For this month’s We Are the World Blogfest, consider how much help our service dog companions offer to those of us who need them. Everyone’s familiar with drug and bomb sniffing dogs. But service dogs use their eyes, ears and noses for much more than security or law enforcement. They provide much-needed assistance to humans with disabilities or diseases. Read this item from WTOP News, a TV station that serves the DC Metropolitan area, including Northern Virginia, where this story comes from about a high school in Stafford, Virginia.
A junior with type 1 diabetes has a service dog that accompanies him to school. The dog lets him know when his blood sugar is getting off–too high or too low, 30 minutes or more before it becomes a medical issue. Amazing what dog’s noses can detect–upcoming seizures, cancer, and now the chemical clues that the person he serves needs to take action on his diabetes.
In addition to serving as Schalk’s primary spotter, Alpha has been a joy for his classmates.
“There’s a lot of people you can tell they are having a rough day, but just seeing a dog in the hallway really brightens up their day. Alpha’s become such a big part of the school environment.”
Naturally, service dog “Alpha” accompanied 17-year old A. J. Schaik to the photo shoot for his high school yearbook. The yearbook staff was happy to include a headshot of Alpha in the yearbook too. For more on the story, check out this news item.
What can you do with a writing prompt? Almost anything. Consider this short passage from Rabindranath Tagore,
“Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into dreary desert sand of dead habit”
You could go somewhere with “reason,” “dreary desert,” “dead habit,” or more–especially if you examine the entire poem. Here’s a link to one of many layouts for it (I have no idea how Tagore originally presented it).
I went with “the clear stream of reason” to create a scifi backstory, which likely has no relation to Tagore’s point of “Let My Country Awake.”
The clear stream of reason flowed from the mind spring of Thallos. All who partook of its waters found enlightenment–the wisdom of the ancients. The colonists knew nothing of this. They came to raise crops, assuming the stream to be a great resource promising productive land. They weren’t entirely mistaken, but were surprised when what they planted evolved into something quite different than expected. Nutritious and flavorful produce, but not the same as they had grown on their former planet. After consuming the harvest for a time, they began seeing each other and Thallos differently. With a new awareness, they realized the plants had been enlightened by the waters as much as they had.
For this month’s We are the World Blogfest, we offer a mention of an interesting article from Desert Exposure. [You’ll need to zoom in to read the article or download the entire issue and read it as a PDF.]
The monthly paper is an eclectic mix of event listings, features on local culture, restaurant reviews, spiritual/metaphysical stuff, humor, ads for some very interesting services, letters on local political issues and a whole lot more. Probably the best, and most feature-filled free paper I’ve ever seen.
Morgan Smith discusses his most recent trip to Mexico from his home in New Mexico. Over the last six years, he reports, he and his not-long-deceased wife Julie, made 80 or so trips there to offer help in one form or another to those in poverty. The feature of the most recent trip included attending a wedding at a mental asylum run by a Pastor Galvin, who relies on donations to operate–not wanting accept funds from whatever government agencies offered it, but with strings attached.
What’s encouraging about this piece is the dedication to helping others who need it and are likely not looked upon with much less disdain than the typical urban panhandler at an intersection with the hand-lettered sign. Here’s a sample from the article:
First we stop briefly at Vision in Action, the mental asylum where two pairs of patients will get married. . . This is part of Pastor Galvin’s belief in the dignity of his patients and his sense that giving them the same opportunities that we “sane” people have helps them recover. For the past 21 years, he has cared for 100-120 patients, most of whom have been brought to him by the police with a variety of ailments.
This isn’t my usual WIP today. It’s part recollection and part a paean to our planet. We live here, we need to protect it to protect ourselves. The first Earth Day came during the first quarter of the first year of college for me. Yes, a long time ago–I’m that old. Perhaps the ecology movement that started in 1970 is now a part of the curriculum that millennials and their immediate elders study. Still, it seems clear enough that it’s something that has received scarce media attention for some time. It’s been eclipsed by the related subject of climate change in political discussion and on the news in the traditional media and all rest that didn’t exist nearly 50 years ago. But this year’s celebration, that isn’t any decade anniversary, will likely be the largest since its first–if not the largest ever. You don’t need me to explain why.
We share the environment with all the creatures great and small. The plants, the trees, the rocks and all. We exhale carbon dioxide, the trees and other plants inhale it and give us back the oxygen we require.
There is no more and no less water on our planet than at its creation–absent a few additions or displacements due to meteor strikes or atmospheric leakage of water vapor at the upper reaches. In perhaps a ratio akin to that of homeopathic medicine you could say we’re all drinking dinosaur urine. Odd flavors from water wells in Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas might confirm that, but not too likely. More likely odd flavors might come from fracking for oil shale or mining. The earth filters the contaminants we bury or pour into it–as much as it can.
