Friday, November 22, 2013

Black Friday


November 22, 1963. I was in my high school freshman English class when the principal’s voice came over the intercom – sounding weaker than his usual bellow, yet ever more serious. When he got to the part about President Kennedy having been shot in Dallas, my teacher (a very pretty, very self-assured young woman rumored to be dating a NY Giants football player) literally fell into the chair behind the teacher’s desk. She didn’t look so pretty or seem as socially legendary anymore. She slumped and quietly cried. She could not speak. The principal had said enough, ending with instructions for an early dismissal – which got me home within minutes of Walter Cronkite’s iconic controlled yet emotional delivery of the official news that the President was dead. This was the first time I experienced the world around me shutting down and remaining hauntingly still – a stillness and shock that would last hours through the news of Officer Tippit’s death and the return of the Johnsons and Kennedys to D.C. -  and continue through the days  we watched Ruby shoot Oswald – in real time -- on a boxy black-and-white TV in my living room, and then the  funeral.

November 22, 1963. That is the Friday in November I have always associated with the seasonal tag – Black Friday – never the shopping day after Thanksgiving. This Black Friday actually precipitated the closing of most stores – through the mournful weekend and funeral – all of which draped their window displays in black fabric, festooning the official photograph of the  President, smiling broadly, contrasted only by the red, white, and blue of an American flag.
Having the entire world stop and then remain still for some time was different than the way family and dear friends drop out of the  otherwise unaffected flow of the universe for a few days, grieving the loss of a close relative or friend. Through the fifty years since then I can count on one hand the other times I’ve felt that extended collective pause: September 11, 2003, January 26,1986 and December 14, 2012. Three too many.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Big City, Little City (One)

My summer started, with my expectations of city folk about to be derailed.

Photo: Flickr.com/reivax
I boarded an Amtrak business car (I was on business after all!) at 6 AM, a tad nervous about the trip that lay ahead. By 9:30 the train pulled into Penn Station. I've been in and out of Penn Station before, but never wielding wheeled luggage and a stuffed shoulder tote. Still I maneuvered pretty steadily onto the  up escalator that brought me out of  underground Penn to the city's heavily  shadowed daylight  

I walked ‘bout a half mile up 33rd Street to Broadway, locating the hotel I‘d booked for the night. Only catch – check-in wasn't until four.  With a suitcase mostly filled with books (I’d be attending the New York Book Festival tomorrow – in the same hotel) and two business-casual-changes folded in the large shoulder tote, taking a bite out of the Big Apple on arrival day wasn't going to be easy. Crowded New York street crossings are not suitcase-on-wheels/stuffed-shoulder-totes friendly. Conventional wisdom told me throngs of city dwellers and workers weren't necessarily friendly on a number of levels, no less on the corners of their congested streets.

But there I stood at the revolving door of the hotel. The doormen looked more business-like than polite as they waved guests in and out of the threshold’s spin-around. Yet, it wouldn't hurt to go in, I thought. I'd ask if there was a place I could leave my baggage until four (even as I questioned how secure is secure behind the front desk of a big city hotel). I waited in line for my turn with a desk clerk. A sympathetic desk clerk I hoped.

“I’m booked here for tonight,” I explained. “I was wondering if you had a place I could –“

“Name,” she interrupted.So much for sympathetic.  

I gave my last name. Almost immediately she followed-up with my first. Then asked for a credit card. Her fingers clicked the keyboard, her eyes glued to the computer screen

“Your room is ready,” she announced.

“Really?” I said. “And I was just hoping to be able to leave my bags some –“

“Christmas in June,” she remarked, then cracked a smile.  “The first elevator will take you up to 18. It’s the highest level,“ she said as she handed me my scan key.

“Even better than Christmas in July,” I said. “Thank you so much.”

I headed for the only elevator that went to the top level, and said a silent prayer there’d be no fire !

(to be continued)






Tuesday, June 18, 2013

This Little Writer Goes to Market


If you read Mommy of the Bride regularly, it’ll come as no surprise that I enjoy writing and blogging observations and family stories. The flip side of  freelance writing  is marketing the material. Not so much my cup of tea.

