Tag Archives: Writing

Blue Eyes Crying

We all have them.  All five of us were born with Mom and Dad’s Irish blue eyes. They light up with laughter and mischief.  Especially when we were all together.  The last time all seven of us were together, the jokes ricocheted around the room as if shot from an AK-47.

Eva Cassidy.  Bob gave her to me.

It’s one of my first memories.

We headed up Wells Street.  Bob, my eldest brother who is seven years older than me, was riding me on the bar of his bike.  I was about 3, and I sat happily on the bike, watching the baseball cards that were clothes-pinned to the spokes of the front wheel click.

“Lease,” Bob said, “Make sure to keep your feet out of the spokes!”  He didn’t tell me why.  Maybe he should have.

We turned onto Charles Street, next to St. Pat’s School.  Our brother Fred was standing there on the corner.

“It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,” Fred has said 3,428 times in the intervening years.

It had never occurred to me before Bob mentioned it, but I was suddenly curious as to what would happen if I DID put one of my feet into the spokes. So I just put one little piece of my sneaker in.

“You guys came around the corner, and all of a sudden, the bike just STOPPED! In slow motion, Bob flew over you and the handlebars, and then you, Lease, flew over too, and landed on top of Bob.  The bike followed, and there was a big pile on the corner,” Fred has said, often.  “I laughed and laughed.”

The lesson I took from that experience was that if somebody tells you not to do something, think about why they are saying that.  They might just be right.  It’s possibly one of the more important life lessons I’ve ever learned.

Of course, he taught me many other things.  Big brothers do that.

Another lesson is that slapstick is hilarious.  Unless you’re the one slapped.

As I write this, my big brother Bob lies in hospice in Florida, dying.  His illness and deterioration happened incredibly quickly, and I can’t get there for a few more days for medical reasons.  Fred is trying to get there to be with him.  Bob is unresponsive, incoherent.  Mentally gone.

As Bob is unmarried and has no kids, the decisions for his care have fallen to me, as I was named his medical proxy, and I’ve shared that responsibility with Fred, just as the three of us shared the burden (along with Beth’s sons) when our sister Beth was in Charon’s boat.

Writing comforts me, and you are all my friends, who have read the stories of my childhood, my family. Bob hasn’t appeared in many of my stories, as he was much older.  He doesn’t fit into the narrative too often.  Moreover, as an adult he has been a difficult guy.  Reculsive, introverted, angry. His has been a difficult life.

But he was also a sensitive man, with a big heart that he kept well hidden.  A writer’s eye for detail, and a love of eclectic movies.  Like the brilliant comedy, What We Did On Our Vacation

Appreciate the folks you have who love you, and whom you love, no matter the differences.  No matter how big a pain in the butt they are.  Because you just never know.

 

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Everybody Needs An Editor

One day, shortly after starting my first job that involved a lot of writing, I realized that I worked for a magician.

Seriously!  My boss, another John, could look at a good piece of writing and make it amazing.  All he used was a pencil.

I can recall standing next to him as he looked over my memo that first time.  He changed a “this” to a “that,” reorganized a couple of words in another sentence and handed it back to me.

Naturally, I figured that since he was the boss he had to do something to contribute; after all, his name was going on it.  But when I looked at the simple changes he made, I was astonished.  Those simple changes made a huge difference.

“Everybody needs an editor,” John said, smiling.

That was close to 40 years ago, and since then I have used that line constantly.  I’ve said that to everybody I’ve ever worked with.  To writer friends.  To blogging buddies.  Because it’s true.  No matter how good a writer you or I am, different eyes notice large and small ways to make something good, better.

If you’re writing a novel, drafting a memoir, compiling blog posts into a future best-seller, you need an editor.  Someone who can help polish, perhaps shorten or reorder.  Someone who can tell you if your work makes sense, or if there are areas that need clarification/reworking.  Someone who can change some “this-es” to “that-s,” reorganize a bit, cut, and shine up that manuscript you’ve been working on.

editing-1

I have someone to recommend.

Karen Kingsley is an old friend of mine who has been a professional writer/editor for her entire career.  For the last 15 years, she has been a freelancer.  Her website is Kingsley Ink.

She’s written and/or edited just about anything you can come up with:  books (fiction and non-), websites, web content, essays, marketing materials, advertising, blogs, speeches, resumes, cover letters, Facebook posts, tweets, press releases.

Karen can help you shine.

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Hallelujah(?)

Like many of you, I still wake in the night with a knot in my stomach.  It’s Donald Trump, of course.  He’s making me sick.  He’s making me anxious.  He’s making me unusually serious.

But of course, we are all here in this country — although I think all of us want to pack our bags and leave a country that just elected such a seriously flawed man.  A man who cheats, and lies and treats all non-white men as if they are less than human.

This video has helped me.  It reminded me that I’m part of the loyal opposition — loyal to the system of government as it should act under the Constitution.  That I’m an American and I value my institutions and I will fight against tyranny. That I am descended from immigrants who helped build our country.

That I have to be part of the solution.  Whatever that may be.

