For Writers and Readers of the Short Story: An Interview with Book Reviewer and Screenwriter Heidi Simmons

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Heidi Simmons

My first “meeting” with screenwriter, feature writer, and book reviewer Heidi Simmons occurred a few years ago while I was reading the Coachella Valley Weekly. I came across a book review  she wrote on a short story collection. As a short story writer, I was happy to see the genre being reviewed. That article was the first of a series of four reviews she wrote on short story collections. For the next three weeks, I made sure to pick up a copy of the CV Weekly. I then met her in person at a National League of American Pen Women Palm Springs meeting where, as the featured speaker, she discussed the crafts of writing and screenwriting. I was impressed by her energy, expertise, and commitment. We met again at the recent Desert Writers Expo.

And so we begin.

Please tell us a bit about what you do.

Screenwriting is my first love. Besides screenwriting, I am a feature writer and write a weekly Book Review column for the CV Weekly – Coachella Valley Weekly, an arts and entertainment paper in print and online.

I write web content and specialize in “professional persona” content. That is, I write for professionals in a first person narrative for public relations in electronic and print media forms.

I enjoyed and appreciated a series of four articles you wrote in July 2012 for CV Weekly called “Short Stories for Summer.” You reviewed these collections: Suddenly, A Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret, Among the Missing by Dan Choan, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender, and Working Backwards From the Worst Moment of My Life by Rob Roberge.

I’m curious. What is it that attracts you to be a reader of the short story genre in general?

The short story attracts me for many reasons. Mainly, I love a short story for what it can do in a short period of time. Whether the story is about a singular moment or a lifetime, it’s self-contained in fewer pages. Like a piece of music, a good short story is carefully orchestrated. Every sentence matters, every word counts for something. The intentions of the author are ever-present.

I also like that a short story does not necessarily require a traditional plot. A short story can be about a single idea. It can be a metaphor, or a confession. The possibilities are endless. It’s thrilling to think where a short story can take the reader. And the beauty is: it doesn’t have to be told in hundreds of pages.

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Something drew you to each of these collections, which leads to this. What was it? What do you look for when you review a short story collection?

As when I review any book, fiction or non-fiction, I look to be engaged and entertained. I crave a compelling narrative, short or long. I especially love new ideas, a fresh perspective and insight. I want a story to pop and sizzle, but I also like when a story slowly creeps up on me.

All of the above authors are fearless storytellers. They dig in and they never back down. Each goes all the way with an idea or character.

Keret and Bender use magical realism (a fantasy element) in several of their stories, which is fun to read, and ads a layer of metaphor or ambiguity. That kind of writing makes the reader consider what the story means and allows for multiple interpretations, which is exciting.

Your reviews focused on short story collections by one author. Would you say you prefer one author collections over anthology collections by a variety of authors? Please explain.

I like a collection from a single author because I think the read becomes greater than the sum of its parts. In a way, the best collections crescendo. Often, the stories start to inform a greater meaning. Which I love! I’m never sure if it’s intended by the author, but I like it. It’s not at all necessary that the stories or characters cross over, but I don’t mind when they do. What I really enjoy is to get a sense of the author’s voice.

I do like and have many short story anthologies, but I have not reviewed them. Perhaps I will. Collections are a great way to discover new writers. I like anthologies best when the content is around a subject or theme.

Who would you say is your favorite short story author, living or not? Why?

Flannery O’Conner, Raymond Carver, dead. Richard Ford, Rob Roberge, Lorrie Moore, alive. They all get the short story. What they do best is share a secret — they let the reader inside a private world. They introduce you to a place and people and then you’re on your own. Deal with it. They dare you to judge, to criticize and to evaluate the world they’ve let you into. There’s no agenda, they’re not out to change the world, these authors only want the reader to look at the story closely. Good short story authors peek under the skin of the human condition. I love it!

Do you have a favorite short story? What makes it stand out in your mind?

From the books above, I like Rob Roberge’s “Swiss Engineering” and “Working Backwards From the Worst Moment of My Life.” These stories are so rich in texture and emotional depth. But the reader won’t find anyone crying. Roberge nails an interior struggle without ever defining it. His characters are mostly unaware of why they do what they do. Perhaps that is where the story begins. His characters are not into self-evaluation. Self-deprecation, self-loathing, self-destruction maybe, but they’re not into self-analysis. The reader is left to decide and that’s what I love. I want to discover and understand the character based on the information, the clues on the page and between the lines.

