Monday, August 11, 2014

No Justice - No Peace - No Think Piece - Just Grief

R.I.P. Mike Brown.  R.I.P. Eric Garner.  R.I.P. John Crawford.

The lives of these 3 young black men appear to have been needlessly lost.
One was unarmed and had hands raised in the air according to witnesses.
One was selling cigarettes.
One was holding an air rifle in the aisle of a store that sells them to the public.
They were each killed by police officers who were supposed to protect and serve them.
When will violence stop leading to fear of violence which leads right back to violence?
When will enough be enough?

Why Black Men Don't Open Carry

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

THE RIDE HOME - #ShortStory

Collin Walker boarded the 1 train bound towards his sparsely decorated, dimly lit, undersized and overpriced apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  He was accompanied for a portion of the ride by three co-workers.  The quartet of stockbrokers had just departed an office holiday party on Wall Street where the alcohol had been free and plentiful. 

Collin did not regularly fraternize with Doug, Randall, or Brandon. Outside of their shared love of making vast sums of money on paper, he did not have much in common with these men.  Yet due to many hours spent together in confined quarters riding the impetuous charges of bulls and bears, they were his closest acquaintances, coming as close to friendship with him as anyone else managed.  Collin held had nothing in particular against fellow members of the human race.  He simply had yet to find the company of another living soul preferable to neatly arranged solitude.

He bestowed smiles as a miser spends his money, released laughter like a devout nun experiencing pleasures of the flesh, with great reservation and only on the most holy of days.  Collin would often flinch when innocently approached from behind, as easily startled as a sleepy infant.  It was as if he pretended away the existence of other people to make his surroundings more palatable, only to be shocked by harsh reality when reminded of someone else’s presence.  At first his colleagues teased him for his awkward discomfort with contact and personal interaction.  Eventually they determined that it was best to just leave him alone.

Therefore on occasions as rare as today when his senses were assailed by rum and coke and he let loose his tightly wound persona, it was a treat for those who knew what he was usually like.  Throughout the party Collin told rambling jokes that evoked laughter based on their manic delivery rather than the punch lines; indulged in forms of physical expression seldom utilized by him such as back slaps and shoulder punches; and flirted with a lack of skill that was nearly made up for by the novelty of his efforts.  This year he had been in particularly rare form with a barely recognizable Michael Jackson dance imitation on top of a receptionist's desk.

"That was some shindig," said Doug, quite noticeably the shortest of the group at only five feet four inches tall, making him the butt of many a private and sometimes public joke.  He always pretended not to mind, to be amused by this curse of fate while mentally cataloging every slight for future spiteful reference.

"You think the big guy will like our gift?" asked Brandon, the youngest of them at 24 years old.  He was two years out of New York University and considered a stock trading boy wonder.

"He likes anything he gets for free," said Randall, the elder statesman at age 58.  Randall considered himself to be a mentor to his peers, but was alone in this opinion.

"We should've pitched in to buy him a toupee that fits," Collin said, collapsing in a fit of cackling that was a reasonable facsimile of laughter from one so unversed in the art.

“I think he’s having an affair with Evelyn,” said Doug.

"No way," said Brandon.  "Why would a gorgeous woman like her sleep with him?"

"Because he's the boss and she's incompetent, sonny boy," Randall replied.  His fear of being retired early to make room for more hot shots like Brandon was not always as well camouflaged as intended.

An elderly man dressed in rags and emitting a rather foul odor entered from the adjoining car, temporarily interrupting the gossip session.
"Excuse me, gentlemen.  Could any of you spare..."

"No I cannot spare any change, and I don't want to hear the sad story of your life either," Doug answered.  "Can't you just get a job at McDonalds or something?"

"God bless you, sir."

"Here you go," said Brandon, putting a bill into the paper cup in the man's hands.  "Have a merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you too."  The frail mendicant moved along to solicit the next passenger.

"You shouldn't be such a sap," advised Collin.  He made this statement while clinging to the straphangers as if quicksand was beneath his feet. 

"It's only a dollar," said Brandon in defense of his generosity, although it seemed ludicrous justifying himself to a man who appeared to be impersonating a chimpanzee.  "Besides, he wasn't as annoying as most of them, and it is almost Christmas."

"There’s got to be one of them per square foot in this city," said Randall.  "If I gave a quarter to each one who asked, I'd be bankrupt in a week.”   

