A New Beginning: Welcome to the World, Francesca!

It is with great pride and joy that Max and I announce the arrival of our daughter, Francesca Mildred Bell! She was born at 6:37 PM on Friday, March 20, 2015, which I will forever remember as the day when my heart expanded exponentially and my life gained a greater sense of worth.

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My daughter is the one puzzle piece I didn’t realize was missing. Now that she’s in my life, the bigger picture has suddenly become so much clearer as my priorities shift. As I write this, nearly a week into motherhood, I can certainly attest to the challenges my new role has imposed as I’m given no other choice than to reorganize my life. At one time I would have found such demands to be a nuisance, but as I admire my little girl’s peaceful face, I find them a welcome necessity. As I nurture my newest and most important muse, I know that a big part of myself will also grow as a result.

 

 

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Remembering a Dream Amid the Sting of Reality

Today, as legions honor the memory of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I reflect on how far we’ve come since his societal contributions and how far we have to go. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve only scratched the surface of his great vision for our world. Though society is vastly different than it was in the 60s, progress is often marred by pockets of hatred, violence and intolerance that is frequently sensationalized by media spectacle; so much so that ethnic rights and human rights are skewed. Of course, any issue that effects society is a human issue.

There’s more that prompted my retrospect than the commemoration of Dr. King’s birthday. Last week as my husband and I arrived for my prenatal appointment I noticed the distasteful demeanor of a fellow patient. There were only three scattered empty seats in the waiting area, not unusual in such a busy office. My husband and I sat on opposite sides of the room. I noticed the patient beside me immediately shifting in her seat, practically rolling her eyes to herself as I sat. I didn’t think too much of it until the woman was called for her appointment. She gathered her coat, walked across the room and placed it in an empty seat beside a young woman engrossed in texting on her phone. She shot me a bitter glance before heading to the examination room. My husband and I were equally baffled at first. Then it hit me, I was the only black person in the room.

Though it wasn’t the first time I’ve endured the sting of racism, I was taken aback by the incident since it’s not something I go through very often; or perhaps I’ve learned to tune certain things out over the years. My emotions were mixed, but disappointment and anger were at the fore. I had done nothing to offend the woman or prompt such a nasty display of contempt. Prior to that day we had never met and I think it’s safe to say we mutually hope never to meet again. The incident lingered in my mind and eventually I began to pay heed to the fact that just as she didn’t know me, I didn’t know her either. And just as she judged me based on my appearance, I judged her by her act of ignorance.

History shapes who we are and clearly there was some part of that woman’s history that engrained in her such prejudice which limits her on a social and personal scale. The woman was roughly in her late 60s to early 70s, so there’s a good chance she was indoctrinated into adopting a biased perspective during her youth. Then again, her aversion to my ethnicity may have stemmed from a prior incident(s) during which she or a loved one was wronged, or perceived to have been wronged by a person(s) of a certain ethnic group. Either way, racism is a devastating condition no matter what climate it spawns from and I fear will never be fixed as long as education and social interaction remains disproportionate.

It’s a shame, really; it seems the more progress we make technologically, socially too many people are stuck in retrograde, backsliding from the great vision Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared with the world in 1963. There’s so much we can accomplish as a society if only more people would get their head out of the sand and become more open-minded.

This whole thing has led me to ponder my unborn daughter’s future. At present, I have no idea what she will look like or how her appearance may affect her down the road. Whether she resembles me, my husband or a balanced combination of both, I know it’s important to teach her about the grim reality of racism and that the act of it knows no color even if the beholder does. Yet, I know it’s just as important to demonstrate to her that not everyone sees the world through its warped and narrow scope, that the world would be bland if we were all the same. I’ll teach her that there is only one race—the human race—and that ethnicity is basically a variation on a theme. By doing so I hope to do my part in offsetting the perpetuity of intolerance.

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Short Story: Old Acquaintance

The swarming crowd cheered and prepared to count down from ten as the sparkling orb descended. Strobe lights and camera flashes played in random patterns as one year prepared to pass the baton to the next. The crowd’s drunken enthusiasm is a stark contrast to my mixed emotions. Perhaps they’re simply happy to revel in the billboard splashed streets having survived yet another rough year. Don’t get me wrong, so am I. It’s just that there’s also some uncertainty about the 365 days to come. I guess there always is, particularly for those who have lost so much.

