Michelle Buckman’s distinctive voice, vivid and authentic characters,and brutal honesty are very much in evidence in her seventh novel,”Turning in Circles.” Stunning, suspenseful, and poignant, this coming of age story is set in the South, in a town so small it barely seems to have come blinking into the 21st Century. There’s something about the literary spirit of America’s South– some knack that sets writers like Michelle Buckman apart from authors whose roots are elsewhere.
Taut with suspense, yet rich in descriptive detail and character development, the story grips us from the opening lines and won’t let go. I love the deceptively simple, timeless opening: My sister lay sleeping in the sun on the beach beside me. Narrated in hindsight by a heroine who’d give anything to rewrite a chapter in her life, “Turning In Circles” haunts us with what-ifs. Every decision we make has consequences, not just for us, but our loved ones, our neighbors, even our pets, and for the whole community.
Savannah and Charleston, so close in age they’re practically twins, are named after towns that “epitomized the South and all a Southern woman ought to be, as if we lived back in some historic generation when women wore long gowns and went about with escorts to teas.”
More than sisters, they’re kindred souls. They’ve always kept each other’s secrets, always had each other’s best interests in mind–until Dillon, the local bad boy, adds Charleston to his collection of conquests.
In an age when other teens are immersed in video games and cell phones, these girls are busy with chores on the family farm. Their best friend and neighbor is a hard-muscled, calloused guy named Ellerbe who rides a horse to school. Ellerbe is the best teen hero I’ve seen in all the fiction I’ve read in the past ten years. Or twenty. How do we get our teenage daughters to look beyond vampires and werewolves to the sterling virtues of the boy next door, who is in fact nothing short of awesome?
Ellerbe’s beloved Snow is as near and dear to his heart as Daddy’s mare, Boudicca–“the pride of the county–a beautiful buckskin Lusitano.” The local sheriff will stop at nothing to acquire Boudicca for himself, even test a father’s love for his wayward daughter. When Dillon lures Charleston into assorted law-breaking antics, she’s not to the only one who will suffer the consequences. Most kids get away with all sorts of mischief, but sometimes, thoughtless, reckless teenage behavior has tragic consequences.
While a sense of impending doom keeps us turning pages, the prose sparkles with rich, warm, and loving details. Though danger lurks and a beloved sister strays from the straight and narrow path, a leisurely sense of summer in the South takes readers to front porches, or among families over the dinner table. Every detail matters, every observation, every incident.
Several subplots emerge, naturally and inevitably, reminding us how the rich but troubled history of families is also the rich history of the troubled south. The racists, the innocents, the broken homes; the vicious dog fighting, petty vandalism, and bullying; the sheriff protecting the good ol’ boys; the judgments we make against others, not knowing the facts. “It doesn’t take long to figure out where a person’s loyalties lay,” Savannah observes.
One of the most stirring subplots involves Hickory, a 35-year-old black man with the mind of a child. Charlie and Savannah have nothing but affection for him.They wouldn’t dream of hurting him.
“I loved Hickory,” Savannah reflects. “Every afternoon, he stood at the end of the dirt road that led from his house to Brown School Road and waved cars by as if he was conducting an orchestra.” Tell Hickory it’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, and he’ll set off with an egg to fry. The scene is almost slap-stick funny, but sad, and every maddening detail in the story is portentous.
Savannah nails the mood and attitude of her world. There’s Jim Miller, who “developed a thing for Hickory’s mama back years ago. Folks said he couldn’t do enough for her boy in those months when he first got it in his head to win her over.”
And there’s the new teacher at school: “No one knew much about Mr. Jefferson or if he had even been a teacher prior to that. What we did know was he was cousin to Sheriff Darlington, moved in from the other end of the state, but everyone in town was related some how or other through blood, property or feud.”
Then there’s Tasheika.
Tasheika “wasn’t just black; she was a gorgeous girl with chocolate skin and a beautiful blonde, white mama with a figure to die for. Whatever political correctness and blurring of racial differences had come about in the rest of the world had skipped right over Mr. Jefferson’s heart. He was still living back somewhere between Mama’s historical romance novels and modern day. Knowing what I did about him and how I’d seen him look at her mama …I’d say it burned him to the core of his soul to think of a black man married to that pretty blonde lady. So he was out to get Tasheika.”
Savannah takes us step by step through the gradual escalation of conflict, like a stew heating in a pressure cooker that’s gonna blow. She reflects on what happened, wondering if she could have done things differently.
“God granted us the free will to sow our seeds as we see fit,” Savannah says, but she cannot bear seeing her sister’s exercise of free will. It’s Ellerbe whose wisdom helps her put things in perspective.
The theme will hit hard and true for anyone who’s ever watched a loved one make bad decisions, and tried to steer them from the wrong path, only to see one misstep lead to another. From the serenity of the opening scene, “the peace of the whole world around us” and God’s glory “shining down in that everlasting blaze of South Carolina sunshine,” Savannah pulls us with her, inexorably, as her world spirals down, down around her, and finally shatters. It’s a journey nobody wants to take, but at the end of that tunnel, a shining light named Ellerbe brings Savannah back into the circle of life.
What makes one sibling so headstrong and foolish, the other so sensible? This is only one of many questions that would make “Turning In Circles” a great subject for the high school classroom. If I had to choose between “Rome and Juliet” and this story, I’d choose this one. Romeo was an idiot, while Ellerbe’s heart is true.
Ah, Ellerbe: “His hands were strong, like rest of him, used to hard work under the hot southern sun.” He’s good at physics. No matter what, he’s always there for Savannah. She may be slow to realize that, but she does notice “his hands, his ragged nails, cracked and broken from hauling hay, fixing fencing boards, mucking stalls, or whatever. I’d seen him use his nails to pry up boards and watched him smash ice from troughs in the winter with his bare hands.”
Savannah may not be ready yet to think of Ellerbe as anything more than a friend, but she knows Dillon is nothing but trouble. He’ll just “turn you into some gross saying on the bathroom wall like with Erin,” she warns, but Charleston, like teenagers everywhere, believes bad things happen only to other people.
Even when Charleston’s whereabouts are sure to get her grounded, should their dear, devoted parents found out, Savannah feels she has to cover for her sister. Loyalty is everything… right? And yet, the harder Savannah tries to reason with Charleston, the farther her sister, her soul mate, heads down the dark road that good girls fear to tread.
Their sixteenth summer began so well, that day on the beach: “Right then, no one could have convinced me life was less than perfect or that heaven was more than a whisper away for either of us, and on that day I would have been right,” Savannah reflects.
The final lines are as simple, and as epic, as the opening lines: “and we continue to stroll hand-in-hand down the beach, the rain misting around us,” Ellerbe’s horse “plodding along behind to the beat of time moving on.”
Did I mention that Ellerbe is the best teen hero I’ve seen in forever?
just a few weeks of the year, when I can get to it.
Ticks, chiggers, poison ivy, mosquitoes, tall grass, wetlands, timber, and other ickiness make the path impassable most of the time.
I used to walk to the river from November to March with our old dogs, but the second pair of collies are tormented by snowballs packed between their paw pads, and I gave up the trudge with them.
Bugs. Thorns. Greenbriar, hog peanut, Virginia tickseed, stinging nettle, it’s all coming, soon. Before it all hits, I just HAD to go to the river today …. it had been so long.
The derecho of 2020 felled so many massive trees, it may be years before any of my beloved pathways open again. Today, though, winter is officially over, and I just had to go down to the river.
Ticks are already here, and that alone should have kept me from hiking anywhere with the dogs. Their monthly Rx meds kill the ticks, but the nasty little things attach to me, and Lyme disease is ever a risk. But let us not think of icky things to come. Let us go to the river.
The road. It was not a good sign, but I tend to ignore “signs.”
This sign was new–in my 22 years of walking this county land, no such thing as “Pollinator” zone had ever been designated. Such a bright, colorful, pristine, new sign.
Sadly, when the prairie ended and my familiar path to the river began, it was no longer a familiar path. It was rough going for Prince, but he made it. We made it to the river!
There, I got my glimpse of the river; now, just turn around and retrace your steps.
Hello. TURN BACK. Do not imagine you are going to follow the river like you did before, in better days.
Turn back. Turn back!
If only you could talk, Prince, you might have warned me, and I would have listened.
Alas, poor Prince!
There was no going back the way we’d come.
Photographs cannot capture the scene. I did not even try.
I felt lost in No-Man’s land, an unmapped war zone with obstacles everywhere. I could straddle the massive tree trunks, but poor arthritic Prince could not. Bear was agile and able, as always. But even he got stuck, and I had to break branches and wonder where the heck the deer paths to the river might be.
Suffice to say, a 45-minute walk took 90 minutes today.
In August 2020, a historic [derecho]() had taken down a majority of the tree canopy in our area. Almost three years later, these fallen giants block every path to the river.
Trees hundreds of feet tall lie there, too fat in diameter for our arthritic dog to straddle. Not after the first five.
Bear was a trooper, leaping logs like a circus performer. Sorry, no, I couldn’t capture it on camera.
A derecho swept across the states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio on Monday, August 10, 2020, leaving behind widespread and utterly devastating damage in its wake.
Winds reached as high as 140 mph, equivalent to a Category 3 or 4 hurricane.
That any trees at all were left standing is a miracle.
Afterward, all anyone did, for weeks, for months, was cut up branches and haul them to the curb for massive black truck with claws to haul away.
This photo is two years post-derecho and it gives you no idea how much debris had to be cleared away by human hands. I didn’t think we’d ever walk this trail again.
More than 60 percent of our community’s tree canopy was devastated. Massive, colossal, toppled trees kept parks and hiking trails closed for more than a year.
Winter came and went,
then another winter, but the uprooted trees take forever to break down.
as the dogs do, I know the woods will heal and the pathways reform.
I have failed to capture on camera
the devastation in the woods, the traps that ensnared my poor collie, who has been on daily pain meds since age five for arthritis pain. Both Prince and Bear are seven years old, but Prince is not aging well. He’s massive, built like a Clydesdale, a hundred pounds to Bear’s fifty.
I will drive you next time we head to any river, Prince!
I try not to remember my dreams. This nightmare came to me at around age seven, and I still see it half a century later as if it happened in real life, only yesterday.
The woods were “lovely, dark, and deep” in the Robert Frost poem, but not in my dream.