"The dollar you gave away is going to be spent on a vial of crack," pronounced Doug.

“And that’s wack,” Collin piped in, tickled by how something so commonplace as liquor had released his poetic side.  

Brandon dropped the subject.  He hadn't been out in the business world long enough to risk arguing on subjects as frivolous to these men as compassion and humanity.  He preferred to sit quietly and listen with equal attention to their words of wisdom or foolishness.  Eventually he'd be making the kind of money guys like them hadn't even dreamt of.  If all went according to Brandon’s plans, they would be working for him some day.  Then he would fire them to bring in new blood.

The train pulled into the next station.  Getting on was a teenager carrying a bulky radio.  A rap song blared from its speakers in defiance of subway rules.  The young man stared the Wall Streeters down to ward off in advance any statements of disapproval.

"Any of you guys got the time?" he asked.

The question was followed by a loud thud, which turned out to be the result of Collin stretching to look at his watch, after which he lost his grip on the straphangers and rapidly descended to the floor. 

"It's almost one," he said upon landing.

"Thanks, homes.  Happy Kwanzaa."  The kid did their eardrums a favor and went into the next car.  Collin's antics had taken him off guard, and he tended to avoid white people whose actions he couldn't predict.

"They complain they're not advancing because of prejudice," Randall pointed out quietly, after checking to be certain that the nearest person in possession of more melanin than himself was beyond hearing range.  "Bigotry has nothing to do with it.  It's all in the image you project.  You come across like that and no one's going to want to hire you. It's that simple." 

No less than eighty percent of Randall’s opinions on complex societal matters were concluded with the words – It’s that simple.

"I like Bennett," Doug said, speaking of the lone African- American who worked in their department.  "He's a good man.  He does his job very well."

"Bennett's an exception to the rule," Randall said.  He could become quite testy when one of his expert opinions was refuted.  "There's a lot more like the guy just in here playing that hippity hop music."

Brandon, whose girlfriend unbeknownst to his co-workers happened to be black, decided to contain his temper and sway the conversation in another direction.  "Loved your dance routine at the office, Collin.  Ever think of getting out of Wall Street and going into the music business?"

Collin rose unsteadily, shaken like a pair of die by the swerving train and alcohol swishing in his bloodstream.  "There's certainly plenty of money in it,” he said.  “Michael Jackson, look out!"  He attempted a mid-80’s Jacksonesque spin, completely unaware that the singer was much more likely of late to be found defending himself in a courtroom or selling off assets to avoid bankruptcy than at the top of music charts, and ended up on the seat of his pants again.

"Bravo!" his associates cheered, applauding as he stood up and took a bow.

On the opposite end of the subway car, a thin Caucasian man in well worn fatigues entered.  A scruffy beard failed to fully conceal the scar that ran from his left ear to mid-cheek.  His pale blue eyes were vacant like a blind man's, but he could see.  One immediately got the feeling that he had seen too much.  He limped forward with grave determination, unsteadily navigating around shopping bags full of Christmas gifts that sat on the floor in front of several passengers, briefly telling his hard luck story to each of them before futilely holding out his hand.  Finally he reached the Wall Street revelers, sixty five cents richer than he had been at the start of his journey.

"Hello, gentlemen.  If any of you could spare some change, I'd really appreciate it.  I have a metal plate in my head and a bum leg from the war, and the government ain't paying me a dime."

Brandon kept his hands away from his wallet so as not to risk further chastisement for his philanthropy.  Doug mentally measured the beggar, sizing him at just over six feet tall, thinking how unfair it was that the gift of height had been bestowed upon someone so undeserving.  Then he mentally recited the phone number of his favorite escort service, for he would be dialing it tonight, and those ladies always made him feel like a giant.  Randall spared the beggar only a look of disdain, followed by a yawn of disinterest. As for Collin, the expression on his face suggested that he had been slapped into sudden sobriety.  He turned away from the beggar as if from a former lover he was simultaneously ashamed, embarrassed, and disturbed to have run into.

"I think I'll rest my bones for a few minutes," the beggar said, sitting opposite them and closing his eyes.  "This cold weather really stiffens up my leg." 

