Tuesday, November 12, 2013

REVIEW: Dissected -- Megan Messina Bostic

When Sydney Warner was six, she awoke one day to find her Mom's telescope and jewelry left in her room. Her Mom was gone--the note she left read she was going to be happy.  Sydney managed to weather that storm well enough, but in her junior year far worse happened--and she went badly off-course. Syd's begun to cut herself. Her father and teachers don't know--and if they don't find out, she could cut too deeply.

Sydney's story is told with empathy and concern. Ms. Bostic did her research and made sure her fictional character went through a factual journey. The story's believable, heartfelt, and strongly written.

Some authors would shy away from the hard topics, but Megan Bostic knows that there are kids out there going through difficult situations like Sydney's. Is this a real condition? The new DSM includes a new condition listed called NSSI or Non-Suicidal Self Injury. It's estimated that one in five young girls today cut themselves with razor blades or burn themselves with fire. That's a dramatic increase from 3% of the population in 1990. This condition is particularly common among young girls from ten to sixteen. It's theorized they do this to trigger a flow of endogenous opiates into their bloodstream--these chemicals help deal with pain. Girls who are doing this are not acting out--they do not want parents or teachers to find out. Most conceal their condition with long sleeves or long pants.

Reading books like these help young adults to know that they are not alone. Perhaps that's not as good as group therapy, but it's an important start. How do I know this?  Go Ask Alice stopped me from taking drugs in when I was in the eighth grade.

This book is absolutely recommended for readers of all ages. Sydney is a strong likeable character and her predicament is riveting. The plotting is so good you will want to read into the night.

SOURCE:  ARC provided by the author

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, November 2013

Friday, May 3, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Possibility Dogs

Those of you who know me know that I am legally blind. I was born with cataracts and have had deteriorating vision ever since. At some point, I will need a service dog. My eye doctor made the suggestion last year and I just have not had the courage to follow through yet.

I've been told that a service dog would grant me better access and I would be more approachable than I am carrying my cane. The one friend I asked about this said: "I'd be more interested in the dog than the person with it."

Was it her?  Is this everyone?  I would like to think not, but that gave me pause.

My lifelong dream has been to work with dogs in some way to do service work. I've never been in a position to be a puppy breeder as I once hoped, but I'm wondering if organizations are going to stop using purebreds and start taking shelter dogs.

Why?  Not every puppy--even those from a solid lineage, makes the cut for service work. From birth, dogs bred for service work, are socialized and trained. Then they go to a puppy raiser who works with them for months before they ever reach the training facility for service dogs. 

And there is a greater need for service dogs now, particularly with our soldiers coming back from Afghanistan with PTSD.Many organizations have applicant waiting lists that are literally years long.

But--some groups are going a more direct route. Instead of making more puppies, they are going to shelters and picking dogs who show promise for the task. This may well be the best way to find homes for the massive overpopulation of strays--quote from the book:

"A 2009 National Public Radio story underscored what most of us who work with dogs already know: the homeless animal population has long existed, the Great Recession has made things worse for American pets recently. In some areas, intakes have increased annually up to 400%. Surrendered dogs are often have healthy pets that are up-to-date on their vaccinations and have been neutered or spayed but have to be given up because her owners have lost jobs, homes, or both, and they need to find safe places for their dogs to go. It's a desperate choice made with loving intentions, but for surrendered pets, too often there are not enough adoptive home to go around. Rescuers have had to work even harder than usual, trying to maximize adoption events and social media exposure to give more homeless pets some kind of hope."

Susannah Charleson is noted for her work with search and rescue dogs. In her first book, "The Scent of the Missing," she talks about finding and training Puzzle, a Golden Retriever, to do S&R work. While "The Possibility Dogs" does not contain as gripping material as her first book, the situation is still compelling.

Patients needing service dogs are often just as lost as a child or an elderly patient who have wandered away from home. Depression, trauma, physical illnesses, put these people at risk. Often, "invisible illnesses" make it doubly hard because the general public does not understand and cannot empathize with their need.

Ms. Charleson well understands that need. A debilitating kidney ailment may well necessitate a service dog for her in the future. Having found and trained a search and rescue dog, the natural extension for this skill-set would be to locate a shelter dog with service dog skills and train it. The following is advice from Paula, a dog evaluator who finds animals for therapy, et cetera. She says: "any dog can be surprising. Before you can find many dogs for this work, find one."

