Breaking the Code of Silence

In the beginning of my novel, House of Rose, my police officer heroine shoots a man in the back. I deliberately placed Rose in that situation, because it put her in trauma, and that is how character is built. I wanted readers to experience that from her perspective, to be uncomfortable. Having to pull the trigger is not a comfortable place. I am a former police officer, and, like my fellows, I always dreaded having to make such a decision and having to live with it—right or wrong.

My fictional shooting is a circumstance very far from the blatant lynching of George Floyd, which—along with a dark cloud of other racial encounters and shootings—have stained the badge that so many wear proudly and with honor. For the first time in my memory, law enforcement officers have broken their “code of silence” and stepped forward to voice their outrage, some to walk and pray with protesters.

I am proud of those voices, but I understand they do not make black people feel safe.

I am not black and not trying to imply I understand what it feels like to be, but I am listening and trying to imagine that and to relate it to my own experiences. I am Jewish.

Recently, I watched a documentary on the growth of anti-Semitism in the world, including the U.S., and it awoke in me something that I try to ignore in my daily life, an underlying fear of being different and what might happen to me or those I love because of who I am and what I believe. The outpouring of sympathy and expressions of horror at the Tree of Life massacre did not make me feel safe either.

How are we not beyond this? I yearn for there to be no need for police to have to make awful decisions or even to be armed, only to perform their highest calling—solving problems, protecting and helping people. I yearn for soldiers to put down their weapons and say, “Ain’t gonna study war no more.”

I also research and write about history and know we have moved the needle significantly from the past, but we have not left the darkness behind. It is a chasm looming before us. I fear we are on a precipice as a country and world.

What can I do?

I am a writer, so I am doing what I do—writing about my pain, confusion, my passion for justice. Sometimes I do that through my characters, but sometimes I just have to struggle for the words in my own voice.

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The Wisteria Wars or Creativity in the Time of Covid

Most people assume, as a writer, that I’m eating up the hours a little virus has bequeathed to us by WRITING. They would be wrong. Yes, I am working on a novel, but it’s in the editing stage. That means I’m calling on some craft skills, but mostly just plain old boring, repetitive checking for errors.

This piece is the first thing I’ve actually tried to pull from the creativity well, and I have no idea where it will go.  But that is okay. I give myself permission to ramble and see if anything worthwhile will arise. (I encourage you to do the same.)  So here we go.

I’m fortunate to live on several acres of property surrounded by beautiful woods. Our nearest neighbors are cows. For the ten years before we moved here, I lived in the city, and tried to grow on a tiny patch of land what I felt was the most gorgeous of plants—a wisteria vine. For whatever reason, the one I planted with hopes of it gracefully climbing the crosshatch wood panel on the side of my front porch and spilling grape-like clusters of blossoms—never bloomed. When we moved, I dug up a piece of the root and planted it in my front yard, determined to keep trying. The ground was so hard, I ended up cutting off most of the taproot and throwing a small piece of it into the woods on the side of my house.

Thirty years later, that little piece of discarded taproot has been . . . successful.  That is like saying a virus replicates. It did bloom, draping glorious purple curtains from the trees.

At first I told it, “Okay, as long as you stay on that side of the path.” It didn’t. Then, I rationalized, as long as it stayed behind the fence in the backyard. (I didn’t actually go in my backyard very much, being busy with life stuff.)  But I looked one day after covid-19 hit, and it had eaten over half of the back yard.  I couldn’t even walk to the fence line. Two huge trees went down, strangled, and too close to the house.

Wisteria roots undermined large pine

It was time for war.

This engagement, like those in the Middle East, will never end. Wisteria sends out shoots underground and periodically forms nodes that may change the direction or shoot out its own horizontal and/or vertical roots, so each section can survive independently and pop up anywhere.  Of course, I have the most pernicious variety, the Chinese kind that takes over the world (challenging even kudzu, which fortunately, hasn’t found my house yet.)

