I graduated from high school in 1994. I spent twelve years in classrooms without the words “school shootings” meaning much to me, because I had nothing to attach those words to–those now very prevalent words.
The classroom was one of my safe places. Places, like my home, where I walked into with the assumption that nothing bad could happen to me.
The only time that assumption was challenged was in 1988, when a woman named Laurie Dann, walked into a second-grade classroom, told the class she was going to teach them about guns, and then shot and killed one child, while shooting and injuring at least eight others.
The face of the woman plastered all over the news is one I’ll always remember–dark hair, dark eyes, a turtleneck– because of the horrendous acts that face is attached to. There was otherwise nothing worth remembering about her face, nothing distinctive evil that you would expect to see in someone who could shoot and kill innocent children. To my then twelve-year-old eyes, she looked so…. normal. Like any other mom.
Even after hearing that story of a woman going into a school (a school not very far from mine) and shooting children, killing one of them, I don’t remember getting ready for school the next day being afraid. Worried. Concerned that someone may come into my school and shoot me. That particular school shooting was an anomaly. Shootings didn’t occur regularly enough for me to think it could happen at my school.
I was twelve years old in 1988. In the seventh grade. I was old enough to understand that a child had died, and more children had been shot. I was old enough to grasp that a mother and father had lost their child. Classmates had lost a friend.
As devastating as all of that was, I still felt safe going to school the next day, despite that that school shooting happened less than an hour from my own school, because I believed something like that could never happen again. Not at my school. Not at anyone’s school.
Children today don’t think like that. Children today watch news of the latest school shooting and think, “My school could be next.”
School shooter drills prepare them for the occasion they may be right.
I didn’t mean to let so much time pass between blogs, but life happened, as it tends to do.
Last month, a sudden illness landed me in the hospital for four days. I recuperated just in time to spend Christmas festivities with family, only to be hit with a nasty cold bug a few days later.
The New Year was counted down from my couch, surrounded by a mug of hot lemon water, Gatorade, cough drops, a bowl of vegetable soup, and a box of tissue—the necessities for every cold/flu bug.
Past New Year blogs I’ve written usually included planned resolutions and the promise/hope for a better year. I had an optimistic outlook for the future year, which always began with a book about spirituality and being Zen and practicing meditation.
I have no resolutions this year. F. Scott Fitzgerald will begin 2023. I have no interest in being spiritual right now. Maybe things will change later. I hope so. No one knows what the year will bring.
The one thing I know for certain is I have a book coming out, Annabel and the Boy in the Window. I’ll write more about it when I know the exact release date. The date has changed many times. That’s life again getting in the way of how things are supposed to go.
Here’s to 2023. May things go as you plan/hope/desire. But if life gets in the way, may it be a good life.
A Shapeshifter Called Harper
from Carol Browne
You’re expecting to read about a shapeshifter called Harper now, I know, but it’s why this character is called Harper that is the reason for me writing this blog. The name was originally Tyler.
Tyler was the MC in a sci-fi novella entitled The Star Attraction, which I wrote in 2016. In May 2019, I was offered a contract for the book by my publisher. Said publisher closed down a few months later and that was that. Following this, I found myself dealing with a multitude of life problems, not to mention my other books and the demise of my third publisher. Hence, it was only in July 2022 that I found time to submit this book elsewhere (no verdict as yet!). Meanwhile, I am writing a sequel.
This week I saw a promo post on Facebook for a new release and, lo and behold, the male protagonist is a shapeshifter called Tyler. What are the odds? I might have been the first person to use this name in this way, but the other author got published so Tyler is damned and has morphed into Harper (which seems apt).
In this same week, a fellow author was distraught when she found that her latest manuscript, which she was about to send to her agent, has the same theme as another recently published book. I won’t reveal the theme, but it is such a novel, specific and original concept that it beggars belief that someone else came up with the very same idea. I hope she and her agent can find a way around this dilemma.