They were sinister for two little girls who knew better than to be out in the night. They knew their Red Riding Hood. They were good girls, the youngest of five sisters. It was the oldest two who got into so much trouble. The middle one bounced back and forth: “Us three little guys” if it meant candy, “Us three big guys” if it meant getting to do something adventurous and unsafe for “babies.” Girls! Five of ’em, all hardly more than a year apart in age. Not even a farm in the bucolic 1960s Midwest would prove to be safe for growing and nurturing five female free-spirits.
The clearing beckoned, dead ahead,a vivid, bright, fire-lit orange. Carol and Linda crouched in the shrubbery, watching, amazed, as Mike the neighbor boy stood in the clearing and a stranger with a sword took one mighty slash. Mike was split in two. His legs collapsed, and his upper body flopped to the edge of the clearing. Before we could even scream, a box of heads was tilted forward, and two heads landed at our feet. Julie and Lori. The two oldest sisters, beheaded. All these heads rolling.
I was maybe seven when that dream struck. Luckily summer vacation had begun; I felt too sick and queasy to board the yellow school bus, which is a too-familiar icon in recurring dreams, in which the bus idles in the driveway while I scurry through the house trying to find and pack up all my school supplies. I hate these dreams and their multitudinous variations.
This dream. Did I ever fully awaken from it? The horror lingered and lingered; for an entire week I kept seeing Mike slashed in half, my sisters’ heads rolling.
Many years later, a school of metaphysics posted a “Dream Hotline” – just dial the number, which wasn’t toll-free, but the long-distance phone call was the only cost. The dream analysis was a gift. I dialed. What did that dream mean?
It represents a sudden shift in awareness; a transformation of consciousness; some new phase.
What was I suddenly discovering – that I didn’t believe all the stories in Mom’s Bible? I had spent many an hour gazing at the classic painting that showed David with Goliath’s head on a platter, but I was never conscious of any horror or terror at the prospect of what awaited us in a next life, according to Mom’s fire-and-brimstone Bible.
Thirty years have passed since I phoned that Dream Hotline. Half a century has passed since I dreamed that dream.
Kelly escaped the violence of that dream, but not long after the rolling-heads nightmare, her turn came.
Our family was getting dressed for church. Linda and I wandered off, past the grain bins, into the north woods. We stopped in horror and stared at a pile of brush, a bonfire, and Native Americans chanting and enacting some sort of ritual. One of them had Mom and Kelly–he turned them into two bundles of twigs–and tossed them into the inferno.
Wake up! Wake up!
I didn’t wake up. (Not exactly.) Linda and I turned around and there was Mom in her Sunday dress (the red one), and everyone was sitting with their backs against the grain bin, as if enjoying some sort of siesta. I stood there in amazement, thinking, “It was all just a dream!” even though I was still dreaming – and that may have been my first lucid dream, born of the need to wake up while being unable to do so. Apparently this is often the way lucid dreamers get started.
In another dream, our dog Frisky was out on the front step during a tornado. A pane of glass came flying from the west, slicing off the top of Frisky’s head. I felt sick for a week.
Later, I dreamed of Mike the dog (yes, we named a dog Mike, despite two neighbor boys having that name). I heard something sinister and looked out the kitchen window to see Mike standing there, staring back at me with a look of confusion, shock, and horror. A strange foam carpeted the ground. Mike was dissolving in it, from the paws up. Yellow eyes surrounded him; he was in a ring of black wolves who were foaming rabidly at the mouth and creating this toxic carpet.
In real life, our sister Julie went missing at almost age 19, the day after Thanksgiving. For months she was gone without a trace. No activity in her bank account. Dead silence. My parents knew (but never, ever said) she was dead; I never entertained that possibility. I would stare out the living room window, watching the driveway, expecting her to pull a Nancy Drew and find her way home from whatever kept from us.
source: 1976 newspaper clippings in my scrapbook
Her body was found during Lent 1976, but we never were allowed to see it (I can’t call it “her”).
So I would dream that I was on the sofa, and I’d hear the kitchen door opening, and there Julie stood. “Julie! Julie! Why did you let us think you were dead for a whole year?” Then two years, then ten, then twenty. She’d never answer. I’d wake up, and the nightmare was the waking up to realize it was not a dream. She was still dead.
One year, I dreamed the familiar sound of the kitchen door. I hurried to the door. It was shut. I opened it. There, at my feet, lay a newspaper – with Julie’s head and hands on it.
What did it mean?
The burden is on us to keep a journal of our day’s events. Who we saw, what was said, what we did. What was done unto us. What we failed to do, more so, even, than what we did. The school bus: Life is passing you buy, honey. You’re unprepared. Get out and start living.
I found a used book at a consignment store: [The Everything Dreams Book: What Your Dreams Mean And How They Affect Your Everyday Life]() by Jenni Kosarin. Mine is a second edition; another edition names Trish and Rob MacGregor as the authors. The upshot of it, though, is that @Raj808 is onto something!
… harnessing the power of your subconscious by keeping a dream journal. This tried and tested method is something I discovered in 2003 in my first year of study at university, when we were tasked with keeping an extensive dream journal. As part of a module called observation and discovery, we were asked to write out our dreams in minute detail before attempting to analyze them in the context of what was happening in our lives. From these journals stories were born, kicking and screaming from our unconscious like a babe taking it’s first tentative breath….
Keeping a Dream Diary is “an integral part of dream exploration,” according to the book of dreams.
A dream journal is like a portal to another side of you, like the hole Alice fell through on her way to Wonderland. We have to remember our dreams in order to decipher and understand them!
My dreams are usually so unpleasant, I don’t write any of them down. In the past week, I remembered several, and again, I had no desire to revisit them. Tuesday night, it was the usual flight to Europe, my usual missing ticket or no luggage, then the other usual dream, being in Europe, lost, unable to find sister Kelly (who’s lived in Germany for years).
I dreamed a few new dreams in the past week: one was about an English major from years ago stalking me and threatening death to another guy who corresponds with me. These dreams are elaborate, full of detail, complicated, eventful, and never in a good way.
I also dreamed I was moving two of our children home from college due to coronavirus (in real life, thank heaven, their college years are behind us). It was messy. So, so messy. So complicated. So detailed. I would not bore anyone, not even myself, with the details, which, alas, I remember far too vividly, despite my refusal to write stuff down.
Do I ever dream good things? Sometimes. I’ll walk into a room and find my grandma and spinster aunt sitting side by side on a sofa, and I’m so surprised and happy to see them. They smile at me and say nothing. According to the School of Metaphysics, this means we have been visited in our sleep by our departed loved ones. The Not Talking part seems to be more of a proof that the dream is not of our own making, but is an actual visit from a spirit.
My dreams of Julie are never happy. She may come back home, alive, much to our surprise, but she never speaks in these dreams, and she always ends up dead for real, killed by whoever she was hiding from in the first place. We never get to know. Julie never tells. Not a single clue as to who killed her or why, not in these dreams.
Chapter 13 of “The Everything Dreams Book” addresses reincarnation. Was Mozart’s musical ability something that had been refined through many lives of practice? Another book, Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art, would propose that it’s The Muse.
In dreamland, not all symbols, distortions, and wish metaphors arise from our Freudian subconscious; some believe they arise from our former lives. We’d need a psychiatrist like the one in the 1970 movie “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” to lead us through our past-life regressions.
Dream experts say that choices and fears we had in past lives can, in fact, carry over into this one. Someone who has a fear of water, for example, could have died in a previous life by drowning. Pay close attention to your dreams. When you’re looking for clues, you will find them.
You don’t have to believe in reincarnation to analyze your dreams, but it’s something to think about. Lots of anecdotes and studies seem to support the notion, although I wonder why Ockham’s Razor doesn’t lead us to a simpler conclusion, involving Jung’s collective unconscious, telepathy, shared memories – instead of believing I once lived as a soldier beheaded in battle, I might have access to the memories of this soldier. That’s my take on it. Here’s what the book says: Nothing discussed in this book actually proves that souls are born again. Ultimately, you have to settle that question for yourself. But it’s interesting to consider… When you imagine that you are made up of many lives of different experiences, you may feel more confident about yourself as a person.
My nightmares might make sense in terms of past-life
experiences, but so much in this world makes no sense to me. Man’s inhumanity to man (or woman’s). Witch burnings, lynchings, genocide, war, injustices gross and trivial, and the lack of certainty about God existing at all, much less as a loving Father-Creator who knew us before we were knit in the womb, numbers the hairs of our heads, has a divine plan for us, a purpose, an ultimate meaning, an end goal.
For now, I’ve had enough of revisiting my nightmares and the paucity of my more pleasant dreams. Time to head off and paint another Quarantine Cat! Maybe my hours of frustration and revisions will pay off and I’ll get quicker and more accurate at capturing the feline spirit in paint.
Thank you @Raj808 for the prompt, and sorry I am so resistant to revisiting my dreams, but looking again at the dream analysis book, I see I might do well to pay more attention to what these dreams mean and how to address whatever issues they represent. There is sooooo much more to address, more chapters in that book, but this post is long enough already.
“BUDDHA NEVER WORKED A DAY IN HIS LIFE,” Dan Zigmond tells us–and you may think “what a sweeping generalization” about a “pampered prince” who left his riches behind to become a wandering monk and spiritual teacher, “all without ever earning a salary.” There is work, however, and there are “works,” and if you get past that opening paragraph, you’ll find plenty to learn in this book. Even if you’ve studied the teachings of the Buddha and internalized the philosophy, you can find something fresh and relevant in this book.
It’s a trendy thing to do, invoking the familiarity of Buddha’s name for a book title. “Customers who bought this book also bought…”
… Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson
… Buddha’s Diet: The Ancient Art of Losing Weight Without Losing Your Mind by Tara Cottrell
So, yes, you can see a pattern here. The question is, what new insights can your $12 buy with these ebooks?
Chapter 19, “Dealing with Distractions,” reminds us of things that Buddha never dealt with, like smartphones and laptops. “Buddha placed great value on concentration,” and “you don’t have to be an experienced contemplative or yogi” to experience being fully absorbed in some activity, i.e., an exhilarating and productive state known as “the flow.” Zigmond undermines the delusion that we 21st C workers are good at “multitasking.” A distracted mind “is not fit for any work,” as 8th-century CE Indian Buddhist monk Sativeda (I think Zigmond is referring to Shantiveda) said. And that was more than a thousand years ago.
