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​My mom’s only surviving sister was 10 years older than she was. Charming and fun loving to the point of being goofy at times, Aunt Pearl was also beautiful.

She had long, coal black hair that she coaxed into ringlets with a curling iron. Unlike our modern day ease of curling irons that plug into any convenient outlet to heat with electricity, Aunt Pearl’s curling iron was heated by putting it down the chimney of a coal oil lamp! This feat could be iffy, as it involved metal, a flammable substance, and uncontrolled heat…not to mention lighting those lamps was essentially setting a small piece of fabric (the wick) on fire, then the light was constantly fed by the flame that burned until it was put out. There was also the fun prospect of singed hair and soot getting in the hair as well. In that instance Aunt Pearl was fortunate that since her hair was already as black as it could be, it hid the worst of any damage that was the price of wanting nice curls. Later on she set it into marcel waves that looked wonderful. Eventually, she wore it in a Roaring Twenties super short bob. Add the drop-waisted dresses that were all the rage, topped by a cloche hat, and she looked as if she’d stepped straight out of a talkie, the newfangled motion pictures that took the flapper set by storm.

During this era my mom was a small child, who adored her big sister. Aunt Pearl was wonderful with children, as I discovered for myself. People back then, early in the twentieth century, had more family members than beds, and sisters often shared a big four poster, piled high with a feather bed and several hand made quilts. The quilts were composed of fabric pieces salvaged from worn out dresses and blouses, so that a pointing finger could trace the story of each piece through remembered occasions from  the time before its original form was worn out. 

Aunt Pearl liked to tell stories, particularly of the ghost variety. When I was little and she’d come to visit, I would sleep with her and be deliciously thrilled by whatever story she wanted to tell me in the wee small hours of the night. One in particular that I’ve never forgotten was about two elderly sisters, who shared a bed as girls. Every night there would be terrifying knocking sounds, eerily seeming very near to them, though there was nobody else in the room. It was only when they were old and any day could be their last that one sister finally confessed to the other that she had been the mysterious knocker who kept the hoax going on for so very long, and utterly convincingly. It turned out that she had double jointed toes that she would carefully crack against the wooden footboard to make the terrible knocking sounds. Aunt Pearl had read about it in a magazine or book and did a very effective retelling in the dark.

My mom and her beloved sister were as close as a child and young woman could be.  There came a time when my mom started to notice whispered conversations and furtive activities between Aunt Pearl and their mother. Eventually, when she saw Aunt Pearl packing up her things, my mom asked Grandmother what was happening. They had dreaded that moment and Grandmother so hated to cause pain to her little daughter that she pursed her lips for as long as she could bear her own silence and then reluctantly answered the question “Where’s Pearl going?” with the puzzling “She’s going to M.” A bit of explanation followed, and my mom finally understood that her near constant companion and always game playmate was getting married. It must have been heart rending to watch the wonderful presence she took for granted as being hers always leave their home for a new one of her own. Aunt Pearl and Uncle Dick got married by a Justice of the Peace, while seated in their buggy. That seems to have been a thing at the time, though I think not overly common. I imagine it was quite the ice breaker at parties and such. 

My mom and Aunt Pearl remained very close the rest of their lives. They relied on each other in times of trouble and celebrated together during every eventful moment. They took care of each other in bad health, cooked together for holiday celebrations, and were sources of joy for each other just by spending time together. The only time I can remember ever seeing them argue was the moment the check arrived when we were eating out. They would snatch it out of each other’s hands, the bit of paper like a flat, rectangular shuttlecock in a never ending match of restaurant bill badminton. Aunt Pearl usually persisted until she emerged the victor, since she didn’t drive and wanted to repay my parents any way she could for their unending willingness to take her wherever she needed or wanted to go. I’m not sure how she managed it, since I was usually elbow deep in a banana split by the time the check came. All I know is that while she was getting out money to pay, a couple of dollars or a fistful of change would find its way into my pocket, along with a wink and a smile from the person who was to me the same wonderful, beloved companion and always willing playmate that my mom had known in her own childhood.

As she grew old in that remarkable way indomitable spirits have of never quite really seeming to reach true old age, even poor health couldn’t suppress her twinkle or the smile that lit up so many hearts she touched throughout her life. Aunt Pearl was one of those people you never forget. One of a kind. Her memory is indelible. As is the legacy she left me of joy in telling stories. Her dream of being a published author was never realized. That mine has been is in part thanks to her. Dreams can be contagious. Their enthusiasm. Their hope. And their twinkle that burns like a pilot light for my muse. Quite the legacy from a woman who never had children of her own.

