Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Magic Creek

I have just published a new book, Magic Creek. It is a stand-alone novel about two women who come to live on the same piece of land two hundred years apart. When she is only five, she sits high in the limbs of the cherry tree and declares, "I'll always do 'xactly as I please." She becomes a pioneer, settling her own piece of beloved land on Magic Creek. She almost dies during her first brutal winter with only a wildcat for company but when she emerges in the spring, her awed community calls her Magic. She faces both happiness and hardship on Magic Creek but her life is one of strength and independence.

Tory is the wife of an abusive controlling husband. He keeps her virtually captive in their lonely house abutting the state forest. She has no car, no cell phone, no internet. He reads her letters before he mails them. He listens to her side of every phone conversation. He doesn't hesitate to use violence to quash her slightest rebellion.

When Tory is digging in the dirt near a fallen stone foundation, she finds an silver spoon and begins to have dreams of a tall black-haired woman striding across the meadow with a wildcat or riding a moon-silver pony. How the lives of Magic and Tory intertwine completes the book.

Magic Creek is my baby. All my earliest years of writing were shaped by the need to to "spend words like dollars", making every one count, to pare down, to delete. This is what columnists do. Say what you have to say in 750 words or less.

When the idea of Magic first came to me, there was no Tory. It was a novella of about 100 pages and I thought it was complete. I was writing a political column for King Features Syndicate at the time. They were starting a book-publishing division and asked their columnists if they had any manuscripts lying around. I sent Magic Creek to them and received word back that they'd be interested in publishing it if I could expand it to 300+ pages.

That task seemed overwhelming for the writer I was at the time. Three hundred pages - no way! A short while later, my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. Magic was put away during the two years of chemotherapy and radiation, heart attacks and infections - and death- that followed.

Years later when I lost my job and had no money but lots of time, I returned to it. Tory arrived in my head and on the scene to take her place on Magic Creek. I disappeared into the book which was my salvation during the stress-filled nine months of my unemployment.

By the time I found another job, Magic Creek was 300 pages plus. I had written a novel!

It was years more before I tried to publish the book, then years more of rejection from publishers. The book was turned down twice because I wouldn't (couldn't!) change the ending.

Now Magic has found her place in the world of e-publishing. Magic and Tory were my first fictional characters. By now, they feel like old friends.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

War or Playground Games?

I worked in a factory once in which we were presented with a new union contract that was an insult and a slap in the face to employees. We voted it down, so management pulled all kinds of dirty tricks to put the fear of God into us and gain our compliance. They boarded up the cafeteria windows, moved out some of the machines, brought in (non-union) workers from a sister plant for us to train, had the foreman conspicuously carry around the familiarly scary pink lay-off papers. Before the next vote, they offered us a $300 "signing bonus" and told us they would ship the plant to Mexico if we didn't approve the contract. The fear-mongering worked and the ayes won. I voted "no". My attitude was; "shut the son-of-a-bitch down then".  I had reached the point of being so angry, I was willing to cut off my nose to spite my face. (Incidentally, two years later, the company moved the factory to Mexico anyway. So much for "you work with us and we'll work with you".)

I have reached the same place with the Republicans. I'm tired of being the sensible adult to their spoiled brat routine. When the Republicans lose, they move into rape and plunder and pillage mode. They impeach our president. Nothing in sacred to them. They bring the First Lady before a grand jury. They call on Secret Service agents to testify (something that had never been done before). They force Democratic aides to run up huge legal bills testifying over and over before Congress. Forget that "criticism ends at the water's edge" thing we used to believe in. When Clinton is trying to get Osama Bin Laden (before we even knew he was Osama bin Laden), they accused him of "wag the dog".  Then they put it all on the internet, every sordid detail, in order to humiliate him.