In my case, I was laid off in the year’s sophomore season and like so many am still struggling to bounce back. The losses didn’t end there. My longtime girlfriend decided to pursue other life options that apparently don’t include me. I feel the sting of her absence as I watch couples embrace and steal kisses before midnight. Meanwhile old man winter’s frosty stubble prickles my face. The chill burns almost as much as the cold shoulder I’ve gotten from some of my family members as a result of our differences. Maybe I’m better off alone rather than to be surrounded by unnecessary drama and complication.

Then there’s all the craziness that extends beyond my life. Among it, social injustice, international tensions and domestic chaos in the shadow of a discordant government. The world has been ass backwards for a while and lately has shown no signs of righting itself. If anything, more people seem to be entering the unofficial competition to out-crazy and out-corrupt one another. Even at this year-end celebration I’ve witnessed four senseless brawls and several acts of exhibitionism. It was enough to make me wonder what possessed me to come here instead of watching the festivities from home. Maybe it was my desire to do something out of character in hopes it would set the tone for the new year.

The countdown begins. The crowd chants along with the bellowing host.

10, 9, 8…

Seven more seconds until I bid the year adieu, or good riddance.

Out of the thousands of people around me a single one catches my eye. It wasn’t some beautiful stranger or half-naked pop star writhing around on stage; quite the contrary. For some reason, my eyes locked on a weary-looking man with skin like a crinkled paper bag. He appears to be laughing at me as his gaze pulls me like metal to a magnet. Our eye contact is only broken by the intermittent interference of waving arms. He turns to walk away and squeezes through the wild spectators. Not knowing why, I decide to follow. Something about the way he looked at me fills me with such unease and interest, as though he somehow knew something about me. Maybe it was his laugh. It seemed like the product of a joke that only he knew, only I was the punchline. I struggle to weave through the swarm, something the elderly man was doing with ease. The distance between us stretched as the crowd had already counted down to five. At that moment he faced me anew. With a wink and a smirk he raised a weathered hand into the air and snapped his fingers.

The flashing lights freeze in time as does the multicolored glow of Times Square’s billboards. The ball hangs suspended. People become mannequins, some locked in precarious poses. An echo of the crowd’s reverie briefly warps through the misty air before falling flat. Deafening silence follows and the pungent scent of hot dogs, sauerkraut and pretzels grows stale. I wonder if the scene around me was the product of overindulgence, then I remember I didn’t have anything to drink. I had been determined to spend the beginning of the next year sober in defiance of the stupor I had been in for months. My sorrow had proven resistant to my repeated attempts to drown it and I knew I needed to find a different way to kill it. For a moment, I consider the possibility that I was the unwilling passenger of a contact high, but that theory faded into the ether like the brief pungent vapor I had walked through nearly an hour earlier. No way was it potent enough to generate such a display.

Loose pieces of prematurely fallen confetti had also halted in the air. I walked into several of them. Their impact against my face felt like ice pellets; much harder than they would’ve felt in real time. Still, they didn’t fall, but were merely brushed aside like sediments in thickening gelatin. The man remained in place, hands now shoved in his coat pockets as I continued my approach, my legs slicing through the steam paused above the subway grate. So many questions filled my mind as I faced him. What was so damn funny? How did he make everything freeze? Who the hell was he?

He began by answering the first.

“You think you’ve had a rough 365 days? Son, you don’t know the half of it.” The elder’s eyes crinkled as he laughed. “People who didn’t even make an effort to get to know and understand me are eagerly waiting for me to die…including you.”

I wondered what gave him the authority to discount the difficulty I’ve had all year. Somewhat offended, I nearly uttered a snide remark until I realized something about the man seemed familiar. Still, I couldn’t place him. I found that, and his statement, curious.

“I don’t understand. Have we met before?”

“Everyday.” The strange man nodded. “But I understand if you don’t remember. Many don’t. Instead, they float aimlessly through their days, not paying full attention since they’re preoccupied by troubles—real and imaginary. Anyway, I’ve changed a lot since we first met. Time is harder on some more than others, you know.” The old man stroked the scraggly beard on his prune-like face.

“Tell me about it,” I snorted. “It’s been kicking my ass these days.”

“You, you, you… Just my luck I get stuck with the most narcissistic lot,” the man muttered, puckering his face. “Son, you still can’t see past your own face. Here’s a clue to who I am… The beaten up shell that stands before you is the result of what you’ve all done with me.” He swept his arms out, gesturing the motionless crowd. “But naturally you see yourselves as the victims.”

An explosion of revelation shook my mind. How had I not seen it before?

“Wait. So you’re…father time?”

