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Posts from the ‘Life’ Category

Black-Eyed Peas and Good Luck

When I was a kid, I hated black-eyed peas because the cooks at the high school cafeteria boiled them into a brown mush that was best used for various construction projects like mortaring bricks together. Or, low-grade library paste.

Does eating them bring good luck? The one year my mother fixed them the traditional Southern way (brown mush) something bad happened. It was so bad, I’ve blocked out what it was. I vowed to never again eat black-eyed peas that looked like mush.

Mother usually served them the way a Midwestern cook would serve regular peas. Those I liked. But nobody else in the Florida Panhandle cooked them that way. Unlike my parents, I liked a lot of traditional Southern foods: boiled peanuts, mullet, grits, rosin baked potatoes, collards, hush puppies, anything out of New Orleans, traditional Southern fried chicken, pan fry bread, sugar cane stalks to chew on, green beans cooked with bacon, plenty of gravy, catfish, and Apalachicola oysters.

Every new year, I see my Facebook friends showing pictures of their January 1 meals with heaping ladels of mushy black-eyed peas. Okay, so my parents came from the midwest and the northwest and didn’t boil peas into a road-tar like mess that could be used to resurface city streets.

No, I’m not totally Southern when it comes to black-eyed peas. Give me a sack of boiled peanuts any day.





Becoming irrelevant at the speed of light

d wrld iz moving fst. d old ways R 4gottn. d nu ways R untested. wot do U do now?

Perhaps the first time an ancient person discovers s/he no longer fits well into the world is when he must ask his or her 5th-grade grandson or granddaughter how to set up and configure the new computer or cell phone.

Perhaps the ancient person sees how out of touch s/he is when confronted with a list of recent songs, singers, and movies and realizes s/he has never heard of any of them.

Or, perhaps–and this is heavy stuff–the discovery that one is becoming irrelevant at the speed of light occurs when an old man or an old woman discovers that most of what passes for urgent and interesting these days just doesn’t matter.

Prospective lack of relevance is often brought home to an aging writer when s/he looks at a book marketing guru’s list of hot topics for prospective bestselling books and realizes s/he has never heard of them or doesn’t understand why they are hot. The aging writer often looks at the names of purportedly relevant writers who–according to essays in writers’ magazines–are doing important work and/or who are part of the prestigious faculty for MFA writing programs and asks, “Who are these people?”

Those of us who were brought up as children of the 60s or who were conditioned to believe each person has within them all the skills and knowledge to become the very best they can be are now wondering “what the hell happened.” We were in those days fighting “the establishment” which could be variously translated as the military/industrial complex or the “we’ve always done it this way” line of thought. So, our own particular kind of brainwashing led us to believe that one way or another we would make a difference and be part of our generation’s wont to be a catalyst for change. And yet, the world continues to face the same problems and so do we.

And lately–from the point of view of an ancient person–many of the solutions to the old problems now seem worse than the problems. Those on both sides of the political divide seem to have lost their minds.

I wonder if it was always an arrogant goal to think one–or even his/her generation–would ever be relevant other than on some statistician’s spreadsheet about attitudes from one decade to the next when it came to either changing the world for the better or changing himself/herself in transcendent ways that explained “the big picture.” Yes, maybe the children of the 1960s were full of themselves. Unfortunately, according to studies, a lot of them told out and ultimately joined “the establishment” and began to look more and more like the people they were protesting against when they were young.

I’ve read that youth tends to feel immortal and old people tend to feel like they could have been contenders if they hadn’t taken the wrong path or fallen in with the wrong people or the wrong ideas. If you’re over 70, does that idea strike a chord?

Some say that every time a person takes a positive step, the world becomes slightly better even though the changes aren’t earthshaking or noticeable. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for. Maybe relevance is simply pride and ego and nothing else. Maybe each of us has carried a small nugget of relevance within ourseves for a lifetime and hasn’t been aware of the bits and pieces of good we have done.






A perfect Thanksgiving dinner on the first try

When we visited my daughter and her family in Maryland for Thanksgiving this year, we enjoyed side trips to Mt. Vernon and historic Alexandria. We especially liked the candlelight tour of Mt. Vernon.