Zigmond opens each chapter with sweeping, attention-getting generalizations, e.g., “By modern standards, Buddha was even worse at parenting and relationships than he was at holding a job,” but he soon clarifies and qualifies that, and Chapter 17 tackles the concept of “work-life balance.”
“You are not your job” is the message of Chapter 18, and it may sound like a no-brainer, but Zigmond calls on Buddha’s insight, “You do not exist,” and puts it into context with a metaphor of the car.
I do not like this “You do not exist” line of reasoning, but I can go along with it in relation to the insight that we should not identify as this, that, or the other. It’s everywhere, e.g.
“Data-Driven Dharma,” as the title suggests, brings Chapter 23 squarely into our world. I’ll offer just one excerpt: “Pay attention to the data around you and learn from everything you try. Don’t let willful arrogance or blind faith lead you astray.” Your first thought may be, “That doesn’t apply to me,” but read the whole chapter. You’ll see.
Chapter 6 is timely for me: breathing lessons. Become aware of this basic, involuntary action of the body. Not just a mental awareness but physical as well: “You should notice the way the breath enters your body and leaves your body. You should feel it against your mouth or nose.” So far, so good. Then: “You should notice the way your chest rises and falls. you should feel your chest rise and fall.”
The same week I was reading this book, a physical therapist informed me I’ve been breathing incorrectly all my life. Engaging “secondary” muscles in the chest and neck (for more than half a century) led to my chronic daily tension headaches, it seems. Now I have to be trained to breath from the diaphragm, not just when singing (I know about this stuff!), but always. Habitually. Diaphragmatic breathing is the basis for almost all meditation or relaxation techniques. “Belly breathing,” engaging the intercostal muscles of the rib cage, not the chest, is prescribed by medical professionals to reduce stress.
source Apparently the Buddha (known for his belly in all those iconic statues) did not offer us the anatomical details of how to breathe, and Dan Zigmond apparently hasn’t been enlightened on this one. It’s ok. I’m still disgruntled and mad at myself for suffering a lifetime of headaches and other malaise in large part because I screwed up the simple act of breathing.
“Awakening” is the theme of chapter 4, and I’m always in the process–never fully “woke,” as popular slang has coined it. A wise soul at Steemit articulated it so well:
The problem with being “woke” is that the moment you think you are, you’re most likely not.
Buddhism, Catholicism, the contemplative life, and the life of the working stiff: what do they have in common?
What has Dan Zigmond learned that I have not?
I forget most of what I learn.
I love the little book “Awareness” by Anthony de Mello (1931-1987), a Jesuit in India, very influenced by Buddhism.
I’m going to write a book someday and the title will be I’m an Ass, You’re an Ass. That’s the most liberating, wonderful thing in the world, when you openly admit you’re an ass. It’s wonderful. When people tell me You’re wrong, I say what can you expect of an ass?
What others have said:
“This is your wake-up call! You may not have even realized you were sleep-walking. Most of us are most of the time. Awareness is an eye-opener. It’s Anthony de Mello telling you gently but firmly, ‘It’s time to get up now.'” –Charles Osgood of “CBS Sunday Morning” and “The Osgood File”
“Awareness will be the critical test of American business in the next decade. I call it the ‘business of awareness.'” –F.X. Maguire, Hearth Communications
Good insights go in one ear and out the other. I’ve heard and FORGOTTEN so much wisdom.
Dr. Libby McGugan writes of the not-self, the idea that we are all one, which does not make me feel empathy or unity with whoever murdered my sister, not to mention the countless atrocities and injustices since the human race began. Are we all “equal,” all “one”, all to be united after the temporary journey we take in this body on this earth? Eh. No scientific evidence for these ideas, so I continue to set aside some of these estoric, heady, or enlightened ideals of my “self” being an illusion. I can strive to be “selfless,” i.e. un-selfish, caring and sharing and forgiving others their trespasses as they (I hope, beg, pray) forgive mine.
I can also put into practice the age-old insights that Dan Zigmond collects and bulletizes in this book, which is sure to appeal to Millennials.
“Good Morning, Young Lady” by Ardyth Kennelly is the only book I’ve read more than a dozen times. At age 12 I got my hands on this musty old hardcover, dust jacket missing, after my mom’s stepmother died. Did she love this novel as much as I did? I can picture her in that stucco house with plastered walls, a built-in bookcase, and hardwood floors, but I cannot recall her ever talking literature with us. Mom’s father was a bricklayer with an eighth-grade education but he could pass for a college grad, he had read so many lofty books. Aristotle. Plato. Browning. He died when I was five. I never heard him share his thoughts on books but I did, somehow, inherit his love of reading.
What made this obscure 1953 novel so captivating for an adolescent reading it for the first time in 1975? Why do I keep revisiting this story half a century later? Do I really need someone else to share my love for this Cinderella story set in the Old West, to talk about the cast of characters as if they were our friends and neighbors? Like a zealot, I would buy out-of-print copies online and send them to friends and relatives. Not one of them none liked the book. I felt so alone–until a man named Frank in Utah outbid me on eBay. I found his email address and we corresponded ….
…. And I’ve had some technical difficulties with WordPress and will come back to this another day.
Six years ago, I read and loved this book so much, I continue to recommend and gave it the highest tribute: buying a copy for friends. One said she never would have picked this one up after seeing how dark The Handmaid’s Tale (1983) was. I hope others enjoy this novel as much as I did.
The transposition of Shakespeare to a contemporary prison setting is something I have not seen before among the stacks and stacks of new books that come out every year. Who knew convicts could spin a tale of linguistic dexterity, using the iambic pentameter of hip-hop? None other than Margaret Atwood, that’s who, with “Hag-Seed,” a retelling of “The Tempest.”
Widowed, then bereft of his only child, 3-year old Miranda, Felix has been using his passion for Theater as some sort of catharsis. Felix is one of those cutting-edge, contemporary Artistic Directors who keep theater from ever getting stale or predictable, but in his grief, he’s become a little too original, or flamboyantly crazy. His extravagant plans for The Tempest are thwarted, he himself is thwarted, and his entire career is thwarted. Tricked, betrayed, and suddenly exiled, he does something so many of us have dreamed of: he suddenly disappears from society. Drops off the face of the Earth. Most people assume he’s dead.
He actually doesn’t go very far at all. With a little backwoods shack and a sketchy land-lady who asks no questions, Felix lives out the next twelve years in obscurity. Even when he gets a new gig staging theater productions in a prison, he’s able to preserve his anonymity. It helps that the great Felix was never quite as famous as he liked to think.
The cast of prisoners is funny and heartbreaking, and of course, Felix manages to instill in them his own love of Shakespeare.
I blush to confess: the Bard was never my favorite author. Back in his day, those plays must have been a hoot. Today, the tragedies weary me, and the comedies require such a stretch of imagination and new vocabulary words, I forget to laugh. This novel, however, makes me think I should try harder to see what the fuss is all about. Hundreds of years later, Shakespeare is still more worthy of high school students’ attention than any other writer? I think his plays are only as good as the actors performing them. Just reading the plays and writing essays about them seems more like torture than erudition.
The best part of this novel is seeing what 21stC prisoners do with a 15thC script. The opening pages are hilarious. I’m reminded, in a good way, of “Hamilton: An American Musical” with music, lyrics, and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
I love the opening scene with the boatswain narrating from a tempest-tossed ship, “Trim the sails, fight the gales,” and Voices Off lamenting, “We’re all gonna drown!” Somehow, I actually laugh out loud when the alarmist boatswain carries on until “A bucketful of water hits him in the face.”
Don’t take my word for it that this is brilliant and comical. Read the opening pages for yourself. The contemporary twists bring the old Bard to life.
The rest of the story is poignant as well as entertaining. Parallels to “The Tempest” are numerous and more fun for the reader to discover than to read about here.
As Miranda does with “Hamilton,” Atwood peers deep into something old and familiar, sees that common folk from long ago expressed the same concerns we have today, then opens the door that lets a cool new breeze blow away the dust of centuries. Using the vernacular of the streets, she reinvents Shakespeare, elevating the iambic pentameter of hip-hop to a comedy-drama.
For some readers, the story might seem to move slowly, then explode into action at the climax, with a swift and perhaps too-neat resolution, and not much real danger for our heroes. I was okay with that. The ending is satisfying. Line after line of memorable prose leads us there, and Atwood achieves more than a cultural re-imagining of Shakespeare. She weaves current affairs into an age-old tale, making the old new again, and showing us that today’s “the world is going to hell in a handbasket” concerns are not so new, after all. And that, really, is more reassuring than demoralizing. We’re all in the same boat. Think quick, keep cool, remember to laugh, and we’ll stay afloat.
THANK YOU to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of this book.
Arlind Fazliu asked Margaret Atwood at Goodreads: What would be your advice for a young writer before he starts writing? And how many hours a day do you write ?
Margaret AtwoodHello: My first advice would be: don’t listen to any advice before you start writing. Just start. If you listen to too much advice you will get overwhelmed. Once you start, you will find out what you need to know next.
Another author, perhaps inspired by Atwood’s “Hag-Seed,” published a novel about a woman directing a Shakespeare play. I was not impressed.
Mona Awad knows pain. She gets it. She really gets it. She really, really, really gets it, in excruciatingly exacting detail, page after page, totally nailing it. On the one hand, I identified with Miranda Fisk and her chronic, invisible pain. I have wished the throbbing, red network of hidden pain could be made visible, like bruises and wounds gushing with blood, so that others would believe it's real, not in our heads. And I know, all too well, this endless parade of doctors, physiatrists (not to be confused with psychiatrists), the testing, the procedures, the false hopes, the blank stares and this weird insistence that pain is mostly mental. Yes, Awad really knows her stuff and articulates it vividly.
We all fall, one of Miranda's physiatrists reminds her. "But sometimes we want to hold on to the pain. Sometimes we have our reasons for not being able to let go."
I had just read those words at a website on Buddhism and in a chapter of Echkhart Tolle's Power of Now, the ridiculous chapter on pain. Also, I had been reading the New Age or Buddhist or Catholic mystic concept, "All is well, and all shall be well." These ideas were left in open tabs on my screen. Then came this NetGalley ARC titles "All's Well," and it's praised by Margaret Atwood, author of "The Tempest," a hilarious tale of a theater director getting prisoners to put on a Shakespeare play. So, this Simon and Schuster novel (not a self-pub!) must be good, right?