"The Possibility Dogs" is interspersed with Ms. Charleson's experiences with folks and their service animals and her own quest to find some trainable dogs for this work. The stories will make you laugh and shed more than a few tears.

This book is not just for people who are interested in service dogs and therapy work. The stories are riveting enough to keep you reading even if you never plan to use the knowledge. But, if you are considering therapy dog work, either getting a dog for yourself or a family member, or training one, you should add this book to your library. "Possibility Dogs" may well open some possibilities for you.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2013

Thursday, March 14, 2013

COMMENTARY: Arachno-Funk, Part 1

Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone.....

You've all probably heard the old folk song, but it's true.  I never really appreciated the education I got from Oklahoma City's inner-city schools until Barack Obama ran for President the second term.

An article I read described President Obama as being able to understand world problems better because he grew up as an "international kid."  He learned from living in Hawaii and visiting various countries how other cultures work and how to get along.

I got some of that coming up at Central Junior High and Classen High.  Unlike my Wonder-bread elementary school, we had Black, Native American from half a dozen or more different tribes, Hispanic, and in my last years, Vietnamese students all mingling in the melting pot of public education.

Yeah, it was stressful, but it was good. I learned about fry bread and kitchens (not the kind you cook in), appreciated the accordion in conjunta music, learned to sing gospel well enough to be asked to join the Gospel Choir, and appreciate bun. (Vietnamese dish) And that's just for starters.

I wish I could say my school experience was like that. I'm one of those old hippie types who really does want everyone to live together in peace. Sadly, no. We had our share of racial tension. Even had a special pep assembly to try and get us to come together. The Student Council Vice President who suggested we should get along got a brick thrown through his windshield.

On the other hand, two years after I graduated, Classen High School kicked the KKK off the campus. This was a united force representing all the races of the student population. I was never so proud of my old school.

Now, Classen is an advanced studies magnet school, in 2009, one of the top in the nation. Do they always clean up the place after I'm gone? Perhaps it's karma from the Class of 1978!

I really did learn a lot about different cultures from Classen, but what I'm talking about today is learning how cultures share an iconic image in their mythology.

In this case, it's this guy and his kin:

It's Mythology class right after lunch and we're discussing Greek, Roman and Norse myths.

"Why are we learning this?"  I hear from one of my fellow students. "Do you see any Greeks, Romans or Norse folk in here?"

A show of hands revealed none of us believed we were such. Only our teacher had any Norse connection and that was on her husband's side of the family. We had some pretty diverse culture represented:  American Indian, Black, and I spoke up for Scotland.

"What do you suggest?" Mrs. Adams asked. "This is the textbook we've got. What are we going to do about it?"

Can you hear the pin drop in our classroom? 

"Those of you who want can do special reports on myths from your culture," Mrs. Ericson said. "It's extra credit and will help you with your final."

My hand shot up first. Yeah, I'm that kind of student--in English class--plus, I had a bad case of Senioritis and that whole idea sounded a lot better than studying hard for a final when I had invitations and Baccalaureate and all that graduating stuff to do.

This was easier said that one; however. Our small school library had tons of books on mythology. Unfortunately, they were all pretty much related to Zeus/Jupiter and Odin.  Lucky for us, OCU was close and if you looked really sad and promised not to mess up anything, they'd let you in their library.

I picked the kelpie or Ech Uisque--the waterhorse of Celtic myth which often lured humans to their death in the rivers and lochs. The ech uiqque plays a part in one of my short stories which has yet to see the light of day. For more on that legend, click here: 

Kelpie Legend

But Crystal picked the mythical character who had me entranced:  Anansi. I hope Crystal decided to be a Griot. She rocked that report.

Of course, I was prejudiced.  I still had my Creepy Crawlers set from when I was a kid and I "cooked bugs" every Halloween from a carefully-cadged supply of "goop."  I cooked the spiders. The rest of the molds bored me.

One of our Native American students added that Vehoo was a Cheyenne legend and a trickster like Anansi.

"Spiders were considered beneficial in Celtic myth," I added. "There's even a story where a spider helped Robert the Bruce kick the English out of Scotland."

Robert the Bruce and the Spider

You ever have a moment where you sit and look at your friends and classmates and realize yeah, we're different, but we're also alike.  We write stories about the things and creatures that are important to us and we pass them along to future generations, first beside campfires and on into the classroom. 

