LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WILLS FAMILY THROUGH MARALYS' MEMOIRS: A CIRCUS WITHOUT ELEPHANTS AND A CLOWN IN THE TRUNK

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

THE HORROR MOVIE YOU CAN'T STOP WATCHING



I’ll admit it—I’m mesmerized.

Like a deviant caught staring at a disgusting video, I’m drawn to this unproductive, dramatic, often calamitous, national spectacle.  To Trump.  

Utterly spellbound, I can’t look away. 

Since childhood, I’ve immersed myself in books, always those which were exciting . . .  almost all focused on the human condition, full of conflict and drama.  In every case I couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t turn away until I saw how the story ended. To me, as a child stuck on an isolated, heavily-forested ranch, those books were more compelling than my everyday life . . . because how breathless can a child remain over a lot of beautiful but quiescent spruce, fir, and pine trees?

Now, as an adult, I’m once more caught up in an ongoing drama. But this one is real. This one matters.  In some ways my well-being depends on how it ends. (Will I continue breathing clean air, drinking pure water?) And so do the lives, most of them more intently than mine, of millions of others. To these millions the story’s ending will determine their ability to make a living, the nature, good or bad, of their social interactions, and most assuredly, their level of healthcare.  At the fingertips of an unpredictable narcissist lie decisions which can determine how long most Americans will live.   

It gets worse: the whims of an ignoramus may affect the very survival of our planet. 

From the story’s start I was both amazed and repulsed . . . that so many Americans were taking seriously a possible leader who reviled the press and all his opponents, who lied in every speech, and who possessed zero qualifications.

Once elected, his goal was narrow, disingenuous, and dangerous: because they weren’t his ideas, he vowed to undo every beneficial ruling made by his predecessor—and also to appoint leaders who would destroy the very bureaus they were chosen to lead. Scott Pruitt, of EPA, once sued to rescind all efforts to curtail environmental pollutants.  Now as leader, he tries to unravel every beneficial rule. Betsy DeVos not only knows little about public schools, she heavily favors charters.  Now she heads the Department of Education. 

On a continuous basis, Trump has cancelled Federal support for the Arts, for programs like Head Start, for Teen Pregnancy Prevention, for Hate Group Opposition, for International Family Planning, for Investigative Science. Forget big pharma: Only government scientists like those in the CDC and NIH, have the resources and the will to unlock the antibiotic that will curb the latest, uncontrollable pathogen. (A micro-organism, by the way, that threatens to go on a world-wide killing spree.)   

Look around: if the cause is exemplary, Trump has taken away its funding.   

So of course I’m watching, day by day. Reading everything. Listening to all the words, Tamping down fear. 

Who can look away for a moment—who can fail to hope the story ends the way it should. That this  . . . well, this unglued failure of a man continues his steady deterioration. That he becomes so unthinkable, so lost in his own ego, that he, or others, will ensure that he disappears from the White House forever.

Only then will America return to a government that is rational, objective, and qualified.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

THEY LEFT--AND WE CRIED


THEY LEFT—AND WE CRIED  



A year ago I never would have guessed it would end this way—that two families, strangers to each other when the year began, would shed tears as one family went back to Norway twelve months later.   

Last night I hugged two little boys over and over, trying not to notice their tears, fighting a lump in my throat because I was uncertain when I would see them again.  Cornelius and Constantin—only 11 and 5 when we first met. Back then their names seemed too elaborate for their small bodies. Yet today the names evoke images that have become a palpable ache, linked to all the moments we spent together. Those elegant names: how quickly they seemed to wrap around each boy until they fit exactly right, and how inevitably Rob and I came to love the boys themselves. Though the two were unique, the older a serious student, the younger an imp, they both had a sweetness that drew us in.

We first met the Norwegian Glittenbergs a year ago, when they moved in across the street from my daughter Tracy and her Paul. Our first glimpse of Constantine, who’d just turned five, was like finding an adorable, pet child who spoke no English. He was tow-headed and small, with a button nose and a child-actor’s assortment of expressions: wonder, humor, dismay, delight, all enhanced by a missing front tooth. When we spoke, all of us around Tracy’s dinner table, Constantin leaned toward Cornelius, an elf with eyes on his brother’s face as he awaited a translation. Had he been old enough for kindergarten in Norway, he might have known some of what we were saying.