Well, the words are cleverly strung together in pretty sentences and vivid prose, but man, oh man, does the self-pitying Miranda wallow in her pain, page after page, I identify with her and those doctors and all those well-meaning friends and loved ones who try but just don't get it. But I don't like being in Miranda's head, her pain body, her Point of View, even after her pain goes away and her body feels young and alive again.
The shift begins when Miranda, perhaps in a drunken haze, meets three men in a bar.
I know, that sounds like the start of a joke. But these men! They're like modern-day, male incarnations of the witches in Macbeth, and they're also more up close, in your face, and personal. They notice Miranda. They notice her pain. They see that she is hurting! "It's a wonder you can stand at all," one says. Who are these men, these men who see her, who know her? They see her pain. More than that, they tell her that pain can move. Yes, really. Pain can switch, easily. "From house to house, form body to body. You can pass it along, you can give it away. Piece by piece." Did I mention that they remind me of the witches in Macbeth? Oh, but they're so much better. They know what to do with trouble. You can give your pain away to someone else. "To those who might need it."
And this is when things get creepy.
We don't understand how it's possible, but it happens. With a mere touch to the wrist, Miranda transfers her pain to one of her most obnoxious acting students. She transfers some to her awful physiatrist, the annoying Mark. She even passes some of it to her beloved (but annoying, of course!) friend Grace. I will not describe how these people shut down, or how Miranda reacts to the reversal of fortune. I will only say that she doesn't strike me as a very nice person.
One weird aspect of the book is the way Miranda left her husband, who tried so hard, but she was this pathetic, sexless, damaged, pain-ridden woman. When she starts feeling miraculously good again, she's all over a guy who reminds her of ex, to the point that she keeps calling this guy the same nickname she had for her husband. It's one of many really weird things about Miranda and her hazy, spacy, feverish new outlook on life. She thinks out loud, it seems, or people read her thoughts, and her thoughts are way out there, as if she were tripping out on some new pain killer.
Seeing Miranda transfer her crippling aches and pains to others (who maybe "needed" this eye opener, this suffering) made me wonder whether Miranda really deserves such a long reprieve. Her attitude continues to be self-absorbed. The three men show up again and again, bringing more miracles, making it possible for Miranda to stage The Tempest when her mutinous students want to put on Macbeth, and all through the novel, references to the Shakespeare plays kept me reading. We keep hearing about Helen, poor martyred Helen, and the jerk who doesn't deserve her love, Bertram. We keep hearing how young Miranda, prior to her descent into pain, played Helen on stage like no other actor before or since.
A subplot involving Ellie and her bath salts kept me wondering. What's the point? Ellie believes Miranda's recovery is thanks to these bath salts which Miranda says she has been using, but for no good reason, she has not. Nope. No salts in her bath, but Miranda lies, routinely. She lies to Ellie. She tells her health care team "Yes, I feel better now," because they apparently cannot accept it when shell tells them their treatments make her pain worse. If something had come of this sad subplot, in which women lie and say they feel better when they don't just to get people to let up already, if some insight or wisdom had unfolded from it, ok, those scenes would justify the amount of space they take up in the novel. But all these long, repetitive, dragging, wearying pages of pain just go nowhere. Oh, Miranda transfers her pain to others, and fear not, these mysterious victims will not remain incapacitated with pain for the rest of their now-miserable lives. There's more "magic" coming. From whence, we will never really know.
And that's unfortunate. Readers invest a lot of time in a writer's flight of fancy, aka a novel, and authors do have some burdon of proof to offer, some way of explaining, of making the impossible seem plausible. No such attempt seems to be made here. Creepy, weird magic happens, and Miranda feels guilt for being an inadvertent practitioner of black magic. Ellie seems to be a more active and cognizant practitioner, getting the universe to comply with her wishes, but it's all hastily summarized, and not even Ellie's concoctions and bath salts can be credited with some of the bad juju or voodoo.
The climax is so weird, I won't even go there. Suffice to say, I found it all disappointing. It all strained credulity past the breaking point, past the sounds of bones literally breaking. The person who falls-- to what looks and sounds like certain death-- just gets up and walks away. Why? What is the point of this impossible plot twist?
There was no one I could like, not even the three men, who go so far as to make "All's Well" come to life again with Miranda, only to walk away disappointed. No, this is not a spoiler; Just when it seemed the three men were figments of Miranda's imagination, someone else describes them, exactly as they had looked to Miranda, so who are they and what really happened here? A more astute reader than I may be able to tell.
Awad can write beautiful prose, but she needs a judicious editor, someone to help her sort out the plot and let the reader escape into a story without all the snarls, pitfalls, and knots.
Good idea. You’ll feel better, and not just because “Eat bugs, save the world!” is the Next Big Thing. Chocolate-covered ants or batter-fried tarantulas may be the comfort food you need. Protein bars made of crickets could make you lean and mean (just not as quickly as Popeye’s spinach) if you need to fight off a bully.
Entomophagy (eating insects) is nothing new. Humans have consumed insects, the most abundant life form besides bacteria, for as long as humans have existed. Bugs and worms have nourished (why do I hate that word along with “moist” and “meals”?) indigenous people all over the world. European governments have started promoting entomophagy, but Americans are squeamish to the point of being irrational, prejudiced or phobic.
“It’s not easy for most Americans to see this, but insects are going to be a far bigger part of our menus in the next 25 years,” according to Josh Schonwald, author of “The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food.”
I’m not a vegan or a PETA protester, nor do I trust the World Health Organization’s latest reports on red meat causing cancer. It just strikes me as weird that most Americans would rather eat a conscious, big-eyed furry or feathered friend–pig, cow, rabbit, pheasant, even a beady-eyed barnyard chicken–than the far less attractive or companionable bug.
Crickets are cute (unless they’re chirping in your house), and I like spiders and snakes, but never formed any emotional attachment to one. Growing up on a farm, we named all our critters and they had distinct personalities. The “Ha-Ha Rooster” chased us and terrorized us, so I didn’t mind holding his legs at the chopping block when Mom whacked off his head, but my heart ached when Johnny Boor leaped from the chute (how many pigs can do that?) in his futile attempt to escape his trip to the market. Unlike cat-eating Koreans or horse-eating Frenchmen, we have taboos against eating our feline, equine and canine friends, but none against eating the gentle bovine. One farmwife, however, told me she’d “almost rather eat a person I don’t know than eat one of our lambs.” No doubt she’d rather eat mutton, hers or anyone else’s, than a casserole full of worms.
The average American’s consumption of meat is a historical phenomenon. While the average 17th Century European was lucky to see meat once a week, even an impoverished American consumed two hundred pounds a year–and this was long before the Revolution of 1776. Land grabs, ranches, cattle drives, stock yards, meat factories, railroads–a whole new industry, generated by America’s demand for meat–formed the U.S. economy. European settlers transformed the New World into the biggest meat-producing place on earth.
Conventional livestock is simply not a sustainable food source. Cattle produce more greenhouse gases than the entire transport sector. The amount of water to produce one pound of steak equals that consumed by a family of four for a full year. While bacon, ham, hot dogs, hamburgers and steaks have a forever place in our hearts– er, appetites–there isn’t enough of the “good” stuff to go around. Hunger is a problem here in the United States, not just in famine-plagued Ethiopia. Protein builds stronger children, workers and warriors, and it doesn’t have to come from Bessie the cow or pigs like Babe.
Again: you won’t hear me urging people to give up meat. You can see a “Cowspiracy” video (http://bit.ly/1L1JJ7u) and judge for yourself. As a farm-raised carnivore, I tend to side with Maureen Ogle, author of “In Meat We Trust,” who tweeted October 26: “This WHO meat thing is THE Mother of All Clickbait.”
My spinster aunt who labored forty years at a meat packing plant refused to tell us what really goes into hot dogs. Americans still don’t know, or don’t want to know, if bugs or worms get cooked in with the guts and other body parts of pigs, cows, and chickens. What are we so afraid of? I’d say it’s the nitrites, nitrates and MSG, more so than the meat source, we should worry about.
“McDonald’s Uses Worm Meat Fillers But Can Legally Call It 100% Beef” is a meme perpetuated on Pinterest and all the social media, but snopes.com refutes the rumor. Why were so many scandalized by it in the first place? In 2012, meat product critics terrorized Americans with activist rebranding, calling lean, finely textured beef “pink slime.” Millions had eaten it and liked it until they knew what was in the food they chewed and swallowed. They should care about truth in labeling too.
They may be tiny, ugly, creepy or crawly, but eating more bug and worms, and less poultry, beef, pork and fish, is good for you and even better for the environment. We already use three-fourths of all agricultural land to raise livestock. The oceans are overfished. Disease (and insects!) threaten crop production. It’s all in a book released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “Edible Insects: future prospects for food and feed security” (May 13, 2013).
“Gathering, rearing, processing and selling insects can offer important livelihood opportunities for poor individuals living in developing countries,” FAO reports. “Not only will these activities improve their diets, but they can also offer employment and generate cash income through the sale of the produce. It also doesn’t require a lot of experience or sophisticated equipment, meaning many individuals can participate in these activities including women and those living in rural or urban areas that are lacking in available land.”
No matter how stupendous the American meat industry may be, it will not meet the demands of billions of humans multiplying by 75 million people each year. Earthlings will need a new source of protein to sustain the world into the future.
Animal feed comes mostly from crops grown with pesticides and irrigation, fossil fuels and big machinery. Feed made with fishmeal could be made with insects instead, leaving more fish for humans to consume. Insects can eat animal waste or plants that people and livestock cannot.
We already eat bugs whether we realize it or not. The FDA’s Defect Levels Handbook defines the “acceptable” limit of insect infestation in foods you may be eating every day. Aphids in beer? Hops may contain 2,500 aphids per 10 grams. Canned fruit juices are allowed up to 1 maggot per 250 ml, curry powder is allowed up to 100 insect fragments (head, body, legs) per 25 grams and chopped dates are allowed up to 10 whole dead insects. The list goes on. The trick is to keep people unaware that they’re eating these things.
