My New Podcast and Tips + The Backyard Horse Blog’s Podcast!

Click HERE & you’ll find my new podcast page on AnchorFM! In addition to a teaser and a guest appearance by Willow Croft (that corresponds with her guest blog post here), you’ll find links to subscribe, hear, and share it wherever else you prefer, such as via Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker and Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and an RSS feed …

Don’t know where you’d record your podcast? Here’s Ira Glass, narrating his “This American Life” show in his closet…

Photo of Ira Glass recording an episode of his radio show, "This American Life," in his small closet.

Hurrah!!! Picture me jumping up and down with as much glee as panting with relief after laboring over the ins and outs of producing The Happiness Between Tails Podcast. The HBT podcast is really an experiment — a hands-on classroom where I make most of my mistakes before I serialize my novels (“Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat”) into audio fiction series. For the record, the fiction shows won’t use the automated readers. I’ve already posted a bit about podcasting HERE and HERE.

My podcast dream was kicked into higher gear when WordPress announced its link with Anchor, one where WordPress bloggers can convert posts into podcasts.

It’s not your imagination that the video transcriptions below for teasers are all the same. What differentiates them is that they’re made using the free features within AnchorFM and Audiogram and Headliner. So far I’ve only made them for my YouTube channel, but they can also be to accommodate the size requirements for other social media.

Anchor did this video of my teaser that’s on my YouTube

Audiogram did this video version at my YouTube

Headliner produced did teaser uploaded to my YouTube

 

The Backyard Horse Blog

Look how fun The Backyard Horse Blog’s Mary Lynne Carpenter’s first podcast is, which corresponds to the post on her blog HERE! (Btw, she generously guest posted at Happiness Between Tails HERE.) Regarding her experience, she emailed:

“For any bloggers out there who would like to try to use the Anchor program (I found it to be very straightforward, not complicated), I would recommend starting off with a short introduction about your blog that would help set the stage for what you are about to read. I did not do that. I even forgot to read the essay title. It would make the whole thing seem more warm and inviting. The hardest part of the experience for me was reading the essay without making any mistakes. I ended up recording about six times and finally gave up. Not really sure podcasting is my gig, but for those of you who are curious and want to give it a try, I found the Anchor program quite user friendly.”

Curious about experimenting with a podcast of your own?

Given my frazzled state, here’s some un-organized dribs and drabs about what I’ve learned to date. Feel free to add your own or point out any errors I’ve made.

Random hard-won notes regarding setting something up on Anchor:

For the sake of not risking messing up this site, I set up an alternate WordPress blog. That’s because when Anchor’s automated voices (there’s a female and a male version) “audio-ize” posts, they’re not completely tidy. For instance, they don’t read the post’s headline. Also, my posts need massaging to sound good as podcast episodes.

Don’t like the background on your Anchor page? Change it by typing in a different HEX code. To find codes for colors, google stuff like, “HEX code for light green.”

The tangled road to figuring things out includes how to make money. Sites such as Patreon take a percentage of one’s profits in exchange for taking some of the bother out of setting up incentives for potential sponsors. Somewhere along the way I came across “Buy Me a Coffee,” as in: Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee.

When emailing a question to Anchor, it helps to include your anchor url.

Distribution: Anchor can automatically distribute your show to a bunch of places, such as Spotify, Stitcher, etc. As for their sending it to Apple, I waited and waited and waited for Anchor or Apple to let me know I’d been added to Apple Podcasts — months of agonizing later, I checked Apple myself (duh!), and it was there! This is a h-u-g-e deal, as to get on Apple’s “New and Interesting” list, one must get a lot of listeners within the first couple of weeks.

Falalalala!!! Here’s where you can find my show on Apple Podcasts.

Anchor title pages: they need an intro paragraph and whatever links you’d like to include. They can also have a list of time stamps (a list of where on the show different things happen), and a list of what folks are missing if they don’t check out your corresponding blog post, i.e., links and photos.

Any show needs an intro, and middle, and an outro — and it’s helpful to throw in what you’d like your listener to do, i.e., subscribe to the show, tell others about it, and to visit your site.

Advertising: once 50 people have listened to your show, Anchor lets you start placing ads they submit to you and then they’ll give you some sort of a cut.

Editing: Anchor has an editing feature that isn’t too hard to learn, though it can be a bit clunky. Many podcasters edit with Audacity or Garageband. I like using iMovie, because all I need is something simple and visual.

Music and sound effects: Anchor offers a bunch, which is nice given what a headache it can be to figure out all the legalities of those.

General wisdom advises one start with several shows already in the can, so new listeners can “binge” a bit when they find you.

Also, “they” say it’s good to podcast on a regular basis, same as blogging. For now, I’m not putting that sort of pressure on myself, particularly since I’m still learning and experimenting.

Episode title: Don’t put name of show in each episode, since it automatically appears next to episodes in podcast directories.

Publicize, publicize, publicize: it you’ve blogged for more than a little while, you know the rigmarole on that…

Got an idea for a podcast? Do you listen to them?

Adulting and Videos + Why Darlene Foster Writes For Children

What was the day you became an adult?

Young Adult (aka YA) is a major category when it comes to selling fiction, especially because people of all ages enjoy reading it. If I could swing it, I’d aim for that, rather than the harder sell of literary fiction, which the genre of the novels I’m working on.

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of young people leave home to start college. In one case, friends were driving their son to begin university classes in San Jose, 400 miles north of Los Angeles. My husband and I flew to meet up with the parents and then the four of us enjoyed a leisurely drive back south.

Khashayar takes our photo as José and Alina look over his right shoulder. Our southbound cruise along Pacific Coast Highway included Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Granted, it was a weekday, but it was still eerily quiet for peak summer season. Note the aerial ride is vacant, aside from a mannequin. Us, Dangerous Minds, Sudden Impact, Harold and Maude, and The Lost Boys, are some of the movies filmed there.
Khashayar takes our photo as José and Alina look over his right shoulder. Our southbound cruise along Pacific Coast Highway included Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Granted, it was a weekday, but it was still eerily quiet for peak summer season. Note the aerial ride is vacant, aside from a mannequin. Us, Dangerous Minds, Sudden Impact, Harold and Maude, and The Lost Boys, are some of the movies filmed there.

Along the way, we also visited a young cousin from Spain who that very week relocated to attend college in Santa Barbara, a stunning affluent beach town.

These images are from that drive…

Khashayar walking into a super cold Big Sur stream.
Khashayar was steely enough to brave a super cold Big Sur stream.

Seeing these teens on the precipice of adulthood got me thinking of when I was their age and how I set out on my own.

Dear reader, what was that transition like for you?

The way I was raised, girls absolutely must not aspire to anything beyond the role of ultra meek wife, and mother. That was my father’s indoctrination, and my mom supported it, although she was also the family’s breadwinner.

By age seventeen, I resided in at least fourteen different apartments and attended about ten schools. That year, my parents and I lived in Miami, Florida.

Video Note: Piedras Blancas is the beach of choice for many elephant seals. Average males grow to 16 feet and 5,000 pounds, so babies risk getting smothered by them. Learn more about them here.

My sole plan was to make it out with my sanity intact and to never return, even if it meant resorting to prostitution. I set to earning good grades and a high school diploma. To save money, I worked at the local mall’s pet store and earring kiosk. My parents didn’t charge me for rent and food, and I saved my earnings, carefully spending only for needed doctor and dentist visits, and clothing.

My father greatly admired Pablo Picasso, a fellow Spaniard. Everything I’ve read about the famed artist paints him as a complete horror of a family man, so much so that even his grandkids still fume about him. My dad was fond of paraphrasing one of Picasso’s milder sentiments, which was that offspring should be given the boot the moment they reach eighteen, and they should never get financial help or guidance.

Video Note: The entire length of Pacific Coast Highway is phenomenal.

It was generous that my parents waited the extra couple of months between my birthday and graduation to move to Spain.

I want to kid myself and believe that’s when I left home. A little before they departed, my mother asked if I’d like to join them. The relief in her posture when I shook my head no was enough to deduce this was one move where an insubordinate wasn’t welcome. That’s when I realized it was me who was being abandoned.

My father’s farewell was more honest than hers. He shook my hand and said, “Look us up if you’re ever in Spain.”

They saved me feeling guilty and ambivalent. A whole new life was plenty enough to contend with.

Video Note: Morro Bay is famed for Morro Rock. The historical site was formed about 23 million years ago from the plugs of long-extinct volcanoes. While we visited, Otters were doing log-rolls and lounging tummy-up in the water, but they were too far off to snap a good photo.

The necessity for compassion is a running theme in my blog posts. Often I urge people to keep in mind our interdependency extends far beyond our families of origin. 

Lucky for me, a friend took me in. Her parents had completed a mean divorce and she lived with her dad. He spent his days smoking and drinking and lamenting his loss of work because of his drinking. He’d been a long-time executive at a major airline and now he was passing time until he could draw his pension. As un-promising as that may sound, he was kind and patient in a way I hadn’t experienced a man to be. He and his spirited daughter provided a good family to me. They gave me confidence and taught me the basics of adulthood.

K-D doggie was overjoyed when her people returned home and she loved getting her chest rubbed.
K-D doggie was overjoyed when her people returned home and she was in nirvana when Khashayar gave her an overdue chest rub.

As for young people, author/blogger Darlene Foster has written eight books for them (and everyone else) in ten years! She writes full-time from Spain, and also writes and does some editing for other writers. She says, “I also travel whenever I get the chance and consider it part of my research. It’s a good life.”

When I asked her to let us know how she went about getting published, she emailed back:

“It took me three years to write my first book and five years to find a publisher. I sent out query letters to many publishers around the world, received many polite rejection letters and eventually found a publisher in my own neighbourhood. Go figure! Central Avenue Publishing is an independent traditional publisher and I am very happy with the professionalism and dedication of my publisher. The lesson here is, never give up!”

