Staring at the Sun

The Wow! Factor

The glasses were hard to get, but my work got a batch and they were going on sale at the employee’s store the Tuesday before the eclipse.  I had asked a friend to get me a pair since I’m generally not in the office when the store is open.  On Monday a week ago, I was walking by the employee’s store — which is really just a little room at work where they have t-shirts and hats and what not, open a total of two hours a week — and by some odd coincidence, the door was open.  The person behind the counter was checking in the recently received batch of eclipse glasses.  What a coincidence.

“Are you open?  Can I buy them?”

“Yes and yes,” came the reply.

I ended up buying five pairs, one for each person in my family.

We had the glasses.  We were ready.

I took some leave from work so I could really focus on the eclipse.  I don’t remember ever seeing one, probably because I’d never had the glasses.

The clouds even cooperated, parting before the height of it at around 2:30 p.m. (2:44 p.m. before maximum coverage).  We only got about 75-78% coverage, but it didn’t matter.  It was such an honor to be able to watch it thanks to my super cool (in a cereal box toy kind of way), super economical ($2 bucks, cheaper than a Starbucks coffee) eclipse glasses.

Yesterday, I stared at the sun for a really long time something that you are never ever supposed to do because of my special glasses.  I kept closing my eyes and checking for light trails because I couldn’t believe something so cheap would actually be the real deal.  No trails.  These things were awesome.

We ooo’d and aaaa’d and called the neighbors over.  I couldn’t stop saying “how cool!”  The Wow Factor was high.

My one neighbor had made a solar eclipse viewer out of a cereal box.

It didn’t work so well, at least not to the level the eclipse glasses did so we passed the glasses around and enjoyed the show.

The next eclipse is in 2024.  With any luck, I can hang on to my glasses until then.

pjlazos 8.22.17

 

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Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates. The name connotes images of African skies splashing orange across the desert at sunset, inflaming what remains of the day with their last refractive stand, of the freedom and danger of the wide open plains where life is lived uncensored and unhinged, of big game and big game hunters, and of rainforests, humid, dark and fecund, where thousands of species grow and thrive. Life lived so close to the earth can be harsh, feral, even violent. It takes a rugged individual to survive. There are light years between that golden continent and the one where our African-American brothers and sisters now reside, having arrived so many generations ago, displaced against their will and all codes of ethics and morality, light years between nature’s violence and that of man, yet rugged individuality is still a necessity if one is to survive.

Between the World and Me is one man’s tale, a gritty, clear-eyed look at race relations in the United States. Written as a letter to his son, Coates rails against the violence of white society against the black body, offering no shortage of examples — victims like Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray or Philando Castile — victim’s stories of violence that often result in death if you’re black, acquittal if you’re white. Coates’ conclusion? Despite landmark cases and laws written to address the obvious, the fear and hatred and disparity between white and black America continues unabated. Being black means that the act of stepping out your door becomes an act of bravery where a typical day can turn into tragedy because of a bum tail light. Being black means not having sovereignty over your own body, your soul, maybe, but not your body. The sometimes terror, and often heartache that Coates feels, not so much for himself, but for his son, living in a country where black lives don’t really seem to matter escapes like a mist from the pages of the book, making me want to weep in solidarity and in shame for a country that treats its children this way, and for my own kids growing up in a nation so divided. As parents, we’d do anything for our children, but Coates maintains that if you’re black, no matter what you do it may never be enough.

Coates talks about Howard University as a mecca for the black body, a place of safety, identity and discovery for African-Americans. He met his wife there and came into black consciousness there, too. I can only imagine that if there was a one single place in the whole of the country where I felt safe and free to be myself that I may never want to leave that place, but Coates did leave and has found ways to navigate life despite the constant worry that things could always go horribly wrong. Still, it takes a rugged individual to step out the door.

How did America get here? Well, the thinking that allowed slavery in the first instance has never really left us. Imagine watching your father go off to work and not knowing whether he’d be coming back, taken by a random act of violence. It’s a sobering thought. Every white person I know would be uncomfortable in a room of all African-American folks and yet my black friends do it all the time without fear or complaint, like scouts sent out to chart a course. Except most explorations are followed by rapid expansion and integration while the black movement into a white society has been blocked along the way by laws and regulations, fear and ignorance, and violence, violence, violence.

