Inciting Violence


It’s incredibly sad to me that I wrote this post long ago, and yet now with the election from hell, we are even worse off. Still can’t believe this is our country…

The news last week about the US Congresswoman from Arizona and those around her who were shot by a mad man is weighing me down. I watched on TV the speech by President Obama at the memorial service. Six people died, one a child, all innocent people whose only mistake was to be in that ‘wrong’ place. Innocent people who wanted to hear what a duly elected official, exercising her freedom of speech and assembly, had to say. President Obama spoke magnificently about the tragedy, doing honor to those who were killed and those who helped save. He said we need to be the kind of world that that child thought we were and expected us to be. He spoke profoundly and made me proud he is our president.

It goes beyond irony that the child who died was born on September 11, 2001. Is there any doubt the killer is mad? How could he do such a thing if he were not? That may mean that the suicide bombers of the past decades, the terrorists of today’s world, kamikaze pilots of yesterday, are all mad too. Are they? Or are we living in a world where violence has been elevated to a political art form? Where it’s just a matter of creating the right language, the most vitriolic propaganda, and finding charismatic leaders to deliver the hatred to an ignorant and brainwashed population. I believe this is happening now in our country with the Tea Party. I fear that the Tea Party has identified such methods to suit their purposes which are to incite fear and violence. They are using the imagery of guns, shooting, and targets to deliver their messages. Once the message is out, all it takes is a mentally unbalanced person to act on it.

I don’t use the word shame very often, but I say shame on the Tea Party for not acknowledging that she is part of the problem, perhaps a very large and important part. Shame on our country for allowing anyone to get a gun and ammunition, with so little control that children are shooting children regularly. Where fathers videotape their own children shooting semi automatic weapons, and in one recent case, watching as the child blows his own head off. Where the word ‘liberal’ is used as an invective and encouragement to put a politician in the ‘crosshairs’. Where this rhetoric is defiantly supported by Tea Party and yes, some Republican party members too, as merely symbolic. IT ISN’T SYMBOLIC, IT’S INCITING VIOLENCE.

Language hurts. And violence is real. What about that don’t you get?

This is a passage from my book PERSEPHONE IN HELL. Glory’s father, Herb, has had a stroke and has weakened significantly in every way. Glory is an immature and troubled teen; she has stopped respecting her father. She knows only the bare bones about his past, that he’d served as a medic on the beach of Normandy on D Day and received a lot of medals. She couldn’t know his long remembered despair.

“Herb endured a long period of surgeries and recuperation to restore his health. He was awarded many medals of honor from the army. He received among others, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star for his bravery. There was only one higher medal that could have been bestowed. Herb was a war hero among war heroes.

But all he could think of were the men he hadn’t saved. A real hero would have gone out again. A real man would have risked his life to save a good kid like Carl, a buddy like Max. They were his men, truly his real family, and you do for your family.

He took his box of medals home. He showed them to his Mama and Pop, who were proud of him and overjoyed to have him home. He showed them to his favorite sister Miriam, and to all his brothers and sisters. He showed them to Joyce, his girl, who kissed him and agreed to marry him after a time.

Then Herb took his box of hard earned, well deserved medals of honor and stuck them in his dresser drawer. He never took them out again. He never, ever mentioned the war again in his life.”


Snow in Massachusetts



There are people all over the world who live in climates where snow never falls. They don’t experience snow except in movies. They don’t know the cold that comes with snow. Some have never seen it for real, never touched it, never been closer than a picture in a book. I am decidedly not one of those people!

Some get a dusting of snow and think they understand snow. They don’t know snow. I know snow. I know snow in the most intimate, most familiar, most embarrassingly common manner. I know snow in the Platonic sense, that is, in its quintessential form.

I have known snow for so long, you’d think we’d be comfortable partners by now. You’d think we’d be caring for each other, helping each other thrive, wishing each other well and long life. You’d think so – you’d be wrong.