The old man shook his head. “No, just a servant whose job is to weave a certain length of it, that’s all. I merely presented a length of time, the decision of what to get out of, and put into it was mainly yours. Now, my job will end in a matter of seconds. But I, much like my predecessors, have been given a final gift to pause my abdication just long enough to reach out to a promising few, to get them to break the illusion that they are helpless victims at the hands of time. You’re among a special group I’m speaking with at this very instance because in your heart lies a promise that not even you can see in the present. However, if you keep an open mind, you’ll seize the opportunity my successor is poised to provide; the opportunity to take hold of the reins of your life and guide it towards happiness and fulfillment. But first…”

Our eyes locked anew and my mind was flooded with frenzied memories of the year gone by. It was like reviewing my life through a shattered mirror, only realizing I had contributed to making some of the jagged fragments. Of course, not all unfavorable events had been my fault, but I had indeed been responsible for more than I took responsibility for. Too often I sulked in the ashes of burnt bridges not realizing I was holding the charred matches. Too often I pushed people away, including my longtime love, by finding one way or another to avoid emotional intimacy. My desire to exude the appeal of strength had exposed one of my biggest weaknesses, my stubbornness, which led to tensions at my old job as well as in my family. It was a strange sort of agony, being shown with full clarity all the missed opportunities and wasted time that I couldn’t reverse. Yet, in all that, there was the indescribable joy of knowing that even though some things were irreversible, I still maintained the power of choice to make a difference in the future, regardless of what had happened in the past.

The juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness never seemed more prevalent to me than it did at that very moment. I realized that no matter how dominant one or the other may have seemed at any given time, both were present whether in an event, situation or simply the lenses of our perception. It is something neither I nor anyone else had the power to change. What we do have the power to shift is the focus of our observation. Yet, the negative always seems like the most alluring subject to behold, or at the very least the easiest. A dangerous prospect if the idiom “seeing is believing” is correct.

Something stirred inside me as though triggered by a shot of espresso. It was the invigorating decision that I would no longer knowingly give power to the very things that I allowed to oppress me. I will no longer take solace in the resulting excuses. I am on the verge of a new beginning, a new chapter, a new year, a new chance to breathe life into the dreams I nearly slayed with my own self-doubt.

“Damn. I was a fool,” I muttered.

“Eh, don’t be hard on yourself.” The stranger waved his hand. His breathing was growing increasingly labored. “Everyone’s a fool at some point, and fools can’t always help themselves.”

“Why do you care enough to try to set us right? Time doesn’t depend on any of us, does it?”

“No. Chances are, time will always exist independently of humanity and its ability to measure it. The thing is, will time still matter if no one is coherent enough to care about it, or around to witness it? You feel it, don’t you? Each year, special occasions lose a bit of their luster, holidays lose a little bit of their vibrance and meaning, darkness fills the broadening gaps leaving less for people to look forward to. The same can be said of every other day. If this continues, people will simply stop looking forward, thereby getting stuck in the same looping cycle of despair—much like the cycle you’ve been in recently, and even worse.”

The surrounding stillness was breaking as the world around me began to move like molasses as he staggered over to the curb. I caught him by the arm as he lost his footing. His weight was deceptively heavy. I eased him to sit on the yellow-trimmed concrete. The time was nearing. He was fading, and apparently so was his power as the sights and sounds revved up gradually. Smells began to regain their potency. The world’s return to life contrasted with the old stranger’s impending death. His smile was that of a terminal patient who had seen his final wish come to fruition. Finally, I asked his name.

“No name. Just… a number. 2,014.” The corners of his mouth shook as he uttered his final words. “My successor is near.” His eyes grew distant. “Treat him kinder than you did me, and hopefully, he’ll return the favor in kind.”

Just like that, 2,014 faded into the ether. I imagined him flying with a cape fashioned out of the calendar’s tattered pages. His destination, someplace where the present can no longer do any more damage or rectification. My thoughts were interrupted. All at once I was surrounded by a thunderous roar:

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Amazing. In those few stretched moments of time I had gone from longing to see the year’s end to feeling bittersweet about its passing. It was like finally getting to comprehend a misunderstood friend or relative just before watching them die. In hindsight, I found myself wishing we’d had a little more time.

Before long, the crowd thinned and like so many I made my way to the train station. A voice called to me from behind. I looked over my shoulder and saw a face I never thought I’d see again. My girlfriend. Well, newly ex-girlfriend. It was a pleasant surprise when she threw her arms around me and planted a passionate kiss on my lips.

“2015 is already looking up,” I thought.

I opened my mouth to apologize for my recent behavior when she pressed a gloved finger to my lips.

“No need to explain.” Her lips curled almost seductively. “Everyone’s a fool at some point, and fools can’t always help themselves. That includes me.”