Last year I had an idea for a crime thriller, and I believed that the crime and the reason behind it was so outlandish and original that the chance of anyone else coming up with the idea was remote. More fool me. Yet another of those promo posts on Facebook was to show me the error of my ways as a concept I had deemed so unusual and unique was there for all to see in someone else’s stylish new book trailer. Meanwhile, as I toyed with the idea of an epic fantasy involving women with magic powers, I found that my story had already been given its marching orders by The Wheel of Time.
When there’s nothing new under the sun, it’s a challenge trying to create original concepts, and even more difficult to avoid accusations of plagiarism even though you had no idea that your ideas duplicated someone else’s. In the same way, it’s not possible to be aware of every book that has been, is being, or will be published. The fact that there’s no copyright on titles is a small crumb of comfort!
So, what is going on? Is it the Collective Unconscious that causes so many people to have the same ideas at the same time? How often does this happen to other authors and what do they do about it? Would any author reading this blog have changed Tyler to Harper or kept the original name? I’d love to know.
For now, my shapeshifter is called Harper. I lay claim to this in writing in the hope that there aren’t any other shapeshifters called Harper out there already! If there are and anyone has any objection to mine, speak now or forever hold your peace!
Once upon a time a little girl wrote a poem about a flower.
Impressed, her teacher pinned it to the wall and, in doing so, showed the child which path to follow.
Over the years poems and stories flowed from her pen like magic from a wizard’s wand.
She is much older now, a little wiser too, and she lives in rural Cambridgeshire, where there are many trees to hug.
But inside her still is that little girl who loved Nature and discovered the magic of words.
She hopes to live happily ever after.
Stay connected with Carol on her website and blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
Fantasy author Carol Browne is a published author who is currently seeking an agent.
Going out to eat was a rarity when I was young. Most of our dinners were homecooked by my mother. She made delicious meals, so it wasn’t a disaster to eat at home but going out to eat was special. An exciting break from mundane evenings.
I could sense a night out was coming, when, as suppertime approached, and nothing was in the oven, either we were ordering take-out (which was another welcomed rarity), or we were going out to eat.
I preferred going out to eat. I’d alert my siblings. “We’re going out to eat tonight! We’re going out to eat.” I can’t remember if they shared my same excitement, but I’m sure they did because eating out was a treat.
Though I hated getting dressed up, I loved going out to dinner, so I wore whatever my mother pulled from my closet, without much fuss. We dressed up. No jeans. It was nice pants, sweaters, blouses, dresses, or skirts attire. As much as I loved my jeans, especially the ones with holes, I knew better than to even think I’d be allowed to wear jeans when going to a restaurant.
But I don’t remember even wanting to wear everyday clothes. That’s what made going out to dinner special. You wore the clothes you didn’t normally wear. You did your hair better. You wore your nice shoes because you were going out.
My favorite places to eat were steakhouses. The ambiance was very distinct to steakhouses. Almost mysterious. They were darker than other restaurants, lit by candles in red-glass candleholders on every table. The tables were dense and sturdy, made of dark wood. The air was thick with the aroma of seasoned meat and homemade biscuits.
The biscuits were thick and buttery, and Mom always had to warn us not to fill up on them the moment the server placed the basket on the table, but we couldn’t resist. Our little hands dug right in.
My favorite dish was the basket of breaded fried shrimp and French fries. Every good steakhouse had them on the menu. I remember the fries looking enormous to my younger self, who was used to thin fast food fries. But everything was big at steakhouses, especially the baked potatoes they served, cut down the middle and fluffy on the inside, wrapped in foil, with sides of butter and sour cream.
This is how I remember the dining-out experience as a child. It was fancy. Special. You dressed up for it.
I don’t have the statistics, but I’m certain the stats will show families go out to dinner more often now than they did in the early 80’s, when I was a kid. Casual dining has been on the rise for decades, the proof is in the abundance of chain restaurants that have flooded this country’s landscape.
