Saturday, September 30, 2017

Button Up!

Too dressed up (Thanks, Mom)
As far back as I can remember, I’ve worn shirts.  Not blouses, not tee shirt, shirts.  As the youngest and only girl, I was sometimes dressed in my brother’s hand-me-downs, paired with what we then called dungarees, and I preferred them to the fussy clothes my mother would lovingly sew for me. I eschewed tiny buttons, ruffles, and (horrors) crinolines.

It is no wonder then, that now that I am out of the workplace where I once sported suits (remember Dress for Success?), silky blouses with bows at the neck (the ’80, yeah), pumps, pantyhose, dresses and skirts, I now stick to comfortable shirts.  Now that I am either retired, or part of the gig economy, (depending on how you look at it), I work at home, in the comfort of my own office – dressed in shirts.

Me, happy in a paisley shirt!
My collection is made up of either shirts I’ve gotten for free, for instance from my significant other, my younger daughter’s high school boyfriend (now middle-aged), my dead brother, or from finds at second-hand shops.  I will admit to once or twice finding a fabulous shirt at retail, but that was when I was working and could easily afford a $20 shirt.  Now my limit is $5 a pop and the thrill of the hunt is part of the fun.

I do have a few shirts made for women, but I avoid those that are weird, with oddly placed pockets, strange darts, embellished collars, or those awful tiny buttons.  Most I own are men’s shirts. I look for patterns; paisley is my favorite.  They are few and far between but I’ve hit pay dirt a time or two. I usually stay away from stripes and plaids, so that helps me narrow the field down significantly.  Solids come down to fabric.  I prefer a high proportion of cotton or linen, and any I can find on the rack that have a soft feel might persuade me.  I do have one plaid shirt I wear for my grandson who loves plaid. 

This week I looked at one of my favorite shirts as I donned it for the day.  It’s one I bought maybe 15 years ago when a local department store went out of business.  The collar is beginning to fray.  I almost panicked.  I eventually wear out all my favorite shirts and jackets at the collar and I hate it. So much so that I have a laundry basket filled with old shirts with tattered collars I keep thinking I will somehow fix.  This discovery of this newest defect told me it was time to hit Goodwill and Salvation Army.  I scored!  One paisley in a dull green/grey I wear well, a red shirt in a tiny check that just looks sharp, and one in a very soft cotton with a feather motif.  Love ‘em!

My pet peeve in men’s shirts is the permanently stiff collars and cuffs.  Why do they do that?  Ugh.  I have a few shirts like that but I don’t wear them often.  Mostly they remind me of people, so I keep them. 

So today, among the things for which I am grateful, are my shirts, garments that fit me to a T.


Monday, September 18, 2017

A brother's death

Broken Oak by Jim Cole
It's been a tough year.  I lost my brother.  Jim was my oldest brother.  Floyd, the middle brother, died some years ago and Peter, the brother closest to me in age, took himself out of the family picture as soon as he left home at 18.  So, Jim was really like my only sibling.

We were 15 years apart and different in many ways. He was an engineer and spent his career working on the early Apollo space shots and later working in high-powered jobs that took him all over the globe. I was just a writer and potter, usually just scrapping by.  He bought all the homes and toys his substantial salary would allow; I've struggled just to keep my modest home and keep my car running. He was a Republican, though not exactly a true right-winger, having eschewed religion some years ago;  I have been a liberal Democrat since attaining voting age. Yet we had one thing in common.

Jim had his photography and I had my pottery and my writing.  This bridged a significant gap in our years and lifestyles.  Jim had his photography equipment and studio; I had my pottery studio and tools.  We understood that about each other. We understood art and the need to create.

Jim's motto, if he had one, was to try to have a little fun every day.  At the end, he was having no fun and he chose to refuse treatment for his ongoing problems in April and died.  I even understand that.  He fought as long as he could but when he was done, he was done.  I suspect I will leave this life much the same way. There is something to be said for retaining control over one's death, as one has in life.