I was a fan of mythology since fifth grade when my teacher handed me a copy of Bullfinch's Mythology, but they were just tales until then....

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, March 2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

COMMENTARY: The Next Big Blog Thing

With my sincere thanks to the lovely and talented Ellen Herbert, who suggested I join this blog hop. Check out her blog here: 

Ellen Herbert's Blog

My current WIP is new to me. The inspiration came like most do in the middle of the night via a dream.

Since I have so much trouble writing a pitch, I'm starting with it.  Here's the tentative: 

Who says Romeo and Juliet have to die?  Sometimes, star-crossed lovers do mend fences between feuding family. Generations ago, Jordon and Morgan's many times great-grandparents did just that between the Crossers and the Necromancers. They didn't realize that the marriage would null their offspring's gifts--until a pair of fraternal twins are born--and are nearly torn apart when they discover their powers.

And like any good blog hop (which is pretty much the chain letters of long ago), I am passing the torch on to an amazing author of steampunk and horror, Allison Dickson:

Allison's Blog

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, March 2013

Sunday, March 10, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: Oz The Great and Powerful

Director:  Sam Raimi
Writers:   Mitchell Capner and
               David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay)
               Frank L. Baum, The Wonderful World of Oz

James Franco     Oz
Mila Kunis           Theodora
Rachel Weisz      Evanora
Michelle Williams   Annie-Glinda
Zack Braff            Frank/Finley
Bill Cobbs            Master Tinker

Seldom do I see a movie where I want to just remain in my seat and see the next show--and the next, until the theater staff tells me it's time to go home. Among those are ET and The Princess Bride. 

I was predestined to either love or hate this movie. I've been an Oz junkie since I was three or four. The film would come on television every year about Halloween time and after the first, I was prepared. I sat down spellbound with my Welch's grape juice and my popcorn and not even my father, who usually had ultimate control of the television, dared complain.  When I got older, and leaned that The Wizard of Oz was based on a set of books by Frank L. Baum, I found them in the library and read them all. And yes, I've read Gregory Maguire's take on Oz as well. I've seen Wicked from near the front and loved the musical.

No, I don't have any snow globes or Oz dolls in costume...I do own the remastered Blu-Ray where I realized to my utter shock that the opening scenes of The Wizard of Oz were not black and white as I originally believed, they were sepia!

Tony and I were there on opening night for Oz The Great and Powerful. We went on a matinee with hope in our hearts. And, yes, I could have stayed until the theater shut down.  I want to see the film at least once more before it goes off the big screen--maybe at a theater with better sound and visual resolution. I'll own the movie--and I might even splurge for some swag if they have the right Christmas ornament.

Oz opened in Kansas with a carnival charlatan seducing a young woman to be his assistant. Enter Oz, the wizard. The only reason he gets in the hot air balloon in the middle of an impending tornado is because the young woman he was about to seduce was another's girl and he was about to receive a well-deserved beat down.

After some peril, Oz lands in Oz and learns he is the wizard that was foretold of. Then the magickal politicking begins. Theodora and Evanora, the sisters, are trying to get him on their side so he can kill the Wicked Witch by breaking her magic wand.

Then, he meets Glinda and realizes who he needs to side with. As she tells him, "Perhaps you are not the wizard I expected, but you are the wizard we need."

There's a lot to love about this film. Of course, it pays homage to the original WOZ by beginning with the mundane world in black and white. (Might have preferred sepia, but I'm not quibbling) The casting was excellent. James Franco is a perfect scapegrace with devastatingly brilliant ideas.

One change I really appreciated was that in the original Oz the only color aside from Caucasian we saw was green. This modern Oz is integrated and the folks join together for a common cause.

Love seeing more evidence of steampunk's influence. Baum and Wells certainly were the original steampunk inspiration. It's good to see the Tinkers working--and tie in how Oz appears in the original film.

Yes, we will go back to see this film in the theater and we're definitely going to own the Blu-Ray.  I'm excited about the possibility of sequels. I hope they film quickly, because they do not want to lose a single member of this cast.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, March 2013


Saturday, February 2, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: Rise of the Guardians

Director:  Peter Ramsay
Writers:  David Lindsay Abaire (screenplay) William Joyce (book)

Cast:  (voiced by)

Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher

An evil spirit named Pitch plans to destroy the hopes and dreams of children. For the first time, the Guardians (Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, The Sandman and their newest member, Jack Frost) must work together to save themselves and the future of the world.