Is there a memorable character from a short story that has stayed with you? Please elaborate.

The Mother, or Grandmother, in Flannery O’Conner’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” I don’t think she even has a name. The Mother is so uptight, controlling and passive aggressive. She essentially brings about a self-fulfilling prophecy and destroys her family. Even in the face of death, she can’t stop herself from being a prig. Yet, I feel for her. I ache for the sadness, the loss, her desperation and her poor judgment.

It’s fun discussing a character like the Mother because she’s complicated. What made her that way? What clues do we have from the writer that informs us about her condition? How is it that we know her so well? Maybe someone thinks she is not a prig? What can we glean from her grandchildren, son, daughter-in-law or the killers about who she is? This is what makes story-telling so incredible.

From a screenwriter’s point of view, what short story adaptations to film do you feel stand out?

All movies are short stories when you consider the time constraint. Movies work best for me when they are between 90 and 120 minutes.

Stephen King has had many short stories adapted to film. “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” was a terrific adaptation. Also, King’s, “The Body” was made into “Stand by Me.” That’s an excellent adaptation. King is a very visual writer and he writes twists and surprises well, which make his short stories good for film adaptations.

Good movies start with good stories!

What does a screenwriter have to do that is different from a fiction/short story writer?

There is a technical requirement involved with screenwriting. That is, a specific page format must be followed. It’s the blueprint for filming the movie.

Screenwriting is a visual medium and at best it’s minimalist – like a haiku. You have to write what can be seen. The basic structural elements are location, action and dialogue.

In a short story or novel, the author can write interior thoughts or have an omniscient voice. That’s the antithesis of screenwriting. The screenplay must visually unfold through the actions of the characters .

I think a screenwriting course can be helpful to fiction and nonfiction writers to find the theme and better grasp the necessary beats or turning points that make a story compelling.

Is there anything else about you or any articles, interviews, projects, etc., you would like to share or tell us about?

I would love to see more authors do short story collections. I would like to see publishers embrace more short story collections.

Short story collections are certainly a way new writers move into getting a novel published. Which makes sense if novels are what you want to write. I’ve seen where authors later incorporated or expanded their short stories into their novels.

I believe some authors are more gifted at the short story and should be encouraged to stay in the genre rather than being forced to produce a novel. Perhaps because books are so expensive, publishers feel more pages or a bigger story justifies the price.

Writing short stories is very challenging. It takes work. Just because a story is short doesn’t mean it’s less powerful or doesn’t have significant impact or is easier to construct.

As for me, I write short stories and enjoy the process very much. It’s fun to try new voices and points of view. What I like best is when the writing surprises me in ways I never saw coming! Someday maybe I’ll publish them. Meanwhile, I’ll keep reading the exciting art form that is the short story.

Thank you, Heidi, for the great interview. And thank you from writers and readers of the short story for your love of the genre.

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Featured speaker Heidi Simmons at an NLAPW Palm Springs meeting.

 

Enjoying Things Creative …

While some hours, days, or even weeks can be absolute bummers (we’ve all been there), other periods of time overflow with activities and events we love to do. Like a perfect storm. Recently, several of mine clustered together within a few weeks time. Things like writing and book related events and art shows.

First was the Desert Writers Expo, sponsored by the Palm Springs Writers Guild and the Rancho Mirage Library. The one day event brings together 40 authors of short stories, novels, nonfiction, the culinary arts, and poetry. It’s an active and busy show. My husband, a chocolatier, does the event every year.

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Assisting your best friend (and husband) at the Desert Writers Expo

Assisting my best friend (and husband) at the Desert Writers Expo

 Anthony's Chocolates On-the- Go, "Done My Way"

Tony with his book – Anthony’s Chocolates On-the- Go, “Done My Way”

Watercolorist Lynn Centeno

Watercolorist Lynn Centeno

Next was a Trunk Show featuring two local artists, watercolorist Lynn Centeno and jewelry designer Nettie Roberts. I found this watercolor called “Wild Horses” as soon as I walked into the event. It now hangs in our living room. What attracted me was the color, the power, and the energy. Plus the wonderful majesty of these animals.