For the next few minutes the only sound to be heard was that of the train racing along the tracks, its steady rhythm hypnotic.  The co-workers’ desire to socialize had run out of steam, the alcohol in their respective systems reversing direction, bringing each of them haphazardly down from the peaks they had been brought to.  Tranquility was ended when the beggar began muttering in his sleep.  He was apparently having a bad dream, for he twisted and turned in his seat.  Then his eyes shot wide open.

"Oh God, no!"  He shielded his head with his arms.  "I don't wanna die, I don't wanna die!"  In pantomime he proceeded to shoot an imaginary rifle at an invisible foe.  "Die bastards, die!" 

As unexpectedly as the flashback began, it ended.  The beggar lowered his arms and his breathing returned to normal.  His aimless glare was all that remained of the episode.

The other passengers looked at him curiously, but none with the intensity of Collin who recognized the expression that had been in the beggar's eyes during his episode.  Absolute rage amalgamated with perfect fear.  It was the same expression Collin possessed on a humid night in a dense jungle of Vietnam years earlier.  It was on that night that he came across an injured Vietnamese soldier clutching his blood soaked, useless right leg. 

Collin saw right away that the soldier's weapon lay five feet away, impossible for him to reach any time soon.  He was no threat to anyone.  Life had already left one of his legs, and unless he was given medical treatment, it would soon leave the rest of him.

No one could hate the war as much as Collin did.  From the moment he set foot on that God forsaken corner of the globe he was in a continual state of paralyzing terror.  Prior to then he had thought of himself as a brave man, though for no particular reason.  His belief was theoretical rather than practical.  His manhood was yet to have been tested.

As soon as he stepped out of the helicopter and into Asia, fear became an intimate friend who would never leave his side.  It would accompany him throughout his tour of duty.  Then it would go along for the ride back to America, walking beside him like a faithful dog.  Whenever he was out on the streets late at night and a shadow moved, or he heard footsteps behind him, or a stranger's eyes rested too long on his own, there it was, causing the most harmless of circumstances to seem life and death.  He tried to ignore it, figured if he kept busy with other matters he would have no time for it.  But fear always made time for him.  Death always seemed to be lurking nearby.

The Vietnamese soldier's face showed no reaction when Collin raised his rifle.  Perhaps his pain did not allow any emotion to be expressed.  Maybe his soul was prepared to take leave of the earth. He may have gone through the war as frightened as Collin, and was relieved that in a moment he would finally be free.  
It seemed an eternity passed as Collin stood poised to kill.  He had fired into moving brush and shifting shadows before, but never face to face.  Collin may have killed men, but didn't know for sure.  This time he would.

Collin stood trembling while the soldier stared passively at him. Why wouldn't he get up and charge?  Why wouldn't he make a lunge for his gun?  If only he would do something, anything to force the issue.  Enemy or not, war or not, if he didn't move and Collin fired, it would be murder.  But it would also be one less enemy to fear.

How dare he lie there with no chance of overcoming his foe, yet be so calm?  Why was Collin, in the stance of an invincible killing machine, incapacitated?

This man represented all he had been trained to hate.  But could justification be found for killing a helpless, defenseless man?

In a language Collin would never understand, the soldier began to speak.  It may have been a plea, a prayer, or a curse.  Collin would never know, and his trigger finger did not allow the sentence to be completed.

"One dollar."

Collin turned towards the voice that had brought him tumbling back to the present.  It belonged to a Korean man with a shopping bag at his feet.  His arm was outstretched, and spinning on the palm of his hand was a clear plastic top with a light inside.  It made a whistling sound as it spun.  He put the top into the bag and took out what appeared to be a bobble head doll.  Collin had to smile when he pushed down on the boy's head and a stream of water shot out as if he were peeing.

"Tree dollar."

But Collin’s smile vanished when he noticed a glint of steel.  The homeless veteran seated across from him slowly withdrew a dagger from the back of his boot.  His glare was not aimless or far away anymore.  It was focused on the target at hand.  He stood up, concealing the knife between his arm and body, and began walking towards the unsuspecting peddler.  With the exception of Collin and those who were ignoring the scene altogether to ponder what more they still had left to purchase for the holiday, everyone's eyes were on the Korean man and his bag of treats.  Some were reaching into wallets and purses to buy their final low budget Christmas gift of the day, while others were waiting to see what else he had to sell.  None knew that he was about to die.