Fresher analogy: If " writing" were my baby –marketing would be akin to diapering the kid.  Essential, but not so pleasant. At least not until after the initial step.

Now, almost two years after publishing my memoir Staying Alive: A Love Story, this little writer is going to market once again.  The endeavor takes great planning, and then getting here and there to (the best part) readers and professionals in the book industry.

If you are near the here and there I’ll be showing up at, join me for a chat, a talk, a reading. Through the summer I’ll be in NYC, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

  • Saturday, June 22 I’m honored to have been invited to participate on a panel on marketing – of all things(!) -- at the  New York Book Festival  being held at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway,  49 West 42nd Street.  It’s an all-day event and it’s free! Staying Alive: A Love Story just received an honorable mention in the Festival’s “"annual competition honoring books that deserve greater attention from the world’s publishing capital," according to the NY Book Fest website (http://newyorkbookfestival.com/).I'm a tad nervous about the trip and requisite schmoozing! We’ll see what happens.
  •  Monday, June 24 I’ll be at the Agawam (MA) Public  Library (750 Cooper Street) for READLocal, along with fifteen other area writers for a meet and greet. The event starts at 6 PM.
  • Saturday, July 13 you’ll find me (and only me) at Bank Street Books ( 53 West Main St.) in Mystic, CT from noon to one. Great vacation spot,  Mystic is. The bookstore is in the  heart of the pretty town.

There are more CT and MA visits coming in September too.

And while I’m in marketing mode – allow me to ask a favor. If you've read the memoir, please take a few minutes to leave a short review on the book's Amazon , bn.com, or Goodreads site.

Thanks to all  MOTB and SA:ALS  readers. I’ll be back from market with stories and observations soon enough


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Moms Have Ways of Finding Out!


EFHS graduation photo from digplanet.com
I heard it through the grapevine – and you know how those grapevine sound bites go. You’re never quite sure where the truth ends and the embellishment starts. Yet, as much as the word-of-mouth nearly knocked me off my feet, it made all the sense in the world.

The news item involved my son and his high school buddies. They were – still are – a like-minded crew and even though it’s been eight years since they graduated together, this crew has stuck together through many stories their mothers have heard as well as ones we haven't, along with the  miles that separate most of them today. Between high school and post-college days some of them have occasionally lived together (a few still do), continued to play in an adult soccer league together, and made a ritual of their annual summer weekend at Lake Sunapee. Those who have settled in South Hadley and Boston and even as far away as Pennsylvania and Virginia have simply made their relocations places for the others to visit. Regularly.

Not terribly unusual – and I’d say it’s a fairly low-risk bet these ties will continue. But here comes the part that caught me unawares. That made my mouth drop and gasp, “My son? And yours? Really!”

I heard it from one of the other boy’s mom, the mom who for years now, has so graciously cooked up a storm and, I understand, steered the speedboat on Sunapee every summer while the crew took turns water skiing and tubing their way around the lake. That is, when the crew  was not otherwise engaged in some clandestine activity  - like fashioning a newfangled floatation device from a recycled lawn chair they'd attached to wooden runners.  A contraption that, when it did stay afloat tethered to the speeding motorboat, caused quite a stir on the Sunapee shores. Yes, that’s the direction these young adults’ minds tend to go given some idle time –  the engineers and entrepreneurs’ workshop more or less.  

Anyway, an official  letter had gone to the Sunapee-speedboat-driving -mom’s house , since the former high school of these boys and one girl (as I heard it) had her son’s home address on record.

“If the letter didn’t come to the house, I probably would not have known either,“ she admitted. Yet, alas it had -  with very specific information about where each of these friends were  to report and at what exact time – for the presentation, she explained. 

“Presentation?” I asked.

“Yes, but they’re not getting anything.” .

