“Getting Old Is For The Birds”

I guess for the younger, and more profane, crowd that would translate to “Getting Old Sucks.” But does it? Countless seniors carry on healthy, productive lives in their professional and personal existence, knowing their time on earth is short.

In all likelihood I’ve already spent three-quarters of my years. Wasted is one word that comes to mind and I have to look really hard to come up any achievements that will be remembered past the time of my children. There’s no doubt in my immediate family (the one I was raised in) that I’m the black sheep. The family “character,” the one who blurted out the most embarrassing things and acted out inappropriately. We all have someone like that, be it the leering uncle, the dotty grandmother or the sister in prison.

How much of myself to reveal in such a public arena? Would it matter since I have a very tiny following in the literary world? There has never been another time in history when a person could show their ass so flagrantly. Admitting to addiction is one thing, telling that I need to buy panty liners is another. I can see gray heads everywhere nodding to that one so it’s a shared mortification and a grim tip of the hat to the smirking young. You’ll see. Oh, yes you will. Even if you undergo surgery to lift your sagging bladder there are certain inevitable ugly facts of life. At present what worries me is losing control. Of my bowels and bladder. My mind. Any future I may have once the preceding are gone. Since my primary occupation is caregiver for the elderly you can see how these concerns are particularly troubling.

Almost ten years ago I went to work for a nursing home again for the first time since I was nineteen. At that young age I couldn’t cope with the bald horror of getting old, watching folk who, just a week before had been ambulatory, sitting in a wheelchair staring blankly out their window or suffering the hallucinatory effects of their medication. I was better able to cope at fifty-one. Here for the grace of God, come I.

The title of this article is a direct quote of a dear woman I had the honor to clean up after. She maintained her dignity even through bed wetting. She wasn’t happy about getting infirm and incontinent but she refused to be bitter about it. I met many like her, including a lady that asked one of her aides to pray that God might take her from this world. He refused but said he’d pray that God lift her soul during its trials and she told me, with the endearing wonder of a child, how God had seen fit to answer his prayer and not hers. She accepted the answer, and the suffering, with graciousness.

Able to listen more compassionately, I had a new appreciation for the wisdom I gained from those whose desire it was to impart it. Above all, I listened. They wanted to leave something of them behind, lessons hard earned, the joys of their youth, sad reflections upon impeding death. I shared cigarettes, sneaked lottery tickets in and gave the little comfort I could, held hands, washed and dressed them one last time.

Now it’s my turn to experience that desperation of shortening years. At eighty-three my mother recently told me, “If there’s something you want to do, do it now while you still can.” I think she was speaking not just of things physical but also spiritual and I’ve been taking inventory, fearful of not being who I want to be. If I’ve learned one thing it’s that the worst you can do is not accept what you are, flaws and all. Celebrate the good, forgive the bad. If we’re to have peace at all we must forgive ourselves.

What will I leave behind? Henry David Thoreau said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and “You must work very long to write short sentences.” It would be my happy end to have learned to write like that before I die, to get to that level of succinctness in aphorism.

I know I’ll never be another Thoreau, Shakespeare or even Pete Dexter. To even have a tenth of the talent or integrity of Toni Morrison is something to aspire to. All I can hope is that this little blog site or any of my writing might find commonality with at least one person. If through my writing I can take the hand of another and share an understanding that will be immortality enough.

I’ve typed this, a nod to my wannabe life as a writer. Now I’m getting off my ass, taking a shower and going to get reptile food for my daughter’s pets. Already the kitchen’s been cleaned, clothes washed and the repair of my home’s electrical system’s been discussed with a qualified professional. Later my son and I will bag up some more of the ever annoying pile of pine needles in the yard then I’m going to visit my mother. Do what I can while I can.

Miracles Have To Be Present

I’ve spoken before of how much I like Netflix in spite of its programming tendency toward an overabundance of weirdness and horror.

So, what am I watching? The Crown. Produced by Left Bank Pictures and Sony Pictures Television and primarily written by Peter Morgan. One has to wonder where all the historical information comes from, other than newspapers and those willing to speak out frankly. Queen Elizabeth II is a notoriously private person and this fact is well-documented in the show as well as her reasons for it. After all, she’s not an actress or even President. She’s the bloody queen and an air of mystery is necessary to carry out the majesty of monarchy.