While I don’t believe I’ve been turning a proverbial blind eye to racism in our society, I realize now I’ve been naive. The ancestral entrenchment is much greater than I would have guessed with hate being passed down from generation to generation without any clear understanding of why. People hating people because that’s what their people did. My Greek grandparents fled Istanbul in the early 1920’s (when it was Constantinople) to avoid being exterminated along with the Armenians and they hated the Turks because of it. Luckily, all I have is the story without the hate. On the contrary, there are dozens of examples worldwide of people sharing the same soil, but not the same ideals: Shiites and the Sunnis, the Hutus and the Tutsis, Indians and Pakistanis, Bosnia, and today, civil war in Syria, forcing Syrians to flee in massive numbers or possibly die, a mass migration that has forced other countries to become involved. Yet, the world still spins on its axis even in the face of such monumental injustices piled up like waste in a landfill, difficult to sort out with any certainty.

Here in the U.S., years of overt and silent conditioning has systematically sought to exclude people of color — from the best housing, the best schools, the best choices — and government’s attempts to fix the problem with affirmative action have not always been successful. We all thought that would work until it didn’t. You can’t legislate a change of heart and you can’t throw money at something and expect it to fix itself. There needs to be counseling, and dialogue and a lot of interaction from both sides and we’ve got very little of that going on with no real plan to start soon.

Between the World and Me is visceral yet hopeful, honest yet purposeful. It’s Ta-Nehisi Coates’ story, but we in the U.S. all know this story because we are part of the creating, the telling, the watching, and the living. We can no longer sit in the audience and watch the story unfold. It’s time to demand better programming. Perhaps our children, with their multinational friends who sometimes look like attendees of a U.N. Conference, will grow up color blind with an idea of how to begin the healing process. In the meantime, we can help them get there. Let’s change the channel and shift the world.

pjlazos 8.13.17

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FYI An Unintended Consequence

FYI An Unintended Consequence

Time for another indie author interview.  Today we’re talking with Patricia E. Gitt, four-time author with her newly released mystery novel, FYI – An Unintended Consequence.  So let’s start with the synopsis.

Synopsis for FYI – An Unintended Consequence:  Fake news terrorizes Taryn Cooper Walsh, managing partner of 4G investments. Each mysterious mailing contains increasingly viscous lies all suggesting that Taryn is running an unethical firm…a firm she founded with three women she has known since grade school, and a silent partner.  Supported by her husband, Taryn searches for the source of these fallacious clippings before they are leaked and destroy her reputation along with the trust of investors in her firm.  As the news clips continue to arrive and escalate in libelous claims, Taryn becomes physically ill, blaming it all on her increasing anxiety and inability to find even a clue to the person behind these attacks.  Melissa, a longtime business friend of Taryn’s, hires a dubious contact to shadow Taryn and make sure she remains safe.  Who would want to destroy Taryn, 4G Investments and its partners? Was it a disgruntled investor? An unethical associate? A competitor in the highly charged hedge fund world?  This is a tale of a seemingly innocent incident fueling one person’s plot for revenge

Bio for Patricia E. Gitt in her own words:  Having built a successful career in public relations, I met and worked with some of the legends of my profession. Fascinated by power, those who amass it and those who are exiled from it, I have used this writer’s resource in creating fictional worlds that will be familiar to business women and men alike.  With today’s fiction featuring women as detectives, physicians, attorneys, magazine editors, I missed the passion and excitement that women I knew brought to their business careers.  I wanted to read novels featuring the strength of the women I met and worked with…the qualities that made them successful in the corporate men’s club, and how women balanced their dynamic careers with their private lives.  I am now enjoying a second career as an author of novels of women, mystery/crime and success. Raised in Kings Point, New York, I earned a BS degree from the University of Vermont and an MBA from Fordham. During my career I served as Chapter President of American Women in Radio and Television and was listed in editions of “Who’s Who of American Women”, “Who’s Who in Finance and Industry”, and “Who’s Who in Professional and Executive Women.”  My novels of women, mystery/crime and success are CEO, ASAP, TBD and FYI.

