Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Third Week of Daily Blogging, Thanks to Story of My Life

Jenni's blog has challenged participants with 31 days of writing prompts, one for each day in May. Each prompt challenges and informs. Please try at least one of them. Here are my replies for the past week, each of which can be found posted daily on Google+.

Saturday, May 18, 2013: A Story from my Childhood, originally posted for Remembering for Mother

Afternoons beside the Illinois River are not my earliest memories, but they are certainly memories I hold dear. Sun-dappled waters, clear enough to see the tiny bait fish nipping at our feet; cold stream-fed waters; a pebble palette of pinks and bronzes and eggshell, below and along the shore. Our dog’s soft pink feet grew sore as she padded after every member of our family, patiently keeping watch, waiting for some of lunch to be tossed her way. As strangers floated by in canoes, we waved. From men in flat-bottom boats, Dad gathered clues about where the fish were biting.

For these afternoons, Mother packed home-fried chicken, Dad’s favorite. He said her chicken was better than anyone else’s, even better than fine restaurants. Mom said her secret was being willing to make a mess and clean it up:

“The oil has to be so hot that the batter sears and crisps up while the meat cooks. Fried chicken has to cook fast and hot so it doesn’t dry out. The cook has to let the oil sputter and spatter, and she has to wipe down every square inch of her stove when she’s through.”

Mother also stirred together the family recipe for potato salad, tangy with dill pickle and a touch of mustard to take the shine off the Miracle Whip. She added bread and butter sandwiches, more pickles, black olives sometimes, warm sliced tomatoes, and watermelon. These are still among my favorite foods--probably because I associate them with picnics beside the Illinois and special occasions like Dad’s birthday in July.

The picnic lunch filled the back seat between my sister and me. The poor dog hopped in the trunk because we didn’t know better back then and because Mother would not let her on the car seats. She didn’t want them smelling of wet dog.  One of Mother’s first acts when we arrived was to carry the watermelon to the river, dog at her heels, and let it drop. Sometimes, after hard rains, we wrapped a rope around the melon’s length and again around its width, securing one end under a large rock on shore so that the river could not steal our dessert, but most of the time, the river was not at all wild and the melon stayed put.

We learned not to venture in too deep when we’d had the gift of rain after we watched the river catch our dog, Cinderella, and carry her downstream even as she paddled hard upstream. We hopped up and down on the rocky shore, calling her name and shouting for Dad, fishing downstream. He just shifted his pole from left hand to right, as if he’d saved a dog from drowning many times, and grabbed her by the tail as she floated by. We cheered and ran to lead the dog back to us and keep her close.

When the water was not too deep or fast, we climbed into big truck tire inner-tubes and floated, letting the water spin us with the current. We paddled only hard enough to stay away from low-hanging tree branches. Someone told us or we made up a story that snakes hung in those trees just to slither onto the backs of children and hitch a ride downstream. Along the route, we scanned the deep shady pools for big fish, especially lazy, fat catfish. When we sighted one, we hollered for Dad to come catch them, but he only promised to look later while staying downstream, farther from our play, letting the waters wrap around his legs as he cast and reeled line over and over.

We ate after Dad caught a mess of fish and tied his stringer close to our picnic place. Then Mom made us take naps on blankets in the shade. When we awoke, the sun was halfway between high noon and twilight and the watermelon was cool. It was never cold, just cool, and Dad never failed to tease Mother about her silly habit of cooling melon in the creek. “Who ever heard of such a thing?” he asked and smiled, but no other melon has ever tasted sweeter to me.



Sunday, May 19, 2013: Five Favorite Blogs


I like http://www.virtualsalt.com, in particularThe Handbook of Rhetorical Devices posted there. Having taught rhetoric for many years, I know how difficult it is to explain rhetorical devices and provide excellent examples for them. Educator and writer Robert Harris has not only explained each device well, he provides accessible examples for each.

I also admire http://grammargirl.com where writers of all types and levels of expertise can find answers to their questions. The site has multiple links to multiple sites for any and all problems. Need a review of punctuation? You’ll find a link. Have a particular question? One of the experts will provide an answer. The site is easy to use, especially the Quick Down and Dirty Tips that offer reviews about the pesky apostrophe in possessives and so much more.

And finally, in the Excellent Educational Sites, I’m in awe of www.easybib.com and http://owl.english.purdue.edu. The many minds and hands that have put together online bibliography and citation aids have my respect, if for no other reason than that MLA and APA stuff is tedious in the extreme. I’m grateful to them. No membership required. They’re free and top quality.

For a site that never fails to please while giving advice, I recommend Leo Babauta’s http://zenhabits.net. His world viewis mature and holistic. He invites each of us to be better by adopting simple habits, including a smile, and that makes me smile.


