Book Review by Renee Kimball: David and Goliath – Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants

renee kimball dog photo written by Renee Kimball

“Giants are not as powerful as they seem
and sometimes the shepherd
has a sling in his pocket.”
~ Malcom Gladwell

2018-07-13 www wiki pd renee kimball David_with_the_Head_of_Goliath-Caravaggio_(1610)
David with the head of Goliath by Caravaggio, [Public domain], via Wikipedia
Malcom Gladwell is not a “new author.”  He has been writing for the New York Times since 1996, and is the best-selling author of many books. But more than that, Gladwell is a one-of-a-kind writer–there is no one like him.   “. . . Gladwell’s true genius lies here, in identifying common assumptions that lie just beneath the surface—beliefs that are so widely accepted, so taken for granted, that we don’t even know we believe in them.” (Adam Grant).

Gladwell’s strength is taking the ordinary and
making it interesting. (Adam Grant)

In his book David and Goliath -Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants, Gladwell tests our presumptions by asking us to consider two questions:  When does an advantage (strong) become a disadvantage (weak)?  At what point does a disadvantage (weak) become an advantage (strong)?  

Gladwell shows why finding the answers are not as easy as they appear.  By the end of this book, the reader finds that their once comfortable presumptions have been turned on their heads.

There is no better introduction for Gladwell’s, David and Goliath, than the story of David and Goliath – the most well-known underdog vs. giant story of all time.  It is much more than we thought– David was a lucky young man who delivered a one-in-a-million shot instantly slaying the giant.  David did do those things, but thanks to Gladwell, we now know there were other reasons that played a very large part in David’s victory.

No one disputes the fact that Goliath was a giant of a man for his day.  He was a scary guy– overwhelmingly huge compared to others.  What was not known is that Goliath suffered from a debilitating growth condition, now known as “acromegaly, a benign tumor of the pituitary gland” (Gladwell).  Acromegaly caused Goliath’s unchecked growth and also impacted his eyesight–Goliath could not see well.  And because of his size, Goliath’s responses were delayed, and because of his disease, he was not only slow, he could not see clearly.   For this famous battle at least, these two facts substantially reduced Goliath’s chances of victory.

2018-07-13 www wiki renee kimball 256px-Osmar_Schindler_David_und_Goliath
David and Goliath by Osmar Schindler (1869-1927)  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
While Goliath was already a proven warrior, he was primarily successful engaged within hand-to-hand combat — traditional warfare.  Traditional hand combat mandated certain behaviors and dress. Combatants wore a heavily armored breast plate, needed the ability to carry and wield a large and heavy sword with alacrity, must have the ability to target and throw a javelin, and all this, while wearing a heavy metal helmet.

The fully dressed combatant was restricted both in movement and sheer weight.  Moreover, to be effective wielding the sword, the warrior must be very close to their opponent—face-to-face.  In this story, David was at the bottom of a ravine, while Goliath was standing at the top of a slope bellowing demands while walking in a downward direction towards David.  Unbeknownst to Goliath, the fight with David would not follow the familiar traditional rules of either dress, weapon, or combat, and there would be no face-to-face contact.

Unlike Goliath, the young shepherd David, had never worn armor, fought hand to hand combat, or a major battle.  David was small, lithe, unencumbered, and his only weapon a sling – and in that –slinging– he was an expert.  David refused an offer of armor because he knew it would weigh him down.  David approached the fight with excellent eyesight, a honed skill, unburdened by armor and no predisposed concepts of traditional warfare.  David would not be close enough for hand-to-hand combat, and he carried no sword.

“So here we have a big, lumbering guy weighed down with armor, who can’t see much more than a few feet in front of his face, up against a kid running at him with a devastating weapon and a rock traveling with the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun. That’s not a story of an underdog and a favorite. David has a ton of advantages in that battle, they’re just not obvious. That’s what gets the book rolling is this notion that we need to do a better job of looking at what an advantage is.”  Malcom Gladwell (Interview, Inc.com)

2018-07-13 David and Goliath by Gladwell cover amazon renee kimball 41xQkhvrU8L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_
Amazon.com

We know the end of this story, and the underdog (weak) (disadvantaged) proves to be no underdog at all, and becomes in this situation the winner, (strong) (advantaged).  This type of scrutiny is where Gladwell shines, taking a subject, stripping away assumptions, turning it on its head–making the story something else entirely.

Gladwell’s precise and skillful analysis continues on throughout the book’s nine sections, all equally thought-provoking, and all dealing with preconceived assumptions of weak and strong, advantages or disadvantages.  In one of his more bewildering propositions, Gladwell questions the impact of certain types of disability and asks:  Can disability ever be desirable? (Gladwell).   A premise that at first blush, appears both jarring and indistinctly hopeful.  We answer we cannot imagine that there is an appropriate answer.

To structure his premise, Gladwell reviews the impact of living with dyslexia – “a learning disability that makes it difficult to read, write, and spell, no matter how hard the person tries or how intelligent he or she is” (LDOnline). The root cause for dyslexia is still being studied, however, so far what we do know is that the brain’s mechanical functions are unable to link the vital connection of essential neuron transmitters that allow an individual to learn, to read, to speak, and to write.

Dyslexic individuals struggle every day, normal activities take a very long time and exhaustive concentration.  Gladwell suggests that for dyslexics, the harder it is to learn, the more they excel in adulthood. The premise —they excel because they have worked so very hard from the very beginning to cope, to fit in, to make it through daily life.  