So, then what happens? We have the election of 2000. Again, the Republicans are willing to dive into the slime to have George Bush declared the winner even though he lost the popular vote. It all rests on a few hundred hanging chads in Florida. Republicans send their agents to that State pretending to be protesters and almost start a riot. The Bush loyalists file suit and it finally goes to the Supreme Court where, low and behold, the conservatives all stick together and in a 5/4 vote, award Bush the presidency. Al Gore makes a gracious speech like the gentleman he is and retires from the field of battle, encouraging his troops to do the same. Despite the bitter taste in our mouths and the feeling that we'd been royally screwed, we Democrats reluctantly accepted Bush as our president "for the good of the country".

The Bush administration did many things during its eight years in office that seem at least borderline impeachable to many of us including warrantless domestic surveillance and not upholding the tenets of the Geneva Convention regarding torture (of which, the U.S. was one of the intiators) and holding prisoners indefinitely without charges or legal counsel, to name just a few. But as the grown-up party, Democrats realized that we simply couldn't embark on an endless cycle of impeachment. So, Bush got his two terms.

I supported Hillary in the last presidential primaries because I thought the Democrats needed a fighter like never before to take on what the modern Republican party has become. After all, Hillary and Bill learned first-hand how vicious the R's could be. The Clintons took a bunch of body blows but in the end, they fought their opponents to a standstill and came out ahead.

I never believed in Obama's hope and change nor his ability to moderate the hyper-partisan tone in Washington....not that I didn't think he was sincere but that the Republicans had no intention of allowing that to happen. Early on, when Mitch McConnell stated the goal of the Republicans was "to make Obama a one-term president", I thought to myself - "here we go, folks."

But no, the Democrats wanted to believe in the miracle of transformation. Obama, they were sure, would be able to soothe the savage Republican beast. (Hillary would be too polarizing - ha!ha!) So powerful was his otherworldly charisma that McConnell and Boehner and Ryan and all the rest would clasp hands and break into a rousing rendition of Kumbaya.

Of course, that didn't happen. Of course, it didn't happen! The Republicans have been even more obstructionist than before. They've voted no on every piece of legislation Obama has put forth, even ideas they believed in before, even ideas that were their own to begin with, like individual mandates (developed by the Heritage Foundation, a freaking Republican think tank!) and cap and trade (a plank in McCain's platform!) Republicans have refused to confirm Obama's nominees to courts and cabinet positions. They've refused so far to pass a transportation bill or to renew the Violence Against Women Act although that legislation was always bipartisan in the past. They stonewalled about increasing the debt ceiling though it has been done routinely under every president, Republican and Democrat alike. They've refused to act on allowing student loan rates to double. They've embarked on a massive campaign to suppress the vote. They've attempted to deny women's health care by means of both the Blunt Amendment (which failed by only one vote) and defunding Planned Parenthood. A Republican group brought the suit that foisted the anti-(small d) democratic Citizens United decision upon us whereby conservative millionaires and billionaires can simply buy our elections. A Republican group brought the case to the Supreme Court by which the Affordable Healthcare Act may be declared unconstitutional by the conservative majority. (I'm convinced the Roberts' Supreme Court will go down in history as a time when the Court totally jumped the track of objectivity and became simply another political advocacy group).

For me, the vote to hold Eric Holder in contempt of Congress (something that has never been done before in our entire history - notice a pattern here?)  is the very last straw. The Fast and Furious program at issue began under the Bush Administration (known then as Operation Wide Receiver). It was a flawed plan to begin with although you can see how it might have been supposed to work. The ATF would let gun sales from America to Mexico go through in the hopes of tracking the weapons to the ultimate buyers, the drug cartel kingpins, whom they could then arrest. That never happened. The guns disappeared into Mexico to turn up later at the scenes of crimes, including the death of an ATF agent. This program was mostly run out of Arizona and it was one that simply continued under the radar screen of a new administration. Eric Holder knew nothing about Fast and Furious, a fact about which the head of the ATF was willing the testify had Darrell Issa allowed him to....which he wouldn't. When Holder did find out about it, he shut it down. In fact, no Bush administration official has testified before the investigatory committee. The Democrats have not been allowed to call any witnesses. Because Issa and his compadres aren't interested in knowing the history of the program, only in trying to hang it around the neck of the Obama Justice department. The committee has even asked Eric Holder to commit felonies by requesting paperwork, such as transcripts of grand jury testimony, that it is illegal for him to provide.

