Time Out

Okay, friends, followers, and you who just stopped by~

After eleven years, my blog is having difficulties, and Facebook has stopped reposting.  So I am going to take a break until I  get the blog fixed. Then I’ll come back fresh and renewed and ready for the next eleven  years!

I’ll look forward to us getting back together.  It won’t be too long.

If computers have taught us anything, it’s that almost all problems can be fixed by shutting down and taking a rest.  Sounds good to me!

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Who Are We?

I inherited a box stuffed full of information on Manzanar, the World War II Japanese internment camp.  A sweet little old lady writer had accumulated it for a book on the unthinkable that she was certain would never happen again, but she died before she could write it.  I inherited the research, but I never got the book written.  But I pulled it out today.  Because it suddenly seemed horribly relevant.

I spent Father’s Day with my sweet grandchildren and their parents.  And of course I took lots of pictures.  I always do.

But I am also staring at other pictures of little ones.  Theirs was not a happy Father’s Day. 

While my granddaughters laughed and played and danced, the other little ones pleaded through tears for “Mama” and “Papa.”  But Mama and Papa could not come to them.  Many of those little ones–especially those in the cages at the “Tender Age Shelters,” are unlikely to ever see Mama or Papa again.


How did we get to such a place? 

Interesting that it is at the same time that our country is leaving the United Nations’ Human Rights  Council.

God help us.

God forgive us.

“A rigid steel boot on the neck of the immigration debate.  It’s the sign of a party slowly losing its humanity.”

~George Orwell~

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Hidden Pain

Isn’t it amazing how one thing in life prepares us for another? In one of my early books, Helping Women in Crisis, I wrote a chapter on suicide. I didn’t know much about the topic, except that a fellow I knew in college had shocked us all by killing himself over summer break. Then one day my across-the-street neighbor came to walk around the neighborhood with me. We talked about the weather and the newspaper that never came on time and the avocado trees heavy with fruit. Then she casually asked me if I would meet her little girls at the bus stop and keep them with me until their dad got home. I said, “Sure. What’s up?” She nonchalantly said, “Well, I’m going to kill myself and I don’t want my children to find me.”

I had no idea how to react. I called a counselor friend of mine and asked for help, then I called my neighbor’s husband at work. And then I did what any author worth her salt would do: I wrote an op ed piece about trying to understand suicide.

Based on that book chapter, I was invited to the annual student fair at the local Catholic High School. It featured carnival-type games, a food court, and a slate of one-hour presentations from which the students could choose: fun date ideas, unique science projects, how to make friends with your parents, a dunk-the-principal tank, and so forth. Then there was the topic requested of me: Teen Suicide. I couldn’t imagine any student choosing that!

I decided to divide whatever kids did come into a couple of groups of two or three, then have each group draw a challenging situation from the bowl. The groups would have 5 minutes to prepare, then they would act out the situation adding a suggested way to deal with it. My concern was having enough kids to make it work.

I needn’t have worried. So many kids crowded into the room that all the seats were quickly filled. Others sat on the floor, pressed up against the walls. When there was no more wall space, they stood. When there was no more standing room, kids gathered outside the windows and struggled to look in. I opened the windows so they could at least hear.

One by one. the groups did their skits, and we discussed ideas and ways to help. The last skit was about a bullied boy. The plump, awkward fellow who played the victim endured several minutes before he crumpled into a sobbing heap. “This isn’t pretend,” he said. “This is my life!” The kids rushed to his side and told him how much he added to the school. Some apologized for having laughed at him. One girl tearfully said she was sorry for being rude when he asked her to go to the dance with him. She said, “Ask me again. Please?”

What I learned that day was that there is a huge amount we don’t know and understand about each other. It’s hard to share the unattractiveness in our hearts. It’s hard to talk about things that hurt when we are certain others won’t understand. Nor even care.

One girl told the tear-streaked boy, “We didn’t care because we didn’t understand.” Her friend corrected, “We didn’t understand because we didn’t know.” A boy in the back of the room said, “Maybe we didn’t know because we didn’t want to.”

Maybe so.

I hadn’t understood my neighbor’s pain. I would have said I didn’t understand because I didn’t know. Could it be that I didn’t know because I didn’t want to?

People who die by suicide don’t want to die. They want to end their pain. But suicide doesn’t end the pain. It just gives it to another.”

 

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War and No Peace

Nuclear war.  The words that fill our hearts with dread and send chills down our backs are being spoken far too nonchalantly these days.  By people who should know better but refuse to step down, and by those who understand far too little but refuse to admit it.

I wrote about this several years ago when Lawrence Johnston died.  He was one of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project in White Sands, New Mexico, and helped develop the atomic bomb in 1945.  The bomb that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima and led to the  Japanese surrender. The one that hastened the end of the war in the Pacific, but opened the door to the Atomic Age of catastrophic warfare.

According to his obituary, Dr. Johnston was one of the last survivors of the 49 scientists who had gathered near a squash court at the University of Chicago’s abandoned Stagg Field and witnessed history when Chicago Pile 1, the world’s first nuclear reactor, went critical.

