Jesus Wept


Nine people were murdered in Charleston this last week. Slaughtered by a young man filled with racist hate and fear and encouraged by a tiny minority of my country’s people. The community of Charleston is responding to these murders with a grace and power that must be making Jesus weep with joy.
The rest of the country is locked in battle over a piece of cloth – a symbol of pride for some and of hatred for others. There is no flag on earth under which both atrocities and acts of courage have not been committed. Custer, and Jackson, and Calley all fought with the metaphorical winds of public opinion unfurling America’s red, white, and blue over their actions. A thousand brave men fought beside them under the same flag.
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41: A state senator and the senior pastor of Emanuel, he was married to Jennifer Benjamin and the father of two children, Eliana and Malana.
I live in Arkansas, am married to a man from South Georgia. Hell, I’m from northern California and, back in the day, I could hood slide and yell “Yeehaw!” right along with the Duke boys. Those days are gone. The Confederate flag has been removed, finally, from the grounds of public buildings. As for the removal of the stars and bars from chain stores, Amazon, and gift shops – well, that’s the way the free market works in this country. Retailers stock their shelves with items on which they can make money and which will not offend more people than these items bring into the stores.
Cynthia Hurd, 54: According to the Charleston County Public Library, she was a 31-year employee who managed the John L. Dart Library for 21 years before heading the St. Andrews Regional Library.
I am going to announce right here and now, straight up and out loud, that for me, the Confederate flag dredges up images of black men hanging from trees, burning crosses and grown men hiding their faces under white hoods. When I see that flag, I see hoses turned on peaceful marchers, I hear the venom of Bull Conner and George Wallace, I remember Little Rock Central High School and the University of Alabama. That particular flag is, to me, a symbol of the worst of the land below the Mason-Dixon, a land I love and whose people I adore.
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45: A pastor at Emanuel, she was also a speech therapist and high school girls track and field coach, both positions at Goose Creek High School.
But regardless of my personal reaction, I have dozens of friends for whom that very same flag is a symbol of warm hospitality and fierce pride and incredible bravery. Friends who are not racists. Friends who are warm, sincere, generous people. It is difficult for me to understand their love of this particular southern symbol. But my difficulty in understanding in no way tarnishes their love of that symbol. Besides I have an analogy that helps me understand.
Tywanza Sanders, 26: He was a 2014 graduate in business administration from Allen University in Columbia.
Just over forty years ago I lived in Germany for a few years. There are more swastikas at an American flea markets than in Deutschland. The flag and symbols of the Third Reich are forever identified with the holocaust. The German people know their grandfathers and uncles fought bravely. They know Hitler brought them out of extreme poverty and into the modern world, the trains ran on time, and they didn’t need a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread. The German people also know the extreme dangers of institutionalized bigotry.
Ethel Lance, 70: She had attended Emanuel for most of her life and worked there as a custodian, as well.
Was there anti-Semitism in Germany twenty years after WWII when I was there? Oh, hell, yes. My husband and I rented three different houses during our stay. At each house, the landlord pointed out the portrait of Jesus over the bed or the mantle, asked point blank, “This is okay with you, this picture? It is nice, yes?” or they invited us for lunch, served a tasty pork roast and inquired, “Is pork. Good, yes? The flesh of the pig?”
Susie Jackson, 87: Lance’s cousin, she was a longtime church member.
Is there bigotry and racism within our own country? Well, of course. Do bigots test the waters with racist jokes, comments, and coded questions? Hell, yes. Do some of these bigots fly the Confederate flag? Yes. Is everyone who flies that flag a bigot? Of course not. But, when I see that flag hung on a wall or blowing in the breeze over a jacked-up 4×4, you had better believe my first impression, my first thought is a giant flashing warning. While that is certainly not the reaction of everyone, those who fly that flag know the visceral, gut reaction of many to that particular symbol. Rebels don’t care and that’s their right.
Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49: The mother of four sang in Emanuel’s choir.
My reaction to that flag is based on my own personal experience and is mine with which to deal. In no way does my gut reaction mean that a person shouldn’t be allowed to fly a flag or hang any symbol they desire. I have Buddhist images in my home. I’ve had people visit me who are uncomfortable with these images, who, either through their own honest Christian beliefs or through lack of understanding, are offended by these symbols. I don’t have any more intention of removing these objects from my home than others have of taking down the Confederate flag.
The Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74: Simmons survived the initial attack but then died in a hospital operating room. He had previously been a pastor at another church in the Charleston area.
We all have enough common sense to know these rules of our American society. No one is coming for your Confederate flag or for my Mandela. There will always be places where you can buy historic Confederate relics and symbols. But the tide has turned, we all hope and pray that the time for institutionalized racism in this country has come and gone. Removing that particular Confederate symbol from store shelves is about money, about free enterprise. It is not illegal to sell the flag, it is unprofitable to antagonize the majority of the American people in order to meet the needs of the minority.
Myra Thompson, 59: She was the wife of the Rev. Anthony Thompson, the vicar of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston.
I honestly don’t care one wit about who flies what flag. It’s a piece of cloth, all too often waved to justify war by people who have not a clue as to the true cost of battle. Hang whatever you want on your wall or over your truck or front porch. Wrap yourself in whatever bloody flag appeals to you, but make damn sure it’s your blood staining that flag. In the meantime, please, let us remember and say a prayer for the nine people who had their lives cut short in that historic Charleston church.
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Cynthia Hurd
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Tywanza Sanders
Ethel Lance
Susie Jackson
Depayne Middleton
The Rev. Daniel Simmons
Myra Thompson

