Friday, April 17, 2015

Before you judge...

Before you judge:
How do you know the grandmother with diamonds on her fingers and beautiful expensive clothes, buying food for six grandchildren with a food stamp card, hasn’t suddenly found herself responsible for a family she never dreamed her retirement would have to support? Should she be blamed for taking care of herself or looking healthier than she has a right to at seventy? The clothes she wears are ten years old and bought before her husband got sick, draining all the savings, but she should suffer for the care she's taken so they appear new? She's already sold her home, moved away from all her friends. How do you know she isn’t one dollar from losing everything? You don’t, so shut up!
How do you know that young mother of three didn’t just find out her husband took all the money and ran off, leaving her in mounds of debt with three mouths to feed? Or maybe she's finally starting over after she had to hide from his abusive hands. Or maybe she has a disease that took all they had and will take her too. Or maybe he died, coming home too tired from too many jobs, and now she's alone without hope. You don’t have a clue, so shut up!
How do you know the new car he's loading his food-stamp paid for groceries into wasn’t loaned to him by someone with a non-judgmental heart, who knows he's a soldier and still can't feed his family. Suppose he's that soldier's brother, the one who left his legs in the sand to fight for corporate oil, so you could freely sneer at his young brother trying to help his family out. You don’t know anything, so shut up!
How do you know she isn't a young mother of foster kids nobody wanted, but she and her husband did? She dresses them in nice clothes, teaches them what love is, but you would judge her for having too many and needing help to feed them. How about there are too few of her and too many lost children deprived of loving homes by the attitudes of judgment prevailing today? Just shut up! 
How do you know that young girl with two little babies didn’t believe she was getting out of the hell she grew up in, only to find herself right back where her mother was, clinging to all she has, two babies and a tiny bit of hope, stuck in the cycle of poverty. She was at the top of her class in high school, one of the brightest, but universities are for the dreams of the rich with no responsibilities. You don’t know her pain, so shut up.
How do you know that nine year old didn’t receive the iPad he’s holding from a generous donor, who saw a need and didn’t judge? You don’t, so shut up!
How do you know that king crab leg isn't something promised to a child, the only gift they'll get this birthday, a meal they requested that otherwise would be so out of the realm of possibility, that it can be named as a one treasured wish? You sit in judgment of what others eat? Really? My god, "let them eat cake." No steak for you! You aren't deserving of the meat of the working class!? White privileged asshat males in power, I have something you can eat and deservingly so—your very own bull shit!
How do you know that phone the toddler is playing with isn’t useless, except to dial 911 and the apps are free and it’s all the mother can afford—free entertainment while she pretends not to see the judgmental looks of people from the kingdom of With, who are somehow made to feel better by condemning those from the land of Without. 
How could hundreds of thousands of dollars be donated to bigots who would not serve a pizza to a human being with the money to pay for the meal, who happens to be gay, while others stand in judgment of men and women struggling just to make the dollars and food stamps stretch for one more month, only to start the prayer "make it last" one more month again, and again. Wow, really, you need to mull that one over a bit? You'd save a bigot's business and starve a child on principal? Humans call themselves superior and civilized, when they exhibit such uncivilized behaviors toward one another, and prove their lack of superiority with much evidence to the contrary.
Every system has its scammers. Every system has its heroes. Be a hero, be helpful, mind your own damn business, and offer help instead of judgment to those in need. It isn’t fair to judge all the people using the hand up they are offered. It isn’t fair to judge people period. Feed the hungry. Take care of the poor. Didn’t I read that in a book somewhere?


PS. The author used the system for two years. During that two years, I went to school (paid for with scholarships and work study,) never worked less than two jobs, raised a kid, and made a better life for my family. The help I received has been paid back with interest. The hand up I received helped make dreams come true, but also helped make another contributing member of society able to pay taxes back into the system. To be successful and forget how I got there would be unforgivable. The hateful judgment of others I received will also never be forgotten. 
I hear quite often, that I should not judge all Christians by the actions of a few hate-filled loud mouths. Maybe we shouldn't judge all people in need of help by the actions of a few loathsome scammers. Just a thought. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Things Rita Mae Said: Or, as I call it, my WWRMD list (What would Rita Mae Do?)

Though some of it is dated (published in 1989, much has changed,) Dr. Brown's Starting From Scratch is a dog-eared valuable asset in my writing library. I made a list of excerpts to refer to when I am in the throws of artistic self-doubt.

