Getting to the Whole Story: An Example from my Son

School started today, to my son’s horror. We’re finishing our history curriculum from last year because I went through K-12 never learning anything after WWII because we always ran out of school year before we ran out of boring textbook.

A History of US is one of my favorites because it’s a comprehensive, source-driven look at our past and not a boring textbook. Each day Gabe reads a few chapters and writes a paraphrase on his blog. Scroll down to his post. Did you know the bolded information? I didn’t.

There are many significant happenings, the details of which don’t transmit to Joe Public. In the case of my history ignorance, a textbook writer somewhere, sometime made the decision that the bolded piece of intel wasn’t worth the ink. I understand cuts must be made. But I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to trust someone, somewhere to filter my history for me. The way to bypass the textbook revisionist is to read as much source documentation as possible. And to believe: The man who tells the story is as important as the story itself.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by nuclear bombs. Both were destroyed because they were large, industrial cities that supported the Japanese war effort. Days before the bombing, pamphlets were dropped on Hiroshima to warn the citizens that the city would be destroyed, but nobody took it seriously. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed just 3 days apart. Somewhere between 129,000, and 226,000 people were killed in the two bombings combined. The pilots on the 509th Composite Group of the 313th Wing of the 21st Bombing Command of the 20th Air Force were chosen to do a secret mission. They practiced for it, but instead of practicing with huge amounts of missiles, they would practice with a single, medium sized weapon. Soon they were getting bored and even being taunted by other groups. They were taught to fear storms, especially electrical storms, and they never even knew why the whole time, but they still did it. When they flew over Hiroshima and they saw the bomb drop, at first it just looked like any ordinary bomb, but when it hit the city it made a huge explosion and a mushroom cloud. Three days later they did the same thing to Nagasaki, and the war ended. – Gabe, grade 7

What happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was terrible. I was always taught that. Lately, I’ve been told I should feel ashamed of my country’s actions: the decision to drop the bomb. That’s when I start getting uncomfortable, and you should too. There are so many atrocities through the ages that, were we to begin serving penance for the actions of people who lived and died long before us and in a world entirely different from ours– we open a can of Dune-sized worms. Do you feel it, opening? I do. We’re in the middle of a shift; it’s fashionable to measure antiquated actions with a ruler of modern philosophy.

Who am I, in 2017, to decide whether or Truman should have dropped the bomb in 1945?

Truman, for his part, thought he was bringing the war to a swift close. Taken in its time, the decision was the right one… and to judge the decisions of people in 1945 by the standards of 201[7] is not only ahistorical, it is pointless. Truman and his advisers made the only decision they could have made; indeed, considered in the context of World War II, it wasn’t really much of a decision at all (Tom Nichols).

The above quote is why, when we’re done with our history curriculum, we’ll read through every source document provided by A History of US, all organized into the last volume, #12. Then Gabe will read Hiroshima Diary, by Dr. Michihiko Hachiya, who survived the Hiroshima bombing, witnessed first-hand the devastation, and did his best to treat a formerly unknown condition: radiation poisoning.

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Versatile Blogger Award

ver·sa·tile

able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities.

A fiction writer must be versatile, if only for the toggle between fantasy and reality. I once woke to the reality I was due to teach a class in ten minutes. What’s the big deal? I was an hour away from said class, still in my fuzzy pajamas. It was my leg of a carpool and in my zealous story plotting I quite forgot I was supposed to be dressed and prepped to go straight on to my teaching gig. NOT wearing pajamas.

What I’ve found is, when I make even a feeble attempt to bless someone, I am the one who walks away blessed. Such was my experience when I made the acquaintance of blogger Kelvin M. Knight. Here’s how it went: I decided to take fifteen minutes each morning to find and point out fellow writers whose work impacted me. This writing business is like a one-way pen pal relationship, so it’s nice to get a letter back once in a while. I decided to write some letters back.

One morning as I went to be that return letter, I opened my email and received the Versatile Blogger Award.

How appropriate is the image on Kelvin’s About page. You don’t have to read but a few sentences of any one of his posts to agree: Kelvin is all heart. Self-effacing and quietly joyful, he reminds me of a man version of Anne Lamott.

