Monday, February 17, 2020

Goodbye to Jeanne Howard Writes

I don't even remember the exact year.

It was during my tenure at Lower Camden County Regional High School in Winslow Township that I started learning the basics of building a website. So it must have been in the mid-90s.

In 2001, I published a romance novel, Seasons of Forgetting, using iUniverse as the company to produce the book. I thought it was a masterpiece that would bring me Nora Robertsesque fame and fortune.

It was no masterpiece. It went nowhere and no one knew it existed.

So I built my first website, Jeanne Howard Writes, using the pseudonym I thought was just catchy enough to draw attention. Never mind there was already a famous Howard, Linda by name, who was in a league far above mine.The site was pretty and so was I in the glamour shot I'd paid for. It was hard to recognize myself in that professionally made-up and dressed gal in the head shot.

When I wrote the second novel, Jared's Promise, and signed on with Wings ePress to produce the ebook and the paperback, I brought Seasons of Forgetting with me. 
It got a new cover and a fresh edit and was by far a better book than the first attempt.
My friends, and even a lot of people I didn't know, read both books and claimed they stayed up at night until the finished them, piles of damp tissues next to their chairs. Bless them, they kept my confidence in myself as a writer alive for a very long time.

But, I don't write novels any more. After the second one, whatever Muse that had visited me fled, taking storylines, ideas and new characters with her to gift to others. Instead of writing, I spend hours each day editing the writing of others, all of them more versatile, prolific and determined to tell their stories than I was.

But I kept the old website alive, reluctant to toss all the work it took to design it into the computer's trash bin. xUntil yesterday. Yesterday, I did it.

With one keystroke, I sent it into oblivion. It wasn't as sad an occasion as I thought it would be.

It was just necessary to turn the page, to look ahead instead of back.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Hearts and Flowers

He was nearly eighty-five.
She was a mere youngster of eighty.
Together, they’d raised a family of eleven children to adulthood.
There had been others... those who died at birth or in infancy but were never forgotten.
In stereotypical Italian fashion, they lived in a large homestead on a big corner property in Atlantic County, New Jersey. As the children grew, they helped the family by working in the gigantic truck garden that supplied some of the food for their generous table.
Many of the children went to college…the boys in particular…while all attained a level of
accomplishment that would make any parent proud.
The unmarried children lived at home, helping with the chores as their parents aged. Finally, they held the responsibility for the entire household…its financing, upkeep and the family activities that never seemed to cease.
Because my mother’s sister married into this clan of Cairones, we were often guests at the Sunday feasts. It’s a memory that often comes back when one of my kids asks if she can bring someone to dinner and I’m tempted to refuse.
No one was ever refused a place at Cairones’.
The dining room dominated the entire household. And the table literally filled the room. Only the very slender attempted to move about once everyone was seated…there was no room to maneuver around the table, except for the chairs at the doorways to adjoining rooms.
Out of one of those rooms came some of the best Italian food ever produced…the Cairone kitchen sent forth mountains of spaghetti, roast beef, salads, vegetables and always a dessert or two.
Grandmother Cairone, petite and dainty, always presided over the dinner and made sure everyone ate plenty.
Grandfather Cairone was a quiet man.
As a kid, I often wondered what he was like when he was young, since his silence didn’t betray many personality traits. Even allowing for my age, I knew enough to figure he must have said something within this brood…must have done something that encouraged them all…to have ended up with such fine offspring.
As a romantic teenager, I wondered what kind of marriage these two people had.
Of course I knew they’d done their bit and more for posterity by helping to populate the planet, but I wondered how much was just family-arranged pairing and how much was real feeling.
Did they really love each other like the stars in the brand new television shows they called soap operas?
Was there any passion in their lives as they struggled and worked to support so many children?
Did they genuinely care for each other or was their married life staying power simply done because it was the “right” thing to do?
In many years of Sunday dinners, I never saw or heard anything that might betray any emotion.

One Sunday, just before I left home to go off to college, we were again at the Cairones’ dinner table.
Grandmother, having serious health problems, reigned over the family from a chair nearby.
My mother, who operated a small beauty shop in our home, had brought her cutting shears with her to do Grandmother’s hair. Illness had made it hard to handle, since its generous length had never been shorn, but tucked securely into a large knot at the nape of her neck.
With her eyes closed against the shock of the loss of her hair, Grandmother allowed Mom to
cut it away.
A few minutes later, sporting a stylish, shorter “do,” she opened her eyes and checked the reactions of those around her for a hint as to the result.
None of us really mattered, though, as she finally settled on her husband and said in that tiny voice of hers, “Well? How do I look?”
His reaction has stayed with me all these years.
It’s been my definition of a perfect Valentine.
He rose from his chair, walked unsteadily to hers and knelt painfully in front of this woman he’d lived with for well over sixty-five years.
Taking her perfect little oval face in both his work-worn hands, he whispered, just loudly enough for her and those of us nearest to her to hear, “Antoinette, you’re always beautiful to me.”
That love was no accident, no sham.
It was what many seek throughout their lifetimes, but never achieve.
It was lovely to behold, those two aged souls having eyes for only each other in a room of
noisy onlookers.
Grandmother died shortly after that.
Grandfather lived a few years longer, but in near silence and increasing frailty.
Life without the one was nothing for the other.
They gave meaning to the words “I love you.”
Even though we never heard them uttered.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

What's in a sign?