My top ten writer’s soul-healing words of wisdom from Dr. Rita Mae Brown’s Starting from Scratch

1.            Your readers are your best friends. As time goes by you’ll find out who they are. No two readers are alike. These distinct individuals put down good money for your work and then spend their valuable time reading it… Sometimes people throw tomatoes instead of roses, but hell, they sat at their desks and tried to connect with me. I give them credit. I’ve learned more from my readers than I have from the usual literary sources: other writers, publishers, critics.  
2.            I expect most writers feel about critics the way a fireplug feels about dogs. However, no matter how many dogs befoul your work they can’t really hurt you…A book still sells by word of mouth. You can be sliced and diced from the Atlantic to the Pacific and have a runaway best seller.
3.            On my bad days I think of a critic as someone who’d put a cyanide cap in an Easter egg. Tallulah Bankhead said, “Criticism is the distillation of bias and prejudice.” The truth lies somewhere between me and Tallulah. Most critics can’t create what they criticize. If another novelist writes a review, that’s one thing. If the review comes from anybody else, it’s hard for me to take it seriously. But then, as you may have gathered, it’s hard for me to take anything seriously.  
4.            As a writer my feeling is that the critic can help me only when I am writing the book. I don’t read reviews of my novels. They’re too late to do me any good. 
5.            If you’re one of those people who reads everything written about you, I suggest you be grateful if your name and the book title are spelled correctly. 
6.            Don’t be surprised, if you do read criticism, if you are personally criticized through the book. The more controversial you are, the more loaded the reviews. My advice: Eat the chitlins of forgetfulness. 
7.            Reading into the tea leaves of literary triumph can be thrilling. Sober up, honey. Tomorrow they’ll be on to someone else. 
8.            Don’t believe your own publicity. That way madness lies. You’ll soon be stinking in your own decayed ego. 
9.            Don’t feel responsible for how people misuse your work. Whatever you do can be used against you and probably will be. Keep writing. You’re on earth to write, not to indulge yourself in petty squabbles justifying yourself to pissants. 

10.         Whether fame or notoriety is your fate, put it behind you and put the typewriter in front of you. And put next to your typewriter these words from Albert Einstein: “The only way to escape the personal corruption of praise is to go on working.” 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My Second Concussion Or The First Time I Shaved My Leg

With my track record and the fact that my mother ran screaming to the old retired nurse's house next door, with two year old me in her arms—I had hit my head on the coffee table after jumping off the couch and still bear the scar—I assume that I had many concussive events in my childhood.

The first one of which I actually have a memory happened at age eleven. I was a wiz at the pogo stick and could jump on it with no hands, most of the time in complete control.  I never got hurt on the pogo stick, even hands-free bouncing down the country roads we lived on. That streak and practice ended on a wet concrete porch during a summer rainstorm. I was temporarily paralyzed for a few minutes and remember the tingling sensation of my body reawakening, that’s about it.

Back then, our parents only took us to a doctor if we stopped breathing or were bleeding excessively. I don’t remember any special care taken and I probably played softball as soon as the rain stopped. I don’t know what I did. I can’t remember the events prior to or after the event. I’m quite sure, if I was still walking and talking, no one gave a thought to a brain injury. Helmets were never even part of the conversation. I am also sure that with the many concussions I’ve experienced since then, the pogo stick calamity was the most severe and made all the others worse. My scalp feels like the moon with all its craters, and there is one really soft spot where a hammer nearly penetrated my skull. All of these injuries were caused by my lack of attention. After all, it was my own hammer that I left on top of a ladder that laid me out on stage for a few minutes.

I’m currently suffering from a mild concussion, again of my own doing. The circumstances of this injury, smacking my head after a dive, are very similar to the second concussion I remember giving myself. Water and sand can be as unforgiving as concrete.  Unlike many of my head banging traumas, my second concussion makes me laugh. Saved from my mother’s wrath by what could have been a tragedy had I hit harder or at another angle, this particular stupid move saved me from the craziness that was southern motherhood in the early seventies.

At the time of my twelfth summer, 1973, I began to notice on my peach-fuzz-blond coated legs the sprouting of dark, stiff hair. I did not particularly care for this phenomenon, but was forbidden from shaving my legs until my mother cleared me for this activity. She seemed to believe that once I started shaving I would turn into a sasquatch, which was to be postponed as long as possible. It was a right of passage into womanhood according to mother. I just thought it was time to get rid of the dark hair that looked so strange in the forest of wispy blond fuzz. No way in hell was I going to tell my mother my leg hair was turning dark and was noticeable. It would have precipitated one of those “you’re getting older” speeches that were either tear-filled lamentations or finger-wagging threats against the soiling of one’s reputation like those fast girls. Little did she know, I got most of my sex education from the fast girls, such as the proper use of feminine products and when it was okay to shave my legs.  Those girls weren’t as fast as my mother thought they were. They were just the worldly young women she was trying desperately to keep me from becoming.
The only picture I have of Currituck Sound

Like most summer evenings, it began with families winding down from the day and relaxing on Currituck Sound. I had been playing softball and joined the gathering late. I was made later by the decision to stop at my empty house to shave and lotion up, as the worldly girls had instructed. I loved the feeling of my smooth skin as I rubbed them down with Coppertone, before heading down to the water. My mother was seated with one of her friends at the end of the dock on a blanket, and as I passed by my knees were eye level to her. I thought I had made a clean getaway, when we exchanged greetings and then she went back to her conversation. It wasn’t until I felt her tight grip on my calf that I knew she was on to me.
“Did you shave your legs?” she demanded.
“Yes, I did,” I said with more attitude than I should have.
She started to rise from the blanket, when her friend said, “Anne, she’s old enough. The other girls are shaving too.”

