Tuesday, January 27 2015
Last week I took myself to see American Sniper. I don’t go to the theater very often, but I am glad I made the time. It touched me as few movies do and taught me more than I expected. I wasn’t alone in the impact it had on me either. As the credits began to roll, when the theater lights come up and everyone begins to move toward the exits with animated chatter about either the movie they just enjoyed or their next activity, this day was different. Everyone remained seated for a few minutes, as if uncertain what to do next. And even as we began to make our way out, there was not a single voice heard in the entire place. Just the quiet shuffle of feet on the carpeted ramp. The shocked silence of people who had been moved by emotions that weren’t to be blithely put into words.
As an author who has already written one story about the effects war has on the individual warrior and her family and is now at the start of another, I had come, in part to experience on the big screen some of the turmoil and heartbreak that I’d read about when I was researching for my books. If you have never been to war, or loved a warrior you can’t really know what it feels like just as you can’t possibly know what it’s like to lose a child unless you have lost your child. But this film, so brilliantly directed by Clint Eastwood and superbly acted by Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, does bring a great deal of those emotions to life for those of us who can never know the whole.
For anyone who may not know, Chris Kyle’s story is not fiction. There have been some angry sniping with words about Kyle, name calling that simply doesn’t belong any more than the soldiers returning from Vietnam deserved to get scorned and spit upon. They were all warriors, doing the job they were sent there to do. If detractors have a problem with the war, or what the war has done to the Iraqi and Afghani people, then they need to address those concerns to congress because that’s where the decisions to go to war come from. Not from the warrior sent to carry out the orders. Some critics have questioned whether the movie was as apolitical as its director claims. Others seem to think that more should have been said about the plight of the thousand of soldiers who have come home broken in body and spirit and the horrendous rate of suicide among those young vets. But the bottom line was this was a story about one man and what war meant to him personally and to his wife and children.
No one can ever really know fully every thought or feeling that Chris Kyle had, but this movie shows clearly the conflict that can rage in a warrior’s heart and soul as he strives to carry out his orders. With his crosshairs on a child carrying a hand grenade and running toward the very soldiers Kyle was sent to protect, his soul was torn. Pulling the trigger went against every instinct and belief he had grown up with, yet to not pull it meant certain death for those soldiers. How can anyone who has not been there, who has not had to make that horrendous decision, set themselves up as judge? And because Kyle was good at what he did and clearly saved hundreds of his fellow warriors’ lives, when he finally left the service after four tours, he was torn again, by the feeling that in getting out he was betraying men who might die because he would not be there to watch their back. Those conflicts were very real and very well shown.
Then there was the toll his service to his country and his fellow warriors had on his family. This, too, was very well portrayed and deserves your consideration. If you feel compelled, as some very loud and strident voices have already, to argue that this was a distortion of who Kyle was as a man, you are free to your opinion, but try instead to translate the essence of the lesson to the bigger picture. Try, if you can, to see the total sacrifice we ask of our warriors and their families when we as a country choose to go to war. That sacrifice is very real for the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who have served in this longest war in our history, and to their families who have to cope with so much heartbreak and angst that the rest of us will never truly know. And whatever else Kyle may or may not have been and done in his life, he died trying to help other troubled veterans who were struggling to come to terms with the cost of war on their souls.
Some of the detractors of this movie have suggested that those who went to see it were angry people. I’m not sure why they think this is so. I wasn’t angry and I don’t think those sharing the theater with me that day were either. The silence following the last scene did not echo anger in any way, but rather a stunned and profound new understanding of the cost of war. This was not a movie about war. It was a movie about the hearts and souls of the warriors themselves. RIP Chris Kyle and God bless Taya and their children. Thank you to all who have put on the uniform and served and to their families who have sacrificed too much.
Saturday, January 24 2015
Books have fascinated me ever since I read Heidi by Johanna Spry. I so wanted to be Heidi and live on the mountain and know Peter. If wishing could have made it so, that’s where I’d have spent my childhood. But it didn’t take long before my fascination with the world of Heidi and the Swiss Alps made me realize that books are the not-so-secret passage to a world far beyond where you might live. Not just physically, but emotionally and experientially. There is nowhere in the world you cannot go in a book. No people you can’t meet, no events you can’t relive whether they are imaginary or real. Some of my best friends live in books and it’s pretty neat that you can slip away from the bustle or hurt, or pain and disillusionment of the world you live in and relax somewhere else with heroes to love and heroines to admire. Even better, it costs nothing more than a trip to the library.