“Who told you that?” I frowned.

“I don’t know.” Her expression suddenly matched my own. “Just like I didn’t know you’d be here, but somehow…” Her voice trailed off as she hooked her arm into mine. Slowly, we began to walk as the cleanup crews moved in. “It just popped in my head. None of that matters I guess. What matters is that we’re here now. Why don’t we start the year off different than we ended the last…Together? Happy New Year.”

“Happy New Year,” I replied as we walked into the promising, yet unknown future.

 


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A Disease as Bad, if not Worse, than Ebola

With all the recent obsessive media coverage about Ebola, many people don’t realize they’ve been infected by a disease of a different sort. It affects a much larger group of people without the need for physical contact and can go undetected for much longer than those infected with the notorious virus. Chances are, if you have access to a television, radio or internet you’ve already been affected.

The disease I’m referring to is panic, something the media fervently incites with its bold headlines and fear-inducing jargon. Don’t get me wrong, it’s understandable to have concerns when it comes to maintaining and protecting our health and that of our loved ones. As a soon-to-be mother, I constantly think about how I can best ensure that my expanding family will have as safe and happy a future as possible. Even so, I know that when we allow ourselves to become blinded by fear and panic it can rob us of our ability to make rational choices. And that can lead us to stumble into the very situations we hope to avoid.

The best way we can fight back against panic is to arm ourselves with knowledge and readopt the rapidly fading art of common sense. A large part of that means refusing to play puppet to the media’s strings of manipulation. Rather than jump on cue, we should question why they want us to do so. It may take extra time, but I believe it’s important to carefully weigh the information we’re given via traditional media and cross-reference with our research. To do so is to take charge of our own knowledge, thus making it more difficult for the media to assault us with their scare tactics. Fear has long been their primary tool to gain viewership. I lost count of how many times I’ve heard headlines like: Can your dishes kill you? More at 11. Meanwhile, the viewer pauses during their early-evening meal, wondering if they’re eating their last supper.

Such cheap tactics used to work on me when I was younger. Thankfully, I grew somewhat immune upon listening to the wisdom of those who had seen much more than my naïve eyes had witnessed.

“Do you know how many times the world was supposed to end already?” my mother once laughed before answering her own question. “Since WAY before I was even born.”

Today, I understand her words more than I ever did as I reflect upon all the supposed world-ending, humanity-crippling disasters hyped by the media at one time or another. Y2k, anthrax, avian flu, swine flu, 2012, terrorism…the list goes on and on. I’d be hard-pressed to name the last time a news story was presented without a reporter’s speculation or some sort of exaggeration to make things more interesting. The problem is that news has become a form of entertainment in a way, and so the media feels an obligation to insert their own brand of drama.

The media often portrays a grotesque distortion of society and as a result it’s no surprise that some feel the need to warp themselves to fit that image. If the old idiom, you are what you eat, also applies to what we feed our brains, then it’s no wonder so many people are suffering from depression, paranoia, anger, and hopelessness. When people are constantly being shown, not just told, how shitty and hopeless the world is, that message eventually sticks. Since these damaging tactics are unlikely to stop, it’s up to the audience to break the cycle.

Given all the attention Ebola has recently been getting, one would think it was something new when in fact it’s been around for many years—the first cases being documented in the 1970s, if I’m not mistaken. What has made it such a hot topic now is that it now affects more than just the population of Africa and now threatens all nationalities. Until now, the media didn’t find it worth reporting since in their eyes it didn’t affect enough of the world for the public to care. As a result, they’re exploiting our society’s narcissistic tendencies by playing on our collective ego-centrism to fuel their campaign of panic.

I’m sure similar panic arose in the respectable eras of the bubonic plague and countless other potentially fatal communicable diseases. Such diseases get the most attention when the affluent and less fortunate, though divided by financial circumstance, are united by illness. Yet, humanity as a whole has survived them all.

Fear and panic tends to live in the spaces where knowledge is lacking. It’s a counterproductive divisive hindrance that slows our progress whereas the pursuit of comprehension, along with the use of common sense, better enables us to conquer the challenges at hand.

Disease will always be one of humanity’s greatest adversities, just as caution and proper hygiene have proven to be among our greatest allies in terms of disease prevention. Yet, I think it’s important to remember that humans have a remarkable gift to persevere, evolve and adapt. One only need look back in the pages of history to see the footprints of our resilience. Unfortunately, that’s a message that is often drowned out in the obsessive doomsday media coverage which has caused many to lose their faith and rationality.