I was clearly confused until she said, “They’re giving a scholarship.” You could have knocked me over with a whistle as she continued, “A scholarship to a student going on in science - in  honor of their high school science teachers. “

Why, those rascals, I thought – eight years out of high school, all (fortunately) employed and  now pooling their resources– as a way to thank a few Misters and Misses who nurtured their (and I say this in a most complementary way) nerdy adolescent minds.

That's the way I heard it, anyway.

Texted my son after getting the word on the street.
  
Never know what your kids are up to ! .

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Nursery of Eden

I need to get back to my favorite garden center– Meadowview Farms in Southwick , MA.


I briefly alluded to this plant emporium as the Nursery of Eden in last week’s blog. Yet, even then I knew I hadn’t given the garden center its due.  By the time I left the  aisles and aisles of vegetables and flowers and grasses and herbs – there was even a section dedicated to cacti – all I could think was that the country – no, the world, should run the way this busy business operates.

I got there before 10 A.M. on a weekday, and the place was packed. Cars had already parked past the edges of the paved lot onto the grass. The departing customers pushed carts bursting with splatters of colorful blooms against multi-shades of greenery. Arriving customers frequently offered to take an empty cart as strangers finished loading their trunks with their purchases.



This is my kind of shopping
This air of cooperation continued in the crowded aisles of the open market. No one seemed to mind waiting while a patron picked through geraniums or spikes or vines, visions of a barrelful of blooms dancing in her head. This is a scenario where no one seems to mind lingering a little longer.

Supermarkets don’t rise to this level of consumer congeniality.Big Box Stores sometimes even fall short of basic civility. Their customers weave in and out of aisles more robotically. Even on the cashier line, many glue their eyes to their phone screens or stare at the magazine rack loaded with sensational headlines about celebrity birth, weight, and relationships. Some of the people I’ve stood in line with don’t even talk to the cashier as they check out. They just swipe, punch in a pin number, and go on their way. 

Here at the farm, everyone is smiling! At one point I panned one corner of the vast market to the other to see if I could find a disgruntled face or two. Not a one came into view. There must be something soothing about being surrounded by table after table of blooms, a floor full of larger pots and bushes, and hanging baskets overhead.  Soothing and aromatic, especially through the herbs.

I gathered my usual three varieties of tomatoes: an early bloomer (for its earliness) ,a  plum (for sauce) and a cherry (for snacking mostly right from the vine).  I picked out a colorful array of peppers – all sweet,  and dill and fennel to add to my herbs that came back this spring, after a colder than usual winter. (I wasn’t surprised to see the hardy chives and oregano come back – but the sage, rosemary, marjoram, and even a few sprigs of parsley surprised me. Must have something to do with planting them up against the sunny side of the house.) I decided to try a few Brussels sprouts plants, for the first time (The sign said “easy to grow", though I’ve come to find out they take a lot of pinching back. Time will tell.) Couldn’t resist a small white eggplant either.

In the floral category I decided to go with coral geraniums for the porch flower boxes. Three in each with a touch of silver duster between them.  Yes, that was me holding up the works in the geranium aisle earlier,
I need to get back to Meadowview Farms - for three more coral geraniums. Apparently I miscounted. Chances are I’ll return home with more than those few plants.

 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Torn Over Tornado Reporting

I didn’t turn the news on when I got up this morning the way I usually do. I didn't want to hear 
Tornado history repeats itself in Moore, OK
 (photo from weather.com)
more about a mile-wide tornado that travelled twenty miles in about forty minutes through Moore, Oklahoma. I had followed the breaking news yesterday through the late night TV news broadcasts.

I had had enough.

I don’t mean I had had enough in a sated way or in a disgruntled way. I mean I had seen enough to have the horrible tragedy, like other unfathomable events of the recent past, now  ingrained in my consciousness. Sad to say I’m no longer surprised when bad events are experienced by undeserving people. Natural disaster and acts of random violence have nothing to do with whether or not  their victims have “it” coming to them. 