Sure, I’d have wanted to go to restaurants more as a kid if asked, but I’m glad it wasn’t a regular, casual thing. There would have been nothing special about it. I’m able to write this blog forty years later because the excitement I felt going out to eat as a child is still palpable. You don’t get that from casual experiences.
Ribbons wrap around trees that line the streets of the subdivision I live. I didn’t know why until yesterday. A 21-year-old woman who lived just blocks from me, away at college for her senior year, was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
Just minutes before, the young woman had been out with friends on a Friday night. None of those friends could know that that night would be the last night they’d hear that woman’s laugh. See her smile. Hear her voice. Feel her hug.
The goodbye they shared was their last goodbye. But none of them knew that until they got the call.
The sudden call that confirms you will never see a person you love ever again.
The call that changes lives forever.
The call every parent prays never rings for them and then is shattered in disbelief when it does.
But all you can do is pray because one can’t control the erratic car, they didn’t see coming, racing toward them while crossing a street at night.
One can’t control which classroom, which grocery store, which concert, which movie theater, or which parade a gunman will choose to spray his bullets.
Our fate is not always in our hands. Even the most obsessed control freak has to concede to that. There is no guarantee to a long life no matter how healthy a lifestyle you live.
You can eat right. Exercise daily. Limit risky behavior. But if your day brings you to the exact spot where a car will run a red light, or a bullet will pass with no warning, what can you do? What chance do you have?
Nobody lives forever. Death is certain. We all know that. But everyone wants a timely death. To die with a wrinkled face, silver hair, and a hundred years of memories lived, instead of just a couple decades.
How some people live long enough to see old age is a combination of good genes, self-care, and having the good fortune of never being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When lives, especially young lives, are taken in such tragic, unfair, and nonsensical ways, it is easy to wonder what this life is for. Is it worth it? To live and love when your life and your love can be ripped away from you any minute of any day?
Our personal life experiences may answer that question for us.
Maybe there has never been a time since the television was invented where stressful and turbulent, and sometimes just downright depressing, news stories weren’t reported.
The 60’s had its protests and riots over Vietnam and Civil Rights, as well as the assassinations of three of its country’s leaders– John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.
The 70’s had Watergate, a gas crisis, and political protests over racial and gender equality, and some gay rights activism too.
The 80’s had the AIDS epidemic, the Rodney King beating, Iran-Contra, and Ronald Reagan’s assault on the “welfare queens” while he lowered taxes on the wealthy and big corporations (corporate welfare, but Republicans were always fine with welfare that went to the top, but not the bottom. Never the bottom.). The 80’s represents the decade of corporate greed and will always be synonymous with the movie “Wall Street.”
The 90’s had Columbine, a school shooting that, though we didn’t know it then, was only the beginning of what would be known as mass shootings. My twenty-one-year-old self, sitting in her college library, reading the local paper about the school massacre, had no inkling that such a macabre occurrence would someday be as tantamount to America as apple pie.
The 90’s also had Bill Clinton abusing his power for a blowjob, the stained blue dress, and grunge. Oh, how much I loved those flannel shirts. It was cool to dress like a lesbian in the 90’s. But what kind of lesbian would I be if I talked about the 90’s without mentioning Ellen’s monster “Yep, I’m gay” coming out in Time magazine, as well as how much just the existence of Melissa Etheridge singing songs about loving a woman during the decade I was coming to terms with my own homosexuality? Those two women made this midwestern girl feel not so strange, after all.
The 00’s had 9/11 and the war on terrorism that included two wars, the Great Recession, and the historic election of the United States’ first Black president, Barack Obama.
The 2010’s had the inception of the Tea Party, more mass shootings, including at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 26 people were killed, including 20 six and seven-year-olds. As gruesome as that is, Obama still wasn’t able to get Republicans to agree on even a most basic gun control bill. Simple background checks were a bridge too far for Republicans because this is ‘Merica, the Land of Freedom and Guns, Guns, Guns!
