A WAR AGAINST WOMEN

A good friend in Texas who used to live here in New England is fighting a lonely battle in her town for the right of women to retain control over their bodies. Texas is the front line of the war against women, a war I thought we’d won years ago with Roe V. Wade and the end of (formal, official) discrimination against women in the workplace.

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She and I remember the bad old days. We were there together. The days of backroom abortions performed with chlorine bleach, coat hangers and turkey basters. When sepsis or perforation of your uterus was not an unusual price to pay to end a pregnancy. Where young women, unable to obtain an abortion, threw themselves off bridges rather than bear an unwanted child. Or tried to abort themselves, with lethal results.

Despite self-righteous conservative braying, backlash and brainwashing, having an abortion was not and is not a sign one is irresponsible or anti-life.

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Women have (and always have had) abortions for all kinds of reasons including fear for their health, welfare of existing children, and of course, economics, AKA survival.

While birth control isn’t 100% reliable, the men trying to stop women’s access to abortion are also determined to prevent us from getting effective birth control. If there is any logic to this, I fail to see it.

What’s the real point?

It has nothing to do with life or the right to be born. It’s about power. About putting women in their place so men can regain the control they have lost. Back to the kitchen for us, barefoot and pregnant. If men had babies, you can be sure this would not be happening.

I had an abortion that wasn’t an abortion, thus retaining plausible deniability.

My husband was in the hospital. He had cancer. It was so early in the pregnancy — less than 4 weeks — tests were negative, so technically, I couldn’t have an abortion. But I knew.

It was the worst time to discover myself pregnant. I didn’t know if my husband would live. (He didn’t live long.) We were financially maxed out. I had gotten into a highly competitive master’s program — more than 2000 applications for a couple of dozen spots — and I would not be able to accept. I looked at my life and thought: “I don’t need more education. I need a job.” No matter how I tried to fit the pieces together, a baby was not in the picture.

I had a “menstrual extraction” which was what you got when the test read negative but you knew otherwise. It was done in a doctor’s office. Without anesthesia. That’s a lot of pain, during which you dare not move lest a blade slip and do some serious, permanent damage.

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So many women my age went through similar or worse experiences. Were we happy about it? No, but we did what we felt was best, not just for us but for everyone affected.

Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. What happens to one woman happens to her entire circle — family and friends. We were adult women. We had the right and the obligation to decide what happens to our bodies and our lives.

I maintain my long-standing position on this matter. Unless you are a woman, your opinion is worthless. I do not care what they preach in your church. Until you walk in my shoes, live in my body, you know nothing.

Why am I weighing in on this? The it-wasn’t-really-an-abortion was more 40 years ago. No one knew it happened until now. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m sorry it happened, but I believed I was doing the right thing. I still believe it.

How ironic that women are again facing the specter of those terrifying, desperate days. The nightmare of the back room and the coat hanger is looming. The gains in personal freedom women won are at risk. If we don’t speak out and stand together, we will lose it. Maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. The opposition is relentless.

I am past child-bearing age. It’s about all women. Whether or not we have the right to decide for ourselves what is done to us. If ever there was a right to life involved, how about our right to have a decent life, to bear the number of children they want and not be managed by men whose stake in the issue is tangential? How about that?

No one wants an abortion. But sometimes, you need one.

IN A SUBJUNCTIVE MOOD

Ignoring the minor detail that they aren’t words, but semi-English local dialect, “shoulda” “coulda” “woulda” perfectly describe the essence of the rapidly disappearing subjunctive tense — or as some modern grammarians prefer it, mood.

All romance languages lavishly employ the subjunctive because it lets a verb indicate more than action (as verbs are wont to do). It includes a feeling about those actions. Longing, perhaps. Uncertainty. Hesitancy. Hope. Sometimes, it indicates “a hypothetical state or a state contrary to reality, such as a wish, a desire, or an imaginary situation.”  Which is something difficult to express if you don’t have a grip on the subjunctive thing.

Consider that a generous use of the subjunctive mood or tense can raise literature from the mundane to an art form. Wait, isn’t it supposed to be an art form?

In one of my favorite songs, Rod Stewart says “You are my heart, you are my soul. You’ll be my breath should I grow old.”