Posted in charleston murders, confederate flag | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

The Courage to Live

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Some conversations linger after the person who whispered urgently in your ear, clasped your hand until your fingers hurt, has departed, eyes downcast, their pain hidden once again from the world.
A week or so ago a woman approached me at a crowded event. Like a heat-seeking missile, she parted the crowd and came directly to me.
“I read your book.”
I nodded. No reason to ask which book. My Life with a Wounded Warrior is given to veterans and their spouses at the local VetCenter here in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I’d seen that desperate look before.
Her hand gripped at my arm as though she were stranded on a cliff, clutching at a frayed rope. This being, of course, pretty much her exact situation.
I patted her hand, pried her fingers from my arm.
She leaned in, breath hot on my ear. “I can’t do it anymore. His PTSD is ruining my life. I was happy before I met him. Had friends and a good job I enjoyed.”
“I understand.” I slipped my arm through hers and led her to a corner of the room away from the crowd.
“He won’t leave the house.” She turned, glared at the room behind us. “Except if there’s other veterans around. I beg him to go out and he doesn’t listen. But one of those. . .” Her chin swept toward the small clusters of men clumped together in islands throughout the room. “One of them calls and he’s Mr. Johnny on the spot. Rushes out to be there for a buddy.”
Her words tumbled one on top the other.
“Does yours wake up at night screaming? I didn’t know any of this when I married him, you know? I mean, I knew he’d been in that war over there, but I didn’t know. . .I didn’t know it would be like. . .like this.”
I hugged her against me and she relaxed for a split second, then stiffened, pulled away.
“What am I supposed to do? How do you stay with yours?” She nodded toward toward my husband, Jack. “Why do you stay?”
And there it was. What my dad used to call the sixty-four thousand dollar question.
Why do I stay?
Because in fact post-traumatic stress is contagious, living with a combat veteran struggling with the psychological effects of war is exhausting, and yes, there are days and nights when my dreams and plans are consumed by his needs.
At low-points I fear I stay because Jack and I are a near perfect fit of neurosis. His past and mine colliding and binding in a glue of co-dependence. I suspect that, even on our best days, there is some element of that unhealthy click in our relationship. I’ve been working for twenty-five years to peel that adhesive from our marriage, to find a healthier, more productive model.
I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives to teach us what we need to learn. Well, Jack has sure as hell taught me about myself, about scars earned in childhood and ways to work through painful lessons.
But that’s not why I stay.
Vets say, “If you weren’t in country, I can’t explain it, and if you were, there’s no need to explain it.”
The same is true for those of us married to combat veterans. We know what we do often looks like stupidity to others. We admit that our lives sometimes feel like we’re walking inside one of those bouncy castles. Just when we think we’ve got the balance between enabling and support correct, the ground rolls under out feet. In the end we each decide for ourselves whether we can stay or whether we must leave.
So, why do I stay when, in many ways, my life would be simpler, maybe even happier, if I left?
After all the joys and all the pain, Jack still sweeps me off my feet with his courage. I am still in awe of the bravery it takes to get through every single day after having seen what he’s seen, done what he’s done.
The sages tell us that our broken parts make us stronger. There are those who walk among us so shattered that light streams through their souls. If we insist in pouring water into these vessels, we may spend our lives cleaning up messes, falling on slick ground. But if we can see the filigree of pain for what it is and accept that while these vessels may not be great for carrying water, they are astoundingly strong and beautiful sources of light to pierce our own darkness, then we may be able to live joyfully, gratefully with them.
Pretty words maybe, but come on, pragmatically, why I do I stay?
I stay because he is my husband, and while I am sometimes frustrated beyond my ability to cope, I still, after all these years, respect and admire and honor his courage. Not his courage in combat, though, in a faraway jungle he acted in a manner that is deemed brave by those who hand out medals and paper honors. No, the courage that impresses me and keeps me proud to be his wife is that which allows him to live every day with the results of traumatic brain injury and the psychological effects of war.
So, in the end I suppose I must fall back, once again on a truth stolen from Vietnam vets. “If you’re not married to a combat veteran, I cannot explain to you why I stay. If you are, there’s no need to explain it.”