But the surprise was the fact that my daughter’s husband decided that since he’d never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner before, he’d give it a try. He didn’t start out with a family recipe box or a tradition that’s passed down from parents to children every year so that one kind of knows how to fix the dinner from having watched others doing it.

Instead, he began with the Internet and (apparently) Googled how to cook a turkey, make candied yams, prepare an icebox cake, and create the side dishes. I probably would have used my mother’s old recipe books because, while I’ve found some great recipes on the Internet, I’ve noticed that some of the versions between one site and another have vastly different cooking times and oven temps; so, if you didn’t more or less know how to cook something, it would be hard to roll the dice with one version or another.

Frankly, I thought he looked like a mad scientist in the kitchen co-ordinating all the parts of the meal. And keeping things warm after they came out of the oven. (My mother had a double oven, so she had an easy way to keep multiple things hot.) But he juggled things in an out of the microwave and kept them covered.

The dinner was perfect. I told him that if he gets tired of his office job, he could probably sign on as a chef at a five-star Michelin restaurant.

The best thing was seeing family. With two granddaughters, they change so much every year it’s hard to keep up. And, I’m thinking that they have a good role model in a father who knows how to use the kitchen and then clean it up after the meal.

I hope your Thanksgiving was a good one as well.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Lena,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”


Fast-Paced Books are the Pacifist’s Drano

Okay, the Drano comment isn’t totally fair. Many fast-paced books are well written, have inventive and cohesive plots, know how to keep readers guessing, and when all is said and done, sell to millions of readers. There’s a lot of art and craft to them in addition to marketing savvy.

I might have told this story here before. If so, bear with me. When the TV program “24” was running, a friend of mine and I realized that while we both have non-violent and anti-break-the-rules philosophies about police work and spy work, we puzzled out why we watched that series without fail. We decided that it was because the show brought us closure. That is to say, things got done, the bad guys went to jail, and the good guys (i.e., most of the population) weren’t made to sit in limbo waiting for government red tape and partisan politics to finally fix a problem.

I’m sure many of the viewers of shows like NCIS believe in the right to privacy, yet tolerate the show’s agents illegally hacking into private records because, at the end of the hour, the bad guys are dead or behind bars. I can understand why so many in the police and spy biz say the rules are tying their hands and why we keep hearing that our trusted agencies are doing things they shouldn’t do. Those things get results even though they go against everything this nation stands for.

In “real life,” I can’t support the black ops, off-the-grid actions of private agencies such as those in novels like Typhoon Fury. Half the stuff that happens is illegal as hell–and that’s the good guys. In the imaginary world of the novel, the bad guys get shut down. In the real world we live in, they probably don’t. Or if they do, they cause a lot more collateral damage before they’re stopped. Nonetheless, seeing the bad guys shut down in a novel provides a small measure of relief to all the frustrations that arise in the real world–and in my belief system.

So, I read these novels as a coping mechanism. As a writer, I also find it interesting to see how these novelists handle plots and characters and keep readers reading. But the closure is the important thing, even if it’s only in my thoughts and not in the world I see on the news. Perhaps these books are my heroin. Or maybe they’re the Drano that flushes out my anger at both the criminals and the government for (a) creating problems that harm us all, and (b) for creating regulations that compromise our privacy and other rights in exchange for more security.

Some people turn to booze, some to sex, some to violent sports, some to drugs, some to music, and others to staying late at the office when they really don’t need to ignore their families and stay late at the office. We all have our ways of coping with the realities around us that are over the top. I can’t say that these methods, or reading James Patterson and Clive Cussler, are the best possible solutions.

But until we find and implement the best possible solutions, these escapes keep many of us out of mental institutions. I can’t say I’m proud of that, but I do feel better after flushing a lot of my frustrations about the way the world works out of my system with a slam-bang novel. And when my frustrations are flushed out, I’m less tempted to go over to the dark side.




Is world peace possible?

Most people don’t think so.

Yet today, many people are blogging for peace. Are these bloggers naïve or stupid?

I can’t say. The pen, some say, is mightier than the sword. But, as I see it, the pen is a lot slower. If somebody points an AR-15 at me in a shooter incident and I write the words “Don’t shoot” on a piece of paper, what’s the likely result?

