Monthly Archives: October 2013

Proper Treatment

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I can’t ignore it any more. There’s a marble-sized lump at the base of my third finger right against the palm and it’s bigger than it was last week. Doesn’t hurt, feels hard, almost like a bone spur, but it’s growing much too fast. I have visions of my lovely hand vivisected by some surgeon; maybe it will forget how to work with me for the paintings we make together.

So I go in to the doctor. Yes, he says, it’s a cyst, no need to worry. We could extract the fluid inside with a needle but it’s likely to refill. Probably will come and go over time on its own schedule and unless it impairs hand use, not to worry.

“Used to be called a Bible cyst, because people would slam them with whatever big book came to hand,” here he smiled, “and ‘pop’.”

No thank you, I say to the needle offer, and to the Bible, though he didn’t explicitly offer that treatment. I felt relieved to discover the cause but a bit peeved that my body should be up to yet another of these negative tricks once it passed the half-century mark.

I trusted you, I say to my bones and body. You are my one and only, so have you never heard of team effort? I need you on board to make this arrangement work. Yes, I retain old-fashioned conceits about the separation of body and mind.

Six days later, there I am having a grand snorting laughter-filled time in the audience of ‘Avenue Q’, husband and daughter laughing as hard as I, clapping with delight. ‘Avenue Q’ with its puppets romping in bed and the duet “The Internet is for Porn…” Not a musical for children, in spite of the puppets and the messages of equality and kindness.

I finish clapping, we rise to go, and something alerts me. Something’s different. I look down at my hand, touch the base of the middle finger. There’s no hard lumpy swelling. It’s gone, kaput. I press, no pain. Nothing but solid well-knit bone sinew and flesh under un-rumpled skin.

So here’s my advice. Have a cyst like mine? Go see Avenue Q, and don’t forget to clap.

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October 30, 2013 · 5:56 pm

Bad Dog

I’m on call for jury service this week, and I’m willing; I’ve always been willing. After all, isn’t this service one of the most important things a citizen can give, other than vote? Haven’t I been telling our kid and the other kids I tutor for years that this is part of a citizen’s right and duty?

 

Not so simple. A couple of years ago I received the note in the mail, my group was called and I showed up in that big bleak room where you sit for hours with your sandwich and water bottle and a book until they pull out batches of folk to be examined and sworn. Oh yes, we also had little quizzes to fill out, focused on whether we’d be impartial in the box, for this is, after all, a very small city. I made a couple of acquaintances, heard stories, one woman ranted about all the ways in which she’d heard she could get herself excused, from saying she was pro-death penalty to saying she was pro-drug-legalization. I did my best not to smile at the wrong times and finally went back to my book.

 When they called the next batch up, I was among them– over thirty people, all qualified to serve. They ushered us into a side court and we rustled to our feet in respect at the Judge’s entrance. What a lovely Judge he was, too, tall and lantern-jawed, silver haired patrician with the gleam of steel spectacles and a swirl of great black sleeves. His voice, deep-timbred and felicitous of expression. He looked upon us in our motley with pleasure, welcomed us as his guests and praised our dedication to the noble cause of justice, our sacrifice of time and effort. A spare gesture with his hand, inclusive and gracious. A warm glow suffused us all.

 We raised our right hands and swore to tell the truth in all things, and then he explained that in his court every jury member had to give over his or her judgment to be subject to his interpretation of the law as the Judge, for the law was complicated, bound in heavy precedent. Sometimes, he explained, his voice kindly, what seemed right in the outside world would not be right in a court of law, and we must accept this for the term of our service. He sat a little straighter in his seat above us and said that now he needed to know if there were any person in the room who could not promise to follow these instructions. To my deep dismay, my hand shot up. Why do I have to be so horribly literal?

 I am a coward in public places, my one desire is to be just another face in the crowd. A pleasant face, if noted at all. I have a profound almost instinctive respect and reverence for educated authority figures.