I didn’t know Dr. Johnston. I’d never even heard his name.  But I did know Dr. Roger Voskuyl who had also worked on the Manhattan Project. He was president of Westmont College when I attended there.  When I was first dreaming of one day becoming an honest-to-goodness writer. For my first serious article, I interviewed Dr. Voskuyl about his part in the project.

Not long ago, I read about the pilot of the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped that first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The young lieutenant colonel, Paul Tibbets, watched in shock as a horrible boiling mushroom cloud enshrouded the city of Hiroshima. Afterward he wrote these words in his journal: My God, what have we done?

That was what I wanted to know when I interviewed Dr. Voskuyl. The question I posed to him was this:  “If you had known then what that bomb would lead to, would you still have been a part of it?”

When I interviewed that dignified, white-haired man, he took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped at the tears that filled his eyes.

“I did know,” he said.  “We all knew. But what choice did we have?”

I never wrote the article.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

~Song lyrics by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson~

 

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Hats off to the Students of Stoneman Douglas High

Hooray for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida! Everyone’s heard about the 19-year-old former student who walked into the school with a legally purchased AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and killed 17 people–mostly students.  I cannot begin to imagine what those survivors experienced.  Yet they did their best to push the horror of  the shooting aside, and they stepped with determination right into the middle of the sticky gun control discussion.

The kids  went to see the Florida lawmakers to insist that something be done to prevent such massacres in the future.  “Yes, yes,” everyone was quick to say. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”  Really?  Well, that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean much.  The kids ignored the rhetoric and demanded action.  Real, concrete solutions.

So mere days after the murder of their friends, Stoneman Douglas High School students harnessed their pain and led the charge in the gun control debate.  Their intensity and heartfelt determination forced Florida to change laws that had seemed immovably sealed in cement.  They also went to Washington D.C. where they were welcomed with the same “thoughts and prayers” line, but didn’t get the answers and agreements they sought.

They also help town hall meetings. In February, one young man made headlines when, during a CNN Town Hall,  he called out U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s donations from the National Rifle Association.

Two dozen students wearing matching “March For Our Lives: Road to Change” T-shirts announced the tour at a news conference at Parkland Amphitheater, where the students just months ago held a vigil for the 17 killed in the rampage.

Yes, it is a change from their original platform of gun reform.  Or maybe not.  Perhaps what is really needed to achieve real gun reform is to get  disinterested citizens energized about voting.

“Real change is brought about by getting out there and making sure we’re holding our politicians accountable by voting, getting those out of office that don’t represent us the way they said they would,” said Cameron Kasky, who just graduated. “And getting those into office that are going to be morally just and represent the people.”

If this reminds you of the Freedom Summer, the volunteer campaign in the summer of 1964 to try to register as many African-American voters as possible in Mississippi, you’re right. That was organized by civil rights groups, including the most active one — the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.  Their goal was to expand black voting through registration, participation, and education in the South.

The Parkland students’ tour will include stops at rallies, round tables, churches and schools, said Emma Gonzales–another leader. The tour will have 75 stops, including caucus states like Iowa and South Carolina.

“We support policy over people. We do not endorse any candidates,” student leader Chris Grady said. As for the one policy or message the teens most want to promote: “Vote,” he said.  “Vote!”

I say, “Amen, teens! Lead on!”

“This is just the beginning. 

We’re ready to get to work.”

 


 

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Do Facts Matter Anymore?

“We Americans are being flooded with lots of crazy stuff that way too many people believe.  I mean, stuff that can actually be proven wrong.  I guess, it’s not that surprising in times of such awful partisanship as we are currently enduring.  Maybe, but it’s still terribly depressing.  Partisanship is one thing, but now it seems that even  basic political “facts” are quickly subjected to partisan interpretation.

But here is the really terrifying thing:  Our democratic system is based on the consent of voters who are fully informed. Yet we are having an epidemic of willful ignorance in our corner of the world.  And  it’s deeply troubling.  Still, I don’t suppose it’s that surprising.  I mean, as politics become more and more divisive, our political views are more and more tied up in our personal identities.  Which means that way too often we see our political allegiances as a defining part of ourselves– race, or religion, or financial status.  

So what happened to the promise that the internet would keep us all well informed about even the most confusing issues?  Didn’t work out that way, though did it?  Instead, it’s made it possible for  us all to hide out in groups that believe the same as we do, reinforcing our beliefs, making them seem more valid than ever.  And whatever they belief, we can find back up “proof on line.”

“Evidence.”

“Opinion to back up our original belief.”

We truly have entered a post-truth era.”

God, help us!

“I’ve known people over the years who have said, ”If my beliefs are at odds with the facts, so much the worst for the facts.’  

I’ve never been one of these

people.”

~Bart Ehrman~

 

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3 Weeks Late, But I Saw The World!