The war veteran was about three steps away from his would be victim when Collin tackled him, knocking into the peddler in the process. This altered Collin's momentum, so it was he who ended up on the bottom when they hit the ground.  Stronger than he looked, the veteran was able to break free from Collin's grasp, deliver a punch to the jaw, then retrieve his weapon.

The dagger was held menacingly over Collin's throat.  Tears crept from his eyes and his bowels also threatened to let loose their liquid.  A feeling of self-loathing overcame him.  Hunter or hunted, he was a coward.  He had managed to summon enough courage to attack a battered homeless man from behind, but that seemed to be the extent of his bravado.  Now that he was forced to encounter danger head on, he could do no more than cower and shiver like an old woman in a cold rain.  Fear clung to him like vines on a trellis.

As Collin awaited the inevitable, he noticed a change in his captor's expression.  The veteran gave Collin a knowing smile.  What was it that he knew?  That Collin wasn't worth killing, because he was no threat whatsoever?  That he was about as dangerous as a dying Vietnamese soldier with one good leg?

The once proud warrior, now homeless vagrant, rose to his feet and headed towards his original target.  The Korean man lay on the ground, somewhat disoriented because his head had hit the floor.  His expression conveyed the same look of surrender possessed by the soldier Collin had killed years earlier. 

Anger, hatred, and a sense of betrayal harbored far too long were set to be unleashed because the slant of a man’s eyes reminded the discarded hero of the time and place where his future was stolen from him.  This is why Collin had been spared.  The veteran didn't want to waste any of his fury on a fellow American.

Surely someone would stop him, Collin thought.  Then again, maybe it wasn't so certain.  They resided in the city of non-involvement, and it was only a foreigner who spoke broken English and sold toys on the subway who was about to die, not anybody who mattered.  He would be slain in front of a moving studio audience. The veteran probably did not even realize that he was attacking an innocent man on a New York City subway.  The jungle he believed himself to be in was not of the concrete variety.  His mind had brought him back to the hell he had been condemned to years ago for the sin of being a healthy young man during wartime.

Collin finally understood what the eyes of the Vietnamese soldier he killed had been conveying.  It wasn't a message of peace, or acceptance, or relief.  It was questioning.  His eyes were asking - "Why me?" Could justification be found for killing a helpless, defenseless man?

In answer to the question, Collin sprung to his feet and charged at the veteran, driving him hard into a door of the subway car.  The veteran crumbled to the ground, no longer a danger to anyone. The peddler, realizing his life had been saved yet again, looked up more in wonder than gratitude.  And Collin, with the knife now protruding from his abdomen, dropped down to one knee, vaguely aware of the queries of his worried co-workers, but preoccupied by the fact that he would probably die staring at a plastic boy with a bladder control problem.  Fear was nowhere to be found.  His old traveling companion, his one true friend, had finally departed.

The lights went out.  Collin did not know if this was due to a commonplace glitch in the train's electrical system brought about by alleged under-funding that would inevitably lead to yet another fare hike.  Of if it was because his ride home had officially begun. 



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rules to Write By

Dearest scribblers of words.  Follow the prose writing rules you'll find below religiously.  Or else break them at your own risk because writers at heart are rebels with a cause.  At the very least though, make sure that your blog posts pass the "Weird Al" test.  Happy Writing! - RLP

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
  3. Avoid prologues.
  4. They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.
    There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”
  5. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  6. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.
  7. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” …
  8. …he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”
  9. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  10. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
  11. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  12. This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
  13. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  14. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short storiesClose Range.
  15. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  16. Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.
  17. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  18. Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
    And finally:
  19. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
  20. A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.
    My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
    If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Here's what a few other writers have had to say about the art of writing:

The tension between standing apart and being fully involved; that is what makes a writer. That is where we begin. ~ Nadine Gordimer

The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause. ~ Mark Twain

You have to surrender to the act of writing, give up to it, and trust that if you have anything, It will discover it for you.
~ E.L. Doctorow
Literature is the ditch I'm going to die in. It's still the thing I care most about. ~ Thomas McGuane

You may think I never make it to a second chapter because I play it by ear and depend on inspiration which never comes.  In fact, the reason I stop writing is because I am not creating a masterpiece and would rather stop and try again than carry on with mediocrity.  I prefer failing at greatness to succeeding with something commonplace. ~ from FEEDING THE SQUIRRELS (by yours truly) 