What’s so wonderful about Netflix is when it comes out with new episodes, you can binge watch the whole season in a day if you have the time. With ten episodes per, The Crown is supposed to last six seasons and a fourth season has the green light at the time of this writing. The cast is marvelous, the writing captures high and low moments for the royal family and sets a tone of empathy rather than envy for circumstances that mere mortals would find impossible to deal with. These people were born to it.

The only major screw- up I’ve noted is the blue eyes of Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby (the queen and Princess Margaret, respectively) becoming the brown eyes of Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter. What they did get very right was season three, episode four, Bubbikins. We can hardly imagine stiff ol’ Prince Philip going by that nickname.

Jane Lapotaire plays Princess Andrew (Alice) of Greece and Denmark, Philip’s mother, with grace and beauty and a diminished sense of royalty that’s refreshing in this dramatic portrait of aristocrats. Before watching I knew absolutely nothing about her and was humbled by the story and sacrifices of an amazing lady.

Her great-grandmother was Queen Victoria, present at her birth in Windsor Castle. She met her husband, Prince Andrew, the fourth son of the King of Greece, at 17 and married him a year later. To give you an idea of how inflation has exploded out of control, the 1903 wedding garnered them gifts in a round figure of three-quarters of a million dollars, around $23 million today.

Alice was born deaf and learned to lip read. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross in 1913 for her work in nursing during the Balkan War. In 1922, following the Greco-Turkish War, the royal family fled Greece and Princess Alice’s breakdown led her to be institutionalized for schizophrenia. Prince Andre, her husband, effectively abandoned his wife and carried on with his mistress. Sigmund Freud treated her because he was interested in her fantasies of a religious and sexual nature. Against her will, he had her ovaries X-rayed to bring about early menopause and prescribed electroshock therapy.

In the mid-1930’s Alice left treatment and went back to Greece where she worked for the Red Cross and fed the poor in soup kitchens. During World War II she hid the Jewish family of an old friend, Rachel Cohen, in her own home and pretended she couldn’t hear the Nazis when they asked about them, saving their lives. Yad Vashem named her Righteous Among The Nations in 1993 and planted a tree in her honor in Jerusalem.

In 1949 she founded the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary, and sought funding for it, often at personal peril, in war-torn Greece until she moved to Buckingham Palace in 1966.

I can’t speak for Prince Philip except to say his later formative years were spent without his mother’s love and guidance since she was in asylum. The family situation was, of course, known and in episodic flashback sequences the lad was subjected to ridicule by classmates at school. The stigma attached to mental illness at that time no doubt caused him a great deal of embarrassment.

But was she truly schizophrenic, one wonders? More likely she was profoundly depressed. Psychiatry was still a very young science. Misdiagnoses were made out of ignorance, not malice. Treatment was woefully inadequate at best and outright inhuman at worst. One was mad, therefore, one got locked away.

The Duke Of Edinburgh And His Mother In 1960
Keystone-France/Getty Images

Hoping to get the government to grant the royal family a pay raise, Prince Philip asks BBC to film a documentary about them to bring home the necessity of funding for their important role in English politics. While not part of the governing branch, they perform state duties that are essential. Smack in the middle of this arrives Princess Alice, to the chagrin of the Duke Of Edinburgh. According to The Crown, Philip was opposed to her coming to Buckingham Palace even though there had been a military coup and all foreign nationals had been ordered to leave Greece. As portrayed in the teleplay (most ably by Tobias Menzies), Philip doesn’t even go see her until after Princess Anne’s machinations result in Alice being interviewed by a reporter that had excoriated the documentary and ruined all Philip’s hopes that the British people would see them as deserving of taxpayer money.

The reporter is utterly charmed by the deeply religious nun and writes a touching account of her triumph over tragedy. Lapotaire and Menzies have a moving scene at the end of the show where they reconcile. I don’t know if The Guardian’s headline was The Royal Saint or not. Perhaps this was just a bit of drama in the show.

