About This Blog

Hello, those in search of the creative spark. Welcome to the Grassroots Writer’s Guild. This blog began as a collaboration between two writers and friends, on the premise that all writers need a blog. In the past few years, it has become the blog of one of those two friends (Julia Simpson-Urrutia) because the other (Connie Kirchberg) has found so much activity and inspiration in other pursuits aside from writing, which include four dogs, two cats, and a never-ending project list that tends to revolve around carpentry.  Most writers are creative in so many ways, and so it is with us.

While many blogs aim to sell something or pedal a philosophy, my goal is to use this platform as a continuing repository of creativity, whether it be from myself or from others, including Connie Kirchberg.  Most of my own efforts do center around writing, but some of my artwork has been simply for joy (Which, I believe, is the way it should be) and to find another means of bringing my own creative work to the attention of others who might take interest.

Please feel free to comment on any of our posts.  We (I) do our best to keep them writing-related, but let’s face it, a blog is a place to sound off, and sometimes that’s what I might do. Most of the time, however, our posts will relate directly to the business of writing or artistic endeavor.

I am keeping all original posts, including the “get to know the writer” approach that offers personal experiences and family photos. It strikes me, after being assaulted by the din of Internet enterprise and guru know it alls, that some blogs should be for NOTHING else but to say, “Guess what, I am a seeker of the creative spark. I suspect you are, too!”

Whatever artistic activity you enjoyed at 13, you probably should be doing right now. That, at least, is what works for me–no matter who receives a Pulitzer or blue medal from the Group That Knows Better.

I do not know better.

Cheers. : )

 

 

 


The Whims of H.G.Wells

The name H.G. Wells is more widely known than the names of other literary masters of the same era, if but for the movies based on H.G. Wells’ titles. He was a science fiction writer whose works The Time Machine and War of the Worlds offer readers escapism, thrills, and enough scientific foundation to have made him qualify as a visionary. Tomalin demonstrates Wells’ hold on the young in her preface by describing how George Orwell, as a boy at boarding school, kept borrowing (sometimes without permission) his friend Cyril Connolly’s (editor and essayist) copy of a book by Wells.

Tomalin prepares us in her remark that the boys did not know (as we may not know) that Wells was an atheist, a socialist and a republican. It did not matter to them because his futuristic scientific world full of possibilities seized upon the imagination. We can relate.

The young Wells’ history is unexpected and endears him to us, which is important, for his treatment of others—particularly lovers and wives—can gall. The highly successful 19th century white male writer was the rock star of his day, so he could get away with behavior that would not brand him as a cad and a bounder in his time. (Although it did, actually, and for a long time Beatrix Webb could not see him socially.) His treatment of his long-suffering wife, Jane, is quite interesting. Tomalin speaks well of her, but would anyone want such a fate for a daughter or herself? Yet still spouses put up with such neglect and dismissal if only to pay their bills.

In some ways, this might as well be a biography of significant writers and thinkers of the late 19th/turn of the 20th century, for the portrait Tomalin paints of Beatrice Webb (née Potter) is as fascinating as the one she colors in of Wells. I loved Tomalin’s apology for following the “young” Wells all the way to his death. Her excuse was the adolescent behavior that gripped him throughout his life. Agreed.

It is charming to find Wells a hypocrite. Such creativity cannot be without flaw. If you are a reader of 19th century writers, you will value Tomalin’s exposé of the ever-transmuting relationships that existed between Wells, Shaw, Tolstoy, Henry James and more. My one critique is with the sub-title. To show how he “chang[ed] the world” would entail more of a textual analysis whereas this is a biography of success, ego and relationships.

Boarding School Book Raffle

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Wax Works by Julia Juwairiah Simpson-Urr...

Wax Works

by Julia Juwairiah Simpson-Urrutia

The murder of Mlle Schwartz, a teacher at Château Mont Rose, destroys the reputation of the oldest finishing school for girls in Switzerland. It goes out of business.

For eight years, the estate remains locked and boarded up until re-opening as an inn and wax museum. Former students receive notification. They visit. Then they disappear.

When the number of missing women mounts, Interpol alerts Detective Cloquet of Lausanne Sûreté. Cloquet pressures his young deputy, Paul Junod, to shadow expected arrivals Lauren Briant and Rachel Gordon, both alumni of the boarding school. In order to stay close to Lauren and Rachel, Paul has to join their paranormal film team.