In this scene from my novel PERSEPHONE IN HELL, four year old Glory and her older sister Penny are running home from the candy store, through the snow to their protected play house under the pine trees in their yard.

“They had a good long walk ahead of them, three quarters of a mile or more. Just outside the store, Glory stopped…Must take off my mittens. They’re ugly orange and there’s a hole in the thumb. They’re not beautiful. She took off her mittens, stuffed them into her pockets, and continued on, holding her little bag tightly in her bare hands. Penny ran ahead, but Glory couldn’t run. She could barely walk. Her bare hands were frozen.

I’m so cold. My hands hurt. They’re all red. She wouldn’t let go of her candy bag to put her hands inside her pockets or put on her mittens…The snow fell a little harder. Glory’s hands couldn’t move. They were frozen to the bag. My legs are sore. I don’t want to walk anymore. My eyes are tired. She leaned against a telephone pole and decided to rest.

Just then, a man in a felt hat and top coat walked by. He stopped and looked at Gloria. I’m cold, so cold. And where is Penny? He said, “Little girl, where do you live? I’ll take you home.” Glory pointed down the street. Not supposed to talk to strangers.

The man picked her up and carried her down the street. Glory closed her eyes. So tired and cold. Need to rest. The man didn’t ask if they were close to home. He held her tightly and kept walking.”

Mother Nature and I, we don’t always get along. Like mothers and daughters everywhere, we don’t always agree. We disagree often, in fact. Every summer when the air is hellishly hot and humid. Late spring when the mosquitoes and black flies come out. Autumn was my favorite for the longest while, but then I noticed the leaves die off in fall. (They do so quite dramatically here.) And she and I fight outright every winter when the snow and cold and the early dark sky make me wonder how I am to survive until the seasons change again.






True tales from when I was selling my house…


I’m selling my house and the realtor said I had to clean up and de-clutter. Rather freaking out here. Heavy lifting is done but clutter is still everywhere and the entire house needs dusting, vacuuming, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Did I mention cleaning? Ugh! In my future life, I plan to be wealthy enough to hire a weekly house cleaner. Also, I intend to simplify. I do not want stuff anymore!

Showing to 5 potential buyers on Sunday at 11 a.m. (this is Friday evening). With any luck, one of those 5 buyers will love the house and offer full asking price or something reasonably close. I am feeling very lucky lately – will keep you up to date. Wish me good fortune and a quick sale!

PS If you read any of my novel PERSEPHONE IN HELL, you’ll find the character Joyce who is Glory’s mother. Joyce is the world’s worst housekeeper. She is not a traditional mother. I am not as bad a housekeeper as my character Joyce. That’s about all I have to say.


On the Cutting Floor


Seriously, my character made me write it. I have no history of cutting myself. Never once thought of it until the day I wrote Chapter The Carnival in PERSEPHONE IN HELL. Tears were running down my face as I wrote the scene where Glory goes on her very first date ever. She meets Billy at the carnival which is set up in a big field across the street from her house. They have fun at first, but Glory starts to get bored with Billy. He’s handsome but not especially bright. They pass the merry go round when Glory begins to feel sick. She doesn’t know why, but a terribly disturbing feeling overtakes her. Her foot aches and she needs to sit down. Billy escorts her to the bleachers in the edge of the shadows.

“He pulled her toward him and kissed her with an ugly impatient passion. “Stop it, Billy! Cut it out!” she demanded. He wouldn’t listen. He held her with one hand while the other pushed its way under her shirt to her bra. He shoved his hand under it and felt her naked breast. Glory tried to pull back. I didn’t mean for anything like this to happen. I’m not ready for a boy like Billy.

She slapped at Billy’s face, and as she did, he suddenly let go. “No broad is worth this!” he snarled. She fell onto the bleacher seat. She hit her back and tumbled down the steel steps to the ground. She lay on the damp dark grass…When he was gone, Glory pulled herself up off the ground and slowly limped through the field, past the diamond, past the carnival, past the gate, and home.