2018-07-13 pixabay CC00 RENEE KIMBALL dyslexia-3014152_640This may seem improbable, but it has been found that “a high number of entrepreneurs are dyslexic” (Gladwell).  Within one entrepreneurial group studied, it was found that approximately one-third of those participating had some type of learning disability.   Which begs the question, would you want your child to have a disability?  It is a tough question and a harder one to answer (Gladwell).

The success stories of affected individuals winning over dyslexia exist because they were forced to compensate from a very early age and developed skills to overcome learning roadblocks—they were and are, flexible and adaptive and found a way to exist in a very cloudy and disorganized world.   Dyslexia forced them to learn to listen acutely, memorize large amounts of information, and develop a razor-sharp ability to read people, retain complex nuances and facts, not on paper, but in their minds.  So, under Gladwell’s premise, there are benefits to a disability – which may not be easily understood.

While there is much, much more within Gladwell’s stories, in the end, the reader must decide which speaks to them. Which story is the most relatable, plausible?   Gladwell writes simply, his premises, rebuttal, and results, are presented in an easy to read format while challenging the reader to think deeply.

And if you stay the course to the end of the book, you will be given a glimmer of hope, because that is what Gladwell gives – hope.  Hope that despite incredible odds, things are not as they seem –there is always more.  Gladwell’s gift is to leave the reader questioning everything – and that is what Gladwell does better than anyone.  

***

Dyslexia puzzle by Gerd Altman is from Pixabay

A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate, fosters and rescues both dogs and cats from shelters, and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

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The Chaos Theory of Writing

In a post on Telling the Truth–Mainly, I defined my writing process as chaos.

In the beginning, it wasn’t chaos. When I was in elementary school and junior high, writing was easy. I started at the beginning and stopped at the end.

My early writing process

When I entered the eighth grade, trouble began. I thought about the assignment for about ten seconds; then my brain vaporized and was replaced by a vacuum.

I realize now that things got all balled up because assignments became more complicated: a certain form, a certain length, a topic more abstract than I’d ever wrestled* with.

About thirty minutes before deadline, my brain started up again, but in fits and starts, like it had the hiccups. I always produced the essay, but writing was a harrowing experience. Chaotic. It still works that way.

My current writing process

 

I like to think of it as the Chaos Theory. Through the years, I’ve gathered a body of supporting evidence. In this post, I’ll share observations.

One caveat: I know nothing about the writing process. The Theory isn’t finished yet.  When I’ve completed my research and fleshed it out to the nth degree, I’ll put it all in a book.

Observations

There is no one way to write a book or a story or anything else. With all due respect to Robert Olen Butler, you do not have to write every scene on a note card and arrange them in sequence; and if you decide to change sequence while you write, you do not have to rearrange cards (because you were smart and didn’t buy any cards); and you do not have to refrain from writing scenes that will occur later in the book because you cannot imagine the characters’ emotional states until you’ve written what comes before.

I spent a zillion dollars on note cards, trying time after time to make it work, and time after time discarding note cards after about five scenes because I didn’t know what happened after that, except for some scenes here and there, and at the very end, which I could write, thank you very much.

2. You don’t have to know the end before you start. You don’t have to outline. If you don’t believe me, read Tony Hillerman on the subject. I read his essay about planning in a book, but I’ve forgotten the title, so I googled and found the following passages from a different source:

‘He wanted to know how Tony outlined his books. Tony said, “I don’t do that.” Then how do you know when to end? “I just get to the end.”’ ,’When I got a two-book deal with HarperCollins, the contract said that for the second book, they would pay half the advance upon approval of an outline. I said to Tony, “I can’t outline a book in advance.” He said, “Neither can I. Don’t worry about it, just write up anything for the outline, and then turn in the book you want to do.” . . .

‘Hillerman said he outlined one book and it turned out not so good. So he just started. He needed to know four or five things at the outset, but that was enough for him to write a novel. ~ New Mexico Magazine

3. When you write fiction, you can break a lot of rules you learned in school. I often divide a compound predicate with a comma. In fact, I sprinkle commas all over the place, but I leave a lot out, too. I use incomplete sentences. (Frags) Apostrophes, however, are best used in the traditional manner. It’s not good to experiment with them.

4. Number 4 is True, the Truest statement about writing that I can give. It isn’t just a Truth; it is a Rule.

When you run out of words and are in such a miserable state that the brownies in the kitchen aren’t just calling your name, but popping the lid off the Tupperware, flying into your office, and landing in your lap, then it’s okay to play a game of Candy Crush. Sometimes it’s okay to play a full round of Candy Crush, when it tries to get money out of you for another life.

At that point, you must stop. You may not buy, or ask friends for, extra lives. You may not spend any money. You may play only one version of Candy Crush. I recommend Candy Crush Saga, but whichever you choose, you must restrict yourself to that.

If a game ends in fifteen seconds because a bomb went off, and Candy Crush says you have no more lives and kicks you out for thirty minutes, that’s it. You’re finished. Sentence; period; paragiraffe, as my mother used to say.

When you complete the game, or the round, you must go back to your manuscript and find more words. After thirty minutes, when you get another life, if you’re desperate, it’s okay to go back.

5. Another Rule: Don’t open Facebook for any reason, except to get to Candy Crush, and then be darned careful. Don’t read posts, don’t post comments, don’t click on goat or cat videos. Stay away from everything that looks cute.