Learn more about Darlene, her books, where to get them, and all her social media links, at her blog.

Photo of author Darlene Foster.
Photo of author Darlene Foster.

Why I Write For Children by Darlene Foster

One of my favourite memories from my childhood is sitting on a large rock in the middle of a prairie field making up stories in my head. I had a wonderful childhood, although I didn’t always appreciate it at the time. I found it lonely, as I like being around people, and often wished I lived in a big, busy city. But it gave me plenty of time to daydream and create characters and adventures that later fuelled my desire to write. In grade three, I had a wonderful teacher who encouraged me to write down my stories. She also taught us about other countries in such a fun, interesting way that made me want to travel the world and meet interesting people. I owe her a lot and have since found her and thanked her for making a difference in my life. When I was twelve, one of my stories was published in the local newspaper. I decided then that I wanted to be a published writer one day.

Why did I choose to write children’s adventure books? I love writing for children, they are like sponges and eager to learn. They enjoy adventures and characters who can get themselves out of a tight spot. I can better express the excitement of travelling to new places when I write from the point of view of a child. 

Interestingly, many adults read my books and enjoy them as well. Kids’ books aren’t just for kids!

The stories in the Amanda Travels series are inspired by my real-life travel experiences.

When I visit an interesting place, I get a strong desire to share my experience with the rest of the world. The best way for me to do this is to write about it. I am always thinking of how I can work a setting or situation into a story. I take notes and many pictures during my travels and think about what would interest a young person. 

I have travelled to all the places Amanda has been. However, I do not have all the adventures Amanda has. She has more fun, excitement and scary experiences in her travels than I do. For instance, I took a riverboat cruise down the Danube with my best friend and our husbands a few years ago, on a boat called, The Sounds of Music. It was a trip of a lifetime, with stops in Germany, Austria, and Hungary. I knew immediately it would be the perfect setting for an Amanda and Leah adventure. Including music in the story was a no-brainer. This is how Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music was conceived. 

On another occasion, I travelled to Taos, New Mexico with my aunt, who is also one of my best friends. We had such an amazing time. Besides being steeped in history, the place has a very paranormal feel about it. We even visited a haunted hotel in Cimarron. Everywhere we went, I kept saying, “Amanda would love it here.” When I returned home, I immediately started making notes which eventually became, Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind.

I love to read and so does Amanda. Books are important to both of us. When a vintage novel goes missing, Amanda feels compelled to find it. I love visiting the many used bookstores in England so I wanted to include one in the novel. I found a quintessential bookstore on the Isle of Wight which was perfect for the story, including a resident Main Coon cat. Rupert, the cat, plays an important role in Amanda in England: The Missing Novel.

My latest book in the series, Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady was a result of a trip I took with my hubby a couple of years ago. I loved the history and culture of Malta and felt it would be an ideal setting for an Amanda Travels book. I tossed in some endangered birds, a missing artefact and a friend in danger. Amanda would do anything to help her friend. One reviewer said, “I love the author’s ability to bring the settings alive, from the Blue Grotto to a beautiful cathedral in Valletta, all while keeping the suspense high.”

Covers of some of the many books Darlene Foster has published.
Covers of some of the many books Darlene Foster has published.

It took me three years to write the first book, Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask. It was a steep learning curve as I had so much to learn. I am still learning, but I can write a book in a year now. Keeping things fresh in a series is a challenge. I keep up with today´s young people, hang out with them and listen to their conversations. I introduce new characters in every book to keep it interesting. The character of Caleb, a classmate and good friend of Amanda’s was introduced in the New Mexico book. He was so well received he appears again in Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady.

Publishing eight books in ten years is a huge accomplishment for me. I have also won prizes for my short stories and have had stories published in several anthologies. A milestone for me was visiting my former school in rural Alberta and reading from my books to the current students. Seeing my books available online, and on shelves at bookstores and libraries is the most incredible feeling. Having readers tell me they enjoy the stories and hope I write more is like a dream come true. 

If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up!

Amanda is the twelve-year-old I would have liked to be. It is so much easier for kids to travel these days, but I didn’t travel on an airplane until I was in my mid-twenties. I would have so loved to see the world as a child. I am doing it now through my writing!  

That’s why I love writing for kids. (And grown-up kids)

What was the day you became an adult?

20 Podcast Promotion Tips by Fiona Livingston

Reading… writing… listening! Hey, if “seeing is believing,” why doesn’t the same go for tasting and feeling and smelling — and hearing too?

When’s the last time you tuned into your fave radio show? Same as radio shows, podcasts are story readings, performances, interviews, and monologues. Radio shows are often repackaged into podcasts that allow you to dictate when to tune in.

When my first novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” is edited (and then its sequel, “Tango & the Sitting Cat”), I’ll podcast them to create a buzz for when it’s published. Here’s an experimental podcast episode I produced borrowing a friend’s short story. A video version of it is on Youtube as well.

Creatives who want to control their work and keep 100% of their profits must become their own promoters. Podcasts are one way to get the word out. First, though, people need to know you have a podcast.

Here to give us 20 ways to do that is London-based Fiona Livingston. She blogs about marketing and podcasting on Medium, and produces The Culture Bar, an  arts and culture-related podcast…

Blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston is a content and digital marketing specialist.

“20 Podcast Promotion Tips,” by Fiona Livingston

You’ve poured your heart and soul into creating and recording your podcast series on a subject you are knowledgeable about. Now you need to get your podcast in front of audiences who are as passionate about the subject as you are.

But how do you get your podcast in front of listeners when there are 850,000 active podcasts out there in the world? 

This article covers the best, easiest, and most effective podcast promotion ideas to help you build your audience and market your podcast.

Fiona's illustration of "eau de marketing" trends makes me smile.
Fiona’s illustration of “eau de marketing” trends makes me smile.

First, let’s make sure you have some key podcast staples under your belt before you start promoting your podcast:

  1. Podcast cover artwork. My top advice for creating cover artwork is to be clear. Once uploaded onto your podcast distributor, the size of your artwork will reduce a lot, so you want something bold, simple, and eye-catching. You can create your artwork by using templates on Canva, or if you have a mac you can use Keynote which is a very powerful design tool. Here are some great cover artwork examples to inspire you.
  2. Episode titles. The way you title your episodes has a big impact on your total download numbers. My main tips for you are to NOT use a naming system such as ‘Episode 4’ or ‘XYZ Podcast: Episode 4’. You need to let your audiences know at a glance what the topic is so, your title should be as descriptive as possible.
  3. Record 3-5 podcasts before your launch/start of your next season. This will ensure you have a regular schedule of events planned out and also gives you time to record future episodes. Make sure you have a launch schedule in place. For example, in the first week, you can release 2 or 3 podcasts to keep audiences hooked.
  4. Create a dedicated podcast website. This can either be a section on an existing website or you can create a podcast website for free using providers such as WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. These sites give you a valuable presence on search engines and act as a home for your podcast so audiences can find out more about you. This also gives you further opportunities to supplement your podcast with more content to show your expertise and passion. 

Ok so now you have a great podcast recorded, fantastic eye-catching cover artwork, and launched a dedicated website. Let’s start promoting your series with these top tips (this list focusses on free marketing actions):

Fiona produces an arts and culture podcast.
Fiona produces an arts and culture podcast.

  1. Add your podcast to a distribution platform. Upload your podcast MP3 file to distribution sites such as Podbean (free and priced programmes) and Anchor (free) and they will automatically send your podcast episodes to a variety of podcast sites such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Amazon Alexa. Apple podcasts capture 32% of podcast listeners and downloads so your podcast must appear here.
  2. Meta-tag your podcast. On your chosen distributor and website, make sure you complete the meta-tagging options. This is the place to add keywords relating to your podcast, so it shows up in search results and makes you discoverable.
  3. Create a promotional trailer. This helps audiences understand what your podcast series is about, and you can embed this on your website and social media channels. Find tips on how to make a trailer here.
  4. Add show notes and include hyperlinks for each podcast episode. It is good practice to give a short summary and overview of what is included in your podcast episode. This is also a great place to add links to your guest/s or any resources that you mention in the episode.
  5. Leverage guest audiences. Make it easy for guests to share your podcast by creating audio snippets, quote cards, or prewritten tweets for them so they can easily use these on their social media channels.
  6. Create podcast artwork for each episode. Using your main cover artwork template, adapt it to show the title of each episode, and change the imagery to give each episode an identity and theme.
  7. Create a dedicated podcast social media channel. Set up a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram profile to promote your podcast.
  8. Create quote cards in Canva or Pablo. Select attention-grabbing quotes from each episode. This gives listeners great insight into what’s to come.
  9. Share rich media. Create extra content such as soundbites, audiograms (using tools such as GetAudiogram), behind-the-scenes photos, or teaser video clips to build excitement about your episode. Also, Twitter has an embed feature using Soundcloud so you can play the audio directly from a Twitter stream.
  10. Tease the episode 24 hours ahead of time e.g. 3x on Twitter and 2x to Facebook/Instagram. Talk about behind-the-scenes content in Instagram Stories.
  11. Create an audio-video to share on YouTube. If you use a provider such as Podbean they will automatically create a video for you and send it to your YouTube page. YouTube is a huge search engine for content and should be included in marketing your podcast. Or you can create a video using a tool such as Screenflow (free trial period) and use free video clip assets from Pexels.
  12. Audio transcription. To ensure your podcast is accessible and aid SEO discovery, you can create an audio transcription and add it to your podcast website. You can use audio transcription tools such as Otter.ai (free for up to 40 minutes, otherwise it’s $9.99 per month) to help you do this.
  13. Include your podcast in your e-newsletter. You can easily create your own e-newsletter using email service provider such as Mailchimp, Flodesk or Campaign Monitor to manage your subscribers and send them notifications about your latest podcast. Mailchimp and Flodesk have free basic tiers, and Campaign Monitor starts at $9/month. 
  1. Publish podcast-themed blog content on your website. A useful way to keep your website content fresh and to also include extra in-depth content on your podcast theme.
  2. Be a guest on other people’s podcasts. A great way for you to showcase your knowledge and build awareness of your podcast.

