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Mixed Messages

14 Nov

Mixed Messages

L. Stewart Marsden

Every night during the evening news more comes out regarding sexual abuses men in power are alleged to have committed – either recently, or in years past – as a result of their power, position and influence. In an earlier blog I pointed a finger not only at the culture men are accustomed to as well as the lack of training boys receive at the hands of their parents in learning not to objectify girls and women, but the seeming lack of restraint on the part of the entertainment media, Hollywood and music stars, advertising and the fashion world in promulgating sensual and salacious themes and imagery.

As I sit and watch the accusations, confessions and denials, I wonder “when will this stop?” Like so many floodgates that have burst open (mass shootings, hateful political rhetoric and more), I’m uncertain who will draw the necessary lines in the sand for each and declare “No more!”

Then I receive a text from my youngest, who is looking for a dress for the prom. She asks, “What are your thoughts on this dress?”

What are my thoughts? WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS? She’s 14 years old, are my thoughts. There are Harvey Weinsteins and Roy Moores out there! There are hot-testosterone-blooded teenage boys out there!

And I think, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?

But she’s not, of course. Thinking. She’s responding to the arbitrary guidance of her age group, who are also NOT thinking.

So I reply, “Looks like a cocktail dress for an adult woman.” Never mind what I was really thinking.

She explains, “What does that mean[?] I’m shopping for a dress for my winter formal.”

Winter? Not enough cloth to keep you alive! I think. But I say, “You’re too young for that dress.”

She replies in a huff, “Based on you and Mom, I’m gonna end up wearing a skirt that goes to my heels, and a hijab.”

And I think, Yeah, I could go with that. But I send her this pic, with the comment, I like this one …

Fourteen. The song Sunrise, Sunset goes through my head.

You chuckle. I’m obviously a prudish stick-in-the-mud, you think of me.

What? Wait!

The problems we face with the current outrage over sexual harassment is multi-faceted. And my youngest daughter, if I tell her how guys are visually-stimulated, and how they grow up without any sense of sexual responsibility, and how in their tiny brains (about the size of gonads) only process from a biological urge to propagate –– she will laugh me off. “Oh, Dad!”

Yesterday the November 16 issue of Rolling Stone arrived – a subscription my youngest son (22 yrs) has. Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, and Larry Flint might get a little red-faced at the cover – upset some other magazine encroached upon their empires.

Cosmopolitan, along with GQ and a host of other magazines ply their pictorial pornography in the checkout aisles of Walmart and Rite Aid for all eyes to see.

And none have it over the “Adult-only” content available on the internet.

But what gets me are the entities expressing outrage and creating distance between themselves and the growing number of those accused of sexual aggression.

Really?

Mixed messages.

Had guests over the other night. We watched a re-run of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Amazingly, the show was entertaining! And not one untoward reference to extramarital sex or sexual conquest (vis a vie Friends, 2 1/2 Men, Sex and the City, etc.). Remember when Eddie Murphy’s humor on SNL was void of profanity?

I’m not a prude. Far from it. I won’t approve my daughter’s purchase of that particular prom dress, and suggested some more modest alternatives. I’ll let you know how that works out.

And I’m NOT saying that if she, too, were to become a statistic of sexual abuse, the onus would be on her. But I want her to realize what words like provocative and sexually alluring mean. Each has its appropriate place in a committed relationship.

As we untangle the various scenarios of abuse, I hope we are also able to close various gaps of mixed messages. It’s not only male and female involved in this issue, it’s whole industries. The question is whether or not those industries will admit culpability and do the right thing. I’m not going to hold my breath until that happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Treatise on Gun Control

9 Nov

 

My Treatise on Gun Control

L. Stewart Marsden

I once had the idea that Detroit should outfit all automobiles with paintball guns on the hoods of their products. Automatic rack-and-pinion pivoting devices that could zero in on some a**hole who doesn’t know what they’re doing behind the wheel of a car. The idea is that the bad drivers will have cars covered with paint splats. Red, blue, yellow – a veritable rainbow of responses to those folks who drive down the highway at 80 mph texting, or putting on makeup, or (and I’ve seen this) reading a damn book!

Nuts! Cuckoos!

The idea is you see a multi-splatted car and you avoid the hell out of them. At some point the sheer weight of the paint slows the car.

Now look – all you law-abiding and devoted-to-safety gun owners – you must agree that there are fools and wack-os out there that should NEVER get behind the wheel of a car! We’ve come a loooong way legislating safety features, laws, and requiring drivers’ training to cut down the spillage of blood, bones and brain matter on our highways. Haven’t heard too many complain about seat belts, infant car seats, air bags (well, when they work), road-gripping tires.

Here’s the other thing about driving: NO ONE DRIVES A HIGH-OCTANE FORMULA ONE RACING CAR ON THE STREETS! Unless it’s a race, of course. But even then, there are RESTRICTIONS!