I’ll close with a quote from Mark Twain:

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”

photo credit: KiGos via photopin cc

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Hope for the Future

There are several reasons why I’ve been a ghost on social media these days. There has been much that has demanded my attention and focus. Basically, life has thrown a lot my way in the last six months. Among them, this past spring, I had a serious health scare from which I thankfully made a full recovery. Then a development arose this summer that was of the opposite extreme. That leads me to the purpose of this post. After five years of marriage and seventeen years of our joint adventure…

Max and I are thrilled to announce that we’re expecting our first child in March 2015!


 

Prior to my pregnancy, I was already a worrywart. So naturally, that quality only escalated as I began to contemplate the type of future my daughter would have. The world is rapidly changing and at times it seems that it is drowning in insanity. How could I possibly prepare my her to face such madness? Is it fair to subject her to the chaos?

I pondered all this for a while. Eventually, the answers came to me. Parents are never fully prepared for everything, although many try to be. Yet, the best parents are able to provide a safe haven for their kids not by keeping them ignorant to the perils of reality, but by acting as a buffer so the child is spared unnecessary trauma. Even so, the very nature of a new life is hope. Yes, hope. It lives in the lessons parents have yet to teach their young ones. It thrives in the laughter of the children who still have the ability to dream and imagine, extending their minds far beyond the limitations of the known world. And those parents who allow them the freedom to explore such creativity can enjoy the reward of coming along, perhaps learning and growing in the eyes of their children.

My mother, the wisest woman I know, offered a brilliant piece of advice I think all parents should aim to follow. “Despite what goes on in the world, you’re the one who should make it beautiful for your children.” Upon hearing those words, what probably should’ve been obvious all along suddenly became clear. It’s up to me and Max as parents to act as not only nurturers and providers, but also filters and guides to gradually prepare our child for the world.

I’ve always had the utmost respect for parents and educators since those are among the toughest jobs in existence. Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to begin the journey to motherhood. It’s such a delicate balance, sheltering your child so they’re protected, but not to the point where ignorance takes root in their minds. The same can be said of the ability to educate children about the darkness that exists in our world without eclipsing the light that is their innocence and hope.

I pray for the wisdom to do my best to help my daughter to avoid the mistakes I’ve made while allowing them the freedom to find their own destiny. In the meantime, Max and I look forward to the expansion of our family as well as the adventures we’ll share with our little one.

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The Quest For Originality: Motivation for Writers and Artists

 

There are no new ideas in the world of writing.

Everything has already been done and redone.

Now what?!


I’ve been hearing this a lot lately. Honestly, I’ve sometimes felt this way myself and wondered how could one achieve originality in an era where so much has already been explored. It’s human nature to possess a desire to feel special and to extend a unique part of ourselves to the world. So the notion that everything has already been done can lead one to feel irrelevant and without purpose. It can also lead people to feel somewhat frightened by the possibility of being accused of plagiarism as a result of producing a similar idea that has already been realized by someone else. This is all particularly disheartening in an era where the entertainment world is overrun by remakes.

I’m sure many writers share the same concerns I’ve had. During my time of reflection I paused my creative process. Even so, I didn’t sit still. I kept busy, taking a closer look at life itself. I also began revisiting classic tales, a process that is still ongoing, and exploring classics I hadn’t gotten around to before. In doing so, I noticed that many of the classics shared a common theme, yet they stood out in very different ways. Not only did this reignite my motivation to write, but it led me to the answer I’d been seeking, an answer that should have been obvious from the start.

The world is filled with people, places and phenomena for us all to experience, capture and remember. For instance; though the sky is as old as time, we can experience it from a renewed perspective through the eyes of artists, photographers and writers. It’s possible that their vision may highlight some small detail we never noticed before. And though no one on Earth has the power to change the order of the celestial bodies they perceive, they can change how we view them based on their interpretation.

I came across a quote that also prompted me to think. It read: “Every book you’ve ever read is just a different combination of 26 letters.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Although the concept is focused on the English language, I found it encouraging. Language is to a writer what paint and brushes are to an artist, or plaster to a sculptor. Yet, despite the common tools shared by many in these respective crafts, many unique masterpieces have been created for eons.

Life is ever-changing. That fact alone presents the promise of exploring and creating something new (or at the very least, a new way of perceiving what already exists). Just as in space exploration, scientists and astrophysicists observe the same sky yet always manage to uncover something different and exciting.

Never stop searching.

Never stop growing.