My first priority was to save the trees near the house. The vines were so thick at the base, no clippers would suffice. I girded myself with a baby chainsaw and determination. It hurt to cut into those old, twisty vines, to destroy something so beautiful, but the trees were more important. I imagined that with each cut, the tree could feel the release from the vine’s embrace, the reprieve.  I was taking life, but I was giving it too.

I sprayed the growth in the yard and pulled up (some of) the root systems.  If you want a mindless, exhausting, frustrating, impossible task—pull up established wisteria roots. It will take your mind off anything, even a pandemic.

One side benefit of the fallen trees was that a little more light found its way into the yard, and I decided to try growing vegetables. Another feature of my backyard is an old fashion clothesline with rusty steel posts. Periodically over the past decades, I’ve thought we should take them down as they are eyesores, but another part of me (the part that worried what young girls with flat stomachs would do during the famine) worried that we would have a pandemic one day or some kind of disaster that would require actually hanging clothes out to dry, so I left them, as well as the abandoned rabbit hutch in the far corner.  We would be ready, if not attractively landscaped.  And worse case scenario, maybe the hutch, in a pinch, would hold chickens.

I thought my creative well was dry, but looking at those old steel posts, the pile of wisteria roots, the vines I had pulled up and cut down, and a package of bean seeds that has been sitting in a drawer for a few years, something started stirring. Beans need something to climb.  One of the fallen trees had taken out the actual wire lines of the clothesline, but the poles were set in cement. They will be there when I am dust. The pole surface might be too slick for a bean to curl around, but maybe—

And so, as a product of WWI (Wisteria Wars Episode I) and covid-19, I found that the outlet for creativity isn’t always words on a page. If my beans grow, they will be beautiful and feed me, and if they don’t, I will at least have a couple of funky art pieces in the backyard.

Foreground: Metal pole with wisteria roots and vines. Background: logs from tree felled by wisteria, the carcass of another felled tree, and old rabbit hutch.

 

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes books, which, like this blog, roam wherever her interest and imagination take her. Receive this blog in your email when a new essay, story or rambling is posted by putting your email under “Follow My Blog” in the upper right section of the page. Want a heads up on news about her writing and adventures (and receive two free short stories)? Click on image below.  Thanks for stopping by!

 

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The Woman Who Danced Down the Grocery Aisle

The woman—dark hair with hints of auburn, the back scooped up in an invisible comb—dances down the aisle of the grocery store between the boxes of cereals and the baking goods. Pushing her cart, she sways to the store’s muzak, oblivious that the young girl beside her slows her pace and pretends to study the canned soups to put as much distance as possible between them.

I didn’t want anyone to suspect the dancing woman was my mother. It didn’t matter that I knew no one personally at the grocery store. Other than the two of us, the aisle was empty, at least for the moment. I held my breath, praying that the music would change to something less jaunty, and she would lose her enthusiasm for kicking out a leg or bouncing from foot to foot.

Even so, beneath my embarrassment, down in the dark, secret earth of girlhood, a seed now nestled—Would I ever dare to do such a thing—a brazen dance of joy in inappropriate places without thought of who was looking? Though my feet dragged, my heart glimpsed a possibility where one dared to be and to express that being.

In childhood, I dared this. I would sit in the middle of a busy sidewalk to examine a dandelion or an ant or cry in front of company to protest something I didn’t like. As a teen, I lost this freedom, submerging it to a craving to be like others, to be accepted, to be the daughter of someone who walked their cart down the grocery aisle.

My mother addressed the world with humor (“I like to generalize without specific knowledge.”) and quiet wisdom. She was the fixer, whether it was “kissing better” a scraped knee or advising how to handle a frisky boyfriend. When her father died, she comforted me, not shedding a tear on her own behalf, at least in my presence. I can’t remember her being upset or even angry. How can that be? In my memory she danced through life, beaming light on all those in her path.

