Wednesday, August 28, 2013


The longer we live, the more likely we will encounter a human chameleon. The very best con artists fall in this category. They can be anything/anyone they need to be to accomplish their goal.

Not all chameleons are professional con artists. In fact... most are not. Most are in the populations surrounding us. They're the men who seem to always get the girl, regardless of their colorless personalities and low social status. They're the extremely successful salesmen. They're the charismatic preachers. Nearly always, pedophiles and gigolos are in this category.

Unfortunately, they do untold harm before they're  unmasked. They're the ones whose neighbors later declare they were such nice quiet men (or women). So friendly and helpful. Usually, they are unmasked by sheer accident.

Once revealed, their victims may even deny the truth because they're unable to accept they were deceived so thoroughly. But if they finally accept the full extent of the deception, they may never trust again.

In my lifetime, I've known two or three exceptional chameleons. Even when you know a partial bit of how they work, even when you know what they are capable of, it's hard to believe, hard to accept in your heart what you know in your head. They're that good.

How do you deal with a chameleon?

Automatically assume every word, every bit of body language, every gesture is a lie. No exceptions. No action is  not calculated. Every word is planned for effect. There is no truth in a chameleon.

Then watch how rapidly they change their colors...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Camping on the Street

Today I read yet another article about some city clearing a homeless camp. I don't blame the city. But I do wonder where those folks will go now.

A lot of people, smug and self-righteous in their warm/cool apartments or homes wag their fingers and talk about how these people should be ashamed of themselves. After all, they're all druggies or alcoholics... right?

Suppose, just for a moment you lost your job tomorrow. And further suppose that like the vast majority of folks in this country you are living from paycheck to paycheck. You have no support net. Your family members live across the country, too far for you to travel or move. And they're in worse financial shape than you are. Your job is not quite forty hours or you haven't worked there quite long enough to qualify for unemployment.

Days tick by as you desperately search for another job while staving off the electric company and your landlord or mortgage company. When you're down to your last dollar you contemplate outright theft to feed your family. The food banks and other support systems are inundated with all the other families that were laid off at the same time you were.

Safety nets fail. You're evicted from your apartment or home. Your belongings are piled in the front yard or on the street. You scrabble to cram clothing and your most precious possessions in your car along with your family and drive away before your car is repossessed.

If you're fortunate, you own camping gear--a rough shelter to keep out the weather. Otherwise, you all crowd in the car, alternating on a spiraling schedule of parking and moving on before you attract the attention of various authorities.

Through the grapevine, you discover dumpster diving and setting aside the terrible shame of failing your family, you seek out the bits and pieces to feed them. An acquaintance mentions an empty building where your family might be able to squat in a small water, no toilet, no power or heat, but there's a roof and if you're careful you can build a small fire in an empty pot or barrel so your family doesn't freeze.

Above all, you fight to stay under the radar of all authority because if you don't, they'll take your children away...

That's the truth.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Popular Reference

"Flight-or-fight instincts welled up. She jerked her arm loose, retreating to the far corner near the only window. In the dull glow from the fire in the iron stove, his towering form wavered and stretched. His costume was straight out of the Matrix, right down to the long leather coat and black boots. An enormous sword, sheathed in black leather, rested on the rough table near the door." © Faery Sword by Anny Cook 2013

When I wrote the paragraph above, I made a classic mistake with my reference to the Matrix. Such references are known as pop culture references. Generally, they are short-lived. Every generation has a set of references familiar only to them. 

"Sock it to me!"

"Kilroy was here!"

"The truth is out there..."

Using a popular reference can be tricky. In this day of global availability of reading material, such a reference might be puzzling--or outright offensive--to folks in other cultures. 

In the example cited above, I'll keep it, only because it's from my heroine's viewpoint. In the following two or three paragraphs I'll expand the image in such a way the reader will have a clear picture of the stranger. 

But! Clarification can sometimes lead to unnecessary redundancy. How important is the reference to the story? For the average reader, describing a bag as a Coach bag is so much noise. What color is it? Leather? Size? Shape? If the point is to convey it's cost, say an expensive bag, or perhaps indicate it's out of the reach of the heroine's budget. 

Not every woman lusts after stiletto heels. Some prefer hiking boots or Doc Martens. Choose your popular references wisely.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

R and R

The last time I went to visit my folks, we mostly hung out, talking about 'stuff'. Once in a while my dad would say something like, "This is what retired people do." Mostly, he said it in an apologetic tone, like he was doing something wrong.

My dad is 83. My mom is 84. Here's what I think. If they want to sit in their recliners, dozing, watching TV, working find-a-word puzzles, or playing the violin, so what? They've earned it.

There's something going on in this country--a whiplash against retirement. Second, even third careers are lauded. Strange folks who do incredible physical feats in their 70s and 80s are extolled all over the internet. No one praises that oldster who's enjoying his or her well-earned rest. Instead, they're forced into feeling 'less', less worthy, less important.