Meanwhile, Cloquet revisits Château Mont Rose and finds its headmistress, a woman long dead.

Giveaway ends February 28, 2021.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads. Enter Giveaway

Dostoevsky, he who suffered and loved

Dostoevsky, he who suffered and loved

Dostoevsky in Love by Alex Christophi

You might have heard of Dostoevsky—might have decided to read one of his novels—but if you haven’t read one or have only just learned his name, know that Dostoevsky is considered one of the most representative writers of 19th century Russia in the same way that Charles Dickens is considered one of the most representative writers of 19th century Great Britain and the English-reading world. They both focused on the poor and the dispossessed in their literature, insisting on the humanity of the downtrodden, and through characters and circumstances presented, both writers helped give recognizable qualities to national identity.

The title of this book may have the potential reader thinking it is about Dostoevsky’s romantic life, but it is about so much more. It is about his love of life, mankind, philosophy, God and literature as well as his driving passion to understand why he was dealt the circumstances he and the rest of his nation lived in. He was quite honestly in love with Russia. Though he enjoyed inexpensive (then) places to live and write like Switzerland, he always felt the need to be in the most dynamic centers of Russia.

When Fyodor Dostoevsky was little, his father, a hard-working doctor, was recognized for zealous medical service, for which he was awarded the Order of St Anna.  This recognition by the government lifted the family from its poverty to a position at which they could afford to hire staff—a coachman, cook, maid and nanny. The boost up the hierarchical caste system placed the family at the lowest level of gentry and gave the family rights that people in the free world take for granted. I paused every time I read that Dostoevsky or his family gained a right or permission because the situation reminded me of almost two decades living in a monarchical autocracy, where I could not work or own property or inherit (due to being a foreigner). Similarly, 19th century Russia had (and many other countries today still have) a far different societal system than what is familiar to Western readers. The Order of St. Anna bestowed upon Dr. Dostoevsky gave him the right to purchase land and own his own place. Before that, he could only rent. Still, gentry could go into debt, which fate befell both Dr. Dostoevsky and his son after him. In (Fyodor’s case, however, much of the debt was senselessly self-inflicted.)

The reader must imagine that the child, Fyodor, and his brother Mikhail, would have been thrilled by the rise up the ladder and proud of their father for achieving the recognition that made them gentry. That career boost probably created a sense of gratitude towards the tsar in Dostoevsky, which helps to explain why Russians had a hard time trying to figure out what side Dostoevsky was on—that of the poor or the ruling elite. Like Dickens, he knew people on both sides of the train tracks, but the Russian writer could be said to have suffered far more than the British. Dostoevsky’s mother died of tuberculosis when he was a teen and the family broke apart, just like that. Dostoevsky showed his love of literature early and belonged to a group that discussed books critical of tsarist Russia for which he was sentenced to many years in a Siberian prison camp and then more years of military service in exile. His sufferings seemed to have known no bound. I read about them with a cold hand gripping my intestines, wondering how he could possibly have endured all he did and still have found love and acclaim.

But he managed, with his latter marriage being a happy one and his years of literary endeavor bringing him the kind of recognition every writer dreams of—with all kinds of misery filling the gaps. Even the most dedicated reader of literary greats will wonder whether Dostoevsky did not arrive at good luck through sheer happenstance, for he lived in a political climate with nothing but traps and holes. This is the kind of book that will have readers rummaging through the end notes, sorry there is not more to read. I adored the comments about the influence of Dostoevsky’s writing after his death.

Gladly Mad at the World

Writers will love this biography even if they are not ardent Steinbeck fans. The studied insights into Steinbeck’s pursuit of his own writing success do not convey any sort of blueprint for achieving the New York Time’s bestseller list but rather demonstrate how a doggedly stubborn individual with an ego inflated enough to fall back upon when kicked in the gut and psyche and a willingness to suffer isolation and penury might, if the stars align, achieve the kind of writing stature he or she wants to achieve. The ingredient list might without too much effort be construed as demanding: a combination of dire circumstances afflicting an entire populace in a specific widespread part of the country might be considered as necessary as beef in Beef Wellington, and to report on that situation and show any level of empathy would turn one into a symbol of compassion. Possessing a popularly approved gender and race during a given era, and roping in an unrecognized lover/editor/typist who can give the useful, sensitive feedback are also essential ingredients. Having parents who are supportive, both financially and emotionally, also figure into the chances of a good launch for such an aspirant.

There were many elements that made this biography special for me, foremost being the author. This book could have been a boring chronicle of successes if not for William Souder’s nuanced evaluation of the circumstances and people in Steinbeck’s life. He is a writer’s writer, and makes reflections that will resonate with anyone who has ever thought about writing. Souder’s total immersion in all things Steinbeck is persuasive, so that the reader feels trusting of the author’s comments regarding all three wives and his many friends, which comments are made without damning anyone nor indeed Steinbeck. Souder keeps his distance, conveys his respect and fascination and shows without telling so that his conclusions become our own. It is a stupendous feat.

Finally, for a resident of California who lives a stone’s throw from many places that were part of Steinbeck’s early formation and his later life, I found Mad at the World (who isn’t, especially today?) a travel itinerary I intend to retrace with eyes wide open. No longer will I race from Salinas to Pacific Grove thoughtlessly, not now that I realize it took the Steinbeck family a whole day to travel the distance to their summer (Pacific Grove) vacation spot!#MadattheWorld #NetGalley

A kindler, gentler humanity?

Much of the world is steeped in the idea that Western civilization represents progress and reason. According to Western (economic and political) mythology, historical events by and large represent progress (so long as the victors become wealthy and the standard of life, for a large cross-section in the winning culture, is acceptable). This historical “truth” is embraced by most college students even though real history is a stream of wars, destruction and oppression of the weak. Scheidler explains that the root cause of this myth is not really liberalism favoring free market capitalism so much as a much older predatory system that seeks increased gains for those in power, forever justified by a publicly announced mission to bring about religious salvation, and when that justification was scuttled, the mission was modified to bring about development, a free market, and a higher standard of living.

No matter what we blame wars on, the promotion of consumerism and exploitation of the earth is running into two 21st century walls: a structural global economic crisis that “can no longer be explained away by the usual economic cycles” (loc 157 of 5298) and the steady dwindling lack of security for a growing number of people (let alone the issues of global warming and ecological crisis).  The End of the Megamachine is no mere exploration of a theory; it is a prophecy.

Scheidler supports his thesis with a historical study of cultural commercialism, and in so doing, he proves that we do not have to put up with the economic structure that we are saddled with today. The beginnings of the modern free market are tied to state gain. Scheidler asserts that those who “cultivated European market expansion at the threshold of modern times were not peaceful merchants” but they were in fact VIPs from militarized city states who used warfare “to assert their commercial interests” (1171). By contrast, Arab merchants did not use physical force and were not part of state policy making and were removed from state power.

The First Crusade involved the conquest of the port city of Acre in Galilee in 1104, for which Genoa received a third of the port city’s revenues. The First Crusade “led to the enormous enrichment of Genoese merchants and was the basis for much of the city’s subsequent power.” Scheilder cites William of Tyre’s eyewitness account of the massacre at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and it is horrific. The knights and soldiers from the Christian West massacred without mercy, and the “‘whole place was flooded with the blood of victims.’” Tyre described his revulsion at “‘the spectacle of headless bodies, mutilated limbs strewn in all directions that roused horror in all who looked upon them’ and insists that the victors themselves, dripping from blood from head to foot,’” brought terror to the beholder. In the Al Aqsa Mosque alone, ten thousand died, and a similar number of victims were dragged out from wherever they hid  in the city and slain like sheep or “‘dashed headlong to the ground from some elevated place so that they perished miserably.’” All the spoils went to the victors by agreement before the slaughter, explaining the pitiless lack of humanity among the victors (1197).

Scheidler observes that a similar fate awaited the inhabitants of the Americas, calling the phenomenon “destructive violence produced by the combination of capitalism, militarism and Western missionary zeal”(1197). He furthermore brands the Crusades (in which Europe was the victor) as revelatory of what the rest of the world would soon taste. From the Crusades, the West moved into new forms of mercenary combat that threw out old rules, evident in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between England and France. The age of chivalry died when rules of combat were tossed aside and the number of dead were not limited—not even of other Christians. The “Black Prince,” Edward III’s son, resorted to a scorched earth policy that devastated large parts of southern France. His armies were financed by the Florentine banks, investors.

If the world’s wars have seemed disjointed or part of convoluted political maneuvering on a world stage, reading Scheidler’s assessment in the light of economic aggression and entitlement will have the advantage of tying everything together. He makes a tremendously strong argument for the driving force that could lead to mankind’s ultimate destruction. There is a section of the book that appears to argue that the belief systems supporting a dominant god have played into the global economic aggression, and that very well may be, but that segment (which many religious followers will take at least some issue with) does not detract from the overall convincing thesis that concepts can be distorted.  He draws attention to this idea by quoting Levi-Strauss, who wrote, “The primary function for writing as a means of communication is to facilitate the enslavement of other human beings”(366). One would hardly imagine that Scheidler would advocate a cessation of writing and reading lessons; here, he simply makes a good point about propaganda and the power of disseminated ideas.

It is ironic that religious and philosophical playbooks for living at peace and in harmony with each other and the earth have been in existence for centuries, but mankind has chosen to applaud the road of greed. This is not a book without hope, for at the outset Scheidler explains that the entire world agricultural system could be shifted to organic within a few years, if people wanted. It was good that he started on such a note, because one needs a little hope in the face of such a tidal wave of evidence. #NetGalley #JohnHunt Publishing

The Deepest South of All: America’s Looking Glass

Natchez, Mississippi, exists in a time warp; the longer you linger, the more its essence gets under your skin. British-born travel writer Richard Grant takes the reader on an amazing journey in The Deepest South of All through his friendships and interviews with key players in the Natchez cultural tapestry, demonstrating how the history of Natchez spins a web of fascination and frustration around all who dally. Stay long enough and your name will be sure to get crunched into the gossip mill: you will no longer recognize your own doings. Some residents might say that syndrome typifies Natchez more than any other trait. While its residents and groups are known to be odd, delightful, decadent, disputatious, discriminating, dignified and demented, the city’s mere existence demonstrates the foundation of irony and injustice upon which Natchez stakes its claim to fame.

Take the jaw-dropping fact that this center of slavery, which had more millionaires in its heyday than any other region of the U.S., was a Union army stronghold. Ulysses S. Grant stayed at an antebellum home named The Towers and allegedly rode his horse up and down the hallway on Christmas Eve of 1863. The city’s decision not to vote to secede from the Union caused Natchez planters to (albeit reluctantly) open their doors to the Union officers: for this reason alone, Natchez’s beautiful antebellum homes stand today with tours granted primarily by white women in hoop skirts. If not for that strategic decision, the mansions would probably have been burned to the ground.

Stanton Hall, where Richard Grant is invited at the outset of his book by the charming Natchez-born Regina Charboneau, a cookbook writer and former San Francisco restaurateur and blues club owner, takes a prominent position in The Deepest South of All. The name of Stanton Hall caught my attention because of a Californian high school friend who visited the Natchez mansion often (through family ties). A similar loyalty brought Charboneau home, and partly through her endeavor to keep Natchez alive while acknowledging its slave past, readers can feel the struggle that steeps the city in tension.

Charboneau runs Twin Oaks, another Greek Revival antebellum home dating from 1832. Richard Grant stayed here in the old slave quarters, and he does not hide his sense of grief or awareness of the misery that brought so much splendor to the city. Almost immediately, at the party thrown at Stanton Hall, a mansion that sits on an entire block and whose new roof cost $750,000, Grant discovers the fairy tale of happy servants promoted by more than one strong, elegant dowager in her 80s who won’t concede that any of the house servants who were called family were actual slaves.

That fairy tale is promoted by the locally famous Tableaux, a yearly theatrical event put on by rival garden clubs (who battle each other while keeping the antebellum homes running) at which children dance in more than one event and where each garden club’s Royal Court presides with a king and queen. Mothers in Natchez want their children to perform in the Tableaux, and therefore can be influenced to help in the activities that keep the city running. Those enlightened women who try to bring the tragedy of African American history into the Tableaux are met with ridicule, scorn and outrage from the fundamentalists who want the Tableaux to keep to the mythology of happy servants and singing field hands.

Grant shows how the mantle of resistance against racism and the Gone with the Wind romance has been taken up by many notables in Natchez, including the family of Natchez’s most famous resident, Greg Iles, a best-selling thriller writer. When his daughter Madeline was elected as Queen by the Pilgrimage Garden Club in 2015, she decided to use her power to make the Tableaux less racist. But in the poor part of the city, notable African Americans have worked just as hard to draw attention to the cauldron of misery that Natchez represents as a stronghold of pre-Civil War slavery.

The streaming racial debate that has spread swiftly into every artery of the USA during its 2020 pandemic crisis finds one of its chief sources (a never-stilled geyser) here in this spot on the Mississippi river where tens of thousands of manacled (men) or roped together (women) slaves were transported on riverboats. Here, these poor souls were sold at auctions after being rested and fattened up, the men dressed in outlandish top hats, the women in calico dresses and both sexes forced to submit to the grease of vegetables boiled with pork fat rubbed into their skin. Of all stories, none is more heartbreaking or more written of than that of the man nicknamed Prince.

Truly no story from The Deepest South of All so much got under my skin (and I yearned to get back to the book at the end of each work day) as the tale of the African Muslim prince born as Abd al-Rahman Ibrahima. Son of King Sori in Timbo in the highlands of Futa Jalon in what is now Guinea, Ibrahima was an educated young man who read, wrote and spoke Arabic as well as five African tongues. He was a valiant warrior who was the favored son of his father. One day, while returning home after a victorious battle, he and his men were caught by a warring African tribe and sold into slavery. If not for accidentally running into the same Irish doctor who visited West Africa and enjoyed his father’s royal hospitality decades earlier, Ibrahima, who accepted his fate as a slave for forty years and who was known to never smile, might never have had the chance to return to Africa (if only to die there).

It is easy to deduce that the controversy of slave-trading’s origins in Natchez has much to do with its draw on so many odd characters. Despite the gossip mill, no single character or set of characters can claim more attention than the issue of slavery itself and Natchez’s undeniable glory at the expense of human rights. It may be the oddest place in America and yet it serves a purpose as a mirror of ourselves. The Deepest South of All, one of the most fascinating books I have read this decade, dares us to look at our own reflection. #NetGalley #The Deepest South of All #Simon&Schuster

Flame Bearer: Resistance of Tori Amos

Tori AmosTori Amos first pierced my consciousness like a lightning bolt thrown by Letterman from his Late Night Show. That might sound mundane except that I was in Saudi Arabia, married to a Saudi, and this dynamic, creative & intellectual singer on a Western TV show (one that made it past the censors) pulled me up to the edge of my seat with her voice and thoughts, melodic yet dissonant, haunting and probing. Her creative expression embodied the reason I was in the Middle East and in the same musical breath, straight from the diaphragm, that creativity (like critical thinking, scientific investigation, and freedom to make life choices) was so fragile an acquisition for women anywhere that it has to be guarded and nurtured, not used and then suffocated. I was acutely reminded of these memories as I moved into the pages of this important memoir with the spot-on title. Resistance is a recounting of how a conscientious and vibrantly switched on singer-song writer finds purpose. Resistance is about being alive to meaning; it is about music being the meeting place where thinking people can cut through propaganda to try to understand what is really going on in the world. Resistance

Intellectual stimulation has been a function of music since the time of Arius, who responded to the Council of Nicea by singing. Song offers a powerful societal structure and Tori Amos shows that being a support to that structure comes with responsibilities. From the first chapter, I felt the electricity of her words, the value of the critical thought, the searching and weaving together of melody to express perceptions reflecting what her first piano bar was literally in the center of: world politics. Her description of playing in smoked-filled lounges in Washington, DC, demonstrates the seeds of her interest in the world, in politics, in freedom and rights. I like her humility as she admits she had no idea, as a young singer at the piano, what Tip O’Neal meant when he said he was speaker of the house. I could just imagine him dancing to an Irish jig.

But later, Amos gave me goosebumps when she talks about what resistance has meant to her: resisting against the music producers who held her in contract, resisting when they wanted her to get rid of her piano, resisting against pressure to cancel tours. Her music is as much about personal creative freedom as a commitment to guard a psychic ground where artists, musicians, and music lovers know information exchanged is not for the purposes of gas-lighting. She addresses some of the political players she resists, like Mitch McConnell, telling him that he has “plowed through with a ruthlessness similar to what women have experienced for thousands of years,” a ruthlessness that Amos’ grandmother must have been thinking of when she advised her granddaughter that one day she would have to surrender to a man completely and thereby lose control of who she was.

Resistance is a conversation. Amos talks about Kavanaugh and quid pro quo. She talks about her conversations with other women throughout the USA and her belief in what women can accomplish. She reminds her readers that there is a real-life Handmaid’s Tale implicit in McConnell’s catch phrase “plow this through” and that in any single breath, new freedoms taken for granted can dissolve in a sour wind. Anyone of any gender can be controlled, but women have forever been an easier target than men, in general. Being controlled can turn a woman into a facilitator to power that controls other women. The ramifications of quid pro quo and control are common themes in her songs. Amos explains that “once a song leaves [her] lair, it will form relationships that [she has]no control over. . . .” The endless variety of interpretation of songs is a reaction all artists understand, but for that connection to take place, a songwriter must “unearth emotions that confront us with those portions of ourselves that we hide when posting on social media.”

Resistance clears the air and lays the cards out on the table. When I first saw Tori Amos, I knew she represented the force that had granted me freedom to choose to come to Saudi Arabia, a force that diminished and almost died due to my personal situation. She reminded me I was still alive and a direct heiress of a legacy of grandmothers and great-great grandmothers going it alone, using their brains and their wiles to gain a heretofore unimaginable level of female freedom. Resistance will surely remind its readers of “tools” that may need dusting and taking out of the backyard shed; the manuscript underscores the importance of music to a tradition of freedoms that need to be watered and sustained just like plants. Thanks#NetGalley #AtriaBooks

How Kobe Bryant Influenced My Life

I was sitting in the Home Depot parking lot on Sunday (January 26) around 11 a.m. when I got a text from my youngest daughter, Katie. “Aww, Kobe died.” I stared at it a moment, then opened a news app on my phone and saw the headline about the helicopter crash. Then a bit later the added news that his second oldest daughter, Gianna, was with him. And still later yet, the news that two other families with the Bryants had suffered horrible losses as well.

It’s awful. Tragic. Unfair. But that’s not what I wanted to write about today. I have spent the past 48 hours watching numerous tributes on television, watching some of his best games, and reading so many well written memories from people who knew Kobe. There is nothing I could say here that would compare to those, so I am going to share the personal impact he had on my life with whomever might be interested.

I hated Kobe when he first came into the league because I lived in the Seattle area at the time, and was a huge Seattle Supersonic fan. Back then, Gary Payton was my guy. Tough-nosed, hard working, one of the best point guards to ever play in the NBA. So in retrospect I guess I didn’t hate Kobe in particular, just that the Lakers were direct competition and Kobe was their new rising star.

I moved to Fresno in 2002, but remained a Sonic fan until they traded Gary to Milwaukee. Unforgivable! How could they? So, I decided I had to find a new team. And given Fresno’s location, that meant I could choose one of three teams in my new state. So I went with the Lakers, the team I used to follow way back in the Magic Johnson era. Needless to say, I haven’t been disappointed. Three straight finals appearances, winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. And at the heart of those great seasons, Kobe. The day I went from somewhat grudgingly admitting he was a major talent to realizing he might be the best ever (at least in my lifetime of following the NBA) was on January 22, 2006. The night he scored 81 points. For those who don’t realize how difficult that is in a professional basketball game, only one player has ever scored more in the league’s 73 year history. Wilt Chamberlain did it on March 2, 1962, scoring an amazing and probably never to be seen again 100 points.

I could go on and on about Kobe’s greatness on the basketball court, but what set him apart for me was his total devotion to the game. A work ethic like no other. He wouldn’t quit. The night he suffered the dreaded Achilles tear on April 12, 2013 provides the best example. Again, for those who don’t know, that injury is among the most dreaded in the sport’s world. It takes a year or more to recover, and most players are never the same if they do make it back. I have seen it happen on the court numerous times, and each time players are always taken off the court on a stretcher. Not Kobe. He had been fouled prior to his fall, so he had two free throws coming. Rather than allow the opposing team to select someone from off the bench (which would, according to NBA rules, keep Kobe from returning to the game), he got up, walked under his own power to the free throw line, stood there and made both, then walked off the court, again under his own power, and on to the locker room. The pain must have been unimaginable. But that was Kobe. Always the competitor. Always defying the odds. He was probably hoping the trainers could do something to fix him up so he could come back into the game.

Kobe came back from that injury and played through the 2015-16 season. And when he decided to end his NBA career at age 37, he went out by scoring 60 points in his final game. And then, with a smiling thank you to his fans and a wave goodbye, he moved on. He pursued other interests and became just as successful off the court as on. Most notably though, he excelled at being a dad to his four beautiful daughters. On the day he died, he was on the way to daughter Gianna’s AAU basketball game. Gianna shared her father’s love for the game, something that must have given him such pride and joy.

Kobe’s never quit attitude stuck with me insofar as my writing pursuits were concerned. I wrote and sold a book on the NBA (Hoop Lore) despite doubters telling me it wasn’t likely a white woman who had never played the game would be able to author let alone sell such a work, given how the sport is dominated by African-American men. Hoop Lore wasn’t a massive bestseller but I am proud of it just the same. Being able to write about something I feel so passionate about and have others in the field accept it as a bona fide piece of work is every writers dream.

But it’s an undeniable fact that writing and selling your work is a lot more difficult than when I sold Hoop Lore, which was published in January 2007. Amazon and other online books sites are great for people who want to post their work while bypassing conventional publishers. Frankly, that is the only way that most people will ever get their work out there today, myself included. Publishers want sensationalized celebrity stories or works by authors they already know, or once in a while, a book that just hits a niche people were looking for. They don’t have the time or resources for much of anything else.

And I’m OK with that. Like Kobe, I have other interests I want to pursue. I also have a book idea or two that I may end up writing in the future. Or maybe not. Meanwhile, I have been enjoying other creative activities, most notably building things. I made an heirloom rocking chair for my grandson, a toy box, and a custom rocking chair designed from scratch for my granddaughter. Future endeavors will probably include a doll house, some bookcases, and another toy box. In between those projects, our house has turned into a small animal shelter with four dogs and two cats. I also enjoy feeding the squirrels and birds in our yard. Oh, and yes, I love to garden – a hobby I picked up from my great grandmother when I was a small child. I owe Kobe a big thank you for showing me that it’s fine to move on to other ventures and not feel bad or guilty about doing it. I’m 63 now, and still enjoying life! Thanks for the memories and inspiration Kobe, I will always love you! RIP.

Dickens in my Ears and Eyes

GUEST_42d5d9f7-b8c3-40d9-b98d-969cf512f8a7I am almost at the end of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens–again. The first time, I bought the hardback and read it with my eyes. What stuck in memory was the great British author’s complaint of being chained to his desk or table in order to complete a novel. Any writer can relate, even we the unknown. Another sticky detail, like a shred of carrot or pumpkin seed in my teeth, was the worshipful obsession from the American public. Individuals would snip of bits of his fur trim. I refuse to look back at the book itself to see if I am right or wrong about this remembrance because this is an experiment. Same book, same reader, different experiences.

Bringing you to my ears. You would not want them as I have tinnitus, but if I focus on something (or someone) else–like Dickens–I forget all about the ringing. Listening to the same book on my phone has made ridiculous driving excursions, like to the grocery store, bearable.

The narrator’s voice has made a mark, no doubt. I love his accent (which stirs up the significant question of whose voice I can bear listening to, and I am as picky about this as any diner perusing a menu, so you know exactly what I mean). I love this narrator’s accent in general although I am perplexed by his intonation of all speech coming from an American character. Oh please, Mr. Jennings, these were Americans of the 19th century. They could not possibly have been all so nauseatingly nasal. Many parents of these Americans were immigrants from your home county. I can only conjecture you want a role as an uncultivated American hick. If Kevin Costner has not called you yet, perhaps you will, next time, not make every single American character sound like he has a deviated septum.

But still, the book is grand. My ears have retained completely different memories than my eyes. Partly due to Mr. Jennings, Dickens’ loss of honor in the way he verbally abused his long suffering wife, Catherine, when he finally got tired of her and began his pursuit of young Ellen Ternan, looms large. Tomalin’s astute observation of the shift in Dickens’ personal value system and how it impacted the way villains are described from that point onward in his novels also sticks, floating around with the tinnitus. The pitch of my ear-reading experience may be higher than the tonality of the eye-reading memories, but that they were different makes the experiment of reading a book more than one way quite satisfying. #Charles Dickens A Life # Claire Tomalin