Timing is Everything

And depending on how you look at it, mine is amazing or awful. In a recent post here I shared that I had decided that my next book was going to be an elephant story, provisionally titled Magua the Elephant. Since I knew very little about elephants I embarked on my usual round of research on the subject. What I learned shocked me.

First, a tremendous amount of work has been done and much has been learned about elephants, about their habits, their environmental significance, and their culture.

Yep, their culture.

Turns out these are amazing creatures, intelligent and sensitive, long-lived and very social. I know that to some extent, these facts are not unknown to many but I never realized just how intelligent, sensitive and amazing.

Now, elephants are close to extinction. I could make a case here about their ecological importance but I’m not going to do that. You see, elephants are a problem for the farmers who have been trying to grow food on land that the elephants once roamed freely. We humans are outgrowing the planet and the elephants are getting in the way. We need to find a rational solution to the problem.

But the anger of a few farmers is not what’s driving the elephant to extinction. In Africa large game preserves have been set up to provide protected spaces for elephants, and where conflict occurs with farmers, electrified fences have been somewhat successful. More needs to be done, and there are some very smart people working on the problem.

The thing is, Ivory, at $1500.00 USD per pound.

Previous to this, there was a ban on the importation of ivory, and elephants were on the USA’s most endangered species list. Here’s a link to the Scopes fact check on the story, given that it’s so incredible.

Why, and why now?

The fools in the White House offer some nonsense about Zimbabwe. I think that the timing, coming immediately on Trump’s return from China, is significant. Until Trump’s out of the blue reversal, China had been the major holdout on a worldwide ban on ivory importation. Trump goes to China, is wined, dined and offered some private deals. Now China has a major ally in its vicious trade in ivory harvested from slaughtered elephants.

Wonder what the quid pro quo is in this huge deal?

And it’s very huge. This trade finances the various wars that are tearing the African continent apart. Not a very smart move by an American President, to facilitate the flow of cash to our enemies. Poached ivory is a major source of cash for terrorists.

Unless ….????

I am calling on all of you out there, in your own interests and in the interest of intelligent humanity, to demand the restoration of the ban on the importation of ivory to the United States.

The entrepreneurs who buy from these terrorist poachers know that it’s impossible to tell the difference between legal and illegal ivory so as long as there’s a legal trade, the poached ivory will find its way onto the market, and elephants will be massacred.

Please spread the word.

If you’d like to learn more about this nasty business, Netflix has a documentary up that you could watch.

Neil.

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Domestic Bliss

“Empirical research shows that no domestic arrangement, not even one in which the mother works full time and the father is unemployed, results in child-care parity between heterosexual spouses. The story we tell ourselves, the one about great leaps toward the achievement of gender equality between parents, is a glass-half-full kind of interpretation. But the reality is a half-empty glass: While modern men and women espouse egalitarian ideals and report that their decisions are mutual, outcomes tend to favor fathers’ needs and goals much more than mothers’.

The result of this covert power imbalance is not a net zero. A growing body of research in family and clinical studies demonstrates that spousal equality promotes marital success and that inequality undermines it. And the disparity creates not only undue emotional, physical and financial strain on mothers, but also perpetuates attitudes about what is and should be acceptable — or even desirable — between a woman and a man, with children as their eager audience.”

That’s a direct quote from an article that was published recently in the Washington Post. (Here’s a link to the entire thing if you’d like to read it yourself. ) It was the dramatic headline that got my attention – ‘Where do Kids Learn to Undervalue Women? From their Parents’. Some of the people reading this blog know my partner, Sharon, and can testify that she’s an independent thinker and a fearless woman. I admire her, a lot.

She and I agree, have always agreed, that abusers of all stripes are bred in the family and in the society and we have striven to raise our children in a non-toxic atmosphere. For me, it’s been an uphill struggle against the attitudes and prejudices with which I was endowed, not by my Creator, but by my parents and by the society in which I live.

While it may be fair to argue that the society is just the family writ large, it’s much more than that. It’s a bit like the difference between the private ignorance and fear that engenders racism in its supporters, and the institutional framework of law and regulation that preserves it. The fundamental similarity in the way misogynism and racism operate in the human mind is not a coincidence.

I think that the rupture over the Fifteenth Amendment, evidenced by Frederick Douglass’ political rejection of the Women’s Movement, was a great mistake. (And this in spite of his deep understanding of the innate connections between the struggles of disfranchised white women and similarly afflicted ex-slaves.) It’s unfinished business.