She couldn’t remember ever feeling worse. Couldn’t recall a time when she felt less like the queen she had always imagined herself to be. She closed the bathroom door, and with a dull razor she found in the drawer, cut fifteen slashes on her thighs and on her breasts. One slash for each year of my failure of a life.”

As a writer, I was in shock. My character Glory had her own mind about how she wanted the story to be told, and I had no choice but to follow. I can tell you that until I actually wrote those last two lines, I had no idea where the story would take me. What the subconscious can dredge up when allowed free rein!


In Celebration of the Summer Solstice



In celebration of the summer solstice, I say goodbye to this difficult, demanding, dissonant spring.



“Spring had come again, a time of great confusion in the natural world of southeastern Massachusetts. A time for tiny delicate crocus to bud, only to be buried and sometimes crushed under a late snowfall. For robins to fly home from their wanderings even before the earthworms work their way out of the frozen ground.

Azaleas bloom one week; daffodils another. Antisocial forsythia’s already come and gone along with the snowdrops. Cherry blossoms and rhododendrons and tulips awake in no particular order. Crab apples usually flower last, but not always.

Skunk and raccoon, squirrel and chipmunk scurry out of their nests willy nilly, looking for something fresh to eat after the long lonely winter. Everybody’s lean and hungry. All living things in the spring look for their chance, search for a place to thrive, jockey for position.

Perhaps there is harmony and concordance in a New York spring, or in Pennsylvania, or Washington DC. But in southeastern Massachusetts, Mother Nature cries out a dissonant prelude. She doesn’t desire a symphony of bloom. She fights to keep everyone and everything under her domain on guard.

She prefers to conduct a guessing game. Can I keep that blue jay from stealing my nest? wonders the worried female cardinal just laying her eggs. Maybe I could use that nest to lay my eggs, the tired female blue jay thinks, searching for a suitable place to land. It is survival of the fittest, and Mother Nature is cruel. She’s tough, demanding disorderly progressions in spring. Because she knows once summer comes, both flora and fauna – anyone who’s survived the spring grows strong.

There is an inevitable harmony in the summer solstice. That’s the easy part. But it’s the getting there that counts. Spring brings chaos and uncertainty, discordant notes and solo acts whose timing may be all off. It’s meant to make us fit and able. Any good mother wants her children fit and able for the times to come. It’s the law of nature.”



Ma the Matchless


Oh, I had the mother of all mothers, had I. A truly brilliant, complex, and often exasperating woman of a mother. Glory in my novel PERSEPHONE IN HELL fared no differently. How did we get such compellingly different and difficult mothers?

Certainly it wasn’t of our choosing. What girl would pick a mother who never cleaned the house, who stayed in bed all day reading sci-fi and smoking? Who sat in the kitchen on a hot summer’s afternoon in her underwear reading the New York Times? Who could argue you into the ground on Vietnam, Richard Nixon, and most other subjects? That was my mother. The Ma who would be Cleopatra, floating down the Nile on her barge, purposely all alone, with no kids to drive her crazy. Here she is in her bedroom looking for something to read while Glory is humiliated at the thought of her messy home.

“Joyce wasn’t exactly what you’d call a good homemaker. She felt above it; that cleaning was perhaps meant for someone else but not her. She was comfortable in her mess and didn’t care what anyone else thought about it. She wasn’t bothered that her children were too ashamed of their home to bring friends to it. She’d say, “If they’re really your friends, they won’t care what your house looks like.”

Though technically I have to admit that you have a point, Ma, it’s mortifying to live in such filth. The pits. Really, hell on earth. I rarely bring a friend home. Not even Camille. Why don’t you notice?

Joyce stretched and spotted a neglected title. She dug it out of the pile. Ah, she discovered, “Le Morte d’ Arthur” – how did that get in here? She much preferred the future to the past. Joyce didn’t believe in chivalry, knights in shining armor, silly legends like King Arthur, or a holy grail. Hell, she thought, there’s absolutely nothing holy about this world.”