A debate broke out between the two older women, allowing me an opportunity to escape. The other kids were already in the water, a shallow sound that changed levels dramatically with the tides. I could see they were chest deep in the water, took two running steps, and dove for freedom. Not knowing that my friends were on their knees, I dove too deep. I knew better. A quick look around at the neighboring dock pilings or a glance over my shoulder at the bulkhead would have clued me into the tide levels, but the circumstances required I put distance between my mother and myself. I nearly broke my neck, which would certainly have solved her dilemma of how to prevent me from growing up. Luckily, it only chipped a few molars and left me brain damaged for a few days.

I remember crawling toward the dock—yes, it was that shallow—finally making it up the ladder, and falling out on the worn gray boards. I never got in trouble for shaving my legs, as I started spitting out bits of teeth and vomiting. The hair grew back, I went to the dentist—notice no doctor was consulted—and we moved on to teenaged drama soon after that. So, when I think about getting a concussion from diving in the ocean last weekend, I can’t help but remember how close I came to dying or permanent spine injury over shaving my legs. I suppose that was when the war began between mother and daughter. I had a concussion, but I wasn’t in trouble for shaving the legs I used to express my first attempts at independent personhood. Bless my mother’s heart, I was not the easiest child to raise.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Worthy of a Dream

I was talking to one of the guys working on the house. He not only speaks English and Spanish, he is fluent in Italian. He's working alone today. The rest of the crew has the day off, but he needs the hours. His children went to the dentist this week. Most of us can relate to the dreaded dentist bill. He learned to speak and write Italian and became an Italian chef, while working in a restaurant in L.A. Today he was listening to a pop radio station that plays a lot of eighties music. He said that's how he learned to speak English back in the day, listening to our top forty stations. He works construction because he makes more money to feed and house his two young daughters, but he has a dream to one day own a restaurant, an Italian restaurant.
Because his skin is brown, his accent foreign, people rarely think to ask him about his dreams and hopes for his children. They see a "Mexican," a "Wetback," a "Beaner," an "Illegal alien." I took the time to learn his name, his story, his courage, and I'm a better person for it. Those people holding signs and yelling at children crossing our borders—children with dreams—aren't looking beyond labels. They don't see human beings in search of self-worth and in the pursuit of freedom to dream.
I fail to see how the Republicans, including former Senator and now the current Governor of Oklahoma, passed the legislation that invited these children here and then turned this into a political football with the current administration. We need secure borders, but let us not forget these are borders of our making. Suppose someone drew a line across your yard, and suddenly your family was no longer the same nationality. Texas should just be quiet. Really, “invading our country?” How quickly wars that displaced indigenous people can be erased from the social memory. 
But, politics aside—please, stop assuming every person with brown skin is here illegally. And for the love of humanity, stop assuming the woman cleaning that toilet is too inept to do anything else. Maybe she’s working her way through night school. Maybe she’s a well-respected teacher in her country, fleeing persecution for being a woman with a voice. Maybe she works a low wage job, cleaning up after the more privileged white women holding those signs and screaming at busloads of children, because someone took away her dream of a better life a long time ago. Or better yet, maybe she owns the business and works just like the rest of us to feed our families.
We make hundreds of assumptions a day, to what end? We miss so much by doing so. We miss making friends and create more enemies by doing so. A person is less likely to be a burden on society if they are invested in that society. They are more likely to cause trouble if society isn’t invested in them. The way to solve the world's problems with poverty, illiteracy, and tribal warfare (which is all war amounts to in the end—tribes of men since ancient times, clinging to dogmatic self-righteousness,) is to allow people to dream, to become their best selves. It's hard to live up to your potential, when you're told you are not worthy of a chance.
It's time we spread some empathy around. We've all faced discrimination of one kind or another, whether it be based on gender, race, sexuality, religion...wait, I can't say all, because there is privilege so profound that empathy with their fellow man is unfathomable. Anyway, some of us, many of us, know prejudice. We know that the assumptions of others often define how we are perceived. People fear what they don't see in the mirror. It's a left over instinct, from a time when a stranger in the cave was a scary proposition. We shed much of our body hair because we didn't need it to survive. It's time we shed some more of our innate human behaviors, the ones based on fears that are no longer relevant to our evolution as a species. Take away privilege, skin color, and circumstances of birth, and what do we have—a human being worthy of a dream.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Meet Mardi-Jean Payne—My entry in the Character Blog Roll

Author Carole Wolf invited me to participate in the character blog roll for my most recent work in progress, In Passing, a romance set in the present, but dependent upon the past. Mardi-Jean Payne is the main character in a novel populated by generations of women of the south and their memories.