One of the requirements to be canonized is verification of miracles performed by the candidate. I suppose I’m arguing that Princess Alice did indeed work a miracle in winning back the heart of her son. They were photographed together in the years before her death with her dressed in full nun attire. He attended the ceremony in Jerusalem in her name. The good works of this Catholic sister live on in fact and memory. Perhaps her delusions were actually visions.

More information about this extraordinary woman is here: https://www.elle.com/culture/movies-tv/a29849010/princess-alice-battenberg-the-crown-real-life/ and here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Alice_of_Battenberg

A Year In Passing And Those Who Have Passed

As 2019 closes it should remind us of star who died this year. Not only those of note, but the ones whose quiet lives helped shape the arts, politics and every day life for the rest of us.

Jackie Shane, a transgender performer, who, far ahead of her time in the 60s,, brightened the Toronto music scene with her presence. She died in her sleep in Nashville on February 22 at the age 78.

Stax R&B singer of the group Mad Lads, John Gary Williams, 78, died at his home in Memphis, Tennessee.

Beverly Owen, known as Marilyn Munster, died on February 21 in Vermont at the age of 81.Pioneer of 1950’s film’s French New Wave movement, Agnes Varda, died March 29th of breast cancer.

Also from France, composer Michael Legrand, who took home three Oscars and five Grammys died January 26, aged 86.

Rapper Bushwick Bill (Richard Shaw), died in Houston from pancreatic cancer June 9.

Elijah E. Cummings, the son of a sharecropper who went on to become an advocate of the poor of Maryland as a U. S. Representative, died in October.

U. S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a proponent of consumer protection, died in July.

Toni Morrison, the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, died August 5. She helped forward the lives of everyday people into the multiculturalism movement and won the Presidential Medal Of Freedom in 2012.

Alexei Leonov, Soviet cosmonaut, became the first person to walk in space. He died October 11.

Boyz N The Hood director, John Singleton, became the black movie director to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Director and also the youngest at the age of twenty-four. He died April 28.

This is by no means a complete list of those we lost and neither are these but go to https://wgntv.com/2019/12/27/final-goodbye-recalling-influential-people-who-died-in-2019/ and https://www.msn.com/en-ca/entertainment/celebrity/stars-weve-lost-in-2019/ss-BBXijzC for more names.

Are You My Friend?

Facebook is big on this. Friends. We all need ’em but there are plenty of other places to find pals. The local supermarket, for one.

Undeniably selfish to say, many of these friends are made out of advertising or business needs. To further your agenda. As long as they understand this and you make yourself available to be equally used there’s no problem. I recently sent out a blanket request to every single one of my Facebook contacts to like and follow my new Facebook page, Dee Caples, writer. The response was gratifying, to say the least. Of course, I included the handy-dandy link to it and had a “like” button prominently displayed so it took a minimum amount of their time to do as asked. The fact they cared to spend that few minutes doing what I requested is something I have no words for. Thank you all.

And thank you, readers who come here. And to those who go to Reedsy to read my short stories submitted to their writing prompts contest, I appreciate it. I’m reluctant to invite anyone to follow me anywhere else, but that’s the purpose of doing all this social media: the almighty author platform. Ya just got to do it these days. They want to know if you can market yourself and if you can’t get a following established you may not get published.

I don’t want to be a pest and if you’ve made friends on Facebook you know who they are. Maybe you’ve met them on Twitter, Instagram or somewhere else. Maybe they’re a “mutual friend” of a friend of yours. This person could be a friend of a friend of a friend for all you know. Hell, I suspect Facebook of planting them under your friend requests. I’ve made friends with my Uncle Jim twice and once should have been enough. After that I got smarter.

Well, maybe not. In furtherance of my own ends I’ve been friending people, unsure if they’re in one of my writing groups. Don’t want to offend anyone, right? If one of my fellow groupers wants to be friends, what the hell.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you?

Unless we’ve had sex before I don’t cotton to any man calling me “baby”, especially if I’ve never laid eyes on you. Any guy that continues calling me that after I’ve asked him not to, I expect he’ll eventually hit me up for money. Buy your own I Tunes card, fella. Aw, you didn’t think I’d treat you like this? See? I told you, You don’t know me!