Still, it has been hard.  Jim went into the hospital for an elective surgery about a year ago.  It went all wrong and led to another, major surgery, which in turn led to a major lifestyle change for Jim.  It sapped a lot of the joy from his life. It turned him into a patient. In March, he returned to the hospital for another surgery and it all went downhill from there.  Five years ago he beat lung cancer but when he contracted hospital-acquired pneumonia in March, it was all over.

He was in and out of intensive care, had repeated procedures, and finally he just quit eating.  I had to get in his face and make sure that he understood that not eating would lead to his death.  He understood.  When his wife and I walked out of his hospital room that day, it was grim. His final words to us were, "I love you guys." The next time we saw him was in hospice.  He was unresponsive and so ravaged by the pneumonia that we had to gown up and don face masks and gloves to go into his room.  It was more than his wife could bear.  We did not go back.

It was a beautiful day at the Cape Canaveral Military Cemetery when we finally interred Jim's ashes.  They played Taps and folded a flag, presenting it to his widow.  I held her hand.

Grief is complicated.  A lot depends on one's relationship with the departed, how close it was, its quality, its essence.  Sometimes grief cuts a relationship short that is unresolved and that adds a measure of angst.  Sometimes it creates such change for the one left behind that added stress can make it intolerable.  For me, none of that is so.  I am simply without my brother.  I have his photos, and they are like part of him.  Here is one I like.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

I highly recommend this blogger:  RuthGoringBooks.com.  She is an author of high merit and worth your time.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Of Statues, Free Speech, Hate, and More

Our country is at a turning point.  This happens maybe once in a generation but the ramifications carry on for generations.  I am 66 and I believe this moment in history is more significant than any I have witnessed in my lifetime. 

I was raised in New Jersey and have lived most of my adult life in the South so I have personally seen the issues of the Civil War and slavery and the resultant white supremacy from both ends of the historical spectrum.  I am even distantly related to one person honored with a Civil War statue. My father helped liberate the camps in Germany following WWII.
 
Charlottesville revealed that the racism that has simmered just below the surface of our lives, breaking through in episodes largely ignored by whites, has come of age and the white supremacists have tossed off not only their sheets, but also any cloaking narrative, revealing pure racism, anti-Semitism, and ultimately hate.  Since Charlottesville, more who speak for these groups have vocalized repugnant ideas with enthusiasm, including vile comments about the young woman who died at the hands of one of these neo-nazi groups. 

Emboldened by comments made by an incompetent and narcissistic President, these groups have crawled out from under their rocks and made their presence known.  While thoroughly appalled at their rhetoric, their actions, their belief system, I am also partly glad they have finally revealed themselves for exactly what they are.  There is no gray area.  White privilege can no longer pretend that racial prejudice is some construct of poor people who want to be supported by the large working masses of white people.  Racial prejudice is real and exists outside of any such argument.  It is toxic.  It is reprehensible.  And it must finally be repudiated.

Facts matter.  The truth matters.  It is a fact that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery.  Maintaining it was over “states’ rights” or “economic issues” is a smokescreen.  The southern states wanted the autonomy to refuse the authority of their own federal government regarding this issue and they took up arms against it.  That is called treason, not states’ rights. 

It is a fact that white supremacy is a belief system whose ultimate goal is the separation and eradication of all non-whites from those who somehow believe they are genetically better than those with a different skin color or religion or belief system.  It is also a fact that genetically, few – if any – of us, are purely white, or purely African, or purely Irish, Italian, etc. It is a belief system that is entirely flawed.

It is also a fact that the white supremacists who marched with torches in the night, took up arms for their march in the day.  They arrived with long guns, clubs, in combat gears, and desirous of confrontation. Did the protestors who showed up to raise their voices against this group strike back? Yes, that too, is a fact.  But making the two morally equivalent shows an utter lack of rational thought.