And now, on to the interview with Ms. Gitt who has some pretty interesting things to say.

How long have you been writing?

I have been working at my fiction since 1976, finding the transition from business writing to the novel, a learning experience. Over the years I have benefited from writing workshops and assorted classes with authors connected to one of the New York City universities.

Currently, I have published four novels that may be found on Amazon, each a mystery involving a woman in threatening circumstances. As Agatha Christie did when she placed her characters on a train, or country house, I place mine in a business environment. Each business has its own culture, profile and provides a setting that may not be familiar to those not in the business world. My trademark titles…each an acronym: CEO, ASAP, TBD and FYI, are short-cuts to identifying the business setting for each of my crime novels.

What is your favorite genre of book, to write and to read?

I love a good mystery or thriller, with a plot, characters and settings that are unfamiliar. The early Tom Clancy books drew me to his fast paced plots including military details that I had been unfamiliar with. In my books, I try to keep the reader turning pages and finding bits of knowledge about a topic that may not be widely known.

What’s your favorite book? Who’s your favorite author?

The book that I read when in junior high school and keeps my attention to this day is W. Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage”…each time I read it I want to yell at Philip Carey to wake up and not to keep yearning after Mildred. Favorite authors would be Sir Conan Doyle, Ian Rankin, PD James, Barbara Wood and Nora Roberts.

From where do your ideas come?

So far my ideas come from my previous life as an executive in public relations. I had been blessed with a variety of interesting clients at the forefront of their individual fields. However, as I read the daily newspapers, some item will catch my imagination and I ask myself “what if…” and in answering that question, I begin to develop a tale.

Have you had any brushes with writing greatness?

LOL

Do you think writing is a form of therapy and, if so, has it helped you work through anything in particular? What has been your greatest writing lesson? Life lesson?

When I write something that makes me smile, laugh or say “Why didn’t I do that?” I turn off the computer knowing that I couldn’t do any better that day. My life is my toolbox. My friends my support and sounding board, each with different literary tastes. They keep me on track and prevent me from isolating myself from the world outside my imagination.  

Do you work outside of writing, i.e., do you have day job? What’s your best time of day to write?

Since I retired, writing novels is my day job. That includes research, travel for the details found in specific locations, and increasingly, understanding marketing in the online world. I also enjoy reading the work of other authors suggested by my book club, Books Go Social authors, and friends. I’m usually at my desk from 11-3, and sometimes hide out in a library, or another location to write and get away from distractions at home.

From where do you pull inspiration? How do you keep the creative spark going?

The great mystery…where do ideas come from? I don’t plot, I begin with a premise and with pen and spiral bound notebook and write chapter 1. I then close the book and the next day reread from the beginning, asking myself ‘what do I want to know next’…and continue. After about three chapters I transfer everything to the computer, however, each time I sit down to write, I read from the beginning.

What’s your perfect writing day look like?

I learned early in my career that there is no perfect! Sorry, but given no distracting obligations, a perfect writing day would be no phone calls, emails, or people needing my attention between 11am and 3pm.

If you could be a character in any novel, what character would you be and why?

There is a little of me in each of my characters…but Barbara Stanwyck and Ann Sheridan would be my role models…strong, sassy and accomplished women.

My novels and characters challenge the “feminist” point of view. I believe that I am a person who happens to be a woman, and therefore, entitled to anything my skills and hard work prepare me for. Life isn’t fair. Get over it. The main difference between my point-of-view and the feminist’s, is that by focusing on the inequities and limitations in life, you take time and effort away from moving forward with your own. I do not want to be marginalized as a part of society, rather I am a participant in its entirety.

What’s the best place you’ve ever traveled to?

I have always traveled. As a child of an airline captain, hopping on a plane, train or in a car for anywhere from a day to a week is normal. And luckily I traveled during my career to meet with business leaders around the country. Each trip has been an adventure during which I met and learned about people with other interests, their varying cultures, and of course the food and lifestyles of people near and far.

My favorite place, though, is where I’ve just returned from:  Antarctica.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

At age 12, I pulled a paper covered book from my parent’s bookcase. It was The Book of a Thousand and One Nights. I think they were trying to hide it from me. It is one of the early and best translations of the Arabian Nights tales, and it still fascinates me.  It is probably why I have always found reading a highly rewarding enjoyable pastime and one where the unusual can be explored.  