But we need to be more respectful and considerate of our home. It’s the only one we have. Despoil it and we may share the fate of those dinosaurs. Overuse fossil fuels and we may become fossils ourselves sooner than we think.
We live high atop a hill in New Mexico. We have no air conditioner and no furnace. We do have ceiling fans and baseboard heaters–neither of which see much use. Passive solar south-facing windows add winter warmth. Casement windows on three sides offer wing-like capture of breezes that blow through during the warm summer. We have grid-tied active solar panels that sometimes produce a check from the power company and otherwise reduce the load we impose on the system. Our well uses a solar pump. Our electric fence that keeps the cattle (two weeks of grazing per year) away from the house is solar-powered. Our gate that keeps unwanted sightseeing (or prospective burglars) human visitors away is solar-powered. Our wetlands take care of wastewater. Soon, rainwater harvesting will supplement our well. So we do our part to reduce power generation requirements and we recycle all that we can–close to a 50-50 split with trash. We’d do more if the locality offered more.
I hope you participated in Earth Day some way yesterday and throughout the year in a way appropriate to your circumstances.
An experiment–writing a story starting with a technique D.G. Kaye calls “trainstorming” on her blog. I have combined that with a short item I had crafted from the writers group that I belong to. Sort of as an introduction.
Growth is measured by straying from the comfort zone–into untried and unknown. Unknown could be scary to some, especially in scary stories. Stories of unexpected events or visitors that appear in otherwise comfortable places. Places one frequents without incident until that time. Time should be a well known thing, a thing that behaves itself by moving in only one direction from past, through present, to future–never alternating. Alternating currents of time–what would, what could he do with that?
Time switching directions, moment to moment, like the wind in Mimbres Valley. A wind blowing from the west and then the north or south and back again. Time carrying him toward tomorrow when he’ll be doing this or doing that–all per the bullet list whose items are to be checked off while his body moves inexorably to its exit. The next moment the wind of time reverses, carrying him back to yesterday or yesteryear. Perhaps to travel a path not taken.
Derek faced this unknown alternating current of time, unprepared for its effects. Disorienting. Frightening. It took a long time—ha, for him to find it exhilarating. To fully appreciate the opportunity. First to make the most of each moment. Then to actually bend his brain to control the current–a capacity he’d never known might exist. No time traveling machine a la H.G. Wells–no, Derek mastered time itself. A mastery not without consequence.
Something different for a year. The last Friday of each month, we will participate in the We Are the World Blogfest to offer some positivity in the world. This is our first offering of good news.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the US served from 1977-1981. His legacy as President is at best, so-so. His legacy as the founder and, until recently, leader of the center that bears his name, is phenomenal. It’s website says this:
The Center is guided by a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering. It seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health. The Center emphasizes action and measurable results. Based on careful research and analysis, it is prepared to take timely action on important and pressing issues. The Center seeks to break new ground and not duplicate the effective efforts of others. The Center addresses difficult problems in difficult situations and recognizes the possibility of failure as an acceptable risk. The Center is nonpartisan, actively seeks complementary partnerships and works collaboratively with other organizations from the highest levels of government to local communities. The Center believes that people can improve their own lives when provided with the necessary skills, knowledge, and access to resources.
One example of its success:
Since 1986, The Carter Center has led the international campaign to eradicate Guinea worm disease, working closely with ministries of health and local communities, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and many others.
Guinea worm disease is set to become the second human disease in history, after smallpox, to be eradicated.
Why mention it here? Because, among other things, it has snippets from future novels. Some of them will not be out for years, but this is my writing blog so if you’re visiting here, you must be interested–right? Yes, they may change with edits and future development. But putting them up now helps keep me motivated. That’s a good thing for a writer.
BTW: the Quarterly has a new schedule–April, July, October, January, etc. Also, still working out the kinks with MailChimp. So have no fears, if you’re a subscriber you will get a notification and links to articles. That should be before April.
More news: The short story collection will be out soon–working on final edits and the cover design before uploading. It will be Kindle only for 90 days. Don’t have a handheld Kindle device? You can read it on your computer or mobile device with an app available at Amazon.
In the meantime, here’s a little something to read right now. It might have been included within the article on summer trips in the Quarterly but we didn’t put it there. So read it here to see why you might want to go to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for relaxation and observing nature.
Sea birds do things that the land-based birds don’t. There are more varieties on Hatteras Island than you might expect. There are wetlands where a wading birds stop enroute to and from locations farther north or south. But just along the shore you’ll find the killdeers race-walking on the sand just after the retreat of a wave. A wave that washes fingernail-sized conical clams onto the beach. The clams burrow below the surface while the birds seek them out for a meal. As the surf comes in, the birds move farther ashore and then back as the wave subsides.