The sad thing is, apparently vans and trucks and cars have now become a weapon of choice for the America-haters.

Guess what? Automobiles are NOT protected under the Bill of Rights! They are a privilege as, I believe, should be gun ownership. With privileges come responsibilities.

So, segue onto the subject of Gun Control.

The very word “control” seems to cause a great many pro-gun people to shift mental gears to mean “we’re gonna take your guns away from you.” Gun registration as well as being licensed to own and use a gun is also suspect. Too many “Seven Days in May” conspiracy stories, I guess. By God, everything is a conspiracy.

Take a breath. Inhale. Exhale.

Just like the process of training someone to use a car for work, for recreation, to get from Point A to Point B safely and with the least amount of danger to others, gun controls are a good thing.

“Guns don’t kill people …”

Exactly! Nor do cars, but idiotic, psychotic, unprepared and uncontrollable drivers.

“Stricter controls will not keep guns out of the hands of criminals …”

True. And cars will also be stolen, or used as getaway means and end in death and destruction. But you still have to turn your lights on in the State of North Carolina when it rains. The vast majority of automobile drivers are responsible people. Where have I heard that before?

We have central databases where every vehicle operation violation is recorded. We have tags on each car that indicates the vehicle passes a mechanical inspection on an annual basis. We have license renewal requirements, so that each driver must reapply for an operator’s license. We require auto insurance. We have stricter licensing requirements for bus drivers, and truck drivers. Even moped operators must now get a license to drive on public throughways.

Who’s complaining? Virtually NO ONE!

Is it a hassle to go annually to the DMV for a new license plate sticker? Damn right it is! Is it costly time-wise and wallet-wise to have my car inspected annually, and maybe have to replace that headlights or taillights or windshield wipers?

Why do I tolerate this overbearing scrutiny and control? Because I’d rather drive to the beach than walk. Or take the bus. Or the train.

We have an agency in place that can be utilized more effectively in filtering out at least some of the wack-os and, as 45 says, folks with mental health problems, from buying and possessing a gun. The ATF. Will it be overwhelmed? Only if it does its job. Heck, think of the number of people who will need to be employed to handle the load? What a boon! And, a self-financing procedure. Like the DMV.

So, first, enable the ATF to process licensing, with local offices (just like the DMV). Compared to the cost of someone being killed by a gun (jail, court, attorney fees, lost income of the victim, hospital costs). Take the licensing process out of the hands of the Sheriff’s departments so that the load can be handled, and so that consistency of process is guaranteed.

Second, enact laws that require regular licensing (like driver’s licensing). I get my license, I get a DWI or speeding ticket, and I lose my license, or it is restricted. I get a gun license, and within the year I am convicted of a felony, or go through drug rehab, I lose my license. A point system like that in the driver’s license. Further, that anyone diagnosed with a mental disorder that could affect the patient’s ability to legally use a firearm be reported to the ATF. By the way, licensing would require mandatory training (NRA?) as well as passing a written AND, initially, firing range test.

Third, require that a gun owner purchase and maintain liability insurance for each firearm purchased. Just like owning a car where accidents happen. The insurance companies will love this, and the cost of owning a firearm just for insurance will curb the number of guns a person can afford to own.

Fourth, require that firearms are also inspected on a regular basis by qualified people to ensure accidents don’t occur because of mechanical malfunction. Require recall letters from manufactures for such problems, as well as a guarantee of repair or replacement.

Fifth, as with a car, require that a private owner transact the sale of a firearm to another person through their local ATF office. Failure to do so would be a felony crime.

Sixth, require that the loss, theft, or decommissioning of a firearm (dismantling) be reported to the ATF. If to the police, that the police alert the ATF electronically.

Seventh, restrict the sale of types of firearms and add-ons (bump fire stocks, hair triggers, silencers, magazine capacity, etc.).

Eighth, require the registration of ammunition and its sale – as do the pharmacists with prescriptions. Lot, box, shells. Shell casings could be barcoded.

And I could go on. The point is that while a few advocate no guns at all, most of us realize that won’t happen – regardless of the 2nd Amendment. And certainly no law or restriction is going to be absolutely effective. There will always be those outlying circumstances and people who defy logic and sanity.

But – IF the laws are enforced with due diligence, perhaps some of the tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, and other non-terrorist initiated massacres, will be avoided.

Deer hunters, skeet shooters, biathlon athletes – even those who want/need a deadly way to protect their home and family members – will be able, within the law, to do those things.

Expensive? You bet. So is a car.

Cost of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle: between $500 and $2,500;
Cost of 500 rounds of ammo: about $150;
Cost of a bump-fire stock: $1,500;

Cost of a human life: priceless.*

*According to the EPA ( https://www.epa.gov/environmental-economics/mortality-risk-valuation ), the value of a human life was $7.4 million in 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

The Gun Show

8 Nov

The Gun Show

By L. Stewart Marsden

Dealer: I need your ID.