Between making meals, making dresses, and shuffling me to ballet classes, horseback riding classes, and the library, she did significant things for the community. Those things earned her posthumous recognition, but from my self-centered perception, they were peripheral to her main job of “mother.”

Now that I am well into adulthood, and she is gone, I realize that she did not have the perfect, carefree life of my assumptions. I can only imagine her pains, but I learned from her that pain does not have to define my life—that I get to do that. I can dance down the grocery aisle.

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes books, which, like this blog, roam wherever her interest and imagination take her. Receive this blog in your email when a new essay, story or rambling is posted by putting your email under “Follow My Blog” in the upper right section of the page. Want a heads up on news about her writing and adventures (and receive two free short stories)? Click on image below.  Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

 

 

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Of Mice and A Girl

A mouse propelled me into crime. I was twelve years old, and I didn’t like what I was seeing . . . or smelling. Most sixth grade science classes use frogs to dissect, but for whatever reasons, our teacher decided on mice, little white mice to be exact, with pink noses, tiny paws, and bright eyes. The mode of demise was to drop them into a large, acrid jar of formaldehyde and watch them drown in the awful stuff. Then we got to cut them open, a nasty business, but by then they didn’t feel anything.

Photo by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53959809

It was the jar thing that got to me. It never occurred to me to confront the teacher. I was way too shy. Most of the time, I felt disconnected from my classmates who viewed me as a bookworm, and therefore, suspect and strange. I failed cheerleading in the second grade, not able to comprehend why I was waving a pompom and jumping up and down. Reading and horses were my passions. The lone friend from third grade who fit that bill had been sent to a private school.

Boys were simply alien creatures, far beyond my ken or reach. Not so for the girl who sat behind me in science who opened my astonished eyes to the existence of a new world. Science was definitely not Sheryl’s forte. She majored in boys. In exchange for science homework answers, she let me read the carefully folded, passionate letters from one of her multiple boyfriends. One, I recall, left me breathless, if not from the content, simply that he wrote it in the middle of the night inside a closet by candlelight.

Sheryl was as disgusted at the mice, both the dissection and mice in general, as I was impressed and awed by her romantic exchanges, but I didn’t have the chance to plot with her. Instead, I debated internally with my discomfort, eyeing the box that held more victims waiting for torture in the following class periods. Not acting would make me an accomplice to more killings. But stealing was wrong, right? I balanced on the edge of a moral dilemma.

With the ringing of the bell signaling the end of the period, I made my decision. The teacher stepped outside into the hall to take up his monitoring duties. I dithered with my books and papers, nothing that would arouse suspicion since I always seemed to be the last person ready to go anyway. The rest of the class poured out, eager for the next period (the end of which they would just as eagerly await). Heart kicking in my chest, I casually walked behind the teacher’s wooden desk, squatted, opened the case, snatching the first ball of squirming white fur that came to hand.

The rest of the day, I sweated, certain my theft would be uncovered, but the plump little guy curled up in the pocket of my sweater and slept. I didn’t dare share my crime with anyone, even Sheryl, maybe especially Sheryl, who was a node in the school communications network.

When I finally got home with my illegal gain, I officially named him Copernicus—after the 16th Century astronomer who proposed the radical theory that the planets revolved around the sun—giving homage to his science origin, and put him in an old birdcage. My father, as usual, was oblivious, and any objection could have been easily overcome by claiming mother had already approved, a tactic I had perfected on both of them. But my mother only raised her eyebrows at the new pet. I glibly lied, telling her the science teacher had purchased too many and didn’t mind me taking one home, and she didn’t ask too many questions.

Copernicus spent happy days crawling from one hand to the other, his tiny paws tickling; or curling up at the back of my neck under my hair for a nap while I read; or exploring the vast landscape of my bed. My dog, Samson, a collie mix, was fascinated, watching him down his long nose without blinking as long as the mouse was in eyesight, seeming to understand that any overt move would break the spell. Gradually, Copernicus seemed to lose his fear. At once point, they actually touched noses. I watched Samson almost as carefully as he watched the mouse, but Sam never gave any indication of aggressiveness. In fact, I think he was in love.