And the final question, do you think writing can save the world?

I believe that by reading the thoughts, information and views of others, we can better examine our own. Where people who disagree with you talk back, books don’t, rather, they can open your eyes.

Thanks, Patricia, for a lovely interview.  Patricia’s contact information can be found here:

Facebook: patgitt@facebook.com
Twitter: #patgitt
Amazon author page: Patricia E. Gitt
blog: pegpublishing.com/blog
website: pegpublishing.com

pjlazos 8.6.17

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Dreamland


       Dreamland, by Sam Quinones is the story of a nation gone berserk, a harrowing, fear-inducing slog through the small towns and backwater alleys of what was once as American as baseball and apple pie. On the front lines are generations of hard-working Americans, possessed of the values of the people who did make America great and who, sadly, could not forestall the destabilization of that same country in the grips of an opioid epidemic.  In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids — enough to give everyone in the U.S. their own bottle of pills. The addiction started in the heartland and worked its way outward, like ever-growing tentacles that stretched and squeezed and stretched and squeezed until we had all succumbed. Over 50,000 lives were lost to opioid addiction in 2015 and it all started with the Xalisco boys and a perfect storm of events. Those beginnings were so covert that even the medical profession that aided and abetted it could not foresee such a complete and total coup.

Dreamland would be great as a work of fiction — intense, edgy, adrenalin-inducing — if it were only that. Unfortunately, it’s for real. Whether you blame the resilient Mexicans, the ad execs that turned the pharmaceutical industry into a money-making machine, the use of the “pain index” as a fifth element in medical treatment, or a sagging American spirit that once fought for rugged individualism, but due to unemployment and loss of manufacturing jobs, among other things, now accepts the status quo like a prison inmate accepts lunch, you still come out in the same place: America likes its opioids more than it has liked any drug before, and throwing addicts in jail as a way to solve the problem is not going to work.  

Quinones is the quintessential journalist, the type who goes in search of a story rather than one who sits behind a desk and waits for the internet to bring it to him. He spent years investigating the Xalisco Boys, researching, writing, following leads all the way to Mexico and back. It’s no surprise that Big Pharma comes out with egg on its face, having shoved the idea of pain as an indicator down physicians throats, sending forth wave after wave of sales team to rival an invasion and then promising to the moon and back that the oxycontin and oxycodone and other opioids were not addictive “if used properly” (what drug has ever been created that someone didn’t figure out how to use improperly?). Quinones doesn’t blame anyone, just shines a light, but Big Pharma knew, and even in the face of escalating deaths, it’s allowed the ruse to continue.

Once an addict, always an addict.  Just ask anyone who’s ever smoked cigarettes and tried to quit. To this day, I won’t touch one because, despite however much I may cough at first, if I make it through one, there’s a 50/50 chance I’d have another. I know the clarity that nicotine delivers to my brain is better than a pot of coffee and my brain, especially when I’m writing, gets a bit giddy just thinking about recreating that effect. And while addicts are addicted for different reasons, they generally can’t quit for the same one: the beast of desire is a hard one to tame. When a sports injury in high school leads to a life of addiction, and in case after case, death as Quinones describes in the book, then something is wrong with the system, not the child addled because of it.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way forward and we’re not going to get out of it without talking — a lot — because counseling is key and so is patience. But, and it’s a big BUT, that means a groundswell of a shift toward listening, not just locking people up, and in order to listen we need to stop and take a breath, suspend our judgment, and give ourselves the space to hear. Is America ready to listen? Quinones hopes Dreamland will facilitate the conversation. Our kids’ futures depend upon it.

pjlazos 8.3.17

 

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Roadtrippin’

Off to Ireland for two weeks with my friend, Barbara, formerly of the Emerald Isle, but now a longtime American citizen. Never underestimate the luxury and grandeur of touring a place with a native.  

I’m so totally stoked for this trip – to use 80’s terminology – and will do my best to post a few things from the road, assuming wifi availability, and maybe spread some fairy magic as well.

