Dylan Thomas advised that we rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Thomas was writing about aging, of course – the slow, and sometimes not so slow, deterioration of our bodies and, let’s be honest, of our minds. But his sentiment is an attitude, a way of approaching life.
With all due respect, I have come to disagree with the poet.
Oh, I rage. I rage loudly and employ inventive curses against everything from my bad back, to Wall Street thieves, to the general stupidity of the world. But, at sixty-five, my rants are quieter, less profane and more a matter of habit than they were in my younger days. And before my sputtering frustration has died, I’m hunting down a match and searching the darkest crevasses for that candle I know I hid at the back of the metaphorical kitchen junk drawer.
Years ago I saw what is still my favorite Christmas card of all time. The outside of the card showed good ole Charlie Brown talking to Lucy. The Blockhead was explaining to my favorite cynic that, “It is better to light a single candle than to stand and curse the darkness.”
The inside of the card was black. All black, but for the white outline of an uvula (that little hangy downy thing in our throats) clearly outlined, the mouth obviously Lucy’s and wide open.
The caption read, “YOU STUPID DARKNESS!”
Yesterday, Jack and I attended an elders dinner put on by the local Native American tribes in our area of Northern California. There was a free meal of salmon and turkey with all the trimmings. Native dancers in soft, pale dear skin and beautiful willow basket headgear whirled. Porcupine quills and hawk feathers floated around weaving bodies. There was even a contingent of Aztec dancers up from Mexico in headdresses of long feathers and shining silver.
But the part I enjoyed the most about the day was that, for the most part, young people did all the work. While we waited for our free dinner, a young woman worked her way down the line pinning colored award ribbons to our chests. Mine was white and proclaimed me an Honored Elder. Jack’s elder’s ribbon was red (he’s a few years older than me) and he also received a red, white, and blue ribbon for being an Honored Veteran. Anyone over eighty-five received a purple ribbon and the crowd was speckled with a good many of these bright declarations of long life.
Young people seated us, young people ran to the side of anyone who raised a shaky hand. These young folks offered more food, an arm to lean on, an attentive ear. Teenagers carried trays of food, fetched coffee or punch or water, offered pie and were just generally kind and respectful and did everything in their power to make the day about honoring their elders. Jack had Matilda, his walker, with him. He was in good company. A third of the people there sported wheels. Everywhere Jack went, people made way for him, saluted him, laid a gently hand on his arm.
I felt blessed.
Jack and I don’t watch the news every day. We came home to see the attacks on Paris.
I admit, my instinct was to revert to my Lucy self. To open my mouth as wide as possible and rage against the darkness.
Instead, I held Jack’s hand and allowed my mind to be lit with the glowing faces of the young Native Americans who gave up a sunny Saturday to honor their elders.
Dylan Thomas advised that we rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I strive to be a positive person, fall asleep each night reciting the many comforts and the people I am happy to have in my life, take an extra minute each morning before crawling out of bed to say a prayer of thanks.
By noon, I’m frazzled – angry, resentful, frustrated. None of these emotions is productive.
Most of you know my husband is a Vietnam combat vet, a Marine who stepped on a landmine fifty years ago just outside Danang. Jack died that day. Floated into the warm light. He’s been pissed off at the world ever since the medic jerked him back into this world. Over the years, he and I have embraced his need for adrenaline, his hatred of boredom, his itch to keep moving. We’ve traveled the world.
But, age catches us all.
War just keeps on giving.
Agent Orange gifted Jack with diabetes and, recently, with a strange neurological disorder similar to Parkinson’s. But not Parkinson’s. Because if his symptoms are diagnosed as Parkinson’s, well, then the VA must admit these newest health challenges are combat related. Study after study has proven grunts, whose heads were rained upon by the defoliant brought to them by Dow Chemical, have a significantly higher rate of Parkinson’s.
Good ole Uncle Sam.
Whatever the correct diagnoses, we deal with the symptoms.
Jack’s Not-Parkinson’s has stolen his balance, sliced holes in his mental focus, and given him tremors that make eating difficult and buttoning a shirt nearly impossible. He no longer drives. He carries plastic bibs to wear when he eats. He walks with the help of Matilda, his walker. Thin, ever increasing, slices of his memory and reason are slipping away. Most distressing, his personality is changing. In twenty-five years, the man never once raised his voice to me. Now it’s a daily occurrence. The disease has eaten away his independence and that makes him irritable and depressed.
