Inspiration All Around Us

The other day on my Facebook Author’s Page I shared a graphic from a great on-line group called Writers Write. Based in South Africa, this group offers writing courses, some of which sound so great it might be worth the expense of a trip to Johannesburg to attend. They also post inspiring quotes from writers, renowned and otherwise, for writers. Almost every day, one of those quotes makes me stop and think about my writing and my writing goals. Those quotes are affirming on so many levels.

Here’s one I shared recently on my Author’s page:

(c)Writers Write

(c)Writers Write

That struck a chord with me because I want to write more short stories, but I’m always lamenting that the things I draw inspiration from (current affairs, history, politics) lead to longer works. (Not complaining by the way; I love writing novels.) I keep a notebook with me at all times, but it’s distressingly empty lately. I live in a very interesting area of central Virginia, full of intriguing, odd, and refreshing characters and, so you’d think that notebook would be full of dialogue snippets, bon mots, and killer ideas for a raft of short stories.

Maybe I need to overcome the MYOB attitude imbued in me by my grandmother. “It’s not polite to listen in on others’ conversations,” she used to tell me. I paid attention to that because I probably didn’t know then I was going to be a writer. It just seems rude to write down what other people say; a southern thing, I suppose.

I do manage to overcome the reticence of jotting down what other people say on occasion. My one-act play, Yo’ Momma, started from a single phrase I overheard at a bar: “This here’s my new phone–I gots it for free.”

Recently, in my town two young men died within two days of each other, both at the age of twenty-six. One had mental and intellectual challenges; the other was an award-winning and brilliant cellist. One was murdered; the other died in his sleep of a heart defect. They both warmed the hearts of everyone they encountered. All that is rife with inspiration, but it will have to wait. It’s too fresh and raw.

I’ve long wanted to write a novel based on the lives of my father and my ex’s father–I even have a great title: Two Fathers. The ex (when he wasn’t my ex) and I discussed it, and I took a lot of notes on his father’s history. The ex and I haven’t been together for nine years, and even though I haven’t forgotten the idea, it is also too fresh, too fraught with emotions I’ve tried to put behind me. Someday, I’ll be in a place to write it.

Day in and day out, I encounter the oddest collection of characters in the most routine places: the barista at Starbucks whose laughter could damage eardrums; the couple who own a local business and have arguments in front of the customers; a bail bondsman who dresses as if he’s the east coast version of Dog the Bounty Hunter; a senior citizen who is always front and center of every Tea Party event with a sign which reads, “Keep the Government out of my Medicare!” (I fixed the spelling.) And so on.

There is the challenge, of course, of making someone too recognizable. I don’t have a problem doing that with public figures. In my series based on the Oklahoma City bombing, people will have no trouble figuring out on whom I’ve based President Randolph. However, I also have a family member who is pissed about how I characterized  my step-grandfather (that family member’s grandfather) in a story which is based on a family event. Just goes to show, every story has two sides.

Even with the pitfalls, look around you. There is inspiration in everything and everyone. Use it wisely, but use it.

 

A Bittersweet Friday Fictioneers

One of the most difficult things in the world is to come up with something unique, and one of the most satisfying things in the world is when that idea grows into something beyond your wildest dreams. In doing so, it can come to consume your life. Add to the fact you have a full-time job that pays the bills, and something has to give.

Friday Fictioneers, founded by Madison Woods, is evolving. Madison has decided to give up the reins to focus more on her own writing. This is something I totally understand. I gave up my dream job and retired to do the same. I should say that Friday Fictioneers won’t be the same without her inspiring photos and her unsurpassed enthusiasm, but in fact it won’t be the same. Change requires adjustment, but it is always good. Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, a Friday Fictioneer from the beginning, or close to it, will take the baton and run with it, and she’ll be a winner.