Nothing would have been gained by resettling myself on the couch, in front of the TV, this morning.  Viewing repeated news clips of the same horrible moments of destruction or cries of despair I had seen last night,  over and over, would not have helped anyone in tornado-torn  Moore Oklahoma  or (as of this morning) calm Connecticut . What will help is, once again, a national community effort to support the people most impacted by the tornado.The Town of Moore OK website has already posted the best ways.

Text STORM to 80888 for Salvation Army.
Text REDCROSS to 90999 for Red Cross.
Text FOOD to 32333 for Oklahoma Regional Food Bank

At this time, PLEASE make financial donations only, until when and if other types of donations are requested.   

I hope my readers will join me in abiding this call.

Back to this morning, instead of turning on the news, I took an early ride to my favorite garden center just over the Massachusetts line. Lush indoor and outdoor displays surrounded me there, and everyone was smiling

A good place to be, I  thought. 


I returned home with lots of coral geraniums and veggies and herbs. Through the early afternoon I assembled seven flower boxes for the porch. Then, in minutes, an ominous cloud cover rolled in and soon the heavens let loose with heavy. . . heavier . . . and then the heaviest rain I've seen in some time. So heavy. the dog and I had to leave the porch as the wind  sprayed the rain diagonally onto it. Inside, I turned on the TV to learn areas in my own state had been issued tornado warnings. I sure hope the Connecticut storm will not overtake the news tomorrow. But if it does, I hope the viewers from afar will pull themselves away from excessive media coverage that just replays the same emotional footage 24/7, support the cause with a donation, and make their untainted day worthwhile.

 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Angie and Me


ABC Good Morning America photo

I never expected I would ever compare myself to Angelina Jolie. But after reading her Op-ed in the New York Times this morning, I’m feeling some really significant common ground.

Chances are we will both owe our future health (hopefully good health) to preventive medicine.

Jolie stunned the world today with the disclosure that she has spent most of this year undergoing a preventive double mastectomy to combat her high chances of developing breast cancer. A genetic test Jolie chose to take after her mother’s death from ovarian cancer assessed the actress’ risk at 87%.

With such high stakes, she decided to take action before the odds played out against her. No question. No reality show. She just halted her busy schedule as mother, actress, and philanthropist. Three months  of opted surgery may just have added decades to her life. Her odds of getting the disease are now less than 5 %.

My kindred story doesn’t involve genetic testing (which has been reported to have cost Jolie about three thousand dollars). Just yearly check-ups, which most health plans cover.
I left one of those yearly check-ups six years ago, expecting to not have to see the doctor again for a year. Instead, I got a phone call the day after my appointment. “There’s blood in your urine and your liver function is off,” he told me on the phone. “We’ve got to find out why.”

The next day a tumor the size of my fist appeared atop my right kidney on an ultrasound screen. There had been no pain, no bleeding perceptible to the eye (just microscopic blood cells in my urine sample on the day of my physical), and no palpable lump.

An MRI followed. Then a diagnosis: Late Stage Two kidney cancer. Yet, I was fortunate. Within weeks, major surgery removed the tumor and kidney - before the cancer had spread. My lymph nodes were clean.

Every year, at my annual physical, I still tell my doctor how thankful I am that he saved my life.

“Early detection,” my doctor replies. “Prevention is the way to go.”

I still get yearly physicals  - and yearly chest x-rays because of the kidney cancer. It always surprises me when women I know, smart women who have more than adequate health insurance, tell me they do not have "time" for physicals. Some say they are too  busy raising their children, juggling work with parenting, etc. etc. I hope these ladies stop to take a look at how a busy celebrity cleared her globe-trotting schedule for preventive medicine. I don't think she did it to prolong her movie career. More likely, the fear of leaving her children and fiancĂ© without a mother and wife made her find the time to make an informed decision.

 I feel fortunate  that I only have to wonder what might have happened if I didn't start seeing a doctor regularly, in my forties. I'm glad Jolie will  just get  to wonder what might have happened if she didn't choose the preventative medical treatment this year.

I hope more busy women will take the time to detect medical trouble before it's too late to stop it .
 