According to witnesses at the scene, the protesters on the left only struck back to protect those being physically attacked by the white supremacists.  This is more equivalent to a bystander throwing a punch at a purse-snatcher.

There are ideals and beliefs worth standing up for, worth being willing to brave violence for.  Our service men and women do this day-in and day-out but our civilians do it, too, when they stand against repulsive beliefs and actions.  Free speech is not uttered with guns and clubs.  It may be true that we must tolerate abhorrent beliefs in others to preserve such speech for ourselves.  But there is no requirement to tolerate these beliefs in action.  We must make them as socially repugnant as they truly are and we must refuse to normalize such beliefs and actions.   The first step in this, I believe, is to remove our current President as unfit for the office he holds and disgraces.

As for the statues, they are nothing but symbols.  When more people realize they attempt to immortalize a failed attempt at treason, they will naturally be relegated to the back halls of local museums, complete with notations about their racist past. 



Monday, June 12, 2017

My love/hate affair with the phone

Back when everyone's phone attached to the wall, I refused to even have an answering machine because its existence seemed to convey the erroneous message that I would a) immediately listen to the messages and b) act on them as instructed.  I felt like it turned my phone from a convenience for me into a tool for the others in my life.

Now, of course, things have changed.  Everyone carries their phones around with them everywhere. They take them into the bathroom. They sleep with them. They text while driving! I've gotten used to seeing people in meetings with two or three phones spread out before them on the conference table, their attention flicking back and forth between them and the matters at hand.  

I just recently let go of my wired, home phone and have struggled to get a cell phone that works for me.  There's my work cell, which I'm comfortable with, of course, a nice iPhone 5s, but it's not mine. So, I signed up for the free (yes, really, actually free) service from FreedomPop but I had to buy a phone.  My word, they are spendy! I chose the cheapest and got exactly what I paid for.


I struggled for months with the phone and thought maybe if I upgraded to a  better cell plan it would be better, but no, the phone itself is a piece of crap, unable to accommodate its operating system and more than three apps. And then, there's Sprint, the line on which it operates.  I got a different phone and still got just one or two bars in my home.  Everywhere else it was fine, but not at home.  


Consternation.  So there I was with three phones, none of which were up to the job except the work phone, which I don't own. So my partner of 20+ years had a solution.  He gave me his old phone, a Galaxy4, and just got a second line on his account.  It's not entirely free, but it's cheaper than my upgraded service and it is now my own, fully operational, phone.  

I don't love my phone the way some people do, but I do rely on having some means of reliable communication.  So if you have my number, leave me a voice mail.  Maybe I'll even return it!

Monday, May 29, 2017

In Memoriam: Ronnie Young

It was the 1960s.  I was in high school.  The boy next door was handsome, kind, friendly.  Three years my senior, Ronnie was a casual friend of my brother and I doubt he ever knew of the giant crush I had on him.

His parents had died young and he was being raised by his ancient grandmother, a dour woman I did not know well.  He had no siblings.  After finishing high school, Ronnie joined the Marines and the last time I saw him he was in uniform, heading for his first deployment in Vietnam. He died there and his grandmother died shortly after.

Every year on Memorial Day I think of Ronnie because there is no one left to honor his memory.  Every year his death reminds me of the cost of war and ultimately, the cost of freedom.  Though I believed that war to be wrong, the sacrifices there were no less noble.

Ronnie never saw his 20th birthday.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

How to have a happy retirement

We've all seen the commercials, people are challenged to save, save, save for retirement.  There are dire warnings about the failure to do so.  I get it.  Really I do.

I actually did that.  I saved my little heart out.  Late to the saving and investing party, due largely to poverty wages until my middle years, I managed a tidy nest egg.  I even figured I could retire early, at 59 1/2 because my good job would provide a pension at age 62 and my two IRAs could support me until then.  I'd be OK, I thought.