On that first get-acquainted supper, Tracy brought in her next-door neighbors, the Bowers, who also had four children. One of them, Elizabeth, has a voice so lovely that a few years ago at age twelve she sang at Tracy’s daughter’s wedding. Tracy announced to the group, “I hear that the Glittenbergs also have a girl who sings. Mathea-Mari, can you and Elizabeth go in the house together and find a song you both know?”

For fifteen minutes, the two girls—one Hispanic the other Norwegian--disappeared. When they came out, the two joined in a harmonic version of a popular melody, which was so lovely it stunned the whole group.  Only later did we learn that Mathea-Mari, now sixteen, is famous all over Europe as a solo performer . . . and that her family picked a leased home in Tustin, partly because it was close to an airport from which her father could take her back to Europe for frequent, scheduled concerts.   

“How lucky,” our family remarked later that evening, “that we didn’t know about Mathea-Mari in advance, or we’d have all been intimidated.” 

The year became a miracle of increasing closeness between the two families—which often included Rob and me. We saw less of the two older girls--Olivia, a senior, and  Mathea-Mari, a junior, who were consumed with homework at Beckman high school. But we spent hours with their younger brothers. Early in the year, Tracy taught the boys a card game, ‘golf,’ in which the lucky card is a joker. One of the first things five-year-old Constantin learned to say in English came with a cry of joy, “I got a joker, Mama!” 

Cornelius, a slender eleven, displayed an awareness of everything around him. He wore glasses, and he was half an actor, playing a quick succession of roles as he responded to every idea that flew by. We always knew what Cornelius was thinking. He and I quickly became buddies, exchanging hugs with each new encounter.  One day Rob and I found him on a nearby road, walking home from school. We stopped to give him a ride. When he jumped into our car, he said, “Your car smells like my Grandma’s car.”

“Is that good?” Rob asked, and he said, “yes.”

How often we arrived at Tracy’s to find little Constantin dashing into the house and flying with a great leap into Tracy’s chaise lounge . . . where he didn’t exactly sit, but splayed out into a disorganized pattern of white, skinny arms and legs.     

Frequently invited to dinner with Tracy and Paul, Rob and I often found the party included two small boys as additional guests . . .  and an evening that ended with games of golf. As I sat across from the two blond kids, I was mesmerized by a parade of shifting facial expressions, as though our family had been touched by budding movie stars, by two faces lit with a kaleidoscope of emotions, every change of thought or mood expressed more vividly than with words.

Even Tracy’s small, black-and-white dog, Ollie, became part of the entertainment. On days when she walked Ollie, Tracy fetched Constantin to go along, the boy only slightly larger than the pet.  Soon she and Constantin went on errands together, and she even brought him and Ollie to the park, letting them entertain each other as she played tennis. And he spent a day with her at Videoresources . . . becoming an instant mascot for the company.    

Charming kids don’t happen by accident.  We became warm friends with their parents, J.P. and Katherine, both young, good-looking, and solid in their own skins.  Increasingly, the two families spent more and more leisure time together—visiting California sites, like beaches, an “escape” room, friends of Tracy’s, and even our son Chris’s ranch.  And the family was with us on multiple holidays—Easter, Mother’s Day, the Super bowl, Christmas.      

Thanks to kindergarten and all those two-family adventures, Constantin became steeped in English. By year’s end, now age six, he knew everything we were saying--and he’d even learned to read in English. Sometimes when I arrived at Tracy’s, I heard a tiny voice calling from a window across the street. Though I couldn’t see him, I knew it was Constantin, spinning out a greeting.

Our last day with the Glittenberg’s was both memorable and poignant.  Around noon, the two daughters borrowed my Prius to take their driver’s tests, hoping, before they left, to earn California driver’s licenses. To our delight, both succeeded.  When I got my car back, they’d had it washed.

Dinner at Tracy’s that evening was bittersweet.  The two boys couldn’t stop weeping . . . the younger, still no bigger than a puppy, curled up in his father’s lap, the older leaning against J.P.’s shoulder . . . a tableau momentarily interrupted by the arrival of “Addie,”  Constantin’s fellow kindergartner. He’d mentioned her occasionally, and now her mother admitted, “One day they went to the park.  And they (she spelled it out) K.I.S.S.E.D.”  We all burst out laughing.

