Enemy of the People: Our Justice System

I love jury duty!

I know. Nobody loves jury duty. (Perhaps I should have been a lawyer…) So I suppose it is not surprising that I was captivated by the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. I actually took a break from my writing to watch gavel-to-gavel coverage, captivated not only by what happened in the courtroom but also by live commentary given by a wide variety of lawyers. 

The last time I watched a trail on TV was the OJ Simpson murder persecution, as KTLA in Los Angeles televised the entire trial. At the time, I was what people called a “freeway flyer,” a college instructor with adjunct positions at four different colleges across the city. So my hours were irregular, giving me the opportunity to watch much of the trial.

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Death Waits, Patiently

He took one last drag on his cigarette before putting it out in the small glass ashtray that he held in his hand. It was chilly outside, and he wanted to get back in to catch this week’s episode of Survivor

He had been smoking for… what? Since he was in the army. That was when he was 22. So, for 65 years? Yeah. 65 years. There were a few years when he put the cigarettes away and switched over to cigars. He didn’t mind the cigars, but despite the constant pressure from his wife and children to quit smoking, they quickly decided they preferred the Pall Malls to the stench of the cheap cigars. So he easily made the transition back.

His doctor hassled him periodically. His brother, who smoked a pipe, had died of lung cancer. But every time his lung scans came back clean, even the doctor had to back off. 

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Untold Stories of Black Homesteaders in South Dakota

Home on Blair Homestead

A large part of Clara’s Journal focused on women whose lives defy the popular narrative, whose stories of bravery, resilience, talent, and success are so often left out of our national discourse. 

And it turns out that a story I missed, a story also ignored, was that of the thousands of African Americans who homesteaded in the Great Plains in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

One of my favorite parts about writing Clara’s Journal was the research: the books, the websites, the journals, the newspapers, ancestry.com, the phone calls, the emails, the family papers. And one of my favorite parts of the research, of reanimating lives from the past, was discovering how many of our assumptions about the lives of so many people are simplified to an inaccurate caricature.

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A Dad’s Message to His Daughter

She married young. She was only 19. But she was in love. And it was the 60s. Women married young. Her husband was handsome, charismatic, and talented. And in the 60s, women had children right away. Four children in six years – three girls and then finally, the boy. By all accounts, society smiled on her.

They were good years. Boy, were they good years. She enjoyed looking back on them.

They bought a six-bedroom house in the best midwestern suburb, surrounded by a neighborhood of manicured lawns, multi-car garages, and bikes abandoned in driveways. The ladies often gathered at her house, sipping wine amid bursts of uproarious laughter, while all their kids freely roamed the neighborhood seeking adventure.

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Taking a Chance on Life… Again

It was the summer of 2001. There were five states that I had yet to visit: Hawaii, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Maine. Growing up, our family took a yearly two-week vacation, camping in the tent trailer my dad proudly bought at Sears for $800, as he would brag to anyone who would listen. So I was able to knock off a lot of states before I reached 18. 

Travel was in my bones, and just like I assumed I would go to college, that I would get married, and that I would have kids, I always assumed I would travel with my family. I had decided long before I had my children that I was not going to be someone who couldn’t go anywhere or do anything because they had kids.

The man I married was not a traveler. As a couple, we had travelled very little since we met and married. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and truly believed it was such a great city that there was no need to go anywhere else. How I made the decision to marry someone who did not share such an important part of how I saw life is a question I’ll have to explore another time.

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1970s Adventures with Cats

Our cat Sockie

Pets were a huge part of my children’s lives. We were the proud owners of, over time, lizards, frogs, fish, tortoises, rabbits, birds, a snake, a dog, and, of course, a cat.

During my own childhood, my family had two calico cats, both of whom lived for 18 years. The first joined our household when I was only two or three years old, before my sister was born. Her name was Pannie. Fairly obviously, my parents gave me the honor of naming her. Considering that when my own daughter was three she wanted to name her newborn brother “Swimming,” I don’t think Pannie was such a terrible choice. 

Once my sister was born, the story I recall is that she pulled Pannie’s tail or inflicted some other injustice on her, and Pannie turned around and scratched her, as cats will do. Pannie’s punishment was to have her front claws removed, a procedure many today would consider cruel but one that she did absolutely fine with. In fact, for her entire life, she was an indoor/outdoor cat, and she never had a problem. So I’m glad my parents made that decision rather than to get rid of her. I cannot imagine my childhood without Pannie.

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Thoughts on the Cover of My New Book: Clara’s Journal

Clara’s Journal: And the Story of Two Pandemics explores a year in the life of Clara Mae Horen, an 18-year-old living in Cresbard, South Dakota, in 1918, at the beginning of one of the world’s deadliest pandemics. And Clara is my grandaunt (the sister of my paternal grandfather)!

One of the pleasures of studying Clara’s journal has been learning how different life was 100 years ago, but maybe even more importantly, another has been discovering the similarities we have with a 1918 teenager and with a 1918 country coping with a pandemic.

Now how to convey that in a cover?

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Thoughts on Simplistic Thinking

Goby the Fish

I can think specifically of a few times when teachers worked to indoctrinate me.

The first time was in elementary school. Those were the days when anti-littering propaganda… well, littered school hallways and classrooms. And yes, I was one of those kids who, under the age of ten, was out in the streets lecturing people for littering, yelling out the car window from the backseat at passersby who dropped cigarette butts or napkins on the sidewalk, picking up pieces of trash and railing at the ilk of those ruining our world. I must have been adorable.

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Oh boy. Dare I? Thoughts on Abortion

Wow. Abortion has certainly topped the news cycle lately, thanks to a law just passed in New York and a bill in Virginia that prompted a controversial comment by the governor of that state, who is now embroiled in a blackface controversy that has put his future at stake. 

Needless to say, my Facebook newsfeed is filled with opinions, from both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, on the topic along with countless links to support this point or that point.

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Thoughts on Reading vs. Listening to Books

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 2.36.46 pmThe question posed on Facebook went something like this (and I paraphrase): Is listening to an audiobook the same as reading a book? If one listened to an audiobook, can that be added to a “books I read this year” list?

My initial response went something like this: No, they are not the same, but I suppose you can put it on the list.

But as people chimed in, and as I was given more time to think about this, I realized that the answer is actually not that simple.

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