Tag Archives: Author: Joyce Elferdink

Science Fiction Writers as Agents of Change

“To every man, in his acquaintance with a new art, there comes a moment when that which before was meaningless first lifts, as it were, one corner of the curtain that hides its mystery, and reveals, in a burst of delight which later and fuller understanding can hardly ever equal, one glimpse of the indefinite possibilities within.” 

― C.S. LewisOut of the Silent Planet
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When I first met these creatures—hrossa, seroni, and pfifitriggi–I became (relatively) convinced of life on other planets. I loved the creativity but that wasn’t all that ignited my sense of wonder. What fascinated me most and led to a lifelong love of science fiction, was C.S. Lewis’ explanation of how each of these species offers their uniqueness, especially in abilities and levels of intelligence, to make their environment extraordinary for all inhabitants.  The narrator in Out of the Silent Planet even compares the conditions on Malacandra (Mars) to our own planet where intelligent beings seem more inclined to share the worst of what we’re capable.

I love to read anything that makes me think that so much more is possible, whether it relates to problem solving or to our potential to invent technological devises…or worlds. Science fiction is the genre I choose most often.

Science fiction writers such as C.S. Lewis immerse us in adventures, but the really good ones also force us to consider the consequences of actions or technologies. They demonstrate through stories how the impossible has only been implausible. Consider these:

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Jules Verne anticipated submarine warfare in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  In The Time Machine, H.G. Wells suggested that time travel might be possible using scientific and technological methods.  Isaac Asimov invented the word “robotics.” And Arthur C. Clark showed how a space elevator might work using a carbon-based filament for the elevator cable. Twenty years later, carbon nanotubes were at the heart of NASA’s first serious study on space elevators. [View Space Elevator Concept (NASA animation) at https://youtu.be/MkPDKVkVaj0]

Now, fifteen years after NASA’s serious study, I am writing a novel—science fiction, of course–that focuses on the use of space elevators to store essential foods in outer space. The setting of The Battle Jericho is 2035. An international banking coalition can control the world’s population by dominating the availability of food supplies.  By maintaining the fragile balance of plant growth, harvesting, processing and storage, the coalition strives to keep costs up and other producers out. They move large quantities of basic grains in elevator cars to a site 62,000 miles up. But what if the space elevator malfunctions leaving the food virtually unobtainable? Millions might starve.

My goal is to write stories that explore far-fetched ideas, conjuring up their incredible value but also their potential for massive exploitation. I fantasize being numbered with authors time proves to be “agents of change.”

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Author bio: Joyce’s love of science fiction resulted from a college class on the Writings of C.S. Lewis. After reading his Space Trilogy, she was hooked. A more detailed profile can be found at Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/jelferdink

When in Doubt, Make a Fool of Yourself By Joyce Elferdink

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“When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.”
– Cynthia Heimel, writer and columnist

I have struggled in all my careers to follow others’ rules. To envision ways of doing things or solving problems that deviate from the norm is risky, but for some of us it must be tried. For example, during the time I was an economic director in Indiana, one of my board members had ideas for improving the local K-12 school system. His suggestions were a direct response to the issues of the time. Surveying parents and community leaders assured him of the feasibility of implementing these changes. But another board member answered to the school’s superintendent. As with so many in positions of power in our larger institutions, the superintendent would not consider ideas he had not initiated, ideas that could have transformed that school system from mediocre to extraordinary. But the changes did not come with a money-back guarantee and the superintendent preferred the ways he knew and believed he could control.

I supported the board member who wanted a better learning environment for the students. That “leap” across the thin line between creativity and idiocy, between supporting inventive methods instead of the broken status quo, cost me my job. Did I make a fool of myself? There are those who would say yes, but others believe with me that complacency in the midst of turmoil is the true foolishness.

Our world is desperate for visionaries who will show us how to bridge the chasms between people and between our dreams and experiences. Are you willing to make a fool of yourself by stepping into the unfamiliar and enduring–though opposed–or will you be lost in the crowds who dismiss or oppose everything they can’t rationally prove?

Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling,
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses—
As, for example, the ellipse of the half moon—
Rationalists would wear sombreros.

Stevens, Wallace. “Six Significant Landscapes.” (1969, p. 183)

 

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Joyce Elferdink has finally come close to achieving her goal implanted long ago after reading Gift from the Sea: to live a balanced life, where each day includes time for self, for relationships, for nature, and for meaningful, creative work. She has never forgotten what Ann Morrow Lindbergh wrote about individuals “often trying, like me, to evolve another rhythm with more creative pauses in it, more adjustment to their individual needs, and new and more alive relationships to themselves as well as others.”

Paint it Purple—International Women’s Day & Beyond by Joyce Elferdink

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International Women’s Day has just passed.  This year’s theme was “Make it Happen” and used the color purple to signify justice and dignity, values associated with women’s equality. Giving women a special day is intended to generate support for equality between the sexes and to honor women’s accomplishments.

But can we undo in one day what is acceptable on the other 364—objectifying women? How many women want to feel that a man watching her from across the room sees a collection of body parts rather than a fully formed human? Yet we women know that occurs regularly. And the fault is not exclusive to males.

Consider the annual swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated Magazine. That issue sells ten times the number of copies of any other. The swimsuit issue was introduced 50 years ago. As John Oliver asked on Last Week Tonight, “How is this still a thing?” And I add: How is this illustrative of sports? Hannah Davis, the young women on this year’s controversial cover gave this response: “It’s a girl in a bikini, and I think it’s empowering. I’ve been hearing it’s degrading.”