Of course, most of us who love books don’t stop at owning a library card. And now that I own a Kindle things have just gotten better. As an author I am fortunate to have my writing desk, not tucked into a corner somewhere, but surrounded by my books. I have floor to ceiling shelves on three walls and a window to the ocean on the fourth. All my favorite books are all around me. I love to peruse my shelves and find an old book I read years ago, pull it out and settle into the love seat to read. And, like any other bookworm, there are few horizontal surfaces in my home that don’t have some kind of reading matter, books, magazines, newspapers, clippings and brochures from interesting places I’ve been or hope to go. The Kindle is a blessing, too. In spite of all the printed books I love and own, I also enjoy traveling. But I’m one of those people who travel light. Always. If it doesn’t fit in the carry-on, it doesn’t go with me. But with the Kindle, I can take hundreds of books everywhere I go.
My favorite place to read is no single place. The hammock is a great place for reading (and napping, too.) A beach chair is great for reading on the beach. I also have a super comfortable Adirondack chair on my deck. But if you’re wondering where I read the most, that would be curled up in my bed every night before I go to sleep. Sometimes, when I have a truly awesome, page turner that I simply can’t put down, I might not quit ‘till I’ve read The End. Even if that’s not until 2:30 in the morning. Good thing I’m retired – I can sleep in.
Writing rituals? Regretfully, my writing time is not nearly as disciplined as it probably should be. I write a little every day, but some days that’s a really little bit. Other days I’m on a roll, I might get several thousand words. Most of the time I write at my desk, which, as mentioned, is surrounded by books and looks out toward the sea. There’s a small electric fireplace in my little bungalow by the beach and in the winter, it burbles along keeping me toasty and cozy while I write. Occasionally, I get stuck, like all writers do from time to time, and I’ve discovered that when this happens, it often helps to disconnect my laptop from the big monitor and keyboard and go put my feet up in a comfy chair, or in that Adirondack I mentioned. Change of scenery or position – whatever – it seems to help get the ball rolling again.
As for rituals – For reading there is no ritual beyond a few moments with nothing to fill in the time. I’ve been known to read shampoo labels if I sit too long in the bathroom and the latest book I downloaded from Amazon on my iPhone while standing in line at the grocery store. But once I get really into a book, there’s little that distracts me. I can tune out the whole world and get lost in the story.
For writing, I always go back and read the last scene that I wrote before I quit for the day. Reading and possibly tweaking here and there gets me emotionally back into the story. I almost always stop where there’s a hook so it’s exciting to get back to it and tell the reader what happened next. I always know and often even write the final scene before the book gets started so I know where I’m going, but for the most part, I’m a pantser. I don’t do detailed outlines and God help me if my editor wants a lengthy synopsis, although I can pull one together when I have to. I’ve been to a couple really good workshops lately on outlining and synopses, so maybe I will find a way to discipline myself and incorporate all the great ideas I heard into my process.
So, now you know where I like to read and how I write, here's a list of really fun authors who will tell you where their favorite places are:
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Geeta Kakade http://geetakakade.blogspot.com/
Margaret Fieland http://www.margaretfieland.com/blog1/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rita Karnopp http://firstname.lastname@example.org
Rachael Kosnski http://the-doodling-booktease.tumblr.com/
Helena Fairfax http://helenafairfax.com/
Heidi M. Thomas http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/
Ginger Simpson http://www.cowboykisses.blogspot.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/
Tuesday, January 20 2015
Life is good here in Summerhaven Florida. At least, it’s been good to me. I live in a wonderful little bungalow by the sea that was once a part of a motel and restaurant built in the 1920s. The history of this speck of land perched between mainland St Augustine Florida and the Inland Waterway goes way back and there are lots of fascinating tales of folk who called this place home over the centuries.