Oh and that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2 million votes, at last count.

Hallelujah.

 

 

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Rights?!? WTF is Wrong With Us?

Look into the eyes of a terrorist.  A threat to your safety and mine.  Something should be done about her.  Ammirite? 

macie

Macie.  Photo from owner Susan R. Smith, courtesy of the Loudoun Times.

Oh wait!  Something was done about her!  I feel safer already.

Virginia, where I live, is an “Open Carry” state.  Where folks can pack their pistols and take them with them no matter where they go.

  • To the grocery store (always a terrifying experience — what if they bruise my apples?).
  • To a bar (because, really, what could possibly go wrong?)
  • When taking a leisurely stroll in the park.

Maybe your state is among them!  Wouldn’t that be great?

open-carry-map

Photo from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.  And Google, natch.

Now what connection could that picture and that map possibly have?

Well, guess what happened on Tuesday?  Just guess.

Macie, an 11 month old lab mix was running in a park on a beautiful day.  Her crimes were many.  Serious.

  • She was off the leash
  • She was friendly
  • She did not respond immediately to her owners call

So naturally she deserved to be shot.  Oh, and killed.

I guess I should back up a bit.

Macie was running off-leash in a park where she wasn’t supposed to be off-leash but where everybody lets their dog run off leash.

Smith said her dog approached the couple and jumped in the air. She said the dog was leaping behind the man but was not barking at the time.

At that point, the man yelled out, “Call your dog,” Smith said. “He said it once, maybe twice.”

Smith said she and her friend then started running toward the dogs, who were about 20 yards away.

“We called for our dogs,” Smith said. Then she said she saw the man’s arm “go to his side” and across his body. “He sees us coming,” she said. The man pulled out a gun and fired it at the dog.

The man faces no charges.  He was legally carrying a gun and reportedly “fired in self-defense.”  But really, there was no threat.  The owner was coming for the dog.  She was a fucking puppy saying hello.

Sources:  The Washington Post, The Loudoun Times

*****

This story has me pretty upset.  Because I walk Duncan not too far from the scene of Marcie’s killing.  Duncan is often off-leash, too.  Because it is a beautiful place to let him run.  There aren’t many places where off-leash is permitted around here.  Those places that exist are small fenced in dog parks that reek of pee.

Duncan is quite good at coming when I call him — he always gets a treat.  But he’s friendly, and I have to (and do) restrain him when I see an unfamiliar walker or jogger coming towards him.  He loves to say hello.

riverbend-path

Duncan and I walk here most days.  Not far from where Macie died.

To me, this man is a perfect example of exactly the problem with folks carrying around guns.  They use them.  Stupidly.  And without consequence. 

Common sense and restraint don’t enter into the picture.

We need to do something about our society where folks feel the need to carry a gun, and feel entitled to use it.

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Generally Speaking Redux

Maybe I’ve mentioned once or twice that my brother, Fred, was a wonderful big brother.  I really don’t exaggerate.  If  you could have made up the perfect big brother, it would have been Fred.  But you probably would have given him a better name.

Fred is 3 years older than me.  And he played with me all the time.  He didn’t beat me up.  He wasn’t mean.  He let me tag along wherever he went.

He actually seemed to enjoy my company, too.  Or at least, it never occurred to me that he might not be enjoying it.  Perhaps I was late in picking up some social clues.  Anyway, I can honestly not remember Fred ever hurting me, or setting me up to fail, or doing any mean big brother things to me.

He was my hero.  When we tucked towels into our jammies and jumped off the back of the couch, I was not just pretending Fred was Superman.  He was Superman.  Of course I also thought that our dog, Tip, was SuperDog when we called him “Kripto,” tucked a dishtowel into his collar and pushed him off the back of the couch.

It was during the late 1950s and early 60s; we saw Westerns on TV and in the movies — The Lone Ranger, Branded, How the West Was Won, and more.  There were a lot of shoot outs at our house, too, because that’s what we played most of the time.   Fred invented great games for us.  Cowboys and Indians, gun fights, sheriff and posse.

Fred was always the hero.  Me?

I was the bad guy who got outgunned and had to keel over and die.

I was the outlaw brought to justice by the handsome sheriff.

I was the squaw who had to skin and cook the deer.

I always lost.

I felt good that at least I had a better part than Tip.  Tip was the deer, and Fred and I would chase him around pretending to shoot him with arrows.  Fred and his friends once caught Tip and tied him onto our broom and carried him Indian-style, to roast over our pretend fire.  Tip escaped and didn’t want to play Indian for a week or so.  We did not eat him.

Tip was much less cooperative for some reason. (Google Image)

Tip was much less cooperative for some reason. (Google Image)

Losing wasn’t a condition for Fred to play with me, but it was reality.  Fred always won.  He was always first, fastest, bravest.  He was always the hero.

Fred’s pretend horse, Thunder, was faster than my horse, Lightning, even after Fred discovered that in real life lightning comes first.  Fred showed me pictures of lightning in “the big dictionary” – a huge reference book we loved to look at.  It had the coolest pictures and lots of words we couldn’t read.  If something was in the big dictionary, it was fact.  Period.  “In real life,” Fred said, pointing to a picture of a scary bolt in a stormy sky, “Lightning is faster than thunder.  But not with horses.”