I love that he used the subjunctive to indicate the uncertainty of the future, that maybe he would not grow old, but IF he does, she will be his breath. That’s elegant. That’s subjunctive. He does not say “when I grow old.” He could have, but specifically chose to leave the matter up in the air, quivering with possibility. Saying so much by choosing this word rather than the other one.

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We’ve been dumping parts of speech for a while now. Americans seem to feel we need to just get on with it. Stupid grammar, it just gets in the way of spitting out what you mean. We don’t need no stinkin’ adverbs. Or tenses, for that matter. Let’s just go with the present and ignore everything else. Simple, direct. Eventually, we can eliminate pronouns, too.

If you ever listen to sports on TV or radio, you’ll notice they speak their own version of English. Adverbs have been banished. These highly paid professionals don’t know an adverb from their elbow, a noun from nose hair, or a complete sentence from a sandwich. Nor do they care.

I am in a subjunctive mood today. Wistfully contemplating the resurgence of language as art.

THE BLACK STALLION

 

If I’m going to be in a movie, I say — bring on the horses!

I grew up yearning for a horse and devoured any book about them. My favorites books were the Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. I probably read the book so many times its cover fell apart.

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All through my childhood, Walter Farley wrote a steady stream of new Black Stallion books  — and I read every one of them. About his colts and fillies. About Alec Ramsey, who grew from a teenage boy to a man in the course of the series. Of Henry Daily, the old horse trainer whose career is revived by his accidental encounter with Alec and The Black. Many stories, as the years went on, were about the racing stable Alex and Henry build in upstate New York for which The Black was the founding stud. To this day, I know more about horses and horse racing than most people … because Walter Farley told me all about it in book after book.

Throughout my young years, I wished they would make The Black Stallion into a movie. I wanted to see The Black, to see Alec ride him. To see him come from behind and become the greatest horse to ever run on a track. I was bewitched by horses and was convinced I would need nothing else in this life if I had a horse.

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Oddly, the great Secretariat’s real accomplishments — winning the Triple Crown in 1973 — remarkably mirrored those of the fictional Black. Watching Secretariat’s career — in the real world — made up for never having seen The Black race.

I never got a horse. Gradually real life overtook my fantasy life. College, work, husband, baby, home, friends replaced dreams of riding bareback on the greatest stallion of them all.

But the magic wasn’t over me because in 1979, Francis Ford Coppola made the movie I’d yearned for since childhood. He based the movie, The Black Stallion, on the first of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, the one he wrote in 1941. In making the movie, they changed the story some. This would have made me crazy as a kid, but by the time I saw the movie — in an old theater in Jerusalem, Israel — I was a 30-year-old mother living overseas and able to cope with relatively minor digressions from the original tale.

Last week, Turner Classic Movies showed “The Black Stallion.” So, of course, we watched it again. I’ve seen it many times. Each is seeing it for the first time.

I am swept away to a desert island for the adventure of a lifetime. Even if you aren’t a great horse lover, the score and the cinematography are so extraordinary, the movie is like a dream. They set the story in its original time period, the early 1940s which helps augment the dreamlike effect.

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I want to be on that island with The Black. To ride him along the edge of the ocean, free from everything but the sun, the wind, the sand beneath my horse’s pounding hoofs. I would give a lot for just one day to live that dream.

“The Black Stallion” is a paean to horses, nature, and overcoming adversity. You don’t have to be a kid to love it. It also contains the least dialogue of any movie since the talkies took over Hollywood.

Director Carroll Ballard tells the story with luscious cinematography and a lovely soundtrack. Music fusing with images that wrench your heart.

10 THINGS I LEARNED ON THE WAY TO 300,000

Sometime during the night between yesterday and today, my total views passed 300,000.

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That is an incomprehensibly big number. I never imagined having this many people look at my site when I started blogging.

I began Serendipity without thought and no plan. Or objective. For all the hours I’ve spent working on it, I’ve yet to set a goal or decide on a direction. I began because I could. I continued because I like it and I’ve met such wonderful people.

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I need to do say something more than “gee, that’s a really big number,” so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned with you. For what it’s worth and I admit, it’s not much.

1. The best (most active) days of the week are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Usually, but not always. You can have a terrible — or great day — any time for no apparent reason.

2. Summer is slower than winter. Holidays are always slow.

3. Real drama — by which I mean true life crises — bring out the best in people. They relate to you. All that heart surgery I had back in March 2014 doubled my traffic. (There must be an easier way.)