2012 was a banner year for animation. ParaNorman, Hotel Transylvania, Frankenweenie, Brave, just to name a few. Rise of the Guardians, which is based on William Joyce's multi-book young adult series, is one of the best.

Casting was well done. The voices fit their characters and it's obvious the actors were into their roles. Animation brought life to the screen. I saw this film in the theaters and immediately went searching for a pre-order. I'm so fond of it, I'm adding the film to my annual Christmas viewing.

Overall, I seriously hope to see more films from this franchise in the future.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, February 2013

Friday, February 1, 2013

COMMENTARY: The Hard Choices

Above are the crew of the Columbia STS-107. (L-R) mission specialist David Brown, commander Rick Husband, mission specialist Laurel Clark, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist Michael Anderson, pilot William McCool, and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon. All were killed when the shuttle disintegrated over Texas February 1st, 2003.

I honestly don't remember where I was when I heard that Columbia disintegrated over Texas. I remember crying, but that's all. 

What I hadn't known until ten years later was that NASA knew the astronauts were in trouble before the crash. Wayne Hale, the person who later got charge of the shuttle program, talked about the incident in his blog:  

"After one of the MMTs (Mission Management Team) when possible damage to the orbiter was discussed, he (Flight Director Jon Harpold) gave me his opinion: 'You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS (Thermal Protection System). If it has been damaged it's probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don't you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?" 

This has to be the hardest decision anyone had to make. Imagine, working with people, knowing them, caring for them, learning a bit about them and their family...Knowing also that they were the best the US had to offer up for this mission, and realizing they were going to die and you had to make a choice of what to tell them.

I sat here and contemplated their choices. If the astronauts were told, they'd have minutes in a cabin of decreasing oxygen knowing they were going to die. Even if they were the best, the worst of their natures could come out. On the other hand, they went out on a high-note. I think they believed they were going to make it.

Of course, they didn't have a chance to say goodbye. But, I suppose they did so as they were leaving--just in case. Nothing comes without a price. I know the crews who took off for the stars were willing to pay. May they fly through the stars forever.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, February 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

COMMENTARY: Happy 200th Birthday, Pride and Prejudice

Learning to read wasn't easy for me.  My eyes didn't want to work scanning the lines of writing.  The Adventures of Dick and Jane left me staring off into space. The first reading that captured my full attention was Dr. Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel. No surprise I am still a fan of the colorful, the whimsical, and the amusing. Make no mistake, there was wisdom buried beneath the laughter. Green Eggs and Ham taught about prejudice. The Lorax made us want to walk more softly on this earth.

Mostly after that, I just read what I wanted. My first taste of The Reading List and the classics came in Mrs. Cowden's fifth grade class. Intimidated by the high shelves of the library, I asked her for some recommendation. She handed me David Copperfield. After I got past my shock at the book's heft, I was sold. I read everything Dickens, London, Twain, and Shakespeare that library held.

Then, she handed me Jane Austen. I grew up in the Sixties and there weren't a lot of options for women. This was the first time that I read a classic written by a woman. I sat and looked at her name on cover page the tattered book (most of the books Wilson Elementary for their fledgeling library were second-hand and repaired with duct tape by Glenda Vickery, our librarian, and my Mom) for a bit and wondered. What was it like writing then?

I knew people who wrote then did so on typewriters, mostly manual. But, Jane Austen had to have written that whole book by hand. Why I never thought of the process before was something of a mystery then. I realize now part of the reason was that writing something that good seemed inaccessible to me before that moment. 

Like most of the classics, place and time are as strong a character as the people living through them. The times were vastly different for women. "Entailments" meant that the property held by the Bennet family could not pass to any of the five female daughters. When their father died, they'd be left penniless unless they found a husband. I followed the sisters' trials and tragedies with a sense of awe. Imagine just walking out in the rain and ending up gravely ill? 

You remember the Sixties Virginia Slims cigarette slogan: You've Come a Long Way, Baby. Well, indeed we had. Just looking at my college-educated Mom who taught school before she married told me that. Mom could vote, which meant she even had a say in our government. She was four years old when my Grandma got the right. She told me more than once to always make best use of my right to vote, too.

I laughed through the antics in Pride and Prejudice. And I loved the characters. But, I thought about the change in times and what that meant for me.