Ma the Matchless has been gone almost 25 years now. Just this past Mother’s Day, I realized how much I miss her. I miss arguing with her. I miss the woman that I as an adult was only beginning to know when she up and died. Teenage Glory doesn’t know it yet, but someday she’ll remember Ma with love. She will forgive her mother’s transgressions. She’ll take pride in having a mother who was anything but common.





It isn’t always a mother who does the mothering in a family. Sometimes it’s a father; often it’s an older sister who fills in for an absent or lacking parent. In this scene from PERSEPHONE IN HELL, Penny wakes from a terrible nightmare. She’s dreamed her little sister Kit is dead. She hears noises in the dark, and follows them into Kit’s room. Young Kit is crying, perched on the edge of her bed in her favorite green nightgown, herself having just awakened from an awful dream.

“In seeing Kit, it was as though a great weight lifted off Penny’s shoulders. She had never, ever been so happy to see her tiny sister. She held out her arms to Kit, who was miraculously unhurt and alive and safe. She gave her the hug of a lifetime.

Rubbing her eyes, still waking from her dream, Kit cried, “Penny, I’m all alone. No one cares about me. I could be dead and no one would even notice.”

Penny didn’t know why Kit felt this way or why she said the things she said. They were Kit’s feelings, and couldn’t be denied. But she knew that Kit was wrong. There was at least one person who cared that she was alive. She was not alone.

Penny stroked her small sister’s teary cheeks. She rocked her back and forth and softly hummed a favorite tune. “Greensleeves was my heart of gold, and who but my lady Greensleeves?” She sang the words over and over, calmly and sweetly, until Kit returned to the bliss of a young girl’s deep sleep.

Then Queen Penny the Good closed her eyes, and slept like a child until the morn.”

To mothers everywhere, real and imagined, young and old, perfect and not. I wish your families the wisdom to understand that you are trying your best, you are working so hard, you need their love even if you are flawed. Mothering is not easy. I want the world to understand.

Happy Mothers Day




In my posting MELANCHOLIA, I discussed melancholy, a decidedly depressing subject. It was a very important posting for me, and I needed to write it. But who wants to read about sadness all the time? So this week I’ve decided to talk about happiness. Happiness in the extreme. A state of being where a person is giddy with excitement and enveloped in the moment of pure joy. Do you remember the last time you felt deliriously happy?

I’ve searched through PERSEPHONE IN HELL and can’t find a spot of that pure joy for my main character. It’s disturbing that in a story that chronicles two years in the life of a teenage girl, there is not one moment of complete happiness. There is anticipation (when Glory goes out on her first date ever with Billy.) There is sibling horseplay (when Sammy falls out of the closet like a mummy and scares Glory half to death.) There is a delicious sense of trickery (when Glory’s family steals away with buckets of contraband blueberries.) There is delight in young sisters’ play under the gentle pine trees. There is independence and solitude high in the maples branches.

But I can’t come up with one quote on undiluted pleasure. That delirious feeling of first kiss or first love. That sense that the rest of the world doesn’t matter, that only the exchange between lovers is real. Finding one’s soul mate and proclaiming before everyone who matters that the two of you will love each other forever. Or a first look at one’s newborn baby, or the pride one takes in watching a child grow up healthy and happy. Seeing your children off to college and on to independent lives. Getting the news that you got that job you wanted. Travel to Paris. Visiting Monet’s garden at Giverny and Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. Seeing the Coliseum in Rome and the Acropolis in Athens. Using binoculars to view the vast number of stars in the dark Atlantic sky from a deck in a rented home in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Driving to Florida to see the very last space shuttle lift off.

