Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Violence Against Women...Still an Outrage

Women's Hall of Famer Anne Hoiberg
"Where is the outrage?" Anne Hoiberg asked the women who gathered for the American Association of University Women's monthly meeting last Saturday at the Huntington Beach Meadowlark Golf Course. 

Hoiberg, past president of the San Diego chapter of the United Nations Association of the USA, additionally served as the director of the Association's Women's Equity Council from 1987 to 2009. A research psychologist, she has written two books, Women and the World of Work, and Women as New "Manpower." The AAUW newsletter had announced her topic for this date as "Stopping Violence Against Women." 

But right before she was introduced a woman sitting next to me shook her head and whispered to me, "Why don't they find something more entertaining than such depressing subjects?" I understood her reluctance to hear more on a topic that so many of us had hoped would fade from headlines decades earlier...we'd thought that the issue would be resolved. It hasn't.

Initially in her PowerPoint Hoiberg provided the United Nations Declaration of 1995 definition on what constitutes violence against women: "any act of gender-based violence that results in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering in women and girls, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."

Then she clicked on a slide that provided some nightmarish figures that I can't shake from my mind. 

According to the United States Department of Justice's Office of Violence Against Women, more women in the States were murdered between 9/11/2001 and June 6, 2012 by husbands or boyfriends than the totals of persons killed on 9/11 at the World Trade Center and of U.S. soldiers in the subsequent Afghanistan and Iraq military actions.

Here's the statistics, 9/11/2001 to 6/12/2012:

U.S. casualties of the 9/11 terrorist attacks: 3073
U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq: 6,488
U.S. women murdered by male intimate partners: 11,766

In conclusion Hoiberg asked where the solution lies to addressing this shocking phenomena.

Several audience members offered suggestions, many asking for more commitment from community leaders, men as well as women. Hoiberg pointed out that the National Football League finally is taking a serious look at player conduct, particularly in the hubbub over the Ray Rice case. 

Perhaps the day is long past when a television comedy sees fit to makes jokes about hitting Jackie Gleason used to do in his threats to long suffering wife Alice in The Honeymooners. In the 1980s I worked for several years in fundraising for Long Beach YWCA/Womenshelter, a safe house for battered women and their children. At that time I had hopes that officials including pastors, law enforcement officers and judges would soon take a serious view of aggression against women and girls. 

During those years I additionally was a psychiatric social worker for Los Angeles' facility for temporary housing of abused and neglected children awaiting placement by the juvenile court. I worked with the nursery, the children under age five and the staff responsible for their care and well-being. I knew first hand that many women could not adequately protect their children from their abusing partners because they themselves were abused. 

Nonetheless, I have learned that women are still going to prison for not providing such protection. This article about how the systems work is a real head scratcher:  "Battered, Bereaved and Behind Bars."

Recently many of us read in disbelief about the Montana judge who felt that a 14-year-old girl, raped by her teacher, looked older than her chronological age, so suspended all but one month of the accused's 15-year term. Later the girl committed suicide. A new judge took over after the case was appealed, and a more equitable verdict was reached, but the student, of course, is still dead.

All these decades later, I still wonder, with Hoiberg, where is the outrage? At the conclusion of Hoiberg's talk the woman adjacent to me that I mentioned earlier in this post admitted that the topic, though not lighthearted entertainment, indeed was suitable material for an AAUW luncheon. Several at our table agreed. More discussion and awareness is needed...certainly not less.

One social change organization with suggestions is National Network to End Domestic Violence. You can learn more about how to get involved here:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Unicorn in Winter: The Last Unicorn Screening Tour

“The true secret in being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. The swineherd cannot already be wed to the princess when he embarks on his adventures, nor can the boy knock on the witch’s door when she is already away on vacation. The wicked uncle cannot be found out and foiled before he does something wicked. Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a very long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.” ― Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn - 
Back in 1982, when the movie was released, even notoriously critical critic Janet Maslin called The Last Unicorn "unusually good." And the good news is that it still is.