Kelvin writes: The Versatile Blogger Award was created to feature and recognize blogs that have unique content, high quality writing, and fantastic photos. As the Versatile Blogger Award states: Honor those bloggers who bring something special to your life whether every day or only now and then.

The rules for nomination are:

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate up to 15 bloggers for this award and inform them.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Put the logo of Versatile Blogger in your post, displaying these rules.

I even recognized some of the names on Kelvin’s nomination list, like Lynn Love, The Drabble, and Friday Fictioneers. Let me add my voice to his and say these are lovely people who contribute positively to the world, who use their gifts and take the time to encourage others to do the same.

So, seven little things about me:

  1. I first wanted to be a writer when I read Flowers in the Attic, which Stephen King judged as the putrid trash of the fiction world. This heartens me. My putrid trash may be someone’s favorite, may be a best-seller.
  2. For two decades I wrote only our family’s Christmas letter because I couldn’t be chill when my littles interrupted me with poopy diapers, playtime, and the rhythmic need for sustenance.
  3. My favorite book is the Bible because it changed my life.
  4. I homeschooled our four children. Presently down to one awesome student. 🙂
  5. When I was ten years old I dug up a friend’s dead cat (and since have used it in many a story).
  6. Watching my kids grow into beautiful people has been a chief joy of my life.
  7. Being on a cruise with my husband, being like the kids we were when we met, is another.

Now onto the fun. My nominations.

Each person above has, in some way, been a pen pal to me on this writing journey. Each is versatile. More importantly, each is unique. I heard a moving quote last night in the most unexpected place: a Hollywood formula movie, Ghost in the Shell. Just goes to show you diamonds can be found in the mud. Here it is:

When we see our uniqueness as a virtue, only then will we have peace.

 

The Art of Running Into Flames

When a writer’s thoughts echo my own so completely, I must share. Writing as a confessional is dear to my heart.

Oscar Hokeah

When I think about creativity, or the impulses to create, and how there is a certain bravery or cowardice involved, I think of forest fires.  You see, my cousins were fire fighters for the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.  I love it when they regale me with stories of their adventures and sometimes these are about disaster relief, like following Hurricane Katrina, and other times they are about fighting large forest fires in Colorado or California.  They tell me, “If the wind catches the flames and rushes the fire toward you, you have to decide:  are you going to run through the flames?”

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To the Shepherd Afraid of His Flock, an Open Letter

Dear Pastor Anthony,

This post is in response to your article, your claim that some Christians are so scary they’d frighten Jesus, were it possible. You, for one, are frightened.

For the sake of understanding, I’m going to put your words in blue, since red is already taken. By Jesus. You’re peeved and grieved about two things: how the president is handling the transgender military issue, and how many conservative, evangelical Christians are celebrating. You then settle into a tour de force: Christians are a twisted, offensiveangry, and unmerciful bunch. Scary.

I too am grieved.

I’m grieved someone I love read this article and thought of me. I’m grieved at the possibility I am painted in these adjectives. But what most grieves me is something on which we agree: the tags Christian and conservative have become, for some segments of the population, interchangeable with expletives. Articles like yours are gasoline on that flame.

An email got under your skin– a conservative Christian group praised the President’s ban on transgender military personnel. I understand getting worked up. The very same thing happened when I read your article, which I consider a nebulous condemnation of Christianity and singularly interesting, considering you are a senior pastor of a fairly large church.

You begin your rhetoric with the Christian controversy over Bible versions. We (a loosely defined subset of Christians, but most certainly those who have not come out in opposition to the President) have been reading the Reversed Standard Version of the Bible. It has been poison kool aid, this version, guilty of reversing what the Bible clearly teaches, and someone on the inside needs to say so loud and clear.

Here’s my understanding, based on your article, why we frighten Jesus:

  1. Christians (among others) believe transgenderism may not be in the best interests of our military personnel and that perhaps the government shouldn’t pay for the surgeries that will settle their sexuality.
  2. Mega church leaders of various and sundry denominations, five of them, fell from grace or were disgraced by unethical practices. Thank you for calling to mind each specific sin in your article, for using their failures to prove Christians, more than the rest of humanity, are indeed scary. You forgot to mention King David, writer of the Psalms. He was a far worse fellow than your five examples.
  3. Christians believe in praying for the president. Someone shot a picture of it. How frightening. I hope no one ever sees me hunched over my Bible praying for the president. How can anyone know what motivates another human being to pray? I don’t, and neither do you.