Never stop trying!




photo credit: Jonno Witts via photopin cc

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Book Review: Dawn by Octavia Butler

Lilith Iyapo awakens aboard an alien vessel hovering above a post-apocalyptic Earth. She soon discovers that hundreds of years have elapsed since the fiery conclusion of the planet’s final war, which claimed the lives of her husband and son. The aliens, known as the Oankali, rescued humanity from extinction. They solicit Lilith’s help in selecting and awakening others for the purpose of resettling the planet.

However, their survival comes with one condition; in order to return to Earth, the group must surrender their humanity, or at least redefine it.

Dawn—Book One of the Xenogenesis Series, is an intriguing, entertaining and thought-provoking read. Even so, there were a few elements I found hard to digest. The biggest one being that Lilith doesn’t seem to be disturbed when someone she cares about is violated on more than one occasion. In fact, she goes as far as to participate on one of those occasions. Perhaps this was done to further illustrate the fragile nature of humanity when balanced with one’s own desires, mental manipulation and the need for survival. That said, as I was able to empathize and occasionally pity some of the characters and their predicaments—even the alien race, known as the Oankali, to an extent.

Some have complained that Butler presented an overly pessimistic and judgmental view of humanity. Then again, when you factor in all of the elements each character has had to endure in the story, I think it’s safe to say that she was being realistic given humanity’s historical predilection for violence. I’ve seen people react barbarically with far less traumatic triggers than was indicated in the plot. In the case of each of these characters, they’ve had to cope with the psychological burden that comes with the knowledge that their loved ones are gone as is the Earth as they knew it. Tensions mount as personalities clash and the awakened humans struggle to accept that the very woman they view believe is their jailer happens to be their only hope of reclaiming their freedom and returning to their planet. If that wasn’t enough to digest, they’re all under the control of aliens, seeking to genetically modify them whether they like it or not. Yeah, I’m guessing if this were a real-life scenario people wouldn’t exactly sit around and sing camp songs. In a way, the conflict that plays out among the group is a microcosm of the combative behavior that destroyed much of life on Earth. Lilith must persuade the group to cooperate so as to avoid repeating history. By nature, humans have a tendency to rebel, particularly in oppressive situations. That said, I think Ms. Butler remained true to reality in this regard.

When it comes to the fascinating aliens in Butler’s novel, they’re not outwardly villainous or vindictive. In fact, they seem to go to great lengths to ensure the well-being of their human guests. That is not to say they don’t have the potential to apply lethal force if deemed necessary. Are the Oankali genuinely acting out of concern for what’s left of the human race, or are they putting on an act in order to persuade the humans to cooperate with a less than pure agenda? This is a question that circled in my mind often as I navigated each chapter.

Over all, I found Dawn to be an enthralling and thought-provoking read that easily held my interest. I was disturbed by and intrigued by the deprivation and substitution of intimacy and the varying results it had on different characters. Yet, I believe this is the reaction Ms. Butler intended to incite. I believe she wanted the reader to consider whether changing the way we consume and enjoy our basic needs could change the nature of our humanity, itself.

Dawn is among the most unique sci-fi novels I’ve read so far and like many sci-fi novels (and novels in general), it’s best explored with an open mind. Dawn is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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The Twilight Zone – Most Memorable Episodes

Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Twilight Zone Day!

My mother introduced me to this extraordinary series during my childhood. Over the years, many of the episodes have steeped in my mind, forming a richer understanding of the show’s thought-provoking and often philosophical subject matter. The Twilight Zone didn’t just provide great entertainment, it also prompted viewers to contemplate and question social issues and ideals. It helped audiences to ascend to a different dimension of imagination and envision a future unbound by the impossible. For those reasons, I am a huge fan of the series and I have many favorite episodes, but for the sake of brevity, I narrowed down the five I find most memorable (in no particular order).

The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
When a seemingly perfect 1960s neighborhood suddenly loses power after a strange shadow passes overhead, the residents begin to speculate. Tensions rise when it becomes clear that one neighbor’s vehicle has been spared from the outage. This triggers suspicion that the ‘monster’ responsible for the outage is already among them. It doesn’t take much for the residents to turn against each other. Good neighbors quickly become bitter enemies, resulting in a full-blown riot and at least one violent death. I think the following closing narration, like the episode itself, is as applicable today as it ever was.

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices – to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill…and suspicion can destroy…and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own – for the children…and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is…that these things cannot be confined…to the Twilight Zone.