A better idea is to retrain our palates. Even the lowly cockroach has accomplished this. The German cockroach, Blattella Germanica, quickly outwitted their human assassins when sweet baits became popular for roach control in the mid-1980s. Roaches with an aversion to sweets survived and multiplied. (If they can do it, why don’t I acquire an aversion to chocolate? Not motivated!) The cockroach’s aversion to sweets is heritable, and only several years were needed for Blattella Germanica to adapt and boycott the baits. (Science, May 2013. DOI: 10.1126/science.1234854)
Instead of poisoning creepy cockroaches in our homes, we could try eating them instead. Reality TV shows would have us believe ya gotta be naked and afraid to try that. In fact, a brilliant scientist who happens to be one of my favorite living authors has perpetuated the idea that you’d have to be starving in a post-apocalyptic dystopia to eat a cockroach, and even then it wouldn’t taste good. Sorry, E.E. Giorgi, but I have a bone to pick with you for “The House on the Cliff” even though I gave it five stars as part the Immortality Chronicles (reviewed in September 2015 Perihelion). The citizens of Astraca “sucked ants for breakfast and chewed on hay straws for lunch because that was all we had. We had roaches, too, and my brother claimed they tasted delicious roasted on an open fire. Even as starving as we were, I don’t remember enjoying the roaches.”
Giorgi may need to be indoctrinated with Cricket Bitters, “the gateway drug to insect cuisine,” as Ana C. Day blogs. Ease your way into entomorphagy by drinking insects with your booze, then build up to eating them.
Just don’t let me think about how awesome the immortal cockroach can be. They’re among the oldest living creatures on earth. Survivors. Unkillable. How many other creatures can live for several weeks after being decapitated? What else can survive the fallout and radiation of nuclear war? If a star within ten light years of Earth turned supernova (blew up), cockroaches would be one of the few land-dwelling species preserved from extinction (David Seargent, “Does God Love Cockroaches?: And Other Idle Musings,” Tate Publishing & Enterprises, 2009).
David George Gordon was working on his 1996 book “The Compleat Cockroach” when he first realized how truly edible cockroaches are –full of protein and crunchy, as those who step on them already know. Gordon’s “Eat-A-Bug Cookbook” includes recipes for all bugs, not just roaches. A revised and updated version includes new recipes and photos of dishes that actually make bugs look delicious.
Gordon’s advice for easing your way into Entomophacy:
— Begin with crickets, crunchy and light — “We eat chicken eggs, and that’s kind of weird when you really think about it.” — Tarantula legs “are full of this long white muscle, and people are always surprised by how chewy they are.” — “I singe off the hairs, dip them in tempura batter and then deep-fry them… I’ll eat anything deep-fried!”
“80% of the world eats bugs in some form,” Gordon said in a Business Insider interview. “We’re really the weirdos because we don’t eat bugs. Western ideas about taste are pretty narrowly defined.”
Unlike the 1982 film “Victor Victoria” in which a starving singer (Julie Andrews) sneaks a cockroach from her purse and into her salad in hopes of eating for free, this might be a more likely scenario for future diners:
“Waiter! There’s a worm in my salad!”
“Just the one? I’m so sorry. How many mealworms do you wish?”
Ah, but if you’re in Saigon, worms may be the most expensive item on the menu. A family friend who ate big, fat worms in the jungles of Vietnam during the war had no idea what a costly delicacy they are.
“How I love them raw . . . with just a pinch of salt . . . and a dry white wine,” a fox mumbles under anesthesia after persuading a mouse dentist to extract a tooth in “Doctor De Soto” by William Steig. The fox was dreaming of raw mice, but that line is steal-worthy as a meme to inspire Americans to crave worms like those Vietnamese gourmets do.
World class chefs such as Jose Andres incorporate bugs into their elegant dishes. Entomophagist pioneer Monica Martinez has launched the first all-bug street food cart. New “entopreneurs” keep popping up with restaurants that include bugs on the menu and businesses that supply them.
Unfortunately a 1977 movie, “Worm Eaters,” destroyed the chance to educate and inspire people on entomophagy. Fortunately, the movie was so reviled by film critics and the general public, hardly anyone watched it or remembers it.
In the 2013 Fantasy/Thriller “Snowpiercer,” the lower classes were fed insect cakes. In many science fiction movies, the insects turn the tables and eat people. (Amazon link to the DVD:
In 2010 edible insects “were nothing more than an academic idea in the US,” according to entomophagist Meghan Curry (Bug Vivant http://bugvivant.com/ ). “Today, this industry is booming, with a new startup joining the edible insect industrial complex just about every week.”
Insects are as natural to eat as fruits and vegetables. They’re a more complete form of protein than many livestock alternatives. Insects offer almost as much fat, protein, vitamin, fiber and mineral content as fish or livestock. House crickets average 205 g/kg protein, very comparable to beef’s 256 g/kg. Insects are also rich in essential amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Mealworms contain as much unsaturated omega-3 and six fatty acids as fish and even more than beef and pork. Some are also surprisingly high in iron. Locusts contain up to 20 mg/100g iron while beef supplies only 6 mg/100g.
Insects have shorter life spans and can be grown quickly and farmed in large quantities in small areas. They multiply faster than rabbits and need far less feed, water and space. Insects produce a fraction of greenhouse gases such as methane and ammonia. (You-tube is full of spoofs on bovine flatulence). Insects are cold-blooded, maintaining their internal body temperature far more efficiently than warm-blooded creatures. They don’t need to convert anywhere near as much feed into edible body mass. So why do we prefer to eat our barnyard animal friends without ever even tasting a gourmet bug dish?
Thanksgiving turkey will cost more this year due to the 2015 bird flu pandemic. Chickens and turkeys were slaughtered by the millions, many of them baked alive in over-heated barns as the cleanest way to kill them. Note: insects are less likely to transmit zoonotic infections to humans than pigs (swine flu, anyone?), cattle (mad cow disease) and other warm-blooded creatures we eat. Insects might not be for everyone, but they may become a vital part of global food security.
“I love bugs. And as the first person to popularize their eating in America, I take special pride in seeing their appreciation soar,” says gastronomical globetrotter Andrew Zimmern. “Head to Mexico City and taste the myriad ways the chefs there cook up ant eggs, maguey grubs, nopales worms… then call me and tell me I’m wrong about their legitimate worthiness as basic comestibles.”
Next Millennium Farms, a company that launched in 2014, is North America’s largest supplier of edible insects for human consumption. “When we learned of the many people living in food-insecure countries and communities who were at risk in the future, “ says Darren Goldin, one of three brothers who got their start raising food for reptiles, “we felt a responsibility to do something.” Now with two farms, 60,000 square feet in total, and a 2,000 square foot processing plant, the brothers produce 8,000 pounds of raw crickets per week or 2,000 pounds of processed cricket powder. “Our products will help feed nutritious and cost effective food to the poor, malnourished, and food insecure, as well as preserve the environment and broaden the horizons of food lovers around the world,” Goldin says. (Alex Karn, “Peterborough This Week” November 2, 2015)
Have I myself made worms and bugs a staple of my diet? Not yet. I need to connect with suppliers, now that I’m finding out who they are. Last I’d heard, mealworms cost $20 a pound, while filet mignon is $14 a pound at Sam’s Club. Until bugs become part of the food industry the way meat did in America, with mass production lowering the cost, I’ll have to breed my own food supply. When I figure out how to start my own worm ranch and hide it from the husband and kids, I’ll start sneaking grubs and bugs into casseroles. I might find a quick way to dig up enough grub worms to fill a skillet, but only after the husband stops fertilizing and “pesticiding” a lawn full of non-native grass. A reformer’s work is never done.
French-fried worms, anyone? Try it. You’ll like it.
# # # # Recipes and additional information below
David George Gordon’s Cricket Recipe (via Business Insider; buy the book via amazon)
– Crickets should only be purchased from reliable sources. Keep crickets as fresh as possible.
– Chill your crickets before cooking. Keep them in a plastic container or storage bag in the refrigerator at least for an hour to slow down their metabolism, inducing a state of hypothermia, to keep them from jumping or wiggling when removed from container. You can also freeze them an hour or more to definitely kill them, guaranteeing their immobility.
— Drop chilled crickets into a pot of boiling water sized to hold the quantity you’re cooking. Add a few pinches of salt. Boil for about two minutes to ensure cleanliness. Remove and let cool, then place in storage bags in the freezer or use right away for any number of recipes. All crickets should be sanitized like this prior to eating.
Dry Roasted Crickets
Served as a snack for any number of persons
25 — 50 live crickets — or however many you wish to cook/serve
Salt, or any preferred seasoning that can be shaken or sprinkled onto crickets after roasting.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Arrange the crickets on a cookie sheet, making sure none of them overlap. Bake at low temperature for about 60 minutes or until the crickets are completely dry or dry enough for personal taste.
At the 45-minute mark, test a cricket to see if it’s dry enough by crushing with a spoon against a hard surface or between your fingers. The crickets should crush somewhat easily. If not, place them back inside oven until crisp.
Once roasted and cooled, place a few crickets between your palms and carefully roll them breaking off legs and antennae in the process. This ensures clean and crisp crickets without legs or antennae getting in the way.
Salt them or use any seasoning you wish. They are very good and healthy to eat as a roasted snack. Eat them on the spot or place them back into the freezer for future use.
Cricket Flour (¼ – ½ cup of crickets to every cup of flour works well)
Break off the antennae and legs by gently rolling the cricket between your hands.
Once you collect enough crickets in a bowl proceed to crush either using a mortar and pestle or rolling pin on a hard surface.
Gather the crushed crickets — they should look like small specks (usually of dark brown color) and blend them well into the flour of your choosing. Once you’ve blended the crickets with the flour you’re set to use it in any way you wish.
Same: Add Bullet Items?
“We’re constantly slammed by orders. We simply can’t keep up,” said Bachhuber, a Wisconsin native who’s had a long interest in urban farming. “The speed at which people have been willing to eat bugs is crazy. It’s cool.”
— Oakland-based Tiny Farms is trying to address supply crunch by developing more efficient ways to mass-produce crickets and other bugs. It eventually wants to create a large network of insect farms to supply food makers such as Don Bugito and Bitty Foods.
— “The goal is basically to make it easier and cheaper to produce industrial-scale volumes of insects that can be used in food products,” said Daniel Imrie-Situnayake, a software engineer turned entopreneur. “We’re really just scraping the surface in terms of figuring out what the potential is for insects to be part of our food system.”