Then the recession hit. I lost my job and much of my savings. What I didn't lose outright I had to live on - and pay taxes and penalties on.  Five long years later, well past my 59 1/2 target I was still working but at a job that paid half what I had made.  The future looked dim.  No pension, low wages, not even any health insurance.  How could I retire?

So I settled for "partial" retirement.  I became a consultant, working part time from home.  It wasn't great but it was a middle ground and kept me afloat.  Then the hours petered out and I began living on less and less.

Now I find myself on the brink of full retirement.  No, I still don't have a pension but what I do have is a measure of contentment.  I have launched two fully successful, independent children into adulthood.  Each has her own family now.  My house is nearly paid off and while I would love to do some renovations, I am happy enough with it as it is.  It is home.

I can sleep in if I want to in the morning, take a bath mid-day if I like. I can run to the store when it's not busy and read a book in the afternoon.  I may not be able to tour the country, go on cruises, or do some of the other things retirees are supposed to do but I can do as I like, within reason.

I've finally written a book and gotten it published.  It was hard work but I did it on my own schedule. Maybe I'll write another. Though I can no longer make pottery on the wheel, I can do a limited amount of hand-building.  I have the option of trying surgery to regain function in my arms but I may be content to leave things as they are.

I make a practice of noting things that make me happy: spending time with my family, accomplishing long-term goals like my book, indulging in reading or a favorite show, curling up inside during bad weather or taking my sandwich to the porch when a cool breeze blows.

I highly recommend starting early and saving that extra 1% but money truly isn't everything. And you can't buy contentment.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

In Defense of Stuff

Ok. I've had it with minimalism. It seems everyone is talking about getting rid of stuff, downsizing, giving away clothes and appliances and toys until they have only "what they love."  I call BS.

My old waterbed turned into a hall shelf,
filled with pots I made and other stuff
I like.


I love small kitchen appliances.  If it slices and dices, cooks or cleans, mixes or toasts, if I bought it, I want it.  I can juice a bag of oranges in five minutes, prepare a frozen pizza without heating up my kitchen, and make my own salsa without losing a finger chopping.

Like many women, I have a variety of sizes in my closet as well as some sentimental items.  I'm keeping 'em.  I'm entitled.  Someday one of my granddaughters might like to wear or make something from my old wedding dress or cuddle up to my mother's old faux fur coat.

My office has an enormous selection of pencils, pens, clips, and other stationary items.  They make me feel rich.  I love that I have filled three cubbies with things I have written.  I love my old typewriter though my electronics have replaced it functionally.  My old typing stand was given to me by an old friend, now long dead. Pry it from my cold, dead hands!

My pottery, made in the days before nerve issues disabled my arms, is the tactile evidence of a lifelong dream.  I'm keeping those pots and my tools.  I don't expect a miracle but I invested more than money in this.  I invested time and love and competence.  All things clay, stay.

I live alone in a three-bedroom house that can sleep seven.  When my daughter's young family was out on the street due to a fire, they lived with me.  My elderly mother lived here in her last years.  One daughter moved home to get another degree on the cheap.  This house has provided a roof to two homeless women in desperate need and to numerous cats and dogs - not all mine - who needed shelter.  Why would I get a tiny house after all that?

I wear the cast-off shirts from old friends and lovers and feel at home in them.  My grandchildren bring their toys here when they are no longer welcome at home. You can get rid of anything you want, but I like my stuff and I'm keeping it!

Friday, May 19, 2017

A few thoughts on traditional publishing

Now that I have turned in my page proofs for my first traditionally published book, I thought I would share with all of you some of the good and bad things I've learned.


I know most authors are self-publishing, largely due to the competitive nature of traditional publishing. I considered that for my nonfiction book as well, but because I want to get it in the hands of medical professionals, I knew it needed the gravitas of being traditionally published, preferably by a science or medical publisher. Amazingly, the second publisher I queried accepted the book and for the last couple of months, I have been immersed in the finalization of my book for publication.