4. Sentiment sells. I don’t do “sentimental” well. It makes me uncomfortable. Garry does sentimental extremely well. His personal posts always “outsell” mine by a margin of better than two-to-one.

5. Celebrity sells. Garry’s stories about hanging out with the stars always get lots of hits. I love his stories as much as anyone and never get tired of them. Note to self: Encourage Garry to write more.

6. Quality counts as does a steady output.

7. Length (usually) counts against you. Long pieces — 900 words or more — are off-putting to a lot of people. Note: If you write long pieces and everyone reads you anyway? It means you very good. Better than me, for sure.

8. Short and pithy, especially with pictures, is a good formula.

9. The popularity of a post will be inversely proportional to the amount of work you put into writing it. It’s a Murphy’s Law.

10. Make’em laugh, make’em cry. But laughter wears better, long-term.

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If you were looking for something deep and analytical, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Mostly, what I’ve learned is I love blogging.

Writing, having a place to share photographs. If blogging had never been invented, I would have had to invent it myself. I love sharing the up side of my life with you. I try to keep the down side to a minimum.

I look forward to your comments and our conversations. They are the high point of my weeks. You inspire me, entertain me, touch my heart. You are my friends.

WAITING FOR A GOOD BOOK

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdRecently, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird. It was re-released in a year ago by Audible.com, with a new narration by Cissy Spacek. After I settled into it, I remembered why I love it. It’s a rare story in which all the pieces fit. Some call it the perfect book. It may be.

It never hits a false note. Takes its time, tells the story at a leisurely pace. It talks about justice, injustice, racism, and the legal system. It’s about family, love, relationships and coming of age. Discovering the world is both better and worse than you imagined.

My granddaughter was assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school and found it boring. I don’t agree, but I understand her problem. She lives in a world so changed from the one in which “Mockingbird” takes place, she can’t relate to it.

Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked more than they drove. Food grew in gardens. The world was segregated, separated by class, religion, and ethnicity. My granddaughter can’t even imagine such a world. In her world, the President is Black and her white grandma is married to a brown man.

Everything is instant. You don’t go to a library to do research. You Google it. There’s no time for slow-moving books that depict a less frantic world.

It’s no wonder the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, and so on. These books are fun. Exciting. So much of “literary fiction” is dreary. Authors seem to have forgotten that literature is also supposed to be entertaining.

I need stories that are more than a dark mirror of reality. That’s not enough. I want a good plot. I need action, stuff to happen. I don’t want to just hear what characters are thinking. I want to see them moving through their lives. I need characters who develop, grow, are changed by events. And, I need heroes. Un-ambivalent good guys for whom I can root. I welcome enlightenment and education, but I require entertainment. Lately it seems the reality-based books I’ve read have forgotten how to entertain. The people they portray are sad, depressed, trapped, miserable. Living lives so hopeless they lack even the energy of desperation.

Are our lives truly so pathetic? So grey and drab? I don’t believe so. I think it’s easier — and fashionable in current literary circles — to write that way. Easier to capture a single note than a whole range of feelings. There are plenty of sad and hopeless characters, but there are also plenty of glad and joyous ones. Winners, not just losers. Heroes and success stories.

I don’t understand current criteria for publication. I don’t get it. A high percentage of the new books I read (I read a lot of just-published books for review) are dull. Many are also poorly written. I find myself wondering why this book, whatever it is, was chosen. To me, I has no merit. I don’t even review these books. I don’t like trashing books and authors, so if it’s that bad, I just skip it.

Boring to me, is the worst sin in literature. I don’t believe Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee — would be published today. I doubt they’d get a reading.

I miss books based in reality. I bet there are great manuscripts waiting, their authors yearning to be published. I hope they get to it soon. Because kids like my granddaughter need to discover how much fun books about real people can be.

JAMES ZERNDT – THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to head phones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

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There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.

It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices.  And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.

The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s as wrong a time in her life to have a baby as there possibly could be and probably the worst possible place she could be — far away from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first person narrators, both south Korean.  Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.

All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end the pain is very personal — and remarkable similar — for each.  There are no simple, happy answers.

It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me,  it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade made abortion a viable choice. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.

It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.

The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paper back and Kindle.

WHEN THE GAME CHANGED

IT WAS NOT EXACTLY WHAT I HAD IN MIND.