Have you ever gotten a @#%$ picture? I did and it freaked me out totally. I erased it, unfriended the guy and later got flagged like it was my fault. I didn’t ask to see it. I don’t need to read you woke up with a woody and I sure as hell am not about to come over and relieve it. Funny how guys that tell you “that’s okay, I got a better offer” try to pass off a photo of a good-looking man as their own.

Another favorite is: “You know you want to.” Oh, do I? You have me down pat, mother@&*$^%. I already told you two dozen times I’m not coming to your motel room and I don’t want to hear “I’d never hurt you.” The last guy that told me that nearly got his Adam’s apple relocated.

Many refuse to be dissauded and those are likely the ones working a con. Even telling them I have a big, mean old man in prison doesn’t run them off. So, how do you tell the creeps and hucksters from the good guys. I don’t know. Friend ’em all and let God sort ’em out, maybe. Or if he calls you baby kick him off and fahgeddabouddit.

Same Old Story, Not The Same Old Story

One blogger I read a few months ago said she reads over a hundred books a year. I thought, surely she can’t be talking about the latest bestsellers. Even if you buy paperback we’re talking about seven or eight bucks per book. Hardback? The woman obviously has a better job than I. Maybe she downloads them from Kindle or Amazon or has a library card. Maybe they’re not new books.

Lately I’ve been downloading my books to the laptop. The one I’m on now is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, published in 2002. The premise of the book is how the travelers to our shores brought gods with them only to lose them in the mists of time. Some, such as Odin and Easter, get lip service but the worship has seriously fallen off.

I couldn’t tell you how long it’s been since I read a story about the gods unless it was some made-up deity for a fantasy work. Probably you’d have to go back to my young years of digging mythology. Gaiman took a “what if” idea, brought the gods from Olympian heights and dropped them into our time. After that he used his considerable talent to create a masterpiece of fiction that’s as easy to understand as it is to read.

As writers we talk a lot about how to make our work unique. There are only so many stories to be told: war, romance, true crime, fantasy, etc. I don’t know if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the first locked room mystery but ever since Sherlock figured his out it’s been done over again and again, but with variations. And that’s all writing is anyway. It’s what you do with it that matters, how you develop a character we’ve not met before. They might be doing every day things but you can send them to a fictional town or even have them spirited away on a pirate ship.

Let’s take a young woman named Tina. She’s walking down the road. Where’s she been and where’s she going? Home? To visit Grandma? To kill her ex? Does she find an abandoned puppy in the ditch? Who’s that guy that stops to offer her a ride? A handsome stranger? Some middle-aged guy who’s looking for his long-lost daughter Tina? Or maybe she comes to the cross street and doesn’t recognize the names on the street sign. A space ship beams her up. Night falls unexpectedly and a scarecrow appears in the middle of the road. Someone left the manhole cover off and she falls but manages to catch hold of the ladder and begins to climb up before the cover slams shut.

Anything could happen to Tina, just like real life. Or maybe not so real, depending on what you like to read or write. Whatever you write about Tina has been said before countless times. It’s how you say it and the colors you paint her world. It’s all in the invitation you extend to put up our feet and enter the story. Make us want to read it.

Make us believe.

Getting Technical

It’s got to be embarrassing: a writer knows only what he can find on the internet about a given subject and some critic who does know calls him out on it in a write-up that half of America reads. Thank God it hasn’t happened to me, yet, because I’m not widely published. I’m very minimally published but I’ve had the sense to not put out there something complicated I don’t understand. Just this morning I read a master at work, covering his ass and doing it brilliantly.

By now you may have gathered I’m a fan of Stephen King. It’s not that I’m a big reader of horror novels. I may watch scary movies more often than I should but I’m more inclined to read crime or mystery books. But King is more than just horror. Everything he writes shows up on the NY Times bestseller list. That’s because he can present characters that are believable, no matter if what they’re doing is not. His descriptions of the environment take us to that movie screen in the head. Good and evil fall with the cruel indifference of fate. And plot.