Consider also older men’s profiles on matchmaker websites. Almost every man in his 60s and beyond (and many looking every bit their age) is seeking a woman from twenty to at most five years younger. The only way for me to make sense of that is to realize they are not looking for a fully formed human, one with whom they can share beliefs and interests and life experiences, but for a female with a collection of body parts that fit the media mold.

Now let’s consider how objectifying women’s bodies affect our struggle for equality. When a woman’s worth is primarily equated with her physical appearance and sexual functioning, gaining equality in the workplace is nearly impossible. As stated Margaret Foegen Karsten’s Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Workplace (2006), “The perception of woman as sex objects is inconsistent with the perception of them as professionals.” Many of us thwart our potential because we don’t believe in ourselves. Noticing the discrepancy between our body shapes and the media mold—think movie star and Barbie dolls—we don’t demonstrate how well our minds and bodies can perform when we’re less compliant and more authentic.

We can make equality happen, but not without significantly changing the 50+ year portrayal of women as objects. That has to begin with both women and men loving ourselves enough to stop competing and instead delight in the natural beauty and genius within us all.

Joyce Elferdink

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/jelferdink
Blog: http://harmlessjoyce.wordpress.com

The Search for Meaning

 

We all search for meaning in our lives. One way or another, we must find a story to tell ourselves. I asked the members of The Write Room Blog to share their understanding of that search. Their responses inform and challenge; they are well worth reading. (Kenneth Weene)

 

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LOVE GIVES LIFE PURPOSE by Salvatore Buttaci

We were blessed.

We didn’t have many luxuries. My father worked two jobs, but my mother was always there teaching us how to be God-loving and respectful to everyone. They taught us by example to pray, laugh, love, and accept life as a passageway to a better world. They trusted God completely and never questioned His Will.

Did we notice the lack of things in our lives? No way! Did temper tantrums follow the opening of presents on Christmas morning when, instead of toys, we were gifted with pajamas, a pair of rosary beads –– something inexpensive but heart-given? I don’t think so.

In 1949 when I was eight, I hinted to my father how much I wanted a Red Ryder BB rifle. If my memory serves me correctly, it was Saturday and we were in Woolworth’s Five and Dime Store in Brooklyn where Papa was buying some odds and ends. When we walked past the counter piled high with those rifles, I went back there and stared as if by magic I could claim one for my own.

“Could Santa bring me one for Christmas, Pa?”

His face took on that sad look of his when fate had his hands tied and what he wanted to do was what he could only dream of doing.

“Santa’s poor this year,” he said, then hustled me away.

Papa worked nights at a local Italian bakery. While we were in school, he slept, so we hardly saw him. Christmas morning finally came and there against the wall behind the little decorated tree was a tall box. My Red Ryder! I thought. Santa brought one after all. But when I tore open the wrappings, pulled free the contents, disappointment clouded my face. It was a hand-made rifle, whittled into shape, painted like the real thing. Mama told me later how Papa had patiently worked day after day whittling that piece of wood into a rifle, sacrificing much needed sleep to please me.

Oh, yes, God has blessed me more than words can express.

My parents’ final gift may seem meager to others, but to me it was a most welcomed grace: the last words, “I love you,” whispered to me from their hospital deathbeds, first, my father, and then years later, my mother.

I know I will be thinking of those gifts for as long as I live and will repeat the words to my Sharon and to all those who made and continue to make my life a wondrous thing.

When God the Father created the world and us in it, when He sent His Son who willingly died that excruciated death to atone for our sins, when He sends the Holy Spirit to sanctify us with grace, He shows His Love for us. My purpose in life? To emulate that love in whatever small measure I can by loving God and myself, then expanding that love to others, many of whom are burdened with loveless lives and the inability to believe in the reality of God. I feel strongly that I must show them the joy that comes from walking with God and accepting His gifts of Boundless Love.

Every road needs a reason to walk, every life a purposeful destination. Like my God-loving parents, I pray one day to dance in the circle of His Light forever.

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Salvatore Buttaci’s work has appeared widely in publications that include New York Times, U. S. A. Today, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Cats Magazine, The National Enquirer, Christian Science Monitor, A Word with You Press, and Cavalcade of Stars. 

His collection of flash fiction 200 Shorts is available at http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-Salvatore-Buttaci-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399042844&sr=1-2&keywords=200+shorts

His book A Family of Sicilians is available at http://lulu.com/ButtaciPublishing2008

Sal lives in West Virginia with Sharon, the love of his life.

 

 

Discovering Your Purpose by J. F. Elferdink

“There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It’s why you were born and how you become most truly alive.”— Oprah Winfrey

Some people seem to know their calling very young—those who have been given a special talent.  An example from my reading is Asher Lev in the book “I Am Asher Lev” by Chaim Potok.  Asher Lev was compelled to draw and paint from the time he was a child, even though the price he paid was excessive: his art depicted things forbidden by his Jewish community and he was ostracized. Yet he drew.

It hasn’t been that simple to recognize my own calling.  My grades pointed toward some form of communications and my writing assignments for school and work were typically praised. While a single mom and college student I also kept a journal. That form of writing, with no restrictions, stopped abruptly when I remarried. My new husband insisted I destroy the words that implicated a life before him.  When I wouldn’t, he did. It seemed a part of me was lost in those ashes.  But a strange thing happened during that experience—I had a sensation of a voice in my head telling me to let it go because I would write something much better.

A few years later I found a fresh reason to write. It would lead to authoring my first novel, written to resolve the death of a man I loved and to be a channel for a new passion: social justice. The book took five years to complete. My expectation for a bestseller turned out to be unfounded. Even so, I started on a sequel because there was more I wanted to say.  But it’s a struggle. Most days any number of tasks are elevated to greater importance than uncoiling a story from my mind to my computer’s monitor.  That faceless critic won’t let me go. He keeps up the tirade: What will people think if you write that? Do you want to open yourself to more rejection?