 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day - Revisited

I woke up today thinking about my mom, gone four Mother’s Days now. I decided to post her picture  -- in remembrance – on  Facebook -  This way, I knew my cousin network on FB would be reminded of her too.

I uploaded a photo of Mom with Dad, young newlyweds, pre- kids. In it, they look as if they do not have a care in the world.   Then I recalled the message a dear friend recently emailed me. Titled  flowers , the text read: Had a flashback to your mom today. On our way to Auburn, we saw a lawn with almost no green – it was all those “pretty yellow flowers.”

My friend and his wife live hundreds of miles away from me now. But they had read my memoir last fall and suddenly, out of the blue, found themselves remembering a story about my mother. I’m sure they were grinning ear-to-ear too.

The story recalls when I was eleven years old and my family uprooted from Brooklyn, NY to northern Connecticut. Mom, experiencing her first burst of spring in New England, went to the local nursery seeking seeds for “those pretty yellow flowers on everybody’s lawn.” Dandelions.

You’re grinning now. Right?

That's just the tip of Mom’s deep-rooted dandelion tale in the memoir, a tale that digs through generations of her Italian background.  Writing the memoir led me to discover the layers of that story. My friend’s email reminded me of the power of memoir, writing immersed in memory. “Full of Grace,” the piece about Mom in Staying Alive: A Love Story had not only made Mom present in my life again, it was making her present in others’ lives too, as spontaneously as on a ride through a suburban neighborhood. This unplanned series of events then made me more glad than sad– for the first time in years – on Mother’s Day. Ready to celebrate it with my own children and, for the first time, my grandson.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Let the Buyer Beware the Schwinn Jogging Stroller

I don't usually link to someone else's blog, but this needs to get around. Susan Campbell, writer and grandmother, posted this level-headed piece about injuries her son and grandchildren suffered while using the Schwinn Jogging Stroller.Seems the front wheel broke off in use.Now, as her son recuperates, she and her family are waiting to see if Schwiinn takes the product off the market before someone else gets hurt

Click here to read Susan's blog.

This is the defective stroller.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Belief Systems


I can’t believe it’s April 21, and it’s still cold enough to wear a winter coat.

This is not the same kind of I can’t believe as in I can’t believe the city of Boston virtually shut down commerce and community yesterday in search of a Boston Marathon Bombing suspect. The former is spoken in my head with casual indifference; the latter resounds echoes of assurance.

I wish I had been able to say I can’t believe someone or two would so violently desecrate the marathon’s finish line, six days earlier; but, these homegrown tragedies are occurring more frequently : Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Fort Hood, Tucson, Sandy Hook, and now Boston – on  busy and celebrated Copley Square, after the city’s namesake race.  I am once again stunned – but sadly, not surprised.

On the other hand, to have witnessed a city and its citizens’ everyday agenda frozen, like a DVD story frame, while city and federal officials intensified their active search for perpetrators.- that  was unprecedented. The kind of unprecedented that has given rise to the already mythic, “ if-a-city-could-talk affirmation” being bandied about today, in the drawl of a Boston accent:  We’re not terrorized – but we are wicked pissed . It speaks the difference between a  city   stunted by terrorism as opposed to one that refuses  to be victimized, instead deliberately putting life (as the city knows it) on hold, until the bombers were, at least, stopped in their bloody tracks..

More incredulities:  

 I can’t believe, fifty miles from the city I watched WBZ’s Boston coverage of the Watertown
stake-out –  being  aired from the street corner of my son’s Cambridge apartment – the designated media zone, a short walk from the war-zone tactics (house-to-house searches, sniper-like surveillance) being initiated a few blocks away.

 I can’t believe that once again, my daughter’s birthday – April 19 – commemorates another dark anniversary , along with the Oklahoma bombings, and the date's eerie proximity to the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings.

Still, among these disbeliefs  there is one huge assurance that I can believe in -  that a single, vigilant, hometown citizen provided the final link in the chain of organized efforts to make the streets of Watertown, Cambridge, and Boston safe again. He saw something - a bloodied tarp covering his motorboat - and said something, via a 911 call.