"Wild Horses" by watercolorist Lynn Centeno

“Wild Horses” by Lynn Centeno

Each month The Palm Springs Writers Guild offers its 278 members an ongoing contest called the Monthly Writing Challenge. The challenge has a different emphasis with a different set of criteria each month. Periodically, I’m invited to read the winning story at the monthly meeting. Below, I’m reading “Spirit Point,” a tension filled flash fiction piece by writer Larry Lauritzen.

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February’s Challenge “The Pursuit Plot”

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The Winning Story

Photos courtesy of Cheryl McFadden

A twelve week class on writing the personal essay also started, taught by Author/Journalist Maggie Downs and sponsored by the Palm Springs Writers Guild.  The class goal is to have each writer produce a body of work which can then be further developed. One of the these writings will be workshopped and polished. There’s the possibility of a publication and a public reading at the conclusion of the class.

Author/Journalist Maggie Downs

Author/Journalist Maggie Downs

Then there was a show by glass artist Don Dietz. Couldn’t resist this bowl.

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Glass Artist Don Dietz

Glass Artist Don Dietz

Slogging along on a draft

Lastly, I’m working on a draft of a new story.

Hope your days are filled with creative things that make you happy … in your artistic life and your daily living. Love to hear about them.

Meeting Poetry … Again

Poet Julie Paegle

Poet Julie Paegle

I love a class that ignites my learning gene. In January I did a post called “Hit the Restart Button on Learning” and mentioned I would be taking a poetry class. The class was taught by Professor Julie Paegle, director of the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at California State University San Bernardino. The class title? “Reversing Spells, Secrets Spilled, and The Line’s Surprise.”

As primarily a fiction writer, I liked her review of the basics and this comparison:

Poetry                                                    Prose
words                                                     words
lines … enjambed                                sentences
stanzas                                                  paragraphs
art of language                                   art of story

I liked these poetry guidelines:

1. the best words  (nouns, verbs, prepositions)
2. imagery  (language that appeals to the senses)
3. metaphor
4. simile
5. The poem should look and sound beautiful.

We explored the line break or turn, the spell a poem can cast, and tried our hand at writing. Paegle introduced us to the power of secrets. We each wrote down two secrets, one true and one not. She collected the papers and then passed them back to us, making sure we didn’t get our own. We then chose one secret to write about, using any form and a refrain. We didn’t know if the secret we chose was true or not. My class offering:

I Would Have Married My Cousin If He Hadn’t Been

From my soul I long
to tell him
I love him today
but I cannot.

His laughter
hugs the air around me
tickles me to speak
but I cannot.

In my thoughts
his strong arms hold me
I wish to be there always
but I cannot.

Poet Agha Shahid Ali

Poet Agha Ali Shahid

We learned about a form of poetry new  to me called a ghazal (pronounced ‘gezel). The poet Agha Shahid Ali writes in this form. A ghazal has a minimum of five couplets and a maximum of 15. The first couplet introduces a rhyme scheme and a refrain. The remaining couplets have the refrain in the second line only and keep the rhyme scheme. The poet often includes his/her own name in the last couplet. Ghazals are about love, loss, longing, the metaphysical.

“Tonight” by Agha Shahid Ali

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”
“Trinket”—to gem—“Me to adorn—How tell”—tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—
All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed.
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight.

God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day—
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love—you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee—
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.

Here is a recording of “Tonight.” Enjoy the rhythm … the music. Quite beautiful.
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/poem/182207

I then found this more “modern” ghazal.

Hip-Hop Ghazal

Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,
decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.

As the jukebox teases, watch my sistas throat the heartbreak,
inhaling bassline, cracking backbone and singing thru hips.

Like something boneless, we glide silent, seeping ‘tween floorboards,
wrapping around the hims, and ooh wee, clinging like glue hips.

Engines grinding, rotating, smokin’, gotta pull back some.
Natural minds are lost at the mere sight of ringing true hips.

Gotta love us girls, just struttin’ down Manhattan streets
killing the menfolk with a dose of that stinging view. Hips.

Crying ’bout getting old—Patricia, you need to get up off
what God gave you. Say a prayer and start slinging. Cue hips.

— Patricia Smith, author of Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah

All in all, a great morning, a great class. What’s ignited your learning gene recently?

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Welcome to Dezart Performs, A Unique and Dynamic Theatre

Artistic Director Michael Shaw

Artistic Director Michael Shaw

And welcome to Michael Shaw, Artistic Director. I met Michael at a recent National League of American Pen Women luncheon, where he was the featured speaker. As he talked, his enthusiasm, energy, and love for this theatre located in downtown Palm Springs filled the room.