Patron: They don’t need it when I vote … why the hell do you need it?

Dealer: It’s the law, Sir.

Patron: Effing law-makers! They need to put those leeches out to pasture.

Dealer: Yeah, the most of them are in it for the money.

Patron: MY money … and yours.

Patron hands the Dealer his driver’s license, who plugs the information into his computer.

Patron: Checking to see if I’m crazy?

Dealer: That, and if you have any felony arrests.

Patron: Ought to make running for office a felony.

Dealer: Get no argument here.

Dealer hands the license back to the Patron.

Patron: Clean?

Dealer: Have to wait ten days for the license to clear.

Patron: Uh. Ten days. Well, you got any of your private stock for sale?

Dealer: You in a hurry?

Patron: I want to get to a range and get used to my gun before the season begins.

Dealer: Well, since you asked – I got this sweet semi I can sell you.

Patron: And I can take it today, right? I mean I don’t have to have a license to buy it and take it home with me.

Dealer: Yep. Kind of like the way it used to be a long time ago. Only thing is if I suspect the buy is unhinged or something. You unhinged?

The Patron laughs in response, and the Dealer laughs.

Dealer: You a hunter?

Patron: Used to when I was a boy. Me and my dad. Squirrel. Rabbits, sometimes. Ever eat squirrel?

Dealer: Can’t say I have. What’s it taste like?

Patron: Chicken. Everything tastes like chicken, right? ‘Cept for chicken …

Dealer laughs …

Dealer: You gonna use this for hunting, then?

Patron: Yeah … hunting. And target shooting, you know.

Dealer: This baby’ll bring down a bull moose at 200 yards. It’s lightweight and won’t throw you to the ground with the recoil.

Patron picks up the gun, hefts it, and points it up, sighting down the barrel. He checks the action several times, then puts it back on the counter.

Patron: Nice! I’ll take it. You recommend a scope with that?

Dealer: I do if you want a clean kill. Otherwise you might miss, or worse – wound your target and have to go traipsing into the brush to finish the kill.

Patron: Well, better add a scope, then. I don’t do traipsing at my age.

Dealer: Okay … I recommend this scope. Assembles onto this model quick and locks in tight. Myself I never use a scope. Kind of takes the challenge out of it.

Patron: Quick and tight. Sounds good to me. Ammo?

Dealer: What do you want? Ain’t cheap.

Patron: What is these days? Any limit on how much I can buy?

Dealer: Only your wallet. Ammo for this gun come in boxes of fifty.

Patron: Ten should do for now.

Dealer: That won’t last very long. Especially on the range.

Patron: It’s 500 shells. It’s enough.

Dealer: How you want to pay?

Patron: Cash okay?

Dealer: Need you to sign for it.

Patron: No problem.

Dealer: Anything else today? Camouflage outfit? Ear protection?

Patron: Naw. I’m good. Wait … can you outfit this with a silencer? For the sound. My hearing is bad enough as it is.

Dealer: What about ear protectors? Cheaper.

Patron: I heard they amplify background noise – least that’s what a friend of mine told me.

Dealer: Yeah. You can actually go online and get instructions how to make one. I sell you one it gets reported to the ATF, and they may want to talk to you about why. Anyways, I don’t carry them.

Patron: I’m an engineer. Or was. I have a huge workshop full of every tool imaginable. Can’t imagine making one will be too difficult for me.

Dealer: Probably not. Anything else?

Patron: You got bump stocks?

Dealer: Nope. But there’s a booth close to the bathrooms that does. They have one that’ll fit what you bought. Not going to use that hunting, right?

Patron: Just curious. Grew up on James Cagney gangster films. Always wondered what rapid-fire would feel like.

Patron pulls out his wallet and counts out the cash, and hands it to the Dealer.

Dealer: Thank you! Now if you’ll sign right here, I’ll get your change.

Patron: Lot of folk pay in cash?

Dealer: Does a bear shit in the woods?

They laugh.

Dealer: Okay, partner … you’re all set. Unless there’s anything else?

Patron: No, no! I’m good. Between you and the guv’mint, I’ll be in the poor house!

They laugh again.

The Patron walks off and disappears into the mulling crowds of the gun show, as the Dealer turns to the next customer.

Dealer: Help you, Sir?

Gun control laws are riddled with loopholes, “protecting” an American citizen’s 2nd Amendment right to own a gun. This is one of them. It’s referred to as The Gun Show Loophole.

 

 

Strange Fruit

13 Oct

 

Strange Fruit

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Today I went on a search for one thing, and found another, quite unexpectedly. It was a cold splash of reality against my white, Anglo-Saxon heritage. I was searching for that silly beer commercial where the stadium vender, hawking his lager, has been placed in venues like a living room or a bathroom, and at one point, a cemetery during a burial. Funny.

That’s what I want when I go – a beer stadium vender shouting out “Ice cold beer, here! Get your ice-cold beer!”

