I Once Walked Barefoot

My dear friend Carol has just published a collection of short stories that range in setting from rural Texas to a small village in Kenya with themes that tackle the dangers of biotech’s effort to promise eternal youth, the callousness of modern medicine, the double standard women are forced to bear, and the insanity brought on by decades of global betrayal and mistrust.  Some are comically wrought while others read like a vision of a deeply dystopian world. Only, that world is here and now.

Carol grew up on the eclectic Gulf Coast of Texas, in a swampy mix of oil refineries and chemical plants which attracted cat-fishing and duck-hunting aficionados. When not sampling raw oysters and fried frogs’ legs, she trained hunting dogs with her close-knit family and travelled inland to ranch country to help her aunts churn butter while their husbands drank whiskey and branded steers.

A marriage gone wrong motivated young Carol, armed with a Zoology degree and experience researching bat echolocation, to venture to the even wilder west of Berkeley, California. There she learned to lock her doors, defend herself on mass transit and, moved on to investigating signal processing in seals and sea lions. When she tired of living on the beans and rice diet a researcher’s salary provides, she found work in the booming biotech industry.  Finally, she was able to fulfill another passion: travel and immersion into foreign cultures. The stories in I Once Walked Barefoot are a combination of childhood memories, her biotech experiences and life as a  fish-out-of-water far from Texas.

Carol on Red

Carol’s non-fiction publishing spans newspapers, humor zines, and tech journals. One of her adventure articles was reprinted in Trekking The West, a guide to horse treks in Western Australia. Creative credits include a Pushcart nomination for the short story Kozel, about a Russian psychiatrist from New York whose patient-centered practice tangles with the California “me” culture.

Reviews:

“These stories operate on a kind of dystopian fairytale/mythic logic and center around the female body/the male gaze; the environment; animals; and health. That they range from Texas to California to Africa adds welcome texture.”

Dawn Raffel, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Couney

“Sometimes whimsical, sometimes cosmic, Carol Teltschick’s stories are little gems: flashes of brilliance that momentarily illuminate the everyday and the extraordinary. I Once Walked Barefoot is an invitation to wonder and delight.”

Luke Whisnant, author of Down in the Flood

FUIs and the metamorphosis of the Red Quill

California is probably the only place on earth where anyone complaining about the rain is given the same treatment as an anti-masker. Boo! Hiss! Go Away. We love our rain. Particularly this year after sooo many wildfires. Unfortunately for us it also means the occasional thud against the picture window in our living room. If we’re lucky, the bird lives to chirp another day. If not, it’s a sad day.

My living room window … looking across the canyon

We attempted deter the chickadees by placing hawk stencils on the window. However, apparently the average bird is smart enough to tell a stencil from a real hawk. And so my husband came up with another brilliant idea – hang pieces of yarn. The only problem is, I do not knit and neither does he. But I do save ribbons and so I scotch taped them to the window. So far, it has greatly cut down the number of FUIs (Flying Under the Influence) deaths.

And … who knows … maybe I’ll start a new home decorating trend. What do you think?

As to what is causing the high numbers of FUIs, we blame these bright red berries currently growing wildly in the backyard.

I’ve been advised by folks who know bird behavior far better than me (in particular Jet Eliot) that eating these berries does not make a bird intoxicated. Heck … I may not know birds l but I do know a drunk when I see one (even if they can still fly … which I’ve been trying in vain to do since before I could walk.)

Of course, the birds could be getting the wrong idea from Captain Mouser here. Think I should turn him around?

Now onto the strange metamorphosis of the Red Quill plant you may remember from last fall. The one that popped out of the ground resembling a giant purple penis and then grew into this beauty.

Well, here it is now. Still beautiful but in a slightly different way.

I’m looking forward to what it does next. For me, the year has finally begun.

If you want reliable information about wildlife behavior (and some spectacular photography as well), check out Jet Eliot’s amazing blog.

The year in which we dare to hope

Sunday, January 3rd

I haven’t launched myself into 2021 yet. It’s like I’m standing on the edge of an Olympic-sized pool, wondering if I have the strength to make it to the other side, thinking perhaps of holding my breath the whole way and never having to come up for air. Once, I could have done it. Many, many years ago. Now it’s no longer an option. I’m just hoping the water isn’t too cold. I’m just hoping when I come up for air, the sky won’t be on fire.

Heaven by Connemoira

Competitive swimming is a lonely sport. Once you hit the water, you race yourself. Those who like to win will tell you they are aware of their competitors and driven by the need to beat them but, after I would hit the water, my only desire was to swim fast enough to hear my heart race in my ears. Driven by adrenaline, my arms became oars and my legs paddle-wheels. My body, then a machine, my mind was free to go elsewhere. I have my best thoughts underwater where, if you can hear the cheers, they are like muffled bubbles. Generally I would get to the other side with no idea how I did, disappointed I was back in the world where winning was everything.