The theatre’s uniqueness is articulated in its mission statement ” … to explore new theatrical works. By providing an artistic home for new plays to be developed and performed, we aim to create an atmosphere of creative growth for actors, writers and directors in Palm Springs and the surrounding desert valley area. Through encouraging and nurturing new talent, we hope to cultivate increased artistic awareness and ideas in the community.” I find this concept exciting and visionary.

When I asked Michael if he might be interested in doing an interview, I was delighted he said, “Yes.” And before we begin, I’m going to say in advance, “Thank you, Michael, for this wonderful interview,” because his final reply highlights the joy with which he works. Any summing up by me would be superfluous.

Let’s begin …

When and how did you realize you wanted your theatre to be a showcase for new plays? 

Almost immediately in 2008 when we started. As an actor, I have always been intrigued by, and have great respect for writers. There’s something incredibly exciting and fulfilling about being at the ground level of a new work, as an actor, as a director, as a producer.

What are the criteria and procedures for playwrights who are interested in submitting their work? 

Dezart Performs holds its “call for entries” in search of new plays for our annual play reading festival during the late summer/early fall of each year for a period of 4-6 weeks. There is an entry fee and all plays must be original unpublished works and cannot have been produced in the Coachella Valley. There is a 2-6 character limitation. For complete submission guidelines, please visit our site at dezartperforms.org

 What do you look for in a new play?

We’re not looking for a specific message or topic, just great storytelling, a strong voice in the playwright, compelling dialogue, interesting characters, and conflict (even in comedy, there has to be conflict. That’s what makes it funny.)

How are the final plays selected for the season?

We have a panel of 12-15 readers who assist in the selection process of the play reading festival. Each play that is submitted for consideration into our annual play reading festival goes through 2-3 reviews, and then the final 20 are reviewed by the artistic director and one other judge. Once a play makes it into the festival, the audience grades each of those plays in a reading (usually 4-7) and the one or two that become the “audience favorite” will get produced. Any additional programming for the season is selected by the artistic director.

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The desert’s only New Play Festival

What philosophy/standards/directions do you impart to directors and actors doing a new play, whether a reading or a full production?

For me, it’s the same philosophy with an established work or new work. Be honest with the material, and faithful to the words. Study, study, study. Discover, learn and know the intent of the writer and his/her words and characters. If the playwright has done his or her job, the characters’ voices will be very clear.

 How do you attract your actors?

To be honest, the quality of our work. Our production values are incredibly high for a small company like ours, and performers are attracted to the opportunity to work with this level of professionalism.

What was one of the most exciting moments at Dezart Performs? 

Opening night of our first full production in the art gallery (our first home) with an intimate audience of 45 (packed into the hall.) We received a standing ovation, and it was like, Wow! The love in the room was real, and you could feel that our early patrons really appreciated what we were trying to do, in bringing something totally different to Palm Springs.

 What opportunities are open for volunteers?

Ushering, box office, concessions, backstage production assistants, clerical and office help.

 What are your short and long term goals for Dezart Performs?

Short-term: Playwright in residence program, adding an additional full production to next season, adding a third week to each production. Long-term: Building a 250-seat theatre for our home with a full-time staff.

Describe your theatre “season.”

Our season consists of 2-3 full-productions plus our play reading festival; additionally, we hold a gala benefit each year to raise funds for our non-profit.

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This year’s Gala Benefit

Anything special you would like us to know? (I know, I know … I said 10 questions  ;-) … but just in case … something you wanted the readers to know that didn’t fit in anywhere.)

I love what I do, and could not do it without the people involved in all aspects of this organization who help make it possible!

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Vital statistics for theatre-goers, playwrights, actors, volunteers …

Theatre address: Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Downtown Palm Springs, CA 92262
Mailing address: 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 7538, Palm Springs, CA 92264
Telephone: 760-322-0179
Website: www.dezartperforms.org

What is it about a hometown?

Picture your hometown. Was it a big city, a little burg, a remote countryside? It doesn’t matter whether you left that hometown kicking and screaming because you wanted to stay forever or whether you fled from its boredom, that location remains the place where you were born, the spot that helped shape you with early experiences, values, friendships, great joys, and deep sadnesses. Leaving the scene doesn’t mean you leave the memories.