There’s a reason this blog is titled Writing Wranglers and Warriors.  I didn’t come up with the name, and that’s evidence that at least one other writer wrangles. It’s more evidence that the Chaos Theory is sound.

I repeat: there is no one way to write. I have shared shards of my experience. Yours may be different. I hope it is.

Numbers 4 and 5, however, are fact. Disregard them at your peril.

I wish I could.

_____________

chaos – utter confusion ~ Thesaurus.com

The comment about Robert Olen Butler applies to a book, not to Mr. Butler himself, and represents my experience, but I could be wrong.

Wrestle is a synonym for wrangle.
wrangle – late 14c., from Low German wrangeln “to dispute, to wrestle,” related to Middle Low German wringen, from Proto-Germanic *wrang-, from PIE *wrengh-, nasalized variant of *wergh- “to turn” (see wring). Related: Wrangledwrangling. The noun is recorded from 1540s. ~ Thesaurus.com

 

Book Review: Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and with Others — by Renee Kimball

 Written by Renee Kimball

 

Recommended Reading:   Writing Alone and with others, The guide that will beat the block, banish fear, and help create lasting work, by Pat Schneider- Writer, Poet-Healer, and Shaman. An instructional guide to self-healing through writing

Cover photo from Amazon.

Pat Schneider is a poet-healer, a guide and shaman who believes writing is the means to self-healing.   Writing Alone and with others is a writer’s guide to forgiving yourself and giving yourself permission to write your story so that you can go forward to a better you.

There are many gems of wisdom in Schneider’s book for writers and would-be-writers.  Each page speaks in a kind of firm best-friend voice.  It is directed to anyone and everyone, quoting Will Stafford, Schneider affirms: “A writer is someone who writes” – stating whether writing a letter, email, or merely a report, we all write (p. xxv).   If writing calls to you, you must answer the call, if you do not, you damage yourself – whatever your write, it is your art—your story– and your right to write.

 

“When we neglect the artist in ourselves,
there is a kind of mourning that goes on
under the surface of our busy lives.
 ~Schneider

 

If you are troubled and wish to heal, then the act of writing will heal you. And your story does not have to be shared in order for you to be whole.  Of course, there are those who want to share, and that is a good thing. But, whatever path is chosen, the medicine – writing- will heal you.

The very act of writing takes courage, it is an act exposing your most vulnerable self.  You know which writers’ stories relate to you.  If you share, it may be the story that irrevocably changes not only your path, but another’s path, you never know – it is a risk. Take the risk to write, whether you share or not, and you will heal.

 

“Writing is a scary thing to do and the bad news is, it never stops being scary.  Once I was at a luncheon with several writers and one of them had won the Pulitzer Prize.  And he said: “what in God’s name do you write after you’ve won the Pulitzer?”  And he was terrified. And I know someone else who has written book after book. . . and he’s miserable when he’s writing his next book, because he says, “I’ll never finish, I can’t finish, I can’t do this.  How did I get myself into this?”  So, a claim does not take care of the fear of writing.” (on-line interview)

 

Schneider’s book is a writer’s self-help book and an instructional manual for writing groups, it gives a firm but loving GET TO IT message, a message to GET ON WITH YOUR WRITING AND HEAL YOURSELF – Look into the dark corners of yourself and write them down, clear them out, banish them, shed them, become whole.

Schneider leaves no one behind.  She encourages everyone to “Write something that feels too huge, or too dangerous, to tell. Courage is not the special prerogative of those who have experienced some dramatic suffering” (p. 90).

This is a hefty book, a thoughtful book, and whether you are an old-hand at writing, a beginner, or simply seeking personal solace through writing, Schneider’s book will fill you up and just may be the start towards a new beginning.

By Deekatherine [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

To grow in craft is to increase
the breadth of what I can do,
but art is the depth, t
he passion, the desire,
the courage to be myself,
and myself alone.

 

 

 

 

 

***

GOING HOME THE LONGEST WAY AROUND

we tell stories, build
from fragments of our lives
maps to guide us to each other.
We make collages of the way
it might have been
had it been as we remembered,
as we think perhaps it was,
tallying in our middle age
diminishing returns.
Last night the lake was still;
all along the shoreline
bright pencil marks of light, and
children in the dark canoe pleading
“Tell us scary stories.”
Fingers trailing in the water,
I said someone I loved who died
told me in a dream
to not be lonely, told me
not to ever be afraid.
And they were silent, the children,
listening to the water
lick the sides of the canoe.
It’s what we love the most
can make us most afraid, can make us
for the first time understand
how we are rocking in a dark boat on the water,
taking the long way home.

~ Pat Schneider

***

For more of Pat Schneider’s poems visit, Pat Schneider.com. – http://patschneider.ca/pat/?p=47

 

References

Writing alone and with others. The guide that will beat the block, banish fear, and help create lasting work. Pat Schneider.  Available on Amazon.com, https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Alone-Others-Pat-Schneider/dp/019516573X  Photo contribution from Amazon. Com

Pat Schneider – Online Interview – On Writing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQ1ukC0KWZI  Oxford Academic (Oxford University Press) Published on Apr 24, 2013

Pat Schneider.com http://patschneider.com/pat/

Pat Schneider – Online Interview – On Writing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQ1ukC0KWZI  Oxford Academic (Oxford University Press) Published on Apr 24, 2013

Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed here are her own.