I really didn’t mind.  If Fred’s horse was slightly faster than mine, that was OK.  We were a team.

But one day when Fred wanted to play Cowboys and Indians, I’d had enough of losing.  Maybe I was growing up.

“I wanna be the cowboy,” I insisted.  “You always get to be the cowboy.  I always get shot.”

“OK,” Fred said.  He didn’t argue or try to convince me to be the Indian.  I should have been suspicious.  But I’ve always trusted Fred completely.  I knew he would never be mean to me.

“OK,” said Fred, again, thinking up a new game.  “You can be a General!  I’ll be an Indian, ummmm, I’ll be called Crazy Horse.”

“OK!” I said, excitedly.  A General!  I wasn’t just cowboy.  I was gonna be a general!

I blew my bugle, called my troops to arms.  My imaginary troops and I rode off on our stallions to fight the Injuns.

I blew my bugle again and my (pretend) troops surrounded me.  We heard Indian war whoops from Fred and his Indian braves.  Fred/Crazy Horse and his braves came at me, surrounding me and my men on all sides.  But I wasn’t worried.  I was a general.  And even at that age, I knew that the cowboys always win.

And then Fred shot me.

I did not flinch.  I did not fall.  I did not succumb to my wounds.  I screamed bloody murder:

“I’m the cowboy!  You can’t shoot me!

I’M THE GENERAL!

Fred calmed me down and took me by the hand over to the big dictionary.  He turned the pages and showed me a picture of a general in a cowboy hat with blond curls.  He looked just like me.  Except for the mustache (mine grew in many years later).

Thanks a lot, Google

Thanks a lot, Google

George Armstrong Custer.

“That’s General Custer,” Fred said.  “Crazy Horse killed him.  Or Sitting Bull did.  Some Indian killed him at the battle of Little Bighorn.  The Sioux Indians surrounded General Custer and his men and killed them.”

I didn't have a chance

I didn’t have a chance

If it was in a book, in the big dictionary, well then,  I had to die.  It was right there in black and white with a color picture.  It was my fate.

We went back over to the battlefield (the front hall) and started the battle again.  Again, I blew my bugle and rallied my troops into a circle around me.  Again, the Indians pressed forward, surrounded us.

Again, General Custer got shot.  And this time he/I was brave.  I clutched my heart, tossed my curls and fell dead.

*     *     *

I owe my devotion to the underdog and my tendency to look everything up to my big brother, who is still wonderful.  Today, I will be visiting my big brother/hero, coincidentally, so I decided to re-run this post.

Because today,  June 25th is the 140th Anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn.

And speaking once more as General Custer, I deserved exactly what I got.

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Melancholy Baby

A lot of my bloggin’ buddies suffer from depression and other emotional challenges.

Like Picasso, I just have the occasional blue period.

We all do.  In my book, it’s not always a bad thing.  And apparently I’m not alone in thinking that it’s OK to be blue from time to time.

In today’s New York Times, there is an interesting article:

The Case for Melancholy

The article discusses the fact that, in today’s life, it seems we are all always expected to be happy.  Cheerful.  Perky.

“Bullshit,” the article states.  Metaphorically, of course.

Whatever happened to experiencing the grace of melancholy, which requires reflection: a sort of mental steeping, like tea? What if all this cheerful advice only makes you feel inadequate?

Yup.

I’m not, and the author is not, talking about clinical depression.  Just the fact that sometimes, quiet sad reflection is a good thing.

We don’t all have to be perky all the time.

Google Image

Google Image

 

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Do I Hear Five?

On May 29, 2011, I was fifty-four and a half years old.  And I was seriously irritated at the GOP in Congress.  You see, they had announced that they were going to take away Medicare from those then under 55 years old.  And that meant me.  I spouted off about it to anyone who would listen.

They’re gonna take Medicare from ME!  I’m 54-1/2!  That’s where they’re gonna start!

After the first 528 times I mentioned this fact to each and every person I could corner, I still felt unsated.  I wanted to tell more people of my irritation.  Whether or not I knew them.

And so I heard a voice inside my head (something I rarely admit to):

Go forth, it said,  and start a blog.

Oh and give it a stupid name to keep yourself humble.

And so I did.  Both of those things.  FiftyFourAndAHalf was born with this post.

Blogging has been a completely different experience than I expected.

My original plan was to do a political/humor blog.  But in spite of a never-ending source of fodder, I found that I wanted to write about other things, too.  That part didn’t really surprise me.

What surprised me was that blogging, and Word Press, became a place where I met new friends, discussed topics important to me.  Where I laughed and cried along with folks I will probably never meet.

Thanks, everybody.  And while I’ve been writing less than usual and reading less than usual, I love the special place that is the ‘sphere.  So, yeah, thanks for being out there, for reading, and for giving me stuff to read too.

From Daily Kos.com

From Daily Kos.com

 

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