Perhaps those words will be found after I’m dead and perhaps they’ll turn into a viral message of sorts that will cause many people to ask themselves whether hatred is getting them anywhere and whether they really want this country to be engaged continuously in shooter incidents, or in multiple police actions around the globe with names nobody knows that are all listed as “on-going” online synopses of armed conflicts.

The average person on the street cannot get past the spider’s web of rationale for every so-called conflict or peace action, much less the words “national security” which are stamped on every bomb we drop and every missile we fire. Perhaps blogging for peace does not mean–as some protesters thought during the Vietnam War–that we should advocate singing Kumbuyah with the “bad guys” in hopes that there will be a miraculous cessation of hostilities.

Maybe blogging for peace means demanding and electing Senators, Representatives, and Presidents who are in office to carry out the aims of the people rather than carrying out their own aims. That means transparency. That means not stamping the words “national security” on everything those in power want to do and then using that designation as a rationale for invading a country or spying on our own citizens.

Maybe blogging for peace means electing a Congress composed of people who support term limits so that we don’t have an entrenched group of people who supposedly represent us but who in reality play political games. Maybe it means increasing the term of Representatives to four years so that they’re not spending our money 24/7 for their next election rather than representing us.

Maybe blogging for peace means getting the people’s power back to that those whom we elect are accountable to us rather than asking us to support their ideas and policy suggestions (that change over time).  No, direct democracy probably isn’t possible, but I do think our Senators and Representatives should do what their constituency tells them to do, not what they want to do for good or ill.

If we as a people want peace, we have to believe it’s possible. We need people in Washington, D.C. who understand that they work for us along with new legislation compels them to do so for limited terms in office. Some say we need the Second Amendment to fight against our own government if necessary. Interesting idea, but I doubt that the guns in our cabinets are much of a deterrent against an airstrike or a tank in the neighborhood. We do, however, need a stronger ammendment that limits what the federal government can do without the population’s approval. What we have now, doesn’t cut it.

I do think the Federal government is more the problem rather than the solution because we gave it the power and now we can’t control it. I can say I want peace, but then my representative votes against peace for his or her own reasons. S/he should be fired because–as we keep hearing–s/he works for me. Having a vote is not enough. It’s too slow to stop the damage.

Some said the Vietnam War changed Americans as a people. They may be right. But it didn’t change our government who just can’t stop getting involved in similar battles around the world that are wasting lives and dollars and having nothing to do with our safety as a nation. As a pacifist, I think both political parties have run amok.

If enough of us demand an accounting, perhaps one day we will get an accounting and from that, a responsive and responsible government. One thing we know for sure: if we don’t believe peace is possible, we will never have it.




Child marriages in the U.S. due to a federal loophole 

“The United States Department of State calls child marriage “gender-based violence.”  The United States Agency for International Development calls it “a human rights abuse.” Across the board, our government condemns child marriage worldwide and provides funding for programs that fight this abuse overseas. But the U.S. government makes exceptions when it comes to children living in the U.S.


“The state laws within the United States do not align with our own internationally proposed standards of how other countries should treat their children. Forty-eight states are failing to protect girls from child marriage. They have dangerous loopholes and exceptions that allow for marriage, some even have no minimum age for marriage. Shockingly, it is legal for a U.S. citizen child to sponsor a visa for a foreign-born spouse or fiancé(e).”

Source: Federal Loophole Responsible for Countless Child Marriages in the U.S. – The AHA Foundation

As a strong supporter of the AHA Foundation, my sense of the American Public’s attitude about religious or culturally based violence against women is that it occurs in third world countries. Unfortunately, child marriages, among other travesties, also occur in the U.S.

Like Native American women who are swept into sex trafficking, women from third world countries who legally come to the United States are often swept into unwanted and often-abusive child marriages. I agree with the AHA’s assertion that “Putting in place a minimum age of 18 to sponsor a spousal/fiancé(e) visa is a simple, common-sense solution that would protect U.S. children from the very real threats associated with forced and child marriage.”

Today’s volatile political climate has lent itself to poetry, essays, articles, and novels as writers find themselves unable to keep silent. Good for them. I would like to see more novels in defense of women that explore child marriages in a country where the very concept is solidly against such practices.