When one self-publishes, one controls everything, which means one does everything from the writing to arranging for editing, to laying the book out and uploading it to wherever one has chosen. Marketing is all on the author as well. With the traditional route, some of this does not apply.

I probably spent at least one month reformatting my book. I had assumed the publisher would do that, and to some extent, they did, but I had to follow their very specific format for final submission. I hated doing it but I do believe it made my book better - with one exception. I had wanted sidebars in the first part of my book. They don't do sidebars. Oh, well.

Another assumption I made was that the publisher would take care of any illustrations needed. Wrong. That was on me, too. I had to purchase the rights as well as provide the illustrations. And then, I further assumed that limited color illustrations would be done. Wrong again. If I wanted color, I would have to foot the bill. Ditto for editing. Fortunately I had already had my book professionally edited.

I also thought there might be some back-and-forth on the content of my book. Perhaps some questions about my conclusions, etc. but there were none. It might be because I did such a superlative job of citing my sources, but I don't know that for sure.

I also had to provide a bio and pages of marketing leads. I expected this. My contract included signing away almost all rights with the exception of those to my first-born. It was a typical first contract, I believe, with royalties kicking in well after the cost of publication is covered and a percentage of future sales abroad. That said, I expect to make next to nothing on the book.

I spent hundreds of dollars and a year and a half of my life producing the book. I wore out a computer, a printer, several reams of paper, dozens of ink cartridges, and traveled to attend a conference related to my topic to conduct interviews all to the tune of another $1,000 or so. Thanks to my co-author, I did not have to pay for the academic papers I consulted. Otherwise, at $40 a pop, I'd have gone broke.

I didn't write the book for fame or fortune. I wrote it because I believe it needed to exist. I believe it will meet a critical need and serve people well. I do regret that the price - at $82 - is so high, but again, as the author, I had no input on that.

Now the key question: Would I do this again? I probably won't get the chance, but yes, if all the circumstances remain the same, I would still elect to publish traditionally. However, if my next book is a novel or something like a self-help book, I will go the self-published route. I think I might actually see some of the money from sales and now that I've gotten one book under my belt, I feel more confident in the formatting.

I don't think either way is always superior to the other. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. Traditional comes with greater status and perhaps, in some circumstances, greater promise for future endeavors, but self-publishing offers more control, autonomy, and potentially faster returns.

So, pick your poison and publish!




Wednesday, March 22, 2017

OMG I Caught the Car!

I'm no stranger to publication. I had my first work published in my high school literary magazine at age 14.  By age 18, I was working at a daily newspaper while attending college, regularly getting published.  Since then I have written all manner of work: feature stories for newspapers and magazines, grants, public relations stuff, op-eds, speeches, you name it, I've written it.

But this week I caught the car: a traditional publishing contract for my book!  I am stunned and pleased beyond words, which is ironic, but clearly not true as I am writing this now.

My book is a nonfiction work on genetics.  I am hopeful it will help the families and doctors who must deal with a certain class of disorders not well understood.  I took a year to painstakingly write this book and a science publisher picked it up this week.

I can die happy.  I won't make much money but that was never the point.  The point has always been to provide much-needed
information to those who need it.

So yay!

Monday, March 6, 2017

On Being Nasty

I am a writer, a mother, a grandmother, a feminist, an activist, a potter, a human being.  As a writer I raise my voice to support other women and other groups in need of a voice.  I am proud to be included in this anthology and it is a great read.  Give it to your daughters, your granddaughters, your husbands, and boyfriends, your mothers, and fathers. All proceeds support Planned Parenthood.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Divided States of America

There is a fundamental divide between many Americans.  This goes deeper than who is president at any time.  It goes to how we see our country; what we think it should represent; and how to accomplish much of what we want.  Since its inception, Americans have been able to navigate these stormy waters without sinking, but recent events put this in question.