In addition to rules for writing, perhaps someone needs to write up some rules for civilized book publishing/selling.  There's a war taking place in the publishing industry, which of course means that there have been plenty of casualties.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

For Father's Day

Don't forget to get a little something for your dad. If he's a Kindle reader, I'm throwing in an extra to add to his bounty. The ebook version of Patches of Grey will be absolutely FREE from 6-12-14 to 6-16-14. That should cover everyone from the relaxed because they have a few days to spare shoppers, to the scrambling at very last minute shoppers, to the belated better late than never shoppers. Is it still considered shopping if an item is free? I'm not sure, but it's definitely still considered a gift, one I hope he enjoys.  The uphill battle to be a decent dad is largely what my debut novel is about.  If you're lucky enough to have a good father, or perhaps like myself are blessed to have a great one, I know he'll appreciate a bit of recognition on Sunday (or any other day of the week).  And if you're trying to be the best father you can be, such as I am (photo of me and my little angel appears here), then you know it's hard work and the very best job there is.  I did my best to capture the majesty of fatherhood below.  Pretty sure it will make some of you smile.

Patches Of GreyPatches Of Grey by Roy L. Pickering Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Pickering's style is fluid and crisp. There's a certain clarity to the prose that's considered and well judged - just enough to paint the picture and more than enough to drive along the narrative." - Khome (

Named a 2012 B.R.A.G. Medallion™ Honoree

Synopsis: Tony Johnson is a studious young man planning to soon graduate from much more than high school. Although his zip code places him in a Bronx tenement pre "rise of Obama", his sights are set far beyond the trappings of his humble upbringing. Collegiate dreams and falling in love with a white classmate put him strongly at odds with his father. His brother C.J.'s rebellious ways endanger his life on gang ruled streets and the chastity of their sister Tanya is clearly approaching its demise. But it is Tony who incurs the majority of Lionel Johnson's wrath for the sins of ambition, exhibiting color blind love by daring to be with Janet Mitchell, and refusing to bend to his father's will. Seeing unrealized goals reincarnated in the eyes of his eldest son harshly remind Lionel of what once could have been, and of what went wrong. His own childhood in a segregated southern town established a bitter, prejudiced outlook that is the only legacy he has to pass down to his children. When his job and role as primary breadwinner are lost, Lionel's authority quickly erodes and he drowns his disappointment one drink at a time. This affords Tony, who lacks the seemingly servile patience of his mother, an opportunity to assert independence rather than allowing his fate to be set by chance and circumstance. But throughout the course of Roy Pickering's engrossing debut novel, Tony comes to learn that the world is not as black and white as he and his father's opposing mindsets would suggest.

Available in print at Amazon:

And Kindle edition:

At Mahogany Books:

At Independent Author Index:

Or direct from the author, at a discount rate if multiple copies are being purchased for a book club, at

FaceBook page:

Top Ten Quotes from Patches of Grey -

Review by RawSistaz Reviewers -

Review at by Randall Radic -

Review by five bourough book review -

Review by Good Books and Wine -

Review by John Paterson:

Patches of Grey is a story in the tradition of the “coming of age” literature (think SE Hinton, or Catcher in the Rye) in an urban African American setting. Roy Pickering captures the angst of boys becoming men with the added complexity of race permeating events and the environment.

The author does a remarkable job illustrating the internal dialogue and conflict all teenagers face as they struggle for identity, but from the perspective of a young black man. The gift is his ability to translate this conversation to a wider audience, to identify both common ground (girls, fathers, social strata) and also present differences that make one appreciate how race, culture, and familial relationships are perceived differently in different groups: e.g., the conflict between being “all you can be,” and being loyal to the group.

The domestic violence was jarring, as was the relativity. Things weren’t “good” or “bad,” but “better than” or “worse than.” Is having an abusive father/husband (who cares for his family) better than having no father around at all? At least he’s not as bad as . . .

It’s a world in which nothing is taken for granted, and nobody can really afford to be easy going. Seeming cool even carries a certain intense, deliberate and intentional quality. There is love, but very little is given – at home or to others -- freely, generously, or without conditions. It’s a lot of work, with a lot of stress hanging in the general atmosphere.