*****

A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate, fosters and rescues both dogs and cats from shelters, and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

 

 

Return Journeys — by Helen Currie Foster

 Posted by Helen Currie Foster

Some write left-handed, some right. Some rise early, some stay up late. And in another human dichotomy—some read, and some re-read. We recidivists return over and over to favorite books. Why, when new books abound, waiting to be discovered (here I mention David Malouf’s Ransom), do we rummage the shelves for a book we’ve read and re-read?

Sometimes we want bedtime reading, or, as the Dowager Duchess puts it in Busman’s Honeymoon, disappointed by a recent book, “…will fall back on Through the Looking Glass.

I too “fall back.” I plead guilty to reading and re-reading favorite children’s books and books for adult children. Books that gripped me the first time I read them: Kim, by Rudyard Kipling. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Dark Is Rising trilogy by Susan Cooper, thumbed and re-thumbed. And then mysteries, sagas and spies: Dorothy Sayers, Reginald Hill, James Clavell, John Le Carré—especially Smiley’s People. Watching George Smiley retrace the desperate steps of old Vladimir across Hampstead Heath until he finds the hidden cigarette packet: Moscow rules! Mei-Mei and Struan, dodging pirates while steering a bullion-laden junk down the Pearl River: flaming arrows! Kim, caring for his Tibetan lama, learning the jewel trick in Simla, shouldering the Himalayan foothills as he embarks on the Great Game and with the lama finds the River of the Arrow. Hurree Baba reminding Kim not to use Muslim expressions when wearing Hindu disguise.

Why? One confirmed re-reader says, “I revisit these little worlds. I can’t change the endings. I have no responsibilities.”

Not that these tales teach no lessons. Kim learns love and responsibility. Lucy and her siblings learn hard lessons: stick to instincts, stay loyal and tell the truth—in order to save Mr. Tumnus. Young Will Stanton in The Dark Is Rising bears the responsibility of the four signs on his belt and feels the power of the dark as well as the light.

Happy endings?

Not totally. Children must leave the wardrobe, Struan must await the worst typhoon, Smiley must watch Karla toss Ann’s gold lighter at his feet. No, not happy. Loose ends remain, future threats loom. But we feel again the empowering of the characters as they become equipped for what they must face. We’ve felt again the power of a special world we loved.

But the fellow re-reader says he takes a different journey in re-reading what we call a great novel: “Each time I read a great book, it’s a different book. I see things I didn’t hear before, hear voices I didn’t hear before, experience something I didn’t experience before.”

I re-read To the Lighthouse at least every other year, always captured by Virginia Woolf’s ability to catch in two sentences the very heart of those characters and their relationships. This May I re-read The Waves, where she pushes the novel to a new form in her quest to understand human consciousness. This time Virginia Woolf made me ask myself the same question that Bernard keeps asking in The Waves, about individual consciousness and our collective lives. More on that next time, maybe.

Meanwhile, on to David Malouf’s Ransom. Malouf re-imagines Achilles’ furious grief over the death of his childhood soulmate Patroclus, his retribution on Hector, and then the visit King Priam makes to Achilles, seeking return of his son Hector’s corpse. Maybe Malouf brings this story to such vivid life by showing us how Priam chooses to make the visit in a mule-driven cart instead of a chariot, and learns from the simple mule-driver how to taste an olive, a griddle-cake, how to cool dusty royal feet in a small stream. Maybe he also does it by letting us see childhood through Achilles’ eyes. But no spoilers here.

New books abound, and this one, rooted in one of our oldest shared stories, is so worth reading. Now back to my waiting mystery draft.

***

Helen Currie Foster is the author of the Alice MacDonald Greer mysteriesGhost Cave, Ghost Dog, Ghost Letter, and Ghost Dagger. She practices environmental law in Austin and lives in the Texas Hill Country, where her books are set.

 

Research Requires Fertilization – by KP Gresham

 Posted by K. P. Gresham

 

And here I am, talking about . . . excrement.

I had a professor one time (Professor Kulkarni at Rice University) tell me that all experiences are like tomato seeds. Plant them in your thought process and see what grows. We’re talking a basic simile here. And here’s what it has to do with research.

My hubby and I just finished a cruise through the Panama Canal. Now I am not currently writing anything that has to do with the Panama Canal (okay, one possibility), but the history and engineering of this incredible, world-changing slice through the earth is epic. It’s an experience I shan’t easily forget (dementia runs in the family, so I have to qualify that), and one that is definitely a seed I will plant in my garden (that would be my brain).

Yes, I just likened my brain to a pile of . . . excrement, but few will argue the point.

As Professor Kulkarni would say, you plant it and see what grows. Will it be a major plot point? Will it be the background story for a character? I have no idea, but I have confidence this experience (the Panama Canal cruise) will influence my future stories in some way.

That’s what experiences do for writers. Around every corner is an idea that might end up in a book. Perhaps it’s a fact you picked up on vacation, a secret in your own family’s past, maybe even something as simple as an overheard conversation. To be a writer is to be open to new experiences at every turn, and to nurture those experiences into something you can use in your writing.

So, for today’s lesson, here’s a re-cap. Look to every experience you’ve had or the ones to come for seeds that might grow into your writing. Research what’s interesting (or fascinating in the case of the Panama Canal) and use your curiosity to feed your creative streak.

Oh, and yours truly may indeed be full of . . . well, you know.