Posted in memorial day, veterans, war | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

I Am Not Amused

Today, the Youtube video of woman in Baltimore slapping at her son, doing her best to push him away from a confrontation with police has gone viral. People seem to think it’s funny.
I have three sons. On a cold day they all occasionally wear hoodies. But only the youngest has been stopped by the police when dressed this way, pulled over twice now in the past six months, with his wife beside him and his kids in the backseat, his license checked, his motives questioned.
My youngest has a good job, has supported himself since he was eighteen, busts his butt to be there for his wife and kids. He’s also adopted. Of Cherokee and Choctaw and Spanish and Mexican ancestry. Though I’ve never thought of him as anything but my son, a young man, like his brothers, whom I was blessed to raise and of whom I am extremely proud,
to cops, he is a person of color.
So, when I see that video of that mother berating her child, herding him, pushing him away from confrontation with the police, I am not laughing. I understand her fear, her terror that any encounter with the police is rife with danger for her son.
Oh, I know, some of you are going to say I’m comparing apples and oranges here. The young man in the video is looking for trouble, taunting the police. Any of us, black or white or any color in-between, might be shot doing such a stupid stunt. But I want to remind you that my own son, solely because of the color of his skin, has been subjected to what I can only describe as harassment by the police. A young man in a car less than three years old, no stickers or political statements on the vehicle, no broken tail lights, or expired registration, or exceeding the speed limit — pulled over and questioned and asked for his license and registration.
All I’m saying is that that video is not funny. At least not to me. In a far more immediate and powerful way, the woman in that video lives with the knowledge that every day people with guns on their hips look at her son and see not the young man whose first word was ‘light’, or who, as the smallest child in his kindergarten class insisted on wearing pointy-toed cowboy boots to school to deal with the class bully, or who ate all the frosting off his fifth birthday cake. No, individuals with the backing of our country’s entire legal system see her son as a person of color.
And, in this country, at this time, that perception is dangerous for that young man.
So, no, I am not embedding that video into this post. You’ve all seen it. But what I want you to know is that I do not find those images funny. I find them absolutely terrifying.

Posted in person of color, racism, the united states, Youtube mother | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Nursing Home Saga, continued