So here we are again, as our generation’s version of the Civil War rages around us.

Yes, I went there. It’s true, isn’t it? The old fault lines have ruptured again, under the pressure of a failing economy.

Recently I watched a BBC documentary film on the growth of a white supremacy movement in the USA .  I came away with an image that planted itself in my brain as a figure of  what we face in this country.

BlackPowerWhitePower

That’s a screen grab from the film, KKK  The Fight for White Supremacy; it’s available now on Netflix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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November Approaches

And with it comes NaNoWriMo. I’ve been hearing about this for some time as several people from my old writers’ group, Buffalo Writers Meetup, have attempted it and talked about it at meetings.  This year I’m jumping in.

I must be getting old. I can’t remember which came first — my interest in elephants, or the idea for a story about an elephant. Whichever the case, I’ve decided that my NaNoWriMo is Magua the Elephant. I wrote a blog on the subject here.

I should also mention the book about elephants by Ellis Nelson; it too, was one of the prompts that got me interested in the subject.

So I’m looking at a commitment to 2K words a day. I’ll try to keep up with the blog. It’s been …. so far. Yeah, fun. Really.

Okay, exciting – I’ve got the feeling in the gut about this; the one where you’re frightened and excited in equal parts.

Let’s do this.

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What I learned from the Don in the White House

Well the would-be Don anyway. He’s not smart enough to be the Don, he’ll always be the one taking orders, being ‘advised’ on what to do. All he does is keep an eye on the money, or as he likes to say, ‘make deals, huge deals’.

When I started this blog, I was clear about my motives. It was mostly about the money. People who know me will recognize that that was a reaction to the way I’ve lived; I have always been an outsider, caring most about things that most people consider unimportant and not caring at all about what those same people most esteem. I had come to a point when I was beginning to think that it was time to put some cash together so that I could better help my children and do some things that I’d always wanted to do. Then the people chose an ignorant misogynist to be the President of the United States of America.

This is not a joke.

Comedians make fun of him and people laugh but this Presidency is reversing the progressive course we have been fighting so long and so hard to steer. He is dismantling every institution that reflected our humanity and our decency. If you are religious, he is destroying all traces of charity and brotherly love, installing a crew of monsters and encouraging the uninhibited pillaging of the country’s wealth and the unregulated exploitation of it people. And as long as he can use the mass media to propagate lies and stoke the fears of the most vulnerable, he will continue to prevail.

I’m not laughing.

I’m back at my writing desk, and this time, it’s not about the money. To hell with entertaining people. Who cares if they don’t buy my book? I’m going to write something that I can be proud of, and that my children can be proud to read and talk about. I’ll do the best work I can, and let it go where it will.

La lucha continua.

 

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Mango Crumble Tarts, a Caribbean twist on the American Apple Crumble pie. Serve it with sorrel tea.

I’ve had this and it’s really good.

Caribbean Foods in American Kitchens

Apples or mangoes.  Why not both? 

Apple Crumble Pie
Apple Crumble Pie served with homemade caramel sauce

I love apple making this apple crumble pie with a hearty whole wheat pastry crust.  Recently  though, with a  mango in my refrigerator, and dessert on my mind,  I experimented.

What I got was this mango crumble heart, so named because your heart crumbles to see it disappear off the plate so quickly. It got rave reviews.

Mango Crumble Heart Serve this mango crumble heart/tart with sorrel or hibiscus tea. You will think you’re back home

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Current Research: The Elephant’s Secret Sense by Caitlin O’Connell

The story of humans in the world is a sad tale of greed, ignorance and horrific abuse of the stewardship of the planet we have claimed as our birthright. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently, but always with devastating agency, we have driven a number of species to extinction. The elephant, cursed with the ‘white gold’ of ivory, has been wantonly hunted and killed, as much for sport as for the valuable ivory in their tusks. Additionally, the modern drive of globalization of industrial development and the increases in human populations have encroached on the elephant’s natural habitats, driving the animals into deserts and reservations.

Caitilin O’Connell’s book leaves nothing out as she describes the personal odyssey that led to her discovery of the way these intelligent and sensitive creatures communicate with each other and maintain their societies. O’Connell is a human, who happens to be a scientist, and whose research allows her to meet and interact with the natural world of the African savannah. In the process she gleans, and shares with us, a profound insight into that world.