It doesn’t exactly make me a bundle of good cheer either.
As usual, I am in awe of the courage and stubborn strength of will Jack displays in dealing with each new physical and mental challenge. Minute-by-minute, day after day, he pulls up the strength to keep going forward.
One foot in front of the other. He doesn’t have to like it, just do it.
He’s a Marine.
This morning, in the midst of a particularly challenging start to the day, I drove to the local grocer story for half-and-half for my coffee. While checking out, minus caffeine, I found a new question on the credit card reader.
Would you like to donate to help a veteran?
I began to laugh. Laughter turned quickly to tiny, perhaps slightly hysterical, fits of shaking.
The cashier turned the card reader around. Blinked.
“It’s Veteran’s Day.” She smiled stiffly. “So, you don’t want to donate to help a veteran?”
I sucked three deep breathes.
“No.” I smiled. “I believe my husband and I have donated enough.”
Nine people were murdered in Charleston this last week. Slaughtered by a young man filled with racist hate and fear and encouraged by a tiny minority of my country’s people. The community of Charleston is responding to these murders with a grace and power that must be making Jesus weep with joy.
The rest of the country is locked in battle over a piece of cloth – a symbol of pride for some and of hatred for others. There is no flag on earth under which both atrocities and acts of courage have not been committed. Custer, and Jackson, and Calley all fought with the metaphorical winds of public opinion unfurling America’s red, white, and blue over their actions. A thousand brave men fought beside them under the same flag.
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41: A state senator and the senior pastor of Emanuel, he was married to Jennifer Benjamin…
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No woman can expect to be regarded as a lady after she has written a book –Lydia Maria Francis Child (paraphrase) 1802-1880
Don’t air your dirty laundry in public — Mom
Yes, that’s right. Another blog post from me. Nothing for months and then two posts in one week. I am neither moderate nor consistent, nor do I strive to be.
Recent events have set me to thinking about censorship, and before your heart sets to racing and you start forming rebuttals in your mind, let me assure you that I am NOT speaking of censorship in the word’s legal definition. I’m talking about personal, internal censorship.
Artists of all stripes – and writers in particular – hate censorship. It’s our C word.
To write anything, and I do mean anything , from a sweet story of a mother loving her child, to the chilling mother/child relationship in Mike Miller’s…
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When Jack and I strapped the leashes of Chesty and Rocca to our wrists, came out of retirement in the lovely tropical country of Panama, and returned to the USA – specifically to Northwest Arkansas – our families and friends were flummoxed.
“You’re moving to the Ozarks? Isn’t that hillbilly country?”
“Well, at least you’ll save money on dental care. Fit right in when those teeth just fall right out.”
“Seriously? The Ozarks? Are you crazy?”
Since we heard the exact same incredulous tones when we moved to Mexico, and when we immigrated it Panama, neither Jack nor I argued with the stereotype, but neither were we swayed. There is no stronger bias than that which is based on unsubstantiated beliefs.
Besides, we had those two giant mastiffs to worry about getting back onto the passenger section of a Delta jet in order to return to the states. We had our hands full.
We’ve been in Fayetteville, Arkansas for coming up on four years now. I’m not going to list all the things we enjoy about the area. Frankly, those of us who live here don’t really mind that others lump us into an image that keeps home prices low. But I do want to tell you about the women of the Ozarks. Some are home-grown, a few, like me, are transplants. The dozen or so women with whom I am now sister-tight friends are the strongest, most courageous, most generous people I’ve ever met.
Most of my friends are members of the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop and I admit that writers, in general, and women writers in particular, must possess those qualities. Why, I fervently hope you ask, do women writers in particular need strength, and courage, and generosity of spirit?
Well, first of all, I have many male writer friends and these men also possess these qualities, so I don’t mean to make this a contest of any sort. But, the fact is that women writers, even now in the year of our Lord 2015, are not treated equally with men in the publishing world. It’s not easy for either sex to make it as an author and I certainly do not mean to take anything away from the talented men who manage to get their books out there and sell enough to keep putting gas in the car to make it to the next book signing.
But, consider this, women are severely underrepresented in the publishing world, published far less in literary magazines, and far too often our work is relegated to the a genre known as women’s fiction.
Want to get a rise out of me?