On the other hand, there is a core element of pride, strength, survival – and dare I say – hope and change to the story. Nobody is a naïve fool, or sucker. They are smart and strong characters who may not have started with a lot of advantages, but can take anything. There is “something” in them that will live on forever no matter what changes.

I agree with others who’ve said this should be on the Junior High/High School reading list. (May have to edit some parts?) I think it could be so meaningful, and even change lives, with young readers at that point.

In reading the book I found myself thinking that I really hope the author has son(s), coaches, mentors, and/or is in big brother program. It would be great for the world.
* * *

In addition to Patches of Grey, Roy Pickering is the author of the novella - Feeding the Squirrels

Currently Roy is at work on a second novel, Matters of Convenience, from which an excerpt can be found at his blog:

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


I try to judge people (since we absolutely must judge others, right?) based on what they do rather than what they say in a handful of characters, and certainly not based on what they hashtag.  You say you're a civil rights activist...a feminist...a humanitarian (seems like that last one should incorporate the first two, no?), I say cool.  But the proof is in the pudding.  Your actions will prove or disprove it, and they will indicate the things that you are for to a greater extent than telling me what you're against.  I'll instinctively assume you're against civil wrongs, misogyny and space alien invasion.

But since I spend FAR TOO MUCH time on Twitter, activism by hashtag is what I see plenty of these days.  I'm not against the principle exactly.  For the most part it does no harm even if often does no tangible good either.  A hashtag can raise awareness of a cause.  Fine, we're aware, what now?  I ask only two things of a hashtag to consider it constructive. 1) That it not be created to blanket insult a broad group of people which includes many individuals undeserving of the insult. 2) That the name of it accurately conveys the message.  Be specific. If you want to create a hashtag about basketball don't name it #sports #sportsinvolvingaball #thingsthatmakeyousweat.  Call it #basketball.

Recently a hashtag that caught on like wildfire was #YesAllWomen.  As this article neatly summarizes, the hashtag’s purpose was to "raise awareness of the effect of misogyny and sexism in the daily life of women". So far so good.  The article goes on to shoot down any complaints men might opt to voice about the hashtag.  It lists some reasonable complaints, some less reasonable ones, and a handful of ridiculous explanations for why men might be troubled by the tone of the more outlandish proclamations.  The goofy ones are good for a laugh but not in need of addressing. But is it fair to say that a man who walks the walk of feminism by being a good husband/father/colleague/person who is a respectful friend to women, nevertheless does not qualify as an ally to the cause because he thinks many of the statements made within the #YesAllWomen hashtag go too far and paint with too broad a stroke?

Not long ago a discussion broke out on Twitter about what women happened to be wearing when they were sexually assaulted.  It was a powerful social media moment, I thought.  A hashtag was probably used for it, though I don't recall what it was.  What I do remember is the point explicitly made that rape has nothing to do with how provocatively the victim was dressed or behaving.  The only requirements for a rape to take place are the presence of a rapist and a victim.  What beyond that causes rape?  I honestly don't know. I only know that rape isn't something men do.  It's something rapists do.  There is a world of difference between the two.  I found the discussion that evening to be an effective use of social media to confront ugly truths, even it if did devolve a bit towards the end with arguments breaking out over which journalists remarked on the group conversation properly and which did not.  No reasonable person felt insulted by the exchange.  Anybody who disagreed with the central argument and believes that certain outfits cause and justify rape is a monster best to be avoided.  The stories told that night were heart breaking and eye opening.

On the other hand, when awareness raising results in people cyber yelling at each other, all sides claiming to have been misunderstood, then I'm less inclined to declare that it was a complete success.  If you need to continually clarify what your point was, repeatedly explain what it is you didn't mean because you sure as hell seem to have implied it, then in my opinion a teachable moment has gone awry.  I don't believe the purpose of #YesAllWomen is to alienate those men about whom the complaints are not applicable and in whose direction the bile is not pointed. I get that #AllMen are not the target of ire.  Still, a fair number of men (such as this one who I believe makes several valid points despite a rather weak door opening anecdote) felt that they were unfairly hit in the crossfire.  They weren't looking for credit or acknowledgment as "nice guys".  They weren't asking for a trophy because they don't habitually view and treat women like pieces of meat.  They (and I include myself among them) simply felt that things had gotten out of hand and rather than being instructive and cathartic, the hashtag had become a runaway ball of negativity that didn't care who it ran over.  "Watch out grandpa!!!"  If a substantial number of people feel a hashtag went overboard, perhaps this is something to respectfully contemplate rather than being dismissive.  When I see someone comfortable with being insulted I wonder about their motivation.  Does he not want to make trouble by standing up for himself, or is his silence admission of a guilty conscience?