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Having enjoyed more than one road trip around Great Britain, I found this Atlas Obscura article extremely amusing. It was only after bumbling my way around a mystifying tangle of letters in many town names, that I eventually had an epiphany forced upon me when I discovered that Leicester is pronounced Lester. Ah h–what? I’d encountered the word in another incarnation through pop culture (Elizabethan era version) references to Elizabeth 1 and her Earl of Leicester suitor and favorite. I’d pronounced (Well, thought it, as a child in the rural south had no one to discuss such topics with…though dogs and cows could be remarkably good listeners in a pinch.) it wrong up until I heard the city pronounced correctly. I then realized, with no small amount of awe, that the mundane name Lester, so common among the farm and factory folks of my surroundings, most likely had its origin in the elegant British word.

Much later, when Princess Diana drew my interest for the rest of my life, I was fascinated to find out that a London shopping area she frequented, Beauchamp Place, is pronounced Beachum. Not something an American is going to intuitively deduce.

This article is filled with examples of similar place names that make our weird American pronounciations seem logical…and simple. I no longer wrinkle my mental nose over Cairo, Illinois being called Karo…like the syrup of pecan pie fame, though it has no added letters and/or syllables to give it that extra umph of England’s charm.

In all honesty, though, I think all those head scratching British place names are intriguing, fascinating, and, yes, cool. As long as I don’t have to spell them.

It had been a while since Cat Power released a new album. I’ve been a fan since way back to Myra Lee and Moonpix, so I was thrilled to find Wanderer among Amazon’s New Releases.

I’ve enjoyed the different styles she’s used over the years. There were aspects of the earliest that I loved, especially her lyrics, but the songs were pretty raw and a bit slow for my taste. Her later efforts were more polished and uptempo, and I liked them all.

Now, along comes Wanderer. This new album carries reminders of Myra Lee and Moonpix, but is more accessible. It is a beautiful combination of polished melodies and lyrics, even as it echoes Cat Powers’ earlier work. My favorite track is Robbin Hood. For me, it carries the best of all of her music.

Cat Power Performing Robbin Hood

I’ve entered a lot of screenwriting competitions. So many in fact that I can’t say off the top of my head how many years I’ve been doing it. I actually got kind of addicted to it. It’s helpful to keep yourself setting and meeting goals, keeping up your A game, and with the right attitude it’s fun.

I’ve hit some pretty high highs, as far as advancing goes, with three dramas and a science fiction, all feature length. The dramas have all been Moondance finalists, one twice, and one was a semi-finalist. Two have made the top 25% of the Page Awards, while the science fiction one was a Page Awards quarter-finalist twice and a semi- finalist once. A drama made the top 10% of the Nicholl, the science fiction one the top 15%, and they have all had several variations of one and two positive reads. Not bad at all.

So why did I suddenly put a freeze on all competition entries this year? Under slightly different circumstances I’d call it competition fatigue, reached at last. Rejection fatigue certainly plays a part in it. Between this and fiction rejections, I have endured a near constant barrage for many years. There’s a lot to be said for what the human spirit rises to when properly motivated with a high enough reward potential dangled at the end of a long, rocky road. However, bluntly put, this human spirit is exhausted.

I’ve learned that endurance tests are not necessarily meant to be endured without pause virtually forever. It is perfectly acceptable at some point to break what you’ve seen as a never ending test of talent and character into separate phases of the same journey. Interstates have rest stops for a reason.Some people are good for the long, unbroken haul, no matter how long it takes. I was. But then life throws something in that makes you reevaluate, regroup, and sometimes replan.

Life threw my mother at me. She got Alzheimer’s. I got the responsibility of caring for her. Until you face it yourself, it’s impossible to grasp what that means. As the disease progresses, so does your role in your loved one’s life. Eventually becoming completely responsible for a beloved parent is life shattering. You have to dig deep and deeper, you change into a deeply mature adult, as they change back toward childhood. I became stronger than I was, more mature than I was capable of being, and learned that words like limits and strength and courage have no real meaning, because the meanings are redifined as time passes. Love becomes redifined as well, becoming the reason for everything. As difficult as it was, I would do it again, even knowing what I faced, because such a wonderful parent deserved the best possible wind down of her life, even held submerged in the depths of the weighted enemy called Alzheimer’s.