Madison will still participate as a writer, which is good because I look forward to her 100-word stories as much as I’m looking forward to buying the book she is editing, but I still get a sad sense of “The Queen is dead; long live The Queen.” One thing will always be true: There would have been no Friday Fictioneers, no on-line writing community with that name, no challenge to tell a story in 100 words, and a lot fewer writer friends I’ve made without Madison. This is something she can look back on and declare, with pride, “I did that.” And for that, we Friday Fictioneers are all forever grateful.

Probably because it’s the season, today’s story involves some political commentary. If you’re offended by knee-jerk, bleeding-heart liberalism, then you probably shouldn’t read it–just remember, flame me, and you end up as a character in a story, and in that story you’ll meet a nasty end. Just kidding. A little.

The story is “An Inverse Relationship,” and if you’re the first one to guess, and provide the answer in a comment, which classic work of fantasy I derived the title from, I’ll send you a free copy, signed and personalized, of my book Blood Vengeance. 

If you don’t see the link on the story title above, scroll to the top of this post, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab and select it from the drop-down menu. Support Friday Fictioneers by reading and commenting on others’ stories. You can get to them by clicking on the icon after the end of my story.

Politics Wednesday – So Long, Mr. Santorum, and Good Riddance

I actually respect the public reason given for why Rick Santorum quit the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Parents need to be with a child they know will never make it to adolescence, not to mention adulthood. I respect him for wanting to make his ill child’s life full and happy for however long she will be with that family. There is nothing more devastating to a parent than to lose a child, and knowing since her birth that you were going to lose her, that your time with her would be short, is unfathomable.

I won’t even mention the months the family has been on the campaign trail, other, home-schooled children in tow, while Bella remained at home in the care of others.

Well, you knew the snark had to come in an some point.

In truth, campaigns are exhausting and debilitating for not just the candidate, and Bella was better off at home and not exposed to those rigors.

I don’t respect what’s probably the reason behind Santorum’s “suspension of my campaign,” which is that he was about to be rejected again by his home state. Rick, nobody thinks well of a quitter, especially one who quits when he knows he’s going to lose. Just a few weeks ago, he had a commanding lead over Willard Mitt Romney, a lead significant enough to encourage him to stay in the race and prolong it. As Republicans began to accept The Inevitable Romney, that lead shrank, then Santorum lagged behind Romney. Despite that hard shell of sanctimonious judging Santorum surrounds himself with, that had to hurt.

Of course, Santorum’s exit just encourages Newt Gingrich, who has vowed to stay in until Tampa, though what good it will do him is beyond me. Oh, wait. It’s no longer a campaign. It’s an extended book-selling, picture-with-Newt-and-Callista-selling tour, funded by people deluded enough to think Gingrich cares about them.

Ron Paul is still just your eccentric grandfather you wish you could relegate to a locked room in the house where no one can hear his backwards, racist ranting and worship of Ayn Rand. (Didja figure out why his senator son’s first name is Rand?)

And now we have the Inevitable Mitt, who stayed in his place in line, dutifully, like most Republicans, and waited his turn. Some people think this Republican penchant for “bide your time, and it’ll be your go” is somehow orderly and logical. At one time it was, but when the Republican Party was co-opted by first the pro-lifers (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) then by the wiggy Tea Party, from your perspective in line, you decide you have to lurch right as well. That’s why we got to hear Romney say he’s always been a “severe Republican.” No, Mitt, you haven’t. You were indistinguishable in some areas from a liberal Democrat, except for the whole Bain Capital, make a gazillion dollars and hide it in off-shore accounts thing.

Democrats are more like a pinball machine–bouncing from the likes of Carter to Dukakis to Mondale to Clinton to Gore to Kerry to Obama. Republicans always sneered at the disorganization (their term) of the Democratic Party, but from chaos we got President Obama, and that’s enough for me and a lot of like-minded people.