And I kept thinking about that as I moved from Jane Austen to the Bronte Sisters, and finally to Louisa May Alcott. Like many young women, particularly of the Southpaw nature, I had perpetually ink-stained fingers. I looked at my hand and I realized then whatever I wanted to be I was going to write.

Today, women in Afghanistan are proudly showing their ink-stained fingers because they, too, can now vote.

I viewed these pictures with tears because they made me realize that we've still got a long way to go, too. Women everywhere are fighting for the right to vote, to walk the streets safety, and to have the right to choose whether or not to keep a child foisted upon them by a rapist.

This entry is part of Courtney Webb of Stiletto Storytime and Alyssa Goodnight's 200th Birthday Celebration for Jane Austen. 

List of participating bloggers is available on Alyssa Goodnight's page at http://alyssagoodnight.com/2013/01/pride-and-prejudice-anniversary-party-blog-hop/

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, January 2013

COMMENTARY: Challenger

For my generation, we marked our lives by where we were when President Kennedy was assassinated. For the next, the crash of the space shuttle Challenger was a keystone event. 

It was a cold, dry and windy day in Oklahoma City warmed by hope and anticipation.

For the first time in my career, I was going to see a shuttle launch live. I was working for the Oklahoma Historical Society as secretary to Mary Lee Boyle, the senior archivist, and we had a television set for the Oral History Program. We were all particularly hyped that Christa McAuliffe was going up as a payload specialist. Many of us followed the Teacher in Space Program that President Reagan announced two years before Challenger. Added bonus:  she was a History Major and a Social Studies teacher. Her mission was to teach the world about the new frontier.

We were all aware of the delays this mission faced as we crowded into the tiny equipment-filled office vying for a good spot to see the 19-inch color screen. We'd planned to see the flight on the initial take-off date just six days before on January 22, 1986. Nobody really anticipated trouble. It was a long time since Apollo I and NASA had twenty-four prior successful missions.

No big deal. I still had hope in my heart of going to the moon on American Airlines. Back in fifth grade, Mrs. Cowden encouraged each of us to write and get on the waiting list for moon-flight. At that time, I still had the card American sent everyone who did write.

The launch went fine. We were all cheering and high-fiving each other when the vapor plume split into two.

"What happened?" I asked. I'd come late to the party and didn't have a great view.

For a few hope-filled moments, nobody knew. Maybe this was a scheduled event. Maybe....

Then, the announcer told us the shuttle exploded. I remember tears springing to my eyes. Chris Bittle, the photo archivist, hugged me. I think Mary Lee and several others did as well. 

Christa had flown with our hopes and dreams and those were gone now.  In some ways, I suspect this was the beginning of the end for President Kennedy's aspirations for us. NASA took a long hiatus to make sure they were functional. The Columbia disaster followed and set us back even further.

All I can say is Rest in Peace--and rest in the star stuff where all life is conceived.

The seven crew members aboard the Challenger Shuttle seen from left: Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith A. Resnik, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Ronald E. McNair, Mike J. Smith, and Ellison S. Onizuka.

To watch CNN's live coverage of the Challenger take-off, follow this link:

Challenger Take-Off and Explosion

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, January 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

COMMENTARY: How I came to be known as the Chicken Shit Queen

Back when I worked as a Research Assistant at the Department of Commerce, I literally knew what it was like to get the ‘shit’ jobs.
My boss called me in to her office and told me she had an important assignment for me. It was my first legislative query. One of the State Representatives from the Eastern part of Oklahoma wanted a report on chicken waste recycling.
Yes, even then, Oklahoma recognized their problem. With chicken farming in the east and pig farming in the west, they were literally up to their elbows in poop.
Worse, if they didn’t do something, that poop was going to taint their groundwater and nobody could wash off their dirty elbows or whatever part was affected.
My boss didn’t want the job—so she gave it to me. Her words, not mine.
Keep in mind, I don’t object to this kind of thing. I love science and the idea of recycling something nobody wants fits my values. So, I set to work contacting the folks in the industry to find out just what could be done.
I learned about pelletizing waste into fertilizer, or fuel pellets that would burn in stoves. Much to my dismay, I learned that many chicken breeders were already re-using their birds’ waste—by recycling it into chicken food feeding it back to them. Can’t say as I’ve cared for chicken much since.
Oh, and I got samples. My office was fragrant. The upside—my nose was usually stopped up that time of year and NOBODY came in to see what I was doing.
By the time I was done, I had a neat little report with a bunch of labeled odiferous exhibits.
And a nickname, The Chicken Shit Queen.
However, I got the last laugh. Because after all those years of taking shit from the Oklahoma Legislature, I got to send some right back to them. 
Rebecca McFarland Kyle, January 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

COMMENTARY: Pennies and Monet -- Some things may be in the blood

"All lovely things will have an ending. 
All lovely things will face and die;
And youth, that's now so bravely spending,
Will beg a penny by and by.