There, however, remains a cruel irony. Through the nation's focus on the bombing, the U.S. Senate lost sight of its bipartisan effort  to enact common sense gun reform that 90% of the American public agrees with  - expanding background checks (that would continue to honor the spirit of  the Second Amendment).That defeat  seems to have added insult to the deaths and injuries suffered from  tragedies past (Sandy Hook, et al), present (Boston), and future (who knows?)! 

We can help the victims of the Boston Bombing  by donating to One Fund Boston. We must also continue to work to make America safer from gun violence by repeating in word and action our Sandy Hook Promise to continue to work towards common sense reform.

Finally, I thank God that my son, daughter and I could be reunited today after this sad week. I pray for the peace and comfort of families grievously touched by the Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath who are not so fortunate.



Monday, April 15, 2013

What if Good and Evil Had a Race?


The Boston Marathon is one of more than 500 marathons run in the world every year. Most of the participants are recreational runners. The marathoners train for sixteen to eighteen weeks . The first month they alternate short runs of three or four miles with carefully calculated days off. They add a weekly double-digit run the next month or two, adding a mile or so every week.

Marathoners eat healthfully; they hydrate as they run. Marathoners learn how to fuel up on protein bars and sports beans. They may have to nurse a pull or sprain along the way, but eventually they get back on their feet and make up for setbacks– all to be able to cross the finish line that ends a 26.2 mile run in four to seven hours. Recreational marathoners do not need to win. They just want to finish.
Boston Globe photo

It’s very disturbing to think that as today’s Boston marathoners were putting themselves through the stress and strain of training, someone else was putting the finishing touches on a scheme to take some of them and a portion of the city down.  The  unknown perpetrator must have obsessed over the power and the placement of two bombs destined to be detonated at the finish line at about the same time marathoners were getting caught up with the rhythm of their breathing, the swing of their arms, the pace of the run.

I wonder why one individual decides to direct one’s passion  toward the light – and the other to the darkness. Is it something one says or doesn’t say, over a period of time? An environment? A chromosome? A price? Once again, that shift in perspective made a tragic difference in innocent lives today

My own son and nephew, both of whom work in Boston, were too close to the danger for my comfort, that’s for sure. Their beloved Boston will not be quite the same ever again – especially on Patriot’s Day,the  traditional day of the marathon. But, like a runner's injury, this incident was a sprain of sorts.  Boston will rehab and will come out stronger, the way NYC has; the way Newtown will.

If Good and Evil had a race, Good would be the Tortoise and Evil would be the Hare

I pray tonight for the comfort of the families most impacted by today’s tragedy, the lives injured and lost, and for the first responders who, once again, choose to run toward the danger rather than away., 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Getting Through College and The Canterbury Tales


The fourteen line prologue to  Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, posted yesterday, brought a couple readers back to their college days - their late 60s college days - when just about every student was required to take British Lit! No matter what their major. 

Now, English majors at Dartmouth aren't  required to take even Shakespeare. How culture changes culture.

Kathy,who graduated from high school with me, commented that she could actually read Chaucer's introduction ("with effort" ) thanks to a college professor who drove her crazy  - both years she attended her class! (I'm guessing that was in British Lit I and British Lit II, recalling the canon of the day). 

Jack, a fellow writer, recalled how beautifully his "Brit lit prof" recited those lines, back in the day. Recently, Jack read the entire poem, as bawdy as it is beautiful. (About the length of ten-chapter novel, it's available online free for Kindle users, along with other ebook readers, and audiobook formats).

Kathy and Jacks' Chaucer tales of their own bring me to mine. 

During the late 1960s, at my small, all women, Catholic college, every student had to take British Lit - I and II. In order to get through British Lit I, every one of those students had to memorize and recite the first fourteen lines of Chaucer's prologue.Even as an English major, I felt challenged! 