Racism: old, ugly, and inexcusable

The Florida Folk Magic series is set in the fictional town of Torreya 53 miles west of Tallahassee in the “other-Florida” world of the panhandle of the 1950s when the Ku Klux Klan, police officers, church elders, city fathers, and your next door neighbor were hard to tell apart. The sunshine state advertised itself as a playground and that’s what northern snowbirds saw. Residents, especially African Americans, saw it as a world of terror.

Unfortunately, racism is still with us in the new century. Progress has been made since the years when these stories are set. But inequality still exists, hate groups still urge Americans to return to the Jim Crow era, and even the discussions about how to bring about quality change are often divisive. This trilogy of novels was written with the hope that the voices for love, trust, and true equal rights will prevail. – Conjure Woman’s Cat Website

During the 1950s, it never occurred to me that the racism I saw around me during the Separate-but-Equal, Jim Crow era would still be suffocating our country, ruining lives, and causing violence 70 years later. I’ll confess that I was naïve in my outlook then, but I thought we as a people were better than that. I still hope that someday soon, we will be.

I have no intention of spinning the good, the bad, and the ugly of politics here or engaging in a discussion in the comments about whose fault the resurgence of racism debates is. What I see in the news and in social media is making things worse. Charges and counter-charges are not an informed debate, much less a route toward a united country where racism is no longer an issue.

To some extent, some of the news outlets are at fault because they are selective in what they show since what they show supports their agendas. Those who watch different networks and/or view different online news sites get radically different versions of the news. When news organizations have agendas, that is, loyalties to one political party or the other, we all end up with corrupted versions of what’s happening in our country and the world.

As a former college journalism instructor, it saddens me when reporters and their networks/newspapers throw objectivity out the window. Bias is the first indicator of a newspaper or news channel that cannot be trusted. Yet people are trusting them and basing their opinions on horrible reporting.

The social media further disseminate these erroneous and twisted views. People believe what they hear on their selected news outlets without bothering to check other sources for more information, much less alternative views. Most people–as evidenced by their social media comments–don’t seem to realize that many programs on CNN and FOX are not news shows, but opinion shows. Yet, these viewers think they’re getting real, objective new coverage.

Among other things, racism is being perpetrated for ratings and votes

To my mind, that’s like yelling fire in a crowded theater. One-sided coverage about nasty white cops is fueling the fire. One-sided coverage about black crimes is fueling the fire. This isn’t dialogue, it’s propaganda. It’s making people fearful of each other rather than bringing them together.

I saw news stories like this during the Jim Crow era. I don’t expect to see them now. But, political parties and sullied news organizations are doing all they can to ensure that the United States remains racist. This approach is old, ugly, and inexcusable. Blacks and Whites deserve better than this. Instead, we’re being fed propaganda that keeps us at odds with each other.

The best question I can ask is: “Who is profiting from the discord?

I think we need to find out and vote them out of office, stop buying their products, and stop seeing them as saints with words of wisdom. They are morally, spiritually, and ethically bankrupt.






What Will You Serve?

“Because, here’s the thing: If you’re the sort of person who reads articles on how to find your life’s purpose, what you’re ultimately looking for is meaning. And you don’t find meaning by defining what you want and then getting it. You find meaning by serving something higher than yourself. So the central question I would suggest asking yourself is: What will you serve? To what will you dedicate yourself?”

Source: What Will You Serve? | Theodora Goss

I saw this quote on Sophia’s Children:  “I know it is possible to create islands of sanity in the midst of disruptive seas. … And I have studied enough history to know that such leaders always arise when they are most needed. Now it’s our turn.” ~ Margaret Wheatley, Who Do We Choose to Be?

And then I found myself re-reading some of Theodora Goss’ older posts, including the one quoted above from a year ago, called “What Will You Serve?”

Like Goss, I planned to be a writer when I was very young. So, I always knew the answer to the question: What Will You Serve? Incorrectly, I thought that finding that answer was half the battle. For some people, it may be. But the road has been a rocky one. I’ve been fairly determined, though, so stay the course in spite of poor barriers writers face these days.

I can’t say that answer that question early in life is any better than answering it later in life. When we answer it later, perhaps we’ll discover we’re serving the destiny or the journey of our lives without pinning a name to it. Many of us have more optimism when we’re young, so I guess if we answer the question then, our hopes and dreams will have enough energy behind them to help us over the rough spots.