We were out enjoying the warm Sunday afternoon, just taking a back road to get to our grocery store.
I didn't see the sign at first, but Howard did.
Wonder what that means, he muttered.
 We both read it again:

It still wasn't clear. Was the signmaker saying the president had done something wrong?
But then, somehow that wrong something turned out to be right?
We agree that any president might be wise to seek the guidance of a higher power, given the stresses and the gravity of the job.
Even if that president so often acts in opposition to the express commands of the higher power.
Even if that president openly defies the tenets of the religion he claims to espouse.
But let's give this president the benefit of wishing a blessing on him.
So the second line is understandable, I suppose.
But the first?
What has this president done recently that is widely seen as wrong?
That is surely a subject for debate, since half of the country sees his actions one way, while the other half views them differently.
But, for the sake of argument, let's say this sign creator believes kicking a hornet's nest in Iran by killing its top military leader wasn't a
     wise move. Wrong, even.
How, then, could it have been the right thing to do?
Look at the Middle East after the killing.
Where there was, certainly not peace, but an uncertain quiet three years ago.
Then the US blew up the Iran nuclear deal.
Then the US pulled out of Syria, leaving our allies the Kurds to fend for themselves against sure massacre.
Then the US attacked military sites in Iraq and Syria to illustrate our displeasure with the killing of an American contractor.
Then Iraq brought our embassy under seige, threatening the lives of our ambassador and embassy staff.
Then this president, activating an action he apparently authorized seven months ago, ordered the drone strike that killed Iranian General
       Quassem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Then Iran launched a dozen or so missiles in the direction of an Iraqi airbase where US forces are housed.

For a country with fairly precise strike capability to aim missiles so far off any human targets seemed a fairly nominal retaliatory measure. But anyway, now we have anxious populations in Iran and the US, tensions having been racheted as high as possible short of all-out war.

So how does that wrong equal a right?
Only the sign maker can answer that, but it made us stop, read the sign and wonder.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Auld Lang Syne

It's hard to believe it's 2020. And I'm sure I'm not the only person saying so.

After all, where did 2019 go? It sped past so quickly... from January to December seemed to be one big blur.

But here we are, facing the second decade in the century, filled with uncertainty and not a little apprehension. We are, after all, literally at the mercy of those who decide the fates of our nation and its people.

And we don't know all the facts, so we can't protect ourselves or react in a way intended to keep us safe.

It's true that our governments have lied to us consistently, mostly without ever being held to account for it. I was too young and naive to know what Presidents Eisnhower (my first consciousness of a president) and Truman might have caused then covered up with carefully orchestrated lies. And I haven't looked back or attempted to study the issues in detail.

But I know we didn't always get the truth from Presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Ford. Witness our involvement in the Vietnam conflict.

President Johnson lied big time about the outcomes of Vietnam ... fake body counts, bogus field operations, etc. He and his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, should have been tried for war crimes, but we didn't know until later the extent of their perfidy.

President Carter's stint in office was, by comparison, relatively honest. He seemed incapable of deception regarding his job performance and those around him followed his example. But after the Iranians took Americans hostage and Carter couldn't get them released, he earned a reputation as a failed president. I never bought that and still think history will show that he was probably one of our most honest.

President Reagan got into office on a lie. His arms for hostages deal brought the hostages home at a price and he spent his two terms finding ways to increase deficits and reduce the size of the middle class.

President Clinton abused his office with a tawdry sexual exploit. Period. While it didn't spill over into his actions as president, it forever labeled him as the second chief executive in our history to have been impeached. He was charged with lying to the FBI but not convicted and removed from office.

The two Bush presidents, George HW and George W will be known for their part in miring the US in the Middle East. The first Gulf War, the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent nearly decades' long wars there are on their heads, George W's in particular. The lies that came out of those administrations were, at the time, some of the biggest we ever heard. And many of us knew it.

The years of President Obama, while free of scandal or indictments, also had their share of lies. They were almost always related to war: the outcomes, the wins, the progress, the unfailing greatness of our progress to stamp out the bad guys. Now, years later, we know they were lies, but they were so artfully told many of us didn't suspect.

But right after candidate Donald Trump rode that escalator down to announce his candidacy, we have been subjected to what a fact-finding organization has reported as over 15,000 false statements (read lies) with more being delivered every day. His insecure, narcissistic personality pushes him to lie about the simplest of matters. His undisguised hatred of his predecessor and his successes pushes him to trash every policy designed to better the lives of we the people or keep the nation on an even keel in the world.

Now he and his war-mongering associates are trying to make us believe the United States was morally justified in targeting and killing a monstrous Iranian leader, that we alone are permitted to take such action on foreign soil without consultation of any kind with any experts in foreign relations or bipartisan groups of Congressional representatives. The rhetoric is blustery; the threats belligerent and the notion that retaliation for such an act would be cause for new violence.

I've always been an advocate for peace. I still believe that religion and greed are the two drivers of world conflict. The Middle East has been in religious wars for thousands of years and we had no right to interject ourselves into them. Many say it's because of the oil...that magic substance that is fueling not only the SUVs our auto makers have taken to creating almost exclusively, but also climate change which is altering life as we know it on our planet.

Denying that oil is a catalyst is another lie.

By now, I would have hoped the American electorate would have been done with lies. That we would have seen through the mercenary actions for what they are. But the chest-thumping is loud and long. Look what wonderful thing the US has done! We have rid the world of an evil man out to attack our homeland.

I don't know when we started calling the United States a homeland. But I do know that no place is safe now that Mr. Trump has unleashed the rage of entire populations of people who chant "Death to America." We were in a relatively calm place, with Iran abiding by the nuclear deal we signed and with diplomacy working to resolve the other crises afoot in the region. Now? No one knows what is next, but it's safe to say, without lying, that nothing good will come from what Donald Trump has done.