Conrad Aiken
I didn't get to know my cousin Reggi very well. She lived 600 miles away and she was several years older at that critical time when those years were most divisive. When we got together, she was the fun glamorous person I wished I could be. As one of my male cousins said to me:  "She got all the beauty. You got all the brains."

I think she had both.
Reggi fought off a rare form of Hodgkins Disease in the late 90's. We thought she was okay. Then, ovarian cancer (as a result of all the scans she had to make sure she was clear of the Hodgkins) set in. She fought long and hard, but eventually lost in 2003.

In 2006, I got the chance to visit her Mom and Dad while I was in Denver. They were living in Reggi's condo at the time. They were caring for her two cats, Alvin and Alicia, and missing her terribly.

So was I.  And yes, I wondered -- why take the beautiful one and leave me behind?
The first inkling I got that perhaps I was more like Reg than I expected was when we found a penny on the sidewalk. Of course, I picked it up. I need all the luck I can get!

Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day you'll have good luck.
Find a penny, leave it lay, and you'll have bad luck all the day.
-- Proverb
That's when they started telling me about Reggi and pennies. She saved her pennies. When she was dying, she gave her dad a single penny in a lovely wooden box with a final message. 

I do something a bit odd with my saved pennies. I bless them and toss them where someone might find them and pick them up. Figure their luck has to come from somewhere.

When I got to Reggi's condo, I realized there was more similarity than I'd expected. When I walked into her downstairs bathroom, I saw purple towels and a miniature of Monet's "Waterlilies" hung on the wall. 

Monet's my favorite painter.  His work reminds me strongly of the world I see without my glasses, blurred lines, but an explosion of rich color and sensation. There's no doubt much of this was due to Monet's cataracts while he lived at Giverny. When Monet got eye surgery for the cataracts, the clarity of his paintings improved. I love him in all phases, but that soft, misty time is still my favorite. 

I've been chasing tours of his exhibits most of my life and missing them by that much. I finally managed to see "Waterlilies" in person at the High Museum in Atlanta. I sat down and just breathed it. 

Monet never did anything easy. Despite having cataracts, he still worked at painting water in grass which is difficult to depict. He once said, "I would like to paint the way a bird sings." In my opinion, he did that and he made colors so vivid they bear his signature: 

“Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment.” Claude Monet

I've always wanted a Monet bathroom. I fell in love with a home in Oklahoma City that had purple fixtures in the hall bath. I knew precisely what I was going to do with that bathroom...We didn't buy the home, sadly. I sat there in my cousin's bathroom and realized that time and distance didn't separate us. Somehow we were connected.

I left my Aunt and Uncle a gift. I took every penny I'd accumulated in my suitcase-sized purse and dropped them in random places about the condo where they'd find them and feel loved and blessed. I'm going to find a print of Monet and put it in my home.
I wish I'd known Reggi better. I advise you to reach out to your friends and family if you feel that need while they're alive and make sure they know how much you love and value them. Reggie was in her fifties when she died, far too soon. 
Rebecca McFarland Kyle, January 2013


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

COMMENTARY: Sometimes your Mom is just plain wrong...

Don't get me wrong, I loved my Mom. She was a loving, wonderful woman who savored life. She worked hard to learn and impart that knowledge to me, but sometimes...the things she could come up with.  These are the ones that turned out funny.

*   Shrimp cocktails contain raw shrimp -- Mom once told me about going downtown to eat at Bishop's with her little sister, Doris Jeanne. She said, "And, your Aunt ordered TWO shrimp cocktails--and those shrimp were raw."  Yeah, that had a high ewwww factor for me as a kid.  So, I'm out on a date at a nice restaurant (Bishop's was gone before I was born) and the wait-person offers me a shrimp cocktail. My response was, "My cat might like raw shrimp, but I'm not a fan." Everyone around us heard and laughed and the poor waiter nearly dropped a tray.

Nope, Mom, those shrimp are boiled and then chilled for the cocktail--and they are delicious.