Source: ‘Entopreneurs’ try to convince public that insects can be deliciousTHE ASSOCIATED PRESS Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 12:34 PM
Top 5 selling edible insects:
Chinese Armor Tail Scorpions
7 Piece Bush Tucker Banquet (20% saving)
Ana C. Day blogs: “The European Union is cofinancing the PROteINSECT research project that is exploring the use of insect protein in food for people or as animal fodder.”
Nanna Roos coordinates GREEiNSECT, a project at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, which investigates how insects can be farmed in Kenya.
Grub Kitchen, in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales, is intended to make people think about their food, even the dishes that look like they wouldn’t look out of place in the Bushtucker Trials.”
Scientists are investigating the potential uses of insect oil, rich in essential fatty acids oleic acid, linoleic acid and linolenic acid. Overcoming ‘the yuk factor’ may be difficult, but termite fat is already used for frying in east and west Africa, and grasshopper and soldier fly oil is said to have a pleasant fruit aroma. Cockroach oil on the other hand smells like vomit – uses would be limited to industrial lubricants or paint.
The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, Revised: 40 Ways to Crickets, Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, Centipedes, and Their Kin by David George Gordon
Breeding Invertebrates for Fun and Food by Gordon Ramel
how to easily breed everything from the more usual Tarantulas, Whip Scorpions and Stick Insects, through various beetles and lepidoptera to to the Crickets and Hoverflies you need to feed them. Written by a professional biologist with more than a decades experience breeding a large diversity of invertebrates for one reason or another this book will be invaluable to any invertebrate hobbyist or secondary school science teacher … includes instructions on how to make your own nets, pooters, and cages including specialised nests for different species of ants.
Digging in the garden, working in the field, running barefoot down dusty roads and coming back coated in off-white. Earth, Wind and Fire, too, though we have no old snapshots, no videos, that would capture our loud and windy world. My sister’s husband, city-born and raised, had never known such ever-present wind.
Dirt roads turned to mud and ruts back in the day, and even now (this is a 2019 photo I snapped), it feels like going back in time a hundred years when I drive the gravel roads to my parents.
But I have no room to speak: less than half a mile from where I live now, in the 21st Century, this dirt road floods every spring. Our dogs love it. Cars, not so much!
Kids on country roads rode the big yellow school bus…not gonna talk about that part of it, not today.
The kind John Denver sang about, might make you think of the colorful, fanciful side of a childhood bordered by dirt roads. So, never mind the snow plow, the wash-outs after a flash flood, the things you hear about in third-world countries but don’t expect to experience in modern America. Go ahead, picture the pretty part of it all. The bunnies, the blossoms, the scent of clover hay, the fleecy white clouds in the blue, blue sky. This 1980s greeting card (sorry, I can’t find it now to locate the artist!) came from my sister:
Dirt, dust, the ping of rocks on the underside of the car, the chalky white coating on windows, vehicles, line-dried laundry, shoes, and bare feet. I barely even gave it a thought, until I graduated college and got a job in town and lived on pavement ever after. Every trip back to the farm, I’d go back covered in dust. Just part of life in the country.
My own children were born “in town” — and we farm folk would always pity such children — but on the bright side, town life meant music lessons, dance classes, clean feet, and other hallmarks of civilization. If there was dirt to be found, or sand, my kids would find it, and gravitate to it. I had the “dirtiest” children in the neighborhood, back in the day. New houses were going up all the time, and before our daughter could walk, she was crawling up dirt mountains with her big brother. No, I’m not gonna inflict on you share every dang family photo here, but this one, I cannot resist. Here is Claire in 1994:
This same daughter grew up to be a fashion design major. Inspired by her Liberian-born fiance, she used African wax prints for her senior project. These are dresses she designed and sewed, modeled by women walking down the road, a modern, paved road, not the dirt roads of yesterday.
Earth, Wind, and Fire
Growing up on a farm, the proverbial Earth, Wind, and Fire defined our daily lives, along with Rain, Snow, and all things Weather. The weather was the first thing we’d ask about: not “How are you,” on answering the phone, but ‘How’s the weather?”
These photos seem to capture the closeness to the earth that defined my childhood. Mom, burning off weeds in the garden, and Dad, burning debris after pruning trees in the grove. I’m trying to focus on one thing here, the dirt road of my childhood, but in the background of my mind I keep hearing “Fire is the devil’s only friend” from the Don McClean song Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie. Because….no, not because I cannot forget the 79-yeard-old woman who died when her brush fire blew out of control (one gust of wind! One little gust! That’s all it takes!)–ok, yes, I am haunted: what a way to go, and there but for the grace of God go I. And yet, and yet, I remain a pyromaniac.
Fire was fun as well as functional,
and dangerous, always, of course. BUT. In our politically incorrect 1970s high school, Homecoming festivities began with a parade and a bonfire, with the uniform of the opposing team being burned in effigy. My sister Julie, Class of 1975, snapped this iconic scene:
This meme–I wish I knew who to credit!–just has to be included here. Must I explain why?
Fire, Fire, Fire,
The final solution, the sanctifying way to banish weeds for a season or to reduce abandoned homes to rubble. I fear it will be the fate of this forlorn farmhouse. Sister #2 of the 5 raised her daughter in this house, a mile from our family farm, within walking distance of the grandparents. It still stands today. Empty.
I’m trying to focus on “One Childhood Memory” but my mind is on my dad, who now has dementia, whose farm is in ruins. Only four years ago, I shot this photo of my dad with his first great-grandchild doing what all kids love doing on a farm, commandeering the tractor seat:
While I’m still derailed, allow me to sneak this in: I need to believe that something of my father’s father lives on in my son, though Grandpa died half a century before Miles was even born. Ridiculous, I know. But it haunted me when Miles came home from school saying his history teacher asked the students to name their great-grandfather, and none of them could, though he kinda/sorta thought “Emil” but couldn’t come up with the other great-grandfathers (and no, I’m not gonna do the exponential 2-4-8-16 thing). Just, here is Miles, here was Emil at the same age:
Getting back on track, I will add this recent shot of my mom at age 83, in better shape than a lot of women half her age.
#### Duly note the cows! Still part of our world, or our neighbor’s, anyway.
And now, and always, I come back to this.
A certain dirt road, five miles from home.
Here, in March 1976, my sister was found dead in a ditch, that childhood phrase parents would warn teen drivers with, but that isn’t what took her down. This newspaper photo, this caption: “The dark, earthen area … where the body of Julie Ann Benning was found” – how does a mother, a father, a sister, read those words and find a home for them inside their minds, and just move on? For half a century, we have learned to “Live in the now” and not be defined by this tragedy, but Julie is a fact of life, a fact of death. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
But DEATH is not the final word!
Does any story truly “end” with death? The story goes on. New players, new plots, or not:
“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” ― Willa Cather, O Pioneers!
If the dirt road of my childhood is “That one childhood memory that lives with you”, I will also take heart in seeing the great-grandchildren running down this road. Yesterday, my grandchildren met their Germany cousin for the first time: Julia, namesake of the oldest of the five sisters who grew up on this farm, which still exists, with its dirt roads, in defiance of all that is modern, all that is “civilized.” Julia of Germany is on the far left (Goats belong to our neighbors, not my parents.)
I am a grandma now. Whenever I go back to my childhood home, this fact of life still amazes me. Here is my daughter, with her youngest of three, and me:
And here are her older two, legs chalky-white with dust, running down the road with their newly met cousin Julia, making new memories at the old home place where it all began:
With St. Patrick’s Day only three weeks away, I had to revisit this story, which began as a 5-Minute Freewrite at Steemit in response to the prompt “token.” I had so much fun with it. Of course my son, part Irish, all Free Spirit and Zen wisdom, inspired this one.
highly skilled, trained to face every kind of adversity except one: how did we get stuck with the token Catholic? When Kevin’s Comet struck Palestine and obliterated the Holy Land, all the surviving Jews on Earth had been relocated to their own planet in another galaxy. Muslims colonized a new world of their own in a galaxy far, far from the Jews. Catholics had been falling by the wayside for a long time as the pagans of Old Rome regained popularity, but of course, we didn’t get a token pagan. Of all the fringe minorities who’d escaped FUTU, Fundamental Unifiying Theory of the Universe, we got the Catholic.
He was young and green,
with nothing but optimism and perpetual faith that all things work out for the better because God in his infinite wisdom is at the helm. No amount of reason would dislodge the lad from his invisible god–who was as dead as the Viking-ish gods we were on a mission to dethrone.
Leandra told me. That was why he made the cut. It didn’t matter that he frolicked like a puppy when we reached the snowy beaches of Eisregen, where low gravity allowed us to run in slow motion and rise, rise, hover, and slowly touch down again the way humans had done in dreams during REM sleep for thousands of years. Leif O’Leary spent more time on the beach bouncing dreamily than he did watching the video footage of the natives.
He should have known better. That damned optimism and self-assurance and Catholic joy. We had ignorant savages to convert to reason or get out of the way
Two teams before us had gone to meet the Eisregenites. It is no easy task to enlighten an ignorant bunch who lived like Earth’s long-ago Vikings. Violent, superstitious, rapacious, greedy, they were straight out of an Old World history book. DNA tests showed them to be kin to Iceland natives, supporting the theory that UFOs really had scouted Earth thousands of years before, collecting humans to populate new worlds. Maybe we’d find the gods of Egypt still being worshipped in some desert world lightyears away. Judaism and Islam had been almost eradicated in the Old World, but a small faction of Catholic mystics had never gone extinct. Most had colonized to their own planet, but like dormant seeds sprouting up in disturbed soil, new Catholics continued to pop up like weeds when you thought they were gone for good.
Earth was under reconstruction after being fritzed by a Coronal Mass Ejection, but space colonies like ours were trawling the galaxy for other habitable planets. Our ship, Mannschaft Rinderhund, was on its way to shake some gods loose from those distant cousins of ours on Eisregen. If they were acting like barbarians, let the token Catholic on our crew be the first to greet them.
Leif O’Leary. He couldn’t get his fill of bouncing around in low gravity. In the cold and snow. Leif seemed to have antifreeze in his veins, like those larvae that could survive a polar vortex. Specialized sugars, proteins, and alcohols kept the larva’s internal fluids from freezing, and Leif had acquired some version of that. Too much beer and sweetness in his blood, maybe.
