Looking for a sense of wonder

Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil focuses on wonder, and though she certainly didn’t ask me to sign off on that focus, I approve because I think wonder is a human creature’s most potent sense.

In an interview in the current “Poets & Writers” magazine, she says, “Wonder for me is where you get surprised by your own curiosity when confronted with something unfamiliar or unexpected and that sense of curiosity turns into a kind of joy and excitement.”

Absolutely.

Wonder is the default natural state of children when their caretakers don’t intrude with brainwashing that suggests otherwise. When I was a child, I experienced wonder in every raindrop, every cloud, and every tree. My experiences of those things now are somewhat muted because the pragmatic slings and arrows of the world take their toll.

When I read and write, I recapture the wonder of childhood because I’m existing in another world unsullied by politicians, worker drones, advertising slogans, and bad parents. I once wrote a series of nature-related articles for a magazine series called “World of Wonder.” My goal was to show readers why I felt a powerful sense of wonder at the locations I chose.

And yet, once lost, it’s rather difficult to get our virginity back because, when it comes to wonder, most people have forgotten about it or don’t believe it ever existed. Yet, it’s possible–I believe–for readers to wake up to wonder when authors infuse it in their works–the wonder comes back as people read, a phantom or shadow of its former self, perhaps, but (let us say) it’s a positive covert influence.

I suspect wonder makes the world go around if we admit it.

Malcolm

 

Stormy Weather – thanks, Laura

Everyone and their brother has recorded “Stormy Weather” since Ethel Waters sang it at the Cotton Club in 1933. I like the song a lot. I also like stormy weather.

If you’re a fan of the Seth books, you know that those books suggest that the weather we experience is the weather we draw to us. I think this is true. However, I really need to finish mowing my yard and I can’t do that when the grass is wet. It’s been wet for weeks.

Now, a Cat-4 hurricane is coming ashore, after which it will pass just north of our house en route to the Atlantic where, perhaps, it will become a Cat-5 storm. In no way, do I want more stormy weather in our neighborhood. So, I’m blaming the whole mess on people in Texas.

Yes, I know, you probably didn’t realize that your upset about one thing and another drew Hurricane Laura to your doorstep. Please, if you need to do this again, keep the storm there rather than letting it escape just north of the Georgia/Tennessee line.

We’re already wet.

Malcolm

Writing About Racism While Black

So, is our moment over? After George Floyd’s murder and the wave of online and offline outrage, are we just supposed to stop talking about racism now? That’s certainly what the social media algorithms seem to suggest. Suppression of Black voices seems to happen on every social media platform, but two of the most recent examples have been on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Source: Writing About Racism While Black. Are Black voices being suppressed on… | by Sharon Hurley Hall | ILLUMINATION | Aug, 2020 | Medium

I met Sharon Hurley Hall online years ago on a blogging site that’s long since faded away. For a while, a group of us who are writers formed our own, online critique group. Sharon focuses on providing content for businesses. She also has a new project, her anti-racism newsletter. That newsletter contains some of the best anti-racism writing I’ve ever seen.

It’s well thought out, on point, and provides food for thought in these troubled times that we can trust as being fair, reasonable, and accurate. Like this article, that newsletter (which has both free and paid subscriptions) provides the words of wisdom we need as we watch the news and see the protests in major cities.

As she suggests in this article, take a look at what’s happening on Facebook and other social media sites and draw your own conclusions about whether or not anti-racism posts and conversations are being allowed, placed at the bottom of the stack, or blocked. The last thing we need to do is cut off communication.

Malcolm

P.S. Hall, who lives in Barbados,  is the author of Exploring Shadeism, available on Amazon.

For the love of Florida pine trees

Readers of the three books in my Florida Folk Magic Series heard a lot about the piney woods because pines (Sand, Slash, Spruce, Longleaf, Eastern White, Loblolly, and Japanese Black) own the Florida Panhandle. We had forty pines in our yard. I grew up with them, came to love them, so that’s what my characters see.

Wikipedia photo

When the fourth book in the series, Fate’s Arrows, is released in the near future, you’ll find more pines, beginning with a quotation from Gloria Jahoda (The Other Florida) that sets the stage for the book:

“Everywhere. . . there were pines, their long needles shimmering in a faint wind under the hot subtropical sun. In the country there were empty dirt roads, rutted by mule carts. In the towns sprawled rows of unpainted shacks without windows. Ancient Negro women sat fanning themselves with palm leaves as they stared drowsily from rickety porches at their zinnias and coral vines and heavy-scented honeysuckle bushes. Moss-draped oaks and lacy chinaberry trees shaded sandy dooryards. Scrawny dogs, the flies buzzing at their noses, slept among ragged-feathered chickens pecking for scratch feed. Locusts whined from tall magnolias with the steady pitch of power saws. But mostly there were those pines and the tang of their resiny branches and the dark straightness of their trunks. All of it looked like the south of the novelists and the poets, heavy with antiquity, romance, and misery.”

Jahoda wrote this in 1967. Living in Florida between 1950 and 1968, I saw the evolution of the world she describes. The panhandle world seemed, even then, to be the complete opposite of what snowbirds found in the peninsula and what people outside the state expected to see anywhere. The appalling Jim Crow racism was hidden away by the exuberant beauty of the land.