The 2010’s was also the decade that saw the election of a self-proclaimed “Real Estate Mogul” and one of the country’s most popular philanderer to the U.S Presidency. The U.S will feel the burn of having such an inept, self-serving corrupt conman as president for a long time. It will take decades to get the stench of that piece of shit off our country.
The 2020’s started off with a global pandemic that would go on to kill over a million people in the U.S alone, and over six million worldwide after two years, and counting. The 20’s also saw for the first time in U.S elections the denial of a peaceful transition of power. The former corrupt president lied about the results of a fair and legal election that he lost and tried to implement a plan to retain power. When that failed, only because there were some decent politicians who put Country over Party, the conman incited a coup to invade the U.S Capitol and literally try to kill the Vice President and Speaker of the House.
What a time to be alive. But the crazy doesn’t end there. Said former corrupt president is currently being investigated because he stole top secret classified documents regarding nuclear weapons and nuclear intel and stored them at his golf resort. He’s being investigated for violating the Espionage Act. The FUCKING Espionage Act! We had a traitor in the White House!
But the sickest part about all of this is there are people who call themselves Patriots and wave the American flag while defending said traitor. What a truly fucking time to be alive.
I admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of history class when I was in school. I didn’t understand why it was important for me to know about the Puritans and the Quakers, The Industrial Revolution, or anything that happened centuries before I was born, but I remember being extremely interested in learning about Richard Nixon and Watergate. It was closer to my time of birth and what I knew about Nixon was that he did a very bad thing and that intrigued me to know more. I thought what I learned about Watergate was bad. Future history classes are going to blow future generations’ minds when they learn how the previous criminal in chief tried to destroy our democracy.
Of course, the conman’s actions will only be shocking to future generations if we are able to stop them from repeating. If we elect more politicians like him, his crimes will become the norm. Obviously, we can’t let that happen.
Every generation had its turbulent times. But back in the sixties, and seventies, and eighties, TV was limited. We didn’t have 500 channels back then. But now we do. Between twenty-four hours news channels and endless Internet sites and You Tube channels, some credulous, while others spouting out crazy conspiracy theories, it can be detrimental to our mental health to block out the noise.
Take a break. Turn it off. Escape.
Walking in nature, sitting by the water, reading, quiet drives down remote roads, or cuddling with a pet are all great ways to ease your mind and break away from the stress of the headline news. There’s another thing that takes me out of my head for a little bit. I love looking back to the past. Maybe too much, but that’s beside the point. You Tube is a great way to find videos of a time you may wish you had lived or maybe wish you could live again.
As a kid, I loved the movie “Eddie and the Cruisers.” I wanted to be Eddie so bad. He had the voice. He had the face. He had the arms. And he had the girl. I fell in love with the songs in that movie and I remember searching every mall record store for the soundtrack. I was in high school when I finally found it.
One day, when I was in my “looking back” moods, I searched those songs on You Tube and found a video of John Cafferty (the voice of Eddie Wilson) and the Beaver Brown Band playing these songs during a 1980’s New Year’s Eve set. The video was such a relaxation for me that it is my go-to when I need a stress-releaser.
Here’s the video. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
It’s the last day of July. We’re well into the “dog days of summer.” The hot, sticky part of summer you either embrace with your suntanned face ready to take on the sunshine or you escape to your cool basement to ride out the heatwave.
I’m the latter. Give me seventy-degree days and air conditioning for anything hotter.
There are sun people. Then there is me.
Though I loved and now miss my summer softball leagues and my days spent at the community pool as a kid, I was always an indoor person, even as a kid who loved being outside for a certain amount of time. Then you could find me in my room listening to my favorite cassettes, which in the late 80’s probably included Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and White Lion, or in front of the TV watching MTV, waiting for the videos of my favorite bands to play.