We got him corralled, finally, with a lasso, literally–but he smiled all the while and winked at the ladies as we hauled him to HQ. The vid screens would show him what we were up against, trying to tame these quasi-Vikings.
The first wave of our colonists had been hacked with axes and speared when they came in peace. We’d all seen the old footage, but on-going surveillance showed the Eisregenites continuing to raid and loot and hack each other up.
“God rest their souls,” Leif O’Leary said. Later, Leandra said she’d heard him mumbling a Divine Mercy something or other. The point of it was that Catholics must pray for every soul, especially the most awful and unrepentent among us.
Oddly enough, Leif O’Leary didn’t protest at being first to go proselytize against the gods. Sure, we had uniforms make of spider silk genetically spiked with goat protein, and some high-tech radiomagnetic shielding, but Leif had to know nothing was foolproof. He would be outnumbered. And he would not likely be able to fire a pulsar to take down dozens of people at once. Well, someone had to go first. Might as well be the token Catholic. Just when the guy was kinda starting to grow on us, with his goofy, fun-loving disposition.
“I feel kinda bad for him,”
Leandra said as Leif O’Leary get into the pod, made his sign of the cross at us, and bravely whooshed off into the land of the barbarians.
Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to be inclusive to members of minority groups, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of racial or sexual equality within a workforce. Tokenism – Wikipedia
“I feel kinda bad for him,” Leandra said as Leif O’Leary get into a pod and bravely whooshed off to the land of the barbarians. I kinda felt bad too.
We watched from the safety of the vid room as Leif O’Leary sailed over icy waters and snowy fields. The land turned greener and more hilly as scattered settlements came into view.
The pod ejected him. The black wings of his hang glider unfolded and Leif O’Leary soared above the clouds. Maybe scouting out a village, more likely just enjoying the view. Knowing Leif, he’d forget why he was even there. Let him enjoy it. He might not have much longer in the land of the living.
I couldn’t help but replay in my head his face, his voice, and my words as I sent him to his certain death.
“We have a new job for you,” I said.
“At your service, Cap’n,” he replied.
“Leif, we think you’d be best suited to approach these Eiswelders.”
“Yes!” he said far too enthusiastically. Did he know what we were suggesting? Two missions before us had been exterminated by these rude Eisweld louts.
“I’ve mastered their language,” Leif said. “I’ve crafted a hang glider as well. I had a dream of dressing all in black and drifting down from the sky like a raven. In this vision the Eiswelders think I’m a god and lay down their axes. I deliver the good news that they are no longer to kill goats, roosters, and God forbid, humans, because Jesus was the ultimate blood sacrifice and…”
My ears filled with static and I tuned him out until he got to the part where he said he was ready to go.
Leif O’Leary was either too stupid or too brave to flinch in the face of danger.
Leandra started mouthing prayers –stuff like “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”–stuff only a lip reader who kept sneaking glances at her would notice. She was our token librarian, the kind who pulled their hair into a tight bun and peered through thick eyeglasses in the old world, but Leandra was too cute and perky to fit that ancient stereotype.
Leif wore a body camera that gave us a view of everything he saw from the air above Eisweld. Other vid screens showed us views from hidden surveillance cameras, compliments of the brave souls who’d come here before us.
A crowd of Eiswelders formed as a dark figure in the sky started growing larger and larger. Leif drifted into view, smiling that beatific smile of his. Bows and arrows were aimed at him but the locals were holding off until they could see what sort of creature was falling from their sky.
Leif’s voice was amplified as he spoke, and subtitles showed up on our vid screens, conveniently translated for us.
“Be not afraid,” he thundered. “I come in peace.”
He also came with a bottle of red wine and a loaf of bread.
Leif launched into missionary speak–the Bood of the Lamb, the bread and wine, the end of blood sacrifices to appease the gods, yada, yada. It took about a million years, but the barbarians traded glances and started nodding.
At some point it occured to me that Leif might be toppling their gods only to replace them with his own. Leif was not just a token Irish Catholic. He was truly Catholic. It took me a while to process this: he actually believed in Transubstantiation, the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the Resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.
And he truly did not give a shit if these people killed him. That might have been his saving grace. If Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic, so was Leif O’Leary.
The ritual sacrifice of a rooster took a new twist with Leif telling everyone God wanted this bird to be cooked and eaten, not burnt to a cinder for some sketchy gods who, let’s be honest, were not really coming through for their people. There were frowns and skeptically crossed arms. Even so, Leif presided over the head chopping. After the spurt of blood and the headless running of the rooster, he presided over the fire and the rotating of the spit. He carved the succulent roast bird and distributed it to the large crowd. I don’t know how he pulled it off, but the rooster carcass, the bread, and the wine never ran out.
I never did figure out how he smuggled that bottle of wine on board our ship.
The party lasted for three days. The pod had returned and we decided to launch it again to retrieve Leif from his revelry. Leandra begged to be the chosen one this time. Considering how she had taken up praying for Leif’s safety, I figured she wasn’t as smart as I’d thought. If she wanted to risk her neck on behalf of that addled Irishman, I wouldn’t try to talk her out of it.
The pod returned without her.
Another million years seemed to pass. We took shifts going to sleep, watching vid screens, waiting for Leif or Leandra to send us progress reports.
All we’d get was a thumbs-up emoji or smiley faces.
Then the vid screens started going fuzzy and making weird bloopy noises. The cameras started showing what could have been memes that began in the 21st Century on old Earth. Old songs like “We are the champions of the world” sometimes played, and “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us,” and “Go back.” Then we started seeeing maps and charts pointing us to other planets we should check out–while the familiar white and blue world of Eisweld had a big, old-fashioned red X through it.
I’d had enough of this nonsense. I girded my loins, so to speak, and got into the pod.
It was dead.
Next, the cameras, the audio, everything except the launch button was fritzed, and no matter what course we charted, the ship would point in only one direction: up, up, and away from Eisweld.
Was that goofy Irishman really smart enough to reprogram all our sophisticated electronics using whatever fit in his pockets? He was here for his calm and charisma, his talent for charming anything from a snake to an ax-wielding Eiswelder. Also, and this was just my own logical deduction, the token Irishman surely was here to serve as cannon fodder. In old-world military lingo, the least valued men would be sent to the front to absorb the first blasts of war.
More than ever, I wanted to kill him. Leif was right, this planet wasn’t big enough for the both of us, but the universe is a very large place.
Space colonies like ours had been trawling the galaxy for other habitable planets ever since a comet named Kevin, for the amateur astronomer who saw it coming, had hit Palestine in 2095 and obliterated the Holy Land. It was about time. Science would replace irrational beliefs and outmoded rituals. After Kevin’s Comet, most of the world’s Christians were relocated to their own planet in another galaxy. Jews colonized a new world of their own in a galaxy far, far from the new home world of the Muslims. Christianity, Judaism and Islam had been almost eradicated in the Old World, but that dodo known as Catholicism just wouldn’t go extinct. Like dormant seeds sprouting up in disturbed soil, another Catholic mystic would pop up. Science couldn’t explain it. Diversity was an accident of birth. Religion, unlike ethnicity, was a choice. Belief in nonexistent gods was not genetic.
Of all the fringe minorities who’d escaped cultural homogenization, we got the Catholic.
And he got the planet we were targeting.
He also got Leandra.
I pushed the button to nuke the place as we departed, but the little bastard had deactivated that too.
Eisweld. Who needed it? The place was too cold anyway.
There really is a Saint Corona, and she is reputed to be the patron saint of pandemics. Thank you, Cory McNaughton of Steemit, for pointing that out to me after I posted this a year ago, when the pandemic had only just begun. This began as a freewrite in response to the prompt “Bad Habits.” As short stories go, it’s really more of a stream-of-consciousness observation of the shifting world of 2020. A Lenten reflection, if you will, in fictional form.
One year later I am amazed at how much the pandemic continues to change our ways of life. It was supposed to come and go, as pandemics do, sooner rather than later.
Him again. Cairin missed the days of paper, when unwanted messages could be wadded and tossed into a burn bin. Of all the plagues for bloggers, (1) nobody reads or comments on your posts, there was (2) the zealot with Bible verses who hijacked every blog post and spammed his message far and wide. Sadly, the only response some creatives got on their social media posts were these spammy religious memes that were as uncontainable as a virus.
There was no prohibiting this zealot from the comment section at Rig-It, her new networking site. Inspired by Steemit and Reddit, Cairin had co-founded Rig-it, “sister to the blockchain” as a home for creatives to publish their offerings without all the rigamarole and dictators pretending to be “community building.” The system is rigged, so they’d “rig it” their own way, right? Wrong. Not with spammers proliferating beyond control. She understood now the wrath of moderators who’d ban people for not obeying rules and guidelines.
“Him again” actually hijacked her words as a user name, @himagain, but no matter what name he used, his style was distinct and obvious. “Repent and be saved” was an easy one to ignore, but something about this struck a cord with Cairin. She didn’t have the power to delete it, but she could hit the downvote button.
Stop doing wrong things and turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven is almost here. (Matthew 3:2)
She could ban him, but he’d be back tomorrow with a new name, and @himagain had a nice ring to it. Only death could stop this Bible-beating troll and his “Good News” + video links to eternal salvation on every blessed post anyone ever posted.
She knew the Bible well enough without @WhateverNameHeUsedToday bombarding her with verses. She knew Christian and Catholic apologetics well enough to know The Bible was fiction, not God-given truth. As long as @himagain stayed home with his laptop and didn’t get in her face for real, as opposed to in cyber space, she could live and let live.
With hyperlinks to hotels and photos of Italy, Cairin hit “Send” on her post and hailed an Uber to the airport. The first annual RigFest would unite Riggers from all over the world in the heart of Rome.
Airport security was tighter than usual. The Patriot Act never died down almost 20 years after the terrorist attacks that changed the world, and now the long lines were even longer as thermometers gauged every passenger’s temperature.
“It’s just another strain of the common cold,” some were saying. “You’d think it was Spanish Flu 2.2.”
“I hear things will get much, much worse,” others said.
Cairin offered up an “Our Father” out of habit and boarded the plane. Talk of the new virus lasted all through the flight. “How racist, to call it a Chinese virus,” she overheard.