Very close to this place the Spanish of St Augustine massacred the men from Fort Caroline (near current day Jacksonville) who had planned to attack the city from the south. That’s another fascinating story, but even to this day scavengers with metal detectors walk the beaches hoping to find buttons or coins from that long ago event. Some of the homes on this tiny barrier island were built before there were bridges and visitors came by sailboat down the Matanzas River. Most are newer. Like mine.
In the 1950s one of the rooms in the motel was used in the filming of the movie, Return of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The creature supposedly fell in love with a female diver trying to train him and escaped from the Marineland pool, swam north and came ashore to kidnap the lady from her bedroom. In the 60s the place was converted to apartments and still later, into three homes. One of them is mine.
The largest of the homes is two stories and fenced off, but the smaller two, my home and the one next to me share a courtyard and our corner lot with a fantastic view of the ocean. I rented here first while I was househunting, but the longer I lived in Summerhaven getting to know the neighbors and the beach, the less I liked anything else my patient real estate lady showed me. I got lucky when the owner offered to sell it to me. So here I am.
The gate to the courtyard My place is the green one Duff at the gate
But as I said, I share the lot with the rental next door. A friend of mine has dubbed the folk who come and go my “neighbors de jour.” Most stay longer than a day, of course, and some return again and again. And I have been privileged to meet some of the most interesting folk. I’m often asked if it’s not a pain to have new people coming and going all the time, but it’s not. Not really. Once there were a bunch of college kids on break who apparently sat out front late into the night drinking beer and tossing small stones at the sign on the corner. Bothered my neighbor who said the plinking kept him awake, but I can sleep through anything. The rental is one of few who allow dogs and I’ve met some really fun pooches, too.
Duffy loves to keep his eye on the corner and greet friends with a toy in his mouth. He’s often standing with his front feet on the fence checking out our neighbor of the week or their dog, most often with his tail awag so I think he enjoys the constant changing company as well.
I’ve met teachers and nurses, retirees and engineers. Young folks just starting out, families on break from the busy years of life, soldiers relaxing on well deserved leave and parents learning the joys and sorrows of an empty nest. Everyone has stories to tell and many of them are fascinating. I’ve been invited to family cookouts, and included in heavy discussions about books. And occasionally even a free-for-all about politics. As a writer, having neighbors de jour is a fantastic resource for new ideas. While I write fiction, I never write specific people into my books, but every story has characters to build and back story to create and the blessing of so many fun and funny people sharing so many interesting tidbits of life and experience is just wonderful. I’ve even sold a few of my books to my neighbors of the week or the month.
SO thanks to all of you who have come and gone over the years I’ve been here. All of you have been blessings in my life. You’ve brought color and change and challenge and character to this little corner of the world. Y’all come again sometime.
Sunrise to the left - me to the right our shared courtyard
Tuesday, January 13 2015
A lot of anger and confusion in the US and beyond about why John Kerry or a similarly high-ranking figure is not in Paris. Barack Obama has sent Eric Holder, the attorney general, to attend the security summit. So it's odd that - according to the US Embassy in Paris - he has not attended the march. The US is instead represented by its ambassador.
Figuring, probably rightly so, that most of my followers and friends don’t care to get dragged into acrid political discussions, I have tried to avoid posting my opinions and observations, but after the attacks in Paris it’s past time to take a stand.
Like it or not, America is currently the only real super power of the free, developed world. Our economic influence is undeniable and we have the most powerful military, with the most advanced weapons. We send our soldiers into harms way because we are the only country with the ability to make a difference, in places where awful things happen and we simply can’t turn the other way and not notice. (In my opinion there are some places we should have been, but didn’t go because it wasn’t politically expedient, or we didn’t have a monetary interest.) But the bottom line is that often we are the only line between the unthinkable and a better alternative.
Back when planes were driven into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the outpouring of support from our allies all over the world was unstinting. They rallied to our call to go after the murderous zealots and all of our allies have lost sons and dollars in the struggle to contain the growing threat of Radical Islamic terrorism. Even before 2011, our allies showed their solidarity and support when terrorism struck the US on foreign soil; when our embassy was bombed followed by the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 and when the USS Cole was attacked in 2000. After the embassy bombing, when the president of Lebanon begged for increased peace-keeping forces, both the Italians and the French sent soldiers to stand in solidarity along side of the Americans. Yet when France sees outrage and terror on her streets, in her capitol, where were we? After 9/11 the French were among those countries that supported our march into Afghanistan to route out Al-Qaeda, but when they are attacked on their soil, were were we?