*****

K.P. Gresham, author of the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery series and Three Days at Wrigley Field, moved to Texas as quick as she could. Born Chicagoan, K.P. and her husband moved to Texas, fell in love with not shoveling snow and are 30+ year Lone Star State residents. She finds that her dual country citizenship, the Midwest and Texas, provide deep fodder for her award-winning novels. Her varied careers as a media librarian and technical director, middle school literature teacher and theatre playwright and director add humor and truth to her stories. A graduate of Houston’s Rice University Novels Writing Colloquium, K.P. now resides in Austin, Texas, where life with her tolerant but supportive husband and narcissistic Chihuahua is acceptably weird.

Dear Husband, Pollyanna, and a Very Nice Perp

 by M. K. Waller

 

What I do not like about smart phones:

  1. Seeing people hyperfocused on tiny screens when I know they have better things to do;
  2. Hyperfocusing on people hyperfocused on tiny screens when I know I have better things to do;
  3. Struggling to ignore one side of conversations I wouldn’t even notice if I could hear both sides;
  4. Being greeted in the dairy section of HEB with, “Hello!” and responding with a “Hello!” of my own, and then realizing the Hello-er is talking to someone miles away instead of to me;
  5. And so on and so on.

Why I finally acquired* a smart phone:

  1. I bought a Yoo Fitness bracelet so I could keep track of the number of steps I take each day, and the Yoo requires a Bluetooth thingy to transfer data from bracelet to phone, which archives data and and keeps track of all manner of interesting information, such as which Challenge I’m working on, how many more points I must earn to win the current challenge, and how many points the Old Yoo deducts from the New Yoo because I didn’t meet its inane and unrealistic expectations.
  2.  Other people’s cars keep bumping into mine.

For example–and I’m skipping over the rear-ending incident back in 2014, when the offending driver gave me information that wasn’t quite quite and then disappeared into the mists of East Texas, or somewhere–in 2016, I was driving home from a Sisters in Crime meeting when Something Bad happened.

I was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Ben White and S. Congress Avenue. Two cars were in front of me. The pickup to my left was in the Must-Turn-Left lane. I was in the Turn-Left-or-Go-Straight lane. I planned to turn left.

So. The light turned green. I proceeded into the intersection and turned left, as was proper.

The pickup in the Must-Turn-Left lane, to my left, did not turn left. It just kept a-going.

Well into the turn, I glanced sideways, saw the pickup a-coming, and thought to myself, My goose is cooked. (That’s the family friendly version. I don’t remember my exact thoughts, but chances are it was something like, Oh, hell, the damn driver of that damn pickup is going to total my damn car and me with it, dammit.)

But because we’d been stopped at the light and the Perp hadn’t had time to build up speed, I came out intact.

I somehow continued to turn left, and the Perp decided, belatedly, to do the same. We crossed the bridge and I pulled off at the Chevron station on the corner. He followed and stopped there too, which was smart, because if he hadn’t, I would have pulled back out onto Congress, chased him down, dragged him from the cab, and administered a good, sound clop in the chops.

We exited our vehicles. I thought about Pollyanna and said, “Hi, are you okay?”He said, “Hola.” Complications appeared on the horizon.

He looked about fifteen, and that could have complicated things to the max–because every time a Perp bashes into my car, I feel as if it’s my fault, and when the Perp is just a child . . . It’s not reasonable, but I was born feeling guilty and frequently relapse.

But help was only three blocks away in the person of my Dear Husband, who has an M.A. in Spanish (and a J.D.**). I pulled out my little flip phone, called him, reported the pertinent fact (“The driver’s side door doesn’t look like it did when I left home.”), and said, “Don’t run.” I’d already decided that I would write down the Perp’s info at a rate

Vaster than empires and more slow.***

In other words, that kid wasn’t going anywhere until he’d faced the Man of My Family.

Well. Even though I told him not to run, David ran. He and the Perp, who seemed like a really nice young man, discussed the situation. David learned the Perp didn’t have a drivers license, and that the pickup belonged to his brother or brother-in-law or uncle, or someone, I don’t remember who. The pickup was insured, but the status of the driver was in question.

David called 911. Because he admitted no one was hurt, we spent more than three hours waiting for a policeman.

I sat in the car. I stood beside the car. I leaned against the car. I went into the store and bought us all pretzels and Cokes and bottled water and a variety of other comestibles.***

But–because I’d been to a Sisters in Crime meeting, I had my camera. I proudly produced it. David took shots of our car and the Perp’s pickup (which was in amazingly good condition).

Then I wandered around the parking lot, taking pictures and pinning down memories.

Here’s where the smart phone comes in. Traditional cameras are heavy and cumbersome. I don’t carry one with me all the time. Smart phone cameras are light and easy to handle. They fit comfortably in a purse. They’re also sneaky; you can gather all manner of evidence without your subjects knowing you’re up to no good.

A policeman finally arrived, I told my story, I guess the Perp told his story, and that was that. David asked if the Perp would get a ticket. The officer said, “Ohhhhh, yeah.”

Another wave of guilt washed over me. He was really a very nice Perp.

***

* I didn’t buy the phone. David volunteered the one he abandoned several years ago because he didn’t see the point. If he ever gets his own Yoo Fitness bracelet, I’ll have to give the phone back to him, but that will be when pigs fly.