Earlier this week I drove to the Frida cinema in nearby Santa Ana to catch the new digital-print version that Peter S. Beagle and Connor Cochran have taken on a world tour. The tour began in April, 2013 and will conclude in July 2016. I missed it when it hit Spokane, WA, last year, so made certain I'd catch it this time, now that I'm living in Southern California.

When I first read the book in 1968 I was entranced. I wondered if rereading the book would diminish my original rapture. A couple of years ago a cooperative Chewelah, WA, book group read it along with me. Reactions were mixed...but one woman, like me, claimed she burst into tears when (SPOILER ALERT) the unicorns who had been driven into the sea by the red bull at last surfed back to shore on the waves. I thought I had reached a stage where my emotional heartstrings are no longer so easily played. Wrong. I sobbed so hard that the young man sitting next to me looked so worried that I thought he was going to offer me a dip into his popcorn box as a form of solace.

More good news. At this particular showing, during the initial Q&A, Beagle confirmed that a traveling immersive musical adaptation of the play, produced by his manager Connor Cochrane, and Jeff Duhamel and his wife Fergie, lead vocalist of the Black-Eyed Peas, will indeed be staged. Cochrane has been quoted as describing the production as rather like Cirque du Soleil, with its own tent or venue, different from standard proscenium staging.

I interviewed Peter S. Beagle a few years ago at a Long Beach Comic Con for the arts magazine, Uncle Jam. At that time he mentioned his early literary influences as including Wilkie Collins, close friend of Charles Dickens and author of The Moonstone and The Woman in White. He also confessed to an ongoing love of 19th century novelists' theatrical overstatement, big sweeping post modernist nuance in Beagle's lush works. 

At the Frida he mentioned once again his friendship with the man he dedicated The Last Unicorn to, fellow fantasy writer Robert Nathan. I'd read Nathan in my teens and twenties, falling in love particularly with Portrait of Jennie and Rancho of the Little Loves. I haven't read Nathan in decades, so just put a library hold on his collection of five novellas, The Barley Fields. I notice that it contains The Bishop's Wife. I'd totally forgotten that Nathan wrote the book that the beloved Cary Grant and Loretta Young movie had been based on.

But Beagle also mentioned another inspiration for The Last Unicorn. James Thurber's The White Deer. I plan to track this one down...not certain how I missed it in both my own childhood and that of my son.

Everybody ensnared by Beagle's magical tale has a favorite dialog exchange from The Last Unicorn. Here's mine, a fine reminder for all writers:
Molly Grue: Why won't you help me? Why must you always speak in riddles?
The Cat: Because I be, what I be. I would tell you what you want to know if I could, mum, but I be a cat. And no cat anywhere, ever gave anyone a straight answer.

You can check here to see if Beagle is bringing his tour to a city near you:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Should We Wave the White Flag?

Years ago, after receiving a long stretch of rejections, I wondered if the time I'd invested in submitting my nonfiction pieces to magazines and anthologies could be better spent watching old British comedies and dramas on Netflix. After all, the latter gave me a lot of laughs, which I'd heard was good for my heart. The former rewarded me with insecurity and self-doubt.

To ensure that I'd be better off admitting I'd never be a successful writer, I surfed around the Internet, hoping to find some ammunition to reinforce this notion of spending my time more wisely. I lucked upon this piece by Chuck Wendig's blog, terribleminds. Warning: do not click on this link if you are offended by four letter words or hilarity:

For my timid friends, here's Chuck's reasons, sans the hilarity:

  • You'd much rather talk about writing than do actual writing.
  • You spent your time doing everything but putting words on paper.
  • Your production levels are "poop noise"
  • That teetering tower of rejections threaten to crush you and your cats.
  • You got the wrong idea about writing.