I enjoyed this book, not as a science report of an important discovery about elephant communication, which it so clearly is, but as an entertaining story of one woman’s African adventures.

Oh to be young again.

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Friday 45: BETHLEM STEELE – Hold On To Your Mind

Source: Friday 45: BETHLEM STEELE – Hold On To Your Mind

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@theRealHealthcare

The most significant initiative coming out of the Obama administration was led by the First Lady; I’m talking about her effort to change the eating habits of Americans. There was even some legislation passed in support.

The effort culminated in 2010 with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which allowed the U.S. Agriculture Department to set new nutritional standards for all food sold in schools for the first time in more than 30 years. The new requirements called for increased servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in meals, as well as decreases in the amount of sodium and sugar and a ban on transfats.’ (Modern Healthcare – http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20160823/NEWS/160829986 )

Pity her husband didn’t follow her lead.

I’ve never spoken to Lady Obama (okay, the title is imaginative but she deserves it, or something like it) so I don’t know whether she recognized her initiative as the necessary first step toward fixing what’s wrong with our so-called Health Care System.

That begins with food; good food must be made affordable.

The second item on my list is the environment. Clean Air and Water are essential to good health, not to forget the nasty things (like RoundUp which is sold in stores everywhere and used by people to treat the weeds in their lawns. It’s made by Monsanto so it gets a pass on public safety scrutiny. See here – http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150422-glyphosate-roundup-herbicide-weeds/) that are pervasive and persistent.

Then comes Preventive Medicine (Dr. Andrew Weil was an advocate of this approach in the early days of the Obama Healthcare debate – they ejected him from the room pretty quickly).

Only then can we talk intelligently about access to expensive, life-prolonging medical technology. I’m talking here about things like organ transplants, bio-engineered body parts, and plastic surgery.

A healthy citizenry, well-fed and informed about best practices for maintaining health, will have little need of these wonderful hi-tech medical gadgets. In catastrophic accidents perhaps, but these will be few in the context of a fully functioning Health Care System.

I would like to see the Progressives get into the debate on the future of Healthcare in a more meaningful way but Sanders seems stuck in the Obama rut of Health Insurance Reform.

We need a Health Care Revolution.

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Working My Way Back

Not fun. Wish I could say that I’ve been away on vacation or off on a trip to some place I’ve not yet been but that’s not what happened. The truth is that I’m going through a bit of a rough spot; the economy has soured and my income is seriously diminished. I’ve had to turn my attention to solving that problem and the hiatus from this blog was the unfortunate consequence.

Not all bad. For one thing, though we’re not out of the financial woods yet, my partner and I have developed some options and are working on those. Things are looking brighter and I’m hopeful. For another, I took the time away from writing to develop my craft. My first book had the benefit of two professional reviews and both reviewers agreed that my writing was good but that it lacked a degree of professionalism. (I’m referring here to my first book, The Obeahman’s Dagger.) I realized that while I did know how to write, I had no knowledge of the craft of fiction writing. I read and wrote mostly non-fiction, expository prose. It was time to make a change. That meant finding a way to take those courses in Creative Writing that I somehow never took while I was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College.

Not bad at all. For the past two years, I’ve been casually exploring Coursera. For those who don’t recognize the name, it’s a web-based agglomeration of American Universities and Colleges that offers courses in a variety of subjects, from Aardvarks to Zylophones. Looking more closely, and seriously, at the available courses, I found a group of modules that together make up a Specialization in Creative Writing. These on-line modules deal with singular aspects of the craft: Character, Setting, Plot, and Style, and included a final module in which students would put it all together and write a complete short story. There were some teasers that the final module, the Capstone, would also cover tips on getting published.

Not a small thing, no sir. Making the switch from thinking in expository prose to the plebeian language of the Everyday, I mean, going from writing like a stiff, stuck-up bureaucrat to the living words of ordinary men and women, now that’s not easy but it’s necessary. The part of me that was made in the classist society in which I grew up still clung to old uncertainties about Literature and Art and the exclusion of merely popular stuff from the Art Valhalla. I can’t tell you what I was thinking but I can say that I’ve been writing privately for a number of years now, writing without attempting to publish anything or to undertake a major piece. Writing like a determined amateur.