Our president gave lip service to his outrage, but refused to call it Islamic terrorism. He declared that France was our oldest ally, yet when the world came together in France to show their support and solidarity Obama chose to stay home with nothing on his calendar at the White House. Heads of state from German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to British Prime Minister, David Cameron, from President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to Israeli’s Benjamin Netanyahu were there, but the president of the United States was not. Not even our Vice President. Among the forty world leaders and over one and a half million who attended the march, the only official of the United States was our Ambassador to France.
As Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post succinctly put it: “Having no high-level representative at the unity march was the perfect exclamation point on the administration’s policy of self-delusion and exemplified Obama’s retreat from the world. We are not leading; we are not even following.”
And I, as an American, am disappointed and angry. And disillusioned.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, made this comment: “This is simply no way to treat our oldest and first ally. President Obama should have stood with France in person, defending Western values in the struggle against terrorism and showing support for the victims of this despicable act of terror. Skipping this rally will be remembered as a new low in American diplomacy.”
Tuesday, January 06 2015
Most of the time, I do a great job of ignoring the obvious – I’m not getting any younger. But I do have to brush my hair every day, and that means looking in the mirror. What a shocker when I'm so good at seeing myself in my mind the way I looked in my twenties, or even in my thirties!! But as they say, the alternative to getting older, unless your name is Dorian Grey, is to die young.
Last week I managed to turn my ankle in a shallow pothole and fell smashing my knee on the pavement. Once upon a time I’d have jumped up and plastered a bandaid on the cut and promptly forgotten the incident unless someone asked what I’d done to myself. But getting older means healing takes longer. It might also have contributed to the fact that I managed to tear some ligaments on the way down, which means the recovery is even more dragged out. So I hobble about feeling stiff and old, but the body is an amazing thing, and I will heal eventually.
In the mean time, however, I’m trying to be positive about the benefits of being a senior citizen. Among the obvious are being retired and being my own boss, not having to set an alarm clock, the freedom to take trips anytime I like and go for walks on the beach in the middle of the day.
It also brought me the opportunity to try things I’d never done before. With the last of my kids through college, I was free to look around and ask myself, what would I really like to try now? I took up skydiving, which was fantastic. Then I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years as a volunteer, sharing the wisdom and experience I’d gained over the years and garnering many unexpected blessings in return. I moved to a lovely bungalow by the beach in a place warm enough to walk on it every day and enjoy the sunshine.
Another thing most of us discover is that we’ve made all the stupid mistakes of youth and managed to learn and grow from them. The wisdom gained is precious. We’ve acquired a whole new respect for how fleeting time and life are and therefore a better appreciation for every blessing that comes our way. And we get discounts nearly everywhere (except on airlines.)
I can’t honestly say I’d turn down an offer to switch aging with a portrait were the chance to come my way, but I also have to admit that I love my life the way it’s turned out. Sure there are things I’d change if I could, not being a widow high on the list, but mostly I’ve been blessed. I’ve got adult children who are wonderful people I admire tremendously, who are always there for me with love and support. I’ve got a growing brood of grandchildren who are adorable and fun. I’ve got great friends I enjoy spending time with and while not perhaps the biggest blessing, I found the time to get serious about writing and I’m now a published author and I love what I do with all that time that’s mine to spend.
As my T-shirt says . . . “Life is Good!”
So, I leave you with these quotes to ponder:
"We live in a youth-obsessed culture that is constantly trying to tell us that if we are not young, and we're not glowing, and we're not hot, that we don't matter. I refuse to let a system or a culture or a distorted view of reality tell me that I don't matter. I know that only by owning who and what you are can you start to step into the fullness of life. Every year should be teaching us all something valuable. Whether you get the lesson is really up to you." —Oprah
“Old age ain't no place for sissies.” —Bette Davis