Later, mother Katherine read from her laptop, a long tribute to our family, and especially Tracy.  And then came gifts from the Glittenbergs to all of us, among them cookies from Hawaii. Rob and I returned home, already feeling nostalgic and sad.

If only sadness hadn’t been part of the departure . . . but it was. As Tracy drove them to LAX, everyone in the car was singing except the two boys. “It was so heartbreaking,” Tracy said. “They couldn’t stop sobbing."

The consoling part is, we know we’ll see the Glittenbergs again, either in California or Norway. Feelings as strong as we all felt for each other can’t be entirely eliminated, either by time or space. For that we’re grateful.         
  




 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

AN ADVENTURE I THOUGHT I'D DIE FOR




AN ADVENTURE I THOUGHT I'D DIE FOR         
                                  

Imagine yourself standing at the edge of a thousand foot cliff, with a ferocious wind whipping your hair and sand blowing in your eyes and nothing below but threatening, rocky space. Your oldest son has just persuaded you to launch into that space, a tandem passenger on his hang glider.  The only problem is, you are a forty-four year old mother, a devout coward, with plans to stick around and raise your six kids.  What on earth are you doing here!

Thus began one of the most terrifying events in my life, an experience I Iook back on now with utter disbelief, wondering still how I ever strapped myself into such an elemental contrivance as a hang glider and flew off a cliff so awesome I couldn't stand near its edge . . . how I soared to two thousand feet--with small planes flying below us--and managed not to faint . . . and how, though I shamelessly begged my son to bring me down, I eventually came to love it! 

None of it makes sense now.  Why did I momentarily stop being the person who has steadfastly refused to ride on Space Mountain and who, in the movie theater, subconsciously feels around for a seat belt? 

In fact, why did I do any of the things I did back in the early days of hang gliding?          

I’ve tried to explain all this in my book, HIGHER THAN EAGLES, which is an account mothers everywhere will understand.  It is the story of how life creeps up on you: how one can have five sons and a daughter and never imagine that three of the boys will become flying-mad kids and persuade you they must fly; how rational parents are talked into starting a hang glider manufacturing company and then persuaded to help run it; how sons drag their parents to championships, claiming they can win . . . and then WIN; how boys imagine they can set world records . . . and then SET them. 

HIGHER THAN EAGLES is about being a parent who follows her kids' dreams--and because of them lives richly for a time, more richly than she ever imagined.  But it is also about loss and coming to grips with tragedy.  About trying to understand the why of losing a child, and realizing in the end you will not only never fully understand, you could not, looking back, do anything differently.  That it was the children themselves who led you to make decisions you would make again in a minute. 

I wrote HIGHER THAN EAGLES because I had to.  Though it took fourteen years to find a publisher (and I sold six other books meanwhile), I knew I'd never give up.  Once it became the lead title for Longstreet Press, I was free to go on to other books--and to continue teaching novel-writing, which I love as much as writing itself.  For who else but a budding novelist really wants to know how to make a scene come alive . . . or finds daily discoveries about the craft of writing as exciting as I do. 

If writing were as lucrative as it is compelling, there would be few other professions, for how else can we preserve forever the things we've experienced.  The images.  The ideas.  The feelings.  The logic.  The lack of logic.  The sheer craziness. 

And so I live both in the "real" world and the world of the imagination, and I cannot see myself doing anything else.


(When a writer’s club asked for an essay in advance of my appearance, this is what I sent.)  








Saturday, June 10, 2017

OWNING A GUN SHOULD MAKE YOU SAFER

OWNING A GUN SHOULD MAKE YOU SAFER


If only that were true . . .

But statistically, it isn’t.  Studies have long since proved that gun fatalities are much higher among families who own guns than among those who don’t.    

Some years ago, the Los Angeles Times compared our country to mostly gun-free Great Britain: (Admittedly, a large population difference means this isn’t an oranges-to-oranges comparison.)  But still: The same year that guns killed 350 British citizens, Americans lost 30,000+ people to gunshots.  Not all were homicides. But all were caused by bullets.   

