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Christmas JoySeveral years ago, when I had already written three full-length novels (c. 70,000 words each) for Kensington’s Zebra imprint, John Scognamiglio, my editor, called me and asked if I’d consider writing a novella (c. 30,000 words) for an anthology he was putting together.  Well, to be honest, I’d written only one novella before, but I blithely said, “Sure.  I can do that.”  Then he dropped the bombshell on me: it had to include a kitten—because “kittens sell.”

I know it is rather politically incorrect these days (the PETA people will hate me), but I am not much of an animal person—and, if I were, cats would not be my pet of choice.  Nevertheless, I had made a commitment.  So, I went out and bought a book on kittens and diligently picked the brains of my cat-loving friends (thanks, Mary and Nancy!), and I wrote the story “Christmas Joy.”  The writing went smoothly, despite my trepidations about the subject matter.  It is a Regency romance, of course, in which a kitten helps to heal a child traumatized by her mother’s death and incidentally brings romance to Joy’s widowed father.

The anthology came out in time for the Christmas market in 2001 and was later translated into German.  (Apparently kittens sell in Germany, too.)  A couple of years ago, Kensington reissued the story in a slim volume and eBook on its own.  Again this year, they are offering it as an eBook for $.99.  Ninety-nine cents!  Where else are you likely to get a couple of hours of entertainment for less than a dollar?

PTSD—DEPRESSION—SUICIDE

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You know how Facebook always asks “What’s on your mind?”

Well, I’ll tell you what is on my mind:

SUICIDE.

It has been on my mind for weeks.

No, not in the way you might think.

In July, I lost a very dear friend to suicide.

Marilee Swirczek was the founder and the guiding light of my writing group, Lone Mountain Writers in Carson City, Nevada.  She was a terrific teacher and loved the academic world, but beyond that she had a strong sense of duty to the community at large.  Besides spearheading the “Always Lost” tribute to military men and women lost in the Afghan-Iraq wars, she wrote op-ed pieces for the local newspaper.  She also wrote some very moving poetry.  As a teacher, as a writer, as a friend, Marilee always encouraged and inspired others to exceed their expectation of themselves.

But in the last months of her life, she fell into a deep depression and could not seem to pull herself out of it, despite consulting all the usual sources for physical and emotional help. The truth is she suffered PTSD from events dating back to long before she came to Carson City and made a new life for herself.

You see, it is not only veterans who suffer PTSD.

And those who suffer it are NOT weak people.

I think they are often people who do more and who care more than the rest of us.  But I have to tell you: when Donald Trump made his crass statement about soldiers who suffer PTSD being “weak,” I was just furious.  As Americans we owe it to our returning soldiers (from any conflict!) to try to understand what they are going through.  Depression is an insidious disease.

Marilee’s daughter, Stephanie Swart, wrote a beautiful op-ed piece, “For Mom” in the Sept. 10 edition of the Nevada Appeal about her mother’s battle with depression.  Google it.  It is well written and contains a very helpful list of symptoms of depression and what others can do to help those suffering.

We lose 22 veterans every day to suicide.  (That is a group only slightly smaller than the size of one of my English classes!)  That number—22/day—is appalling, but suicide affects many others in our society as well. It behooves all of us to aware!  Read Stephanie’s article!