Photo of blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston.
Photo of blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston.

Here is a list of other important Podcatcher sites your podcast should feature on to generate greater visibility:

  1. Overcast
  2. Stitcher
  3. Podcast Addict
  4. Podcast subreddit
  5. PodcastLand
  6. TuneIn
  7. Bello Collective
  8. Deezer (great for French/EU audiences)
  9. Podcast Listen notes

Got a podcast or want to start one?

Pro-Choice: what being it actually means by K E Garland

“Everybody’s a teacher if you listen.” — Doris Roberts; actress, author, and philanthropist.

When I posted, “My Abortion Story + Jury Service Pt 2,” I neglected to tell you something important; were it not for Kathy Garland’s courageous and honest blog post that you’ll find below, I might not have published it. (Her account first appeared at PULPMag on Feb. 13, 2020.) Perhaps you remember Kathy from when she was a prior guest at Happiness Between Tails? (And by the way, here’s another excellent post about the subject contributed by Infidel753.)

Below, she mentions Planned Parenthood. Funding for the organization was signed into law by President Richard Nixon who decreed, “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.” Planned Parenthood provides far more than abortions. The agency is committed to giving affordable reproductive health care to all genders, all ages,  all over the world. They offer sex education, cervical cancer screenings, contraception including vasectomies, and help with sexually transmitted infections.

Kathy has taught English for 25 years, which makes perfect sense, given how she inspires all who read her posts. A wife and mother, she lives in Jacksonville, Florida. Her award-winning work is featured in anthologies and many other places. For info about the three books she’s published and to contact her, check out her personal blog. In addition, she hosts a site to normalize conversations about menopause

Blogger/author/teacher K E Garland.

“What it Actually Means to be Pro-Choice” by Kathy Garland

My father taught me about sex when I started my period. We sat on the loveseat, where he explained how menstruation worked, a banana balanced on his thigh. I suspected this was my mother’s idea, although she and I never discussed sex or women’s bodies. 

My father explained bleeding meant I could now get pregnant, if I ever had sex, and that it was my responsibility to avoid such circumstances. A condom would do the trick. He pulled one out of his pocket, ripped open the small package, and showed me how to put it on the banana, a mock penis. I suppose he thought it appropriate to cram three separate topics — sex, safe-sex, and periods — into one conversation, because we never revisited either again. But at ten years old, I couldn’t comprehend what fake penises and condoms had to do with the pain in my lower abdomen or the blood that soaked the pad I’d just learned to wear. I wanted the conversation to end so I could finish playing with my dolls.Cover of "Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships" by Dr. K E Garland.

Six years later, my mother suddenly died from kidney disease. My maternal grandmother was an expert at pushing emotions aside and had advised me to do the same.

“Don’t cry,” she said, “you’ve had your Mama for a long time. Sixteen years is a long time.”

So, I followed her lead and stifled the pain.

 My father physically moved on by dating a new woman a week after my mother’s burial. He spent my junior year, courting his newfound love and ignoring me. Taking care of a teenage daughter seemed to be too much for him. The following year, he sent me to live with my grandparents in a small Michigan town called Covert. I was angry. There were more students in my former Chicago high school than in the entire township. I was saddened by how quickly my father discarded me and our relationship. But I’d learned to suppress and ignore all negative emotions. My plan was to keep to myself, graduate, and apply to colleges.

School began the day after Labor Day. It was hard not to be noticed in a class of sixteen seniors, but I tried. Even when I knew the answer, I remained as quiet as possible in English IV, hoping no one would speak to me. In typing class, I hid my nervousness behind intermittent pops of pink Bubble Yum; maybe my aloofness would repel others. Conversations were sparse until I went to computer class. That’s where I met him. He was a junior. He cracked my feigned exterior by making me laugh. He helped me bury my mother’s death. He helped me forget why I was living in Covert in the first place. His name was Eddie.

Our long phone conversations turned into afternoons at Eddie’s home where we sat on his family’s brown sectional and watched movies on their floor model TV. His mother was rarely home. Watching movies turned into tongue kissing and sex, sometimes on the couch or floor, other times in his room.

We became a couple and I’d forgotten about the talk my father and I had seven years prior. I’m not sure what Eddie’s safe sex lessons entailed. By the first day of fall, my period hadn’t come, so I asked his mother what she thought that meant.

She inhaled a long drag of her cigarette, blew a thin, cloudy stream out of the corner of her mouth, looked at me, and said, “Either you late, or you pregnant. And if you pregnant, you need to talk to Eddie.”

I was pregnant.Cover of "The Unhappy Wife" by Dr. K E Garland.

I knew I could trust my senior English teacher, a brown, petite, no-nonsense lady. Her church dresses and high heels felt like home. The day I confided in her, she asked if I could tell my grandmother. I assured her I could not. Expectations were high in my family, especially my mother’s side. My grandfather had been president of the school board for several years. My grandmother was an important figure at the local civic center. A seventeen-year-old pregnant granddaughter was outside of their equation.

My English teacher neatly wrote the name, Planned Parenthood on a sheet of paper and underneath it, a phone number.

For my initial visit to the clinic, I called into my work-study job and made the 36-mile-drive alone in the car my grandparents had lent me. The appointment was scheduled to ensure I was, indeed, pregnant. Once confirmed, I’d have to return on a separate day for the actual procedure. A nurse told me what I should bring: a change of clothes, socks, pads, and a person to drive me there and back. I also had to commit to a form of birth control. I opted for the pill.

Eddie drove us to the clinic in his mother’s blue Chevy. We sat in the waiting room and watched daytime television with other women of varied ages, until they called my name.

After recovering, we returned to Eddie’s house. His mother had allowed me to hide my car in her garage, so that passersby wouldn’t know I was there. I lay on the brown sofa for several hours, fading in and out of sleep. His mother encouraged me to eat her homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and gravy. The meal warmed and comforted my spirit.

When it was time to leave their home, I hid the paper bag full of antibiotics and pain meds in my backpack and left around eight at night just in time to arrive at my grandparents’ house, as if I’d been working all evening.

Though physically painful, the days following my abortion were liberating. I not only escaped shame, but also teen motherhood. I didn’t want to be a part of the statistically low numbers of adolescent mothers, who never attended or finished college. An abortion ensured I never was.

Thirty years ago, having an abortion offered me a real choice, with no restrictions, followed by a birth control option.

But this isn’t the case in 2020.

In some states, women are currently faced with the strictest abortion regulations to date. Fetal heartbeat laws restrict abortions after six weeks, which is typically the timeframe for confirming a pregnancy and the earliest that abortions can be completed. My teenage self would’ve had no choice but to prepare for birth. Furthermore, states like Missouri that have one abortion clinic, limit access and add stress to an already stressful situation. Also, as it stands now, the national dialogue is centered on extreme cases. Questions like what if a woman is raped or what if the woman might die tend to exaggerate and cloud the idea of choice. While I agree that these are valid reasons for having an abortion, any situation is reasonable. 

When we focus on the need to prove rape or death, we create a hierarchy of reasons. When we begin ranking rationale, we also implicitly say, you don’t have the right to choose. The state will choose for you. And that is not pro-choice. That is punishment sanctioned by someone else’s idea of morality.

When I reflect on my senior year in Covert, I know it was best not to bring a baby into my world of anger and resentment. Furthermore, Eddie and I said we’d be together forever, but like many teenage relationships, ours didn’t last. We broke up by the beginning of my second year of college. Although conditions are never perfect, raising a baby with a sixteen-year-old boy in a high-poverty environment, while delaying my education wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t time.Cover of "Kwoted" by K E Garland.

But politicians dismiss stories like mine. Even though a study showed that women who have abortions do so because it would “interfere with their education, work or ability to care for their dependents, or they could not afford a baby at the time,” the current political climate ignores these as valid reasons to terminate a pregnancy.

Governments have successfully reframed the pro-choice narrative to only include situations like rape, incest, or a mother’s impending death. These are not pro-choice examples. These are abortion bans intended to punish women and teenage girls for not having protected sex.  

I’m grateful I was able to drive a safe distance to a Planned Parenthood within the state and I’m thankful I didn’t have to involve my grandparents by having them sign an informed consent form, which is current Michigan law. I’m glad I was able to make a choice that was best for me. This procedure allowed me to complete high school, and subsequently college with ease, which in part have contributed to the life I live today as a wife, mother, and professional with a terminal degree. I want the same choice offered for other women, who, for different reasons may become pregnant, but not want to birth a baby. I want our country to return to a true definition of pro-choice, one where women can safely decide the outcome of their situations, without their state’s interference.

To contact K E Garland and for more of her writing, visit her personal blog, or her site that normalizes conversations about menopause.

When were you challenged to make a pivotal decision only you ought to have decided?

Grammar and Books and Toes + “I am a Tulpamancer” by Dr. Bob Newport

Grammar Matters:

“He told him that he loved him.” (Add “only” between the different words in that sentence to see how the meaning changes.)

“We never said I should kill him.” (One at a time, italicize each word to read how the emphasis changes.)

Photo of K-D doggie and da-AL's newly red-painted toes.

Courtesy of the COVID-19 quarantine, I’ve discovered the joy of working on my novels in the virtual company of others. MeetUp is a site that hosts free Shut Up & Write meetings (among other groups, including in-person ones). The sessions provide accountability and camaraderie. Shut Up & Write has many types of challenges and events. I prefer the basic virtuals; authors chat, write, chat some more, then maybe continue writing.