My folks were born in an era where people worked from before dawn to waaaaay after dark. During my early married life whenever they came to visit, they were always working. Mom wandered around collecting laundry so she could wash and dry and fold it. Dad was always fixing something, or mowing the lawn, or changing the oil on the cars. They were never still.

It used to annoy me until I finally understood that urge to be working was built in almost from birth. They didn't know how to be still. Small wonder that my mom used to drop off to sleep the moment she sat still in church. Bam! She'd be out like a light! It's still the same whenever she rides in a car.

Now they rest, vaguely uneasy when they're caught in the act by unexpected visitors as though they should be up and about. No. This opportunity to doze in the afternoon, to sleep late and go to bed early, is their well-earned right.

It's mine, too.

The hunk and I sleep until we feel like getting up. We go to bed when we want. Maybe we have a nap. We both spent well over thirty years rising before 4 A.M., working all day until we finally tumbled into bed around midnight. I once estimated that I spent over six hours in the car every day. That was life then. Now we're retired. During the day we putz around doing whatever we feel like. Sometimes we go out to the store or medical appointments. Other times we read or crochet or cook or simply talk. We may not leave our apartment for two or three days.

But always, underneath, there's this vague sense of unease that we should be doing something. SOMETHING.

Yesterday I came to a long overdue conclusion. Retirement is my job now. It's whatever I make it. If that's writing, then great! If I choose to climb Mt. Everest, well...I should probably start saving up for the travel costs. In either case, I have the freedom to do something I want because I'm retired. I've worked hard to earn this freedom. I refuse to apologize for the way I use it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Rainy Sunday

When I was growing up, I went to church with my family every Sunday. Dad was the preacher. So, preacher's kid = going to church on Sunday.

Now, I was taught that Sunday was a day of rest. Spending most of the day in church was not particularly restful as far as I could see...unless you fell asleep during the sermon. That's difficult when you're sitting in the front pew.

Between morning service and evening service we had dinner and then napped or read. No television as we didn't own one.

Rainy Sundays were particularly drowsy. Think about it. You get up, rush around getting dressed, zip off to church and then sit still for a couple hours. That's a sure recipe for dozing off.

Now I take that 'day of rest' very seriously. Generally, I don't write. There's seldom anything on television to watch. And we make a practice of not going out to shop or eat out on the weekend. Reading, meditating, praying, or napping are the order of the day.

Rainy Sundays are the best.

Our culture has developed into a hustle-bustle rush of errands on the weekend. There is no day of rest anymore. Even church attendance is an energetic social event instead of a quiet worship period of contemplation. That peaceful opportunity to take a spiritual break is fading away.

I have noticed folks tend to slow down on rainy Sundays. They talk about naps and reading or watching movies. They're less likely to spend the day landscaping or working in the yard. They're more likely to spend time with their families.

Maybe what we need is more rainy Sundays...

Rest and peace.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Casual Fridays

When I looked through my collection of 'Friday' pictures, this one struck me because I no longer have casual Fridays. Or rather, the idea of a casual Friday (or any other day) doesn't have much meaning. Now every day is casual. At my house the days are marked by whether I have to get dressed at all--or not. When one considers the aggravation of laundry days, the choice is often 'not'.

Then, when I consider the way dress codes are changing in the workplace, I wonder if the very notion of casual Fridays will fade away. After all, it's not casual if it's the everyday dress code, is it? Personally, I think all jobs should have uniforms. Yep. Even clerical work. Then folks wouldn't have to worry about buying work clothes.

My son wears an overall at work. And work boots. He keeps his clothes in a locker at work and dresses when he gets there. That seems far more practical to me.

Back when I actually worked outside the home, our casual Friday was more of an attitude than a dress code. Friday was the one day a week we didn't have evening hours. On Friday, everyone--from custodial staff to administrators--went home by five o'clock.

Inevitably, an undercurrent of anticipation hummed through the surroundings all day long. The weekend was nearly upon us. No work for two days! It mattered not that most of us would work harder over the weekend than we normally did during the week. That choice was ours to make, unlike the other five days.

I think that's the essence of Friday--the anticipation of controlling our own destinies for two days before plunging back into the regimented life of public work. Everything is controlled by someone else for five days a week. Then the weekend arrives and regardless of the requirements of our home lives, we make the decisions.

This has a powerful enough effect on our lives that even after retirement, faint anticipatory vibrations linger. Though I dress in the most minimal fashion the rest of the week, on the weekend...well, on the weekend it's different. And we'll leave it at that.

Behold, Friday has arrived. Strike up the band.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Boomerang Romance

There's a reason boomerang romances are popular. After all, women in particular fantasize about the 'one who got away'. If enough time has elapsed since he or she got away, we might even forget WHY they got away.

Dreams and fantasies very seldom coincide with reality. Most of us know that somewhere deep in our hearts, but the allure of that second time around, that chance to 'fix' things from the past is sometimes irresistible.

For those tempted to leap back into the frying pan, I would say, "Make sure your fire insurance is paid up. Stock up on tissues and booze. Alert your support group so they'll be rested up when things crash."