It’s A Good Life
Anthony has a gift. He possesses the power to make his wishes come true. There’s just one problem… He has a strong hatred for anyone who dislikes or criticizes him. Anthony, who I’d imagine would be a perfect playmate for Damien Thorn, is pretty much a dictator in his home. If anyone dares to say or do anything he dislikes he uses his near-omnipotent powers to punish them in horrifying ways. Some disappear. Some are ‘put on fire.’ And others are disfigured. The tragic part is that the people in his life are forced to stifle their true feelings and praise his vile behavior so as not to face a similar fate. The conundrum escalates when the boy’s parents and neighbors are met with an opportunity to put an end to their misery, though doing so would mean becoming monsters themselves.

There are many Anthonys in the world today, both young and old. Though they may not have the ability to wreak havoc via supernatural means, they are just as manipulative and dangerous; especially when they receive encouragement for their bad behavior.

A Nice Place to Visit (1960)
In the case of Larry Blyden, a criminal who met his end in a shootout with police, the afterlife seemingly has everything any guy would want; beautiful women, and a never-ending winning streak at the casino. At first, he soaks it up, but then realizes that winning has no thrill without the risk of losing. Similarly, he sees no point to an afterlife without any danger, especially since he’d grown accustomed to a life full of hazard and unpredictability. He figures heaven just isn’t his scene and he requests to be sent to ‘…the other place,’ to which his guide laughs, ‘This is the other place!’ I was blown away by the twist in this episode. I believe it’s what first introduced me to the notion that heaven and hell are tailor-made for the individual.

Time Enough at Last
This episode, though extremely well done, is utterly heartbreaking. The main character, Henry Bemis, is constantly berated for most beloved pastime—reading. He is surrounded by people who bear similar anti-intellectual traits as some of the characters in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Actually, this episode shares several themes with Bradbury’s work, right down to the unaffected wife and a sudden apocalyptic event that wipes everyone Henry knows off the map. The latter leaves Henry alone with enough to sustain his body and mind for years to come. Just when he believes he could survive a life of perpetual solitude as long as he had such a vast collection of books to read, life flips him off one final time and his hopes are irreparably shattered. Every time I watch that final scene, my heart weeps along with him. It’s not fair, indeed, Henry. In fact, it’s pretty damn cruel.

The Eye of the Beholder
How could I not include this classic episode? It’s the favorite of many, and with good reason. Though it’s over a half-century old, it’s still relevant today, perhaps more than ever. So many people go to drastic extremes in an attempt to attain the social standard of beauty. And still, so many people are ridiculed when they fall short of acquiring it. I loved this episode because of the message it sends; that beauty and ugliness are both dependent on one’s perception.

There are a number of other favorites worth mentioning: Nothing in the Dark, To Serve Man, I Am The Night – Color Me Black, The Invaders… I could go on and on, but then this blog would probably never end, so I’ll stop there. Feel free to chime in with your favorite/most memorable episodes.

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Book Review: My Way to Anywhere by Jean Lisette Brodey

My Way To Anywhere is a brilliant collection of poems written during a time unrushed by the madness of modern technology. It wasn’t written by a woman in pursuit of fast fame, but by Dr. Jean Lisette Brodey, a woman who wrote for the sheer joy and passion of writing. Though her earlier work has been included in national publication, life deferred her plans of publishing a poetry book of her own. More than fifty years elapsed and her cherished poems were feared lost until one day, like a sprouting young flower the collection reemerged in the Spring of possibility. Her daughter, Lisette, took the time to help her nurture and prune the vast assortment, eventually compiling the verses they felt worked best together.

Dr. Brodey’s intelligent and vivid prose paints a wide array of images in the reader’s mind and emotions in the heart. In each poetic verse she unfurls tapestries of reminiscence, heartache, love and loss. I found myself in awe of the masterful way she handled symbolism and metaphor while telling a story in each of her poems. By the time I finished the collection, I realized that I had been taken on an emotional journey. A number of verses carried me into territory I had never chartered, but was able to visualize and experience through Dr. Brodey’s eloquent recollection and vivid imagination.

Though I find the entire collection captivating, I do have several favorites—some of which stirred my heart and brought tears to my eyes.

Thursdays Demand Existence deeply resonated with me. It gave a clear glimpse into the mind of an artist who longs to create, but is tethered to a world filled with obligation.

An Ending and Funeral both struck a heartbreaking chord. It felt as though somehow the author and I were united in mourning, though our respective losses took place in vastly different eras.

In some cases, Dr. Brodey’s poems served as a vessel through which I revisited moments of passion, wonder and despair that have occurred in my life. My Way to Anywhere is a book in which I believe many people can find some sense of comfort and understanding since at some point or another, many of us have faced the topics covered in these poems, though we don’t always find the bravery to face the intense emotions they sometimes stir up. Bravery, it seems, is something she has in large supply and perhaps some of it has rubbed off on me, as I’m sure it will many readers as they continue on their way to Anywhere.