When I don’t have a new book to take to work I’ll go pull an old favorite off the shelf. My favorite of all King’s works is a short story called The Last Rung On The Ladder. I’d forgotten it was in his Night Shift collection which you might want to go pick up if you’re a fan, too, but don’t own it. If you’re broke, type in the title and it’s a Google doc. You can also find the short film on You Tube. The only horror in it is the careless disregard of a brother for his troubled sister. When I finished it I teared up and thought, Steve! You actually did that! There’s nothing more awful than the things we do to one another that we can’t fix or take back.

Just read it, okay? Now, back to the subject.

In Nightmares & Dreamscapes there’s a story by the name of Sneakers. The MC is a mixing technician for a record company. King, among others like Amy Tan and writer/cartoonist Dave Barry have played for a band named Rock Bottom Remainders but I doubt King is a recording mixer wiz. In Sneakers he solves the problem with a drum track by very simple means. It’s almost this verbatim: the MC says something, the producer says something, and they go back and fix the problem. MC had been about to ask about the dead body in the third floor men’s room but he got sidetracked by the drum snafu. King dances around the issue without revealing any technical information by something and something. He never does get around to asking about the dead guy who was the whole point of that section of the story.

I thought, This man is a genius. If you’ll read the story it will explain better than I have without plagiarizing his work. You don’t have to describe your vet’s weapon in terms of how many shells it holds, the windage and elevation he has to calculate or how many grains it takes to kick out that bullet unless much of your novel is set on the battlefield and is written for guys that have been there in mind. Then you better know some firepower. Stephen Hunter did it very well in his novel Point of Impact but I suspect he has a subscription to Guns & Ammo.

Don’t worry if you’re not well versed on every subject and can glean only the most rudimentary facts from studying. You could write a short story set in a mortuary without being an undertaker. But you might want to take a field trip to one.

I Don’t Think It Can Be Turned Around Without Revolution

A real American.

No one could put it more sincerely than Russell Means when he said Welcome To The American Reservation Prison Camp. Watch here on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN9ssrVTkk8

Sadly, this video has less than half a million views. To set the tone for what I’m about to say let me demonstrate my argument. Just to be fair I just went down the list by typing in “political videos” and sticking to that first page. What I got was a mishmash of news clips and “the best of” videos that generally had less than 50k views. A little more popular was a Trump basher with over 2 million. Chal Dum, a music video from the film Dirty Politics had 29 million views. So I typed in “music videos” and the first on the list was Marshmello’s Happier with 442 million. Which, perhaps unscientifically, demonstrates one of Russell Mean’s points: we just want to be entertained.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Means he is the founder of the American Indian Movement and instrumental in fighting for the Republic of Lakotah. He has been a street person, a drug dealer, actor, writer and has earned a degree in accounting and has his Ph.D in philosophy. He is highly intelligent and articulate and is hardly joking when he says “welcome to the reservation.”

Means claims that the American Constitution was partly based on the Iroquois Confederacy and, indeed, Ben Franklin made reference to the native model in his Plan of Union at the Albany Congress in 1754. Go here for further study and more articles on the subject: https://www.pbs.org/native-america/blogs/native-voices/how-the-iroquois-great-law-of-peace-shaped-us-democracy/

In this You Tube video he puts forth his views on everything from history to vaccinations and excoriates the laziness of modern American life. The basic message is we’ve gotten too far from local government and allowed ourselves to be herded into a centralized pasture where we contentedly graze on government grass as long as we get to spend our paychecks at Walmart and peck on cell phones and damned if he’s not right.

The basis of Native American belief is the circle. Life follows a circle from life to death. What you put into it is what you get out of it. Water circles the globe and sadly the American culture is circling a drain. And going down faster and faster.

Nearly a third of the laws passed by the 115th Congress were ceremonial, renaming courthouses and whatnot according to the Pew Research Center. Good grief. We allow these guys a huge salary (which they vote for themselves), retirement, limos and free helicopter rides. From 2004-2012 the net household worth of our congressmen saw a 1.55 median yearly increase while the average American’t was a .94 percent decrease. According to https://ballotpedia.org/Changes_in_Net_Worth_of_U.S._Senators_and_Representatives_(Personal_Gain_Index) Ballotpedia the majority of our elected officials are millionaires while half of us can’t “afford to spend $5,000 in an emergency.”