It ultimately comes down to the individuals jumping on board a movement rather than the hashtag itself. For any given tag there are those with legitimate commentary to share and those who see it as an opportunity to randomly bash based on gender/race/whatever. It's hard to filter one group out from the other when they are lumped together. But for good and not so good, that's precisely what a hashtag does.  That is the very intent.  A hashtag mashes voices together, makes no distinctions between the articulate and the incomprehensible, the compassionate and the bitterly furious, the fair minded and the stereotype promoters, the well meaning teachers and the blindly hurtful. There is no fix for this that I can think of other than what I started out with.  Judge individuals on a case by case basis.  Distinguish between those you loathe and those you love.  Even in the social media era, at root I believe most of us want to like each other.  I believe we can play nicely, and when a topic of disagreement is landed upon, manage to disagree in an agreeable manner. We can speak the truth without resorting to general slander.

I agree with this article that #YesAllWomen matters, just as I feel #BringBackOurGirls matters, and other movements carried out online as well. That doesn't mean everyone is deploying #YesAllWomen correctly and effectively, or that those who have something to say to the contrary don't deserve to be heard.  No conversation can take place when we tune each other out, nothing new can be learned.

Bottom line: If a man insults or degrades you, he isn't worthy of your respect. On the other hand, if a man feels insulted or degraded by you because you lumped him in with rapists and street harassers and guys with the bare minimum of home training, maybe he has earned the right by a lifetime of respectful attitude and actions to feel offended.  He'll probably get over it though, just in time for the next hashtag to drop.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Books I've Read

Half of a Yellow SunHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Extraordinary. We are in the presence of greatness with this author who has only just begun her journey. I could say more, so much more, but instead will end with what reviews of all truly great novels must state. READ THIS BOOK.

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Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I suspect that the film adaptation, which I look forward to seeing after keeping a promise to myself to read the book first, will be more melodramatic and pull on heartstrings to greater effect and purpose than Solomon Northup's telling of his life story. Northup writes in somewhat stilted prose, his style academic rather than evocative like great novels or movies. He is not trying to draw out our tears. He is not attempting with every stroke of the pen to stir up emotions. Northup is simply telling us like it was - straight no chaser. No need to exaggerate the brutality or the tragedy, no reason to willfully demonize people whose monstrous acts and barbaric attitudes speak for themselves. Is the reader outraged, astounded that people could casually treat others in such a manner? Only if the reader has a soul. Northup doesn't use his words to move us the way his violin playing moved people. He is both impartial reporter and the subject of his piece of journalism. He doesn't ask us to feel sorry for him, or to hate his oppressors. What he does is recount what it was like for a man to suddenly find himself in bondage and servitude, endure it for over a decade, and then miraculously find himself free again with a most amazing and devastating tale to tell. He tells the truth in as unbiased a manner as possible and allows us judge it for ourselves. How did any man ever convince himself that it was okay to treat another this way? How did they ignore the humanity they surely saw in the brethren they stole from another continent? How was a single one of them able to look in a mirror? Twelve Years a Slave asks these questions but is unable to answer them, nor does it bother to try. Nothing can adequately answer them. The mystery of such heartlessness has not revealed itself over a couple hundred years. This is what our country was founded on, inalienable rights unevenly dispersed with extreme prejudice. This is what we need to atone for and move forward from. This is the stain that will never fade. Yet quite tellingly, those 12 years are not what made Solomon the extraordinary man that he was. Those 12 years happened to him but did not become him. Otherwise he probably would not have been able to write his book. The past brought us to this present, but it need not define any of us. In even the most suffocating circumstances, we have the freedom to do that for ourselves.