Oftentimes YouTube puts another video – usually an ad – before the video you want to watch. You can skip it after 3 to 5 seconds if you like. And, just as normal, I click <skip ad>.

The “ad” in front of the beer commercial began with a close-up of a beautiful black woman with a large Afroesque hairdo, dressed in a beautiful slip-like dress, holding a microphone and staring up toward light that lightly bathed her. All else was dark.

She began to sing. I couldn’t place the song in my head. It was like a combination of Billie Holiday’s Summertime with some kind of mourning tune: melancholic and haunting. As she sang, visuals of forests and trees and other less-appealing imagery filled the screen.

On she mourned, and as she continued, I finally realized what the song was about. It was past events I had no touchstone with at all. But she did, and she did not have to reach so very deeply to urge that link to the surface of her voice.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood on the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Every word, every phrase, every line, every stanza was delivered with that haunting voice. Then I looked up the song. It was first performed by Billie Holiday in 1939 from a poem written by Abel Meeropol published in 1937.

I did not know the poem.

I did not know the song.

I did not know the pain.

What I do know is this: an old white man can learn something new. I learned something new today – not that lynchings took place (I was aware of that), but something, finally, gripped my soul and squeezed. We (white culture) did that. Why?

The following is a link to that video, performed by Andra Day. There is also a version of Holiday’s performance of the song, as well as many more. Not too many are performed by white artists. Kathy Segal (Sons of Anarchy) did one. I don’t recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forget About It

18 Aug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forget About It

By L. Stewart Marsden

Never forget.

Forget, hell!

Gettysburg. Manassas. Fort Sumter. Shiloh. Richmond. Antietam. Petersburg. Vicksburg. Andersonville. Chickamauga. Lookout Mountain. Appomattox.

Images of the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad, Iraq.

Images of the statue of Robert E. Lee being toppled in Durham, NC.

The oft-quoted maxim involving forgetting history – while a tired phrase – might apply here. The poet and philosopher, George Santayana is purported to have said:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Of course, various versions have been bantered about throughout time.

Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Winston Churchill weighed in with, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

And my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, put his spin on the phrase, elaborating, of course:

I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana … We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive. It’s pretty dense kids who haven’t figured that out by the time they’re ten…. Most kids can’t afford to go to Harvard and be misinformed.

History is filled with images and symbols that act as touchstones to the past. The Roman Empire SPQR held high on a pole; the sign of the fish for early Christians; family crests (I am currently wearing a ring with my family’s crest). From the benign to the monstrous. The cross on the shields of Christian warriors who slaughtered in the name of Christ during the Crusades; the swastika, “a sacred symbol of the spiritual principles in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism”† to a symbol of Nazi Aryan race identity, hate, and mass murder.

Flags of the nations. During WWII the Japanese flag elicited much anger on the part of Americans. The Russian flag did the same during the Cold War.

And statues and busts of every imaginable sort.

A growing sentiment is being heard across the country, urging the destruction or eradication of both symbols and statues that represent to that group something odious and despicable. Confederate flags, once incorporated into various southern state flags, are being removed from, or being called to be removed from those state symbols. The sentiment is significant, but not quite a majority.

There are those who are baffled by what seems to be as vitriolic a response as those who see these symbols as touchstones to a time and way of life they have identified with for generations.

Fascists, come the cries. Bigots and racists.

Liberals, come the retorts. Pinko commies who want to take without earning.

A fear has swept over the country, like tsunamis from two directions hurtling toward each other. One group fearful that the country will revert to pre-Civil War days, and minorities will be enslaved and hunted and valued at a lesser level (2/3?) than their white counterparts. The other group, doggedly holding onto values they believe to be inalienable rights, and angry and frustrated that the country “is going to hell in a hand basket.”

In the middle – between these two groups – a large segment of the country who are confused at best, ignorant at worst, at what to do. Wishing and hoping it will all “settle down” so life can resume as it was. Content with the status quo. Spectators.

Do you eradicate any and all controversial symbols of the past? Anything offensive to anyone? Do we bury the reality of a civil war on our soil that took between 620,000 and 750,000 lives on the battlefield? ††

It’s true that many in this country cling to these symbols as a connection to a time and way of life they would prefer. It is also true the symbols are odious reminders of oppression and worse.

One group says “you are erasing history.” The other, “we are removing the icons of hate and bigotry and fascism.”

Is there a solution regarding these remnants and reminders of a time our country was literally ripped apart? Do we eradicate these touchstones to a time when people, many born in the United States, were enslaved and denied the rights of citizenry or even humanhood?

It is revealing that descendants of the men depicted by statues honoring their ancestors express mixed emotion:

“William Jackson Christian (known as Jack) and Warren Edmund Christian are great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson, the general best known for leading Confederate troops in the First Battle of Bull Run. On Wednesday, they published a blistering open letter in Slate, calling statues of Jackson and other Confederate leaders in their hometown, Richmond, ‘overt symbols of racism and white supremacy.’”