I can’t think of the summer of ’88 without George Michael’s song, “Monkey”, popping in my head. That video was on auto play every hour on MTV, as well as the radio, which was fine with me because I loved the video and the song.
Though I love summer and all its baseball games and outdoor concerts and barbeques and fests and beaches, I have my limits. As long as it isn’t too crowded or too hot. Maybe that’s how most people feel, but I have friends who think anything less than ninety degrees can’t be considered “summer weather.”
They are insane.
They live to sweat underneath the sun’s rays. I remember as a teenager when my sister would grab a lawn chair with a towel and lay out in the sun. She loved “laying out.” If you asked her on a summer day what she was gonna do, she’d say, “I’m gonna lay out.”
I found no appeal in it. To just lie underneath the sweltering sun as your skin burned. No thank you. I remember going on spring break trips with friends as a teenager and being amazed at how they could spend hours, every day of the vacation, just melting beneath the summer sun.
I needed to read a book or listen to my headphones to lay out there and once I was bored with that, I was done.
But that’s just me. You do you.
Enjoy your summer.
On a sidenote, thinking about the George Michael song brought to mind a couple other songs that will always make me remember the summer of ’88.
Gloria Estefan’s “1-2-3.” Def Leppard’s “Love Bites.” Richard Marx’s “Hold onto the Nights.”
I’ve been spending a lot of time these days looking back. Looking back on better times, better days. I read my journals written pre-2020, before Covid, before my health took a nosedive in early 2021 and has continued into 2022, to try to remember what normal life was like. How I used to live. What waking up and doing and going wherever I wanted felt like.
It’s so strange that you can live a certain way for most of your life, and then a year of a lockdown caused by a pandemic, followed by a year of bad health, can make that life you used to live feel so foreign to you that it’s as if someone else had lived it. You have no visceral connection to the past experiences you read about in your journal or see in pictures because that person doesn’t feel like you anymore.
No longer seeing yourself in yourself is a peculiar, isolating feeling.
The summer months are approaching. Though my favorite season is fall, (who can pass up hot cider, cozy sweaters, comfy slippers, the smell of crisp leaves, and, of course, Halloween and all of its scary movies) June has always felt like freedom to me. I’m assuming that sentiment has carried over from when I was a child and June marked the end of school and the beginning of summer vacation. Freedom!
Sunshine, barbeques, baseball games, outdoor concerts, carnivals, and fests.
June starts tomorrow, but I’m not feeling as free as I once did. The sunshine of June that ushers in the summer months used to fill me up with excitement for potential summer adventures.
Wrinkles cover her thin-skinned ninety-two-pound body, compliments from her eighty-seven years of living in this, at times, tumultuous world. But she’s as easygoing as they come, mostly unbothered by external noise.
She’s a headstrong, entirely capable, and stubborn woman. I love all of those qualities about her. She minds her own business and lives the way she wants. She talks to me in her beautiful Irish accent. She was born on a farm in Ireland. She rode a horse to school with a trap in the back where kids hitched rides on the way. She misses the horses. The farm had rabbits and dogs and pigs, but she loved the horses the most.
A couple years ago, her son privately talked to her doctor to persuade the doctor to tell her she couldn’t drive anymore. One day she joined me for a walk with my dog Phil and she had a disgruntled look on her face. I asked what was wrong.
“I know my son told my doctor to tell me I can’t drive anymore. I’m not stupid.” She looked up at me with her thin lips pressed bitterly against each other and her short brown hair swaying in the breeze. “But I do what I want. He’s not the boss of me.”
Later that day I was sitting on my front lawn with Phil and her garage door opened. Seconds later, a blue van backed out of the garage and down the driveway. She pulled into the street and gave me a wave from behind the wheel as she passed.
She’d found her keys. She’s determined like that.