Then one day, things went terribly awry.

Copernicus was missing from his cage. I saw movement in the corner under some scraps of newspaper he had torn from his bedding. To my surprise, it was a nest containing several tiny, naked things, and I realized that Copernicus had been Copernica all along. With the births, she had lost her girth and squeezed through the bars of the cage.

Alas, I found her under the bed. Cause of death was a mystery. Other than being wet, there was no sign of any wound or broken bones, not even her neck. She was just dead. She had to have crawled there on her own, because Sam was too big to fit under the bed. I suspected at some point, however, he had put his mouth on her, perhaps to try and bring her to me. She may have had a heart attack or a problem related to giving birth. I will never know and only hope it was a better death than drowning in formaldehyde.

The episode was life changing. Although I liked science, I opted for Latin to avoid having to kill and cut on animals. The following year, I required major surgery to take out an appendix that had grown around my spine. It took two weeks to recover, and I did poorly on a Latin test. I did well in Latin, but it wasn’t because I could translate. Instead, my classmates and I were the recipients of a fellow student’s translation copies. Not sure where he got them and highly doubted he translated them himself. He would never say. In any case, since we knew in advance what excerpts of Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars we would be tested on, I simply memorized the hard parts and was a consistent “A” student in class. The hospitalization and recovery period, however, cut off my access to the translations.

Whether the teacher knew what was going on or just put my poor performance off on my illness, I never knew. For whatever reason, she offered me an independent reading project as extra credit, which I eagerly agreed to. The book was A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell, a historical novel about the Roman philosopher, orator, and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who stood up to the corrupt politicians of his day, refusing to be bought off or to dishonor his beloved country or abandon his ideals. He was assassinated. The story and its ending, which occurred while I was sitting on my bed—still my favorite reading spot—sent me into a bout of hysterical weeping that scared even my little sister. She ran upstairs for mother, who was not available. Reluctantly, I am sure, my father responded to the crisis.

Sitting on my bed, he approached the problem logically. “What is wrong?”

I was unable to answer.

“What is wrong, baby? Whatever it is, we will fix it.”

More crying. Probably snot running.

Becoming more and more concerned at my tears, my gasping for breath, and inability to respond as to the source of the problem, my father’s worry was evident. Being an engineer by education and mental alignment, he was ill equipped to handle his daughter’s distraught emotional state. Finally, he gave voice to the worst disaster he could think of, the nuclear option. Although I had just turned thirteen, he asked, “Are you pregnant?”

I shook my head and managed to say in halting gasps, “They . . . killed . . . him!”

Appalled that the worst scenario he imagined might, in fact, not be the worst, that we might be dealing with a murder, possibly in my presence or, at the least, of someone I knew, he demanded, “Who? Who was killed?

“They . . . killed . . . Cicero!” I sobbed.

“Cicero? Who is Cicero?”

Eventually, I was able to explain, but I never forgot the power of words and story. It sparked within me a desire to be a writer, a flame that has continued to burn for many years. Now it is a habit and passion I doubt I will ever forsake. And if not for a mouse, I might have never have realized it, or perhaps I would have chosen another path, hopefully not a life of crime, but you never know.

Still, the mouse episode remains an illustration of life’s complexity and mystery.
Copernica had good days, days she might not have had. But maybe she was lonely without her fellows, in spite of her rescue and Sam’s attentions. I also don’t know why she decided to try a jailbreak. Perhaps she wasn’t ready for motherhood. Who can know the mind of a mouse? But she died because of me. I wasn’t able to save her newborns. I couldn’t decide if I had done the right thing, stealing her and being the proximate cause of her death. With all good intentions, sometimes things go wrong. Does the end justify the means or nullify the intent? Is a good deed still good if the consequences are not? Is a crime a crime, or is it—as everything else seems to be—entirely relative?