Before you read the essay below by fellow writer Dr. Bob, who I met on MeetUp, here are some new reviews I just wrote for Amazon and Goodreads:

Cover of the novel, "A Spark of Light," by Jodi Picoult.“A Spark of Light” by Jodi Picoult

When I blogged about anti-choice here, this novel was recommended by JoycesMysteryandFictionBookReviews.blog. Some reviewers at Amazon complain that it’s too pro-choice, to which I argue au contraire. Picoult’s story actually afforded me more compassion for those who are anti-choice.

Cover of the autobiographical book, "The Soul of a Woman," by Isabel Allende.“The Soul of a Woman” by Isabel Allende

Much as I adore some of Allende’s books and enjoy others, this was meh in places. The autobiographical parts were good. However, more vivid recounting could have “shown” rather than “told” and lent needed “soul” to her political musings that sometimes were wasted as preaching to the choir. Overall, though, it was worthwhile.

Cover of the novel, "Antiquities," by Cynthia Oziak.“Antiquities” by Cynthia Ozick

Since when do I try out an author based on their age alone? Since they’re over 90 and after a long career of accomplished publishing, they’re still at it! This finely nuanced book depicts how we can be wonderful and awful and sentimental and crude all rolled up into one.

Cover of "The Comfort Book," by Matt Haig.“The Comfort Book” by Matt Haig

His first book, “The Humans,” is sublime, so I’m amazed when he produces new novels even half as good. This book is altogether different, a non-fiction filled with bits about what comforts him. Thank you, Haig, for continually reminding us to hang on.

Cover of the novel, "Libertie," by Kaitlyn Greenwood.“Libertie” by Kaitlyn Greenridge

What would it be like to be black and live in a black community post-Civil War era, to be a girl whose mom is a black female doctor? Freedom, identity, gender, caste, and plain ole’ relationships stitch together the canvas of this well constructed tale.

Cover of "The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People," by Stephen R. Covey.“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” by Stephen R. Covey

My fave nugget from this was his advice that we, “instead of using a map, use a compass,” when it comes to prioritizing. Unfortunate that right-wing religiousness and politics are deeply factored in.

Oh, and last time I mentioned my hair. I didn’t mean to appear vain, rather I meant to point out that it finally seems like life is sort of really kinda post-COVID19. In the photo at the start of this post, I’ve even painted my toes (thought K-D doggies isn’t that impressed), another first in two years!

Now onto our guest, Dr. Bob Newport. He blogs out of Los Angeles, and his self-published novel is available here for sale.

I don’t know whether I’ve got a magical side. Dr. Bob’s courage to seek his out and speak of her openly is truly admirable!…

Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.
Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.

“I am a Tulpamancer,” by Dr. Bob Newport

Don’t know what that is. Well you are in the vast majority of folks. We are a tiny group, who only have existence because of the internet. Prior to it’s existence, the very concept of tulpa, was known to only a few Tibetan Monks and a French woman, Alexandria David Neel. Ms. Neel lived at the turn of the twentieth century. She was an anthropologist who spent a dozen years in Tibet studying the culture. She became enthralled and took up meditation after becoming acquainted with a number of the luminaries at the time. She (as far as we know) was the first westerner to create a tulpa (a sprul-pa in the Tibetan language). She reports this in her book, Magic and Mysticism in Tibet. I got my copy from the L.A. Public Library. Published in 1919, it didn’t get to the U.S. until the 1940’s and didn’t get read until the internet came around and folks began to be intrigued by the possibility of creating their own magical creatures.

And, now you know what a tulpa is; a magical creature intentionally created by the tulpamancer, also known as a ‘thought-form’. Ms. Neel’s tulpa became so real, that he became a nuisance to her neighbors, and she had to terminate him.

Mine has appeared once in physical reality and only for a few seconds. As no one else was around, I can’t say whether or not, she would have been seen by anyone but me.  But I don’t care. She is real to me when we are able to connect . That is not often. I am not able to hold my concentration steady enough to maintain the contact. That takes practice. I have been at it since Dec. of 2018.

She, her name is Flora, first appeared in everyday consensual reality in March of 2019. She had been appearing in my dreams for some time. However, it was after her March debut that I really became excited by her, and she began to appear during my daily meditations. It was hard to hold my concentration because I became so excited, my heart would pound in my chest. I have worked on this and while I still become excited, I don’t let it distract me.

Shortly after Flora first appeared, I created N’sonowa (her full name; Katlego Kalisha N’sonowa, Il’oi-bonokoh of the black sisterhood) to fill out my desire for coming into direct contact with my ‘feminine current’, that part of my male psyche that in my life became encrusted with childhood traumas.

Cover of novel by Dr. Bob Newport, "Tulpa Tales."

This was my main reason for starting the practice. After discovering what it was about I realized that it could become a tool for repairing the damage I suffered at the hands of my mentally ill mother. I am not there yet. Not fully recovered, though I have made a great deal of improvement, more than decades of psychotherapy. But the difficulties I am having contacting her, suggest that I have more to do. It’s okay though, I have never shied from doing hard work and while I am not happy about having to do this ( neither is she and she lets me know when we do have a little time) I am going to do what it takes to give her a complete life. In the meantime, I do the practice daily and have enough contact to let me know she is still around and shares my goals for her.

Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.
Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.

She also has taken to writing. I have given her a page on my blog “Flora’s Own”  and this is currently the main way I have of knowing what she is up to. That and through my own writing, I have published one book, Tulpa Tales: Confessions of an Elder Tulpamancer and have two more in development. It might not surprise you to find that many tulpamancers are authors who find that their characters take on lives of their own and become tulpas. I was writing before tulpamancy, but the practice and the fact of my tulpas, have passionately motivated me to put them out in the world.  If this essay has at all interested you in finding out more, I keep a blog with my journal and the people at the Tulpa Community are very helpful.

About Publishing

In a nutshell self-publishing is easy if you can read instructions. Or, rather the instructions are easy to read, executing them is quite another story. I will hire someone to do the formatting in the future. As for the money. Kindle Direct Publishing (this is Amazon) pays about 30 cents of the dollar, for eBooks and the same less the printing cost on paperbacks. As the printing cost is proportional to the length of the book, my 184 page book selling at 9.99 yields about three dollars per sale.

In contrast, my wife gets $0.05 per sale of a $20 book. To be fair, her co-author, gets a nickel too. It costs me nothing to get mine out there, whereas she spent over 3k to have hers produced professionally. (There is something to be said for that  though; she has won awards and has been published in three languages.)

What are you reading? And have you discovered a magical side to you?

COVID Hair and Writing Life by da-AL + Pamela S. Wight’s New Memoir

K-D doggie with da-AL, who just tried to dye her hair turquoise.
Was nature set on whimsey when she fashioned dog noses?

“What do writers do when they’re not writing?” That question flabbergasted me when I saw it on Quora, an interactive “ask and answer site.” In my case as a novelist, I wish I was outside-the-box enough to warrant such an inquiry. When I’m not writing, I’m fretting about not writing. When I’m not fretting, I’m reading or listening to audiobooks, spending time with loved friends and family, walking my doggie, eating, sleeping, gardening, and ruminating way too much on my hair, as you’ll read later.

Note regarding Happiness Between Tails podcast: Apple Podcasts is taking longer than usual to process submissions, so will continue to keep you posted.

Regarding friends, look at the cool pen my dear pal, Patricia, gave me! (Btw, here’s a letter she wrote to you and me about her United States Marines recruit daughter, Rebekah Hyde, who’d love to get our postcards.) Patricia planned to gift me a mega-bling pen, but I snatched this instead. She appeared somewhat crestfallen, so I asked if she wanted it back, but she answered that she’d hoped to give me something pretty. Ah, I told her, thank you very much. However, how often do you come across a USMC Marine band pen? With a  revolving clicker that displays their website, phone number, and such?

The "President's Own" is the Marine band that accompanies the president everywhere.
The “President’s Own” is the Marine band that accompanies the president everywhere.

As for gardening, figs are coming in, kumquats are winding down, and so are tomatoes (here’s one of several posts they’ve figured into). “Wildlife” devoured the grapes. Despite K-D doggie’s best attempts, she has yet to de-populate our modest back yard of possums, rats, birds, and the figeater beetles who work their tiny gossamer wings very hard to fling their enormous green bodies into the soft fruits of our labors. (Btw, have you read “Miss Benson’s Beetle” by Rachel Joyce? So fun and so girl-power that it’s changed how I see beetles forever. Check out other books I like at my Goodreads page.)

It's fun to grow food.
It’s fun to grow food.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,” here’s my hair short, before the COVID-19 quarantine hit. Sheesh, back then I had no inkling what the future would bring…

BC: Before COVID-19.
BC: Before COVID-19.

No one I know is happy about COVID-19, though my husband likes my newly long hair that resulted from not being able to get it cut during quarantine. It took a while to learn how to condition my hair to where it’s not a dried-out snarl. The photo at the very start of this post is an unveiling of sorts. It’s my hair yesterday, the day after I marinated it in temporary turquoise coloring. Admittedly, it now only looks a little darker.

All the aforementioned distractions and more are why I am especially impressed with writers who actually produce, and boy, does Pamela Wight produce! She’s an inspiration to me and I hope she’ll be one for you too. Here she was a Happiness Between Tails guest before. As you’ll read below, she’s a blogger (find all her social media links here, including for her books) who posts from Boston (though she’s from San Francisco), teaches, gives presentations, and publishes books for kids as well as adults. Also, she loves animals and values life’s simple moments. Read to the very end of her guest blog post to learn of her publishing journey…

Author Pamela Wight with her furry family, Charlie and Charlotte.
Author Pamela Wight with her furry family, Charlie and Charlotte.

“Memoir in a Flash” by Pamela S. Wight

As a writer of several genres — romantic suspense and children’s books — I thought that memoir was one genre I would never attempt.