*   They cut off the heads of bodies to embalm them -- Mom used to tell the joke about the funeral director getting a complaint when a widow realized her husband had the wrong suit on. The man just picked up the husband's head and switched it with the other guy who had the right suit. I was twenty-two and got a chance to speak to the head of the Funeral Directors and Embalmers Agency for Oklahoma for a client. When I told him what Mom said, he about broke something laughing. It's a common misconception--and so's the joke.

Nope, Mom, the Funeral Director uses intravenous fluids to embalm the body after they drain all the blood out.

*   People glow in the dark when they get radiation poisoning -- Mom told a story about some women who were working at a watch-making factory. They would use their tongues to shape the brush when they were painting on radioactive paint to make the watch hands and numbers glow in the dark.  Fortunately, no embarrassing anecdote here; however, the women did not glow in the dark. Whatever they painted with the radium-infused paint did glow--such as fingernails, toenails and teeth.

The lawsuit the women filed led to a landmark decision requiring employers advise workers when they are handling unsafe materials. For the whole case, see: 

The Radium Girls

Mom, you weren't entirely wrong on this one and I give you credit for knowing about something that happened in 1917, two years before you were born.  While people who get radiation poisoning do not glow in the dark, the lesson from this is clear--don't ingest stuff unless you know exactly what it is. Pity I didn't learn that before I liked Hostess Snowballs.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, January 2013

COMMENTARY: An unintended lesson

A-tisket a-tasket
Mac's buying me a basket

Those certainly weren't original lyrics, but my heart was in them. I was three or four and my grandpa, Estey Earnest McFarland -- aka Mac, was taking me to downtown Leedey, Oklahoma to buy me my first Easter basket.

I could have any one of the baskets at Breeze Dry Goods. I just couldn't have any of the filled ones, because they already had the candy--and Grandma and I would be making eggs. She had eggs, dye, and even a woman's magazine with patterns for rabbit ears! 

I got a green and white basket and we took it up to the counter.  Then Mac did something weird--he just walked out without putting any money on the counter.

"Mac," I stood at the register calling him back. "You didn't pay for the basket."

"I put it on my account," Mac said. "They count up everything I buy and then at the end of the month, they send me a bill and I pay for it then."

"I'm sorry," I apologized to him and the nice lady at the register.

"That's okay," Mac told me. "I'm proud that you are so honest at such a young age."

Was it the basket or the compliment that made this memory such a strong part of me?  I can't answer the question, but I can still remember the spring day, the filled baskets, the Easter grass, and later on, making pink Easter Eggs with bunny faces and ears with Grandma. 

This was the first time I ever heard about charging things. My Grandpa definitely did credit right because he paid for whatever he charged at the end of the month. He was a good man, a person who valued truth and honesty--and I knew that he valued me for those qualities.

I hope I thanked him for the basket. Pretty sure I did, but I should have thanked him for a lot more.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, January 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

COMMENTARY: Happy Birthday Wherever You Are 1/13 -- any year

I wrote this 1/13/2006 for my LJ blog: 
Today, you're 28. I hope your day and your life has been blessed.

I often think of you and wonder how you are. By now, I hope that you have learned you were adopted. I hope that you're happy and secure and know that your parents chose you as theirs. I also hope that they love you and gave you everything you needed--in every way possible.

No, I'm not your biological Mother. I was her friend.

Your biological mother found out she was pregnant just as she was getting a divorce from your biological father. Learning you were coming didn't make them want to stay together. They were both just barely into their 20's and he had a previous wife and child already. They didn't get along well enough to make it work for you and they were smart enough to know that much.

For a brief time, your biological mother considered raising you on her own. She only had a high school education and no real job skills. She found an attorney who knew a couple who wanted a baby and couldn't have one. So, that's how you came to be with your parents.

I cannot speak for your mother any further than just stating the facts. I wanted you to know that there's someone out there who often thinks of you. When I first knew you were coming, I offered to help your mother raise you as best we could, but she thought adoption would be a better idea. I'm not saying any of this to defend her actions--it's not my place to do so.

In some ways, I cannot defend her. Selfishly, I miss you and I wish I had been able to know you.

You and I were connected from the first. I knew the day you were born--and without a phone call, I knew the hour. I never saw your face. Sometimes, when I have walked through crowds of anonymous people, I have glanced at women your age and wondered if it was you.

Happy birthday, dear girl, wherever you are.