I’m still pondering, a fact that works its way with regularity into my writing.

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes books, which, like this blog, roam wherever her interest and imagination take her. Receive this blog in your email when a new essay, story, or rambling is posted by putting your email under “Follow My Blog” in the upper right section of the page. Want a heads up on news about T.K.’s writing and adventures (and receive two free short stories)? Go HERE.  Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Collapse of Compassion

In police work, tragedy was a daily affair. I learned how to erect a professional wall between my personal emotions and what I encountered—abuse, rape, murder. Without those walls, I couldn’t have functioned effectively. I couldn’t take every abused child home. I couldn’t even ensure the abuser I put in jail would stay there and never hurt another. I survived by focusing on my job and trying to do it the best I could, while staying alive myself and trying to ensure the same for my fellows.

I didn’t change the world. Did I affect lives? I think so.

The tragedy in our world is still a daily affair and still overwhelming—war, famine, disease, disaster. I still have barriers because I can’t absorb the hurt of every other human in a personal way. For years, I couldn’t bear the thought of the Holocaust and refused to visit a Holocaust museum. Frankly, I feared fully acknowledging the weight of what had happened would disintegrate me. What if I couldn’t put myself back together? (Eventually, I visited the amazing Yad Yashem–The World Holocaust Center in Israel and I survived.)

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have security for our basic needs can be assaulted by guilt and confusion when we’re confronted with stark poverty, rampant disease, the results of natural disasters, or abuses humans visit upon one another. We are told by TV ads that a cup of coffee a day can buy health for a child on another continent or a new life for a pitiful dog in a cage. How do I drink my coffee without a crush of guilt?

Far more often than not, I simply shake my head. There is a label for this—collapse of compassion. We simply cannot emotionally process the ills of the world.

n The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama–perhaps the world’s model for compassion–recalls an event where he was in severe pain. On the way to the hospital, he passed a man on the side of the road who was clearly in worst straits than he.  The lesson he took from this was one of perspective on his own pain, but when I read this passage, I wondered why he didn’t stop and help the man, despite his pain.  Wouldn’t that have been the truly compassionate thing to do?

The Dalai Lama must see people worse off than he every day. He also hears of the world’s wrongs. I imagine at some point he too has collapse of compassion. It is a survival mechanism.

We tend to perceive and process everything, including our values and morality, through the lens of circumstances and group psychology. The death of thousands or millions is an in-absorbable statistic that leaves us bewildered at how to exercise compassion in the face of the enormity of the pain or the impossibility of changing it. So we turn a blind eye. According to Max Fisher and Amanda Taub in a recent NYT article, “It’s not that we can’t care about a million deaths, psychologists believe. Rather, we fear being overwhelmed and switch off our own emotions in preemptive self-defense.”

But we can identify with the pain of one person, especially if circumstances present a doable solution that doesn’t cost us “too much.” If we discover a homeless child or dog on our doorstep, we are more likely to open our door than send money to a far-away charity of possibly dubious nature or to be a “drop in the bucket” of a crushing need. If the Dalai Lama had not been rushing to the hospital, he might have stopped to see if he could help the man on the side of the road. When the media covers stories about a single person’s tragedy, we are more primed to react, to actually do something.

Our values of compassion are deeply rooted in our cultural and evolutionary heritage, but they are  called on in a way that is outside the framework of their evolutionary origins. For most of our history, we have lived in small communities that could absorb the needy stranger or widow, but today we are exposed to and confronted with problems on a global level—refugees from terror and economic scarcity at our borders, victims of warfare, disasters of fire, flood, wind and earthquake. All of these have been with us for millennia, but we have previously only faced them on a local level. Now we are aware (bombarded) on a daily basis, of what is happening in the world and with that comes a seemingly overwhelming burden of responsibility, so we switch it off.

