Headline Overload

I had a post in mind for this week, but with so much going on in the news I decided that I would save the article for another time. Like many people, the continuous news cycle has drained me, and I find myself stopping short of a complete self-imposed media blackout. I know enough to stay informed and involved, but I will not give parts of myself away as the networks chip at my soul in an attempt to leave me shouting at the television like a curmudgeonly shut-in.

I’m not advocating for a media blackout, as I got an up-close look at such an approach when two of our summer visitors were unaware of a single current event, as if cultural ignorance is a good thing. I doubt that either will ever read this so I can write without worrying I’ve offended them, but if they do, then I’m thrilled they’re finally poking their heads out. Becoming aware of federal investigations, hurricanes and all the other recent tragedies will make them seem less like they’ve just emerged from a bunker.

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Murdered Justice by Patrick Brown is available from W&B Publishers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In Murdered Justice, Maggie writes about her frustration with the media, and in her next adventure due in early 2018, she’ll say even more about the news in Pennington’s Hoax.

I’m not sure that Maggie can help us, but what we need from the press is accurate information while we apply our critical thinking skills to the facts. That would be our own critical thinking skills, not some pundit’s idea after being processed by pollsters and propagandists. Figure out what’s going on and return to civil discourse. Many of us will never agree, and it’s a myth to think that Americans ever have. In spite of our differences, we once had respect, but I see very little evidence of it today. Our best bet is to turn off the TV and give the networks no incentive to shout at each other while the same footage plays repeatedly in the background.

Once I stop reeling from the headlines, I’ll be back with something more entertaining for you to read.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Seek and Ye Shall Find

A notification recently appeared in my in-box calling for short stories. One of the preferred topics was One’s Crazy Family Members. I was disappointed to learn that only one submission at a time would be considered, as I could probably send 300 pages to them and still not begin to scrape the surface.

A few of my family members have always feared I’d write about them. Their assumptions have been correct. If some aspect of their lives is worth reading about, they should consider how interesting they are. However, no one has complained so far, but people see themselves differently than others do. I’ve not experienced anyone walking over to me at a family gathering and yelling, “I don’t appreciate your telling the whole world what a terrible driver I am!” For one reason, the person in question has great faith in his driving skills. The other reason I’ve never been accosted is my decades-long absences from family reunions. In most cases, I tend to stick with material and people who can’t get their hands on me without holding a séance.

Writing about the dead is a lot more fun. I don’t have to censor my words, I can build up or tear down the plot without worrying what Great-Aunt Maudelle would say if she read about that time her granddaughter danced on the tables at an OSU frat party. When the guilty are still alive, I have to change OSU to SMU and make everyone a Methodist to lend them a sense of decorum.

I recently submitted my DNA for testing. A close relative had already told me that her results were as white and bland as a cotton bed sheet, having not revealed so much as a hushed-up secret marriage or a passenger on a boat load of prisoners coming from England. After my results were posted, I was contacted by a verified “fourth cousin or closer” whose ancestry contains a number of regions on the globe outside of “Great Britain, Western Europe, and the Iberian Peninsula.”

I am intrigued by the various reasons people explore genealogy. Some are looking to connect with distant relatives while some closet royalists seem to be searching for that shred of evidence that put 7th Grandmother Elspeth into the King’s bedchamber circa 1539. A lesser noble would do, preferring dukes and earls to knights, but few researchers seem to realize that such distant and unseemly ties to the sovereign will not get you into the royal enclosure at Ascot.

I do think there are some interesting stories that turn up from time to time. Some friends have turned up a variety of characters while others get a greater sense of how their families ended up in the United States. I found a document indicating that some centuries old uncle had enough of a gambling problem that the man’s father-in-law had to make specific exclusions in his will to protect his daughter’s interests.

