Friday, September 19, 2014

Guns, Culture, and the American Way

Culture involves at least three components: what people think, what they do, and the material products they produce. Thus, mental processes, beliefs, knowledge, and values are parts of culture. Culture also has several properties: it is shared, learned, symbolic, transmitted cross generationally, adaptive, and integrated.
   --  John H. Bodley, Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System, 3rd ed. 1999

I would add that culture is also about what we value and what we find acceptable. Somehow, our national culture has decided that violence is an acceptable way to settle a dispute.

About ten years ago, my son Michael and I were watching a movie together. It's called The Valet, and it used subtitles because it was a French film. The story involves a car parker, a valet, who falls for a pretty young thing who is beholden to an older, wealthy man.

At the dramatic high point, the valet storms up to the older man as he sits in his expensive car. The old guy (OG) opens the car down and gets out. Now the valet and OG are face-to-face.

"Here it comes," I said. "Boom. He's going to whip out his gun and shoot that old man."

"Yeah," said Michael. "Make my day."


He didn't. The valet yelled at OG, shook a finger in his face, and finally slapped him.

It felt strangely unsatisfying. Later Michael and I talked about it. We could have both sworn that violence would ensue.


Because that's how we've been taught that problems will be "solved."

So it's not about the gun. At least, not entirely. The gun is just a means to an end. It's about our mindset, our willingness to believe that might makes right. That bad guys should die. That the good guy will triumph, even if he has to take another man's life.

And what does that say about me? About us?

Because I'm also to blame here. I have my characters use guns in my books. That means I am definitely part of the problem!

It says we need to hit the reset button. We need a national commitment to rethink who we are and how we solve problems.

Do you agree?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Son, the Endangered Species

Last month, my son Michael and I went to dinner together at a very nice restaurant in Hobe Sound, Florida. We were sitting at a high-top table, waiting for our food to arrive, when a man came over and said to Michael, “May I ask you a question?”

Michael is 25, wears a beard, and on this particular evening, he was dressed in sandals, jeans, and a gray hoody.

The man wore a black leather jacket, an earring in one ear, jeans, and tennis shoes. The portion of his skin that showed was covered in tattoos. He looked to be in his mid-sixties. At one time, he was probably a really great looking guy, judging from his bone structure. However, like a lot of Floridians, he’d baked himself in the sun too long, so his skin was wrinkled and textured like a Coach purse.

“Sure,” said Michael, with a shrug.

“What’s with the hoody?” asked the man.

Michael gave me one of those looks that translates into “huh?” I smiled at him encouragingly. He’s my baby boy, no matter how big he gets, and I love him.

“I like them,” said Michael. “I just like them.”

“Oh,” said the man. “Just so you know, if I see you at my house in that hoody, I will shoot you.”
Really? I nearly fell off my chair. I could not believe what I was hearing. Fortunately, I know the restaurant owners, and I knew they would intervene if I asked for help. But I didn't want to make a scene. Once he had said his piece, the man wandered off.

I sat there thinking of all the things I should have said.

So here’s my point—and I do have one.

If you think that the shootings of Treyvon Martin and Michael Brown were all about race, you are wrong.

And if you think because you are white (like I am and like my son is) that you are safe, you are wrong.

There’s something really pathetic about people who feel threatened by young men in hoodies. 

There’s something really sick about people who think they can just shoot people because they don’t like what they’re wearing. As long as one boy is endangered by this sort of madness, none of our children are safe.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Love, Crafts, and the Fine Art of Dumpster Diving

Two days ago, I noticed a big red Dumpster behind our apartment complex. It looked to be empty.

That's interesting, I thought.

Yesterday evening, my husband and I were walking Jax when I noticed the Dumpster had been filled to the brim. Looks to me like the apartment management evicted someone, sending their furniture packing as well. A red sofa extended above pieces of wood, paper, and articles you'd have to examine closely to identify.

That made me sad. Once upon a time, a bank threatened to evict my mother, my sisters, and me. I don't think that any of us will ever forget that bleak period in our lives.

Then it made me wonder. Was there any good that could come out of this ugly situation? While I was pondering this, thinking deep thoughts, David and Jax kept walking. "Honey?" called my husband. "Come on. Leave it alone."

He knows me too well.

Because by then, I'd decided to investigate. I climbed up on the ledge surrounding the big red trash container. I'm short so I couldn't look deep inside, but I did see a piece of board sticking out. A big piece of wood.

Big enough to serve as a base for my dollhouse and the potting shed.

Big enough and sturdy enough that I wouldn't have to go to Home Depot and buy a piece of plywood and pay for them to cut it to size.

Big and free.

Even freer after I tugged it out.

David, I must confess, was mortified. He started walking in the other direction with body language that clearly stated, "I don't know that woman!"

I tugged and tugged. I had to reach in and move a couple of other boards around. Luckily for me, I've kept up with my tetanus shots, because that big piece of wood had nails sticking out. But once I began to extricate it (classy word for trash-picking, eh?), I was determined that it would be MINE.

David didn't offer to help. Instead, he said, "Oh, honey..." in that tone of voice that means, "I love you, but right now, I would cheerfully pretend we aren't married."

So I dragged it home. I do mean drag, because it's heavy. I put it in the spare bedroom. I waited until today when David's at work. I hauled it out. Knocked down the nails. Pried off a half dozen small squares of excess wood that served as braces. Put it up on our kitchen island. And started making plans. BIG plans for my dollhouse.

The way I see it, I saved something from the landfill, I saved money, and I'm moving ahead with my crafts. Next time I walk past that Dumpster, I might just vault over the side and poke around a little more.

Have you ever been Dumpster Diving?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An Invitation to Meet Me in St. Louis!

On Thursday, September 25, 2014, from 6 to 9 p.m., I'll be hosting a special celebration in St. Louis--and you're invited!

Who: Joanna and her friends

What: A book signing party with book swag and refreshments

When: From 6 to 9 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014

Where: The Jane Allen Recital Hall in the Steinway Piano Gallery, 12033 Dorsett Road, Maryland Heights, MO 63043

How: Main Street Books of St. Charles will be on hand to sell books. 

Here's a list of my author friends who'll be attending:

Eileen Dreyer

Claudia Shelton

Lynn Cahoon

Michelle Sharp

Sharon Hopkins

Judge Bill Hopkins

Ellen Parker

Gena Ellis

Kelly Cochran

Candace Carrabus

Remember--signed books make great holiday gifts. You can mail them at the discounted media rate.

I hope to see you there!