Memoir is the stuff of hardship and life challenges. Memoirs often follow an individual who battles abuse/addiction/racial and sexual inequities/tribulations that eventually lead to triumph.

But ordinary me? What would I ever write about that made for an interesting “me” book?

But then, several of my blog followers began to suggest that I use my blog posts to create a fun memoir.

What? When I think of memoir, I don’t think of fun. I think of tragedy and hopelessness until the denouement, when hope and love are reestablished.

Cover of "Flashes of Life," by Pamela S. Wight.

Whoever heard of a light and easy memoir? A memoir of ordinary snippets about ordinary life? So I continued posting my fun everyday stories of a dog who barks longingly for pumpkin in his kibble, of an “elderly” grandmother who rollerblades with her eyes closed, of a fear of pedicures and of a scam gone wrong. Readers seem to delight in my honest discovery of the joys — and horrors — of babysitting grandbabies and of being horribly late for a brother’s wedding.

More blog readers and friends/strangers suggested I should compile these stories — those posted and those still filed away — into a book. 

Silly, I decided. Until I mentioned the silly idea to my publisher who immediately exclaimed: “A FLASH memoir! Perfect idea.”

I thought she had made up this genre on-the-spot — a flash memoir? But then my research revealed this new genre called micro-writing, which is also called the short short story. In his preface to In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction (edited by Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumier Jones), Bernard Cooper writes in the Preface: “To write short nonfiction requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens, so to speak, until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human.”

Well, yes, that’s exactly what I try to do in my flash stories. To show how extraordinary the ordinary is. To show how the amazing lightness of being can be available from one day to the next. The flash in “flash memoir” indicates brevity, yes, but even more importantly, it suggests a “flash” of insight into the human experience.

So, I listened to my publisher and to the beta readers who read my compilation of fun fast stories of everyday life. I hired an editor who wrote: “this is a really sweet, funny, readable, heartwarming collection of anecdotes from your life. I smile when I think about parts I’ve just read, and I’m sure readers will feel like that when they put the book down just for a short time before they find themselves smiling and picking it up again! Even the sad parts of the book are well done, drawing the reader in with empathy for your characters. The humility and humor are what make this a beautiful book. I love it.” (Thank you, Anneli Purchase.)

So yes, there are a few sad parts in here. This is about life, after all. But the sad is infused with joy.

I include eight sections in my flash memoir, with headings like “Fun Family Drama,” “For the Dogs,” and “Relationships.”  I wanted to keep this light memoir light, literally as well as metaphorically. So the page count is a modest 140. My publisher designed it brilliantly as a square book with black and white waterlogued photos of real people in my life — photos from the 1940s to current day.

I must admit, I’m glad I’m now a triple-genre author. And one of the genres is memoir.

On Publishing…

The first book I wrote was Twin Desires with co-author, Ashley Brandt. My co-writer and I were a great team. Ashley had been a student for several years in my creative writing classes, and at some courageous point we decided to write a romantic suspense novel together. We had a great time, because we set aside our egos, outlined a plot after writing about 1,000 words individually, sharing these pages, and then delegating chapters. Then we switched and edited each other’s chapters. After hiring an editor and making a few changes, we got an agent within a month of “putting it out there.” This is rather miraculous, as most writers know. The agent was marvelous and shopped the book to many publishing companies, and we got terrific feedback (all positive). That said, no one wanted to buy the book. We received comments like: “already published too many books with twins,” “don’t want a book with a bomb in it,” “well-written and page-turner but doesn’t fit in with our needs now.”

That’s when I decided to research Indie publishing. After doing so, I’ve never looked back. Both of my novels are self-published (Twin Desires and The Right Wrong Man). For my two children’s books (Birds of Paradise and Molly Finds Her Purr) and my “flash memoir,” I decided to go with hybrid publishing. For a fee, the publisher (Borgo Publishing) designed the books and organized the printing and getting them into Amazon and Barnes & Noble.. I receive 100% of the royalties. Each of these books needed specialized designs, and Borgo did an incredible job with all three.

Visit Pam’s blog for more about her.

How long did your hair get during the quarantine?…

Menendez Bros + My Jury Duty Pt 3 + a Podcast Note

Photo of Menendez brothers with their father, Jose, whom they murdered.
Photo of Menendez brothers with their father, Jose, whom they murdered.

Justice — trials, how our system works, lawyers, juries… all these topics have been on my mind since I recently completed doing jury duty. Since the week before I started it (here are Part 1 and Part 2 about it), I’ve wondered about the Mendez brothers. You know, those rich guys who killed their parents back in the late 1980s. This video I checked out from my happy place, a.k.a. any public library, explains their story.

The brothers somewhat physically resemble my two older brothers, plus we three were raised “tennis-y.” Our household wasn’t hellish in the way of Lyle and Eric’s, but controlling and cruelty and looking the other way existed.

Please don’t get me wrong: a) my brothers aren’t killers and they’re nothing like the Menendez — and b) I believe murder is despicable.

Unlike the Menendezes, we didn’t suffer rich-people burdens. Here’s one man’s take on growing up “in tennis” for some players at the nosebleed rungs. Our dad wasn’t a powerful movie mogul, and we weren’t indoctrinated to keep up with the Beverly Hills set. There are benefits to being an apartment-dwelling plebeian. Tennis earned my brothers college scholarships. As for me, I set out on my own the moment I graduated high school, determined to sooner resort to prostitution than go back.

As a writer, I began as a journalist, then later attended a course on fiction. A classmate, Vonda Pelto, wanted to learn story telling for a recount of her former career as a psychiatrist at the downtown Los Angeles jail. Her primary function was to prevent serial killers from dying by suicide. How’s that for irony? (Here’s an enlightening article about discussing suicide.) Her patients ranged from Charles Manson and porn star John Holmes, to “Hillside Strangler” Ken Bianchi and “Freeway Killer” William Bonin.

Clearly, those killers fall into a different category than the Menendez brothers.

Almost every day in Los Angeles is sky perfection.
Almost every day in Los Angeles is sky perfection.

Back to jury duty…

For a thumbnail of what I posted about jury duty so far, picture “Car Problems” as my middle name. Was it mere coincidence that the morning my mom lent me her car, in front of the courthouse was a man in a t-shirt with a “check engine” logo?

Every trip to and from downtown was a winding tour of Siri workarounds to Los Angeles traffic. Siri kindly even warned me of traffic cameras. The Spring Street Courthouse is snuggled among the Toy District, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Union Station, Grand Central Market, the Bradbury Building of “Bladerunner” movie renown, and more. Slogging along freeways to get there and back would have been unbearable without my beloved audiobooks.

It’s years since I’ve visited the area. Sadly, the number of people who live on the sidewalks has exploded. Flimsy domed homes shelter people along corners, alleys, freeway overpasses and underpasses. I don’t know an end-all remedy, only that “them” is “us.” Whenever I left my juror chair, I kept my little backpack near. How is anyone mobile enough to find a job, see a doctor, take a leak, do anything, when their worldly goods are housed within a nylon tent parked in the middle of a city?

The trial I worked on involved an RV park, privately run yet publicly owned, endeavoring to evict a couple.

On one hand, one of the two renters had recorded park employees, those not wearing mandated Covid19-preventative masks. They used the evidence to report them to the health department. On the other hand, staff accused the renters of impeding their work and bothering fellow tenants by failing to consistently leash their dog.

Sculpture of "Young Lincoln" by James Hansen, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.
Sculpture of “Young Lincoln” by James Hansen, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.

Management had a slicker lawyer and employees willing to smooth over their sloppy record keeping. The tenants brought neighbors (via an extremely problematic videoconferencing setup) who stated they loved the dog and the couple.

Ah, the dog! Mike was old, pudgy, and wore a vest that suggested he was an emotional service provider (any dog is, no?). I first noticed him when he snored from the opposite end of the vast courtroom. Basically, he slept and sometimes slurped water.

Hearing testimonies is nothing akin to dynamic TV shows and high drama movies. Questions get reframed in endless ways so lawyers can reveal details otherwise not allowed. Did I say it was boring? Many jurors were there only because they heard rumors that not showing up can result in a $1,500 fine.

This case ran four days, not counting the Friday of jury selection. Monday was a holiday. Tuesday through Thursday were for evidence disclosure, a process rendered mind-numbingly. The last Friday morning was for the lawyers’s closing speeches. Here again, imagine what money buys in terms of lawyers.

Management’s was organized and smooth.

The residents’s insisted on using an overhead projector that blinked his pages onto the screen so annoyingly that I half-closed my eyes. To his credit, he opened with a salient point; each side had recorded, antagonized, and vilified each other. Amen.

Then it was time for a shortened lunch. Then deciding whether the tenants ought to be evicted.

Hand on any religious tome you prefer I swear on, I had every intention to review evidence and turn over every rock.

Sculpture of "Law" by Archibald Garner, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.
Sculpture of “Law” by Archibald Garner, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.

Twelve jurors: roughly fifteen questions to vote on. The list was one of those affairs of, “if you vote this, answer this or skip this…” Each question required only nine votes to pass.

Within some questions, the word “substantial” was used. Was the residents’s rule-breaking and annoying of neighbors “substantial”? Four months earlier, after they were served a seven-day notice to clean up their acts, did they? Substantially? Definitely, but fellow jurors noted that management had spied near-catatonic Mike off-leash once or twice.

A juror reminded us that the residents bothered neighbors over the past year when twice they called the cops. First, when one renter was assaulted by a stranger, then later when she spotted the assaulter lurking.

I asked the juror, “If a sick neighbor needed to summon an ambulance twice over the last year, would you evict them?”

She nodded her head.

Except for mine, the votes were unanimous. They voted so quickly, and with so little discussion and consideration of evidence, as if they’d made snap judgements, I wonder if justice was truly served.

So very many people in Los Angeles live in tents or in cardboard boxes.
So very many people in Los Angeles live in tents or in cardboard boxes.

