Friday, August 28, 2015

Flying With Mary Poppins

Flying with Mary Poppins by Debra H. Goldstein

Last night, I saw a community production of Mary Poppins that blew my socks off. I can’t say enough about the acting, singing, dancing, or sets, but it was during the instances when Mary Poppins took flight that I felt a surge of “practically perfect” happiness. The only thing that made me fly higher was watching the face of a four-year-old child sitting in the row in front of me.

The little girl was the youngest of three sisters.  Seated in the third row, directly behind the family, I was concerned when I realized her parents placed her between her sisters rather than next to them. Was she the buffer to keep the older children from fighting?  How could the parents possibly reach and control her if she became bored?

I had my answer during the overture when she crawled over one sister and plopped into her mother’s lap. For the remainder of the performance, she quietly was shuffled between her mother and father. In the comfort of their arms, her attention was glued to the stage for the first act, but she became restless after intermission.  That is, until she sensed the actress playing Mary Poppins positioning herself on the edge of the stage, in the semi-darkness, a few feet from our seats. A moment later, when a now spotlighted Mary Poppins rose and flew over the audience – pausing for a second to smile down from directly above the little girl’s seat – the child’s eyes grew wide with wonder, awe, and the making of a permanent memory for both of us.

Hopefully, she will always remember the night she saw Mary Poppins fly. May I, as a writer, cling to the memory of how a child became engaged by the magic of storytelling.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Chart Watching

by Bethany Maines

He looked at the chart but he look in vain
Heavy cloud but no rain

Originally, this was a post about publishing.  I’ve been singing this song for the better part of a month feeling that it related to my efforts in self-publishing. Having the ability to have live updated sales results is not really as fun as it sounds. Or at least it’s not good for ongoing peace of mind. The world of publishing has changed. Now every author must do the work that previously was performed by publishing houses – namely, marketing. And the secret thing about marketing that every marketing professional would prefer you not know, is that you can never quite tell what’s going to work. So with every fresh effort, I flip back to the chart to see if there’s rain or not. Some sprinkles, some gushers, some droughts – and that is the way of the writing life now.  But there’s more to that song, and the rest of the lyrics are more applicable to the real world right now than they are to any personal concerns I have about my writing and sales.

Turned on the weather man just after the news
I needed sweet rain to wash away my blues
He looked at the chart but he look in vain
Heavy cloud but no rain

Much of the state of Washington, my state, is on fire. This song isn’t much of a metaphor; it’s what we’re all doing. We’re literally out of firefighters and the ones that are on the line are working days in a row with little to no sleep. Firefighters from Australian and New Zealand arrived on Monday to help and we couldn’t be happier to see them. We literally need all the help we can get.

There is a line of mountains between the fires and my house and still the sky is frequently a hazy yellow from smoke. Yesterday, I could look at the sun directly because there was so much smog that it was only a burning circle of orange in the sky.

Sometimes my state feels culturally divided by that chain of mountains, but this fire has turned us all into obsessed weather forecast watchers. My facebook feed is filled with pictures of rain – a virtual rain dance for our home and our friends. Weather forecasting has taken a giant step forward due to computing speeds and modeling, but Washington is still one of the toughest places to forecast. All the data in the world can’t entirely predict if rain is going to fall. We all watch the chart, but so far, heavy cloud, no rain.

So, if you’re a praying person, pray for some rain. If you’re a donating person, you can view this article from local reporter Jesse Jones, for where to send donations. Washington thanks you.

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, August 21, 2015

I May Have Put a Curse on Someone


Linda Rodriguez

By sheer accident, I overheard an interaction between two strangers a while back that may have led me to inadvertently put on a curse on one of them.

The last time I went to see my oncologist, who’s at a hospital in a suburb an hour’s drive from my house, was the first time I’d driven so far by myself in months (after the whole broken-right-wrist thing). When I came out of the cancer clinic, I decided I’d go to the Barnes & Noble in the shopping center across the street to see if I couldn’t get my wrist and knees to hurt less before beginning the long trip home.