1). What is the name of your character, and is he/she fictional or a historical person?

Her name is Mardi-Jean Payne, the Jean is pronounced as a French speaker would. Her mother, Agnes, named her Mardi-Jean because she believed her father was a French guy named Jean, with whom she had a Mardi Gras fling in 1968. Mardi is a fictional character.

2). When and where is the story set?

The story is set in 2014, on a fictional island, in the middle of the very real John H. Kerr Reservoir, north of Warrenton, NC, where the southern drawl was passed down by the founding families of colonial Virginia, who settled this portion of the piedmont. The accent hangs on to this day, like the social class designations and private clubs, and now flows from a workman’s tongue as easily as it drips from the lips of former debutantes and southern gentleman farmers . The reader will also accompany two half-sisters, born in 1920, as they navigate the old south, Europe during World War II, and the social changes in their lifetime, through the memories of the one who remains.

3). What should we know about him/her?

Mardi is forty-five, the daughter of a pot smoking, old hippie, artist mother and an unknown father. She is an old soul, preferring the things and people of the past to those of the present, prompting her mother to say, “You live in the wrong tense, Mardi-Jean.” She has a master’s degree in Art History and is an antiquities appraiser by trade. Life hasn’t been too kind to Mardi in the love department. She explains to her therapist, “I’m a serial girlfriend. I just keep repeating the same mistakes, perfecting the pattern. Darkly dashing and enchantingly mysterious women seem to be my victim of choice. The mystery always turns out to be why they bothered with me in the first place.” A longing she can’t name and ambivalence toward relationships has left her empty and alone. Her mother’s recent passing unsettled her already dysfunctional psyche. Plagued with self-doubt and constant reflection, Mardi is on the verge of giving up hope the feeling of longing will ever leave, and her quest for the peace of “enough” will be never ending.

4). What is the main conflict, and what messes up his/her life?

Upon arriving at Austin Island, the Antebellum estate occupied by a family tracing its roots to colonial times, Mardi discovers a cash of antiquities and art she had only dreamed of finding. For years, she gazed from her mother’s lakeside dock at the mysterious island, watching the Austins from afar, imagining the rumors were true—Austin Island contained treasures beyond belief. Contracted by the Kincaid Law Firm, <a wink to readers who recognize that surname>, Mardi's appraisal assignment is cloaked in mystery, as she is given no details before her arrival. The granddame of the family, Emma Jane Austin, nearing ninety and suffering from dementia, believes Mardi to be someone from her past. Since childhood, haunted by dreams of a woman with uncommon and captivating gray eyes, and coming face to face on Austin Island with them in the person of Bayard Alexander, Emma Jane’s great-niece, Mardi begins to think the old woman might be on to something. A family history of secrets and unknowns pose more of a mystery than the discovery of the vast Austin collection's worth, as Mardi tries to retain her professional integrity, while dealing with the charming Ms. Alexander, the woman of her dreams—and nightmares.  

5). What is the personal goal of the main character?

Mardi struggles daily with a longing she can’t name, until she meets Bayard and discovers the hole in her soul has been waiting for this woman to come along. Is she the answer to Mardi’s prayers, or a means for the hole to deepen and the longing to go unquenched? What about the artwork of questionable provenance? Can Mardi maintain a professional distance and her integrity, without bringing the house of Austin to the ground, and Bayard with it?

6). Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The title is In Passing and I write about it in Facebook posts almost daily now. Follow this link to join in the fun.

7). When can we expect the book to be published?

I’m guessing about six weeks, but that is a guess. We are renovating our entire house and things just happen. When I know for sure, I’ll post on this blog, social media, and the R. E. Bradshaw Books website, (

"Seconds tick by. Minutes pass. Hours, days, months, and years mark the passage of time, arriving simultaneously on the anniversary of a memory’s making and the creation of a new one somewhere else in the world. A fragment in time means all to one and nothing to another. Defining moments are deferred by fate and lost because of it. Once spent, an instant cannot be held again, never repeated, becoming instead a memory inspiring lamentation or laughter. Our lives are merely a series of moments in passing."

Thank you, Carole Wolf, for inviting me to play. (Carole's blog entry with answers about her character can be found here: I'm usually at the tale end of these blog rolls and can never find anyone left to tag. I have a rain-filled tarp over my roofless house at the moment, and I'm a little preoccupied with keeping our things from being destroyed by today's four inch deluge, so if you feel like playing, tag yourself.