Perhaps I’m afraid of that first slice into unknown waters. 2021 already means two postponed memorials to attend and now, it looks, sadly, like a third. This latest passing was a swimmer far more gifted at the sport than me. He’s standing on that mount now ready to take on his last medley. Go Danny. Remember the sacred mantra: Butter, Back, Breast and Free.

Danny Wissmar

Yes, it was sadly covid.

And so I tell myself: “When you first hit the water, ignore the initial jolt. Keep your head down; your arms rising from and falling beneath the surface; your legs beating out the rhythm … take as few breaths as possible and you will get to the other side of the pool.”

Shalee’s Christmas Story, The End

Part One here

The next morning I was barely able to lift my head from the pillow. I managed to call Macys only to be fired. I laid on the spare cot next to the wall heater, in and out of feverish delirium. Was it day or night? I never knew.   Some time during the next three days Joellen stopped checking on me which meant she’d also been stricken. The phone would ring and ring and ring until whoever was on the other end gave up. 

The night before Christmas, between the “ho, ho, ho” of jolly Christmas songs, we heard horror story after horror story over the radio, pleas from officials to stay off the roads. A historic ice storm was bearing down on the entire Kansas City area. 

I’d been raised in the high desert where storms rolling through are generally swift and any snow that fell to the ground rarely lasted once the sun came out. However, in the Midwest, ice storms are slow moving and encase everything in ice. Trees bend to the ground as though praying for mercy. Icicles hang like giant fangs from the eaves of all the houses and the winds howl, sometimes for days.

There was no mail delivery service in Greenwood. Just a tiny one-room post office in the center of town where you went to “call on” your mail. Thus we had no tree, no stockings, no presents. Just each other. And the Hong Kong Flu.

In the morning the ice covering our one window acted as a prism, sending the colors of the rainbow through the room as the winds outside whispered gently. Merry Christmas, the Ice Storm hath ended. Outside all was white save the Christmas lights flashing in our neighbors’ windows. The children took full advantage of the snow and ice covered streets, laughing as they mounted new sleds and raced each other down the hill. 

For the first time in days I’d woken with a growling stomach and not a headache. “I’m  hungry,” I said to Joellen as she stumbled out from the bedroom.

“Hot damn! So am I!” She said opening our sole kitchen cabinet. It was empty or so I thought. ”Look what I found!  A bran muffin mix and it only needs water. Good thing cause we bloody well don’t have anything else.” She turned on the water but nothing came out. “Whelp, no water either. The pipes are frozen.” Then she stepped out onto the tiny porch and ripped an icicle from the eaves. “I thought we weren’t supposed to drink melted ice,” I said as she melted the huge chunk of ice in a pot on the hotplate that served as our stove“Why the hell not?”

I had no idea why the hell not and so I just watched as she scrummaged through the cabinet. “And look … some hot cider mix! I do declare, we’re in for a real feast now.”

I can still remember the hot apple cider and bran muffins tasting better than any gourmet meal I’d ever had. Then we played our favorite records and danced around the room. My favorite Christmas ever.

Shalee’s Christmas Story (redux)

[Note to followers: The first time I tried to post this story, the text blocks got all screwed up. One of Santa’s naughty elves I think or perhaps it was the eggnog! At any rate HAPPY HOLIDAYS!]

The year the Hong Kong flu swept across America killing thousands of people and leaving others begging for death, I was a “Christmas Helper” assigned to the home goods department of a Macy’s in downtown Kansas City Missouri. If you’ve ever taken a seasonal job selling products that you know nothing about then  you’ll understand why I spent most of my time in the stock room. No one ever found anything in the stock room and so I could sit in there forever wondering why anyone would want a tangerine colored crockpot.

The store was located not far from the abandoned stockyards in an area where few businesses still survived but I was just a teenager with no resume. And so I’d quickly and without thinking taken a minimum wage job an hour by bus from Greenwood Missouri where I lived with a friend a few years older and much wiser than me.

Her name was Joellen and she was more than a friend.  She was the big sister I’d never had.  

Her life had been hard. Her father, an alcoholic, had committed suicide when she was fourteen and the man her mother soon remarried didn’t like children. Especially Joellen  who was probably smarter than him and not afraid to speak her mind. She survived by hiring herself out as a nanny in exchange for room and board. We were really lucky when she picked our family.

Joellen

 Not long after Joellen graduated from college  she married a man in the National Guard. She’d followed him on his first deployment to Missouri where, thinking they would be settled for a while, she’d enrolled in graduate school. However, he was redeployed, this time overseas, leaving her stuck in a town on the outskirts of Kansas City.