I suspect a great deal of genealogical motivation falls under the category Greener Pastures. Having spent a lifetime with the same old faces staring back at them from across the Thanksgiving table, a segment of researches are hoping their luck might be better with a new set of cousins. The pontificating egghead and his cousin who spends her time repurposing used bleach bottles into apparel eye each other with disdain. “We have nothing in common,” they tell their friends. “Nothing. Nada. Zilch.” But family is so important.

Rather than treating close friends as though they were family, the professor and the bleach bottle milliner much prefer blood relations. They get on the computer, sign in and desperately start searching for better relatives in Nebraska. As they both joined the same genealogical research site, their best matches turn out to be each other. There are a few other matches, but they’re secondary. The researchers are desperate and reach out to the rancher in Arizona and the dental hygienist in Michigan. Those people are either too buy, too uninterested, or too satisfied with their relatives to respond to an urgent inquiry by someone claiming to the child of a great-great-grandmother’s sister.

I enjoy a peak into possibilities, but I don’t see it as becoming a regular pastime. I was cured of any such cousin curiosity after hearing that I had relatives out there who owned a sporting goods store in New York. I got it all wrong. I was thinking New York, weekends in the Hamptons, sailboats, polo mallets, and gins and tonic in the clubhouse only to find out they were upstate and catered to more of a fur-trapping-on-the-Hudson clientele. Sometimes you leave home only to find out that you never had to.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

What Would You Take?

The dying sun is described so vividly in The Magician’s Nephew, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. After Digory Kirke grabs Polly Plummer’s arm in order to ring the golden bell and wake Jadis, the world of Charn comes to an end. In the final book, Lewis describes the death of another world, and a much older Polly and Digory, who are present, recognize the end of that world by its dying sun.

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A view of the sun through smoke at 6:00 p.m. on Labor Day

I am reminded of both worlds these past few days when viewing our sun through the dense filter of smoke, which surrounds us in late summer as the fog envelops us in the cold months. With the chaos of evacuations, news footage of what the fires have left behind, and maps of more and more fires burning through the West, I can fully imagine the end of the world.

Fires are close to Portland today, and have affected Los Angeles since last weekend. If it’s not fire, it’s flood as Hurricane Harvey made its way through the Gulf Coast and, as I type, Irma is heading straight for the Florida Keys. With hurricanes come tornadoes as well as winds and surging water. With evacuations and rescues, there are so many people forced to leave their homes not knowing what will happen while they’re gone.

A few years ago I was running errands one morning and saw the California hillside a few miles north engulfed in flames. Three careless campers were responsible, and they probably had no idea the lives they changed that day. Friends of ours lived in the area and were told to prepare for evacuation. One of them later described the stab of reality when you’re faced with true danger and wonder what you need to grab.

There are a select few who say, “They’re just things,” and how fortunate for them to live so simply or perhaps foolishly, but what does one take? Photos? Not everyone has scanned every photo into a digital file, but surely you’d grab the computer. I couldn’t bear to lose my life’s work, so the laptop is a must. European refugees and civilians in the Civil War were known to bury valuables, many of which were never seen again, but you can’t bury things in a flood, and the water is not a looting soldier.

So many important papers are saved electronically these days, but birth certificates, insurance policies, passports, bank information, and other ways to prove one’s identity must be taken along. You can get clothes later, but evacuation is all about priorities and, of course, where to go next, what will be there to eat, and is there going to be fresh drinking water?

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A view of the eastern skies on a typical summer’s day.

As those around us head to shelters and spend frustrating hours awaiting official updates with only the clothes on their backs, I’m reminded of the millions all over the planet who have been forced to abandon their homes due to war, climate, and terror. Whether by nature or by governments, people are on the move at rates not seen since the end of World War II.

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View of the same eastern skies when the air is filled with smoke.

Eventually the winds will shift, the fires will burn out, flood waters will recede and, at some point, war zones will be occupied only by a few stubborn people who wish to stay and declare victory over a pile of rubble. Depending on the circumstances, some people may return in a few hours while others will never go home again. In either case, I am moved by the joy that washes over them when a door is opened and they are welcomed.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Eclipsed

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By permission, and with appreciation, this is Ben Lester’s photograph of the eclipse on August 21, 2017, as seen in Oregon’s Path of Totality.