Our first commitment is to our own well being and security. It makes no sense to let ourselves or our children starve in order to feed the homeless. My father told me often to remember the story of “the richest man in Babylon.” He taught to give yourself (save) the first 10% of whatever you make and that preparing for the future security for yourself and your family is a noble and worthy goal.

On the other hand, religious leaders have warned about clutching all of what we have too tightly (“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”) And they have provided a practical response in the 10% tithe rule. In Judaism, this is expected of everyone, even the poor, because giving is such an important part of becoming a fully-realized member of the human family.  It is not important how much, just that we do it.

The conflict and guilt and helplessness we feel at tragedy is human. Our walls are also human. Our inaction is human. Our actions to fix the things we can is human. How we choose to respond is an individual decision. There is no “right” or “wrong” way. You may volunteer coach. You may run for political office. You may be a philanthropist. You may speak out about the ills of the world or your community. You may, like the Dalai Lama, focus on being a joyful, compassionate human being and sharing how to do that. You may pick up trash along a river bank. You may write stories.

Just find your way.

A retired police captain, T.K. has written two award-winning historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, filling in the untold backstories of extraordinary, yet unnamed women—the wives of Noah and Lot—in two of the world’s most famous sagas. The New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list featured her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, which details the investigators’ behind-the-scenes stories of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing case. Coming soon: HOUSE OF ROSE, the first of a trilogy in the paranormal-crime genre. 

She loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. T.K. writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, Alabama, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap. More info at TKThorne.com. Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.

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Your Brain on Words

Human beings were not designed to read.

When you think about it, the act of reading is an astonishing accomplishment. It’s a complex mix  that involves:

•    Recognizing symbols
•    Relating them to sounds and spoken language
•    Extracting meaning

And we’ve only been reading for a short time (5000 years)—too short for the brain to have evolved for that purpose. The conclusion of scientists is the area of the brain (the left occipital-temporal cortex, if you’re interested) that seems to coordinate this amazing process has reorganized itself to take on the task.

We’ve known from people who have experienced brain damage, such as from a stroke, that the brain can rearrange itself, a process called  neuroplasticity. When one area is damaged, new areas can take on a task that was previously relegated to another area. Researchers have long thought that this flexibility lessens with age. But this region changes even in adults who are learning to read, showing that “this area is responsive to learning throughout life. [Italics mine.]

If you are—[clearing throat]—beyond the stage of youth, as I am, that is very cool news!

But wait, there’s more!

Reading a novel, according to cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis, is more than an entertainment or distraction. It’s “an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.” In other words, when you read a novel, you become the person you are reading about in a very physical way.

Another neurologist Gregory Berns, says, “neural changes associated with physical sensation and movement systems [happen while people are reading and] suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist. . . . We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

So there’s a reason why when you’re reading that good book, you loose awareness of the present. Your mind is putting you in the world of the story!

Studies have found that learning new skills, including reading or a second language creates new white matter in the brains of children and adults. White matter acts as a kind of fast neural subway, connecting different regions of the brain to one another. It plays a role in language ability, memory, and visuo-spatial construction.  Diseases of white matter are linked to cognitive and emotional difficulties. (By the way, other activites also result in increases in white matter functioning, including meditation, weight-resistance training, and practicing a musical instrument.)

Since the beginning of time, stories have allowed us to test run situations and experience emotions without the real consequences of living them. Reading may even make us more human, enriching our skills of empathy. One study found that readers of literary fiction excelled at tests involving understanding other people’s feelings.

Reading makes us generally more intelligent. In fact, recent scientific studies have confirmed that “reading and intelligence have a relationship so close as to be symbiotic.”  Reading  increases fluid intelligence—the ability to solve problems, understand things and detect meaningful patterns. It also helps with reading comprehension and emotional intelligence.

“Reading helps you make smarter decisions about yourself and those around you.”