“‘While we are not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family and friends suffer,” they wrote. “We are ashamed of the monument.’”

“Bertram Hayes-Davis, a great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, has been less forceful than the Christians. In an interview with the CNN host Don Lemon, he said that statues of Davis and other Confederate leaders at the United States Capitol ‘were placed there for a reason,’ but that they should be moved to a museum if their current location is ‘offensive to a large majority of the public.’”

“The statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville was the cause célèbre of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who marched last weekend. But Lee’s great-great-grandson, Robert E. Lee V, told CNN he would not object if local officials chose to take it down.

“‘Maybe it’s appropriate to have them in museums or to put them in some sort of historical context in that regard,’ Mr. Lee, 54, the boys’ athletic director at the Potomac School in McLean, Va., said in the CNN interview. But, he added, ‘we have to be able to have that conversation without all of the hatred and the violence.’

“In a statement, he and Tracy Lee Crittenberger, Robert E. Lee’s great-great-granddaughter, said Lee would not have supported the actions of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Like Mr. Hayes-Davis, they defended their great-great-grandfather to some extent, saying his life ‘was about duty, honor and country.’

“‘At the end of the Civil War, he implored the nation to come together to heal our wounds and to move forward to become a more unified nation,’ they wrote. ‘He never would have tolerated the hateful words and violent actions of white supremacists, the K.K.K. or neo-Nazis.’

“A museum, Mr. Lee and Ms. Crittenberger said, might be a better place for such statues: a place where they could be put in the context of the 1860s.

“But Mr. Lee added in an interview with The Washington Post, ‘If it can avoid any days like this past Saturday in Charlottesville, then take them down today.’”†††

I am white. I was born in the South. I am part of the “privileged class,” and grew up in a small southern town and did not want for anything growing up. While my heritage was not based on Southern tradition (my parents relocated to the South at the end of WWII, having grown up in Minnesota), the norms of that quaint community were assimilated in many ways into my family. I attended an exclusive all-boys prep school nestled in the rural hills of Virginia not far from Fredericksburg and Lynchburg and Richmond. At the time, the school was all-white as far as students and faculty goes. Many of my classmates bore the recognizable last names of families steeped in Virginia and southern history.

In public school, there were no blacks in the schools I attended until I reached junior high, and then a hand-full only. Segregation was in force and enforced, with separate bathrooms and water fountains and entrances and seating for blacks. During that day, there were no Hispanics or Latinos that I knew of in the community. I’m sure there were, though.

As part of the ruling class, I unknowingly and unwittingly perpetuated the status quo. Along the way, between then and now, I’ve come to see how this “arrangement” benefitted only certain whites – those who occupied the most prestigious classes. And those benefits still remain into this day.

I cannot identify with nor tolerate the egregious attitudes of the Alt-right, the KKK, or any other hate group. I struggle with, however, how to deal with the clear-cutting of historical monuments or statues that represent a time when our country was not at its best. I tend to agree more with the idea of collecting these symbols in museums that treat the era in a way that places like Auschwitz treat the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Hitler and Company are not deified or aggrandize to my knowledge in those museums.

But then I cannot identify with people who have suffered generations back because of their countries of origin (my ancestors were largely Irish, according to DNA results through ancestry.com), the color of their skin, gender, or any of a host of other reasons. I can’t identify with profiling, or being a victim of police brutality. I can mentally understand why the strong feelings, still, I find the wholesale destruction of historical monuments/statues unsatisfactory.

Perhaps if we do not forget, and view our past with appropriate perspective and discernment, Mr. Vonnegut’s assertion that we will inevitably repeat history will be less likely.

I hope so.

§§§§§

†Wikipedia, under Swastika.
†† A December 2011 article by Professor J. David Hacker suggests the traditionally-accepted death toll of soldiers (620,000) during the Civil War was underestimated. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17604991
††† https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/us/confederate-monuments-stonewall-jackson-lee-davis.html

Give Till It Helps

6 Dec
Hair loss is one of the effects of chemotherapy. It is the most benign effect. Photo by Joe Rodriguez

Hair loss is one of the effects of chemotherapy. It is the most benign effect.
Photo by Joe Rodriguez

 

 

Give Till It Helps

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I’m watching the Duke v. Florida basketball game, a part of the Jimmy V Classic. The background story, of course, is the Jimmy V Foundation, which raises money for cancer research. If you are unaware of the Valvano story, you are living under a rock.

Those of you who know me and my son, Graham Marsden, know he was diagnosed with ALL the summer before he turned 3 years old. ALL is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. That story is chronicled on my writing website, http://www.skipmars.com, under the title, Graham’s Story.

Today, Graham is probably in Sidney, Australia, in the middle of a multi-country trip that combines business (Entrepreneurs Organization) with his passion of Pokemon hunting (no Pokemons are harmed during this activity).