If you've braved clicking on the link, you'll see that Chuck concludes with some tautological advice:
"Writing is about writing." Of course, getting published is yet another matter. So periodically I surf around looking for new venues where I can submit nonfiction. The other day I found these guidelines. I am not making this up. We (name of publication) seek nonfiction that takes pleasure in confusing boundaries, but also takes responsibility for constructing them. We appreciate nonfiction that refrains from pulling us along for a direct purpose, but rather suspends us in moments of both utter disbelief, and the etching out of how we come to believe; when the associative meanders a territory of meaning, rather than simply wanders without specific purpose.

After staring in awe at these words for five minutes, I requested comment from several writer friends, mostly contribuors and cocreators for the Not Your Mother's Book anthology series. 
Maybe I wanted reassurance that I wasn't alone in my bewilderment. To protect the guilty publication, I abbreviated its name as XXX.

Pamela Frost, co-creator of the upcoming Not Your Mother's Book…On Sex:
Okay.....????? Is XXX the name of the publication or did you change it to protect their identity? Sounds over my head. I get the confusing boundaries...I get being suspended in utter disbelief... BUT...WTF...when the associative meanders a territory of meaning????  Who is this publication?  Science fiction? Erotica?  Let there be joy in your life

Erika Hoffman: anthology contributor and novelist: LOL!  Sounds like a college kid who has been bullshitting his way through humanities courses. I think I’d rather attempt to decipher Greek, and I don’t know a word of it!  Well, maybe “gyro” so I guess I understand Greek better than I do that passage below! 

Pat Nelson, Co-creator of Not Your Mother's Book . . . On Being a Parent and On Working for a Living: What?! I am suspended in a moment of utter disbelief.

Stacey Gustafson, contributor to NYMB and author, Are You Kidding Me?  I am not sure if you are completely serious. When I read the submission requirements, this was my reaction. I submit to numerous anthologies, magazine and website each year. Usually the submission requirements are straightforward like, "We want real-life stories written by individuals 18 years and older, tailored for a mature-audience readership; stories may contain language and situations akin to a PG-13 or TV-14 rating.While we’re looking for stories about the side of motherhood most of us have experienced or seen first hand, we would love to read stories about the side that most of us don’t talk about because it’s too embarrassing or silly! No need to explain: you know what we’re talking about. Now write about it!" (NYMB). When I discovered XXX was seeking submissions, I read the requirements and fell into a coma after the phrase "in confusing boundaries." WTH? Enough! If I can't understand the requirements, I shall pass. 

And a concluding thoughtful and writerly response from Ruth Parks Andrew, Spokane novelist, who clearly is not prepared to surrender:

The info for this literary journal reminds me of college kids in their twenties or thirties, sitting in coffee shops debating Sartre and the meaning of  life and reinventing their own boundaries, before  the eventual gut kicks that we all get as life creeps up on us at one time or another.  It’s a joke that we ‘never get out of this life alive’ and I think it’s also a joke, from the dark side, that ‘we never get out of this life without the gut kicks, either.’ And when those gut kicks do descend up on us, we tend to rethink things like …boundaries, don’t we?
As for being suspended in moments of utter disbelief or the etching out of how we come to believe (whatever we end up believing) … well, I now live my life with a few well-thought-out boundaries firmly in place and would not have it otherwise. Like ready-to-serve Jello, I’m set!
I can leave the debating and wondering and figuring out of life to others and to long hours with friends in coffee shops debating the literary journals they read. I’ve read my share, finished my MFA, with a minor in Philosophy, so spent my share in this atmosphere long ago, but no longer have any desire to swim in that particular pool. To me it’s like standing on a warm beach, loving the feeling of hot sand between your toes, wondering if you’ve been out in the sun too long, just before a big wave slaps you senseless.
Of course writing this make me feel tainted by life and narrow-minded, but I guess it’s because I have been there, debated the different boundaries and philosophies and whys and why-nots of life, and am now pretty well satisfied with my boundaries, philosophies and habits.  No more need to debate and discuss. No need for confusing boundaries here for me, and I don’t want to write about them, either.
I can understand and appreciate these points of view. It’s always good for those with literary minds to question life before fully being into it. But when a journal asks for non-fiction that  meanders a territory of meaning, rather than simply wandering without specific purpose, like you, Terri, I’d ask, “What???”  Confusing boundaries? Meandering territories of meaning? Rather than wandering without specific purpose? To me the operative words here are meaning and/or purpose. And the bottom line is … confusing!
The funny thing to me is that this confusing statement has us debating the ‘pleasure’ in the confusing words used. I think at the very least that is worth another glass of full-bodied red wine or two, don’t you?  Maybe even three! Wish you were here.  We could have a good long chat.
This is not necessarily for any publication, but if you find something that tickles your fancy, by all means use it. Would love to hear what else you hear about this, and just how far off the mark I really am.  I guess I don’t really care any more how far off the mark I really am.  That tells you a lot more about my boundaries, doesn’t it?  Just pull another cork for me, dear friend.