For a gal from Reno Nevada, this was akin to being stuck on Mars. Reno is an all-night, pay-to-play, everything goes town with a marque reading “Biggest Little City in the World.”  The sign outside of Greenwood Missouri read:

WELCOME TO GREENWOOD
✞ HAVE YOU BEEN SAVED✞

After high school, my first attempt to voyage out into the world had ended  in a Mennonite cornfield with one friend hospitalized, the other pregnant, and me with a fork stuck in my leg.  I’d returned home to Reno hardly the Prodigal Child. My parents were going through a divorce, all my friends were in college or getting married prematurely to boys I knew would never be men.  My chances to succeed seemed slim to none and then Joellen wrote: 

”Come live with me and get your act together.”

She had more faith in me than I did.

We soon became known in Greenwood (population 800) as “dem dam hippies.” I guess because we drove an old VW bug and lived in a three room shack with little insulation, leaky windows and a wall heater that barely kept the place warm. When the temps dropped below freezing, we pulled the VW into an attached lean-to, however, in order to keep the engine block from freezing, we had to run an extension cord out to a lamp underneath the hood. It didn’t always work.

Every morning I drove with Joellen to the campus of the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC) then took a bus down to Macys. I can still remember the long hours I spent in that windowless building pretending I had any idea whatsoever about what I was doing. The only thing that made the job bearable was a cheerful black girl, not much older than me, who could talk customers into buying products off the shelves so she did not need to enter the dreaded stockroom.

 Five days before Christmas my body began to ache. The bars, barbecue joints, and Victorian boarding houses along the route back to the campus were decorated for the season with blinking lights and Santa Clauses but in my worsening condition they were as sinister as ghouls in a carnival funhouse. 

I remember seeing my reflection in the window on those dark, cold nights. Instead of eighteen I looked eighty (or as my mother would say like “death warmed over”)

I cried as I waited for Joellen outside her class. All around were murals Thomas Hart Benton had painted in his lean and feverish years, scenes of farm life that felt so cold and lifeless I decided he must have hated the Midwest. 

I tried to convince myself that a good night’s sleep was all I needed, but deep down I knew, it was the Hong Kong flu. 

Last Minute Xmas Gift Offer From The Tin Hats Blog (We’re Not Talking Books)

I’m afraid this product is already sold out – but you can pre-order here. Happy Christmas!

tin hats

In this time of Trumpist bullhorns spreading absurd and harmful claims, I began thinking about the lowly dog whistle. After all, a bullhorn is like an AR-15, everyone can hear and understand. Why waste time with indirect words, when one can rip somebody’s heart out? But then it occurred to me that after Trump leaves office, maybe the dog whistle will make a comeback. Trump supporters might be forced to be more subtle in their disinformation and hatred without a president to goad and shield them. If that were to happen, one might be able to make good money off the sale of upgraded dog whistles.

Here is how it could work:

I’m glad to announce the Universal Dog Whistle for sale on the Tin Hats Blog. That’s right, we’re selling the ultimate dog whistle for conveying all of your homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, antidemocratic, racist, ageist, climate change denial, and…

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It’s a Damn Shame

When I heard the news the baby and I went to bed. I don’t know how … but we both fell right to sleep. Perhaps it was the shock.

Before John Lennon formed The Beatles, entertainers were brand names to be marketed and sold. The words they spoke were fed to them based on careful calculations. A really good example of what I’m talking about is the Netflix movie “Mank.” It’s about the early days of Hollywood when the public was fed stories about their favorite stars and those stars were expected to play the roles assigned to them. For example, the story that Mary Pickford was a forty year old virgin was a joke in Hollywood but apparently believed by her adoring public. Screenwriters were generally established writers slumming it for a few easy bucks. If asked to write a script for a political ad that deliberately mislead voters, they were expected to comply or risk being ruined both financially and professionally. However, when a writer knowingly deceives his readers, he generally calls it fiction.

Anyway, like the Mank character, John Lennon, whether you liked him or not, showed us that honestly over time is the only thing that gives art meaning. It’s just a damn shame he’s not here to lead us all into old age.

Tragedy Wears Many Hats

If you’ve ever read Duke Miller’s stories (which I repost here often), often they are grim recollections of his twenty years of refugee work, filled with regrets and sorrows but beautifully written. This is particularly true of his first book “Living and Dying with Dogs” and its companion piece “Handbook for the Hopeless,” a guide to getting and keeping a job (and your head) in a war zone. After our publisher closed up shop and we formed John’s Motorcycle Storage and Rare Book Disposal Publishing, Duke combined the two books into “Living and Dying with Dogs, Turbo Edition.”