Malcolm

 

The issues surrounding Native American Education

Usually, August means excitement for children. Back to school means buying school supplies and new clothes for the school year, plus the benefit of seeing their friends again. However, for many Native Americans, it is a time filled with anxiety and stress because of negative school experiences. Not only is this an effect of family historical trauma but also an effect of low self-esteem and lack of cultural identity. There are numerous factors, but one deeply rooted issue goes unaddressed, year after year. The boarding school era (1860s-1960s) failed to offer the opportunities it promised Native people but succeeding in stripping them of their culture.

Source: The issues surrounding Native American Education

I like this organization because it provides hope for those who are often unheard and unnoticed. Lack of educational opportunities has been a huge problem for years, and it only got worse when the U.S. Government meddled in something that didn’t need to be “fixed” by outsiders.

One of my favorite pen pals over the years was a man who spoke fluent Blackfeet who was in the process of starting a school in Montana that would teach this endangered language. He knew was many off the rez don’t understand: the loss of a language is death to a culture.

I like the storytelling approach of Native Hope. We need more of it.

–Malcolm

Briefly Noted: ‘The Black Pullet’

The name “Grimoire” is derived from the word “Grammar”. A grammar is a description of a set of symbols and how to combine them to create well-formed sentences. A Grimoire is, appropriately enough, a description of a set of magickal symbols and how to combine them properly. – Internet Sacred Text Archive

While grimoires are typically associated with so-called high magic or ritual magic, the term has lost some of its focus because some people use it as a synonym for the craft practitioner’s Book of Shadows.

The Black Pullet, also known as the hen that lays the golden eggs, is a grimoire and a story combined. Purportedly, the book was written in the 1700s. The book relates the story of a French soldier serving in Egypt with Napolean’s army who is wounded and left for dead next to one of the pyramids. An old man emerges from a secret entrance to a pyramid, takes the soldier inside, and treats his wounds. The soldier discovers that there are a vast library and living quarters within the pyramid. All are richly adorned in the manner one would expect of royalty in those days.

The man says that he has long been the guardian of the deep secrets of the universe and, if he is willing, the soldier will now take his place. The guardian begins to teach the young man about prayers and meditations that will transform him into one who is worthy of the sacred knowledge. Subsequently, the soldier learns of the sacred symbols and words emblazoned on rings and talismans, and how to use them to control nature and the numerous beings that inhabit the universe, most of whom can be very helpful to the one who holds the sacred knowledge.

The book is filled with drawings of talismans and amulets accompanied by the words of power one uses to invoke the desired powers, and that includes creating the black hen that lays golden eggs.

from the Black Pullet’s Preface

The work which we offer to the public must not be confused with a collection of reveries and errors to which their authors have tried to give credence by announcing supernatural feats; which the credulous and the ignorant seized with avidity. We only quote the most respectable authorities and most dignified in faith. The principles which we present are based on the doctrines of the ancients and modern, who full of respect for the Divinity, were always the friends of mankind, endeavoured to recall them to virtue, by showing them vice in all its deformity. We have drawn from the most pure sources, having only in view the love of truth and the desire to enlighten those who desire to discover the secrets of Nature and the marvels which they unfold to those who never separate the darkness which surrounds them. It is only given to those who are favoured by The Great Being, to raise themselves above the terrestrial sphere, and to plan a bold flight in the etheric regions; it is for these privileged men that we write.

While some conjure men and women use seals and symbols taken from this book for protection and as an aid to spell casting, the book appears to stand more as a curiosity than a useful, working grimoire. Many old grimoires and other ancient texts are pulled into craft (witchcraft) and conjure work for power with probable benefits; however, the intent of the book is for use by students of high magic rather folk magic for summoning entities rather than as, say, a strong rabbit’s foot.

Malcolm

If I can’t see you, you’re not there and it didn’t happen

Years ago, I lived in an upstairs apartment above a family with two children. Sometimes, while visiting in their living room, we’d see their youngest child emerge from the kitchen with a handful of cookies en route to his bedroom. He imagined that since he was walking in front of us with his free hand covering his eyes, we couldn’t see him and that the cookie theft never occurred.

I read an article in the New Yorker today, “Has Self-Awareness Gone Too Far in Fiction?” in which author Katy Waldman wrote, “These self-conscious times have furnished us with a new fallacy. Call it the reflexivity trap. This is the implicit, and sometimes explicit, idea that professing awareness of a fault absolves you of that fault—that lip service equals resistance.” While, as she says, she confines her comments about this fallacy to books where she says that “Increasingly, characters seem to be rewarded for the moral work of feeling bad,” the message covers a lot of the self-examination speeches, essays, posts, and other confessions we’re seeing these days in the news and on social media.

Portland, July 2020 – Wikipedia photos.

Perhaps it’s the slip side of burying one’s head in the sand or covering one’s eyes while participating in a riot or watching a riot on the TV news. One form of covering one’s eyes seems to be saying, “I don’t live in Portland, so I don’t know anything about the nightly riots there, so none of that is my responsibility or problem.”

