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Monday, July 9, 2018

It's BAAA--AAACCCCKKK

What do hurricanes have to do with Kentucky? Find out in my essay, "Searching for Kentucky After the Storm" up at Sunlight Press.

It's Back! Hurricane Season, that is. Time (well, past time, actually) to start thinking about those things we all meant to do, promised we'd do, had every intention of doing as the storms were barreling at and over us last year. You know the list: buy and install hurricane shutters; get a tune-up for the generator; get solar panels; have the trees pruned and remove damaged trees; clear leaf litter from the drainage ditch in the front yard.

Barnacle Bills after Hurricane Klaus (1984). Alas, it didn't survive Marilyn (1995).

Expert procrastinator that I am, I haven't done those things yet. I'd better get a move on because Hurricane Season 2018 is upon us.

As always, hurricane season puts me in a reflective mood. I used to be able to rattle off the names of the 11 hurricanes and tropical storms I've been through, but with time, the order and names are getting fuzzy. The lesser storms get forgotten. Those storms that became minor inconveniences in the larger scheme of things fade. A few days of candlelight, rerouting around flooded streets, work, schools, and businesses shut down for a few days. Then life goes on.

Crown Bay Marina, post-Marilyn, 1995. (Where some nice crew on a megayacht let me
use their satellite phone to call my mother and assure her I was safe.)

It's the big impact storms that are never forgotten. The ones that leave us without power and phone for months. Those that rip the roof off the house like it's a toy. Those that leave body counts. Marilyn. Georges. Maria.

Even from those storms, eventually, recovery does become recovered. Sunlight Press has published my personal essay Searching for Kentucky, about that process of going from recovery to recovered after hurricane Marilyn in the US Virgin Islands. I hope you'll stop by their site to give it a read.

Along the same lines, this poem, "Hurricane," by Mary Oliver, captures a similar sentiment on her hurricane and recovery experience in 2017's Hurricane Harvey.

One for the "great minds" category: once we were able to make it from our houses to town after Marilyn (1995)
my bestie Julie and I pulled into the parking lot in FrenchTown at the same time. We're pointing to our miraculously unscathed vehicles, and drinking tepid beer from Cafe Normandy, where they were trying to drink all the stock from the coolers before they got too warm.

Finally, please don't forget that although we're now in the 2018 Hurricane Season, there are still a lot of recovery efforts going on throughout the Caribbean. Here are some links to some worthy organizations that could use a hand. Please consider making a donation to one of these.

In the US VIRGIN ISLANDS

Humane Society of St. Thomas helps to rescue, care for, and find homes for stray and abandoned animals on St. Thomas.

Animal Care Center of St. John was destroyed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but are still working to help the animals of St. John as they rebuild.

St. Croix Animal Welfare Center was also destroyed by Hurricane Maria but is in the process of rebuilding.

In PUERTO RICO

Defensa Animal de Rincon is a Puerto Rico nonprofit working to help the dogs, cats, and horses on the island. It is 100% funded through donations.

Second Chance Animal Rescue of Puerto Rico is a nonprofit that rescues, rehabilitates, and finds homes for abandoned and abused dogs rescued from the streets of PR.

And this blog post at The Conscious Cat lists some other organizations that are working to help the animal population affected by Hurricane Maria in PR.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How to Grow Future Terrorists 101


Image result for amber waves of grain

Over the past 17 months, the world has been astonished as it watches the slow and complete unmasking of the United States. The administration, elected by the American people--although not by the majority of them--has revealed the dark underbelly that the country has always kept hidden behind flags, Bibles, soaring eagles, and amber waves of grain. Yes, the PR image of wholesome goodness and morality that the country so proudly showed the rest of the world has been revealed for what it is: smoke and mirrors.


Somehow, through a history that includes the genocide of native Americans, the brutality and immoral centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK, setting up violent puppet dictatorships in the Caribbean and Central America, and a host of other embarrassments, we've managed to maintain our reputation as the world's beacon of freedom and morality. Stepping in at the last minute to help win the "war to end all wars" and the one after that does have some redeeming value and makes up for a lot of poor choices. Everyone needs a second chance to make-up for errors in judgment and save their reputation.

Can we ever recover from the egregious errors of the past 17 months, though? In that time, conservatives on the right who have made a platform of "family values" and won support by pointing out the moral failings of their opponents have: decided that extramarital affairs are ok, as long as you ask for forgiveness, or continue to deny wrongdoing. Unless you're a Democrat. Just talk that contradiction away by saying, "But Bill Clinton LIED. That's what we were so mad about." Or not. They'll even embrace lying about those illicit affairs, as long as it's the right person doing the lying. Isn't that a far cry from he hell-storm of self-righteous fury we saw from that party in the 90s, as they fiercely and persistently went after Clinton (while turning a blind-eye to Newt, Limbaugh, and so many others' dalliances)? But be careful, they'll also turn on you like rabid dogs if you find that you draw the line at lying and step up to call out further wrong doing within the party, as Mark Sanford just found out

If you're keeping count, so far, here are the things the GOP has revealed it stands for--embraces--now that their leader has said, through his actions and words that they no longer have to hide behind some cloak of morality. In the past 17 months, we've witnessed the party's true positions that all of these things are AOK (at least for the GOP): extramarital affairs; lying; pussy-grabbing; lying; making fun of the disabled and elderly; getting other people to lie for you (I'm looking at you, Sarah Sanders); nepotism; the KKK; hate-groups; slavery; lying; dictators; human rights violations; and, lying.