I’m told the renters can appeal and it was their choice whether to have their trial judged by a judge or a jury. It was an honor to serve, and I learned a lot, though not what I’d expected.

Maybe in the end, like with the Menendez brothers, it boiled down to looking into faces and choosing whether they deserved another chance. TV’s Columbo only needed to solve crimes, not decide whether they were redeemable…

What do you think of our trial system? Would you choose a jury or a judge to decide your case? Do you think the Menendez brothers have served long enough?

Me, leaving the courthouse.
Me, leaving the courthouse.

Wait — a non-jury thing — I’ve already converted several blog posts into podcasts via the WordPress-to-Anchor function. Once Apple’s podcast app accepts them into its feed, you’ll be the first to know!

Please Snail-Mail a Recruit + Willow Croft on Writing and Animals

Justice… I’m in the middle of continuing writing, in between working on my novels, about doing jury duty. (Here’s Part 1 and here’s Part 2 and here’s Part 3). In the meantime, it’s triggered lots of thoughts about justice in general.

Postcards and letters are much appreciated by Rebekah Hyde, USMC Recruit.
Postcards and letters are much appreciated by Rebekah Hyde, USMC Recruit.

Today’s post begins with hefty justice — a letter to you from Patricia Hyde, my friend whose daughter, Rebekah, is determined to do justice for her country by serving in the Marines. Rebekah needs our encouragement while she mends from injuries sustained during military training so she can jump back in where she left off. The week before she began training, she got married. With luck, she’ll finish and see her husband next February, a year later.

Of all the military branches, Marine boot camp is the longest and probably most rugged. While healing, Rebekah still works, doing less taxing activities. Recruits are restricted from the outside world. They are obliged only snail-mail and one phone call a week. That’s it.

Should you find it in your heart to write to her, I doubt you’ll find anyone as grateful to receive your postcard or letter. 

After Patricia’s letter here to us, continue on for speculative fiction/horror author Willow Croft’s guest post regarding how she came to be published and her love of animals…

Patricia with her soon-to-be-a-Marine daughter, Rebekah Hyde.
Patricia with her soon-to-be-a-Marine daughter, Rebekah Hyde.

Patricia’s Letter to Us About her Daughter’s Service as a Marine Recruit

Note: info within parenthesis added by da-AL

Dear Reader,

This story is about my daughter, Rebekah Hyde, age 22. She tried out for the US Marine Band after she finished high school. Alas, she wasn’t selected, so she applied again after graduating from California State University Long Beach. After four years of college, paid for by working at Jersey Mike’s (a sandwich chain) and as a piano teacher, she was accepted into the USMC band. However, she must first get through boot camp.

Her adventure began February 8, 2021. After a two-week quarantine, she was shipped with other recruits to Parris Island, South Carolina.

Two months later, I received a fateful call. My daughter was seriously injured while carrying her 65-pound backpack. She suffered a stress fracture of her pelvis, both sides of her groin were pulled, and one of her fingers was broken. Nothing, though, can make her quit her dream.

Presently assigned to a medical platoon, she is coming along, healing and feeling less and less pain. In a few weeks, Rebekah will be placed in an active platoon to finish boot camp where she left off.

I’m concerned for her during “The Crucible,” a test every recruit must pass to become a marine. To graduate, recruits need to be “Forged by the Fire of the Crucible”: 54 hours, 48 miles, 45 pounds of gear, 36 stations, 29 problem-solving exercises, 6-8 hours sleep, and 5 MRE’s (Meals Ready-to-Eat). Of course, I’m concerned about the 45 pounds of gear — whether her pelvis will survive the weight on her small 5-foot, 110-pound body.

Rebekah is my only child. Strong and courageous, she will not give up her dream of joining the “President’s Own” and traveling with the US President.

When Rebekah was eight, she begin her music career playing the piano. In the sixth grade, she picked up the flute and immediately fell in love with it. She participated in marching band all four years of high school and also traveled with independent bands like “Impulse,” competing and showcasing her skills with the flute, cymbals, and synthesizer keyboard. Throughout it all, I was by her side as a “Booster Mom.”

I’d appreciate your letters and postcards to Rebekah, to encourage and motivate her through “The Crucible.” Prayers are also welcome.

Please write to Rebekah at:

RCT HYDE, REBEKAH
4TH RTBN OSCAR CO PLT 4041
BOX 16430
PARRIS ISLAND, SC 29905-6430

God bless you and your family. Thank You!

Sincerely,

Patricia Hyde

Willow Croft's book of poetry, "Quantum Singularity."

Willow Croft writes and blogs from the high desert. Her speculative fiction/horror has appeared in many anthologies and journals. Her blog includes more of her writing, her Amazon page, and her other social media links. When she’s not writing, she cares for three rescued cats…

“Writing, Publishing, and My Love for Animals” by Willow Croft

About Me

I acquired a degree in writing and literature from Goddard College (Vermont) back in 1998-2001 but I didn’t actually start writing in hopes of getting published until about the mid- to late 2010s. When I was growing up, creativity was only something you did on the side (if ever!) once you found a job and were a fully functioning and conformist member of society. Only then was it okay to express your creativity, and only if it never took the place of “real” work. And it was because of my 30-plus quest for “real” work that I not only acquired significant physical limitations, I was in a place of mental and emotional desperation. I was living in increasingly conservative, intolerant Florida, I couldn’t find any sort of work, I had been threatened by one of a group of those rabidly conservative types my home state was notorious for, and I had just gotten my master’s degree in a (futile) hope of expanding my hire-ability, with no luck. Although I had started my own freelance business, I was still having problems earning enough income to be independent, and I was just living under so much fear and sadness and stress that I allowed myself to turn to writing, because I just didn’t know what else to do any more. I mean, it was to the point where I was like “I’m almost middle-aged, and I’m still living way below poverty level, I have nothing to show for my efforts to conform to the system just to ‘get a job’ and I have very limited options, so why not write just to keep yourself sane?” And, amazingly, I started to get published in magazines and in anthologies. Granted, there was an immense amount of hard work and dedication involved, but I was actually seeing a return on that, as opposed to anything else I had attempted to achieve over the span of my lifetime. I could spin out so many cliched terms about what getting published meant (and continues to mean), but they are all sincere: a lifeline, a light in the darkness, a refuge, a sanctuary… the list goes on.

So, that’s my main issue with standardized education (and standardized employment, for you grownups out there!). Why force kids to live up to a standard and regimen that many adults (including me!) would have difficulty managing? (I mean, come on, schools; by the time pencils are sharpened, supplies and materials organized, fidgets and energy calmed, and brains drifting into the task ahead, then  —BAM! — it’s time to go to the next period or switch to the next educational subject area and OMG I’M THE TEACHER and I’ve just gotten into the zone and HOLY COW it’s already time for the SWITCH?!??!?! And all I can hope for at that point is that I’ve at least provided the kids some levity in their otherwise dull, rote-learning educational experience by watching their substitute teacher’s brain implode.)

Photo of Potato, Willow Croft's tabby cat.
Photo of Potato, Willow Croft’s tabby cat.

I mean, come on, what’s wrong with making education dynamic and fun and intuitive and stress/pressure-free and exploration-based? When did we stop making space for kids to be kids (and not mini-adults) in schools?

So, even though I’m not currently teaching, I still daydream about this amazingly interactive, pod-based learning environment for the school system that allows children to immerse themselves for a week or two in diverse and wide-ranging areas of interest of their choice, while teachers and guest teachers can weave in essentials, like reading, math, etc., as seamless parts of each pod. And utilize them to build up skill zones like critical thinking, creative nurturing, curiosity-fueled engagement, and more.

And, in the end, the school system could actually not only prepare kids for the changing world (of which, I firmly believe, the standardized school system is outdated, inefficient, and impractical, and well in need of not just an update, but a complete overhaul.)

And, in the best part of all, give kids a chance to explore all aspects of their potential, while they have a safe, judgement-free, supportive environment to do so, instead of having to play self-discovery catch-up as best you can at an older age. I mean, I look back now, and I know that tendencies of mine that had been criticized and considered a detriment, would have been an asset in the careers I had wanted to explore.

But I’ve tried to make up for lost time. As you can see from my “Tips” list, below, I’ve had the opportunity as an adult to explore things, and causes — namely animals, and the environment — that interest me. I may never be able to be the marine biologist or live the purely artistic lifestyle I dreamed of as a child, but at least I can reconnect with my innate interests and passions as best I can, with the time I have left. Why can’t kids have that, with all the time they have ahead of them? I don’t think it’s fair, to strip them of their potential, while we, as adults, want to make them fit into confining little boxes just because we had to/have to.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soap box, and into the tips I learned from my explorations as an adult (where nobody could deter me from getting involved in causes like this!).

About My Love of Animals

Anyone who knows my blog knows I love animals. And if you don’t… well, guess what? I am very passionate about animals and animal welfare. And I don’t just blog about animal welfare causes, like in my fixed post, “The Real-Life Horror of Pet Overpopulation.” I have been very involved in animal rescue causes… everything from cleaning out kennels to assisting on a cat hoarding investigation (and the cats’ subsequent relocation) to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. I’ve even attended greyhound racing protests. I often have a wonderful rapport with my animal friends, especially cats, chipmunks, and…skunks!

Photo of super fluffy calico cat, Moon Pie.
Moon Pie was a five-year-old, un-spayed, feral cat that showed up in my portal. Many of her behaviors and her physical state also pointed to her having been abused at some point. She was a tricky combination of feisty calico and feral. But I patiently worked with her for almost a year, and she’s now a happy indoor-only cat (though still very feisty!). Moon Pie is one of a set of feral cats I rescued from the street — all of which are indoor-only now.

So, even when I’m writing horror, I often include animals in my short stories and other written material. I especially like to include shelter animals and also try to give animals the agency and empowerment they often lack in the real world.