** Juris Doctor. The criminal kind. He hasn’t practiced for more than twenty years, but it comforts me to know I have something more than my English-teacher glare to fall back on.

*** Andrew Marvell. “To His Coy Mistress.” A magnificent poem about love and time and seizing the day.

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
       But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
       Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Finding Books – Saving a Language and a Culture – by Renee Kimball

 Posted by Renee Kimball

 “There are ways to recover, say tomato seeds, but language is an oral medium . . . it is gone if direct speakers are dead and nothing has been done to document it.” – Keren Rice

In 2013, Raveena Aulakh reported that “half of the world’s 7,000 languages” faced extinction by the end of the 21st century.

Why would this matter?  When a language is lost, so is its culture.

In 1980 Aaron Lansky began a life-long quest to save Yiddish books.  Only 23 years old when he began his search, he was told there were maybe “70,000” Yiddish books left in the world – they were wrong.

Over the next 25 years Lansky and his friends saved 1.5 million Yiddish books and, in the process, created The National Yiddish Book Center, with a membership of 35,000 people– the largest group dedicated to the preservation of Jewish culture in the United States.

Yiddish means “Jewish,” and has its foundational roots in Hebrew, Aramaic, as well as multiple European languages.  For hundreds of years, Jews faced forced relocations across all of Europe. With each new environment, Yiddish accumulated new words, meanings, and pronunciations reflecting the local areas.  The marginalization of Jews prohibited them from displaying or documenting a separate Jewish identity but speaking Yiddish linked Jews as a people.

Lansky knew Yiddish was dying as a form of communication, but for him, Yiddish books represented a written history of the Jews as a people and as a literate culture.  Despite Hitler’s programmed genocide and push for destruction of Jewish culture, Yiddish language and literature managed to survive even the Holocaust moving with their owners across Europe, into the United States, and other countries.

Newly arriving Jewish immigrants to the United States spoke Yiddish as they arrived from war-torn Europe and they brought their Yiddish books.  In fact, Yiddish literature was still published in America up to the 1970s when it began to wane, the Yiddish language and its speakers and readers were disappearing.  Lansky was determined to find these remaining lost gems of literature and save them for the future.

Lansky’s quest was not an easy one.  But he preserved and in 1980, Lansky quit school, withdrew his savings, and rented a U-Haul setting out to rescue whatever Yiddish books he could find.

Lansky’s persistence paid off when elderly Jews who had heard of Lansky’s search, contacted him.  It began with a few, then many, elderly pleading with Lansky to take their Yiddish collections.  Elderly Jews agonized that they had no one to care for their books and their children had no interest in Yiddish or reading it.

For many, the books were often times left with Rabbis or thrown out.  Lansky was not one to shy away from jumping in dumpsters or traveling distances to save these discarded books regardless of the weather and his lack of resources.  Lansky’s search grew and Rabbis were soon transferring stacks of discarded books his way.

Yiddish Book Center, by John Phelan [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Books held by their owners for years were given to Lansky.  To these aging Jews, each book was more than just a story, these books were living things and monumental memories. With each donation, the owner gave a part of their heart, their family, and their remembrances to Lansky for safekeeping.

Along with each book, a story was told.  The act of both the giving and the story telling were, in Lansky’s terms, a “cultural transmission” but even larger than that, “Book by book, he was placing all his hopes in me” (Lansky).

Lansky returned to graduate school and while finishing up his master’s degree in 1980, along with help from his father, friends, and two of his professors, the foundation for the National Yiddish Book Exchange was conceived and incorporated.  (Now changed to National Yiddish Book Center).

Outwitting History is Lansky’s story of his search for a lost language, and what he found along the way represented more than just books.  Lansky’s search takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster that travels across people’s lives and time and the books they treasured.  It is about a love of language and books and the survival of a people.  It is also about a 23 years old’s quest to save a culture and one cannot help but be amazed at his success.  What he found was not just books, but a history of a people.

“This book is an adventure story: It tells how a small group of young people saved Yiddish books from extinction.  It’s also the story of the Yiddish-speaking immigrants who owned and read those books—how they sat us down at their kitchen tables, plied us with tea and cakes, and handed us their personal libraries, one volume at a time. The encounters were almost always emotional:  People cried and poured out their hearts, often with candor that surprised us all.” 

References

Outwitting History – The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Booksby Aaron Lansky, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2005

“Dying languages: scientists fret as one disappears every 14 days.” The Star By Raveena Aulakh, Environment, April 15, 2013.

Yiddish Book Center.  https://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/

***

A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate and fosters and rescues both dogs and cats from shelters and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

 

Never Mind the Villain!: Dorothy Sayers and Point of View

 Posted by Helen Currie Foster

Okay, you know writers have to make choices. I began writing the Alice MacDonald Greer mysteries from a single point of view—Alice’s. As you all know, whether in first person or third, making this choice in an amateur sleuth mystery requires the writer to figure out how the protagonist can acquire and understand all the necessary clues.

Bronze statue of Dorothy L. Sayers by John Doubleday, located on Newland Street, Witham, England. By GeneralJohnsonJameson [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons
The magnificent Dorothy Sayers instead adopted a disciplined omniscience in her eleven Peter Wimsey mysteries (1923-1937). In the first, Whose Body (1923), we meet not only the main character but his companion investigators: his unflappable butler Mervyn Bunter and Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard, who carry through the entire series (with Harriet Vane appearing in the fifth mystery). These characters both enrich the books and add structural strength. Parker provides the window to the police, while Bunter possesses useful technical skills (photography, testing for arsenic). Furthermore, the companion sleuths (and others) shed light on Wimsey’s character by their own thoughts and observations—necessary because Wimsey, though a chatterbox, is notoriously introverted, plagued by his war experience.