Being a cast member on a movie set wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. Maybe I wasn’t sure what to expect since my experience with working on a film was vicarious, drawn from depictions on television or movies. Even subtracting 95% of what I thought I knew to align with reality, I thought something should be happening. I guess it was, if you were one of the stars or co-stars.

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But extras? Which is what I was, though these days the term “extras” is out of favor and “background performer” is in. Whatever you care to call us, we got shuttled from set to set, fed three meals at lavish buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners where everyone chowed down with extreme prejudice.

Otherwise, we waited. And waited. Then, we waited some more. While we waited we had to be silent. Don’t annoy the stars. Don’t be in the way. Don’t go anywhere — including the bathroom — without permission. Permission was from one of the dozens of assistants, those attractive young people running around with headsets and clipboards.

It was confusing, tiring, and dull. You never knew if someone might decide you or your group were needed in a scene, but even if you were never in any scene — entirely possible — you had to act as if you were about to be “up” any moment. Your presence or absence was (apparently) life or death. On a movie set, it turns out everything is treated like life or death. It’s a Hollywood thing.

It was mid-November, night in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I hadn’t worn enough layers. Cold.

My feet hurt. Not to mention my back.

I needed to pee.

I was bored.

The director was on the 128th take. Before the night was done, he would close in on 250 takes of this particular scene. It was the turning point of the plot. It included every member of the cast except a bunch of us “background performers.” No matter. We still had to be there. Just in case.

I wondered how much money I was going to make, just standing around. I didn’t think it was going to be enough especially since it seemed unlikely this would be the night Hollywood discovered me. I wished I’d brought a book, though in the dark I wasn’t sure if I’d have been able to read.

That was when I noticed the woman. She was standing just off to my right, leaning against a street light. It looked like she was reading, but whatever it was she was holding wasn’t a book. Something else. It had a light attached.

I sidled over.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“You’re reading? What’s that? I’ve never seen one.”

“It’s a Kindle.”

“OH,” I said, things clicking into place. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one before.”

She looked up and smiled. “It’s wonderful. I don’t know how I lived without it. I can bring books with me everywhere, as many books as I want. See?” she said, and she began to show me all the cool stuff it could do. Like being able to bookmark passages, get definitions of words and phrases. And carry a whole library with her in just this little thing no bigger than a paperback.

I held it, turned it this way and that. “You know,” I said. “This might be exactly what I need.”

Certainly my bookcases at home were bursting at the seams. Anything that let me buy books without finding someplace to put them sounded like a really good deal. And this thing would let me take books everywhere without hauling a trunkful of paperback. It seemed a good idea. But the price was still too high for me and I wondered if I would like a book that didn’t smell like ink and paper. It was convenient, but it lacked ambiance.

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Nonetheless, that conversation stuck in my brain. Long after the movie — in which I did not appear, though I had one scene which was cut and left on the editing room floor — had faded into memory, I remembered the lady with the Kindle. When the new generation of Kindles was released and the prices dropped, I bought one.

Then I bought one for everyone in my family who reads books. And I bought another one that plays movies and audiobooks and checks email. Finally, I got an even newer one that does the same stuff, but better and faster. And bigger, lighter, and takes (and sends) pictures.

I can’t imagine life without my Kindle. I don’t want to. I’ve got hundreds of books, audiobooks, music, everything on it. It goes with me everywhere.

A week or two ago — don’t remember exactly when — I had to read a paperback. It was heavy. It was awkward. I couldn’t hold it in one hand. And where was the light?

This may sound like no big deal. Just another toy, one more electronic doohickey. But it isn’t. It was a game and life changer. Finally, I could always have a whole library of regular and audiobooks with me.

I’ve gone through four or five iterations of the Kindle experience since. By now, all my friends have them. Many of us have several, in different sizes and styles. I can’t imagine reading without them.

And finally, after my most recent upgrade to the next to the latest version of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ super tablet, I gave my iPad to my granddaughter (hers was pretty beat up and mine has 64 gigs rather than 32, like hers). After I got the newest (for me, but there is an even newer version available and probably will be yet another generation shortly), I had no further interest in the iPad which had always annoyed me anyway.

So everyone is happy. Skyping and reading and listening and watching … all because I met a lady when I was briefly (very briefly) a movie extra in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Watson, the game is on!