Another day I was walking Phil past her house, and she was in the garage pounding out a dent in her car. I asked her what happened. She said she hit something in the garage but had to hurry because her son would be over soon. I asked if she needed help, she answered, “No, just don’t tell my son.”
That made me smile. Most everything about that special woman makes me smile. I wish to be more like her. I was down one day and told her about it. She told me she doesn’t think about thoughts that bring her down. I imagine that isn’t something she just started doing in her later years. I’m sure she lived by that adage even when she was younger and raising six children. She talks of her past without regret or resentment. She had a hardworking husband, (whom she also tells me wasn’t the boss of her) but times weren’t always easy, especially the early days in Ireland when work was hard to find or when one of her children took their own life.
None of her pains from the past show on her face now. At least none that I can see, though it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. She chooses to live as happily as she can. Not many people make that choice. Some live bitterly and filled with anger. When my nieces and nephews were young, they’d come over and play in the street. Naturally, they’d make a lot of noise. She’d always come outside, not to yell about all the racket, but to sit on her front porch and watch the kids play because she loved to hear the sound of children’s laughter.
Margaret lives across the street from me, and she loves to sit at her front window with her cat. No matter how bad of a day I may be having, when I see her face at the window I always smile because she waves at me with such excitement, huge smile and arm waving fast and high, as though she’d been waiting all day to see me. I will miss that when the day comes where she is no longer at the window. Hopefully that won’t be for a while.
Margaret came over a couple days ago to tell us she and her son and daughters are going to England but won’t be stopping in Ireland. She doesn’t have much family there anymore and doesn’t want to impose on the ones still there. We sat and got to talking and she shared with me how happy she is that we are neighbors. She went on about how comforting and safe she feels that we are right across the street from her. Margaret doesn’t live alone. She has her daughter, and her son stops by almost every day, yet still she appreciates that we are neighbors.
That meant something to me, and I hope she knows how much I appreciate that we are neighbors, too.
At the start of every year, one of my “new year’s resolutions” is to read 52 books. One book a week. I just finished book number six. At just about ten weeks into the year, I am four books shy. But I won’t lose much sleep over it, I have yet to achieve my reading goal.
Closest I came was in 2015, where I capped off at 34 books. 2017 and 2018 were my slowest years. I read a total of 10 books in each of those years. I remember those years. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that our former tumultuous and chaotic president had something to do with that.
Reading is something I do to relax. Clear my head. Get out of my real life and escape into another. I read in my bed, mostly at night, and sometimes in the morning. I hardly ever bring my phone to bed with me.
Of course, that changed during the Trump years. Feels like my hands were tied to my phone, constantly checking social media to see what idiotic, dangerous, or embarrassing thing he’d said or did.
I just finished a book that was stuffed in the back of my bookshelf for a long time. The Cave, by Anne McLean Mathews. Suspense thrillers aren’t my favorite genre to read, and this book was just too disturbing for me to enjoy. But if psychological thrillers are your thing, with overly detailed descriptions of torture, then this book is for you.
My list so far for the year is:
The Tao of Pooh– Highly recommend. We all need to live more like Pooh.
Emma – Loved it, though not my favorite Jane Austin book. That would be Pride and Prejudice. I was also clueless to the fact that the movie Clueless was based on Emma. A genius rendition to a classic novel.
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware- A neighbor gave this to me to read. The writing was simple and the story, easy to follow. I enjoyed the plot and appreciated that the story wasn’t overly written. No detail was given that I felt wasn’t needed.
The Catcher in the Rye – What in the hell took me so long to read this masterpiece? Just gonna leave it there. Salinger certainly doesn’t need me to sing his praises.
Goode Girls Lie by J.T Ellison- I really enjoyed this book. Great plot twists. Gave an excellent portrayal of an elite border school for privileged girls, minus all the murder.
Tonight, I’m starting the book The Reader. It’s been on my list for a little while now. I have few more books to check off my list but am always open to suggestions.