You can either say, “I wasn’t there, so I can’t help fix it” or “I was there and threw bricks through a few windows and torched a few police cars, but in admitting it to you, I’ve cleaned my plate, conscience, and soul, and am now a good person again.”

Actually, I remember another approach from the 1960s and 19070s: A discussion group that focuses on the ills of the world meets once a week at a member’s house where people have cookies and coffee or cheese fondu and Scotch and talk about the negative issues of the day. Everyone chips in, says how terrible it all is, complains that the government or the church or somebody or other needs to do something about it, and then they leave the house at the end of the evening with a feeling of accomplishment. That is to say, the members believe that talking about a societal ill is the same thing as working proactively to get rid of that ill.

I can’t quite decide which approach is worse. I hope that the discord flowing through our society is a realization that none of these approaches is healthy or humane–much less, a solution.

Malcolm

 

 

Too much sex in novels is boring

When we were growing up, we occasionally heard about sex books that were banned everywhere. “Banned everywhere” meant those books were must-read novels. We were usually disappointed because they focused on a bunch of people having various kinds of scandalous sex for hundreds of words. Yawn

In some of these books, having sex was the plot. In some books, there was a plot–let’s say it was about the good guys vs. the bad guys–that was constantly interrupted by people stopping to have sex. Of course, when you’re in middle school or high school, you don’t care about the plot.

Since most of us didn’t have a lot of experience (sex-wise) in those days, people in the books were constantly doing stuff many of us couldn’t figure out. Needless to say, we couldn’t ask our English teachers or parents what those characters were doing. It would be like reading a book that mentions the Cardi B song WAP (go look it up if you haven’t heard about it) and then going to mom and saying, “Exactly what is WAP?”

There are a few popular novelists writing decent books that keep bogging things down with sex. These books have actual plots. Whenever the plot is about to take an important move forward, the protagonist gets an attack of lust and the action stops while s/he has a night to remember with somebody s/he just met five minutes earlier.

I want to write to the authors that do this and suggest they put the sex in the footnotes. I’m sure it’s there to sell books. But it really messes up the storyline. Maybe I’m just getting old and find no joy anymore reading about gratuitous sex in the back seat of a Buick or even in a $1000-per-night hotel room.

In high school, such things were WOW. Today, they’re as boring as watching a fly standing on the ceiling.  Occasionally, I find an author who knows how to write about sex and, well, it’s like a miracle. But those books are few and far between.

When I was a kid, I found it amusing whenever a book was banned to hear that a long line of educators, philosophers, priests, etc., had read the book and wanted to protect the rest of us from reading the book. The same thing is happening today with WAP. Important people keep “accidentally” hearing the song or seeing the video and telling the rest of us how appalled they were.

I’ve never figured out how somebody accidentally reads a scandalous book or sees a scandalous music video. Perhaps I should take comfort in the fact that those people are trying to shield me from the bad stuff.

Malcolm

 

 

Find Your Happy Place to Write During COVID 

COVID is changing a lot of people. I have seen a range of emotions coming out of folks craving normalcy.

What started off as families coming closer has turned into families tiring of the confinement and frustration. People who fear going out and about turn angry at those who have decided they’ll return to pre-COVID normal and continue on. Parents and teachers are fussing with each other over how children will return to schools, with both sides scared.

Source: Find Your Happy Place to Write During COVID | | FundsforWriters

Even if you’re not a writer, you need a happy place. If you are a writer, you need a place where you can block out the slings and arrows and polarized politics of the day and write stories that may ultimately help others cope with the world.

Hope Clark writes great novels. She also has great advice in her Funds for Writers website and her free weekly newsletter. Her words are always comforting, yet pragmatic. When it comes to happy places, we need to find one and keep writing.

Malcolm

Memories of being laid off

As I re-read John Grisham’s novel Gray Mountain about a law firm that lays off maybe a thousand workers during a financial crisis, I couldn’t help but remember my layoff from Big Ass Software, Inc. Several days after 9/11, our department manager assured all of us that the company and our jobs were secure.

I was writing online documentation for a printing application that had so many parts to it that it looked like the documentation would never be finished. My salary was high enough that my wife and I could live on half of it and save half of it.

In spite of the promises, our entire division was laid off. There was a chance I could remain employed if I wanted to move to Pennsylvania. I didn’t.

In Grisham’s novel, the laid-off employees are considered furloughed with a chance of returning after a year if they agree to work at no salary for a nonprofit organization. I might have accepted that option if Big Ass Software had made such an offer. Samantha, Grisham’s protagonist ends up working gratis for a legal aid group in Appalachia where–since this is a thriller–a lot of bad stuff starts happening.

Fortunately, I never ended up in a mystery/thriller lifestyle like that. I do think, though, that laws should make it more difficult for companies to layoff employees over fifty for the simple reason that almost nobody will hire them. I had multiple interviews, but no viable offers. Why? Age discrimination.

If you’re on the verge of being considered elderly (over 50) keep your job or, possibly, go to work fighting BIG COAL in Appalachia.

Malcolm