Refer to The Perfect Victim or Noisy Creek as women’s fiction. The term actually, physically, feels like a pat on the head by a lecherous misogynistic grandfather.
When a man writes about social issues, employs the age-old technique of exploring the social and economic issues in the life of one man in order to illuminate the internal struggles of all men, his work is literature. Now it may be good literature or it may be bad literature, but it’s labeled literature and marketed to both genders.
When a woman uses the exact same method to delve deeply into the psyche and day-to-day life point of view of female character, our work is labeled women’s fiction. The implication being that our book is of interest to women only. I have had men, good friends, people I adore and trust, tell me they read my books because they like my writing, but they rarely read books with a woman as the main character.
Still, I continued to write and do my best to ignore the biases within the publishing industry and in the general population.
Now, something has occurred that cannot be ignored, and which, as my dad used to say, makes me madder than an ole wet hen.
The Ozark Writers League (OWL) meets four times a year in Branson, Missouri. We writers get together the night before and catch up with one another, trade information on publishers and editors, and blow off a little steam. The following day, for thirty years now, Owls gathered at the College of the Ozarks to hear speakers and browse the newest books by our members.
Our next meeting is February 21st. Our president, Casey Cowan, and the other members of the board worked hard and long to put together a conference in celebration of Women in Writing. In a coup, Casey got Paris Bonds and August McLaughlin, both nationally known authors, as our two keynote speakers. Airline tickets were purchased. Motel rooms booked. Hundreds of OWL members studied the schedule, made plans to attend. The list of workshop facilitators and speakers for this conference include: KD McCrite, Linda Apple, Velda Brotherton, Ronda Del Boccio, Jan Morrill, and me, Pamela Foster.
Two days ago, so that would be seventeen days before the conference is scheduled, the College of the Ozarks informed our president that because of the content of the conference we were no longer allowed to meet on their campus. Casey Cowan offered to change the titles of some of our workshops, did his best to understand the college’s objections, and to appease. In the end the college simply terminated its association with Ozark Writers league and left us with just over two weeks to secure another location for the event.
Now, to be fair, The College of the Ozarks is a private institution, supported by a conservative Christian base, and they have every right to determine who uses their facilities. But, to cancel a thirty year relationship and put OWL in the position of finding another venue, and notify hundreds of people that the place we have met for thirty years is now closed to us – that seems a bit extreme to me.
The college’s objection to the conference centered on August McLaughlin and on one of our own beloved OWL members, Velda Brotherton. August, who is a nationally known speaker on women’s body issues and anorexia, and writes a blog called Girl Boner, which has a massive following, will be speaking to us on marketing. Not a particularly sexy topic, but my guess is that Girl Boner deal brought a hand or two to the chest of college administrators.
Velda Brotherton writes western historical. She was, in fact, honored by the Washington County historical society a few years ago at a luncheon I was lucky enough to attend. This veteran author and speaker also writes western romance and what, if she were a man, would be called literature. Her latest release, Beyond the Moon, has been submitted for a Pulitzer.
At the OWL conference on the 21st of this month, Brotherton is teaching a workshop on how to write a love scene. You’re Never Too Old for Sex is the provocative title. Will there be any graphic discussion of positions and body parts and Shades of Gray type talk? Well, of course not. But when the college saw the title, I’m guessing they panicked, shut their ears and minds to facts and canceled the conference, forcing us to find another venue. I imagine they had visions of Dr. Ruth putting a condom on a banana.
Is this an issue of censorship? Not exactly. No. Not in a clear sense. However, canceling two weeks before the event and giving our president no opportunity to appease or change titles or even topics for this one conference while we looked for another venue for our next meeting – to many of us, that does smack of trying to keep us, not just from speaking out on their campus, but from speaking out at all.
For me, that two week notice of cancellation with no opportunity for compromise is tainted by those damn grandfatherly pats on the head and all those “a woman’s place is in the kitchen and bedroom” remarks and, really, by an entire historical precedent to shut women up.
Ozark Writers League has a new, much better venue, and the college is, I’m sure, relieved that the gates have been barred from the heathen. So everything worked out fine. But through these last couple of days, I have been unable to stop comparing the opinions and biases of my west coast friends, when Jack and I moved to the Ozarks, with the blind bias of a college administration.
“Isn’t that hillbilly country?”
Well, yes it is. But some of us hillbillies ain’t near as dumb, or as easily silenced, as we used to be.