For the deadliest of reasons—ignorance, greed, and a quest for power—blame lies partly with the National Rifle Association.  Medical statisticians, among others, agree that their propaganda is built on lies.

So why is America laser-focused on terrorism?  How likely are we to die at the hands of a foreign terrorist? 

Irvine resident, Victoria Reiser, offers statistics by Business Insider:

“The lifetime odds of being killed in an assault using a gun are 1 in 358;  in an attack by a foreign-born terrorist, 1 in 45,808; in an attack by a refugee terrorist, 1 in 46,192,893; and in an attack by an illegal immigrant terrorist, 1 in 138,324,873.”

Thanks to the inherent meanness in Trump, ICE daily terrorizes and exports people who haven’t yet, and never will harm us. At the same time, he “buddies-up” to the biggest source of incipient danger—the NRA.  And finally, he spews American vitriol among Islamic countries who once meant us no evil . . . as though he wants to stir up hatred and a new willingness to “get even.” 

Which brings me to an inevitable conclusion:  The political party that caters to--and whose members’ candidacies are supported by--the NRA, is the party we should hold responsible for America’s lamentable record of death by guns.    



 


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

SMALL KIDS INFILTRATE A LUAU




SMALL KIDS INFILTRATE A LUAU


Meaning, you saw them everywhere, kind of like leaves carried in a gust of wind.

For Rob and me they made the luau. 

But it almost didn’t happen . . . 

Once more, our very large immediate family (4 generations—now grown to 39 members) were on vacation, thanks to our leader, who refers to himself as “Spongebob.”   Each year, wherever we’re headed, the members get themselves there, whereupon Spongebob takes over.  (Many a friend has asked, “Can I join your family? Nobody would ever notice.”  Which might be true.)  

This time 29 of us made it to Kiahuna, on the island of Kauai. 

There must have been a few unrelated guests at Kiahuna who wished they’d come at a different time.  With our family occupying  ten units, we had our joyous—make that noisy--moments.  Each night a different family cooked dinner for the mob, after which the athletes among us took over the vast resort lawn for spectacular demonstrations of whirling Frisbees.  With each throw, the orange disc whirled across the length of a football field, captured gracefully by some male between five-eleven and six-three . . . but occasionally landing in the hands of a child who hadn’t quite reached four feet. 

Like puppies, the kids kept leaping up to intercept those flying discs.  

On our last night, at a cost equal to the down payment on a car, we signed up for a luau. Having seen more than my share of such extravaganzas, I was ready to bypass this one. But thank heavens I didn’t.

First thing I knew, the MC was probing the crowd for birthdays.  Rob, days short of 90, didn’t volunteer.  Instead, the great grandkids—eight of them, ten and under—“volunteered” for him.  Like a swarm of insects, they gathered behind Rob’s head . . . giggling, pointing and shouting, “Here!  Him!” Of course the MC noticed and Rob was forced to trumpet out his age.

Only moments later, the man on stage asked for longest marriages, and this time Rob cooperated. “Sixty-nine years!” he shouted,  (my math genius was “off” by half a year), which brought us enthusiastic applause. 

As if this weren’t enough, soon seven of our eight youngsters were up on stage learning--or sort of learning--the Hula . . . even Annalise, who is only two.  Budding show-offs that they were, none were shy about wiggling their hips or spinning in circles. (Which excepts Annalise, who mostly stood and stared out at the crowd.)  

For the rest of the show, our young performers gathered on a berm of land at one end of the stage and perched there like birds on a wire. 

But the excitement didn’t end. After the show, numerous men came up to congratulate Rob on our extended marriage (as if it was all because of him), and even on the plane returning home, a passenger made a point of shaking Rob’s hand.

This may be the one occasion when neither of us minded that we’d already lived such a vast number of years.  



Thursday, May 4, 2017

"TRUMPCARE" . . . MEANS NO CARE



A SAD DAY FOR AMERICA

Make that another sad day for America.

The first came in November with our election of the least qualified man ever chosen as U.S. president. Today, even FBI leader, James Comey, says he is “slightly nauseous” that he may have influenced the outcome.  Whatever.  He certainly didn’t help.   