Getting out of my car in one of the handicapped spaces (I have a placard), I saw a lean guy in shorts, late-thirties or early-forties, confront a very heavy woman who’d left B&N and was opening the door of her car in a handicap space several cars up from mine. He yelled at her, “You fat, lazy bitch. Getting your doctor to give you a placard just because you’re too lazy to walk and too undisciplined to curb your urges to stuff candy in your mouth all day. You’re running up everyone else’s health expenses. We’re having to pay for your lazy gluttony.” The woman stared at him with wide eyes like a deer caught in the headlights, began to cry, got in her car, and roared off, while the guy stood there watching, satisfied.

As I said, these two were both strangers to me. I knew neither one’s name. But I recognized the woman. She goes to the same cancer clinic I do. As happens in such places, I’ve overheard bits of conversation between her and other patients she knows or the nursing staff in the chemo infusion lab or between rooms (I’m a novelist—I observe and eavesdrop—shoot me), so I knew that she had a different kind of cancer from mine, that it had been very advanced when it was found, that she’s been battling it for years now and gone through surgery, radiation, and five or six bouts of chemo already. I knew she had gone through years more of pain, nausea, fatigue, depression, you name it, than I have. I knew she had dealt with pain in joints and muscles so intense that it brought tears to your eyes walking from one part of the house to the other. I knew she had probably had long periods where she only got a couple of hours of sleep at night. I knew she had dealt with fatigue so overwhelming that she would have days when just getting out of bed was a triumph, when she couldn’t summon energy to talk or would nod off sometimes in the middle of a conversation. I knew she took meds that did all kinds of horrible things to your body, like eat your bones or put on pounds, no matter what you eat or how you try to exercise, or cause swelling in your face and body.

My feeling was that if she’d consoled herself during one of these times with more chocolate than she should have, so be it. Not anyone else’s business. Because take it from someone who’s dealing with just a little of what she’s had to deal with for years—there is no amount of chocolate that’s too much when you’re facing that kind of shit.

I’m on a cane and moving very slowly—because of those meds that cause so much joint/muscle pain, fatigue, and weakness—so I wasn’t able to get over there before she was in her car heading out, but when I did, I turned to this guy who looked so swollen with self-righteous indignation and found myself pointing my finger at him, something I never do because my grandmother warned me against it as a child. I may have yelled, but since this med makes me weaker in all my muscles, my voice is not as strong as it once was. “I hope you someday truly understand what it’s like to have physical problems that make you sedentary and gain weight, to have lupus and fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s and all the other things people have to deal with every day. May you someday understand what it’s really like to deal with cancer.” A couple of people had stopped walking through the parking lot and were staring, so he just shook his head and took off running, yelling, “Another fat, lazy bitch.”

This is the most egregious case I’ve encountered of what I’ve started to call “health bullying,” that I’m seeing more and more often lately. Whether it’s gluten-free, vegan, nightshade-free, or various supplements or special diets or special kinds of exercise, some people seem to feel the need to prescribe for people they know or even don’t know. I remember when my youngest was a teenager and recently diagnosed with ulcerative colitis that had almost killed him from internal bleeding. They pumped blood into him round the clock for over a week and powerful IV steroids that put him into induced diabetes that left him injecting insulin for a year. Once he got out of the hospital, he had to continue taking steroids that puffed him up like the Michelin Man. Someone tried to say he just needed to walk a little and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Common sense, yes? He had no car and already walked more miles a day than they probably did in a week, even including the treadmill. He had a long list of foods he was forbidden to eat because they would cause the internal bleeding to start again, and at the top were those fresh fruits and vegetables. I won’t even start on all the folks who think they know how to cure cancer, and I have to tell them that my doctors and I are working on that, thank you very much.

I decided a tough broad like me didn’t need to rest before driving home and made it fine. Could hardly walk to get inside my house, but I made it. I started to feel bad about what I’d said to the guy. I just wanted him to think outside his selfish box for a minute and understand what others might be going through, but I began to realize that, instead, I’d probably placed a curse on him. Because this guy was totally deficient in empathy, and empathy is the only way to understand how someone else might feel—unless you experience the exact same thing. I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to do it. I hope he’s only going to get one of those diseases and not all of them.