One of the most important things that his diagnosis did for his mother and me was to focus us on what is important. Not the job. Not the money. Not the possessions. Not the power. Not the prestige.

Perspective, I believe. It put things into perspective. I’ve known many, many coworkers, friends, acquaintances and family who have fallen to various forms of cancer.

But since Graham’s diagnosis, tremendous strides have been made in battling the disease and successfully treating its victims. Tremendous strides. NOT because of the government. Because people like you, who have tasted from its bitter cup, and who are giving to organizations like Jimmy
V and others to stand and fight.

Please keep it up, friends. It’s only money.

 

Graham and his wife, Sarah, at the 2016 ACC Championship Tournament in Washington, DC

Graham and his wife, Sarah, at the 2016 ACC Championship Tournament in Washington, DC

Addendum to One Writer’s Dilemma

30 Nov

image

Addendum to One Writer’s Dilemma

In the previous post I waxed about the usage of profanity and explicit sex in my writing — which heretofore has been nonexistent. Well, crass profanity. I’ve used hell and damn and gd, and even f*ck in one story. Still makes me look around for my mother to come bursting in and ask “Who the HELL just said that?”

And sex? Innuendo. Almost exclusively. Mainly because an intimate scene has not come to mind as part of progressing the plot or subplot of a story. Until now.

Profanity for profanity’s sake, or sex for sex’s sake is not my milieu.

I don’t deny that interest in sex began for me at an early age. Thank my sisters’ Barbie dolls, and the monthly issue of National Geographic for that. And the fact the next door neighbors had a copy of Playboy on their coffee table in their basement rec room.

But, there was always a distinction between s*e*x and the girl your mom wanted to bring home. And I knew that I and my siblings were definitely NOT conceived as a result of joyous romping under the sheets by my parents, but a dutiful resignation to ensuring the family name would endure.

Hence the prudish attitude (at least on the surface) towards sex, which hung on in my writing.

I said until now.

Now I have two characters who are attracted to each other. This is NOT a Fifty Shades plot, by the way. He is divorced after many years of marriage, and she has her own past, which hasn’t yet come to light.

She is drawn to him, and he to her. He is, however, a reluctant and arm’s length kind of guy. And, as the plot would have it in the second part of this story, she is the persuer, and she pursues. Perhaps conquers is the operative word.

Here’s where you come in, if you are game. I’ll upload the scene I’ve written that made me very uncomfortable as a person and a writer. Say Yes under comments, and I’ll go to your site and leave the password and how to find the passage.

It will be out of context, but I will give enough background for you to have at least an iota of understanding.

Then I’d like you to comment about the passage. However you want to comment. I promise you won’t be linked to any salacious website, and the passage is definitely not illustrated. Just words.

It’s an exercise on my part to improve this area that I am normally reluctant to write. Perhaps it’s catharsis, in a way. I mean, all writing is therapeutic, right?

Thanks in advance if you chose to participate. From one writer to another, I appreciate your willingness to comment.

LSM

Is a Puzzlement!?

5 Mar

ImSickToday

 

Is a Puzzlement!?

 

I’ve been writing and posting to what I call my “online writing studio” since November of 2011. I don’t call it a blog. I think the word itself is less than poetic or literary or romantic. Online writing studio infers you can enter and look around at the messy corners, the stacks of paper, the crumpled self-rejections of my efforts.

Over that period of time I have posted 599 pieces of work. I have a modest 23,925 views, which sounds impressive until you divide the totals by 4, which is the real total of my full years online. 8,737 people have stopped by, but many of those are repeats, so you can’t really trust the figure. The number doesn’t distinguish between one-time and repeat visitors.

  • 2012 was my best overall year for stats, with 2,263 visitors and 9,645 views.
  • My very best day ever was December 15, 2012, with 1,085 views.
  • Most people visit my site on Wednesdays. The most popular time is 1 pm.

It’s interesting to look at the data. I’m really not sure what to do with it.

What has struck me, though, is that one poem I posted back in May 2012 is consistently viewed. In that year it was viewed 13 times. In 2013, 25 times. In 2014, 133 times. And last year, 212 times. This month it has been viewed an average of 2 times a day.

Not a lot, I know. Not thunder and lightning impact. But consistently growing in who reads the poem, and very likely who comes back to reread it.

And I scratch my head over that. Nothing I have written appears on my stats consistently like the poem.

Here it is:

 

I'm Sick Today

I’m Sick Today

by L. Stewart Marsden

Today I didn’t feel so well —
My throat was very sore;
And Mama took my temp’rature
And stroked my hair some more;

Then measured out my medicine
Into a silver spoon,
With “down the hatch” she smiled at me,
And then she softly crooned …

“I love my girl, my pretty lass,
Who doesn’t feel so well,
You know I would — if I could —
Ring loud the healing bell!

“And up you’d jump and sing straight out,
‘My gosh! I’m ME again!’
And dance and play and laugh and shout
Until the long day’s end.”