Omniscience also gives Sayers flexibility in setting the opening scene.  In Strong Poison (1931), after the bewigged judge’s dry summation of the evidence against Harriet Vane, we’re privy to reactions not only from Wimsey but also newspaper reporters and the public. Busman’s Honeymoon (1937) opens with letters describing Wimsey’s marriage to Harriet Vane, written to or from unknown society matrons, Peter’s butler Mervyn Bunter, Peter’s prickly sister-in-law Helen, and Peter’s mother. These multiple points of view enliven both openings.

But after such openings Sayers typically narrows point of view to the clue-finders. In Strong Poison we’re mainly in Wimsey’s head, feeling his growing emotional involvement: “Wimsey walked down the dingy street with a feeling of being almost lightheaded.” “For the first time, too, he doubted his own power to carry through what he had undertaken.” Sayers lets us abandon Wimsey to accompany his “team.” We follow the resourceful Bunter into the kitchen of a London mansion where we watch him toast crumpets while eliciting critical evidence from the cook and housemaid:

By what ingratiating means Mr. Bunter had contrived to turn the delivery of a note into the acceptance of an invitation to tea was best known to himself…He had been trained to a great pitch of dexterity in the preparation of crumpets, and if he was somewhat lavish in the matter of butter, that hurt nobody…Nothing goes so well with a hot fire and buttered crumpets as a wet day without and a good dose of comfortable horrors within.

Later our heart pounds with that of Miss Murchison, whom Wimsey has persuaded to take a job as temporary secretary in order to burgle a lawyer’s safe.  “Miss Murchison felt a touch of excitement in her well-regulated heart.” We follow the elderly Katharine Climpson to a village where, she’s promised Wimsey, she must somehow find and read a dying woman’s will: “In a single moment of illumination, Miss Climpson saw her plan complete and perfect in every detail.” And so do we.

Given their moments in the sun these characters develop richly. We feel Miss Murchison’s excited terror as she presses the panel that reveals the safe in the suspect’s office. We feel Miss Climpson’s anxious discipline as she waits for the kettle to steam enough to loosen the glue on the envelope holding the will. We love Bunter’s roast chicken recipe and ability to extract critical detail from the housemaid and cook. And when Wimsey celebrates their information the reader enjoys the teamwork as well:

(Wimsey) “Have you brought us news, Miss Murchison? If so, you have come at the exact right moment…Have you had tea? or will you absorb a spot of something?”

Miss Murchison declined refreshment.

(Wimsey) “Tell us the worst, Miss Murchison.”

Miss Murchison needed no urging. She told her adventures, and had the pleasure of holding her audience enthralled from the first word to the last.

In the earlier (pre-Harriet Vane) Clouds of Witness (1926) we travel to Paris with Inspector Parker, in search of a cat-shaped diamond brooch. After a fruitless day, Parker decides to buy his unmarried older sister “some filmy scrap of lace underwear which no one but herself would ever see.” He finds help in one Parisian shop: “The young lady had been charmingly sympathetic, and, without actually insinuating anything, had contrived to make her customer feel just a little bit of a dog. He felt that his French accent was improving.” Somehow we like Parker even more—a good thing, since later in Clouds of Witness he’ll propose to Wimsey’s sister.

In Have His Carcase (1932), the initial point of view is all Harriet Vane’s: she discovers the grisly body. Then Wimsey arrives, and we follow him as he tracks down alibis (“Wimsey shuddered at the thought of roast mutton and cabbage on a red-hot June day”). At the end, we’re  with Bunter as he doggedly trails a suspect to find the key evidence, then sees the back of a man leaving the movie theater (“He had not followed that back through London for five days without knowing every line of it”). By the conclusion we’ve enjoyed the inner workings of all three minds—Harriet’s, Peter’s, Bunter’sin a way we couldn’t with a single point of view.

However, there’s one point of view Sayers refuses to share, despite her omniscience. Sayers never admits us to the killer’s point of view. We hear dialogue from the killer; particularly where a death was unintended, we hear the killer explain what happened; but Sayers bars us from following the killer’s thoughts.

She’s taken a position consistent with the first rule of The Detection Club which Sayers helped found in 1930: “The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.” (Indeed, she even follows this rule for the accused killer in Clouds of Witness; he’s innocent, but still we never hear his thoughts.)

Many mysteries break this rule (see, e.g., Tony Hillerman’s The Ghost Way (1984), where we enter Vaggan’s mind), sometimes to great effect.

But it’s a rule Sayers kept.

On May 19, 2018, at our Heart of Texas Sisters in Crime meeting, Ed Martin  told in fascinating detail how he helped determine who murdered Madalyn Murray O’Hair, her son John, her adopted daughter Robin, and Danny Fry, a co-conspirator in their murders. As he ended, Ed mentioned that the murderer David Waters had told of a nightmare in which he saw Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s hand sticking up from the grave. Ed said, “No conscience, but he had a nightmare!”

That comment intrigued me. It opened an unwelcome door into the villain’s thoughts. It was already too hard to understand the murders in the first place. Hearing about the nightmare made the O’Hairs’ deaths more painful. And yet—the murderer had had that nightmare. Maybe that’s a different story.