Finally, we come to my favorite paragraph in your article, which begins: I get it.

Because, truly, you do. You understand: The military exists to destroy the enemy. Accordingly, it must have standards that potential recruits must meet in order to achieve its objectives. That’s common sense. And, I agree that the military should not pay for gender reassignment surgeries. You completely and totally, utterly agree with the very sentiment that so outraged you and was the impetus for your article– the email from a conservative Christian group to its own members, an internal group email. Not a press statement to Fox News. Not an op-ed to the Huffington Post. Whatever other Christian arrogance caused you to write the article, you don’t mention. I can only answer what you’ve brought up.

You ask: Must we bludgeon people in our disagreement? Is that what Jesus did? Is an email to a closed group of like-minded members bludgeoning people in our disagreement?

Your advice to the scary ones: Learn to express ourselves with compassion. That’s it. We’ve been given the green light to hold an opinion from Pastor Anthony, but we just need to be nicer about it. That’s the lesson. How do we throw off this scary Christian persona and don the garb of CNN-approved righteousness? For certainly you are keeper of the wardrobe.

Here is your solution to the problem of scary Christians: At the very time when America needs humble courage, aloof arrogance is running amuck. I think it’s time we put down the false RSV Bible and start reading one of the real translations. It’s not possible to follow Jesus otherwise.

Read the Bible. A good lesson. Except. In the name of kindness, gentleness, and the fact that a sermon on sexuality is not the scope of this letter, I’m going to refrain from quoting The Holy Bible, any version, on sexuality. I’ll just quote your church’s stance on it instead, in the hope that you agree– taking a communication meant for a closed group (in your case, people who would like to unite with your church) and using it as a tool of public argumentation can be misconstrued, misunderstood, and cause hurt feelings.

On the controversial subject of transgenderism your bylaws state:

We believe that God created the human race as male and female, and that
gender and sex are determined by God. Humans, therefore, must not attempt to
alter their own gender or sex or that of any other human being.

I humbly, and with grief in my heart, write this open letter because I believe too many of us hold our candles in a closet, for fear of exactly the retribution you deliver in your article: that we will be villainized. I love transgendered people, gay people, peoples of all ethnicity. However, I’m not going to apologize for my belief that not all lifestyles are equally advantageous, productive, meaningful, or abundant. And, based on your own admission, neither do you.

We don’t disagree that we ought to love. We disagree on what it looks like, this love. People disagree on what constitutes a human being (conception, breath, time). We disagree on what constitutes a marriage. On what constitutes gender. And when such plasticity is introduced into what ought to be tectonic, you get earthquakes. Should we be surprised?

Pastor Anthony, is it just that we don’t actively condemn our President that so offends you? Can that really be all there is to it? The antithesis of my enemy’s enemy is my friend? The way your article reads is this: a friend of my enemy is no friend of mine. In fact, he’s downright frightening. Even Jesus would say so, were it possible. But no. Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies.

I thought you might like to hear from another person on the inside, also a conservative Christian but not a senior-pastor-at-a-fairly-large-church, just someone who loves Jesus and does her best to follow Him.

 

Patreonizing: Flash Fiction, Metafiction

[Patreon is a membership platform that enables artists to live off their craft. Or maybe it’s a Go-Fund-Me for creatives. Anyone who lives with an artist understands the financial black hole spawned by art. Or, to put it plain: How is a small pepperoni pizza like a full-time writer? Neither can feed a family of four. Below is my flash fiction about a struggling writer.]

Patreonizing

I was too jaded to believe. Strangers Friends Followers pay me to read my short stories? My own mother wouldn’t read my stories, for free.

I had one foot in the world composed of atoms and one foot in the world I composed. Transitions most abused me. Once I became devoted to a story, I needed to be hauled out with a whale hook by things like a notice of electricity shut off or the reek of my parakeet having died.