This was hardly news to me. When the front bearings on my car went out, $320 put my checking account into the red.

Mean’s call to return to a more community-based way of life sounds like heaven to me. Were we not warned by the founding fathers about letting the fed get too carried away? Hasn’t the patriarchal hand gotten too heavy? https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/11/opinion/sunday/united-states-too-big.html Can anything be done about it?

I don’t know. Speaking for myself I have become an ostrich with my head in the sand. Just living from paycheck to paycheck, no 401k or even health insurance. Once a follower of politics and the news, I now could not even tell you the name of our vice president and that’s pitiful. I’m of the ilk that thinks that no matter what we do or whom we elect nothing substantial will change. It’s gone too far unless we’re willing to march on Washington and throw ’em all out and start over.

Perhaps I’m wrong and it’s not too late. The mysterious they say it’s never too late so don’t start the revolution without me.

Is It Your Story To Tell?

Before I write my blog I’d like to point out a new podcast, The Fantasy Writer’s Toolshed and you can find it here on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDMQXJ7OP4M&feature=youtu.be Thanks to my friend Richie Billings!

Okay. This is undoubtedly a touchy subject. Racism is a hot topic no matter how far we get from the bad, old days. From British colonialism to American slavery to the near-genocide of the First Americans to the grisly efforts of Nazi Germany, mankind has always sought to either enslave or subjugate their fellow man. Always the perpetrator of these heinous acts believed their victims were below them in standards of humanity. Ignorant. Barbaric. Heathen. They felt they had a mandate to overthrow their governments and way of life in order to “show them a better way” or force a religion on them they didn’t want but mostly to take what the other guy had.

As a white American I feel no personal responsibility for the atrocities my ancestors committed but reading “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” and other histories of white American expansion nevertheless made me ashamed of every drop of white blood in my veins. To think that “Manifest Destiny” drove the American government to bow down to the greed of the settlers of the west makes me ill. Who deemed it necessary to send blankets used by people sick with smallpox to the Indians they’d already condemned to miserable reservations? Congressmen and land speculators. Pastors and priests deplorably used the Holy Bible and soft words to help persuade the Native Americans to trust the white men. It’s an anonymous quote that I remember more than any other: “The white man made many promises and kept only one. They promised to take our land and they took it.”

Just as appalling as wiping out a people that were living full, peaceful lives before we ever got here was bringing over another race to build our roads and towns, plant crops, nurse white babies and endure our efforts to “civilize” them. I’ve only heard one black person ever say she thanked God for slavery because she might otherwise now be some man’s third wife and forced to undergo female circumcision. Slavery wasn’t all of it, by any means. There was the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws and a one hundred year wait for civil rights reform.

So what’s my point? I’ll tell you. A few weeks ago I posted a short story to my Facebook author page, Dee Caples, Writer, called Everything’s Copacetic. It’s about a man who believes he’s the reincarnation of Mr. Bojangles. Not the man from the Jerry Jeff Walker song, but the real man, Bill Robinson. He danced his way into film legend and helped pave the way for racial reforms whose fruits he didn’t live to enjoy. It could arguably be said I should have kept my mouth shut but I didn’t. Upon posting the story to my site I thought to ask if it bothered black people to read a white author having one black man call another black man the N word. Upon having a woman respond that she was “usually uncomfortable” with this I changed the story, not wanting to offend anyone.

It led to a firestorm, to say the least, because I posted the query on a writer’s group I belonged to. Belonged, that’s right. I was labeled as being a racist at worst and an idiot at the least. I felt like I’d been told to take my ball and leave the playground. Then a white, politically correct British Facebook friend explained I was taking matters too personally and it was viewed by black people as just another white person trying to write about a history she’d not lived.

I read an article entitled “Not Your Story To Tell.” Point taken. I don’t know a damned thing about being black. Racial injustice isn’t something I’ve ever encountered. When a cop stops me all I have to worry about is the beer I drank fifteen minutes ago or whether I have a tail light out that I was unaware of. If I’ve been racially profiled I didn’t know it. Once I did walk into a bar that was full of black faces and decided I’d better go on in and have a drink now that I was framed in the doorway. Was I uncomfortable? A little. No since in lying about it. I got a drink and found some folks I’d gone to school with and sat at their table but I didn’t dare get up and dance. Was that a racist action? Maybe, but it was based on a self-truth. I can’t dance for shit.