That internal voice leads to questioning my purpose and suspecting my “mystical moment.”  That leads to chaining my creative drive and ignoring the next chapter in my sequel. I’ve been trying that for more than a year while forcing myself to dismiss the nagging sensation that there’s something left undone.

Answers often come to me out of others’ writing. This week I finished another book by Potok, “The Gift of Asher Lev.” In this one, Asher has found success through his talent, but Paris critics suggest his paintings are no longer fresh, instead mired in technique. The criticism stops him; his canvases remain white. He does continue drawing although it’s not the embodiment of his talent.  Then one day while staring at those drawings, he begins to decipher “a matrix underlying his new work.” New possibilities! He cleans his brushes and takes out the jars of paints.

Application for my life (and maybe yours): Do I let my internal critic win or do I accept my destiny and become “most truly alive?”

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Joyce Elferdink has finally come close to achieving her goal implanted long ago after reading Gift from the Sea: to live a balanced life, where each day includes time for herself, for relationships, for nature, and for meaningful work. She has never forgotten what Ann Morrow Lindbergh wrote about individuals “often trying, like me, to evolve another rhythm with more creative pauses in it, more adjustment to their individual needs, and new and more alive relationships to themselves as well as others.”

Links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/harmlessjoyce

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Pieces-You-Ms-J-Elferdink/dp/0615664490/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423689108&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=Pieces+of+You+and+JF+Elferdink

 

 

THE DANGER OF BEING POSITIVE by R.J. Ellory

The internet is full to the gunwales with ‘be positive’ aphorisms, usually posted by individuals who choose to employ pseudonyms such as ‘Amethyst Starfire’ and ‘Harmony Rainbow’.  I am British, and therefore innately cynical at the best of times, but when faced with such banal and useless messages as ‘Follow your heart to wherever it may take you’ and ‘The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday’ I am often driven to the limits of my own fragile sanity.  Be a better person than you were yesterday?  Right.  Good enough.  So I am a serial killer.  Yesterday I got two kills.  Today I’ll go for three, and then I’ll get take-out and a nice bottle of Chianti.  Follow my heart to wherever it takes me.  I have a friend.  Her ‘heart’ tells her to pursue psychotic obsessive-compulsive control freak men who wind up doing nothing but barely repairable damage to her ‘heart’ and the rest of her life.

There is a real danger in fatalism.  There is a real danger in believing in destiny.  There is a very real danger in ‘positive thinking’, if only from the viewpoint that thinking is not doing, and doing is the only thing that really results in something being done.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you shouldn’t be positive.  I am a very firm believer in the need to be positive, to acknowledge one’s own capability and competence, but only being positive is not going to make the grade.  One needs to actually do as well.  I am also a very firm believer in the reality of negative people, the very real effect of negative comments and statements designed to undermine and make less of one’s efforts.  Negative people are merely hoping to see you fail because it will help rationalize and justify their own failures.

Very recently my wife and I looked at all the people we worked with, spent time with and those we considered friends.  Very quickly it became quite clear that there were a few who took and took and took and gave nothing in return.  We loaned them money, we helped them solve their life problems, we bailed them out of trouble, we had them over for dinner, threw parties on their birthdays, and yet in return there was never a single invite, never a gift, never a ‘Hey, I can help you with that’.  So we decided to just let them go.  We didn’t say or do anything to them.  We certainly didn’t level any criticism or reprimand.  We didn’t try to fix things or correct anything.  We just stopped communicating.  Did they reach for us?  Did they make any effort to find out why we had stopped communicating to them?  Not at all.  Months have gone by now, and not a word.  So I understand negative people and the effect they can have.  I also understand that people can be sponges for your attention and help, and yet nothing ever comes back in return.

However, I digress.  This article is supposed to be about purpose and direction.  These words have come about as a result of a request for advice and direction to the website visitors regarding how to better identify and highlight what is important in their own lives.  During the past few months I have spent more time reviewing my life and my own purposes and priorities than perhaps at any other.  I am approaching fifty, and even though I may not live to a hundred it kind of feels like a half-way point.  Life – for me – is about action.  It is about being who you are, doing what you want and having what you desire.  It is also, just as importantly, about doing what you can to assist others in the realization of their own goals and purposes.  As has been said many times before in many different ways, a man who wishes to be happy and yet does not spend the vast majority of his time trying to make others happy is a fool.  But there has to be a balance.  If someone does not know who they really are (i.e. they do not really understand their own priorities and goals, nor their own strengths and weaknesses) then they cannot undertake the right actions to achieve what they want.  Life is a job, very simply.  If you do not understand what the purpose of your job is, and you have no real clue as to how to best use the tools you have been given, then there is not much hope of accomplishing the end result of that job.

One cannot sit on the sofa in front of the television and ‘think positive’ to a better life.  I don’t believe that can be done, and yet that seems a realistic and acceptable life-plan to the vast majority of people I speak to.

So, where am I going with this?  I am going to give you some aphorisms that have worked for me, and that continue to work for me on a daily basis.  Some of them I might have invented, some of them were written by others whose names I do not even know, and some of them have been credited to their respective author.  They all say the same thing in different ways, and they all push in the direction of identifying your own goals and pursuing them.  How, you might ask, do I identify my goals?  I think that’s the easiest part in all of this.  Where do your passions lie?  What motivates you?  What gets you enthusiastic?  Those are the areas where you need to look, despite others who might say how unrealistic, difficult or competitive those areas of interest might be.

So, here we go:

Some people dreamed of success…while others woke up and worked hard at it.