Two days ago I brought Jack home from the nursing home. He stayed ten nights, ten days, twelve hours and eighteen minutes. Or so he informed me. The decision to admit him to a nursing home after rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder was a difficult one, a choice he and I made together.
Turns out we based that decision on incorrect information. Several of our basic premises were wrong, therefore our conclusion was flawed.
How’s that for hiding the emotional trauma of the decision behind a wall of logic?
The care in the home was not what Jack or I anticipated, but the main trauma, for me and for Jack, was in his being in a place where 90% of the people in residence would, had they been beloved family pets, been gently euthanized. In truth, were it in my power to prevent, I would not leave my worst enemy in a situation like that. To abandon my husband to such a place was simply impossible.
Please notice that the previous sentence contains the clause, “were it in my power to prevent.” As it turns out, escape from a nursing home is a strong motivator for a person to learn to do for themselves, with one trembling hand, that which one wouldn’t believe could be accomplished. Jack learned to care for himself. Slowly. Clumbsily. But he figured it out. If he had not been able and willing to do so, no matter how anguished I felt over him being there, I could not have brought him home.
The decision to place someone we love in the care of strangers can emotionally gut us, leave us broken and wounded. For some, this decision is the only possible solution to the diminishing capacity of spouse or parent. No one makes the decision lightly, and no matter that they know it is impossible to care for this person without endangering both themselves and the loved one – still, there is guilt and a deep feeling of having failed. If you are in this position you have my deepest sympathy and complete understanding.
As for Jack and I, we got lucky. Again.
Life did mess with us just a bit. I brought Jack home on Wednesday afternoon. Within an hour of walking in the house, both of his feet were painfully swollen and he could not lift himself from a chair or bed or walk.
All that self-sufficiency that had been the very basis for me bringing him home, flew right out the freaking window.
He could not move without help, could not take care of his toilet needs.
I admit, I panicked a bit.
Every single friend and relative I have (except my sister who worked for years in assisted living and nursing homes) advised me not to bring Jack home. These folks are fond of Jack. They love me. When I spent two weeks in the hospital a few months ago they lifted me up with their love and support and rescued me from death. And, honestly, caring for Jack (and this was pre-shoulder surgery) is one of the reasons I ended up in the hospital to begin with.
I understand their point.
So, when less than two hours after springing Jack from the nursing home, he could no longer care for himself, it was not a good moment.
But necessity and the stubborn refusal to admit when we’ve made a mistake have carried Jack and I into and through countless adventures in our years together.
We survived the night.
Thursday morning I took him into the VA emergency room.
Gout. He has gout.
They gave him medication and a wheelchair.
This is Saturday and he is walking again. Shuffling slow, but ambulatory and able to get up and down from his chair and bed and to and from the toilet on his own. His pain level has dropped from a ten to a two.
Will I be able to keep him out of a nursing home for the rest of his life? I do not know. But I will do my best to keep him with me for as long as I can. The gout flare-up was a sharp reminder to both of us of just how razor thin and swaying is this bridge we’ve patched together to carry us over the canyon of aging.
For now, we’re together, holding hands, and we’re not looking down.

Posted in aging, marriage, nursing home, pts, writer | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Aging Warrior

Yesterday I checked Jack into a nursing home. For the first time in the twenty-five years, I cannot care for him and keep him safe.
Through all of our adventures together – scuba diving, backpack travel around Asia, dragging a trailer the length of Mexico and parking it under a grass-roofed palapa on the beach, moving to the Republic of Panama with two giant service dogs strapped to our wrists, riding out a hurricane in a cement block room in the Yucatan – through it all, Jack has bulled and laughed and maneuvered his way through some damn tough spots.
This time is different.
He can no longer bull his way past the effects of the stroke he had four years ago.
Laughing in the face of tremors and dizziness and chronic falls does not save him from the pain of the impact.
His maneuvering cannot stop the creep of dementia.
Six months ago he fell for the thirteenth time in a few months, banged up his entire right side, bruised his knee, ankle, and ribs, and tore his rotator cuff. Everything healed, more or less, except the shoulder.
Finally overcome by the constant pain, he agreed to go in and allow the surgeon to stitch and bind and do his best to repair the damage to the tendon and joint.
At 320 pounds, Jack is almost twice my size. His left side never recovered fully from the stroke and he has limited use of his hand and arm. The stroke took his gag reflex causing him to cough and aspirate liquid and requiring him to eat slowly and carefully. His legs, which were the most affected by that landmine he stepped on outside Danang in ’65, can no longer lift him from a sitting or reclining position. He uses his right arm to get up and down from a chair or bed.
All of these challenges meant that, after the rotator cuff surgery, with his right arm strapped to his chest, there was no way I could care for him at home. It took a very long time to convince the VA that this was true. But with the help of several good people within the Fayetteville VA system, those in charge finally looked away from their computer screens and saw Jack. Bureaucrats and social workers agreed that he could not possibly go home to be cared for during recovery by one crazy-assed woman who loves him madly but is still, only one woman.
So, yesterday, after his surgery, the nurses helped me get him loaded in the car and I drove him thirty minutes up the mountain and checked him into the VA approved nursing home. He will be there about five weeks – until he regains the use of his right hand and arm.