Pelicans fly in close formation, just above the surf fifty yards offshore. Barely flapping their wings, they glide using the lift effect above the water, speeding along at 25-30 knots. Their heads scan right and left, looking down through the water. One breaks formation at the sight of a fish, darting straight up like a fighter jet before plunging quickly below to catch the fish.
Gulls just a tad smaller than their Maine cousins and a little less loud in their maniacal laughs frequent the harbors. They sit atop breakwater posts, waiting for the next ferry. As a new pole sitter arrives, he or she gently kicks the last gull in line and takes its place. The displaced bird moves along to the next post and repeats the process until 10 or 15 posts later, the last sitting gull takes flight. When a ferry departs from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island, 40 minutes away, gulls follow. They easily keep pace with the boat, flying 10-feet above and to the port or starboard. They keep a close watch for children–and adults, who might toss scraps of bread or other treats up in the air for them. If they tire of the flight, they will hitch a ride on an antenna or other protrusion from the ferry’s roof.
Back to the Quarterly. Here’s a list of what’s in the April 2017 Quarterly
For those of you new to the site, you might not have seen these from the fall of 2014. Since they’re both short, I’ll include two little self-reflective gems. They’re slightly revised–for the better I believe.
Where to Find Sorts When You Are Out of Them from October 1, 2014
We are all mad here, said the Cheshire Cat. I am not mad, but my wife thinks–and often points out, that there is a strangeness about me. I do not protest, but rejoice in her assessment. At times, like most people, she can be out of sorts. I offer to get some at the store when I go out, if only she would tell me in what aisle to find them.
She is my muse of course, offering up gems that I freely use in my writing. Here’s such a one:
“Without my knowledge, someone has signed me up for the falling apart club.”
Ah, the accompaniments of aging.
I Am the Spider Whispererfrom September 3, 2014
My wife calls me the spider whisperer. I talk to them as I escort them out the door, releasing them with care to avoid breaking a fragile leg. Some escape briefly from the tissue to run along my hand or arm enroute to the door. But I capture them again. I don’t suppose that they understand my words, “there you go, have a nice day.” Perhaps they sense my harmless intent but who can be sure of a spider’s mind? Some seem more frightened than others, some play dead and some hop or scurry quickly.
The one most afraid—or at least most difficult to catch as it fled up, down and all along walls and ceilings, was a huge wolf spider. It invaded the double-wide we were renting while our dream house was under construction. Not quite as large as a tarantula, it still surpassed any other I had seen up close. Just a little hairy and a light tan color, it seemed a handsome predator—although certainly not one the wife wanted indoors. I never really got a hand on the 8-legged intruder, tissue covered or otherwise. Juanita just opened the door for me so I could steer it outside. It hung around for a few hours—perhaps in shock at its escape from what might have been death. Then it moved on, never to be seen again.
The hungry thief made the most of the slim pickings he found in the remote cabin. He made a sandwich to go with stale bread and some dubious leftovers from the nearly empty refrigerator. He hadn’t targeted the dwelling in the woods, it came as a chance encounter while fleeing the police. His last heist came at a home with a sophisticated alarm system. One that sent a silent alert to the security company, which immediately notified the police. Exiting through the backdoor, he barely alluded the cops coming in the front door. He’d made a good haul there too–that he had to drop in order to run. He didn’t even have time to get into his car, parked around the corner and down the block.
Fortunately for him, the small town cops were on the portly side. They ran after him into the woods but soon tired of the chase. He kept going, eventually getting into the secluded site of the cabin. Nothing worth stealing here that could be carried on foot. He rested a bit after the food. As he prepared to leave, his stomach began churning. At least he had managed to take his bag of burglar tools when he evaded the police. Along with the picks, knives, pry bar and what he used to enter homes, he had the cure for what ailed him–a bottle of Klepto Bismol.
Another piece of a WIP–likely to be included among other short pieces about a colony.
In the zone, they kept to themselves, unaware but safe from the turmoil elsewhere in the colony. They were the control group, maintaining the history and the culture of the settlers as of their arrival. The monitors remained in orbit, comparing the communities scattered among the five sites thought suitable for settlements. Those in orbit paid close attention to those communities developing their own response to the stresses of colonizing the primitive planet—the effects of dealing with the indigenous flora and fauna. Decisions had to be mad. Some would become leaders. Some would become followers. Some would conform while others would rebel.
The control group had several years of provisions to enable their isolation from both the planet and their fellow settlers. At the end of the trial period, the monitors were tasked with evaluating the success of the various communities and comparing them to the control group. The results would determine whether to relocate millions of people to the planet. So the orbiting observers focused their attention on the five communities. They ignored the control group for the most part, thinking them safe and secure in their seclusion. They were mistaken.