If that sounds negative, well chalk it up to experience. Because boomerang romances seldom end happily. Except in books...


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Elephants at my House

Writing has pretty much dwindled down to a trickle at my place. Mostly, it's because I'm so busy feeding the elephants. All of us have elephants--some have more than others. Some folks work around the space their elephants occupy. Others just sit and stare and wonder how to shift them to some other part of their home.

There are those who discuss their elephants in gory, even embarrassing detail. Some try to shove their elephants in the closet, vehemently denying their very existence.

Elephants come in all colors and sizes. How big they grow is determined by how much time and attention we lavish on them. Like all living creatures, they need food and water and care.

The elephants at my house are two vastly different types. One is from the medical-anxieties family. The others are from the insane-family-behavior group. All of them occupy entirely too much of my time. And for what?

I have absolutely no control over any of them. I can't change the outcomes. I can't influence the future. And in at least one case, I can't share the burden of care.

You might say it would be best if I just pushed them out the door. Difficult. Very difficult when hearts are involved. The other day I was speaking to a friend who has her own share of elephants. I pointed out there are some things we have to let go.

I should take my own advice. Open the door and just allow the elephants to leave. Clean up the space they occupied and make better use of it. Who knows what I could do with the time and energy if I'm not taking care of elephants anymore?


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Strange Strategies

Writers, singers, artists, publishers, politicians all use specific strategies to attract notice. For instance, it's likely more folks will click on a link with a naked man as the draw than if I posted a picture of a sweet kitten. Sad, but true.

During my recent sabbatical from writing, I've watched quite a bit of television (via Netflix)--murder mysteries and that sort of thing. One particular plot that seems to be very popular is the writer, singer, artist who pretends to die (or is murdered) so his or her works are more valuable.

The first time I watched this plot unfold, I thought it was mildly amusing. The second time...not so much. Now I'm wondering if I should take precautions against the hunk knocking me off to make my books more attractive.

One particular story was quite interesting. The artist faked his death. His paintings sold for a fortune. His cohort strategically arranged to 'find' more 'lost' paintings while the artist frantically painted away in his hideout. When the artist grew tired of hiding and refused to stay 'dead', the cohort killed him.

I wonder...

Do people really buy artworks or albums or books just because the producer of those works has died? In reality, would such a scheme work? And in the case of real death (as opposed to a faked death), who gets the money? How long would the bump in profits last?

Why wouldn't the retirement of the individual work just as well? After all, the cessation of output is the draw, isn't it? Or is it? Could it be the notoriety of the death that compels people to buy?

What does that say about us?


Monday, August 5, 2013

Family Past

My friend is working on her family history, posting the occasional discovery or puzzling bit of info. It reminds me of my own journey into my family's history.

The hunk and I spent some long hours on the road, tracking down elusive documents, visiting the National Archives and libraries in tiny towns, leafing through enormous books in county clerk's offices in out-of-way places. I imagine we logged thousands of miles in our quest for the family past.

That was long before computers took the zest out of the search. Oh, a computer Internet search is far easier and less expensive, I grant you, but there are things you miss when you don't go out in the field.

You miss the joy of meeting folks who get just as caught up in your search as you are--even though it isn't even their family. You miss the feeling of connection when you stand at the gravesite of a long dead ancestor you've driven all to hell and gone to find. You miss the chance meetings with distance relations who have that elusive clue you need to solve your puzzle.

The best search is a half-n-half search. Find the basic facts that provide the framework. Then go forth and discover the past.

My kids grew up believing all families spent their vacations tracking down cemeteries in remote fields. Our family never seemed to die in town. No, they kicked the bucket in the middle of nowhere, USA. We've visited cemeteries in fields, road-side rests, overgrown woods, and oppressive summer heat. I discovered the hunk's family in a wind blown, snowy cemetery on a cold New York day in April.

Along the way, we've met the most delightful people, some via telephone or snail mail letter, others via e-mail or in person. We've exchange pictures and information and puzzles because inevitably the researcher accumulates clues that don't apply to their own family.

I'll never forget the thrill of receiving an e-mail from a fellow researcher in Alabama. "I think I have your Andrew's parents!" I'd spent nearly thirty years worrying at Andrew's puzzle when that e-mail arrived. The following year the hunk and I spent two hours in a tiny Alabama court house poring over the faded written records from the early 1800s. There I found the answer to my question. Who was Andrew's mother and father?

The hunk and I once drove three hours to visit a small, one room library in a little New England town. There, up in a loft, we found a dusty book that listed three separate branches of his family. It had birthdates, names, and deathdates. One family named three baby girls Bathsheba before one lived longer than a week.

In a cemetery in New York we discovered a family that lost seven children in one year's time. We sometimes forget how very hard life was in the past. That connection we make when we track down our ancestors reminds us they aren't just names on a piece of paper, but people who had their own share of joy and grief. They lived, loved, and died.

That is the essence of searching for the family past.