Early this week, just as I was celebrating the bipartisan House spending bill that incorporated compromises most of us can live with . . .  the issue of a major health care reversal loomed like a grizzly bear on the sidelines, ready to eviscerate its victim. 

Today—just minutes ago--it happened.  Our House of Representatives has taken the first step to make Obamacare disappear.  Claiming that in some states it has already vanished,  the “house,” by a narrow margin, voted down the rest. Instead of fixing what was already there, house members placated Freedom Caucus members (notoriously against spending money to help anyone), to get needed votes.

If the Senate agrees,  ailing Americans will suffer just as surely as though attacked by bears.  The hurried, careless way this bill has been thrown together—with zero input from health care professionals—means millions of sick Americans will find themselves with minimal care.  Or none.    

Oh, yes, the Republicans pretended that “The States”  would take over the “pre-existing conditions” issue, putting sick people into high-risk pools.  But California, the most liberal of states, has already proven such pools don’t work.  Today’s front page article in the Los Angeles Times (“A Case Study in State-run Health Failures”) describes what happens.  People are put on long waiting lists. And meanwhile they get sicker.

Richard Figueroa, a past enrollment director of such a pool, laments the outcome when desperately ill people are finally sent the all-important, life-saving letter. “They would say, “Thank you, but you can give our slot to someone else, because my brother or my wife or my daughter has died.”

A vital question:  who among you, reading this piece, does not already have a “pre-existing condition?”  If,  during your thirty, forty, or however-many years, you’ve been to the doctor for anything,  you can be presumed as having such a condition. My twenty-something grandson,  prone to strep-throats, has been seen by doctors several times . . . no doubt a disqualifying ailment for traditional insurance companies.

With today’s all-political, non-medical bill a victory for Trump and Ryan, ordinary citizens are about to reap what the voters sowed in November.  We hope it’s not a medical disaster.

But with health care now dictated in part by the Freedom Caucus . . . what else can it be?    

Thursday, April 6, 2017

TRUMP: HOW MANY LAWS WILL WE LET HIM BREAK?




TRUMP: HOW MANY LAWS WILL WE LET HIM BREAK?


I hardly need to blog about Trump any more; the Los Angeles Times is doing all the
work for me . . . and for everyone else who feels that our president is an unmitigated disaster.  The Times’ five editorials, so far, are so strongly-worded they tend to ring in your head.  For hours.   

Yet one question remains unanswered:  How about all those laws Trump is breaking—and when will the American public demand he be held accountable?

Among them: 

1.) The law against presidential despotism, enacted after Jack Kennedy made his brother, Robert, Attorney General.  So far, both daughter,  Ivanka, and son-in law Jared, are acting as semi-official Secretaries of State. They may not receive salaries, but both have been given top security clearances, and Ivanka, at least, has a White House office--plus other benefits of high office. If this isn’t nepotism, what is?    

 2.)  The Supreme Court provision about a president accepting “Foreign Emoluments." Heads of State from foreign countries seem prone to stay at various Trump Towers, thereby offering foreign monies to enrich our president.  

3.) Rules against Conflicts of Interest.  Since the president has never divested himself of his business interests (perhaps not required by law), his Trump Enterprises continues to grow during the president’s reign—with new “deals” constantly being arranged in various American and major foreign cities . . . a direct nod to the power of our highest office.  How can this continuing behavior not be seen as a Conflict of Interest?   

4.) Rules governing Charitable Foundations: It’s already been proven that the Trump Foundation gave $25,000 as a “gift” to a Florida Attorney General--which resulted in her dismissal of a Floridian suit against Trump University--plus the public has seen photos of the life-size portrait of himself, purchased by Trump with Foundation funds.  

These two acts suggest that here not one, but two rules have been broken--a rule against bribery, and another against self-enrichment with Foundation funds.

A few judges have declared, “Even the president is not above the law.”

Yet so far our various law enforcement agencies have noted these transgressions but taken no action.  Who is responsible, anyway, for getting him into court? When will the American public rise up and demand that even King Trump must follow the rules?

Once again, I can’t help pointing out: When we elected a man with no character to the country’s highest office, we can expect an administration with no morality . . . operating in flagrant disregard of accepted laws.