Yes, I know.  This post is coming thee weeks late. But I have a really good excuse.  I had an opportunity to speak on a  cruise ship leaving San Juan, Puerto Rico, chugging 3 days to the Canary Islands, up the Eastern side of Spain and on to Rome.  Fun, huh?  All I had to do was seven 1-hour talks.  Dan and I enjoyed the free trip and every stopping place.  And, oh, what great fun.  And such great meals.  And no cooking or dishwashing. Preparing seven presentations, was a bunch of work.   But I always learn 10 times as much as I share, so I figure I learned around 70 hours of new stuff about a whole different part of the world.  How fun is that?

I enjoyed every part of the cruise, the people we met, the things we did,  and all the amazing places we saw.  But I think my favorite was Gibraltar.  What an amazing place! It is home to a unique population. It has gorgeous views and a stunning cave.  And on the Rock of Gibraltar are many caves, the highest of which are home to the Barbary Apes (I’d call them monkeys).  They are way tame and endlessly entertaining.

Legend has it that Britain will rule Gibraltar as long as the monkeys stay. But should the monkeys ever leave, the entire place will revert to Spain.  Well, I don’t think Britain has any worries.  As far as we all could see, those monkeys have not the least intention of going anywhere!

What a great trip!

What a lot of work!

What a funny barrel of monkey!

“Almost everything will work again if  you unplug it for a few minutes, including you!”

~Ann Lamott~

 

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Thank You to a Silent Savior

His name was Nicholas Winton, a quiet Englishman who recently died at the age of 106.  He never got around to talking much about himself. Probably no one would have known had his wife not found the dusty scrapbook in their attic, and that didn’t happen until 1988. It was a faded record of names and pictures, a story from the Holocaust.

In 1938, Mr. Winton was a London stockbroker who for some unknown reason canceled a skiing vacation in Switzerland to go with a friend to help refugees in Czechoslovakia, which had just been annexed by Germany.  What he saw there was not at all what he expected.  Countless refugees were living in appalling conditions.  War looked inevitable and escape, hopeless.  Except that Britain had started a program called Kindertransport that allowed unaccompanied Jewish children to be admitted into the country so long as there was a host family for them.  But there was nothing like that in Czechoslovakia.  So Nicholas Winton started one.  He bribed, forged documents, secretly met with the Gestapo, and spent every penny he could beg, borrow, or take from his own bank account.  He met with desperate parents in his Prague hotel room, took pictures of the children, and sent them to his mother in England.  She pleaded in newspaper ads, and church and synagogue bulletins, for foster families and money.  Hundreds of families responded.

Hours before Hitler dismembered Czechoslovakia, the first 20 children left Prague on the first train.  Eight more trains were lined up to take the rest of the children.  Seven trains made it through. 669 children.  The last train, with the other 250 children, left on Sept. 1,1939.  It was the day Hitler invaded Poland. All borders closed, and Winton’s rescue ended.  That last train disappeared.  None of the children on it were ever seen again.

For fifty years, Nicholas Winton said nothing of the children.  Only when his wife found the scrapbook did he tell her he saw those little ones every night in his dreams.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.~

 

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Happy Birthday, Dad

Had my dad lived three more months, he would have been 99 years old today.  99!  That’s so hard to imagine.

If you’re no longer a young whipper-snapper, you probably recognize that weird phenomenon of getting set on a certain age.  No matter what nature does to you, no matter what the calendar says, that’s how old you always consider yourself to be.  For me, it’s 40.  That’s how I see myself.

Last year I was talking about that to my dad, and I asked him how old he felt in his mind. Without missing a beat he said, “60.”  He paused and thought for a moment, then he added, “It always confuses me that my children will soon be as old as me.  How can that be?”

Getting older is a great thing.  But I thank God for allowing my dad the honor of living for almost 99 years, and still being 60.

Happy birthday, Dad.  How amazing it must be to celebrate it in heaven!

“We are always the same age inside.”

Gertrude Stein

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So You Want To Write A Book?

Write your book only if you can do it for the creative joy of writing.  Because if you don’t enjoy it, you likely won’t finish writing it.  And even if you do finish, most likely you won’t take the time and effort to do it the best you possibly can.

Here are some facts you should know:

  • Number of self-published books in 2016 (last year available):  786,935.*
  • Number of traditionally print books in 2016:  683,624.
  • Chance of a book being stocked by a bookstore:  less than 1% **
  • Most book marketing today is done by the authors.  (This is why one’s “marketing platform” is so important to a prospective editor.)

So is it even worth writing your book?

  • If you have to  ask, maybe not
  • Probably not if your goal is to quit your day job and live off your writing.
  • Yes, if the writing itself gives you pleasure.
  • Yes, if you can’t not do it.

How should you start?

  • Learn the craft of writing. (From good writing books.  Better yet, from extended education writing classes)
  • Attend a good writers conference where you can meet agents and editors, and learn from successful writers.
  • Write and write and write some more.

*According to Bowker, the official source for ISBNs in the United States. An ISBN uniquely identifies your book, and helps get it into bookstores and libraries.

**For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing.

 “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

Thomas Edison

 

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