On the left, Americans see a big tent welcoming those of other nationalities, gender preferences, races, and economic status. They see a strong federal government regulating industry for the good of the people over the tycoons’ economic welfare.  They want education and healthcare to be available to all at a cost that is affordable.  They believe in separation of church and state and see harm when that wall is weakened.  They are often the college-educated, less religious, and more mobile in society.

On the right, Americans see a country that needs to protect itself from those outside.  This includes both foreigners/immigrants and domestics who are not like themselves: not white, not Christian, not straight.  They see more value in states’ rights, preserving unto themselves the right to determine what happens in their localities.  They believe strongly in the power of prayer and God and strive to keep this value front and center in all things private and public.  They believe everyone gets what they deserve and work for and nothing more.  They are often rural, more rooted to their homes and less educated. 

Like siblings, each group has carved out an area that they view as theirs alone.  The left touts the benefits of science and education; the right relies on faith and family.  Yet neither is the sole purview of either.  For scientists and teachers have families they love and things in which they believe and farmers rely on both science and education for their agricultural advances.  Everyone gets sick.  Everyone gets old.  Misfortunes fall on left and right equally. 

This America has a code put in place at its unlikely founding.  It is not an infallible tome, rather it is a living document that reflects both the wisdom of our founders and the changing needs and moral compass of its citizens. Our Constitution has served us well and we ignore it at our own risk. 


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

On being kind

I believe in being kind.  I think kindness can change the world. Without it, very little matters.

I take in strays, both the four-legged and two-legged.  I do it because they are hungry or homeless or so beaten down they cannot look after themselves.  I adopt the unadoptable.  I place the more winsome in excellent homes. I believe it is my responsibility as a human being to do this.

Right now, in my driveway, a stray cat eats the cat food I gave it. It has a story.  It was born into the family directly across the street from me.  When the high-as-a-kite, middle-aged son beat his aged mother, breaking her leg and slamming her head into the wall, both were taken away, she to a nursing home and he to jail.  Friends came and took their possessions and even their dog, but missed the cat.  For weeks he has been haunting the empty house, growing skinnier every day.  The situation is sad and entirely out of my control, but my humanity demands I be at least kind to this left-behind creature.

Last night, the man who cut my hedges some weeks ago came by, telling me he had lost his housing. I told him that due to the unseasonably warm weather, my grass needs cutting.  He promised to borrow a lawn mower and I gave him some money. That will allow him to stay at a shelter for a few nights.  Yes, it will also buy him some cigarettes and maybe even a bottle.  My job is not to police him, but to be kind.

I twice allowed homeless women to share my home for months on end.  I like to think my kindness made a difference in their lives. I lost track of one and the other died on Christmas last year from the illness that was responsible for her poverty and homelessness.

Why do I do this? Why not call animal control?  Why not direct needy people to some agency better prepared to help them?  Why? Because if I do not help where I can, I become less.  Most animals collected by animal control will die.  Most people who cycle through agencies fall through the social system cracks.  They may be judged too old, too young, too healthy, too something for aid. They are told to go somewhere else with no means to get there. They are pushed away to be someone else's problem.  I know this, and if knowing this, I do not help, I become less compassionate, less human.

It costs nothing to allow someone in line behind you with a few items to go ahead of you.  It is cheap to add a dollar to the paper you buy from a street vendor in the cold, or the heat, or the rain.  It is nothing to pay the library fine for someone ahead of you who came unprepared for the small fee.  But for that person, it may make their day.  Someone who felt invisible will feel acknowledged and valued.  One never knows when another person may be ready to give up.  Sometimes, simply speaking to another is enough.

Sometimes kindness is welcomed and sometimes it is viewed with suspicion.  Be kind anyway.  Sometimes kindness pays dividends and sometimes it is wasted.  Be kind anyway.  Be kind, not because you desire kindness in return, but because you aspire to better, to be more than you are at this moment.

Kindness does not require that one become a doormat, or set aside one's opinions, or become impoverished on the part of another. It does not require great riches or bravery. Kindness requires only empathy.