I also enjoy reading posts at http://almostfearless.com, the saga from a plucky couple who let go of traditional careers and standard lifestyles for the open road. Currently, they reside in Bucerias, Mexico, a place I’ve visited and remember well. They’ve just welcomed their second child into this world, another person sure to become an intrepid traveler, undeterred by learning languages, trying new foods, and trusting in the health care elsewhere.

Monday, May 20, 2013: Get Real. Share a Personal Struggle.

Years ago and even in a few places today, people felt comfortable using pejoratives and slang to refer to other nationalities, races, and ethnicities. Some people also fell back upon ugly language to describe anything they don’t understand, including gender issues and sexuality.

Most of us know better today. We know that being called names and being denied Constitutional privileges is anything but a gay lifestyle of choice. We know that prejudice and even domestic terrorism follows in the wake of hate speech. We’ve censored our speech as well we should, but everyone, everywhere still feels entitled to mock, abuse, and belittle those of us who are overweight, fleshy, stocky, more than fully grown, fat, hefty, heavy, obese, and morbidly obese.

Poor New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been the butt of late-night talk-show hosts who seem to believe that all that fat makes his skin tough enough to deflect the hurt. It doesn’t.

I well remember a student of mine, a sophomore who should have been a senior, a girl unable to fit in a student desk. She was the butt of many high school bullies who made themselves feel whole and hearty at her expense. What they didn’t know is that the heart of her died during her first attempt at completing the sophomore year. Her mother, overweight, died--a heart attack. This fifteen-year-old was left with a taciturn father, incapable of helping her overcome her grief. She ate and ditched school. She failed that year and didn’t even attend through the next. But she summoned the courage to return in the year when her peers would graduate, and she asked me once why people are so unkind to fat people. She said that fat people are some of the nicest people around, and she’s right. They are.

I’m obese, and most of the time, nice. Still, I remember my dad holding up a photo of me, showing my daughter the slimmer version of me and saying that I was pretty--then. He didn’t need to add that or tell me that he really liked the Judds’ music until he saw them perform. Wynonna Judd was too fat, he said, and dropped her. Now he was addicted to cigarettes and alcohol, but never made the leap between his addiction and others’ plagued by food. He lacked the capacity, I guess.

I also remember my mother buying clothes in one size too small to encourage me to lose, and I remember how surprised I was to learn that boys and college friends didn’t think of me as fat at all. I wasn’t then, but in my childhood home, I was in need of redirection and diets.

Today, so many, many years after those early wounds, I am again trying to lose weight. I’ve followed Jennifer Hudson into Weight Watchers, a program I tried years ago, one that worked for a couple of years. I’ve also been injected with substances that helped the weight fall off while I consumed 350 calories a day. I looked really great--for a few years. Once I put myself on a diet of SlimFast morning, noon and night. I lost a lot of weight fast, but I never really lost the desire to soothe my frazzled nerves and childhood hurts with foods spicy, fat, crunchy and sweet.

I’m succeeding. And I’ve moved to a place where I must walk the little dog. I’ve also found an aerobics swim class where people don’t seem to judge or whisper about sizes.

This late in life, I’m taking steps to overcome my lifelong struggle with diet and health. My clothes are looser, and the Points Plus system manageable. I’m happy in the company of others who know my struggle. Wish me well, please.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013: Links to My Favorite Posts from my Archives

These are a few of my favorite things:

"Recovery in the Heartland," though written and posted months ago, is timely in light of the current suffering in Moore, OK. The post advises: Admire those people who endure in the face of … hardships, the ones who remain hopeful that things will get better, the ones who have babies and believe, as they must, that their futures will be bright. Where would they find comfort if they failed to believe in a brighter future? So they live in this “time of vague optimism . . . [with] nothing to fear but fear itself” , and they thrive because they are resourceful and humble and hard-working.

"Stars and Traffic Lights" explores symbols found and deployed.

"From Sorrow to Triumph" This post begins with the lessons drawn from To Kill a Mockingbird and applies them to contemporary, real-world challenges, proving that one of literature's traits is verisimilitude.

"Eagles on High" is a memoir, one that moves others, I hope.

"What Mark Will You Leave Upon This World?" This post represents what I hope to accomplish with this blog: challenge others to see anew what has been debated and discussed in the news.

"42: A Review" This post blends classic literary criticism with something very contemporary. I enjoy challenging myself to make connections.

"Hazard Pay for Us All" This one blends three things I love: literature, writing, and conviction. 