What you chose to focus your mind on is critical.

Persistence is the key, the backbone, the spirit of accomplishment and achievement.

A person who aims at nothing is sure to hit it.

Persistence is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.

A man can only do what he can do. But if he does that each day he can sleep at night and do it again the next day.

Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.  The world said “Give up.”  Hope whispered, “Try it again…just one more time.”

With ordinary talents and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.

The saints we revere and respect in all fields are the sinners who kept on going.

Do not spend a moment worrying about whether someone thinks you are the worst human being of all or the brightest star in the universe.  Your integrity to yourself is more important than anyone else’s viewpoint. You know if you are working as hard as you can to create a great future for yourself and the people you care for.

It doesn’t matter if you try and try and try again, and fail.  It does matter if you try and fail, and fail to try again.

History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They refused to become discouraged by their defeats.

Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.

Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow.

Decide carefully, exactly what you want in life, then work like mad to make sure you get it!

Defeat never comes to anyone until they admit it.

Stay away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but great people…great people are the ones who make you feel that you too can be truly great.

No one can always be right.

Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life. When it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, “You cannot defeat me.”

Forget all the reasons why something may not work. You only need to find one good reason why it will.

Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian teenage gymnast, winner of three Olympic Gold Medals by the age of fourteen, was asked how she made it look so effortless.

She hesitated for just a moment, and then she smiled, and said, “It’s the hard work that makes it easy.”

Pablo Picasso, more than eighty years old, was asked why he still worked fourteen and sixteen hours a day.  His reply, very simply: ‘When inspiration finds me, I want her to find me hard at work’.

Be proud to work.  Be proud to be exhausted with the things you have accomplished today.  Dream of what you want.  Work hard.  Persist.  Persevere.  Make it happen.  Do not end your life with the words ‘What if?’  Those are the words with which to begin your life.

Courage does not always roar the loudest or fight the hardest.  Courage is often nothing more than the quiet voice at the end of a long day that says, ‘Tomorrow…tomorrow I will try again’.

Commit yourself to success.  Somewhere.  Somehow.  In some field.  As Goethe, the great philosopher said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back.  Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.  Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.   Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.  Begin it now.”

As Benjamin Disraeli said, ‘Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose’, and I believe in this without doubt or hesitation.  Whatever purpose you have now, keep it alive, keep working at it, keep directing your energies and attention towards it, and it will be realized.

As a result of what I have learned I have been able to travel the world and meet some truly extraordinary people.  The most important ones have often been the most humble and the most interested in others.  The most successful ones have been those who cared most about their fellow man.  The happiest ones have been those who were literate, hard-working, persistent and courageous in their endeavours.

So, in closing…turn off the television, stop reading the newspapers (because their entire purpose is to make you think that the world in which we live is rough and dangerous and crazy and out-of-control, and it isn’t much like that at all), stop doubting your own ability to achieve what you know you can achieve, and realize that achieving it is only going to happen if you do the work.  Stop complaining, stop finding reasons why it can’t be done, stop worrying about what others might think, and do the work.  Just shut up and do the work.

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Having surmounted many obstacles in his own life, R.J. Ellory has gone on to be both a successful writer of crime novels and a musician.

Check out R.J.’s books at http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO

 

 

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The Doughnut and Not the Hole by John B. Rosenman

My father used to talk to me about what counted in life.  Sometimes he quoted a poem you may be familiar with:

“As you ramble through Life, Brother,

Whatever be your goal.

Keep your eye upon the doughnut,

And not upon the hole.”

Even when I was a kid, I understood the moral.   One should pursue real and meaningful goals in life and avoid empty attractions that can be a tragic waste of time.   One should pursue worthwhile values and avoid the gaudy, seductive, and worldly pleasures of Vanity Fair.

However, can we always tell what the doughnut is, and what the hole?  We might think it is easy, but Vanity Fair is just as real and dangerous now as it was when John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress.   Even more real and dangerous, in fact.   The media constantly bombard us with vain confections we come to crave.   Money, glamor, and sex, oh my.  Some of us pilgrims easily lose our way and find ourselves lost forever.

What exactly is the doughnut?   If I forget about the Kardashians and put down my scandal-racked tabloid, I would start my list by saying the doughnut consists of the following ingredients:

  1. Valuing your family and treasuring its members.
  2. Valuing your country and treasuring its traditions.
  3. Being kind and helpful to people whenever you can.

Number 3 sounds a lot like the Golden Rule to me.  Contributing to worthwhile charities comes in here.   I believe Truman Copote said there were only two moral rules.   Mind your own business and don’t hurt anybody.   I think a lot of the misery and confusion in our lives is caused by our failure to remember these two things.

I have to admit I’m not the best at following these principles.   For example, I have fought with my wife when I knew I was wrong.  But hey, I think I have a good idea of what goes into the doughnut.   Here’s another ingredient based on my personal experience:

  1. Forget about past grievances and don’t hold grudges because of the way people have treated you.   Let it go, let it go, let it go.   Set aside your injured pride.  For some of us, it’s harder to do than for others.   If you can’t forgive, see if you can forget a little by focusing on the present and all the possibilities it offers.

I can’t cover this subject as fully as I’d like here, so I’ll close by mentioning one more tasty, filling and fulfilling ingredient in the doughnut.   To some of you, it may be the most important one.

  1. Consider developing a relationship with God or a supreme being who is larger and more wonderful than everything else. Some folks may object to this. But please, don’t simply decide there is no ultimate  intelligence in the universe and never consider the matter again.  As for believers, I recommend that reexamining and questioning our beliefs now and then can be a very good thing.  Miguel de Unamuno said  “Faith which does not doubt is dead faith.”