Ten days before his death in 1940, Edward Frederic Benson, author of Dodo, The Blotting Book, Mrs. Ames, the Mapp & Lucia novels, and a host of ghost stories, delivered a final autobiography to his publishers. The cleverly named Final Edition reveals a number of secrets and memories the author felt it was time to share. He wrote about his mother, widow of one of Queen Victoria’s Archbishops of Canterbury, her companion, his siblings, and various friends. He was the last family member to survive, as he had no children, nieces, or nephews. Such a fate meant his getting to write what he pleased without censorship.

Among the anecdotes, some of which drag on for pages, I enjoyed the opening of chapter five where he described a “total or nearly total eclipse of the sun” that he experienced with his brother Hugh in August 1914.

Benson’s brother, an ordained priest, had converted to Roman Catholicism in spite of being a son of a Protestant Archbishop, and he was awaiting a response to find out if he would be serving as Chaplain to Catholics on the Western Front of World War I. Benson wrote that they checked the bible and found that “the darkening of the sun was not a phenomenon allocated to Armageddon, but to the Day of Judgment, something final and apocalyptic was clearly at hand.”

The two men found the eclipse most interesting and gazed “at the reflection of the diminishing orb on the surface of a bucket of water, where it could be regarded without bedazzlement. The heat of the summer morning was chilled, the circular spots of light filtering through the foliage of the Penzance Briar became crescent-shaped as the eclipse increased: the birds chirruped as in the growing dusk of evening and went to roost. Then through the darkness and silence there sounded the crackle of gravel under the bicycle of a boy from the post office with a telegram for Hugh. It was to tell him that Pope Pius X was dead. This added to the sense of doom and finality.”

By comparison, Jerry Lewis’s death didn’t carry the same weight when it came to portents in the 2017 eclipse this week. We also have advanced warnings of solar and lunar events with certainly more precision than I suspect they had a hundred years ago. Therefore, we were able to plan the day and drive over to a nearby hilltop where one can see four volcanoes in a single panoramic spread: Mounts Jefferson, Hood, Adams and St. Helens.

We didn’t take a bucket of water, even though the sight of a crescent on its surface would have been interesting, but a bottle of sparkling wine and our ISO approved sun-gazing glasses. Being more than 50 miles north of the Path of Totality, we didn’t experience total darkness, but certainly in the moments before totality, a breeze began blowing and the bright sunlight of a warm August morning dimmed to the point that the outdoor lights on the farmhouses below us came on.

In the cool duskiness, had it been night we’d have remarked about the brilliance of a full moon brighter than we’d ever seen, but knowing it was the sun with only a small percentage of its light shining down on us, we marveled at our star’s ability to light the earth while mostly blocked out.

In those short minutes, we gazed at the sky then at our surroundings, remarking how vital is the sun for life on this planet. Once we noticed the moon’s movement, a rooster crowed in the distance, some small birds took flight overhead, and then there was the “crackle of gravel” as cars drove off the hill. We waited for everyone to leave as the heat built and the light returned.

Benson made a few more mentions of contemporary fears in 1914, the idea that if one needed to identify the antichrist, the German Kaiser would have fit the bill, and how a sense of foreboding was connected to a total eclipse. Such attitudes seem strange to me in an age where there were already motorcars and electric lights, but in the pre-television age of World War I, the moon landing was still over a half-century in the future. In fact, the Space Age wouldn’t begin until after a second world war had ended.

What has changed in a century? The Internet, self-driving cars, personal telephones, endless news cycles, and a global economy, but more importantly, what hasn’t changed? There are still madmen terrorizing the planet, marching armies, and displaced refugees.

We have embraced technology, we have gained a greater understanding of space, and we recognize the science behind an eclipse. Why, then, do we continually fail to learn the lessons of peace and love?

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1