But, sad to say, I’m sick today,
All nestled in the bed,
And I will sleep the day away
And rest my fev’rish head;

And dream wild dreams of Faerie lands —
Of castles, kings and queens;
Then of the prince who’ll take my hand
And fly to lands unseen . . .

Where he and I will rule with care
The lowly and the proud;
And when a subject isn’t well
We’ll ring the bell aloud!

And all’ll jump up and sing straight out
“Oh gosh! We’re US again!”
And dance and play and laugh and shout
Until the long day’s end.
Until the long day’s end.

 

Perhaps it’s the photo I took of my daughter, who was sick on the day I wrote the poem. In truth, it was I who watched over her, and not her mother, but I made the choice because — face it — how many dads really hover around their sick children?

Perhaps it’s that every parent resonates with the scene. Or the poem hies back to days when we were small and sick.

Or maybe the fantasy of a sick child’s dreams.

As the King of Siam said in The King and I, “Is a puzzlement!?”

So, I wonder, can YOU tell me why this poem continues to show up in my online writing studio stats?

Sometimes the writing process is danged fun!

15 Aug

By L. Stewart Marsden

This might be somewhat repetitious from an earlier post, but different enough so I’m okay writing and posting along the same ground.

Last night I had Writer’s Insomnia. That happens when an idea gets stuck in the gears of your brain and everything basically shuts down except the idea. Like a song you can’t eject.

So all through the night, rrr — rrr — rrr it went, clanging loudly and frequently. No tossing nor turning, no arm flinging nor leg exposing offered relief. Rrr — rrr — rrr.

Finally dawn crept through my bedroom window, and I wearily got up and showered. As I began to give off more acceptable odors, and when my teeth and mouth had been scrubbed afresh with baking soda-containing toothpaste, I turned my attention to the task.

Illustrating a story.

I should tell you that drawing is not my forte. I’m no competition for those who have the talent to look, perceive, and then translate to paper, canvass, marble, steel or whatever in wonderful artistic strokes of genius. I’m more autistic than artistic in that regard.

Here’s the storyline: a pet lion eats everyone in the family, then burps them up again to resume status quo.

I heard that story umpteen times as a camp counselor at a YMCA camp located not far from Roaring Gap, NC. Herbert Burped left us all in stitches whenever it was told. As you might guess, the punchline was roared out by everyone at the story’s end!

Several days ago the story came back to my memory, so I googled it. What came up was a grandmother somewhere in the northeast repeating a similar story on YouTube. It was cute, I’ll grant you — but not the same as the story I heard years ago. Apparently, Herbert got around.

I set about working on stick figure drawings. You know the kind … those decals on the back windows of minivans that tell everyone how many people are in your family. May as well post them on Facebook. I googled stick figure drawings and found ample examples of the yukky drawings. Also found some stick figures that were better suited to porn sites. Amazing what you can find online!

Here’s the process I went through, illustrated with pictures I snapped along the way:

  1. I have a roll of newspaper print paper, about 20 inches wide, which I rolled out and began early sketches in pencil. Studies, I guess you might say.

sketches

2. I retraced the pencil sketches with a fine-point marker …

marker-enhanced

3. I jury-rigged a back-light so I could retrace each of my characters on a separate cell … I used to do this kind of thing when I was a kid. Then, I would tape the drawing to a window pane that was sunlit. Same results.

jury-rigged backlighting

4. Now I could trace each character to a separate sheet of paper …

voila - ready for tracing

5. Let the tracing begin …

tracing

6. Once my individual character sheets were complete, I scanned them into my computer …

scanning

7. And saved them to an external hard drive …

saved-to-harddrive

8. Now the fun begins … I pulled each jpg into Photoshop Elements and manipulated them, inverting each …

manipulating

… until:

Voila!

PhaseOne-nearlydone

Kind of a lugubrious process, I know. But I don’t own Illustrator or Photoshop, and can’t do this onscreen. For those of you who have that skill, I am envious. But, for the vast majority of us, this works pretty well.

As I worked on each character, I mentally developed a back-story that was more adult in nature. If this becomes, as my intention is, a children’s book, then these stories will not be part of the work. Duh, yeah!

The story begins,

Once there was a Daddy, a Mudder, a Sistah, a Brudder, a Dog, a Cat, a Boid, a Fish, and Hoiburt, the Pet Lion.

Here are the adult back-stories:

The Daddy

The Daddy is king of his castle, lord of his wife and kids, and all he surveys. In reality, he is subservient to everyone. No one understands him, except for the really-buff guy he accidentally met on Facebook. The Daddy is questioning much about his life, and is ready to meet his online friend at the local bar and spa.

Copyright, Lawrence S. Marsden, August, 2015

Copyright, Lawrence S. Marsden, August, 2015

The Mudder

The Mudder (mother) is a compliant female who is a people-pleezer — especially in regards to her place in the home and the church. Secretly she harbors anger and suppressed emotions, wanting to “fly away” at the first opportunity — but she dares not. She is secretly in a Facebook relationship with a guy whose profile pictures make her swoon. She knows this will probably remain a fantasy.