And who gets to keep score in all of this? Why, its Fox News and Rush and the NRA and the rest of the Republican noise machine, who have all been harping and harping and harping on this issue for months until finally the vote to hold Holder in contempt made it impossible for the mainstream media to avoid. But, of course, as always, they will take the timid tack that it is a 50/50 proposition - that there is a Republican "side" and a Democrat "side" when the reality is that it is a witch hunt, pure and simple. Will they have the guts enough to call it what it is?

I couldn't do it. I couldn't continue to appear before this committee with all of us pretending it wasn't the huge farce that we know it is, just as we did when they impeached Clinton. I would have to stand up and tell them to go fuck themselves. Because that's where I am with the Republicans now. I'm ready to go to war. I don't care if I lose. I don't care if they shut the country down and send it to Mexico. I'd rather go down fighting than to keep pretending to play the political game by the Republicans' bullshit rules. I'm sick of the Republicans fighting a war with live ammunition while Democrats play ring-a-round-the-rosy over in the corner.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Ugly Republicans

Obama library Montana GOP Memorial Day

This fine piece of work was at the Montana Republican convention this week. The outside featured fake bullet holes. Inside was a phony Obama birth certificate. There was also a sign that said, "for a good time, call Michelle Obama". Then the First Lady's name was crossed out in favor of Hillary Clinton, then Hillary's name was marked out to be replaced with Nancy Pelosi.

I expect lots of Republicans thought this was freaking hilarious. They probably fell on the pavement laughing. The Montana Republican leadership denied any knowledge of where it came from - "gee, we just don't know, it appeared out of nowhere". I believe that, don't you? Obviously, they had no objection to such a hateful thing representing their party or they would have ordered it to be removed.

They didn't...because this is today's Republican party - mean and ugly and totally self-absorbed. They believe that anyone who doesn't agree with them deserves to be demeaned and disrespected and maybe even destroyed. That can mean a sitting president duly elected by a majority of voters or it can mean whole groups of Americans - gays, women, Hispanics, African-Americans, working people.

Republicans just keep sliding down the degradation pole taking themselves and our democratic system along with them.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

America the Negative

The NASCAR championship and the presidential election will both be decided in November of 2012. If God were to let me decide one outcome or the other, I guess I would choose for Barack Obama to be re-elected because in the larger scheme of things, his election would affect many more people than who holds the Sprint Cup trophy at the end of NASCAR's season. Still, it wouldn't be an easy choice and there is at least a small outside chance, I'd say the hell with it and pick Jimmie Johnson over Barack.

People are people no matter where you find them and NASCAR fans are a cross-section of America, tilting about as much right of center as the body politic these days. Like voters, they lean toward contempt for the sanctioning body of their sport just like so many Americans scorn their own leadership. NASCAR fans think the men in the executive office are lying, corrupt assholes screwing the fans for the sake of their own selfish agenda, just as voters feel the same about their government (although both fans and voters disagree among themselves on what the rulers of the sport/government should do instead).

Both voters and fans also have a special dislike for the media, who they believe specialize in false spin. The drivers/elected officials fans favor never get the credit they deserve while the drivers/elected officials they loathe never get criticism they have coming.

In both politics and NASCAR, the disenchanted are much more likely to hop on message boards to vocalize their unhappiness than those who are relatively content, thus the posts of both political sites and NASCAR sites are skewed toward the negative. Hang out on the boards too long and pretty soon, you'll find yourself considering suicide, due to the hopelessness and utter lack of integrity in the world per the internet.

Obviously, NASCAR cheats for Jimmie Johnson (probably because they're paid off by General Motors) because no one could simply be good enough to win five championships. For whatever reason, we resist reveling in superior performance and exceptional talent in favor of  a glum and angry belief in rampant dishonesty. When Jimmie is named Athlete of the Year by the A.P. and Most Influential Athlete by Forbes, instead of being thrilled to see their sport receive such honors, lots of fans are furious.