***

Photographic images of covers of Strong Poison and Clouds of Witness taken from personal copies.

***

Helen Currie Foster is the author of the Alice MacDonald Greer mystery seriesGHOST CAVE, GHOST DOG, GHOST LETTER, and GHOST DAGGER. She earned a BA from Wellesley College, an MA from the University of Texas, and a JD from the University of Michigan.

Having grown up in Texas surrounded by books and storytelling, she taught high school English and later became a prize-winning feature writer for a small Michigan weekly. Following a career of more than thirty years as an environmental lawyer, the character Alice and her stories suddenly appeared in Foster’s life. In her writing, Foster explores the interaction between history and the present and the reasons we tell the stories we do.

Married with two children, she lives north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three burros. She works in Austin, and she’s active with the Hays County Master Naturalists and the board of Austin Shakespeare.

 

 

Old Yoo vs New Yoo, and All That

 by M. K. Waller

Today’s topic: The Yoo, weekly report #1. 

[For readers who haven’t read my previous post, a Yoo is one of those bracelets that calculates the steps you take and other facts you’d rather not know.]

First, I registered for the “Up Off the Couch” challenge–50K steps at 10K a day.

10K a day is the optimum number of steps a human should take in one day. To be sure that isn’t too many, I looked it up and here’s what I found:

“Experts say that while 10,000 steps a day is a good number to reach, any amount of activity beyond what you’re currently doing will likely benefit your health.” (Live Science, “The Truth About 10,000 Steps a Day)

So take that, Yoo.

Here’s how the 10K rumor got started:

“Pedometers sold in Japan in the 1960s were marketed under the name ‘manpo-kei,’ which translates to ‘10,000 steps meter,’ said Catrine Tudor-Locke, director of the Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. The idea resonated with people, and gained popularity with Japanese walking groups, Tudor-Locke said. (The Best Pedometers of 2014, quoted in Live Science, see above)

So there you are. A marketing device, pure and simple.

Unfortunately, the article continues:

“Studies conducted since then suggest that people who increased their walking to 10,000 steps daily experience health benefits.”

For example, “studies show” that women who increased their walking to 10,000 steps reduced their blood pressure after 24 weeks. A study of overweight women found that 10,000 steps improved glucose levels.

And then it gets into the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Mayo Clinic and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, all of whom had something to add. The CDC and the Mayo like 10,000 steps but note that it should be worked up to.

Dr. Clay Marsh (OSU) said people shouldn’t think they have to take 10,000 steps a day, and that

“[w]e just want people to get up, and get started … Any amount of activity that you can do today that you didn’t do yesterday, you’re probably going to start benefiting from it.”

Dr. Marsh is a realist. Note, however, that he didn’t say not to build up to 10K steps.

Sometimes getting expert advice doesn’t result in the desired outcome.

But anyway, back to my Yoo. It says I should be able to attain my goal in under a week. I didn’t.

I set new goals. I reset 10K steps to 5K, mileage to 1 (Yoo proposes 20), calories to 500 (from 2500), and activity to 60 minutes (down from 180).

Note: Each number represents an entire day’s physical activity, not just a period of formal exercise.

Another note: My modified goals are the lowest I could modify to. Yoo doesn’t go any lower. I wanted to move down to 1,000 steps but was stopped at 5000.

You get points for doing things that help create a New Yoo. You get Bonus Points for the following:

  • Sync Yoo to the app–100 points [500/day max] (I sync several times a day, so I should be doing quite well here.)
  • Sync Yoo to the app 3 days in a row–100 points
  • Beat your points total from the same day last week–1000 points
  • Activate your account–1000 points (I did.)
  • Share your stats on Facebook or Twitter–100 points (Not hardly)

But you get Revenge Points for doing things that support the Old Yoo:

  • No activity detected for 1 hour straight–minus 200 points
  • No syncing in a single day–minus 200 points
  • New Yoo loses the day–minus 200 points
  • New Yoo loses the week–minus 200 points

Revenge points are deducted from your New Yoo points.

Because of a concern for the privacy of all involved, I won’t share my stats.

I will, however, say the Old Yoo is winning.

*

At one time, I could calculate all the above, plus maintenance calories, pounds of fat lost, pounds of water lost, number of calories burned in various activities (including calories per stair step ), and the calories burned at various body weights (% above and below 150 pounds), taking gender into account. Without a calculator. I walked from two to five miles a day. No brag, just fact, but I am proud of it. I was also at 18% body fat and would have been happy if I hadn’t been obsessed with all the above and crazy as a loon. I had to choose happy over crazy and wish I hadn’t had to make the choice.

*

Seriously–I like the Yoo. Don’t like its inconvenient truth, but I like the Yoo.

***

When I’m not syncing my Yoo, I write short stories, and I’ve published stories in the crime fiction anthologies Lone Star Lawless, Murder on Wheels, and Day of the Dark. Read my flash fiction at Mysterical-E. I’m also working on a novel, but slowly. I blog at Telling the Truth, Mainly (http://kathywaller1.com), and I edit HOTSHOTS!, the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas chapter blog/newsletter (http://sinc-heartoftexas.com).

Join me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/kathy.waller68/)
and on Twitter (@KathyWaller1)

I now write under the name M. K. Waller to reduce confusion with a person more famous than I. She kept getting all the hits on Google.