Here are a few examples (links) to stories (in anthologies) that include animals:

An attempt to liberate animals from laboratories:

Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Magic

Rescued, Adopted, and Shelter Animals/Animal Shelters:

EconoClash Review #7

The Hollow: Where All Evil Things Lie Vol. 3

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown

So, for this guest blog post, I’d thought I’d share some tips learned from my years in animal rescue and wildlife rescue/rehab.

On Wildlife

  • Can be a hard thing to resist. Even I, a former, longtime, wildlife rehabber who absolutely knows better, sometimes feel the compulsion to feed my wild animal friends (which I don’t give into). But it can do more harm than good. Like with dogs, people food is not good for animals. So, the next time you’re tempted to feed ducks, turtles (or, heaven forbid, raccoons!), or any other kind of wild animal, please try not to give in to the urge. It may seem like a small act, but it can be a matter of life or death for the wild creature.
  • It should go without saying, right? If you find an injured wildlife, immediately contact your local wildlife center or wildlife rescue group for advice, and the most current information regarding the proper rescue of the animal. Be hesitant about handling injured wildlife, as to avoid injury to yourself from a scared or stressed animal. Also, wildlife rescue organizations always need volunteers, and that can be the best way to learn how to safely handle wildlife, and perhaps even assist on wildlife rescues and releases out in the field.
  • Instead of an environmentally detrimental turf lawn, consider a landscape design that provides food, shelter, and a more natural ecosystem for animals, birds, insects/bugs, and other critters. If you put out water for wildlife and/or birds, make sure it’s flowing and not stagnant. Standing water cannot only play host to harmful bacteria that can sicken wildlife, it can also be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Consult with the Parks Department or the Extension Service in your area for more expert advice on supporting the local wildlife in your region. Bat houses, birdhouses, and bee houses can be fun additions to your wildlife-friendly zone!

On Adopting Pets

Again, do I even need to say it? Okay, if you insist. “Adopt, Don’t Shop.” Spay/neuter your pets to prevent shelter overcrowding and pet overpopulation. Don’t buy breed or purchase any animals from puppy and cat mills. I worked for a number of years (and plan to, again, when I get settled) in animal rescue and in animal shelters, both as a volunteer and as a paid employee. I even worked on a hoarding case, once. It’s fulfilling work, but also heartbreaking. Heartbreaking for so many different reasons. Mainly, there are too many animals and not enough homes. So, here’s some basics for navigating the pet adoption realm.

  • Give older cats and dogs a chance. For some reason, people seem to think any animal that’s not a kitten or a puppy as “old”. To put this in perspective, my own two cats (both adopted from a shelter) lived to be twenty and twenty-one, respectively. Cats over five years old are a lot more mellow and are often a better companion for families with kids, especially smaller kids. Teach kids (and, yes, even other adults) to be respectful of the cat’s boundaries, and provide spaces for the cat to get away from visitors, household residents, and the like. Adding vertical spaces to your home (cat towers, cat-friendly shelving, etc) can help the cat adjust and minimize stress and behavior issues. I’m not as much as an expert on dogs as I am on cats, but investing in proper training can be a life saver. Literally, in the case of the dog.
  • Keep cats indoors. I admit, I grew up in a household that let cats be indoor/outdoor, and I made the mistake of allowing my first cat be indoor/outdoor, and he developed so many behavior problems as a result. Everybody’s divided on this issue, but I am adamantly, fiercely entrenched on the side of keeping cats strictly indoors. It makes it easy to relocate, plus it saves on having to take the cat to the vet every other week for some abscessed wound after it tangled with a raccoon. Not to mention it’s so much less stress when you’re not worried every time the cat disappears that it’s been run over, or poisoned either accidentally, or on purpose by an angry neighbor because cats consistently ignore property lines. Plus, indoors, they’re not wreaking havoc on an already embattled ecosystem. Cats are opportunistic hunters and have a detrimental impact on local birds and wildlife. Now, here’s the worst parts to letting cats run free, and leaving dogs unattended in the yard: they are vulnerable to theft. And by theft, I don’t mean by people like me who might see a loose animal and think it’s a stray (Joking! Well, sort of.). I mean people who cruise neighbourhoods and steal pets in order to use them for bait animals in dog fighting or to sell them to laboratories for animal testing. Urban myth, right? Nope. Every few months, there would be a flood of lost pet posters in my (former) neighbourhood in Florida. I learned what was most likely happening to the animals from an animal rescue worker who’d been volunteering for about twenty years.
  • “Cute” pets like rabbits do not make good pets for kids. Which is a shame, because rescued rabbits need homes too, as they are often acquired as gifts and then discarded like so many other pet animals once the novelty wears off. I always make the joke “Unless your kid is 4-H experienced…” because rabbits require so much finicky care and handling. If rabbits are held the wrong way, they can kick and break their backs. They need so much specialized care, and unless the parent or guardian is prepared to take on that care, I wouldn’t recommend it. And, hopefully this goes without saying… get the rabbit spayed/neutered! Because rabbits really do breed like, well, rabbits! Or save yourself a lot of headache and stress, and turn the kid onto herpetology (from a licensed breeder that only sells captive bred reptiles, etc.).

Still have questions? Need advice on the weird and wacky things cats do? I’m always willing to talk animals. Visit me on my blog.

Do you know someone who could use a snail-mail letter or postcard? And have you rescued any animals?

My Abortion Story + Jury Service Pt 2

Your comments to Part 1 of this post on my jury duty have lent me courage.

On Olvera Street, you can buy stuff like these Calaveras-style (skeleton) caricatures and plush versions of Mexican pastries. Photo by da-AL.
On Olvera Street, you can buy stuff like these Calaveras-style (skeleton) caricatures and plush versions of Mexican pastries. Photo by da-AL.

In posts and comments here and elsewhere, I often mention the importance of blogging, how delighted I am that social media and our freely commenting allow us to become closer to each other. The simpler it is for people to express themselves into the ethers, the smaller our the world becomes. When we speak from our hearts and personal experience, we see we all need each other and that every single one of us linked in doing our best to get by each day.

All that, and still I left out a vital bit of my own story last time. In that post, “My Jury Duty Pt 1 + Infidel753 Works for Justice and Freedom to Choose,” guest blogger Infidel753 told of his experience as a volunteer for an abortion clinic. As a “pro-choice escort,” he navigated women past the intimidation efforts of anti-choicers. As a result, some readers were inspired shared their views on abortion rights. (By the way, My Jury Duty Pt 3 is here.)

Pico House, across from downtown Los Angeles' historic Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
Pico House, across from downtown Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street, was built in 1870. Photo by da-AL.

My Story

When I was in my mid-20s, I terminated two pregnancies. Within the same year, I got pregnant twice, each time using different forms of birth control. At the time, I’d been living with a boyfriend since I was 18, a sweet, intelligent man I loved dearly.

We were surviving on sporadic work, earning hardly above minimum wage. For that and many more reasons, I didn’t feel like I could give a child the kind of start on life that I would have wanted.

The procedures were expensive and weren’t covered by my health insurance. Each was horribly painful. Afterward, I ran fevers of 104 and was forced to take days off from work, which I could barely afford.

The picturesque old church across from Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
The picturesque old church across from Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.

Fortunately…

I had a kind lover to help me through. Never have I regretted my decisions.

In addition, in my 30s, I was sexually assaulted. Good luck, as if the term can apply to any part of such a trauma, is the only reason I didn’t get pregnant.

Throughout, I’ve enjoyed sheer fortune. What I mean is, the freedom to choose is easy for lucky women, regardless of laws. Those to whom life offers stepping stones and opportunities, circumstances that allow them respectable status and money — they can always spend enough to choose when and if they have children.

Part of the fun of jury duty was walking the local sights, like these stalls of Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
Part of the fun of jury duty was walking the local sights, like these stalls of Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.

Choice

When people are eager to control others, they often interject comments about the for people to “be held accountable.” Their fingers continually point, and always away from themselves.

When we kid ourselves that we know what’s better for our neighbor, it’s easy to view the world as “them” vs. “us.” It’s not so very long ago when United States medical officials decided it was ok to pretend to treat black people for syphilis when really they were studying the full progression of the disease. (Check out that real life horror out here.)

If a woman is resource-poor, network impoverished, lacking in status, uneducated, plain ol’ poor and any of the rest of the often insurmountable challenges life can present — the option to decide whether she bears children is often beyond reach.

What if you’re very young and your family is the opposite of a Hallmark card? What if you’re not emplyed? Or your job doesn’t provide insurance and sick days? What if the rape was more than you could bear? And you don’t want the added burdens of facing the police, defending your reputation as well as your case, can’t afford a good lawyer, and don’t want to confront whoever assaulted you in court?

It was closed when I strolled by, but here’s where you can go up to see a David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of Mexico's greatest muralists) mural that was hidden for many years. Photo by da-AL.
It was closed when I strolled by, but here’s where you can go up to see a David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of Mexico’s greatest muralists) mural that was hidden for many decades. Photo by da-AL.  

Accountability and Responsibility

What if, what if, what if? No, it’s no one’s business why or how many times any woman has an abortion.

When statistics tally how many people consider abortion acceptable, they sidestep the real question. What begs to be asked is whether government is entitled to rule the female body.

It is neither your right nor mine to decide who gets abortions, to force anyone to get sterilized, or to force them to bear a child.

What is your business and mine is this: it’s their body. End of story.

Is it still legal to get an abortion?

How sad that anyone needs to ask. Mercifully, the answer in the United States is yes, in good measure due to the work of Planned Parenthood.

The organization offers all kinds of affordable health care, mostly but not all concerning reproductive health, to all genders, all ages, all over the world. Interestingly, in 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law funding for family planning services, Planned Parenthood included. According to Wikipedia, Nixon decreed, “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

Remember, however, it’s not enough to win our rights — we must continually work to retain them. Unfortunately, the right to choose is continually endangered by anti-choicers.