By the time she slipped away from both of our lives, on July 15, 2016, I was more exhausted than I would have thought possible. Even as I readjusted to being only responsible for myself, I missed her every day. I still do. I rest, I recover, and I’m just so glad that I got through it.

Somehow through it all I managed to write. Not prolifically. Not really steadily. But I wrote short fiction and I submitted it. This was my piece of myself that I retained throughout. I sold a story to Analog in time for my mom, my greatest support, to know and briefly understand. I continued to enter screenwriting competitions. Eventually I narrowed my focus to the Nicholl. I entered three screenplays a year. At least one would get a positive read every year, sometimes two, at times they all did at least some little miracle of a positive read or two, occasionally not so miraculous.

A couple of years ago, I checked email on my phone in a grocery store parking lot. Hammered, nearly in public, by three responses that were not as good as I’d hoped. Okay, expected. It had started to seem that I went backwards some years. Had for a while in other years, other competitions. That was when the need for the symbolic rest area became undeniable. I entered three again last year and only one got anywhere at all, with two positive reads.

Backwards.

I don’t understand how levels of success can fluctuate so widely, from competition to competition, from year to year. It seems to be, loosely put, the nature of the game. That’s okay. I know I’m not alone in it and that I’m very fortunate to consistently do so well, for so long.

I also know that I needed a break. The moments of opening competition results emails, followed by the jolts of recognition that nothing big was happening for another year needed to be followed by a break from said moments and jolts. The realization that the sheer joy of knowing a screenplay I’d written, a story I’d told, had received two positive reads in the most prestigious, highly competitive arena in screenwritingland was overshadowed by the disappointment over the two that received none. Even though they’d gotten notice several other times. I wasn’t fun anymore. It was painful.

Somehow, stepping back for a year was the right thing to do. It lowered my stress level. It gave me a measure of peace, turning the leadup to the results announcements away from dread to a space of peace. As the time to start thinking about 2019 entries approaches, I’m doing just that. I’m not sure the fun will fully be back in the game. After going through such a life altering experience as being an Alzheimer’s caregiver, a new gravity settles over my life. It’s not always at the surface, but it colors the way I consider everything. All I can do is enjoy testing myself as much as possible, while I hope.

I can’t help but remember how much my mom loved movies, when they were coming of age together. She would be so proud if my name someday appears on that beloved silver screen. The thing about wonderful mothers, though…she would be just as proud of me if that never happens.

So, onward. Above and beyond, always…with necessary rest stops on the way toward the stars.

Anything about World War I catches my eye. My long time interest in The Great War began with the movie In Love and War, starting Chris O’Donnell and Sandra Bullock. It was about Ernest Hemmingway’s experiences during the war and showcased the era in a captivating way.

When I followed the link to this article on Twitter, it lead to amazing colorized photographs of scenes of wartime Europe. Since it occurred at a time when photography was still finding its feet, the war had been displayed for us historically in black and white. It’s how we’ve been used to seeing it, which is why the colorized images are so startling now.   

In the grand scheme of this bigger-than-life collective life, the World War I era was not really a great long time ago. Its importance as the first mechanized war, with tank warfare and aerial dogfights marked a new chapter in several areas…warfare, technology, man on man inflicted suffering, yet it seems anything but modern, when viewed exclusively in black and white or sepia tones. Our 21st century gaze peruses the colorized versions with a more visceral reaction that helps merge the time not far from the turn of the 20th century with our current age of technological awe.

Of course the fact that images are in color neither lessens or makes more important the content. It does draw our attention in a new way, allowing us to see history with fresh eyes and perception. It makes it more real somehow, more our war, as well as the long, hard endured experience of generations lost.
In Love and War Trailer

Check out @MindBHealing’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/MindBHealing/status/1053441020061474817?s=09

Who needs proper spelling?

Apparently only 44% of us. I came across this tweet and found it a fascinating example of just how extraordinary the human mind is. It had never occurred to me that such a jumble of letters could so easily be read correctly. I was able to read it pretty fast, with a few brief pauses while my brain had a teensy freakout stumble and then moved on. It’s interesting that as long as the first and last letters of a word are correct, many of our brains gulp the whole word down, with barely a hitch. I wonder if it would cause brain fatigue to try to read an entire book composed of such words. Not enough to try to find out, but it’s an intriguing idea. 

Sometimes words aren’t necessary. This sky speaks for itself.