My Way to Anywhere is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in ebook and paperback editions.

Click here to read an in-depth interview about Dr. Jean Lisette Brodey and the fascinating journey that led her to publish her first poetry book after over 50 years!

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Reflecting on the Past, Looking to the Future

2013 has been perhaps my most inactive when it comes to social media. I guess that’s because I’ve had many obligations beyond the realm of cyberspace that demanded most of my attention. Nonetheless, I’ve greatly missed my online family, friends and loyal supporters and I hope you’re all doing well. For those who are enduring hardship, I wish you much strength , faith and patience as you work your way through life’s challenges. As we approach the threshold of 2014, most of you are probably reflecting on the past year. I know I certainly am.

For me, and I’m sure many others, 2013 was like a temperamental lion that exhibited sporadic moments of tenderness between fierce rampages. I wish most of it could have gone differently, yet I understand that time is a force that acts independently of human desire. All the same, the journey from this year’s inception to its waning hours has taught me many lessons—painful, humbling, enlightening and inspiring. And though reflecting on them disturbs some fresh wounds, I realize how much they have pushed me to grow.

Numerous events brought about such lessons. Among them:

Three ER visits (my father was the patient—thankfully, he’s fine now).

A few frightening, but minor intrusive physical setbacks stemming from my, and Max’s, fitness goals. On the bright side, we both shed over thirty pounds! I also picked up the skill of bicycling—something I never got to learn during my childhood.

However, my biggest lessons came about this past Fall when I learned of the violent death of Miriam, a former classmate. We hadn’t been in touch since junior high, but I always remembered her to be among the sweetest people I ever met. She was among the few who treated me with kindness during my awkward early teens. I was still processing the news two days later when I received word that my longtime friend and mentor Harriet had also died. As I type these words, nearly three months later, they seem foreign. I’ve been avoiding doing so since I felt that somehow it would change the fact that she’s gone, at least in the physical sense. I guess I’m still processing the fact that the dynamic of our friendship has undergone the ultimate change. She was a no-nonsense woman who lived her life extremely well and was always generous with her time and compassion. She had a great appreciation for the fine things in life, but was also very down to earth. So many lives were changed for the better because of her, including mine.

It’s strange, how the mind develops temporary amnesia until an event prompts one to look back far enough. As I take a hard look back to nearly twenty years ago, I recall the darkness Harriet helped pull me from. I also remember how she took me under her wing and introduced me to opportunities that set me on a path that eventually led me to where I am, though I diverted from the career she encouraged me to pursue. Nonetheless, she was always supportive and that will forever remain in my memory and she will always have a special place in my heart. I remember her so fondly and vividly that sometimes it feels as though nothing has changed, that I could pick up the phone and hear her voice on the other end. Then reality sets in and I find myself wishing I had done so more often as the tears reemerge then evaporate in the brightness of her memory.

Since October, I’ve also lost two family members, the most recent just the day before Thanksgiving. Both showed signs of fading prior to the end, we weren’t entirely prepared—who ever really is? Yet, like my dear friend, their bodies had become prisons. And though I’m saddened that they have passed on, I understand that their suffering is over. As I take solace in the memory of their strength, wisdom and compassion, I am reminded of a quote from the Shawshank Redemption. In it, Red laments his friend’s departure from the prison, but notes:

“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.”

All of this has taught me to make more of an effort to live, laugh, love, learn and explore, not just merely exist. As trite as it may sound, it has taught me not to take anything or anyone for granted. I have also learned to ease up a bit on my perfectionism and to shelve my fear of appearing foolish. After all, I’ve had plenty of experience exhibiting awkward behavior. In spite of the hardships faced this year, there is still no doubt that I remain blessed to be surrounded by loving and supportive people, including my loving husband Max, with whom I recently celebrated sixteen wonderful years of partnership.

Now, as the yawning lion that is 2013 prepares for slumber, I extend my wishes for its awakening successor to be a gentle giant, ushering a year of peace, love, happiness and prosperity for everyone. And as we step into 2014, let’s do so with an open mind full of hope and determination to make it better than the year we’re leaving behind. Let’s enter the year with the knowledge that we, alone, are in command of our happiness, that it is something we build with however many moments we are allotted. Here’s hoping that the structure you build will withstand life’s turbulent weather and serve as an inspiration that this world desperately needs. As Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”

 

2014 Leaf Image courtesy of Chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Yawning Lion Image courtesy of Tratong/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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