Need proof we can’t rest on our laurels? According to Wikipedia, here’s what happened elsewhere: “Poland is one of the few countries in the world to largely outlaw abortion after decades of permissive legislation during Polish People’s Republic. About 10-15% of Polish women seek abortion in neighbouring countries due to the strict restraints in their own country. Poland’s abortion law is one of the most restrictive in Europe, along with a group of other traditionally Roman Catholic countries of the region (Malta, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Vatican, Monaco and Andorra).”

In non-Covid-19 times, the plaza at the mouth of Olvera Street is filled with performers and audiences. Photo by da-AL.
In non-Covid-19 times, the plaza at the mouth of Olvera Street is filled with performers and audiences. Photo by da-AL.

What about Pt 2 of my jury duty?

It was a holiday weekend, so we all stayed home that Monday.

Since my car was in the shop, on Tuesday my husband lent me his car. Ten minutes away from home, his “check engine” light blinked on.

Fortunately (a word I don’t use lightly, as explained several headings ago), I had another car I could borrow. My mom lives with us and she was away visiting my brothers who live in different states. Can one take a vacation when one is retired? Regardless, her generosity allowed me to continue jury duty, albeit half an hour tardy that day.

Today’s post was an emotional one and it took a lot out of me so I’ll leave off here and fill you in on the rest of my jury service next time…

Here's one entrance to the Olvera Street outdoor mall. Photo by da-AL.
Here’s one entrance to the Olvera Street outdoor mall. Photo by da-AL.

In the meantime, since the courthouse was in the Los Angeles Historic District, these photos are of Olvera Street. I walked there during our lunch break. According to Wikipedia, it’s “been the main square of the city since the early 1820s, when California was still part of Mexico, and was the center of community life[ until the town expanded in the 1870s.”

How much control do you want your government to have over your body?

My Jury Service Pt 1 + Infidel753 Works for Justice and Freedom to Choose

Photo of Spring Stree Courthouse, Los Angeles, California, By Los Angeles - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4070759
Photo of Spring Street Courthouse, Los Angeles, California, by Los Angeles – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4070759

Consider me two weeks behind in everything, including the story I’ll begin with below. I’ve just finished jury duty, so in terms of everything from blogging and novel writing to general life stuff plus venturing into a podcast version of Happiness Between Tails.

Thank you Infidel753 for generously guest posting here today! Before we get to him, indulge me in a recount of Part 1 of my recent civic experience. Find Pt 2 here and find Pt 3 here.

Jury duty. Duty. Justice.

Justice, doing one’s duty can be inconvenient. Same with voting, giving blood, and such. How far we’ll put ourselves out to work for the greater good is no body else’s business. I only hope we’re all thoughtful and kind about our choices, soul-searchingly aware that our only hope is if we know we’re all in this together. Each of us is a potential everyday hero for each other, all of us breathing the same air, if you get what I mean.

Friday before last, I started my service. Is jury duty the same all over the United States? All I know is California. Strike that. All I only know Los Angeles County.

A cousin in the UK reports jurors there rioted over crummy sandwiches they got for lunch. Lunch?! Believe me, here we’d be overjoyed to be offered anything other than tap water from the building’s fountains. The cafe in the basement charges for food. And it closed daily at 12:30 (maybe because of COVID restrictions?) even though lunch breaks were usually noon to 1:30.

Photo of Walt Disney Concert Hall By jjron - Own work; stitched panorama from seven original images, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19436299
Photo of Walt Disney Concert Hall by jjron – Own work; stitched panorama from seven original images, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19436299

Parking where I served, the Spring Street Courthouse, was a little over half a mile away and included a shuttle ride. Loving exercise, I didn’t mind jogging instead. The garage was beneath the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is quite something to see as it’s one of Frank Gehry’s architectural marvels.

Let me rewind to before I got there.

The way jury duty works here, for a week, every night one calls to see if they’ll be needed the following day. I’d heard that if you’re not needed by Thursday morning, you’re home free.

Not so, Nay, nay, nay. Thursday night, they instructed me to go in — to a location much further than originally promised.

Photo of 701 Freeway, Los Angeles, California, By Dicklyon - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76153668
Photo of 701 Freeway, Los Angeles, California, by Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76153668

Along the drive there, on the 710, a busy freeway favored by semi-trucks, my engine blew, stalled, went caput. After $2,000 and another week, I’m hoping I’ll be able to drive it again. It happened on the lane second from the fastest as vehicles wizzed by. Mercifully, on that section of road, there was a safety shoulder to coast onto. After several deep breaths to calm myself and to count my lucky stars, I called AAA for a tow. They told me to sit tight for an hour. Then I phoned the courthouse, expecting they’d excuse me, but they wanted me to call them back later.

Within ten minutes, a Metro angel tow truck pulled up behind and rescued me!

If you ever break down on a Los Angeles freeway, call 511. For no charge, they’ll come out faster than anyone else can and help you get your car running (i.e., jump start, tire change, gallon of gas, radiator water, etc.) or tow you to the nearest exit.

From there, AAA took me to my mechanic, where my husband met me (whew! he was working from home that day). It was 12:15 when I arrived home. When I phoned the courthouse, they asked me to get there ASAP.

I inhaled lunch and darted through confusing one-way streets of downtown in search of jury for parking. No one said it would be far from the actual site… Fortunately, I didn’t run anyone over as I dialed the jury room…

At 2:15, soaked from running downhill and uphill as well as roaming the courthouse, I got there. An hour later, I became a juror for the first time.

Now for today’s guest, Infidel753. He’s blogged here before, when he amazed everyone by his compassionate veganism, which is despite his not being into cuddling up with furry and feathered and scaly folk.

Wait! Surely you’re curious about how the trial went? Check back soon for that tale, dear readers. In the meantime, here’s a photo of how our tomatoes (first introduced here) are coming along…

Close up of 3 huge tomatoes from my garden.
The best tomatoes are home grown!

Back to Infidel753, whose courage and conviction amaze me. Definitely check out his site. His Sunday posts are especially popular. That’s when he offers tons of funny and sober links. Here’s a picture from one of his links that still makes me laugh, particularly since this guy resembles my dear K-D doggie (who surely regrets being cared for by me who doesn’t eat meat).

Photo of a dog with a huge bone wearing a sneaker in it's mouth.

Here Infidel753 recounts the period of time when he stuck his neck out as a “pro-choice escort”…

A small contribution to the fight for freedom by Infidel753

For about a year, starting in late 2003, I volunteered as a “pro-choice escort” at an abortion clinic here in Portland.  The anti-choice protesters gathered there every Saturday morning to harass the clinic’s clients, so Saturday mornings were when I and the other escorts had to be there.

Most of the volunteers came as often as they could — on any given morning there were three to six of us there.  The only ones who were there every Saturday were S and W, the informal leaders of the team.  We were always careful to avoid mentioning full names or identifying information — in at least one case, the anti-choicers had managed to identify one escort and started sending him threats through the mail.  S was a woman, W a man.  The escorts generally were about 50-50 male and female.

Theoretically, the escorts’ main job was to be on the alert for protesters harassing the clinic’s clients on their way to and from the building, and intervene to shield them.  In practice, such cases seldom arose.  Most clients parked in a lot at the back to which the protesters had no access, and even when some did use the front door, the protesters rarely approached them.  But if there had been no escorts present and ready to intervene, I’m quite sure the anti-choicers would have approached and harassed them much more often than they did.  Our presence served as a deterrent.

Aside from that, both sides were engaged in more of a kind of psychological warfare.  The enemy’s goal was intimidation — making the clinic’s staff and clients feel isolated and surrounded by hostile forces.  Our purpose as escorts was to provide a positive presence to counter this negativity, so that clients would not feel they were in completely hostile territory.

Most of the protesters were regulars, and we knew their habits.  Some just stood around holding signs.  Some engaged in ostentatious religious chanting and praying.  Some stood as close to the clinic as the law allowed and performed long, bellowing diatribes which always seemed to be more about God and the Bible than about abortion as such.  There was one protester who always wore a gun, which I was told he had a permit for.  Due to some previous incident, there was a standing court order prohibiting him from being on our side of the street, so he stood across the street and scowled at us.  Another protester had a personal fixation on S; he had once said to her, “Women like you deserve to be raped”.  I once heard a protester shout at a man who was accompanying a woman into the clinic, “Why are you letting that woman kill your baby?  Be dominant, sir!  Be a man!”  Yes, he really said that.

I never saw any actual violence, but the situation was often tense, especially when there was a new person among the protesters, since anyone new to us was by definition unpredictable.  We all knew about cases in other parts of the country where clinics had been bombed or doctors murdered by the fanatics, and in at least one case an escort had been killed.  So we were always alert for any sign of danger.

The escorts had varied motives for being there.  I hold individual freedom to be among the highest values, and if someone else can infringe on your absolute freedom to decide what happens inside your own body, then what freedom can you securely lay claim to?  S had strong feminist convictions, and W was a libertarian who opposed the anti-choicers’ goal of forcing others to abide by their own religious taboos.  Most of the other escorts, as best I could tell, had some combination of similar motives.

Confronting religious fanaticism face-to-face is very different from reading about it in books.  Ever since that year, I’ve had a much deeper sense of what these people’s mentality is really like.  They will not be satisfied until the lives of the rest of us are dictated by the taboos of their own religion, backed up by the force of law, as in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

The clinic was in a residential neighborhood, and local people would often stop and chat with the escorts, bringing us hot drinks on cold mornings or otherwise offering encouragement.  On one occasion an elderly woman approached me and said, “I don’t agree with abortion, but I’m glad to see a man standing up for women’s right to make their own decisions.”  And that’s what it was really about — the right of all of us to make our own decisions, not have them made for us by somebody else’s religion.

Read a longer version of the above at Infidel753’s site here.

What is duty like for you?