“The virus started in China,” a middle-aged white man blustered. “China silenced the whistleblower. China told people the virus wasn’t contagious and allowed people to travel in and out of the country. China did nothing to contain this virus. Call it what it is. A Chinese Virus.”
Much as she wanted to refute him, Cairin couldn’t help thinking that MERS was so called for the Middle East, and the Spanish flu had never originated in Spain. Facts and logic never got in the way of somebody else’s truth. She closed her eyes and donned headphones to tune out the fellow passengers arguing politics.
God, come to our assistance.
Some voices, no headphones could silence. This one had been internalized from infancy as her mom prayed to her invisible and useless or nonexistent God. Daily. Hourly. Out loud, or in silence. Singing hymns of glory and praise as she mopped or cooked or gardened: “When you sing, you’re praying twice.”
In the beginning, Cairin believed. Her mom was a Carmelite “lay nun,” which meant three times a day their world came to a halt for that thick little red-leather book with it color-coded ribbbons, the Liturgy of the Hours. “God, come to my assistance,” each prayer began, morning, noon, and evening. Then a Psalm. Responsorials, brain-numbing refrains, reminders of God’s steadfast love, and faith that all things work for a reason.
God didn’t come to her mom’s assistance when the “camel flu” became the latest plague of the 21st Century to strike millions. Fitting, that her demise originated in the Holy Land. Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was just another species of coronavirus, a betacoronavirus derived from bats, with camels somehow involved in its spread to humans.
The World Health Organization was about as much help as God, exhorting those who come in contact with camels to wash their hands frequently–and do not touch sick camels. Her mom never came near a camel, bat, or even the 49-year-old Qatari man who had gone through the famed “Six Degrees of Separation” before his sneeze reached a Midwest mom, her mom, a would-be saint, now just another statistic.
Now it was Six Feet of Separation, a new Coronavirus Protocol, over and above the logistical Six Handshakes Rule: all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other; i.e., a “friend of a friend” chain can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.
Qatari man, China woman, camel-toucher, bat eater, sneezing storm cloud of death on two legs: God paid them no notice. If any sort of God existed at all.
And still she prayed. “God, come to my assistance.”
It was a habit. A useless but mostly harmless habit. Cairin didn’t touch her mother’s breviary or read a single word of it these days, but the words were embedded like a virus in her mental circuity. God himself will set me free. Free from the hunter’s snare. But her mind was never free of this unrealized god. Cairin could see the words in her mind as clearly as she heard them.
She landed in Italy, safe and sound, found her way to the pink stucco hotel with balconies overlooking a courtyard, and proceeded to meet her fellow Riggers face to face, within touching distance.
Marcy, the homesteading hive leader, had a degree in herbology and the coolest head in the crowd. She sold customized t-shirts adorned with cats saying “Chill” or flowers and honeybees or annoying sentiments like “Live, Laugh, Love.” With snow-white hair and a face crackled like antique china, Marcy exuded more energy at age eighty than the Millennials did, those gadget-gazers and über-calm web surfers. MysticDiva, Roomerkind, MyJob, Florianopolis, TechTard, and TechGoddess became people with real names–Maya, Gary, Janelle, Roland, Elina, and more. They came from Tennessee, Venezuala, Nigeria, Israel, Korea, carrying big ideas and cyber wallets, blockchain milestones and … the Chinese flu.
The fun had barely begun when the Quarantine came. Medics in HazMat suits swarmed into the hotel and carried people out on stretchers. Armed guards blocked the exits.
Not even with MERS, in her mother’s day, had such panic-measures held anyone hostage. “This Coronavirus outbreak is worse than the SARS epidemic,” the Riggers agreed, but Cairin reminded them there was no social media back then.
“It’s no worse than the annual influenza that kills thousands every year,” Gary said he’d read, but Coronavirus settles at the bottom of the lungs and starts producing a liquid that makes breathing more and more difficult until you need a machine to survive. And Italy was running out of hospital beds, ventilators, and healthy medical personnel.
It wasn’t Marcy but Gary who started coughing. He was “only” seventy-something, but he went out on a stretcher. Coincidentally, the Bible spammer went silent when Gary did.
Had she met “Him Again” face to face and not recognized him as the spammer, the zealot only death could silence? Had she inadvertently wished death upon him? Impossible. Hardly a single human would still be alive if it were so easy to wish someone dead. Still. Catholic guilt, or scrupulosity, haunted her. She could not unsee Gary laboring for breath as he was carried away, and she prayed an act of contrition. Old habits die hard.
The Swiss Guard came next, or whatever these Italian troops were called, telling everyone they were not allowed to leave the premises until quarantine was lifted. At least two weeks from now. Airline tickets? Dog sitters back home, bills to pay, weddings to attend? No more. You’re here to stay.
Why bother to pray? It was no conscious part of her brain doing this old routine. No particle of her soul entertained hopes that prayer ever had “efficacy.” Her Carmelite mom thought it arrogant to expect to see “results” of prayer. Prayer was like breathing. It was what she did. And her last raggedy breath through crackling lungs was a tender Amen.
Week Three, the hotel guests were restless, but they could Skype their offspring and email their dog sitters and get things done online, so there was that. Marcy taught Breathing Lessons, yoga, and Positive Intentions. She had a suitcase full of herbal remedies and theories of Anti-Vaxxers who no longer sounded as crazy as Cairin once thought. Marcy entertained fellow heretics and pagans with old You-Tube videos of George Carlin explaining the immune system. “You are all Diseased!”. Sanitizing the house kills germs, and your immune system needs germs to practice on. “Polio never had a prayer” in his childhood; “we swam in raw sewage.” Marcy had no more than ten people, each no more than six feet from her, laughing uproariously. Best medicine, you know: laughter. Trading freedom for the illusion of security. How old was this video?
She wandered from one wheezing senior citizen to another, offering what consolations she could. “I’ll say a little prayer for you,” she sang, channeling Aretha. Sometimes she sang in English: “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” For her, singing in a foreign language, if she could hear and see the words, was the best way to learn it. She’d bought a “Drive-Time Italian” CD back when drive-by shootings were the new Big Bad American Thing, joking that she was learning Drive-By Italian during her commute, but now her old jokes weren’t funny.
Edoardo, a 30-something wedding singer, caught wind of Cairin’s singing and joined her. The bride and groom he had sung for got an indefinite stay in the honeymoon suite, but several elderly wedding guests had gone out on stretchers.
Children would climb walls if not for security guards. Marcy and Cairin organized people to organize children’s games.
Music was everyone’s go-to. Blockchain, cyber wallets, “hard fork” and “hostile takeover” floated down, down, down the list of Cairin’s priorities, like autumn leaves sinking to the bottom of the pond. Entertaining the little ones, consoling the old ones, bringing smiles to the “hostages” rose to the top of her list.
Complainers started grousing a bit less, but “What good is a prayer in times like these?” and worse things were sneered at Cairin.
“God only knows” was her reply, no sarcasm intended. “We may never know what good our prayers may do, but it’s free and easy, so I pray away. And when we sing, it is said, we are praying twice.” She sounded like her mother.
“Einstein said Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” Roland argued. “I don’t live in the USA, but it’s obvious your ‘hopes and prayers’ do nothing to alleviate the next mass shooting you people endure every week or so.” Roland, the most thoughtful and polite of anyone she knew on Rig-It, offered a quick smile. “No offense.”
“None taken,” Cairin assured him, though she knew those who said no offense knew that they were saying something offensive. “I have little hope of prayers being heard by a loving God who intercedes in the affairs of man, with or without angels. ‘We the hands, we the eyes, we the voice of Christ’ means that without humans DOING things, God (Jesus) apparently cannot violate the Free Will clause … but never mind. I’m a skeptic. But I pray anyway and do-do-do whatever I can.”
Ugh: did she just say doo-doo?
“What worries me,” TechGoddess joined in, “is that people put trust in an invisible being that lives in the sky and watches and judges their every move. ‘Just pray and everything will be solved.’ Praying ain’t gonna fix this. No chance. I understand that it is useful as a crutch but it has no place in avoiding contracting a virus.”
“And yet, I pray anyway,” Cairin said with a shrug.
Kick That Habit, Cairin – no god will hear you, no Kung Flu virus will flee from your prayers, your hopeful intentions either, she thought, fighting the downward spiral into despair, yet reaching and grasping for hope.
Marcy approached, smiling. “On Facebook,” she said, “a woman in my Freedom Formula Course shared this. The world is slowing down. What happens when nothing works anymore? Cities and whole nations go into a lockdown, but my friends and neighbors say “Let me know if you need anything. You are not alone.“ Parents are home with their children. And here’s a poem written by a priest.” Marcy read it from her phone:
“The lock down
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
“Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Poem by Richard Hendrick, 13th March 2020
“I have idea,” Edoardo said. He called up WhatsApp on his phone. “Let us gather in the courtyard.”
There was still no end in sight for the Riggers or the hotel guests in quarantine, but there was hope, and there was music, and there was love. Cairin’s Italian grew near-fluent under Edoardo’s tutelage, talking face to face by day with people they’d never have met otherwise, or if they did, it would have been only via cyberspace, far more than six degrees of whatever kind of separation.
God, come to my assistance. The familiar words played on in her head. “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.” – Saint Augustine
She still didn’t know if God existed, or if God had anything in common with the Supreme Deity of her Carmelite mother, but she had a litany of prayers in her mental repertoire. She had many good people easing the shock of quarantine.
And she had Edoardo.
because Kean sounds like Kane (not keen, hint, hint)
It is now almost-March 2021. Covid-19 is still here, and much of the world is still in lockdown mode. Masks are a new daily element that hadn’t been mandated when I started writing this in response to an Inkwell contest at The Hive.
When I posted this story in March 2020, I had added this:
That’s as far as I can got with this story, watching the daily news unfold and escalate day by day. “Things will get much, much worse,” I keep hearing. But the human spirit will not be diminished. Life will go on, however dark and tragic it may be for millions who suffer and die, and maybe we all meet again in some heavenly hereafter, or maybe we had a good run here while it lasted and all we can do is rejoice for whatever good we experienced during our sojourn on earth.
I leave you with a few more excerpts from my old 1976 edition of Liturgy of the Hours, which I thought of taking up again, but I’m off to paint more “Quarantine Cats” on wood slices instead.
Cheers, Best Wishes, and yes, a little prayer for each of you! I leave you with