POSTSCRIPT:  Six years later, I still think of you. You're 34 now. I hope your have a comfortable home and a family who loves you.  

I know perhaps you may wonder whether your Mom loved you. Truth was, she loved you enough to sacrifice her pride and give you up to someone who'd give you a better life than she could. Sometimes, that's enough. 

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, January 2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

COMMENTARY: Writing Blind

 Last night, I read a young adult novel by a New York Times bestselling author. The concept was good. One of the two POV characters was excellent for the most part. My issue was, her blind sister--the second protagonist.  Among the issues I had with the book were: she felt the ground (action, no sensory input) and her sister who'd taken care of her smiled at her reassuringly. Really? Someone who cares for a blind person knows they don't get visual input and one of the key characteristics of the little sister was that she knew from an early age she was in charge of her sister.

This is the case of a sighted author writing blind.  That's bad in mainstream, but young adult novels are all about teachable moments and growing empathy in the readers for the oppressed. She missed a huge opportunity to help both her sighted readers and the blind people she might encounter.  

So, how do I know about being blind? I am legally blind.  I was born with congenital cataracts and through the course of complications, I have lost the sight in my right eye and what little I have in my left is deteriorating. My next step will probably be a service animal. Through the course of eight surgeries to correct my condition as much as possible, I have spent a good deal of time with eyes bandaged and sandbagged--virtually blind. I have also had several close blind friends.  So, yes, I have paid my dues.

How do writers open their eyes to blindness? 

The best advice I've heard was from Merlin, the wizard in the movie, Camelot.

"Think like a fish. Feel like a fish. Breathe through your gills. Now, be a fish."

The problem with the first bit of advice is that it's scary.  Sight is perceived by many as the most important of the senses. Scotomaphobia is the clinical term for the fear of blindness. According to a study conducted by Pfizer in 2008 about glaucoma, twice as many people are afraid of going blind than heart disease or premature death. (1)  A wider study conducted in India showed that fear of blindness existed among 90% of the study group. (2) A third study conducted by physicians addresses the correlation between the fear of blindness and suicide. (3)

But writers have to be brave to put themselves out there. When you're shying away from a topic, that's when you really need to just sit down and write it out. Frankly, I shied away from writing this blog. I finally decided doing this was part of my dues for asking sighted people questions about driving and other activities that my vision has precluded me from doing. 

Another issue is perception. Can you imagine how many people see my white cane and don't know what it is?  One lovely lady in Atlanta thought I used the cane for dog training. Others have believed it was a fashion accessory.  I won't even get into the number of people who shout at me believing my vision issues also involve my hearing.

So, how do you get less "blind" about blindness? 

Think like a blind person.  Your eyes give you 70% of the information about your environment.  If you don't have sight, how do you accomplish the tasks you set out to do? 

Feel like a blind person.  Write what you know comes in here. That used to scare me until the amazing author Mel Odom gave a talk to a group of aspiring writers about the craft. He said this is the hardest advice--in his case, he came from rural Oklahoma and didn't feel like he'd experienced anything.  However, everyone has feelings and they can translate those into authentic writing.  Every person has had feelings of loss, inferiority, incompetence.

Become a blind person:  The safest, most comfortable way is to talk to blind people. If you don't have a local group of visually impaired persons, here are a few national organizations. Many have discussion boards and educators who'd be glad to talk to you. 

American Council for the Blind

Knights Templar Eye Foundation

A scarier way is to go blind. I don't mean damaging your eyesight, but get a sleep mask that lets no light through and try to negotiate through your home. This is actually how people with low vision in some rehabilitative schools for the blind are taught how to cope with their limitations. The reasoning of these schools is that many people with limited vision (like me) will eventually go blind. It's a tough love situation. 

If you are fortunate enough to have a "blind walk" in your area, you can be blind with a supportive group. A few years ago, Atlanta Station offered a Walking with the Blind course where groups were given white canes, taken into a darkened room, and walked through an obstacle course with a blind guide. My husband and I took the course. Both of us gained amazing insights from the program.

If you don't understand blindness, it's time to learn before you write a blind character.You owe it to yourself as an authentic author, to your readers, and to the people who live with blindness every day. 

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, January 2013

(1) 2008 Pfiser Glaucoma Study

(2)  Fear of Blindness and Perceptions about Blind People. (India)

(3)  Fear of Blindness Study Conducted by Physicians