Perhaps you’ll enjoy Goss’ post and get a few ideas.


P.S. My novel “Lena” is on sale on Amazon this weekend for 99¢. I’ll let you be adventurous and find the Kindle edition there without my shamelessly providing a link.


Underpaid Teachers

“That has become the rallying cry of many of America’s public-school teachers, who have staged walkouts and marches on six state capitols this year. From Arizona to Oklahoma, in states blue, red and purple, teachers have risen up to demand increases in salaries, benefits and funding for public education. Their outrage has struck a chord, reviving a national debate over the role and value of teachers and the future of public education.”

Source: Exactly How Teachers Came to Be So Underpaid in America | Time

According to the article, teachers’ salaries–when adjusted for inflation–are less today than they were in 1990.

I see no excuse for that. My father was a university professor. His salary was probably among the lowest in our neighborhood. My mother was a teacher before she was married. Low pay, of course. I was a teacher and couldn’t make ends meet.

Experts will cite reasons for the small amount of money states spend per pupil and the problems with teacher’s pay. I can boil that down to one reason: we really don’t care enough about our kids to pay for schools that will make a difference. We wonder about drug usage, students addicted to texting, the fact that schools don’t teach more technical (job-oriented) subjects or life skills (how to balance a checkbook) subjects, the fact teachers are being forced to teach the test, and the fact that it’s apparently no longer safe for kids to walk to school forcing somebody to drive them there and pick them up in the middle of the adult workday.

Yes, all those things matter. But we’re not willing to pay what it takes to fix it.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing the excuses.


Here’s why you can’t go home again

You can’t go home again because, by the time you get there, they will have torn it down in the names of “progress” and “development.” Or, should you find your home, the neighborhood will be gone, especially the most historic homes and buildings that made the place what was.

Looking at Atlanta’s penchant for tearing down the historic old in favor of the nonessential new, the late historian Frankin Garrett called this so-called development “municipal vandalism.” I had the good fortune to know this man who had a great office filled with old reference books at the Atlanta History Center. He had a photographic memory of everything that ever happened in Atlanta, but was the most nostalgic and angry about landmarks that had been wantonly bulldozed for parking garages and new buildings without souls. Atlanta’s city planners learned their craft from General Sherman’s “urban renewal” work there in July of 1864.

When I was in high school, my mother told me my father couldn’t go home again because the natural forests and even the orchards of his youth had all succumbed to development. In many cases, houses–as Peter Seeger would sing about in “Little Boxes”–that were made of ticky tacky and looked all the same. I didn’t really understand what Mother meant until I reached the age my father was when she said it.

I have many memories of one of the first houses I knew as a child in Decatur, Illinois, a wonderful Queen Anne home with a beautiful vegetable garden and adjacent sidewalks which were perfect for my new tricycle. However, municipal vandals bought the land and tore the house down. This current patch of grass, entry drive way, and parking lot represent anti-progress:

Google Maps Photo

My brother, who still lives in Florida and makes occasional trips to Tallahassee, still drives past the house my parents owned between 1954 and 1986. When we closed up the house for good, the front yard was still filled with pine trees. The current owners have decided to celebrate concrete with a few landscaped areas for decoration. Our “personal fifty-acre wood” behind the house has now been converted to an “upscale” subdivision that can be seen from the backyard of this house where I grew up. I’ve seen both via Google Maps, but I haven’t been back since 1986 and that’s just as well, for I would probably destroy all that hardscape with dynamite and a backhoe:

My bedroom was the room on the far right. Google Maps Photo.

The older I get–and today’s my birthday–the longer my “municipal vandalism” list gets; places I never want to see again because of what people have done to them. My memories are much better than reality. I last saw San Francisco in 1987; I was surprised then by the amount of “development” that had occurred since my family lived there. “Progress” continues to occur, so I’ve retrieved my heart from that my city by the bay and hidden it in a forest that people have yet to “develop” into something that pales when contrasted with Nature’s work. I won’t bore you with my personal list of places where one bastard or another had no sense of history and/or no sense on the environment.

You probably have your own list.


P.S. I set my novels in the past because, in my imagination, it’s still there. The most recent of these is “Lena,” the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic Series.