Obviously, Barack Obama is our president because all those ignorant black and brown people and starry-eyed kids bought that whole bullshit "hope and change" story. A friend who is one of those who is consumed with Obama-hate told me yesterday that someone told her a funny joke - "we managed to kill two Kennedys but we can't get this one guy." ha!ha! Pretty funny, huh? This friend knows I support Obama but it never occurred to her that I would be horrified by such a statement. This is the ugliness that is America a decade into the 21st century.

So, that's why I might opt in favor of Jimmie if God lets me make the call. People, so the saying goes, get the government they deserve and it strikes me that maybe Mitt Romney is exactly what we deserve right now.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Conspiracy Theory?

I've come to the conclusion that the partisan political situation as it exists in the U.S. currently may be pushing me over the edge into full-blown paranoia. I just got back from driving down to Florida to spend some time with my kids and on that trip, I drove on at least two Ronald Reagan Memorial Highways and passed at least one Ronald Reagan Elementary School. Of course, I've known for the last 30 years that the Republicans have had an agenda to name as many things after their hero as they possibly can so I believe these three examples are a drop in the bucket of Ronald Reagan-named governmental entities across the country. At one time, they even wanted to put Sir Ronald on one of our coins (as I recall, it was the dime but I may be wrong about that). Thankfully, that effort failed (partly because RR was still alive at the time and it was considered somewhat premature) but I have no doubt that the idea was only put on the back burner and will boil up again someday.

....Because the Republicans are long-range thinkers. While Democrats dance along reacting to the moment, I'm sure Republican think tanks have fully developed five and ten and twenty and fifty year plans. And Republicans are more devious than Democrats. While we Dems believe we are playing by a fixed set of rules, the R's aren't even playing the same game.

While I was cruising along on my trip, I was thinking that Bill Clinton is the equivalent of Ronald Reagan for the Democrats but, by so tarnishing his reputation through impeachment, the Republicans ensured that we will likely never see a Bill Clinton International Airport or a Bill Clinton Memorial Highway or a Bill Clinton High School. It was kind of an "aha!" moment for me. I thought, "so that's part of what impeachment was all about."

While I'm sure the Republicans would have been happy if they'd succeeded in booting Bill out of office, perhaps that wasn't even the end game. Instead, it's this: that a beloved Democrat president will never, ever be able to threaten the sainted Reagan's standing at the top of the Previous Presidents' Pedestal.

We could have done the same to their guy, of course. Iran-Contra provided more than enough ammunition to bring impeachment proceedings against Reagan but Democrats just don't have that killer instinct. We pull out our little paring knives now and then and nick someone but at the first side of blood, we become nauseated and retreat. Meanwhile, Republicans go for the throat. Democrats have Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi on our family tree; the Republicans have Attila the Hun and Vlad the Impaler on theirs.

A recent survey showed that Bill Clinton has by far the highest favorability ratings of our last four former presidents - Jimmie Carter, himself, George Bush, Sr. and George Bush, Jr. Democrat ex-presidents tend to be activists after they leave the White House. Both Carter and Clinton have put themselves out there on the world stage to try to bring about positive changes. Bill Clinton has the stature to pull together powerful and important people of all stripes to contribute both money and time through the Clinton Foundation for the benefit of those less fortunate. So Bill has managed to rehabilitate himself to a large degree.

Still, can you imagine an elementary school naming itself after a president who was impeached over a blow job (rather than colluding with both Iran and the Nicaraguan contras, thus breaking two laws at the same time)? No, me either.

So, mission accomplished for the Republicans. Clinton's theme song was Can't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Republican signature song should be Tomorrow Is Forever. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Giving It All Back

I just got home from the Florida Keys. Mom and I took John home. We stayed a few days - gambled a little at the Hard Rock, gorged on grouper and yellowtail and shrimp, shopped at places that sell things like teeshirts and flip-flops, carved pelicans, blown glass palm trees and shells, lots of shells. This was the first time we've been there when the Royal Poincianas were blooming spectacularly in masses of vivid orange. The kids' condo is on the Gulf and I spent much of my time on their balcony or out on the pier watching the water and the boats. It was a nice time, being in a completely different environment than home and visiting with the kids.