"Writers Write!" This post speaks to the heart of what motivates me to create for this blog: the power of writing.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013: Rant. Get Up on your Soapbox

In one of my adult phases, I dared People Who Speak Empty Clichés to prove the truth of their clichés.  Anyone who tossed out the phrase liberal mainstream media or even the Palin invention, lame-stream media, earned my sharp inquiries: which network? which newsreader? what story was never told? which report was spun topsy-turvy until the truth was just a puddle of lies and distortions?

Without exception, no one answered the questions. A few, surprised to be asked, tossed CNN and the New York Times into the conversational fire, and I knew I’d won the argument. CNN, I snapped, might have been viewed as liberal in its early days because it tried to tell the whole story accurately and sent reporters forth around the world to tell stories from multiple points of view, but a left-leaning agenda was never in its playbook. It’s nothing like its Ted-Turner incarnation anymore, but I could be wrong, of course. Give me a story that was twisted and turned left instead of dead-center.

Without exception, no one thus challenged offered a specific story, a single betrayal; everyone just repeated the blather that Richard M. Nixon and his right-handed men sent forth. In their paranoia and malfeasance in office, they believed the best defense is a good offense so they smeared the media. I’m sure their misdirection is still traveling well beyond the mesosphere where alien life forms chuckle. And that’s my point: A lie told often enough becomes the truth.

Vladimir Lenin said that. Yes, Lenin, the Russian, he of revolutionary ideologies, the mastermind orchestrating the Bolshevik revolution, the ruthless leader of Russia reincarnated as the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), a prominent name in a list titled Fathers of Communism. Yes, Lenin’s cynical observation about brainwashing, also known as effective propaganda, has become a strategy for winning the day. In fact, the 2010 and 2012 elections prove that propaganda is alive and in use. The 2014 election appears to be founded upon propaganda as well.

FOX told itself and its viewers lie after lie, so often and so loudly that folks were caught off guard, down in the dumps, and discombobulated when other networks put Ohio in the blue column. Karl Rove, proving how little he understands demographics, protested in vain, leaving only vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan to take the reins and ride forth, telling more lies.

One lie that Ryan likes to tell is that his budget is new. It’s not. It’s 2011 Redux. He claims to rid the world of Obamacare; he doesn’t. He just wriggles around in its ingredients, tossing out all components favorable to people in need while retaining any component that saves money. He also continues to swell when he proclaims that his budget is fiscally responsible, but he continues to dissemble when asked to put pen to paper and prove his claims mathematically.

The budget that President Obama put forth saved more money than Ryan’s, but most likely, few people knew about President Obama’s budget. It was available to all, but not through the mainstream or even most cable media programs. It was on the internet, evidence that President Obama fulfilled his Constitutional duty to recommend and request. The House of Representatives, not the President, is the branch of government charged with raising revenue. Congress has the Constitutional duty to pass a budget.

But FOX, Rove and Ryan are not the only voices ignoring the Constitutional separation of powers while spewing propaganda. The mainstream media is a co-conspirator. CBS’s long-running Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer in the anchor-chair is a great example. Schieffer enjoys headlines like this one: Bob Schieffer Blasts Washington, suggesting Schieffer speaks truth to power, but I disagree. Schieffer merely said what many had already said, what most people already knew. He offered nothing new and certainly did not provide the full Monty. He said of sequestration: "The idea was that no sane person would allow such cuts to happen. Well, guess what: even Washington managed to underestimate its own ineptitude. The sequester and the draconian cuts are about to happen, because the White House and Congress can't close the partisan divide and figure out what to do with them, which is disheartening to say the least."

To understand the sequester and partisan divides requires more than sixty words, and news has a responsibility to report the whole story or shut up. Schieffer, I suspect, will argue that viewers will not stay tuned for much more than sixty words. Viewers want 140-word Tweets, they want action, and as good voyeurs, they want a bit of titillation. If it bleeds, it leads has long been a media cliché, and thus, we who demand nothing more, tune in for the death toll at Newtown, the body count in Moore, OK, the latest sexual peccadillo from a sports icon, and the most recent hypocrisy from Washington.

Jon Stewart interviewed Bob Schieffer soon after Newtown and asked why messages from Ted Nugent and the NRA make the nightly news while counter messages from police officers and more moderate citizens do not receive fifteen-minutes of fame. Stewart wanted to know why the media spreads the distortions, why it takes no responsibility for the shape of the story, but Schieffer had no answer. In fact, he may not have understood the question and certainly did not seem to recognize that he may be part of the problem instead of the solution.

Schieffer said that representatives from law enforcement had been guests on his program before, then complained that “we’re not hearing very much from them right now” as if he has no authority to give law enforcement a national voice. All he has to do is invite law enforcement to speak and give them a microphone so that their message may be heard widely, at least as widely as the fellow who offered that the Holocaust might have been prevented if Jews had guns.