My hometown is a small community just outside of the Buffalo city limits, so small that when people ask where I am from, I simply say Buffalo. Buffalo still fascinates and interests me, even though, I must confess, I don’t miss the cold winters, mounds of snow, and freezing winds.

Images of the city’s beautiful old architecture still linger in my mind. Buffalo is a city dating from the late 1700’s when it was a trading center. It boomed after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. The building of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950’s helped Buffalo’s decline. But beautiful and important buildings remain such as those by Frank Lloyd Wright and Henry Hobson Richardson. Buffalo has approximately 80 sites on the National Historic Register.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House

Richardson Towers

Richardson Towers

Writers have chosen Buffalo as a place to work or live or have chosen it as a story setting. Author Lauren Belfer’s book City of Light was published in 1999 and gives a glimpse of 1901 Buffalo. Other authors include Taylor Caldwell (attended the University of Buffalo and wrote in Buffalo), J.M. Coetzee (began his first novel here and taught at the State University of New York, Buffalo), F. Scott Fitzgerald (early childhood), Mark Twain (part owner of the Buffalo Express newspaper), and Joyce Carol Oates (she and I attended the same high school). I found this list interesting, about novels and stories related to Buffalo. It’s fun to read stories set in a locale you know.

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Frederick Law Olmsted, founder of landscape architecture, gave Buffalo a wonderful park system. Instead of a park in a city, he liked the concept of a city in a park. Three parks (The Park, The Front, and The Parade) formed the park system and are still basically in tact and have been renamed Delaware Park, Front Park, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. Where I went to college is across the street from Delaware Park.

The radial and grid design of Buffalo’s streets by Joseph Ellicott allowed for maximum park access. (Ellicott Creek named for him flowed behind one of my childhood homes.) The main parkways extend out like spokes of a wheel and all lead to Niagara Square. Regular streets form a grid between the parkways. An interesting city.

McKinley Monument and Buffalo City Hall

McKinley Monument and the art deco style Buffalo City Hall

Arial view of Niagara Square. City Hall is at the bottom of the image.

Aerial view of Niagara Square. City Hall is at the bottom of the image.

In 1901 Buffalo experienced a tragedy. The city was the scene of the Pan-American Exposition. Industrialists and big business were prospering, immigrant labor wasn’t. President William McKinley visited the Exposition and chose to give a speech at the Temple of Music, followed by a short meet and greet of everyday people who wanted to shake his hand. Leon Frank Czolgosz, an unemployed member of the immigrant working class and a convert to anarchism, waited in line. As both he and the President extended their hands in greeting, Czologsz shot him twice. The shot to the President’s abdomen proved to be fatal. McKinley died eight days later after gangrene set in from the botched procedure done in treatment of his wounds.

Today, Buffalo is experiencing a Renaissance and, according to the New York Timesis attracting young college graduates. And where are they working? According to ForbesBuffalo’s major industries are financial services, technology, and education. The University of Buffalo is one of the nation’s leading research universities.

I’m happy for the city, for its slow rebirth, and for the memories it has given me. I’m also proud of this once mighty city. I know some of the feelings and values and sense of setting I experienced growing up there slip into my short stories and writings. And into my character. What is it about progress … realizing some of the things you have lost, realizing some of the things you value … even though you choose to move on?

And your hometown? Does it work into your writing or art or thoughts?

Into the Dark … or … Into the Light?

Ah, the state of the world. I don’t know about you, but I ‘m frustrated, frightened, and concerned.  Some of the forces afoot on the planet would turn back progress and enlightenment, turn back civilization and civility itself, return the people to ignorance and servitude. Is their goal a return to the Dark Ages?

Acts of cruel and unusual punishment are being waved as banners of honor. Terrorism is flaunted as a prideful group achievement. What’s next? The rack, the guillotine, burning at the stake? The Inquisition? Ethnic and religious differences fan into flames of intolerance. Didn’t WWII teach us any lessons?

The world community can’t turn its collective back on attacks on values held by societies who are able to live side by side in peace. Those who haven’t had or don’t understand freedom of speech, press, religion, or education for all or who continue to keep alive historical wrongs lean toward extremism … rather than permit an elected government or a freer society.

How can we preserve a way of life without embracing baser actions? How does change come about, leading not into the Dark Ages, but into Progress and Co-existence? Three concepts come to mind.