View all my reviews Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)Inferno by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I always have at least one brain candy author in my stable. Once upon a time it was Sidney Sheldon. Currently it's Dan Brown. He probably peaked with The Da Vinci Code. All I ask of his other books is that they come reasonably close to that level of addictive page turn-ability. More or less they have, and Inferno was no exception. It ended on more of a fizzle than a bang in my opinion, but the pace towards which Brown's prose raced to the conclusion was as swift as usual. I'm a fan of all things Dante and Paradise Lost (particularly Inferno) related in general, so I picked this book up as soon as I saw it on the library shelf. Now that it has been put back down I'll probably pick up something more substantive to chew on for my next read.

View all my reviews Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Fudge, #1)Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth grade nothing's brother Fudge is the clear star of the book, with his older brother being the title character who primarily serves as frustrated narrator. The antics of little Fudge were quite amusing to my daughter. I might have given this book a 5-star review had the (spoiler alert) death of a pet at the end of the story not upset her so much.


View all my reviews Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked but didn't love this book. My wife and daughter had an even less favorable opinion. That has a lot to do with the fact that we were holding it up against other books by none other than Kate DiCamillo who holds a place of honor in our household. Since this was her latest to win the big prize we figured it would be loved just as much as Winn Dixie and Despereaux. Alas, this was not to be. I don't want to discourage others from reading it though. Kate DiCamillo on her worst day is superior to most other children's book writers on their best. So pick this one up and you may like or even love it, particularly if you're a big fan of quirky, and/or of squirrels. But in my house Flora and Ulysses needs to move towards the end of the end behind other DiCamillo classics.

View all my reviews The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle (The League of Princes, #2)The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this even more than the first installment, as did my daughter. The Princesses are much more involved in the story this time around. Emphasis continues to be on action, but there are budding romantic story lines as well. Will each Prince and Princess end up with who the fairy tales tell us is their destined soul mate, or will they claim for themselves who they are best suited to be with? The open end of this edition left the door wide open for installment #3 which has been purchased and is waiting patiently to be read.

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Harriet the Spy (Harriet the Spy #1)Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It isn't often that you come across a children's book where the author really doesn't pander at all. Harriet is not written as a character. That is, she is not a collection of traits and quirks that readers are sure to find endearing and will transfer nicely to subsequent volumes of a series. Harriet the Spy is a novel that happens to feature a child as lead character, such as To Kill a Mockingbird can be described. Fitzhugh doesn't go to places as dark as Harper Lee did, or Salinger, so Harriet the Spy is categorized as children's literature rather than a book one might recommend to adults. But an adult, particularly parents, will enjoy it because they know that kids along with being adorable can be real pains in the ass. They can be selfish. They can be bratty. They can be unreasonable. They can be cruel. In short, they can be a lot like immature adults. Being young, they will have more difficulty coping with a traumatic event like the sudden departure of a loved one than an adult. Not enough life wisdom and experience with disappointment has been amassed yet. A child is more likely to respond by acting out, magnifying their less endearing qualities. Kids start out being quite imaginative but this trait dulls over time until a great many end up as adults who have virtually no imagination. Often imagination is rekindled upon becoming a parent and revisiting that part of one's personality. But a few fortunate people (those who end up becoming writers and other types of artists, for example) retain the ability to sculpt universes with their minds. Harriet is an 11 year old with her powers of imagination still strongly intact even though she's reaching an age where more serious things are supposed to be of concern. That imagination is enhanced by power of observation. She is curious about everything and everyone, and she documents all that she sees and feels in an attempt to figure the world out. She is a spy of the human condition, which is just another way of saying that she's a writer. Since she writes unflinchingly about what and who she knows, this gets her in trouble when her beloved notebook falls into the hands of her peers. She is ostracized. Even her two closest friends abandon her. Rather than dealing with this in a cutesy manner that you would expect to find in a children's book, she responds with rage and indignation. If everyone is going to hate her, she may as well truly earn their disdain. But she's neither villain nor hero, just a girl who wants to understand and maybe also be understood, and who doesn't plan to change for anyone because she likes herself just fine. Kids will relate to Harriet. To them reading this book will be like looking into a mirror and discovering that their fears and insecurities and concerns are not so unique after all. They are what growing up is all about, unequal parts of wonder, delight, heartache and triumph. Harriet is a book character you'll remember because she feels like a flesh and blood person who has figured out at an early age not to try to be like everyone else or to be liked by everyone, and has learned that honesty can sometimes be a complex policy. She discovers as the best of us do that it makes the most sense to be yourself (even if that isn't always a particularly simple thing to do) and with any luck things will work out just fine.

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