I found the home to be a perfectly nice place. As long as I didn’t allow myself empathy for the old folks sleeping in wheelchairs with their mouths hanging open, or staring blankly at walls, or calling out to me as I hurried past with a sleep apnea machine under my arm, medical paraphernalia slung over my shoulder, and the five sets of clothing marked with the name of the man who is my husband dragging behind me in the suitcase that has seen better adventures.
I have had a few moments of grief in my life. Few people get to be my age without knowing the pain of losing someone or something dear to them. Kissing Jack good-bye and leaving him in the care of strangers is certainly right up there in the top two or three. It was all I could do not to go back in and load him up and bring him home. Even knowing I could not care for him the way he needs while recovering, even understanding that trying to do so would be dangerous to him and to me – still it was difficult to drive away.
I got a call from him this morning saying they tried to put him on a liquid diet. He managed to get himself to the administrator and she arranged for him to have sausage and eggs for breakfast. The old guy in the bed next to him keeps the room too hot so they are moving Jack to another room. And my dear husband has bribed one of the nurses to bring him a milkshake when she comes back from lunch.
I think he’s going to weather this latest adventure just fine.

Posted in aging, grief, marriage, nursing home | Tagged , , , , , | 31 Comments

Tribute to Chesty


Jack and I brought Chesty home as a six week old pup. He was about ten pounds then – a small, black, yellow-eyed whirlwind of mischief and energy.

Within hours Jack and I looked at each other and said, “What have we done?”
We lived in the Arizona desert at that time. Each morning we sat on the back porch, sipped coffee and watched the rabbits, roadrunners, horned toads, and the occasional snake hop, run, scoot and slither across the yard. Within hours of our first morning with Chesty there was not an animal, bird, or reptile to be seen. The dog had the prey drive of a deranged wolf and the single-mindedness of a heat-seeking missile. All any animal, wind-blown-newspaper, or raptor had to do was move and here came Chesty, tongue flopping, eyes gleaming in hot pursuit.
Nothing to chase? No problem. He found a plastic bucket, rammed his head inside and ran in circles at top speed until colliding with a mesquite tree or cactus. Rescued, he immediately found the bucket, leaped up onto the table to retrieve it, and promptly stuck his head inside again.
Each evening at 9:10 sharp, he woke from a nap and ran through the house at top speed, skidding at corners, biting Jack’s toe at each pass around the recliner.
On a walk, he jumped in circles, bit the leash, attempted to chase anything that moved faster than a dead tortoise. When he was about a nine months, he and I were on one of our five mile hikes – an attempt to burn off a smidgen of his energy – when he began his routine of jumping up and biting the lead. I forced him to sit. To down. To stay. Waited for his eyes to lose their mischievous sparkle. Began to walk again. He jumped up and bit the lead just below my hand. I stopped. Made him sit. Lie down. Get calm. We began again.
Twelve times we did this routine.
I began to be frustrated and angry and this, of course, fed his energy.
In desperation, I tied his lead to a cyclone fence and walked away, turned my back on him. An attempt to get control of my own emotions as well as to teach him that his disruptive behavior would be ignored. Chesty, of course, immediately jumped up and bit the lead, hanging a foot or so off the ground by his teeth, all four feet churning the air as he twisted from side-to-side.
Great fun.
Until a load of prisoners being transported to jail saw the squirming dog, and pounded on the windows of their bus, drawing the attention of the driver – a county sheriff. The sheriff pulled the vehicle over, strutted back to me.
“You! Did you hang that dog from the fence?”
Chesty, his focus now shifted to the big guy with the gun on his hip, dropped to the ground and, stubby tail wagging in tight circles, eyes sparkling, made ready to leap upon his newest prey.
“No,” I said, “will that make him behave?”
Readers of Boogie with Chesty and Clueless Gringos in Paradise know that, with much love, and training, and persistence, Chesty became Jack’s Post-traumatic Stress service dog. The dog saved Jack’s life. Simple as that. If you don’t believe me, read Boogie with Chesty.
We had three female cane corsos as well over the years. Velvet and Rocca and Lacy. All three girls bossed our boy around most of the time, though Chesty would get between the females and give a look that generally calmed things down if the three got out of hand. When the girls hit puberty, Lacy, the smallest and most dominant of the three, decided the other two should recognize her rule. Velvet and Rocca had other ideas. There came a day when, Chesty outside in the front yard, the girls in the house, Lacy physically attacked Velvet. Jack, in an attempt to break up the two females, got his hand between snapping teeth and was bitten.
Chesty barked and leaped through the single-pane window that separated the front yard from the living room and broke up the fight. Jack had several stitches and we gave Lacy to a wonderful older man who loved her so much he told us, “If she could cook, I’d marry her.”
Service dogs are usually retired at about six year of age. Chesty walked beside Jack for almost twelve years before he finally gave up his job. His last couple of years, he grew slower. His girls both died of bone cancer. A year ago, I looked out the window and watched a rabbit hop past him, saw Chesty turn, catch sight of the bunny, calculate his chances of catching him, and simply let the furry hopper go on about his day. Last year, for a month or so, an armadillo took up residence in our backyard. Chesty would lie beside the lumbering Hoover hog as the animal clawed at the grass, ripping up bugs. I figured Chesty missed his girls and enjoyed the company.
Last Wednesday night, Chesty, at the ripe old age of fourteen, fell and that was the final blow to his old hips. The vet came to the house Thursday morning and, with me stretched on the floor beside him and Jack in a chair with his hands on Chesty’s head, we held him as he died.
I promised him his girls, Rocca and Velvet, were waiting for him, asked him to be there for me when my time comes to cross over.
Jack cussed the vet for not bringing enough medication to put him down along with his best friend.