My first assignment was from an anonymous Patreon who wanted a short story in which the following three elements appeared: 1. A male writer protagonist, 2. Who cheats on his girlfriend, and 3. And is gruesomely murdered. Then eaten.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I cheated on my girlfriend.

You’re wrong. I broke up with Cheryl several hours before my first date with Nina. And my Patreon couldn’t be Cheryl because Cheryl spent all her time on Facebook, where she promptly assassinated my character in pithy sayings on pastel backgrounds

For a thousand bucks I’d write Cheryl nice and give her a sex scene to shame Solomon. The joke would be on her when she had to fork over the cash.

I started writing. Almost instantly there was a knock at the door. I ignored it. Some writers had a muse. I had an anti-muse who connived to throw a cat into my zone. The cat would dig his tines into my thighs, the phone would vibrate, the eggs would boil over, the doorbell ring. In fact, the door had begun to pound, or a pounding had begun upon the door. Each strike rattled the hinges and birthed dust plumes that danced and died around the frame with each now-thunderous knock.

I would not be interrupted.

 

The Shot: Fiction for Microcosms

Like all the outliers I’ve covered, this planet was named for some dead Earthian. Back then you could have a star named after yourself for less than the cost of a decent dinner. This man had a hundred stars named after him.

Trump XV looked no different than all the others. When the infrastructure goes, it’s all dust and rubble, looters and legionnaires. The wise stay underground in shelters.

I came upon a fluffy white Havanese. The little guy reclined on his owner’s grimed and tattered form, nuzzling her neck.

A flimsy leaf-like hand made feeble efforts to brush away the wee beast. She shook her head from side to side. Her iron-rich neck and shoulder muscle was, in fact, the dog’s meal.

I took the shot.

Took it from several angles. All the while she moaned and uttered the same word over and over. I didn’t speak Svoodian, but I could guess what the word was.

“Just a minute,” I told her as I stepped over her splayed legs to get a better angle. I crouched down for the close-up. The dog wasn’t budging. From its tiny mouth came a wet sound like child-hands in mud.

Probably the woman didn’t understand me, either, so I held up one finger.

I sent the shot to my editor with this caption: Dogs wearing collars become dinner or diners, depending on who kills who first.

At first I wrinkled my nose at the given prompt: foreign correspondent/battlefield/memoir. Nothing came. I spun their spinner over and over and… nothing. Then I thought of the book of Job (as I happened to be reading it). The phrase “and I alone have escaped to tell you…” leapt out at me as a possible opening for a foreign correspondent, and of course my correspondent had to be on another planet. Originally that phrase from Job was to begin my entry, but as I began the journey into this story, the original phrase lost its place. As so often happens in writing. So the prompt DID spawn something fun after all. My lesson: keep at it. Usually something comes.

Be a Flasher

Not that kind of flasher, naughty bird. A flash fiction writer.

Why should I be a flash fiction writer? You ask. I’m glad you did. Flash fiction forces several wondrous talents upon you:

  1. Economy of language.
  2. Full-bodied plot in a tiny, weeny package.
  3. A stretch into new genres, styles, content.*
  4. Opportunity for you to turn away from a grueling, lonely novel-nobody-sees and hit publish.
  5. The thrill of weekly or monthly contests, like zeroflash, cracked flash fiction, and microcosms.
  6. Receive needful pets from fellow writers and learn to give same. Be in community.

I had this thought as I sat down today with my novel-in-progress: flash fiction should/could be part of Stephen King’s famed tool box for writers. Use it if it suits you. At first I couldn’t imagine liking anything less than a full-length novel, but the more I read and write flash, the more I appreciate its form. It’s like poetry and fiction made love and bam! Flash fiction.

*One such stretching happened to me just this month. The prompt for July’s Zeroflash is to write a metafiction piece. Metafiction? What on earth is that? The latin prefix meta means beyond, which I think of as above and beyond. Still, above and beyond fiction? I had to look it up. Luckily some of the examples were books I’d already read, so I understood that metafiction called attention to itself as a form or structure. Call me thick, it didn’t get much easier once I knew what the stuff was. But chew on a thing long enough and eventually it assimilates into you. Check out my metafiction flash piece here.