And here’s a final thought, going back to the idea of the human mind figuring out how to see and process written words by rearranging the organization of our brain. I don’t know about you, but that puts brains pretty high on my list of amazing things. But here’s the mind-blowing part, courtesy of scholar Maryanne Wolf—that reorganization, in turn “expanded the ways we were able to think, which altered the intellectual evolution of our species.”

I feel the honor and responsibility of writing something like Last Chance for Justice, the nonfiction story of the Birmingham church bombing case, an incident that changed the path of civil rights around the world. But sometimes I wonder if I am making any kind of difference when I write fiction, and perhaps fellow novelists feel this too. Now we know. As a writers and storytellers, we are helping to make minds healthier, humans more human, and advancing the intellectual evolution of our species.  That’s good enough for me!

T.K. Thorne’s childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama.  “It was a crash course in life and what motivated and mattered to people.” In her newest novel, HOUSE OF ROSE, murder and mayhem mix with a little magic when a police officer discovers she’s a witch. Both her award-winning debut historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, tell the stories of unknown women in famous biblical tales—the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. Her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, the inside story of the investigation and trials of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, was featured on the New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list. T.K. loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. She writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, often with a dog and a cat vying for her lap.

More info at TKThorne.com. Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Women: Not So Mere

Who knew? The women’s movement to win the vote in the United States (which didn’t happen until 1920) began with book clubs!

In my life, “feminism” has been a word often expressed with a sneer, the struggle for equality  seen as an effort to shed femininity and be man-like. Burn your bra at the peril of rejecting your womanhood. But my role model, my mother, was as feminine as they come and yet stood toe to toe with men in power. She never finished college, having to quit to care for her ill father, but she continued to learn and read and surround herself with other women who used ideas and knowledge to challenge the status quo, a legacy that began long ago.

Despite the pressure on women to focus on family and household matters, women throughout history have organized to read and talk about serious ideas, even in the early colonial days of American history. Anne Hutchinson founded such a group on a ship headed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634. Reading circles or societies spread throughout the 1800s, including the African-American Female Intelligence Society organized in Boston and the New York Colored Ladies Literary Society. The first known American club sponsored by a bookstore began in 1840 in a store owned by a woman, Margaret Fuller. In 1866 Sarah Atwater Denman began Friends in Council, the oldest continuous literary club in America. In the South, blacks slaves were punished if they were found even carrying a book, although some surely passed books and abolitionist tracts in secret, despite the terrible risk.

Mandy Shunnarah recently wrote about research she did on this subject in college, sharing how the turn-of-the-century women began with classical ancient history and gradually became informed about political and policy issues of the day. The clubs created opportunities for connection and community and provided a conduit for organization and action. Undoubtedly, progressive organizations like the League of Women Voters, which formed in 1920, were an outgrowth of those clubs.

My mother, Jane Katz, was a longtime League member and a lobbyist for the state League. I have memories of her sitting at her electric Smith-Corona and typing away at tedious lists that tracked status and votes on legislative bills of interest to the League—education, the environment, constitutional reform, judicial reform, ethics reform, home rule.

I remember her taking me to a site to show me what strip mining actually looked like when a coal company was finished ravaging the land. She worked hard for the Equal Rights Amendment, which had as much chance of passing in my state (Alabama) as a law against football. I followed her to the state legislature while she talked to white male senators about why a bill was important and I will never forget how they looked down at her condescendingly. It made me angry, but she just continued to present her points with charm, wit, and irrefutable logic. The experience turned me off to politics, but gave me a deep respect for my mother. I know she would be saddened that many of the issues she fought for have yet to come about, but she would be proud of today’s many strong women’s voices speaking up for the values she so believed in and fought for. She and my grandmother began my love of reading and books. Today, it’s estimated that over 5 million book clubs exist and 70-80% of the members are women.

A special childhood memory of my parents chuckling over a New Yorker cartoon my father cut out and showed to friends—Two stuffy businessmen are talking quietly. One says, “But she is a mere woman!” The other replies, “Haven’t you heard? Women are not so mere anymore.”