Now, a game changer. So, these last weeks that I’ve spent away from my public desk have not been idle. I haven’t completed the Coursera thing on Creative Writing yet, but I’ve learned a lot. Time to put things into practice and carry my new Professionalism to the story I’m presently writing – The Body In the Sauna which I intend to be the first book in a series of stories about Mabel Reed, The Unlikely Detective.

Finally, an observation. I have to say that I’m unsettled by what’s going on in the country. I’m a naturalized citizen who did my obligatory service in the US Army – Vietnam era veteran with an honorable discharge (that means that I didn’t actually go to Nam, but served Stateside during the war). The observation is that I’m meeting a lot of non-native English speakers in my course, which comes out of Wesleyan University. I don’t know what this means; aren’t these people put off by the US President’s anti-immigrant hysteria? Don’t they hate America? What do they hope to gain by doing this course? For myself, I’m amazed by their intelligence; I used to think that I was a pretty smart guy. Probably MENSA material, at least. Now I see that there are a lot of young men and women far smarter than I. Brilliant people who think, speak and write at least two languages. I’m blown away by them and motivated to try harder. I’m working to deserve my gift.

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Creativity and Me

One percent inspiration and ninety-nine perspiration, that’s how my creativity works but a few days ago something happened that’s making me rethink how I approach my work. And it is work. I never sit down to write anything with the idea that this is going to be fun. Not in the sense that drinking a beer, or listening to Yo-Yo Ma play The Swan is fun. Work is usually satisfying; it’s the pleasure of accomplishment.

In work, there is no failure. You have an idea and you think about it (is think the right word?) and it takes shape in your mind. You write it down and the work begins. Then you work until you’re satisfied that it’s what you intended it to be; that every word is the right word; meaning, tone, colour, context, references, all must communicate exactly what you want to deliver. You power the project with your own energy. That’s how it usually goes for me except for my last project, which was itself a departure from my usual creative medium. I write stories for publication, poetry for practicing my writing chops, and songs for my own amusement.

I own a classical guitar and I have taken some lessons in playing it; I’m not a guitarist but I’m drawn to the sound of the instrument. A note, a single note played on a single string is for me a source of intense pleasure. It evokes an emotion that is guided in its development by the music in which that note is embedded. It can be a burst of rhythmic joy (Tico-Tico as played by Berta Rojas and Carlos Barbosa-Lima) or a sublime meditation (Julian Bream playing Bach’s Violin Sonata Fugue; Berta Rojas here) or anything in-between. Playing like that is beyond my poor ability but I can produce sounds that I enjoy. I indulge myself with occasionally writing songs in the pop genre, and have loads of fun playing and singing them.

These songs are not intended for a public audience; I do play them for my family and am satisfied with their praise and adulation. At home, I’m a rock star and that’s enough for me. Nevertheless, I take pains with their composition and it takes a while to get one of them done. So far I think that I have three or four that I’ve more or less completed.

A few days ago I found out that a friend’s mother had died. This friend has known about my song writing efforts for a long time and has been very encouraging even asking me once to write a song about our mothers. I never forgot that. My mother died many years ago and though I tried several times to write a song about motherhood, nothing came to me until I heard that his mother had died.

I had not been particularly close with her though we’d been neighbours for a time, long ago, and I’d come to know her well. We were friends but we moved in different circles. Her passing moved me to a surprising extent. I thought about her, remembering what I could of her manner, her way of smiling, of carrying an atmosphere of happiness that you could feel whenever you moved in her ambit. Now that she was dead, I wanted to write a song for my friend, and for her, and for my own mother. And then it happened.

Suddenly, my creative process was short circuited and a song, fully formed, appeared in my mind, my heart and soul. I thought of her late husband and I felt connected with him and his music (he had been a musician, a composer of genius) and a song just poured out of me. A dirge that expressed what I was feeling; sadness that was tinged with a kind of pleasure that resembled the pleasure of work. I felt that she had done it right, that she had lived a life that was well lived. I wanted to mourn and simultaneously, to celebrate her victory over whatever evil there is in the world that pulls us into the living death that imprisons so many of us. It was a tribute to her, and to the family that had been her life.

What a woman she was.

In her death she has grown to magnificence.

She lives.

I’m sorry. This was supposed to be a post about my creative process and it is, right there in that last paragraph but I can’t go into that right now. I’m going to play the song one more time and get back to my daily routine of sweating for the bread. Happy times remembered in tranquility energize and sustain me. I’m fortunate to know and to have known much love from people like the Blackman family. Thank you all, my friends.

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