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

You’re Not the Boss of Me

No woman can expect to be regarded as a lady after she has written a book –Lydia Maria Francis Child (paraphrase) 1802-1880

Don’t air your dirty laundry in public — Mom

Yes, that’s right. Another blog post from me. Nothing for months and then two posts in one week. I am neither moderate nor consistent, nor do I strive to be.
Recent events have set me to thinking about censorship, and before your heart sets to racing and you start forming rebuttals in your mind, let me assure you that I am NOT speaking of censorship in the word’s legal definition. I’m talking about personal, internal censorship.
Artists of all stripes – and writers in particular – hate censorship. It’s our C word.
To write anything, and I do mean anything , from a sweet story of a mother loving her child, to the chilling mother/child relationship in Mike Miller’s Murderous – to write at all – requires exposing our innermost selves to strangers. To reveal ourselves day after day requires that we guard against any and all who seek to shut our mouths, close our minds, dictate what is and is not acceptable.
I’m talking about censorship as a mental state.
Let me give you an example.
A few months ago I posted a blog about my grandmother, one of the most important people in my life as a child. Grandma was a smart, funny, nurturing woman. She valued me, listened to me, encouraged me. She was also an alcoholic. The point of the post was that people are never all good or all bad. That we love people for who they are, not what we want them to be. That perfection is not a prerequisite for love.
A week or so after that blog post, I received a letter from my mother in which she said, among other things, “Your grandmother would be so disappointed in you. Thank God she died or she’d be crying right now. Never write about me or anyone in our family again.”
That is censorship.
Is it legal for my mother to make the request? Of course.
Is it understandable that she did so? Absolutely.
Is it possible to accept this edict and still write? No.
No, no, no, a thousand times no.
Because to write anything at all, from a love scene, to a fight scene, to a tender story of mother and child, we must draw upon personal experience. There is no way to write except to expose ourselves to the reader, dig deep and re-experience that first kiss, first love, first lust. Allow ourselves to fall, once again, into grief or rise up into joy.
And the second we allow that internal voice of censorship to whisper in our ear or shout in our face, we stop growing as writers, I suspect we stunt our growth as humans. The creative process cannot survive worry about the reaction of others to our words. Internal censorship kills the ability to tell the truth, demands that we twist and mutilate the past in order to avoid offending the reader.
Many of the skills required to be a writer can be learned. We can be taught to rattle off our opinion on the Oxford comma, to rail against passive voice, or falling out of point of view. The ability to reject censorship – that is a personal journey, one on which we must embark if we are to become tellers of tall tales and revealers of truth.

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