Practicing for days in my dorm, amidst  a backdrop of Beatles posters and the sounds of folk music, rock music, and a blending of both (thank you Bob Dylan), I discovered I could best learn and remember the archaic yet mellifluous Middle English when I sang the words to the tune of "Leaving on a Jet Plane," a John Denver song (most popularly covered by Peter Paul and Mary).

When I arrived for my "recitation appointment" I brought my guitar. Left it outside the good professor's office  until, after stumbling through a few, "Whan that aprill -s," I asked her if I could go get it. Use it. The poetry/music connection further intrigued her.

Strumming away I breezed through the fourteen lines. Still can - if I sing them!

Try it for yourself!



And, oh yes, here's the modern English translation of the prologue I posted yesterday.
How did you do?


When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wherefore Art Thou - Springtime?


I've been busy trying to wrap up winter. Trouble is, my first  attempt - March 21 -  the temperature froze any thought of clearing a garden bed or two. Then, a week after a sunny but chilly Palm Sunday (on which my 8-month-old grandson was baptized) Easter morning rolled in  with more of a Jack Frost than Easter Bunny overtone.

Good thing rabbits have fur.

April fooled me further with more extended low temperatures. And now, after too brief a reprieve, I've got the heat on again as I watch a  cold heavy rain fall outside.

My daffodils and tulips are clearly confused.

But, pretty soon, I expect, I will be able to conduct my yearly spring ritual. That would be greeting the true signs of spring  with a quick recitation of the prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In Middle English. The Middle English that comes between Old English (incomprehensible) and Shakespearean English. The passage  looks both strange and familiar in its homage to springtime.

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

Can you detect the hints of spring in those lines? 

We'll see how well you did tomorrow. 

In the meantime, take a look at what the best little theatre group in Boston, MA is up to:


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Repeating My Sandy Hook Promise


 .  .  . to have conversations on all of the issues . . .  


According to this week's New York Times, the vast majority of the American public wants background checks for sales of guns. I don't think our Founding Fathers would have rejected that notion if guns were as accessible in their day - at conventions and on the Internet -- as they are today. Yet, I never would have guessed Stephen King, master of contemporary American horror and, some would say, gore, would so deliberately enter the American debate on gun control on the side of more regulation.  
Photo from Google images
                                                                                      


 Not only does his creatively sinister mind wage in on the issue that has been pushed to its tipping point by the Sandy Hook tragedy last month; he does so with precise measures of common sense and just a touch of the macabre. It’s as if this writer of extreme fiction took the Sandy Hook Promise with one hand placed over his heart and the other atop a copy of Carrie.

The acclaimed author of real and psychological horror does not suggest repealing the Second Amendment’s Right to Bear Arms. King's Kindle single Guns, published this month, offers a concise rationale that  boils down the issue of gun violence and control to three “reasonable measures” that would curb gun violence 
                                                                                                                                                    
  • ·         Comprehensive and universal background checks
  • ·         Ban the sale of clips and magazines containing more than ten rounds
  • ·         Ban the sale of assault weapons such as the Bushmaster and the AR-15


As a longtime teacher of the argumentative essay, I’d give King an A+ on his essay (an accolade he can add to his National Book Award in 2003), not just  because I agree with him, but because he presents his case so well. It’s worth $.99 just to see how carefully he did his homework (research) and structured his argument.*

Yet, it is not King’s rhetoric I am most impressed with. It is the personal narrative that opens the piece about steps he took in the late 1990s, almost fifteen years before Sandy Hook. That was when he pulled Rage, a novel he  wrote in 1977 (under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman), out of print because it had come to be loosely connected to four different teenagers who committed school shootings.

King addressed the difficulty he had making this choice in a keynote address  to the Vermont Library Conference in 1999, clarifying he did not feel that, just because these troubled teenagers had copies of Rage, they committed the shootings. “My book did not break them or turn them into killers; they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken,” King said.