It has been said of Duke that being pissed off is his way of dealing with life, however, his newest book, Tragedy Wears Many Hats, reflects a man who is in love with love, living in a world that conspires against its survival.  Oh, there are a few pieces of “prose poetry” as he calls them, which bemoan the human condition, either comically or tragically but … well … I’ll post a few passages and you tell me if I’m right.

From Map of the Lungs:

My happiness blinked as I rolled to touch your warm skin, you were an ocean where the mountains rose beneath and the skeleton fish darted through slim channels, in never times, hours unkept, and I journeyed there, sighting upon your star-shaped pores, drinking at your eyes, never to live like that again, and I saw your map of lungs, there, at the bottom of the sea

From Dressing:

We are all so helpless in this life, even the strongest and the richest and the wisest … the burden of scars forcing us to crawl while others run

Yet, there is the dressing of love, let us gently press it down

From Emaciated Horses

You need only tilt your head and let the wonder become your eyes and there it will be, everything great and small, the warm sad beauty that gives us life, that covers us with this terrible love we cannot name or forget

From Your Eyes:

I think of you and how easy it is to die, so very easy, and it is a lonely thing, but what a joy to have been part of your eyes

Sometimes I am filled up with so much feeling I can hardly stand it, it is like I’m trying to squeeze the last drop of life out of my brain and let it stream out of my eyes and onto a page of paper, like this one

Duke Miller

It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting accustomed to a new computer (after seven years) and helping friends of mine either publish or get the word out about their books. First, I have to agree with all my blogging buddies who find WordPress’ new block editor a pain in the butt. I’ve lost hours of time trying the figure it out. Ugh.

On to more pleasant topics, back in September (golly it seems so long ago doesn’t it?) my friend Mary published her fourth book! Wow. Considering that Mary holds down a job, is married and has children still around the house and is still able to not only write novels but also help other authors promote their work is truly mind-blowing for me.

Mary’s novels generally involve young women who’ve had to overcome either eating disorders, obsessions with a life that could’ve been, or the old and familiar bugaboo to us all … choosing and then sticking with the wrong partner. Her newest I Doesn’t Have to Be That Way addresses the reasons behind toxic relationships both in the workplace and in our personal life.  It is an honest portrayal that I’m sure was difficult to write but bravo to Mary for sticking it out.

Here was my five star review:

It Doesn’t have to be that Way is about Molly and Fred, two people with little in common except that both are stuck in a rut. Molly fell into her office job directly out of college and, although the work environment has gotten toxic, needs a kick in the pants to move on. The same could be said for her personal life. In flashbacks, we find out that her pattern has always been to rush into, and then find excuses to remain in, unhealthy relationships with men. Fred, who’s in his seventies, still mourns the fate of his brother who may or may not have killed someone in a PTSD-fueled rage. His failed marriage has left him only comfortable with virtual relationships (via his shortwave radio) or with women young enough to have been the daughter he never had (Molly.) As both begin to change direction they realize their futures might be tragically intertwined. 

Mary’s very happy pooch agrees with me!

I interviewed Mary after the publication of her first novel when we were both still with Booktrope. It’s hard to believe that was back in 2014.  Over the years I’ve come to adore this lady. She is classy, generous and just a really great chum.

Tomorrow: a new book from Duke Miller who, if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know quite well.

The Worst Thanksgiving Ever

Unlike New England or even Jolly Old England, here in California we generally have two seasons: Green and Brown. Right now we’re between the two. Cold, dry days but not enough rain for our season of green to commence.

Last night my husband said to me “this was the worst Thanksgiving ever.” Considering that he generally has to be dragged to holiday celebrations and makes faces when I invite guests over to share “his” turkey, it provoked a sharp response from me. “You bloody hypocrite!” But in truth I’ve always known he doth protest too much. If he doesn’t get at least five requests for his famed Mac and Cheese recipe at holiday events, his year is ruined. Last year my best friend’s children fought over the leftovers and he spent the whole next day typing meticulous instructions (three pages long) to email to them all. He was a happy man.

Joel’s pumpkin pie – he makes three of them at Thanksgiving.

This year, although he wasn’t “forced” to share his pumpkin pie, he realized maybe it’s not so much fun to eat it all by himself. A good lesson as that’s what the holiday is supposed to represent. Not the massive gathering of family during which deep seated resentments are bound to leave at least one family member hurt. Or hosting large gatherings that leave you cleaning the house for days afterward. But just simply sharing.

Speaking of families, the “children” of my Red Squill (seen above at its most glorious) continue to sprout at her withered base.

The eldest is above and below the youngest.

I know it’s greedy but I’m hoping she will have many more children who will somehow survive the coming winter and rise again in late August 2021.