Over the weekend, when rumors of Santorum’s exit stirred, someone suggested that he should wait as all good Republicans do because in “eight years” he’ll still be younger than Romney is now. (The pundit’s assumption was that we’d have two Romney terms–fat chance of that.) After eight years, what will an older, more judgemental, more self-righteous Santorum look like? I shudder to think–except that he’ll have morphed into some Gollum-like creature no one can stomach, and that’ll be a good thing.

So, Republican Party, how’s that whole inevitability thing working for ya?

My thoughts go out to little Bella Santorum, that she may have a happy life without pain or suffering. She is the best of them.

You Say You Want a Revolution?

Some people have said they miss my political commentary. Well, you get what you ask for.

If you’re a fan of the mainstream media (and I used to be), you’ll be surprised to find out that a group of people (upwards of several thousand) have been “occupying” Wall Street (well, Liberty Park). They are now into their third week. You didn’t know that? Not surprising. The MSM (and, yes, I have been tempted to call it the “lamestream” media, but I don’t want the association) have been noticeable in their absence of coverage. Oh, when the arrests started they were quick to point out that the police were handling the “disruptive protesters.” Only Democracy Now!, Free Speech TV, and Current TV have devoted any time to what is motivating this true grassroots movement, as opposed to the various Tea Parties who have been bankrolled by the Koch Brothers.

So, what is motivating the people who call themselves “Occupy Wall Street?”

For one thing, the Wall Street Robber Barons came close to tanking the economy by taking advantage of an almost regulation-free financial environment and got bailed out and not one of them has spent a single minute being held accountable for that.

For another thing, the top one to two percent of this country have decided that they need to keep their wealth–not spend it on job creation, what an effing myth that is–so they can live higher on the hog, and the middle class, which they disdain and have decimated, and the poor–who got that way through all fault of their own–can wallow in the gutter of American Exceptionalism.

For yet another thing…no, I think those two things about cover it.

The minute I saw an NYPD white shirt named Anthony Bologna pepper-spray women who were committing the crime of standing on a sidewalk, I wanted to grab my kaffiyeh and head up there. When I saw a twelve year old girl in handcuffs, I wanted to set fire to the barricades and shut the effing place down. When I watched the police trick demonstrators onto the causeway of the Brooklyn Bridge then arrest 700 of them for blocking traffic, I was ready to tear the place down.

Fortunately, with age, I’ve been able to temper those urges. Forty years ago, I marched in some of the greatest demonstrations in the history of this country, and we turned the opinion of the country on a war, and we brought down a lying, corrupt president. Then, we moved on. We got jobs and houses and mortgages, swelled the middle class, and we let others–though not many of them–do the demonstrating thing.

Now, we find our place in that great middle class has come under attack from people with scads of money who have decided we need to pay for everything–their tax cuts, their wars, their third or fourth house, their new yacht–and we also need to give up our benefits and our rights to collectively bargain because they don’t like those concepts. They want to get rid of Social Security and Medicare because people should pay for their own retirement and health care–that’s what they’d have you believe. The truth is they don’t like letting anyone who really works for a living into the upper class. Only they get to live the high life and how dare we mere peons aspire to emulate them and live comfortably?

I agree that in some ways we need a revolution, but it has to be a revolution of the ninety-nine percent, not that envisioned by the Tea Baggers, who, in their ignorance, believe that the Koch Brothers aren’t using them for their own political ends. We have lost our compassion in this country. We blame the poor and the dwindling middle class for the woes rampant, unregulated capitalism has created. We hate anyone who is not rich, white, male, Christian, and born here. This is the America the Koch Brothers, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, et. al., have made and want to enshrine.

Support Occupy Wall Street by joining them in person or virtually. Wake up and smell the revolution or be crushed by the top one percent’s Humvee.

What Really Motivates the Birthers?

Just coincidentally a week or so ago, I was looking for something in my desk and came across an envelope with my mother’s handwriting on it. Just one word–“Important.” I had a vague memory of seeing it when I was going through papers after her death, so I decided to open it. Guess what I discovered? A Certificate of Live Birth.