King’s statement reveals what rational Americans know: there is no simple cause and effect to maniacal acts of violence, acts that take a greater toll when guns are accessible. Yet, even though King believes in the First Amendment's Freedom of Speech as well as the Second Amendment, he agreed to surrender a portion of his right to free speech, because, as he states in Guns, “I did see Rage as a possible accelerant, which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it.”

King admits regretting having to remove the book from, essentially, the reach of deranged teens, but he goes on to say he did it because it was the right thing to do.

Let’s look at this: In King’s case, the morally right thing for him to do was to voluntarily give up a bit of his First Amendment Right – Freedom of Speech – even as  essential as that right is to a writer.

With King as a model of reasonable concession, it should not be too much to ask an adherent of the Second Amendment, the Right to Bear Arms, to voluntarily give up the bit of the arsenal that has repeatedly become the mass destroyers of innocent lives. Innocent lives like the 20 first-grade children and six adults of Sandy Hook Elementary School who were gunned down because of a lethal mix of mental illness, accessible weapons, a culture’s penchant for violent entertainment, etc., all of which King addresses in Guns  -  just as he is compelled to address  the most real horror he has ever put to mind: the “gore-splattered rooms and hallways (of Sandy Hook Elementary School) when the first responders entered them."


*proceeds of King's Kindle Single Guns goes to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Small Presses March to Independent Beats

Thank goodness for small, independent presses. Writers like me, who lack the Internet presence major publishing houses require, have a chance with them.    .

March is Small Press Month. “Small” as in annual sales under $50 million - with fewer than ten titles published a year .If the Big Publishing Houses were corporate banks, the small presses would be credit unions. More accessible. Friendlier. Geared towards a particular neighborhood.

A database on the Poets and Writers magazine website lists hundreds of small presses, alphabetically and by genre: poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. I found a small publisher for my memoir on a list from the Writer magazine. Both of these sources are reliable, which begs a distinction that must be made between small presses and vanity presses.

The small press (like larger university presses) accepts quality manuscripts – and rejects substandard ones. Small presses also distribute their books and pay royalties. Vanity presses are virtually printers. They accept all manuscripts and sell the manuscript-turned-book, in volume, back to the writer. End of contract.

Writing magazines regularly feature articles like “Bigger Isn’t Always Better,” by Jeff Reich. He says the less-is-more perspective allows a small press to focus “on quality not quantity.” Big Name Publishers like Big Name Clients. They often opt for celebrity over craft – and hire a ghost writer for the celebs who can’t write.
My Memoir
on amazon
on bn.com
on iBooks

Small presses give writers like you and me a chance to tell our stories. Last year, after a number of really "complimentary rejections" from the likes of HCI and S & S, the independent  start-up, Signalman Publishing, accepted my memoir, Staying Alive: A Love Story. Since publication the book was nominated for the 2012 Christian Small Press Association Book of the Year, received a 2011 Readers Views Award, and has been recommended by the American Institute of Health Care Professionals.Yet it didn't have a chance with a Big Publishing House.
Jack's memoir
on amazon
on bn.com


Recently Signalman published a beautiful memoir by Jack Sheedy,a Connecticut writer who reviewed my book for The Catholic Transcript last year. As poignant and entertaining as Jack's, The Sting of the Heat Bug is, his story of growing-up- Irish couldn't make it through the likes of Random House or Penguin Books - because Jack, who has been writing for The Catholic Transcript for years, isn’t well known enough. An independent press like Signalman Publishers offers him the chance to put his story “out there” even though Jack is not trending on Yahoo. Not yet anyway!

John McClure, president of Signalman Publishing, says, “small publishers can and do release titles that offer the reader unique insight on a topic without the filter of commercial success blocking it.”

Yet, small presses can be profitable. Only after corporate publishers repeatedly rejected Paul Harding’s Tinkers, did the new, unheard of Bellvue Literary Press (named after the New York hospital) publish the novel. Then Tinkers picked up a 2010 Pulitizer Prize.

Jack and I are available for co-readings and book signings in Connecticut. Email me at laurabhayden@att.net if you would like us to visit your book club or organization.