You’ll have to decide the title question for yourself. I will concede that any future novel of mine that has someone of another race as the main character will need to be thoroughly researched for authenticity. I will also run it by someone of that race to see if I have the right of it. My last word on the idea of something not being my story to tell is: stories are kind of like our children. They are conceived in our head and grow inside us. We give birth to them, sustain them, correct them then send them into the world and hope everyone loves them as much as we do. Even if they’re ugly.

Passive Voice

I’m writing about this with the aid of Glencoe/McGraw-Hill’s Writer’s Choice Grammar and Composition. Texas Edition. Well, okay. As a native Texan who’s never lived in any other state (any other town, for that matter), I feel we deserve our very own creative writing textbook version.

All this flap about passive voice drives me a little crazy. What is this accursed editorial thing? “The form of a verb used when the subject of the sentence receives the action of the verb.”

Someday I’m going to have to read this whole book. I borrowed it from the son of an English teacher at my high school. And, buster, it’s been a long time since 1976. For now I just skipped in the contents to the section on verbs, since this is where the conflict lies. Active voice is where the “subject of the sentence performs the action.” See? I had to read it four times and decided to just quote directly from the text. Easier that way.

“The coach praised the team.” Active enough for ya?

And when the action is performed on the subject “The team was praised by the coach.”, that’s passive.

Oh, crap. The first example is smoother and more concise, isn’t it? And concision will get thrown for a loop, invariably, when you use the auxiliary verb be with the past participle of the verb, its tense being determined by the auxiliary verb.

Huh? Allow me to demonstrate by forming my sentence with the help of Glencoe. “The writer was confused as hell.” See? Past tense of be is was, which means I had to use the past tense of confuse, confused. I just managed to passive voice myself four times right there. Way to go! But is (dammit!) there another way to phrase that sentence?

The writer’s confusion abated. The writer’s confusion cleared.

The Writing Center (https://writingcenter.unc.edu>passive voice) says: The form of “to be” (is, are, am, was, were, has, has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a verb in the past participle which usually, but not always, ends in -ed” will be passive voice. The part that gets me is the “not always.” Isn’t there always a not always?

Ha! So I didn’t use was even though my verb ended with -ed. But was I active? Beats hell out of me. I Googled that whole sentence, asking if it was passive voice just to see if I’d get a hit. No way.

Billy hit the ball. Active.

The ball was hit by Billy. Passive.


The ball (object) is the recipient of the action (hit) by the noun (Billy).

“I was hit by the ball.” Passive.

“The ball hit me.” Active.

Concision, concision.

The Writing Center says it’s not all that difficult to identify passive voice. They included a few myths on the subject. One, that your grammar checker will catch it for you. Wrong. Passive voice isn’t grammatically incorrect so your grammar checker will let it breeze right on by and your editor will glove that fly ball. Yer out!

Passive voice never uses first person. Look above. “I was hit by the ball.”

Never use it? There are times when passive voice might be preferable. “He had barely gotten by on social security.” We can’t say “He barely got by on social security” if my subject here is dead. Can we???? That would be present tense, wouldn’t it???

I guess in that case it would be okay. Jeez. I really have to read this book.

(Was that passive voice?)

Rephrase: I must read this book. You can’t get more active than that.


Why I Love The Evil Queen

Netflix is wonderful to fall asleep to. You can choose a show and if you nod off it’s no problem to rewind and pick up where you left off. Lately I’ve been watching Once Upon A Time again. Originally aired on ABC, this is a wonderful retelling of the old fairy tales we know and love, but with a twist.

Created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, it ran from October 2011 to May 2018. They also wrote many of the episodes but just a few of the other writers include Jane Espenson, David H. Goodman, Liz Tigelaar and Ian Goldberg. For a full list go to Wikipedia. These bright, imaginative folks turned kiddie stories into fun watching for grownups. A mix of fairy tales, folklore and Disney movies, we get to reconnect with some old favorites.