Amen.

As for Socrates, he believed that “not life, but a good life, is to be chiefly valued.”   Money, possessions, popularity and praise don’t automatically equal the good life, and worldly success doesn’t mean one is a virtuous and deserving person.   It’s what one stands for and what one does with such wealth that matters.

Otherwise it’s the hole in that doughnut rather than the doughnut itself.

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John B. Rosenman, a retired English professor from Norfolk State University, has published over 300 stories and 20 books. His work includes science fiction and dark erotic fiction. “The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes won the 2011 annual readers’ poll from “Preditors and Editors.” In 2013, Musa Publishing awarded his time travel story “Killers” their Top Pick. He is the former Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association and the previous editor of Horror Magazine.

 

 

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Some Small Stranger by Micki Peluso

“Grandma,” a word sounding as old as Methuselah was about to become my title. My response to this new position escalated to the point of panic. Initially, I didn’t react well to the word, mother, either.

I remembered my own grandmother, with her soft white hair wound up in a bun; hair that when let down, easily reached her waist. I can still see her laboring over delicate paper-thin strudel dough in a warm kitchen filled with the aroma of chicken soup and fresh baked bread. I thought of my children’s grandmother, who had wiry salt and pepper hair, mostly salt, velvety skin, and eyes that seemed ageless. She was lovely, wore no make-up, and exuded a gentleness that gave the word, “Grandma,” a good name.

The title, “Grandma’” seemed to place me in a different age bracket–and I wasn’t ready. I could still squeeze into my designer jeans, if I lay flat on the bed to pull up the zipper. My hair, mostly my own, was still blonde, and I hadn’t yet given my bikini to the Salvation Army. I would probably have to soon– the neighbors were starting to complain. I did Jane Fonda religiously, which meant once a week, and wasn’t planning on taking Geritol for a few more years.

Soon after my daughter informed me of her pregnancy, placing the weighty mantle of “Grandma” around my neck, my life began to change. My shoulders drooped as I walked down the street, hinting that osteoporosis was right around the corner. Wrinkles, cropped up from nowhere, etching the itinerary of my life. Silver strands peeked out from among the gold, thinning gold at that. Fading eyesight precipitated the need for “Granny” glasses, and all my best parts appeared to have dropped six inches. My husband, suffering his own identity crisis, joked about trading me in for two twenty-year olds.

“Go ahead,” I told him. “I may as well be widowed as the way I am now.” My youth was gone, chased away by a menacing word that hovered like an albatross over my troubled psyche.

I sulked most of the nine months preceding the arrival of the one responsible for my fate. I was proud of my daughter, excited by the prospect of a new baby, her baby, joining the family, but I couldn’t adjust to my novel role. I laid claim to many titles in my lifetime, from Miss to Mrs. to Mommy, a brief encounter with Ms., plus a few titles that didn’t need capitalization. There was something about the word, Grandma, which stuck in my throat. My friends smirked and made the usual jokes, perilously endangering our friendship. They could afford to be cute. None of them were about to be grandparents. I would be the first.

It wasn’t fair. I had raised my children, gave my all in the name of motherhood, and faced the daily grind of bottles, diapers and finicky eaters. I lost sleep during middle of the night marathons with teething toddlers, and suffered through puberty and adolescence with only a hint of martyrdom. Now when the “best was yet to come,” some small stranger, still to be born, was transforming me into an old woman; a grandma.

My daughter’s delivery came, as most do, in the middle of the night. It was a long, hard labor, beset with life-threatening problems for both herself and the baby; problems which made my own insignificant. My pleas, that night, to a higher authority, did not concern my apprehension of grand motherhood. I begged for the safety of my child and her baby. Nothing else mattered.

After an agonizing wait in a room full of people mutely sharing similar concerns, the doctor burst through the delivery room doors. Ten agonizing hours had elapsed since we entered that room. It seemed a lifetime. The doctor spotted us and rushed over. My heart was in my throat as I rose to meet him.

“Your daughter’s fine” he said, smiling. “Congratulations, Grandma! It’s a boy!”

He had to say “Grandma”. My husband breathed a sigh of relief and began passing out cigars. I sat silent, relieved for my daughter, uncertain of the reality before me.

I finally walked over to the glass windows of the nursery, where “Grandpa,” beaming proudly, had preceded me. I looked down upon a tiny, screaming infant, who, with flailing arms and red, wrinkled face, was a miniature of my daughter. He stopped crying, and gazed up at me with unfocused eyes, appraising me as I did him, his mouth turning up in a crooked grin. I loved him at once. Suddenly the word “Grandma,” the most beautiful word in the world, seemed to fit like a pair of broken-in running shoes.

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Micki Peluso is a Journalist, and humorist, writing for several newspapers, plus publishing short fiction and non-fiction in various magazines and e-zines, winning many contests and awards. Her short works appear in a half dozen book collections, including the Reader’s Favorite International Award for two short stories, in “The Speed of Dark” published by Clayton Bye. Her first book, . . . And the Whippoorwill Sang, a funny, bittersweet story of love, loss and survival won the Nesta Silver Award for writing that “Builds Character.” “Don’t Pluck the Duck” soon to be released is a collection of her published slice of life, short fiction and non-fiction. http://www.amazon.com/Micki-Peluso/e/B002BLZ7JK

 

 

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Make a Conscious Choice by C. Clayton Bye

Many years ago, while on an evening stroll in Toronto, I came upon a young couple who were being harassed by three thugs. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the young man was in the kind of situation that tends to turn out badly. In fact, I figured one of two things was going to happen: he was going to receive a beating, or he was going to lose face with his girl.