I’m not a politician. I’m a writer. My mother died decades ago, and sometimes I feel guilty not following in her footsteps. But I think she would have been proud that the women in my books are not “mere.”

It is a gift and a closing of the circle connecting me with my mother and all her predecessors to know the heritage of feminist activism—the striving for a society where women’s thoughts, ideas, and work are equally respected—began with a group of women, perhaps a cup of tea, and a book.

T.K. Thorne’s childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama.  “It was a crash course in life and what motivated and mattered to people.” In her newest novel, HOUSE OF ROSE, murder and mayhem mix with a little magic when a police officer discovers she’s a witch.

Both her award-winning debut historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, tell the stories of unknown women in famous biblical tales—the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. Her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, the inside story of the investigation and trials of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, was featured on the New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list.

T.K. loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. She writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, often with a dog and a cat vying for her lap.

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Einstein, Oz, and Ms. Poppins

This glorious spring, scientists finally took a “real” picture of a black hole. All the ones we’ve been seeing have been artists’ renditions because black holes are really not visible. They swallow light. Creative astrophyicists used a multiple array of telescopes hooked together to get an image of light bending around the massive gravity pit, just as Einstein predicted!

Einstein was right about so many things—space/time, gravity, quantum physics, even a big something scientists of his day scoffed at and he decided he was wrong about—the cosmological constant. Okay, he was a little off, but the concept was not, and modern physics has gone back to it. Albert used math, but first he used something we all have and think too little of—imagination.

Einstein visualized what-if’s.  What if I could ride on a wave of light? What if I were inside a plunging elevator? All in his mind.

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”—Albert Einsten

It makes you wonder if we are so busy stuffing knowledge into children, we are neglecting to teach them to use their imagination. But children are born with creative genius. The better question is, what are we teaching them that stifles that creative thinking and problem solving?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”—Einstein

I’m not going to admit how old I was when I finally accepted that I would never be able to cross the Deadly Desert and find Oz. I cried my heart out, believing that I had lost something precious and irreplaceable.

But I was wrong.

What was the Deadly Desert really, but that pesky voice that says, “No you can’t,” or “That’s impossible.”

If anyone ever told Einstein it was impossible to ride a beam of light, it’s an awfully good thing that he didn’t listen. And neither did the scientists who took a picture of nothing. Maybe, instead, they both listened to Mary Poppins, who said:

“Everything is possible, even the impossible.”


T.K. Thorne’s childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama.  “It was a crash course in life and what motivated and mattered to people.” In her newest novel, HOUSE OF ROSE, murder and mayhem mix with a little magic when a police officer discovers she’s a witch.

Both her award-winning debut historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, tell the stories of unknown women in famous biblical tales—the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. Her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, the inside story of the investigation and trials of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, was featured on the New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list.

T.K. loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. She writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap.

Join my private newsletter email list and receive two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.”

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What is “Normal”?

When I was writing my historical novel, Noah’s Wife, I realized my central character had Asperger’s Syndrome (on the autism spectrum). At first, I rejected the idea, but a wiser part of my mind prevailed, and I let her be who she was. I added researching the condition to my digging into the ancient Mid East culture, geology, and archeological findings that shaped the background for my novel about the wife of Noah.

Na’amah’s disabilities turned out to be strengths I never suspected, and I wrote in the author notes that I thought it was possible we were looking at this condition from a prejudiced and skewed perspective. Maybe we all carry genes that can express these abilities and difficulties in various ways, and they are part of our evolutionary inheritance. I thought I was going out on a limb, so stumbling on this video (link below) about neurodiversity was of great interest. Maybe we need to take another look at how we define what it means to be human.

 

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An Unexpected Dream Come True

It’s not something I talk much about, but for many years I was in the closet as a writer. I collected so many rejections, I could have wallpapered my house with them, or at least, my bedroom. