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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

One more poem -- this time, a curse (general issue)

For my probably-last poem post, here's one with no autobiographical aspect. I particularly wanted to point that out because the poem is, as the title indicates, a curse (in the ill-wishing sense). The final lines may suggest a spurned lover, but could cover other situations. Feel free to recite it at any enemies you may acquire.

---------

Curse

May your blood boil by night,
and freeze by day . . .

May the passing of clouds across the sky
be to you
as nails dragged shrieking
across flat dry stone . . .

May the trees whisper soft nightmares
as you shivering pass by . . .

May the moon’s light be blinding
and the sunlight
dim . . .

May you know no more piece
than I

and may you never forget me.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Even more serious - poem about a murder, plus some backstory

I went to Stanford University for my undergrad degree (English and American literature). I liked spending time in the Memorial Church, enjoying the quiet, looking at the impressive stained glass windows. (You can see photos of the windows at this link.)

One night, when I'd been visiting the church again, I tried to leave and discovered I'd been locked in. The minister had failed to notice me when he locked up and left. This was long before cell phones, and there was no pay phone anywhere I could see in the accessible area. After a while, however, the minister came back for something, found me, and let me out.

I believe it was a couple of days later that a girl was stabbed to death in the church at night. As you can imagine, what would have struck me as tragic and shocking in any event had an extra impact, given my recent experience.

So I wrote this poem. The imagery refers to several of the windows.

--------


On the Murder in Memorial Church

Strange impotence:
stained glass night-frozen,
unable to beam
its pictured Salvation;
Jesus the healer,
caught trapped in a corner;
Christus crying into the darkness,
take this cup away! –
the Agony presiding
invisibly helpless;
unillumined, the desperate
disciples
will drown.


Another, more serious poem, siding with Lot's wife

Here's another post about my decades-old poetry, recently unearthed.

I can only remember writing two poems with Biblical subjects, and one -- re Job -- is hiding somewhere. But here is the other, untitled but basically siding with Lot's wife rather than Lot.

-------


When Lot’s wife
turned to salt from grief;
her posture proclaiming,
I will be a dry monument to tears,
her protest,
I give not my leaving to this, God;

Lot
stood
stunned
still

Lot looked up
The Lord rumbled faintly
Lot looked down
Salt crystals gathered at his feet

Lot
looked up
looked down
and proceeded on,
careful not
to look round.


-------

Next time, a poem with a truly serious theme -- murder.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Well, I used to write poetry . . . (first of several)

I started out -- no later than age nine -- wanting to be a novelist. I wrote my first novel-of-sorts at age ten. But I didn't write my second until after I turned 55. What, if anything, did I write in the meantime?

Well, first I tried poetry. I kept at it through high school and the beginning of college. Later in college, I tried short stories, until I let myself be discouraged as to all creative writing by a stunningly clueless teaching associate. For decades, all I did was jot down a line or two of potential poetry once every blue moon. Then, while I was pregnant with Daughter #1, I started writing picture book manuscripts. Fast forward seventeen years or so, and I followed that daughter into National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo or NaNo) -- and the rest, if not history, is a total of eight novels with two more in the pipeline.

But back to poetry.

Recently, pondering the awe-inspiring bad luck of a friend, I was reminded of a poem I wrote long ago about Job (as in the Biblical figure). I dug up a folder of my poetry and looked for it. I didn't find it, but I did find a few others I liked enough to bring into the light of day.

Here's the first, one of the lightest in tone. I believe I wrote this during or after my high school physics class. If I were writing it today, the title might include the word "nerd."

---------

Love Song

Every mass
has an attraction for every other mass
which varies as the inverse square
of the distance between them.
That is,
if you allow me
to decrease the radius of my orbit
you will find me
increasingly attractive.

I wish to
race toward you at ever-increasing speed
(known as acceleration)
(which, times my mass,
which is constant,
would become the force with which I would
collide with you,
hopefully
"knocking you off your feet")
until we engage in
a perfectly inelastic collision
(in which the two bodies concerned
collide and
stick.)

---------

And yes, I know the punctuation at the end is incorrect, but it works better that way.

Here's one more, untitled, frivolous and fanciful.

--------

The conductor and the violinist
are near each other.
Bow and baton
time after time
come perilously close.
Will they cross swords?
The conductor looks angry.
We can expect a duel
any minute.

---------

Next time, a poem or two with more emotional heft behind them.


Monday, April 30, 2018

The Dangers that Grow in the Dark

I've been pondering the very unwelcome news that the candidate running closest to Senator Dianne Feinstein in California's primary (which does not separate out Democratic and Republican candidates) is Patrick Little, an unabashed anti-Semite whose rhetoric would make Adolf Hitler purr in his grave. I'm trying to explain it to myself, since I don't believe either that a large number of Americans actively hate Jews or that Californians are significantly more inclined toward such hatred. I've had a few thoughts on what might be going on.

What came to mind first were some memories from my youth. I'm not ancient enough to have seen the movie Reefer Madness when it first came out (in 1936), but for much of my life, there have been teachers and government officials doing their best to convince young people that marijuana was highly addictive and wildly dangerous. And for much of my life, young people have looked around at their weed-smoking friends, or at their weed-smoking selves, and observed that these claims were largely invalid. Some of them almost certainly overgeneralized from this observation and concluded that all claims about the dangers of illegal drugs were just killjoy hokum. (Indeed, some of those other claims were grossly exaggerated -- but not all.) How much better young people would have been served by open, accurate discussion of the effects and qualities of various drugs.

Then there's the perennial problem of kids with insufficient accurate information about sex learning about sex from other kids. How many pregnancies and STDs have resulted?

Finally, and most controversially these days, we have the issues of ethnic, religious, and gender differences. It's a rare and brave soul who dares to discuss crime statistics concerning different ethnic groups and ask whether social and cultural factors have anything to do with those statistics. Or to point out that the male/female distinction, though far from all-encompassing and inadequate to describe some individuals and conditions, has a fundamental basis in Terran biology, and to ask whether such a fundamental distinction might indeed have some correlates in human psychology and behavior.

What difficulties might result from the prohibition on these last areas of discourse? Well, when open discussion is loudly declared to be taboo, and when well-informed, well-meaning, rational people yield to that prohibition, who's going to be left standing and talking? The haters, that's who. The actual haters, not those who for fear of that label have fallen silent. And who will be left listening? Those who resent political taboos but themselves know little about, e.g., ethnic groups outside their own acquaintance.

When speech is suppressed, many will admire anyone who defies that suppression, little as a particular defiant individual may deserve admiration. When people are berated or threatened for discussing such questions as whether a disproportionate percentage of Muslims embrace religiously motivated violence, some of those people will be more ready to believe slanderous claims about other religious groups, including Jews. And the woefully inadequate teaching of history in this country, lo these many years, fails to provide an antidote to such slanders.

It has always been a core American value that the answer to false speech is true speech, not suppression of speech -- even if laws and lawmakers have not always kept that in mind. And the consequences of suppressing speech show us the wisdom of that maxim. The candidacy of Patrick Little should provide a loud and alarming wake-up call.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Appropriate Census Questions and the Fourteenth Amendment

As often happens, I am posting what my husband could post in more detail, had he the time and inclination.

There is much agitation at present about the plan to add a question to the census concerning citizenship status. This is not a new idea. In 1950, every household was asked about citizenship. For much of the time since then, the long form census questionnaire (received by a smaller sample) included the question as well. However, that history doesn't answer the question of whether asking about citizenship is constitutionally appropriate. (What, we're supposed to consider the Constitution in figuring what questions belong in the census? Well, yes, since our federal government is supposed to exercise only enumerated powers, quaint as that restriction seems to many.)

Before the Fourteenth Amendment, the language of Article I, section 2 provided that "Representatives  . . . shall be apportioned among the several States . . . according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons . . . three fifths of all other Persons." It went on to prescribe the schedule for "the actual Enumeration." Note the use of the term "persons," and the inclusion of three-fifths of the number of slaves, who were obviously not voting citizens.

The Fourteenth Amendment, section 2, replaced this language with the following: "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State . . . ." We're still counting persons, not citizens. It went on, however, into new territory: "But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial Officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, shall be denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State." (The Nineteenth and Twenty-Sixth Amendments extended the right to vote to female citizens and citizens eighteen to twenty years old, respectively.) There is no mention of, and hence no change in, the language setting out the schedule for counting "persons," aka the census. It seems a logical inference that, since the new language requires knowing how many citizens with the franchise there are in the state as well as which of those citizens are being prevented from voting, the census is the appropriate tool to find that out. Based on those numbers, a state that prevents citizens entitled to vote from voting should find its number of members in the House of Representatives cut back in proportion to those so prevented.

It is thus not only appropriate, but necessary that the census, while continuing to count "persons" resident in the states, also count citizens entitled to vote, and quite possibly inquire whether any of those citizens have been unlawfully barred from the polls.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Masterpiece Cakes case and freedom of and establishment of religion

Opening clarification: I have not the slightest objection to same-sex marriage and hope to attend one, co-starring my daughter, someday.

Reading live blog accounts of the Masterpiece Cakes argument at the U.S. Supreme Court, it seemed (though not having attended, I could certainly be wrong) that there was insufficient exploration of two First Amendment issues other than free speech: freedom of religion and, especially, establishment of religion.

If the state may say that only those whose religion accepts same-sex marriage may practice certain professions, isn't that not only an infringement of the freedom to practice some religions, but a broad-brush state establishment of religion via exclusion of some religions?

Those arguing on the baker's behalf, I got the impression, did not defend the right of a makeup artist or hair stylist to decline same-sex wedding business. But, as Justice Kennedy suggested out in a complex-cake hypothetical, actually needing to be present at a service is different from selling a product or providing a service months and miles away. Would Oregon allow a makeup artist or hair stylist to say, "I am not available for on-site services for same-sex weddings -- you must come to my shop and then travel to the wedding venue"? I have my doubts.

What about a Muslim hair stylist who believes that no woman, or at least no woman claiming to be Muslim, should appear in public in front of men outside her family with her hair showing? Can she be compelled to provide her services to a woman self-identifying as Muslim who intends to be married in the middle of Harvard Square with her husband's frat buddies as his attendants and all sorts of male strangers walking past? If so, is the state infringing on her freedom of religion and/or establishing less restrictive forms of Islam over more restrictive ones?

Feel free to discuss these issues in the comments.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book release! -- and the book's dedication

As promised, here's my It's Here! post about The Link, my fourth near-future and first YA novel. (I'm posting it a few hours early after an Internet connection scare.)

First, the back cover copy.

-----

Kayla knows whatever her dog knows -- but neither knows enough.

The neural connection between Kayla and her dog seems unimportant, until her father's cryptic message.

Your mother and I are in danger, and I'm afraid that means you are too. I've gone into hiding. Don't try to find me unless I contact you, and don't let Saffi find me. You and Saffi should go too. Go and hide together.

Kayla doesn't really trust her father. After all, he left her mother and dragged Kayla off to live in the country. And when Kayla's mother gave her Saffi, her father somehow won the dog's loyalty.

But Kayla can't reach her mother. She has to decide, on her own, what to do. Should she hide in the forest with Saffi? Should she try to find her father? And what danger threatens?

-----

I posted the cover yesterday, but I'm quite fond of it, so here it is again.


You can find two excerpts from The Link via links in yesterday's post on this blog.

This book arose directly from my dog-walking duties. I'm usually the one walking our dog, a "Heinz 57" mutt. Here's a photo of her.




Of course, she sniffs one spot after another after another. And of course, I have no idea what she's learning from all those sniffs. At some point, I wished I could see a digital readout of what she's smelling, floating in the air above her. Well, that isn't exactly what happens in my book, but the idea inspired the technology involved.

Finally, I wanted to address the dedication and the publication date, which are related.

I published several earlier books on my older daughter's birthday, October 15th, in recognition of the fact that her participation in National Novel Writing Month led to my finally writing a novel, some decades after I gave up on that ambition. I decided to release this book on October 30th, my late father's birthday. The book isn't autobiographical, and my amazing father (about whom I posted yesterday) isn't much like my protagonist Kayla's father; but he's a father, and he made me think about mine. This is my dad's first birthday since he died last April, and I wanted to mark the occasion and to honor him. So the book is coming out on his birthday and is dedicated to him as well.

I love you, Charley Wyle.

You can find the ebook on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and eventually at other retailers including Kobo and the Nook Store. The paperback is on Amazon and Barnes & Noble (where, as of 10-29-17, it was marked down quite a bit!).

Happy reading, all!

About my dad, who would have been 95 tomorrow

I thought I'd blogged about my father before, but I can't find any such post. So I'm posting what I said at his memorial last April.

--------
All of you know that my dad was a remarkable man. And for a little guy, he leaves an enormous hole.
The difference between his physical size and the size of his impact on those around him can be illustrated by what happened when he started to cut back on his workaholic schedule, before the illness that forced him to retire at age 80. Ismeca, the Swiss company for which he was a consultant, started looking for someone to perform some of the many tasks they’d been relying on Dad to perform. They said they were looking for a “little Charley.”
My dad’s combination of intelligence, resourcefulness, courage, and self-discipline made him particularly good in a crisis. Some crises required more of one quality, some more of another. One that required his courage and self-discipline occurred when he was in Basic Training in the Army. They were camping in or near Death Valley, with sleeping bags in the desert – no tents. He awoke quite a while before reveille one morning to discover that a rattlesnake had cuddled up to him for warmth during the night. He knew that if he moved in a way that startled the snake, he might get bitten. So he lay motionless for two hours until someone noticed that Carl Weihrauch was late getting up.
I remember another crisis that called on different qualities. Many of you know that my brother David had serious psychiatric problems at times. One day when David was living on his own in Berkeley, he called my folks in L.A., or they called him, and it quickly became clear that something was seriously wrong, that he had suffered a psychotic break. Calmly and casually, without missing a beat, Dad said, “You know, I’m going to be in Berkeley this afternoon. Should I stop by?” Then he flew north and got David the psychiatric care he needed.
Another of Dad’s defining qualities was his special brand of determined optimism. He used to tell an anecdote about a man who somehow offended a king and was sentenced to death for it. The man, apparently glib of tongue, managed to convince the king that if he were only spared, he could teach the king’s horse to talk. The king postponed the sentence for a year to allow for these lessons. Afterward, a friend asked the man what good this postponement would do. The man replied: “A year is a long time! Anything can happen in a year. I may die; or the king may die; or the horse may talk!” Another example: one of Dad’s favorite books was the children’s picture book Ferdinand. Ferdinand was a bull who had no interest in fighting and just liked to sit and smell the flowers. When he sat on a bee, his reaction appeared so ferocious that he was chosen for a major bullfight. When he arrived in the ring, surrounded by finely dressed ladies with flowers in their hair, he sat down and smelled, refusing all efforts to make them home. In the improbable conclusion my father loved,
“they had to take Ferdinand home.
And for all I know he is sitting there still, under his favorite
cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly.”
I could go on for far too long telling Charley stories, from his boyhood in Berlin to his Army days during the invasion of Europe to his business career to his many years of political involvement. You’ll hear a few of those stories from others.
Dad changed over the years, of course, in obvious and unimportant ways. He stopped dancing the kazatska. His vision, never great, got worse. And instead of striding along briskly, arms swinging, head tilted a little to one side, he moved slowly, bent over, with a cane. But he never lost his sense of humor, his generosity, his commitment to civil liberties and social justice, his good cheer, or his indomitable spirit.
I count myself as exceptionally fortunate to have had this stalwart, honest, forthright, moral, modest, bright, funny, loving man as a parent and role model – and to have had him, not long enough, but for so long.

Did I somehow miss posting a cover reveal for tomorrow's book release?

Well, let me remedy that omission forthwith! Here is the cover of the near-future YA novel coming out on Monday, October 30th.


Cover designer David Leek and I collaborated on the cover, but the principal design work was all his.

I've already posted two excerpts (here and here).

Expect another post tomorrow, including the back cover copy and how the book came to exist (hint: I'm the one who walks our dog).