There can be utter joy in connecting with friends both new and old. In celebrating your shared collective remembrances and experiences. In rekindling passions, whether for old friends or loves, or for an interest that used to sweep you away. I remember the joy of singing, the absolute love I had for the stage and for every dimension of bringing a play, musical, or operetta to life before an audience. I recall the applause and how it made me feel alive and worthy. I recall standing behind the tympani, squeezed into a tiny stage at Jordan Hall in Boston while singing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Ode to Joy. My ears rang for days after, but the thrill of participating in that music in that venue was joy I will never forget. Singing Mozart’s Missa Solemnis, the most thrilling music ever written, at Symphony Hall. Handl’s Messiah at Trinity Church, a stunningly beautiful cathedral in my home town of Boston. I sang leading solo parts too: Gueneviere in Camelot, Fiona in Brigadoon, Yum Yum in The Mikado, and others. These were joyous occasions of the most delirious kind.

Right now, I’m feeling a little sorry for Glory. She hasn’t experienced any of these moments. There is nothing that helps her understand how much joy there is to be had in a difficult world. When it finally hits her, this feeling of delirious happiness, she may not know how to cope. She may spiral out of all control. She may not be able to handle the excitement. She may mess everything up.





Today I’ve been thinking about my brother, who died by his own hand, some 25 years ago. He shot himself in the mouth. He was young. Life was full ahead of him if only he could have waited for worthy moments to come his way. Like me, he was an impulsive and impatient fellow, filled with miseries of his own making. Expecting more and terribly disappointed when his life didn’t conform to his imaginings. Calm and dispassionate in his demeanor. Consumed in his heart with jealousy for a rewarding life that never matched his actual existence.

Especially when we are young, we make oh, so many mistakes. We find it hard to justify the waiting. We demand a quick and logical, sequential pattern to our coming of age. We don’t understand that nature doesn’t march forward in straight, perfect lines. Often we are forced to step back or to the side and start again. The agony can be palpable.

“She walked closer to the flames.

I don’t have God. I don’t pray to the blue lights, or the cigarette gods, or the god of good fortune, or even to the goddess Persephone who raises the cruel spring.

It isn’t Persephone’s fault the spring brings chaos and disharmony. She ate three of Hades’ pomegranate seeds – big deal. That’s no reason to bind her to hell. That’s no reason to give up on her. Hades is the mean one, the gross and disgusting pig of an underworld god. Persephone isn’t much more than a child, Hades, though she looks adult. She’s just a girl, Hades. Leave Persephone be.

Glory moved to a spot where the sparks flew straight out into the night air. She raised her hand to them, and let them hit her fingers. She felt tingles but no pain.”

Not every young adult experiences the kind of melancholy expressed in PERSEPHONE IN HELL. Not every young person destroys himself in a fit of despair. But some do. My memories live with me. The agony is palpable.



The Difficult Season



In this excerpt from PERSEPHONE IN HELL, Madeline Standish is Glory’s physics teacher. She’s caught Glory daydreaming again; unacceptable for one of God’s chosen people. Glory assures Mrs. Standish that she’ll try harder. Madeline is the quintessential Yankee – tough, proud, and determined to keep all things in their proper place.

“Madeline drew up her papers into a neat stack and erased the formulas on the board. It’s potluck tonight, she remembered. Descendants of the Mayflower night.

She looked out the window. Hope this blasted sleet doesn’t cancel our meeting. The difficult season is upon us. But I pride myself as a true Yank, and a little bad weather won’t change my plans.

She thought of the pickled cabbage dish she’d be bringing for potluck. It was the same dish she’d been making her whole life, following Grandma Prissy’s recipe. Her friend Helen, the home economics teacher, had suggested adding a pinch of cinnamon for excitement. But Madeline was unmoved. No need to change a thing, she thought with unbending conviction. It’s perfect just the way it is.”

To give Madeline credit, an inventive person can go mad waiting for a New England winter to pass. Perhaps those old weary Pilgrims had it right. Best to accept and hunker down, filling any irregular open gaps with a life that could be lived over and over again. Better to block those cold annoying breezy thoughts with considerations that don’t stray outside the norm. To surround oneself with casseroles and company as constant as the steady oaks. With tested deliberations that conquer the difficult season for generation after generation. With hearts all set in a single direction.

With chronic cough and March in the making…