 With a gentle smile he invited me up to a little podium at the front and began to question me.

 My mind blanked. All I could articulate and I did it badly, with my knees knocking, was that I could never surrender my sense of right and wrong to any other person’s principle or to any other person’s interpretation. He tried positing a case to me but I was so distressed I could only stammer ‘I can’t do as you say. Isn’t a jury supposed to correct precedence, not follow it?’

 The kindly aristocratic face went grim and he dismissed me, like a bad dog, and I went down the court feeling incredibly stupid, as vulnerable as a hound with its tail between its legs. I almost went out the wrong door. Dismayed I stood a moment on the shining polished tiles of the great echoing corridor outside, then fled to catch a bus home.

 

I was summoned again for jury duty less than ten days later. I suppose my beautiful Judge thought I was trying to escape from service, and in a disrespectful way, to make it worse. Memory of that episode  makes me cringe. It’s mere luck that the next Judge had a different way of presenting matters to his court and the question of obedience to the interpretation of the Judge didn’t come up, so I simply swelled the crowd, was not in the end picked to be on the jury, and escaped the issue.

 For the next couple of years I was home-nursing my parents, so escaped the call.

 In the meantime I have looked into this matter, still stinging with humiliation, and it seems my instinct is in some legal circles, considered correct. The entire purpose of a jury, some pundits say, is to provide the common man’s perspective, and the common man’s correction upon the precedent set by law. The perverse verdict is an honorable result of proper process. There was even one article stating that no judge should ever try to impose his judgment upon a jury. He can explain precedent, give examples, school his jury, but no judge should dictate the interpretation of what is right and wrong in a case. When you consider the reason for the jury –which is to maintain within the judicial system the role of the judgment of your peers, this makes sense.

I’m up for jury duty this week. Let’s see what happens this time.

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Two novels and an invitation

            Night Must Wait, a literary thriller set in the 1960’s of Nigeria, and Future Past, a dystopian science fiction novel complete with viral warfare, musketeers and swordplay.

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I’m honored to have you read my blog, delighted and impressed by how many people the ‘Fresh-Pressed’ award brought me. But, looking at this page, I realized I haven’t any note set up here about my two novels, both published by small presses in the past year (Imajin Books and Eternal Press.)

            So perhaps you might like my stories. I grew up in Nigeria until the year part of the country declared independence as Biafra, and we Americans received midnight orders to evacuate. Night Must Wait follows the adventures of four American women caught up in this war, balancing in the roles forced by the fact that they do not belong and have no right to interfere with internal affairs of a sovereign nation. Of course, they cannot keep from falling.

            Future Past is a more difficult novel in many ways, and I want to warn anyone who’s read Night Must Wait, that Future Past begins with our Free World losing a war that has straggled on over decades of inconclusive strife. My narrator, Ash, has a solution for saving his nation, and engineers a virus to take out the tide of passionate reactionaries rising to victory. He launches genocide, but things don’t go exactly as he planned — the consequences reach after him for the rest of his days. Future Past is a novel of human redemption, of the powers of even casual friendship, and the changes that we all make in each other.  Is the end a happy one? Maybe you’ll tell me.

 

            I’m presently working on three other manuscripts, one literary fiction, two science fiction/horror. Writing and rewriting, answering my agent’s challenges and corrections, pacing around the house and pausing sometimes to pat a cat.

 

            I want to make one more comment on this business of books. No one who writes, sells books. We offer characters, love and memory, possibility, the past and the future. We hand over hope. Should these things be matters of trade? Maybe, maybe not. All of my life I have made things, stories, paintings, and more stories, and I have come to see my own life as a complicated story with strong themes that shape what I do and how I do it.  I want to share, I want to change your mind by what I share, even if only by some increment, so that you see a color, a foggy street, or a beetle creeping about its business– in a new way.

Every time I write or paint, I learn. Every reader or viewer who tells me something about what I made can surprise me, inspire me. Let’s travel together a little while and talk.

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