Linda Rodriguez’s Skeet Bannion mystery novels, Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret, and books of poetry, Skin Hunger and Heart’s Migration, have received many awards, such as St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, Latina Book Club Best Books 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions Award, Thorpe Menn Award, Ragdale and Macondo fellowships, among others. She is Chair of the AWP Indigenous/ Aboriginal American Writers Caucus.

Twitter handle—@rodriguez_linda

REPLY TO COMMENTS (because Blogger still hates me):

Sorry I'm so late getting back to everyone, but today was another doctor's appointment, so I've been gone all afternoon.

Pam, thank you for the hugs and prayers. I can always use them.

Thank you, Kathy and Marilyn!

Judith, I really didn't mean to.

Kathy, both of them did. Yay!

Ritter, you are so right about all three.

Doward, I try to avoid physical violence because the cancer meds increase irritability and I might accidentally kill someone.

Thank you, Alice!

Thanks, Mary. I know allergies must be awful. That's one load I don't have to carry, and for that, I'm very grateful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why Reading Is Good for Us

By Kay Kendall

This is the second of two installments about reading. Previously I described how much I enjoy reading and tried to figure out how that came to pass. I am guessing most of you also feel reading is enjoyable. For many people, however, reading is not a pleasurable pastime.

Reading is similar to chocolate. It tastes luscious to most people, but not to all. These days, however, we know through research that chocolate is a healthy thing to eat.
Scientific researchers have likewise come up with reasons why we should read. Here is a curated list of reasons scientists say reading should be done—not only for our enjoyment and increased knowledge, but for our mental and physical well-being.

 1. Reading is an effective way to overcome stress. Researchers at the University of Sussex found that reading relaxed the heart rate and muscle tension faster than other activities often said to be de-stressors—for example taking a walk, listening to music, and drinking tea. Note that the research was done in England, a bastion of tea drinkers, so this is really saying something shocking.

 2. Reading exercises our brains. As our bodies need movement to be strong, our brains need a work out too. Reading is a more complex activity than watching television and actually helps establish new neural pathways.

 3. Reading helps maintain our brains’ sharpness. Neurologists who studied brains of those who died around age 89 saw signs of a third less decline among those who stayed mentally active with reading, writing, and other modes of mental stimulation like puzzles, as compared to those who did little or none of those activities.

 4. Reading may even ward off Alzheimer's disease. Adults who pursue activities like reading or puzzles that involve the brain are less likely to have Alzheimer's disease. Intellectual activity not only grows our brain power but also strengthens brain against disease.

5. Reading may help us sleep better. Reading before bed is a good de-stressing habit, unlike watching flashing electronic devices or television that cue the brain to wake up.

6. Reading self-help books can ease depression. Reading books that encourage people to take charge of their own lives can promote the idea that positive change is possible. A control group that had “bibliotherapy” combined with talk therapy was less depressed than another group that did not read self-help literature.

7. Reading helps people become more empathetic. Spending time exploring an author's imagination helps people understand other people’s points of view and problems. Researchers in the Netherlands performed experiments showing that people who were "emotionally transported" by a work of fiction experienced boosts in empathy.

8. Reading can develop and improve a good self-image. Poor readers or non-readers often have low opinions of themselves and their abilities. Reading helps people understand their own strength and abilities, hence growing better self-images.

So next time you feel remorse when you’ve spent all day reading a new book, just remember these eight reasons--and then your guilt should vanish. Getting swept away by a compelling story line or character in a wonderful book is not only entertaining but also is actually good for you.

Which of these reasons resonates most with you? From the list above, I picked two favorites. I’ll tell you mine if you’ll tell me yours! How about it?


Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. She is a reformed PR executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. RAINY DAY WOMEN published on July 7--the second in her Austin Starr Mystery series. The audio-book will debut soon.