The trip back was long but uneventful although Mom traveled the whole way with ghosts. Sometimes, she thought two of John's friends were with us, hitching a ride back to Indiana. "They're napping in the back seat," she'd tell me. Sometimes, it was "the other Vicki". Once she said she thought I was being mean, making the "other Vicki" do all the driving. She asked me if I knew where she lived because she couldn't remember so I had to assure her that I knew how to get her home.

It is heartbreaking to see the person who used to be your mother slipping gradually away from herself. Still, I can't feel too badly. She is 93 and over all, her life has been good.

In fact, I think it may turn out that her generation, the "Greatest Generation" will be the last to have it so good. Ironic, how it has turned out. Our parents had it tough in their early years. I grew up hearing about World War II and the Great Depression. But the country pulled itself together. It believed in a strong middle class then and it honored its soldiers. They came back to the G.I. Bill and VA home loans and strong unions to fight for decent wages and working conditions. My mother spent her career working as a Quality Assurance Representative for the Department of Defense. During her productive years, the gap between rich and middle class continued to narrow.

Meanwhile, their children, the Babyboomers, had it easy early on. Mom and Dad made sure of that. We had clothes and cars and college degrees. We had the freedom to be foolish and we often were, but we accomplished some things along the way too, like civil rights and women's rights and environmental awareness.

But it started going to hell early on. While our folks endured the Last Good War, we had Vietnam, a decade-long  undeclared war of attrition, one that we lost in the end. Instead of streamers and parades, our soldiers arrived home to scorn and disrespect. Unions did too good of a job in some ways. They moved autoworkers and miners and steelworkers to the top of the labor heap, so much so that those of us who weren't in those elite occupations became jealous of those who were. Instead of hoping to move up to their level, we wanted to bring them down to ours.

We were ripe for the picking when Ronald Reagan busted the air traffic controllers. "Yeah, that'll show'em!" It was the start of the downhill slide unions have been on ever since. Once manufacturing unions were decimated, the corporations and their Republican lap dogs started on the public employees' right to collectively bargain. The recent recall election in Wisconsin is just the latest example of the working class cutting its own throat (not to mention my own state becoming a "right to work" state, although I don't recall our governor campaigning on that issue).

I'm retired now too. Like Mom, I spent most of my working life in government. Her retirement income is almost exactly twice as much as mine. Her health insurance is so good, she pays zero for anything. Meanwhile, I have substantial co-pays despite Medicare and a Medicare supplement. At that, I'm luckier than most of my friends who don't believe they'll ever be able to afford to retire. For many of them, pay and benefits have steadily eroded over time. We laugh a little bitterly now about the tarnished promise of the so-called golden years.

And it seems to be even worse for our kids as jobs are out-sourced and here in the U.S., industry accepts workers' increase in productivity without any corresponding increase in reward. They renege on our pension plans even as our government squandered what we pay into social security on unjustified wars (oops!) The banks go on a greed rampage and our houses are foreclosed on as a result.

But what upsets and disappoints me the most is how we cooperate in our own destruction. We say we want freedom from the government but I guess that means freedom not to have healthcare when we're sick and freedom not to be able to plan our families and freedom not to have equal pay for equal work and freedom not to have to collectively bargain and the freedom to pay higher taxes than the rich. Evidently, we don't even want to have the freedom to decide our own elections, instead we'd rather let the billionaires do it for us via gazillion dollar contributions, as the Koch brothers and others poured money into Wisconsin and as Wall Street is dumping multi-million dollar donations into the Romney campaign.

Our parents were the Greatest Generation because they were fighters. They fought the Depression and emerged stronger than ever. They fought the Germans and saved Europe. When the war was over, they came home and fought another war for their families and themselves. They battled the bosses and the corporations and the politicians on the other side to create a prosperous middle class. My generation and the ones after mine seem to have given up that fight. We fall all over ourselves to give back all those gains and we're doing a pretty good damn job of it.