My conclusion: I may surrender when it comes to trying to decipher submission requirements for literary journals, but I'll daily renew my New Year's vow....come here for a hug, old friends who responded, and my dear new friend, FICTION.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Poets and Dreamers for 2015

Showing Up for 2015...Poets and Dreamers, Orange, CA

The Orange branch of the Orange County Poets and Dreamers Authors and Writers Literary Network, a combination writing workshop and critique group, has been meeting for over a decade. So I'd been apprehensive that I had much new to share with the group. I've been invited by Mari Lou Laso-Elders (yes, relation) to facilitate a two-session New Year's workshop on writing for anthologies, particularly the inspirational Chicken Soup for the Soul.
We began yesterday morning by reviewing our writing goals for 2015. Some of the group hadn't yet formulated a plan, but all seemed positive they wanted to continue to write. I focused primarily on submitting for publication. The Chicken Soup series is a good way to begin for several reasons: 
  • Frequent editions (around a dozen new titles yearly)
  •  Large number of acceptances (101 stories in each book, as opposed to only one or two in monthly magazines)
  • Simple format (true stories with beginning, middle and end)
  • Brief stories (1200 words or fewer)
  • Popularity (a beloved series with a 20-year history)
One of my goals for this year is to begin crafting fiction, despite my claim that I can't plot my way out of a paper bag. I've prepared for this by rereading Stephen King's On Writing, and was pleased to learn that he advises to begin with characters and situations and that plot will follow.
Several in the group have promised to show up next week with first drafts, or at least initial paragraphs. I'm tickled and will now begin my own draft of a story to submit to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Make Your Own Luck. I'm feeling lucky this year. Hey, I'm looking over a four-leaf clover!
"The dreamers of the day are dangerous people.
For they dream their dreams with open eyes, and make them come true.”
~D.H. Lawrence

This group meets every Tuesday, 9 to noon, at Our Saviour's Children's Center, 800 North Cambridge, Orange. According to Mari Lou, there's always room for one more. For more information and to RSVP click on this link:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Old Me, New Year

Rose Parade January 1 2015

I'm always a little sorry to see the festive Christmas decorations come down, signaling the close of the holiday season. But I cheer up when I realize I've got an entire new year to fill. Sure, I'll continue to meet a lot of challenges that come with advanced age, but right now I'm facing the year before me with high hopes for wonderful moments.

Writing plan for the new year: Submit for every possible anthology, both nonfiction AND fiction...and publish at least one short story. Develop a novel and begin it.

Diversions in 2015: Riverside Dickens Fest, tour of Italy (Florence, Venice, Rome, Milan), Dirty Dancing at the Segerstrom Center, and lots more to be added.

Physical fitness goal:: join the Wednesday morning water aerobics group at my new apartment complex

New interests: involvement with Orange County AAUW and RPCV groups and the Westminster Library book groups

My book list: Dickens' Little Dorrit, Henry James' The Princess Casamassima, John Berendt's The City of Fallen Angels, Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar, and book group selections.

Three hundred and sixty five whole days and nights? Sure, there's time enough, and time for many more surprises.