For some reason I needed a copy of my certificate of live birth in 1990 and sent for it. The certificate itself is a Xerox on elaborately bordered, special paper (manufactured by the American Bank Note Company, no less), which bears the words, “Certification of Vital Record.” It was produced by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Health, Division of Vital Records. At the bottom right is the seal of the Virginia Department of Health. At the bottom left is a raised version of that same seal. In tiny print at the bottom, it reads, “This is to certify that this is a true and correct reproduction or abstract of the official record filed with the Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia.” That’s followed by the photocopied signature of the then State Registrar.

It has a birth number and all sorts of interesting statistical information. Of particular note is box 15 “Birthplace (State or foreign country)”. Typed in is the word, “Virginia.” Not, Virginia, USA; just Virginia. As certified by the doctor attending, a Dr. Jones–hmm, that sounds like a made-up name, doesn’t it–it even includes the time of birth: 2:20 a.m.

All of this bureaucratic information, the birth number, the raised seal, even the facsimile of the original record, etc., is reminiscent of the Certificate of Live Birth for Barack Hussein Obama, which I’ve viewed at Politifact.com, a 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner, by the way. However, according to Donald Trump and other birthers, there is a question as to whether I was really born in Virginia, because for them, a certificate of live birth doesn’t cut it.

I guess my mother and father conspired before my birth to make me a bureaucrat in a Federal agency, so they submitted false information to the Commonwealth of Virginia so it would appear I was born there. How devious is that?

Then, deeper in the envelope, I found a 1976 version of my certificate of live birth. Though the middle portion of this version is the exact same record as the 1990 version, the whole certificate is a Xerox. Uh, oh. I now have two versions of my certificate of live birth. Highly questionable. The information on both versions match to every letter and comma, but two versions? I better not run for office–I have my own conspiracy in the making.

Then, there’s the whole matter of one citizen verbally abusing another citizen over the production of a “long form” birth certificate. I went to Virginia’s state government Web site and searched for “long form birth certificate.” No hits. Apparently, either of my two versions of my certificate of live birth is a long form birth certificate because it’s the only birth certificate Virginia issues.

I am still amazed that we’re discussing this in America. I’ve written before about how my mother and her family came to America when she was very young and how a town in Virginia “adopted” them, got them SSN’s, and any other government form a citizen would need. So, yes, I’m an anchor baby, apparently. The fact that my mother wasn’t a citizen didn’t come to light until the late 1970’s when she and my father were supposed to go to the Soviet Union at the request of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an agricultural expo. She simply refused to apply for a passport, and my father finally figured it out and decided it would be way too complicated to get her “established” as a citizen. They didn’t go. Several flags got raised, but my mother was never investigated. She even served several times on juries. The difference, of course, was my mother looked like the majority of people in the country at the time she immigrated. She was European and white, not of African descent and dark, like our President.

And that, my dear Watson, is the crux of the matter and the answer to the question I posed in the title of this post. Would anyone be questioning the validity of President Obama’s certificate of live birth if he were as white as Sen. John McCain? Of course not. McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone when his father, on active duty in the military, was stationed there. That should hold the same concern for the ignorant Tea Baggers who raise the issue of the President’s birth, but it doesn’t. (By the way, children born overseas to American citizens, whether on active duty in the military or not, are U.S. citizens, but you have to dig into the law to know that, and we all know the Tea Baggers only go for the superficial.)

Most people and the media, as usual, have tried to overlook the overt racism in Trump’s and the other birthers’ claims, saying it’s just politics as usual. No, it’s not. Every time Trump or Bachmann or the half-governor of Alaska or any of the other self-aggrandizing publicity hogs mentions that the President may not have been born here or questions why he doesn’t produce that elusive long form birth certificate, call them on their racism. Point out exactly what they are–so insecure we have a President who doesn’t look like them that they have to resort to childish finger-pointing and bullying. They are racists, plain and simple. That, not patriotism, is their sole motivation.