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One is tolerance. A hijab or gold cross or yarmulke should be able to be worn with impunity. And if a person chooses not to embrace a religious belief, they should have that right. People need to feel valued, whatever their religion or ethnicity. Tolerance develops in peace … just because it’s hard for people to pursue higher values during times of war.

The second is separation of church and state. An elected government, which gives the people a voice, and a system of civil and criminal laws, which protect people’s rights, benefit the community as a whole. Religious and spiritual leaders nurture the soul, and influence moral and ethical behavior. This separation protects the beliefs of divergent religions and those of non-believers, and assures a more just system for all.

That being said, countries in the world with different types of government do coexist with democracies. The key here is they coexist in peace, with trade, treaties,  tourism, and cultural exchange.

Third is the need for pluralism, not exclusivity. If you associate only with your own “kind,” your mind may become closed to anything new or different. Suspicion and distrust can show their colors quickly. Civil behavior and mutual respect among nations and individuals are needed to enable trust to grow.

We have a heritage and set of values fought for and earned several hundred years ago, namely representative government and the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, which we have to protect, which means we have to be real. To protect ourselves includes using diplomacy, negotiation, trade agreements, treaties, international intelligence exchange, cyberspace, adherence to law, creative problem solving, and, when necessary, overt or covert actions. And, in doing so, not lose our values or sell out to baser behavior. And, in doing so, honor those who protect us.

Extremism, radicalism, violence, and hyper-emotionalism don’t help build society up, but rather gnaw at the heels of a civilized world. I’m banking on man’s higher sense of purpose, on his ability to coexist with differences and celebrate likenesses. And this teaching and modeling starts with the young.

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Thank you for stopping by and allowing me to share my thoughts, my unease, my heartache, my hope.

Let me hear from you.

 

 

Hit the Restart Button on Learning … 2015

Unknown-2_2I don’t know about you, but I’ve always liked learning, going to school, and education in general. Well, let me qualify the school part. I’ve always liked going to school … except for 7th and 8th grades. You know, puberty and adolescence. Remember those delightful years? I send a “thank you” skyward to two special teachers from that time, Mr. Tierney and Mrs. Polster, who placed their confidence in me and drew me out.

In 9th and 10th grades the horizon became brighter. I played oboe in the orchestra – still don’t know how that happened – and made friends among the musicians. I confess, I hated my Latin teacher. But a big change happened when my family moved the summer before my junior year. I was so-o-o-o unhappy to switch schools at such a critical time. But it proved a good thing. I joined a sorority, played on the girls’ volleyball and basketball teams (great excitement – the team traveled to different schools for tournaments), and loved my French teacher who came directly from Paris, Miss Grimahl. To this mix, add crushes on a few boys, academics, and trying to figure out life.

A love of learning was helped along by my parents who valued education, and were lifelong learners and “taker-oners of challenges.” My dad, an avid reader, wrote to the newspapers and local, state, and federal governments on current issues, and took correspondence courses (this was before online courses.) My mom loved the challenge of a remodel, solving problems, and making things better, whether on a house or a dress she was creating.

I recall working full time and attending graduate seminars in the late afternoon, early evening, fighting sleep as soon as I my derriere hit the chair in the small classroom. Not a good thing when you’re at a conference table with only 12 others. But when Professor Dean Hess started the discussion, his energy and words filled the room. I woke up.

The whole school/learning thing excites my knowledge bug still. How about you? 3b690636b81bf22e4ac2185e39f91aa7 The new year finds a few classes on my schedule: a one day workshop called “The Art of the Short Story,” taught by Duff Brenna, Professor Emeritus of English and Creative Writing at California State University San Marcos. http://palmspringswritersguild.org/event-1731838

Another is a six-week online course called “Ignite Your Everyday Creativity.” The class is a partnership between the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Buffalo (my undergraduate school) and Coursera, creator of massive online courses. And it’s free. Course theme is “b Creative.” Emphasis is on creative problem solving, not creative expression per se like painting or poetry. http://newsandevents.buffalostate.edu/news/new-online-creativity-course-launches-february-16

And then there’s a morning Poetry Workshop called “Reversing Spells, Secrets Spilled, and The Line’s Surprise.” Interesting title. The course is conducted by Julie Paegle, CSU San Bernardino Professor of English. http://palmspringswritersguild.org/event-1780378

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I’m becoming curious as to what new experiences will befall me. Any courses or learning adventures coming your way in the new year?

PS – And like a kid starting school, I’ve bought a brand new (and thick) spiral binder, red.