Everything about the fellow’s demeanour indicated he’d reached a similar conclusion. Take your pick of emotions. There was fear, frustration, anger, even humiliation: each appeared and disappeared on this victim’s face like the shifting scenes in a suspense film.

One of the aggressors laughed, and I found myself thinking about what most people would do when encountering a situation such as this. The answer which appeared in my head was to mind my own business. No surprises there, right? However, I profess to be a Contrarian. According to my personal definition, this is a person who always considers doing the opposite of what most people do—as a way to identify opportunities to be extraordinary.

I walked up, inserted myself between the two lovers and quietly told the young man I was there to help. The response was wonderful to behold. He drew himself up to full height, his face relaxed and hope shone in his eyes. Then, obtaining a silent nod of agreement from me, and giving the girl’s hand a quick squeeze, he stepped forward to face the bullies.

Keeping my mouth shut, I let my new friend take control of the situation, allowed him the chance to look good in front of his lady. He handled himself well, and the thugs, visibly uncomfortable with the new odds, were soon gone.

A similar event was recently reported by local media. Unfortunately, the results were tragic. A young man attempted to help some people in trouble and was knifed to death. No one else was hurt, but a bright future was cancelled in an instant.

Individuals reading my column might ask, “Doesn’t the preceding story prove it pays to mind your own business?” My answer would be, “No!” I believe the young man who lost his life did the right thing. I’m sorry he died, but I’m also certain he acted as he did because he understood that the safe alternative, the choice of inaction, of tolerating a wrong or an evil, would have made him part of the problem.

The habit of taking responsibility for yourself, of consistently making the right choice, rather than the safe or easy choice, is the most difficult way of life I know. And we, as a society, need more of it! How many times has that tiny, seventy-something lady walked past your doorstep in frigid weather, bags full of groceries scraping the ground, without someone coming to her aid? What about the foul-mouthed teenagers at the mall? Why  is their behaviour tolerated? Closer to home, who monitors your own decision making? What checks and balances do you have in place for those times when your behavioural choices are less than perfect?

Doing nothing to change what’s wrong in and about your life is a choice. It’s a form of behaviour. And in spite of what you might have heard to the contrary, when you say and do hurtful things, you are a hurtful person. This modern notion that we aren’t defined by our actions is, in my opinion, complete nonsense. We’re nothing if we aren’t our behaviour.

You and I don’t have to be perfect. We just need to be consistent in what we choose to do. The best analogy I can offer comes from baseball. A player with a .300 batting average is a treasure, yet he gets on base just three in every ten trips to the plate. He understands that if you keep swinging the best way you know how, you’ll get through the outs and achieve some hits. We can do the same.

When you see a person bending under the weight of their load, make a conscious choice to help. The next time you’re tempted to say or do something in anger, bite your tongue. Better yet, find something nice to say and do. Make the responsible choice. Then make another. And another. And another.

Sure, you’ll take some strikes. But your batting average will improve over time. That’s what practice is all about. Actions create results; we are what we say and do.

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Clayton Bye is a writer, editor and publisher. The author of 9 books and a varied collection of short stories, poems, articles and hundreds of reviews, he has also published  3 award winning anthologies. Shope at his estore: http://www.amazon.com/Clayton-Bye/e/B002BWULO0

 

March 8 – How are You Celebrating? (P.S. It’s International Women’s Day)

While most of the world celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) each March 8, people in the United States tend to ignore it. Having lived briefly in the former Soviet Union, I knew that women receive flowers and special attention on March 8. But before living overseas, I celebrated it only as the day my daughter was born. And I suspect that if a number of women I know were surveyed, few could name the date of IWD or its purpose.

Why don’t 21st century Americans, especially the women, observe this holiday as fervently as, say Labor Day (both focus on the social and economic achievement of workers), or at least give IWD as much credibility as Groundhog Day (since both bear indications of the future)?  Are we willing to negate the feminine impact on socio-political issues?

That was not always the case. IWD was first recognized in the US to honor the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions. Then next year women’s suffrage was the focus, followed by ending job discrimination against women.  During WWI Russian and European women held rallies to protest the war and to strike for “Bread and Peace.” [Please see the 1932 poster below for more ideas on what Russian women have protested on this day.]

The red text reads: The 8th of March: A day of rebellion by working women against kitchen slavery. Gray text in lower right reads: Say NO to the oppression and vacuity of household work!” Source: plakaty.ru

Equal rights for women was not a universal theme in the early 1900s. The United Nations’ 1945 charter was the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. Even with strong support for women’s rights during its 68 year history, the UN has never given its top leadership role to a female. And of the 193 countries recognized by the United Nations, 12 have a female head of government.

According to the current UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, “There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.”

Why then do we read every day about the horrors women face worldwide? Why are women’s wages still only 81% of men’s for the same work? With every new article about each additional injustice and atrocity, we feel a stab of pain for our global and local sisters. We ring our hands and wonder how this could be, we may even threaten to withdraw our support for politicians, the media and other organizations who denigrate women.

But what are women, especially those of us who live in the United States, doing about this? Did you ever march or strike for the rights of women? How much do you know about the issues other women face? Have you volunteered with an agency or joined a group with a mission to protect women?

March 8, 2014, is not only a time to reflect on progress made, but also to call for change.  Women have the power to be the change as stated clearly in this quote by Mahatma Ghandi:

Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacity…
If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior…
If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with women…

As 21st century women, let’s prove we have the will to follow in the footsteps of our 1908 sisters. Let us come together to change unjust systems at home and abroad. Let us meet our third world sisters on the bridges between our countries. While we continue to respond to local needs, let’s also work to end the causes of our neighbors’ desperation.