Now, because I guess below-rock-bottom isn't deep enough for the GOP to sink, they've started shoveling: taking children and infants from their parents and putting them into concentration camps, er, "tender age shelters" while they prosecute their parents. Where the guards, keepers, handlers, babysitters aren't allowed to touch, hold, or comfort the children. Not even to comfort a frightened and screaming toddler.

Slide 1 of 28: People who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17.
AP photo, from: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/apnewsbreak-youngest-migrants-held-in-tender-age-shelters/ar-AAySDHH?li=BBnb7Kz

While the right contort themselves into bizarre arguments supporting the brutal policy ("the Bible says so"--seriously?  WTF is wrong with you people??!) Here's what the Bible says about immigrants: 

Leviticus 19:33-34 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Exodus 22:21 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Exodus 23:9 “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.



Thankfully, the Bible also tells there will be repercussions for the GOP and all their supporters:

Malachi 3:5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

Deuteronomy 27:19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’






Let me reiterate that last one from Deuteronomy: CURSED BE ANYONE WHO PERVERTS THE JUSTICE DUE TO THE SOJOURNER..." Here illegally or not, good people don't treat other people that way. A party that screams about "right-to-life" and the evils of abortion, but has no qualms about tearing children from parents' arms, mistreating children in this way, has no claim on ANY moral high road or any kind. EVER.

Remember when the US was attacked by terrorists from the Middle East and so many people, looking for answers to how anyone could justify such horrifying behavior using religion? How horrible the Koran and Islam are that their religion allows that. And it must allow it, because where's the outrage from the Muslims who don't support that kind of behavior? How do supposedly Godly people turn into terrorists?

Look in the mirror, conservatives. What the "good people" of the GOP, the good, God-fearing supporters of this administration and its policies are doing is no different from how the Taliban and ISIS use their religion to justify terrorist acts. Life in #DontheCon's America is like being in an episode of the Twilight Zone. We--the United States of America, former beacon of freedom, tolerance, and goodness--have become a nation led by a party of terrorists.

How are terrorists created? How could those young men from the middle-east have so callously and unconscionably attacked men, women, and children in New York. You're looking at it, watching it happen, as those children held in detention centers and (soon) tent cities in the desert, suffer trauma, separation, fear, and absolutely ZERO compassion from the people of this country. That will stay with those children. They won't grow up with a warm and fuzzy feeling about this country, but the first-hand knowledge of our reality. They won't flood the border because we're a beacon of hope. They'll flood the borders for revenge.

And THIS is how to grow a future terrorist.




Sunday, October 29, 2017

Stranger Things: Why the Duffer Brothers Are My Heroes

Matt and I just got done binge-watching the second season of Stranger Things. If you haven't yet seen it, or haven't climbed on the Stranger Things fan-wagon yet, no worries, there are no spoilers ahead. Read away. This post is all about my own personal love affair with the show and hero-worship for its writers, the Duffer Brothers, Matt and Ross.



Stranger Things is an homage to all the greatest sci-fi movies of the 80s, and to all things 80s for that matter. Even though the Duffers were born in 1984, so weren't really part of the very time they're writing about, they capture every feeling and nuance of the age, from the clothing, music, and home decor to freedom kids had before "helicopter parents" were a thing. The writing and incredible acting by a perfectly cast ensemble of talented actors contribute to the experience. They take the viewer on such a faithful, accurate trip back to that era that it becomes a complete immersive experience. So much so that turning it off at the end of an episode and looking around a 2017 house is disorienting.

But that's not what has me so completely engrossed and captivated by Stranger Things. It's the story-telling itself. The Duffers tell stories in a way that resonates with me. It's the way stories in real life unfold: from multiple perspectives. This isn't the simplistic story told from a single point-of-view (POV), either in the first or third person limited, focusing on a single character. (IMHO, first-person is too often lazy storytelling where many writers never really "show" anything, only tell, "Look at me, here's what I did..."  Third person requires the writer to do a bit more work to show the reader how things are unfolding, but is too often used for linear, direct, this person goes from point A to point B with all the expected and predictable plot points crossed along the way. (Boy meets girl, miscommunication happens, go their separate ways, trauma ensues, they realize they're meant to be together and live happily-ever-after.)

That's not how our stories play out in the real world. In the real world, our stories  involve many people, some directly and others indirectly, all interconnected, all affected by the actions, but not always (rarely) aware of the others involved. Until their stories and our own intersect. All of our stories are richly nuanced, complicated, and interrelated, and we all live multiple narratives, all at the same time. It takes a lot of extra work and depth and mental energy to identify, trace, and keep track of all that inter-relatedness. In Stranger Things, the Duffers (and director Shawn Levy and the terrific cast) have done that.