In the interim, good luck with the health care debacle, I mean, debate.  🍀 😘

p.j.lazos 7.14.17

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Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Insecure Writer’s Support Group

It’s time again for #IWSG, the first Wednesday of every month.  You can choose to answer the optional IWSG question or simply write about your favorite topic — writing.

“RULES: This group posts EVERY month. If you sign up and miss one first Wednesday, that’s all right! Those who sign up just to advertise or miss two postings in a row will be removed so as not to waste group member’s time. Please refrain from posting non-writing related tangents under the IWSG badge. We believe in freedom of speech, but please relate your post to the life of a writer in some fashion. Those who don’t will be given a warning. If done a second time, you will be removed from the blog hop list. Guest posts for IWSG Day are acceptable, but the post should address writing insecurities in some way. Thanks for respecting the purpose of this group!”

Optional IWSG Q:  What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started writing?

I think the biggest lesson for me has been that community is more important than just about anything else, and that my allegiance to that community advises how I interact within it.  If I interact with love, civility, patience, tolerance and kindness then I get that back exponentially.  The lesson is not new for me, but one that’s been repeated in every phase of my life.

I went to a Catholic elementary school and the sense of community permeated everything from attending mass, to bake sales, to girl scouts and summer vacation.  In high school, my time spent on the swim team with the same group of kids, hours in the pool every day, resulted in an “all for one and one for all” mentality, kids who worked hard and played hard together.  In college, stranded on the island of almost-adulthood with a group of young adults who were similarly situated, I entered another circle and friends became family, friends, I’m proud to say, that are still a very relevant and important part of my life.

And now, today, here I sit in the blogosphere, interacting daily with people I may never meet in person, but with whom I share common core beliefs and with who I am forming lasting friendships.  If you would have asked me before I started writing whether this phenomena would have been possible, I probably couldn’t have envisioned it, but here we sit as writers, with access, literally, to the world.  It’s like a sacred trust, to be out there, opining, spreading the good news (why spread bad when there’s already enough of it), encouraging and cheering each other on.  There’s #IWSG, and #WATWB, and Mystery Writers Support Group group just to name a few.  It’s a really great place to be, and I look forward to the time spent there and to see where the seeds of the friendships I am sowing will take me.  So to all you insecure writers out there, take heart:  there’s a whole community of like-minded others just watching and waiting for you to succeed.  You just need to embrace them.

Have an Insecure Writer’s Support Group post you want to share.  Join here.

This month’s co-hosts are:

Tamara Narayan
Pat Hatt
Patricia Lynne
Juneta Key
Doreen McGettigan

Go show their blogs some love.  Visit members. Return comments. Be respectful. And have FUN! 

And if you live in the U.S., Happy Independence Day.  May your writing be liberated!

pjlazos 7.4.17

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Rebuilding #WATWB

It’s the last Friday of the month and you know what that means.  It’s time for the We Are the World Blogfest — #WATWB — where you “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative and don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.”

This month’s wonderful co-hosts are:  Lynn Hallbrooks, Michelle Wallace,
Sylvia Stein, Sylvia McGrath and Belinda Witzenhausen.  Pop by their websites.

Rebuilding

So we all know it’s been pretty rough out there, the name-calling, back stabbing and downright nastiness seem to permeate everything.  But it’s really not the case everywhere.  The other day I got an email out of the blue from a group called Voices for Peace Lancaster.  Here’s part of what it said: 

The email continues, inviting singers of all ages and skill levels to participate in a new choral group whose goal is to have fun and elevate the world through music.  All I have to do is show up and sing.

Music is good for the emotional body as well as the physical body. In fact, the art of toning practiced for centuries by mystics, has its corollary in music.  Singing elevates the spirit, lowers blood pressure, and creates an endorphin rush. My daughter’s piano teacher says you’ll never need therapy if you can play the piano — or any instrument — when you are feeling down (the human voice being the first instrument). The whole Voices for Peace endeavor is so appealing to me that I’ve already recruited my youngest to go with me to the weekly meetings.

So it’s with pleasure that I share this video about a group of kids in Malaysia who sing to rebuild their own broken parts.  What spirit!

Don’t have a singing group to join?  Then sing in the shower!

pjlazos 6.30.17

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