If you don’t know where to begin, start the celebration with ideas from the article at this link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/arts-post/post/international-womens-day-10-ways-to-celebrate/2012/03/08/gIQACZ16yR_blog.html

It does mention wearing red lipstick and eating a cupcake, but it also advocates for defeating sexual harassment and donating money for micro-lending to non-profits such as Kiva. So will you join me, promising to have that cupcake (maybe even to celebrate my daughter’s birthday) and then giving to an organization like kiva.org/women? By the way, I just signed on to vday.org, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. And if you “tweet,” you can follow me and about 42,000 others @womensday.  Finding lists of ways to commemorate March 8 is not difficult. But let’s distinguish this one as the day we made a stronger commitment to equality and justice for our sisters and mothers who still make up 70% of the world’s impoverished citizens.

The 2014 motto  is “Inspiring Change.” But it takes more than wearing red lipstick!

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Joyce’s bio: After watching the movie, Julie and Julia, Joyce realized the significance of shared glimpses and gambits on what is purposeful and meaningful in our lives. That’s when she created a blog: http://harmlessjoyce.wordpress.com. Some of her perceptions are profiled through the blog, others through her novel, Pieces of You, available at http://www.amazon.com/Pieces-You-Ms-J-Elferdink/dp/0615664490/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1392499907&sr=1-1 or http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pieces-of-you-joyce-elferdink/1114473073?ean=9780615664491

What I Learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Former Soviet Union

The Kazakh woman was walking sideways, trying to use the overhang of the dilapidated shop roofs as protection from the downpour. She caught my eye and waved. This lady had an inviting smile, and her hair with its henna color—the exclusive hair dye used by local women—was neatly combed. She looked just a few years older than me, which would put her in her early fifties. I could see loaves of unwrapped bread sticking out of her shopping bag. I took the bread as a sign that I wouldn’t go without the basics if she was to be my host family.  But  would that extend to hot water and toilet paper? (Both had been scarce during my first six weeks in Almaty.

“Hallow, Djoic! I’m Saulye. I have no car so I bring you to my home. My English not good. Do you speak Russian?”

“Very little…nimnoga.” It was a good thing I didn’t forget my Russian-English dictionary.   She tried to keep her umbrella over my head while we walked the several blocks to a building with large chunks out of the front steps and walls that hadn’t seen a paintbrush in a very long time. Yet when I entered Saulye’s sparse apartment, I felt at ease, and even more so when I saw my duffle bags in the tiny storage area transformed into my bedroom. That meant a Peace Corps staff person had been here earlier.

A pretty young woman was waiting for us in their kitchen. The samovar held hot water for our tea, and home-made jam was already spooned into little dishes. Tea came first, I could unpack later.

As we sipped our tea at a small, heavily marred table in a cluttered but clean kitchen, Saulye’s daughter, Anel, introduced herself. “I am on holiday from university in St. Petersburg one week only. Do you have children?”

“Yes, I have a daughter about your age and a son. My son surprised me with my first grandchild just before I came to Kazakhstan.”  Their confused looks told me I’d better pull out my dictionary.  Pointing to the words was easiest because my ability to pronounce Cyrillic letters had improved little in six weeks of  lessons. (Peace Corps has no language prerequisite and since we were the first group placed in Kazakhstan, they had yet to decide whether we would learn Kazakh or Russian.)

After we negotiated our communication process, I learned that Saulye also has a son, but her son has serious health issues. During most of his youth, he had lived with his dad in Semipalatinsk, a former Soviet nuclear test site in Eastern Kazakhstan. Now he desperately   needs hospital care but he won’t be admitted until he can deliver the prescribed medicine.

“Djoic, every day I call my druga [friends], ask for help. They want give, but tenge niet. Maybe Peace Corps help me?”

I said I would find out.

The next day I went with Saulye and Anel to the main Almaty bazaar to buy food. I nearly became a vegetarian that day because all the meat was unwrapped on tables with the head of an animal in full view, indicating the kind of meat for sale. Horse meat was second in popularity to sheep, although I never saw horse heads.

Saulye was successful in hawking a half-pack of loose cigarettes, three or four candy bars, and two bras (new) she had brought to sell at the bazaar, earning a few tenge that went into the collection for medicine. I couldn’t contribute much because volunteers are given a living allowance only slightly higher than the local “living wage.” But one of our benefits is an unlimited supply of condoms and of considerably more value, free medical care—something that is priceless in a country where the hospitals’ inventories of drugs are smaller than what most Americans store in their bathrooms.

I thought about how I’d feel if my son was as sick as Saulye’s. When I leave the Peace Corps, I will have no medical insurance, but at least my family and I cannot be denied hospital care. Thinking about this, I offered a silent prayer of gratitude to my ancestors who settled in the U.S. and saved me from this trauma. But what do I have to offer my Kazakh sister?  I can offer her my empathy as one mother to another, but that won’t save her son’s life. Peace Corps won’t help our host families beyond a stipend. I tried reaching out to people in the U.S. but no help came. I contacted USAID’s Kazakhstan office, but one family’s medical crisis doesn’t meet their funding criteria. The best I can do is pray that Saulye’s friends and family come through.

Thinking about that solution, I realized that she may be better off than me; she belongs to a generous community who will sacrifice to serve each other. They understand they’re all they have.

The author, Joyce Elferdink, is currently a writer and communications instructor, but was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers to go to Kazahstan. Her role during 1993-94 was to set up small business develop centers to assist people who for the first time could become entrepreneurs.

Blog: https://harmlessjoyce.wordpress.com/
Amazon Book Listing (Kindle edition): http://tinyurl.com/927am9u; (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/Pieces-You-Ms-J-Elferdink/dp/0615664490/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

Do More of Us Believe in Demons than Angels?