The Duffers have created this huge hit that tells multiple intertwined stories with many protagonists, in short, fast scenes...well, if you've read the first two books in my Chupacabra Trilogy (Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons, and The Un-Familiar: A Tale of Cats and Gods) you know that's how I think stories should be told. That's why the Duffers are my writing heroes. I'm bowled by a story where, I recognize that style, that desire to show the WHOLE story, from all the POVs that are actually living it. Stranger Things is a complex story with multiple lead characters of all ages--the boys and El, the teens, the adults--all have their own very complex and well-developed story lines, with their own inciting incidents, motivations, challenges, and climaxes. Any of these characters could have been chosen as the protagonist and the story told in s a simple, linear arc and it would probably have been satisfying.

By giving the whole cast their own interesting and related story, with the audience following all of them, jumping quickly between short scenes focused on one character or group, then moving to the next, related but not yet connected scene with another character or group, we start to follow the threads and anticipate, try to guess how they'll be pulled together. Because we know they have to be pulled together. They're related, all in each other's orbitals, just like our own stories in real life overlap with so many others, but we don't think about those until our stories collide.

The ensemble cast of season 1 tells the tale from multiple POVs: primarily that of the adults (Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper, played by Winona Ryder and David Harbour); the teens (Nancy Wheeler, Jonathan Byers, and Steve Harrington, played by Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, and Joe Keery), and the kids (Eleven, Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, Lucas Sinclair, and Will Byers, played by Millie-Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, and Noah Schnapp)

While this more complex approach to storytelling might not be for everyone, I am personally thrilled that the Duffers have at least given writers such a great model to refer to the next time an agent or publisher says, "You can't have more than one protaganist. Re-write it from one POV."

Yes, I heard that from every one of the 4 agents that requested the manuscript of Ye Gods! I'm glad I stuck to my guns and said, "That isn't the story. This isn't one character's story, its this ensemble story." I'm glad I found a publisher that's able to keep up with story telling where each of the multiple main characters is moving along his or her own story arc. For example in Ye Gods! Jack trying to overcome writer's block, Kiki trying to demonstrate her "powers," Eddie trying to solve the murders, Senora Milagros trying to find the dog and Carmen, Carmen trying to survive, and the dog/chupacabra just out doing his thing. It's told in short scenes from different POVs as each character lives their own live, the one they're the center of, with the other's only satellites orbiting, briefly touching and overlapping their stories. The reader knows those multiple, brief overlaps need to all intersect at some point to get the whole story. How that will happen is part of what keeps readers turning the page.

At least, that's what keeps me turning the page as a reader. My favorite authors tell complex, complicated stories, rarely in a linear fashion. Rarely is the entire story told from a single, or even two POVs. Stranger Things is just one more in a long string of successful stories told from multiple POVs but too often, the publishing industry is afraid to trust in a literate, well-educated, and discerning reading public. I'm happy Netflix took the chance on the Duffers and Stranger Things because it shows this isn't just some small subset of people who want stories that make them think and guess, rather than spelling it all out for them. It's not just the fantasy/sci-fi crowd, but the mainstream viewer and reader. The huge success of Stranger Things will hopefully be the wake up call to the publishing industry that stories don't have to be told from a single POV, they don't have to follow a protagonist. I hope the Duffers, by writing such a monster hit (sorry, couldn't resist!), have changed the rules of what sells. Stories don't have to be linear. They can be told in parallel until its time for them to converge.

When stories are told in this way, with all the players only having access to their piece of the puzzle, but the reader/viewer seeing all of them and trying to figure out how the puzzle will ever get solved, it's a thing of beauty to behold. The Duffers tell their strange story the way all our stories unfold in the real world--with everyone holding a piece of the puzzle--and that format resonates strongly with me, as I try to explain in this interview at Serious Reading:

I love when the chaotic swirl of complex story lines tumbling around in my head all come together into a cohesive whole. When I first see the outline filled with plot points spreading out in front of me, but only blank pages on the computer screen, it’s a bit intimidating... It’s very similar to how I feel when solving puzzles...


And again in this interview at Connie's Random Thoughts:

I tend to tell a story from multiple points of view. I love reading and writing stories that are revealed from multiple perspectives because that’s how the real world works. We’re all in the story together, and no one person has all the information. We don’t get anywhere until we all come together with our piece of the puzzle. Curiosity about how and when that will happen keeps me turning the pages in the books of my favorite authors and I hope it keeps the reader turning the pages in my stories, too.

If you haven't watched season 1 of Stranger Things yet, I urge you to go get Netflix and watch it. It's phenomenal on so many levels. Watch it multiple times. It's worth it. The first time, just to follow the story. The second time to really enjoy the big and small details that pull the reader so completely into 1983. Then, once you've relished the beauty of that, watch again and pay attention to how masterfully these multiple POVs, with intertwining, skimming past but not touching storylines are slowly woven tighter and tighter until the collide.

You'll be drawn in and wowed every time.