The Mudder

The Sistah

The Sistah (sister), while hoping to inherit her mother’s great physical looks, also disdains Mudder on account of what she calls “hypocrisy!” Under a pseudonym, Sistah is posing as the hunk of a man her mother is in a secret relationship with on Facebook.

The Sistah

The Brudder

The Brudder (brother), aka “Scooter,” is an avid skateboarder, which everyone knows is a gateway activity to cocaine and heroin abuse. He is pro-legalization of marijuana as a recreational drug, and has Rand Paul in 2016 stickers all over his Plan B skateboard.

The Brudder

The Dog

Fido (not his real name) is a rescued dog. Actually, a family down the block forgot to spay their female ho-dog, who did it with every dog within a three mile radius when she was in heat. Fido was the runt as well as the ugliest, and the owners put him in a cardboard box when he was six week’s old which they left on the doorstep of our favorite happy family. The Daddy said “No #%&@-way, but the Mudder, the Sistah and the Brudder prevailed.

The Dog

The Cat

The Cat, aka, The Cat, is content to live off of the family and contribute nothing to the upkeep and running of the home. A one-time feral, he quickly figured out it is much easier to let someone feed, groom, and take care of your medical needs than to fend for yourself out there among the crazies.

The Cat

The Boid

The Boid — aka, Caruso — livens the house with his beautiful arias. He especially-loves to sing from Madam Butterfly. He read Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and put it down halfway through and has never resumed reading it. He is certain Angelou never hung around in a bird cage before.

The Boid

The Fish

Cicero is the 4th generation (well, the fifth survivor) of predecessors who were overfed and died, underfed and died, strangled in untreated water that had too much chlorine, or somehow got minced away by the garbage grinder when Brudder cleaned out the fish bowl like his mother told him to do. His motto is Fish who live in glass bowls should not do so sandwiched between a cat and a lion.

The Fish

And last, but definitely not least, is Hoiburt, the Pet Lion

Cecil — uh, I meant Hoiburt — came to our favorite family as a gift of a great uncle of Daddy’s who illegally buys and sells exotic animals on the black market. As he grew into adulthood, Hoiburt was treated like a little lamb, and fed straw, grass, and oats. You know … lamb stuff. And he had been content with that diet until one day he sneaked into the kitchen and ate the roast chicken that Mudder had left out to cool before serving it for dinner. That took place just before our little story begins.

Hoiburt

Thus Phase One of this project is somewhat complete, and the next phases begin: fleshing out the illustrations for the entire story, formatting the book for submission to a publisher, and then submitting it.

Let’s arbitrarily target November or December to begin submitting it.

A very, very, VERY enjoyable journey thus far. Now, I hope I can get some much-needed shuteye tonight!

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 15 August, 2015

Tweaking the work

12 Aug

proofing-marks

One of the great pleasures of being a writer is going back and rereading, then reworking something “finished” sometime ago.

Not sure a sculptor nor a painter has that freedom.

Of course, when a work appears in print, it’s a bit more difficult to accomplish. But on the internet? If it weren’t for the easy of editing online I might not publish anything at all.

This online writing studio is like the artist’s studio in that work is in process. I’ve a friend who is becoming a master in what he calls plastic, metal and glass. He uses clay to sculpt a range of beautiful flowers — and was on a rhododendron tear years back. He would lay down layer upon layer of glazes of varying color, fire the work and then carve and gently sand through those layers, revealing the layered colors.

Once he was done with a work, that was it. He could only start again if he didn’t like something.

david statueImagine Michelangelo finishing his great piece David and standing back, only to think, “You know, I shouldda made his manhood a bit bigger …”

I get to go back and tweak my writing (not to be confused with twerking my writing). Change a word or a phrase. Delete whole passages. Add entirely new material. I’m doing that now with my very first book, Through the Glass Darkly, a compilation of short stories I wrote over about a two-year period of time. I’m editing like mad, enlisting others to give me the benefit of their eyes and opinions, deleting stories, adding stories.

I just finished doing that with one of my favorite poems, I’m Sick Today, inspired I'm Sick Todaywhen my youngest was bed-bound with a fever and sore throat.

I guess the challenge is when do you know something is finished? Theoretically, you don’t. Like this life we sail through, the seas and weather change daily — sometimes from moment to moment.

So I’ll continue to review and tweak. And, if you point something out to me about my work that I was myopic about, I’ll think about your input and probably respond by tweaking some more.

Emily Bronte, et. al., wrote her manuscripts by hand. I’m sure to go back and rewrite was a bona fide pain in the arse. Not so bad these days with our technology.

That is one thing I am glad to have access to as a writer. I can go back and tweak to my little heart’s content.

— LSM