 

good vs evil

Do More of Us Believe in Demons than Angels?
(Based on the Supernatural as Depicted in Novels & Films)
by Joyce Elferdink

A while back I reviewed an author’s novel with the understanding that he would reciprocate. When I didn’t hear from him for a few weeks, I asked if he had finished mine. His answer: “No, I can’t read it—there is an angel in your story and I’m an atheist.” I was shocked. In the last few years so many movies and books have supernatural characters that I couldn’t believe one angel would be that disconcerting. Since demons, ghosts, witches, vampires or other spirits deemed evil are the subjects of a great many box office hits (have you seen movie previews lately?), what could possibly make a grown man squeamish about one supernatural being on the good side of the list? 
             We’ve certainly had an abundance of authors writing about the supernatural—both good and evil. When I searched Amazon for “angels in books,” the result was 90,088 books (although some of these are “fallen angels”). The key word demon yielded 22,170;  witches, 28,110; vampires, 37,698; and ghosts, 89,786 for a total of 177,764 on the malevolent side of the spirit world.
             There was a time when angelic beings were more popular than the demonic—or at least more acceptable in movie theaters. The 1947 Academy Award winner was about a man who had given up his dreams in order to help others and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brought about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. That same year, Angel on My Shoulder, a film about a deal between the Devil and a dead man  did something unique for the times—it depicted hell—and it didn’t do nearly as well financially.  In those days, angels had the higher approval ratings. Now, while society may not be exactly rooting for the dark side, people are fascinated by tales of the demonic. Consider, for example, the popularity of The DeVinci Code, The Blair Witch Project, and most of Stephen King’s books and movies.    
             These examples of book topics and changing movie popularities are insufficient for a statistical conclusion, but they do support my perception that modern Americans find the evil side of the supernatural more interesting, even more believable, than the good. If you believe in demons, as does the novelist who couldn’t read my book; wouldn’t you have to believe there are good spirits, too? Everywhere we look in our world we find opposites. It is the related concepts which are opposite in meaning, (e.g., up and down, right and left, good and evil) that allow us to use language to distinguish people, places, ideas, and things.             

I believe in the existence of good and evil and research proves I’m not in the minority. Most people, like me, seem to accept its representation in angels and demons.  I ‘ve just never paid much attention to angels, thinking they live apart from my world, in an unreachable place.  And since in my youth I was terrified of evil spirits, I chose to ignore the possibility of their presence.

I still tend to ignore the angelic, even though I made one a character in my novel.  But I can no longer ignore the demonic; stories and images are everywhere. In the first two decades following It’s a Wonderful World, moviegoers’ tastes favored drama but not horror, but then came Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 and the Exorcist in 1973. And the horror has never stopped, only gotten more sensational (a list of movies for rent last Halloween proves this point). 

The question I wrestle with is why the demonic side currently seems more interesting or at least more popular than its opposite. If angels really can intervene in our lives as Clarence Odbody did in It’s a Wonderful Life—and there are written accounts of such interventions—why would we not embrace the angelic realm and seek out angelic help and protection? And why are there only half as many books on angels for sale on Amazon? Could it be that those of us who write about angelic beings are reluctant to describe them as having super powers?  That sizeable portion of the public who claim to be religious have certainly read about angels; they play some major roles in Bible stories. Yet authors downgrade them to benevolent but nondescript creatures. Think of City of Angels (a story I love, by the way): the angel, Seth, wanted the joys of being human more than the powers of being divine.

Demonic beings, on the other hand, are made into super powers (if not super heroes), maybe because they’re like the bogymen of our childhood; we are only temporarily under the spell. The thing that goes bump in the night is deposed by daylight, the off switch for its power.  As long as we audiences/readers are sure there is no such thing, we clamor for the thrill of the chill.

Law professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong who doesn’t believe that spirits exist has a different theory. His explanation is that people’s false belief in angels and demons noted in many disparate human cultures comes from “people’s proclivity to use demons as scapegoats.” Sinnott-Armstrong asserts we don’t want to blame ourselves or those we know for evil acts so we conjure up demons to be the cause of much of the horror in the world.

That seems plausible. Blaming others is a very human trait. But if they’re only figments of our imagination or made up by creative storytellers, why would seemingly sane humans believe they have had encounters with demons and angels? Many professionals who’ve researched the subject also believe. University of Notre Dame philosopher Thomas Flint is one. Flint defines a demon as “a nonphysical finite person who has decided against God to rebel against God.” (He defines angels as the opposite.)

Whether or not people endorse the concept of the demonic, the evil side of the supernatural does sell more books and movie tickets in the 21st century. Maybe it’s because more people are rebelling against God and therefore siding with the demonic. Or is it because worldwide, the multitude of horrendous acts seem to be growing and we need something other than ourselves to blame? It is feasible that stories of demonic behavior and possession are just more exciting. If that is the predominant reason, could it be that the stories we tell are misleading, even causing us to be desensitized to the powers of the supernatural? 

   

Five years ago I met a wonderful man, whom I learned to love in the four months we had together. When he died after five days in a coma, I sought answers to that old question, “Why do evil things happen?” Why did he die? Where did he go? As I found answers that worked for me, I started writing Pieces of You, an adventure into sacrificial love, social responsibility, and the spirit world. My search continues to discover where he may be—in people I meet, in the Beyond, or both…

 

You can share that search at http://www.amazon.com/Pieces-You-Ms-J-Elferdink/dp/0615664490/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1376852582&sr=1-1and by following my blog at https://harmlessjoyce.wordpress.com

it's a wonderful life