If you read the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson you know some fairy tales ending badly. Remember poor Little Mermaid, immortalized in Anderson’s hometown as a statue gazing longingly at the sea, probably right before she jumped in and was turned to foam? Or the mean-ass sisters and stepmother in Cinderella who had their eyes pecked out by crows, ostensibly with Cinder’s blessing? Peter Pan was far from a good ole’ boy. In OUAT even the villains get a happy ending. Except Hades.

Because the Evil Queen wanted her happy ending, she cast a spell that took everyone in The Enchanted Forest to a modern-day town she created, Storybrooke, Maine, unaware of their former lives. She’s the mayor, Regina, and the only one besides her who knows the truth is Mr. Gold, aka Rumplestilskin, owner of the local pawn shop. Unbeknownst to Regina her adopted son, Henry, discovers the secret when he’s given a book called Once Upon A Time by his teacher, Mary Margret, who just happens to be Snow White. It’s full of illustrations of the townsfolk as their counterparts.

Henry isn’t affected by the curse because he was born in our world, given birth by Emma Swann whose destiny it is to break the curse and restore everyone to themselves. He travels to Boston to bring her to Storybrooke and she’s reluctant to go. The only thing she doesn’t doubt is this is the child she gave up for adoption. She thinks the boy’s deluded. In a much later episode she tells him, “Kid, just because you believe something doesn’t make it true.” He fires back with, “That’s exactly what makes it true.” Belief is very important to children and it plays a big role in the story for the adults, too, and for us, the viewer.

The writers of this well-done series make it very watchable. Okay, the memory and sleeping curses get a little redundant and I could have done without the final season but all in all it’s a great show. I have laughed so hard at times and wiped away a tear at others. The villains are pretty nasty and the good guys valiant but we get to see reversals in every heart when push comes to shove.

In my opinion, Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty, 28 Days Later) gives the most multi-faceted performance, as Rumplestilskin. When in the storybook world, he speaks with a high-pitched cartoon voice and bows mockingly when introducing himself. His modern doppelganger, Gold, is even more menacing and just as willing to make a deal. As they say, magic always comes with a price. Sometimes it’s a steep one and he never fails to relish someone having to pay. He also fills the shoes of The Dark One, a powerful wizard, once a cowardly man, his true nature only a scratch from the surface. Belle, of Beauty and The Beast, comes to the story line and we discover The Dark One is The Beast. Only sweet Belle brings out the good in him but he loves power above all, with ruinous consequences.

The other main characters are Ginnifer Goodwin’s Emma, Jared S. Gilmore as Henry, the truest believer, Josh Dallas as Prince Charming (David) and Jennifer Morrison as Snow White (Mary Margaret). The real kicker is Lana Parilla as Regina, The Evil Queen. I can’t decide if I love her or Rumple more. She hasn’t forgotten a thing, not her dead first love or the rage that brought out in her for all things tender and loving.

It wouldn’t be much of a plot or a series if she didn’t have conflicts, chief among them her love for Henry and her guilt of the deaths she was complicit in or outright the cause of. Mostly, she could give a damn. In The Enchanted Forest she goes about in her black carriage and ceiling fan-endangered hairdos snapping necks and disappearing in a swirl of purple smoke.

But, of course, we get to see her softer side. For Henry’s sake she tries to be good and manages to do so. Her bad girl days go on the back burner. Until needed. Then, boy howdy, watch out. With that crooked smile, she faces down her opponents and you know she’s really going to enjoy turning them to toast.

Why do I love her? She is who she is. We get to see why (an unrepentant witch of a mother, played by Barbara Hershey), and you can kind of understand the scourge of The Enchanted Forest, even as you wish she’d be a little nicer. She turns the other cheek to weak. If you’ve pissed her off and she comes after you, you’d best run. Only Charming and Snow are protected from death by innate goodness. Everyone else is going down.

There’s something admirable about that, admit it. What she says, she means, with no apologies. At one time or another we’ve all wanted to zap someone.

#fairytales,#onceuponatime, #lanaparilla, #robertcarlyle, #uneasywriter.blog, #deecaples