Stewart probed Schieffer regarding the tendency to lead with blood instead of facts and reasoned arguments. Schieffer demurred, saying “I don’t know about that.” Stewart closed the interview without offering an extended web episode. He seemed to give up on Schieffer’s ability to take responsibility for the generalized and sometimes skewed messages he fronts. Indeed, Schieffer’s program often shows him giving politicians plenty of rope, then giving them some more because he lets them rant and dissemble without challenging their facts and figures.

Once upon a time, the minority had a tough time getting out its messages. Proselytizers and acolytes stood on corners passing out flyers. Occasionally, they were more furtive, weaving in and out of parked cars, placing pamphlets under windshield wipers. I remember receiving one of those from the John Birch Society (JBS). Its use of ad hominem, faulty logic, and doomsday predictions proved within the first paragraphs that JBS was a fringe element, one that attracts folks with preconceived biases or those who fear the present, change, and the future. A core JBS belief, for example, is that the purpose of many is “to destroy our constitutional Republic”, and they cite the Declaration of Independence instead of the Constitution as proof that our nation was founded upon godly principles.

JBS has never been an organization that speaks for the majority of Americans. Its minority opinions have found vehicles, including social media today--as is its right. But many minorities enjoy celebrity status. Climate-change deniers, for example, a group no larger than 30% of the populace are treated respectfully in the media. Newsreaders routinely sit on the fence when pronouncing stories about climate change instead of asserting, as nearly 70% of Americans do, that climate change is not only real, but also a very real problem.

Indeed, the Tea-Party, much in the news, often invited to be the talking-head of the day on news programs, enjoys similar protections. Newsreaders allow them to speak without challenging the basic facts of their messages. The problem was so pervasive during the 2012 campaign that news-checkers and truth-diggers had more work than they could handle. Still the truth does not get through to that minority to which we often cater. President Obama’s citizenship is an excellent example. The media spread the doubt by legitimizing the doubters, by giving them a forum instead of consigning them to parking lots and windshield wipers. Media complicity fueled the fires of ignorance, leaving us with people who still believe that our president is an interloper. If only the media refused to chase bright, shiny things, they might have spared the Obama family some of the veiled racism and unfounded suspicions.

The media has continued along this path by agreeing to label the IRS investigation into conservative groups applying for 501 C4 tax exemptions as scandal. Media outlets ignored the ambiguity of the Congressional directives regarding 501 C4s and the partisan purpose of many of those 501 C4s. The media have also given Issa’s investigations traction by reporting upon his fast and furious hearings as well as his Benghazi fears--FOX even continuing the lie about the email after it was proven that the White House did not doctor email messages--just as it had claimed all along, but most media outlets have chosen not to complete the story. Scandals sell better, and the media purpose is clear: be the first to a story, even if wrong; don’t apologize or retract; ignore subsequent developments that cast doubt upon the early news.


The result is media complicity in the partisan divide, in shaping the public debate, and in failing to inform the public, but we, the public, are complicit as well. We can and should demand better. We can and should object. We can refuse to support any news organization and newsreader who offers only chum--you know, the vile, bloody brew that draws sharks. We can double-check with www.snopes.com before passing along a tale. We can change the channel instead of tucking in for an afternoon of vitriol with Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. We can, and we must.


Thursday, May 23, 2013: Things I've Learned Outside the School Room

Schools can complement some life lessons. Schools can provide insight into the human experience, for example. Schools can also teach humility and build confidence, but schools cannot teach what each of us must know before we are truly accomplished.

Only life proves that work itself is more satisfying than accolades and rewards. Only life can show us that we have within us the resources to fall and fail, persevere and triumph. Only life grants us the power to believe that whatever remains unseen around the corner can be faced and overcome.

I know that I do not need to worry about what comes next because life has shown me that worry never changes or prevents what comes next. I know that with or without worry, problems and losses will come, and I can continue to live, grow, and prosper. I know this because I’ve had my share of problems and losses, and I’m still here, hopeful, thriving.

Friday, May 24, 2013: Top Three Worst Traits

Many people describe me as smart, bright, intelligent, but I must tell them and you the truth. I’m not all that and a bag of chips. I am often slow to let go of what I must release in order to thrive. I think that I can make a difference when, in fact, I’m the last person who might or can. I’ll never stop trying though--in my own ways--to make that difference.

Other people describe me as reserved, a loner who keeps her own company best. I need to be alone as much as I need to breathe the air to survive. I really do keep my own company quite happily, and many people cannot comprehend the need to be alone, thus transforming me, in their minds at least, into someone standoffish, even arrogant.

Finally, I am afflicted with boundaries, lines, and borders. Transgressors are people up with which I shall not put--after I’ve tried my best, in my own fashion, to make a difference.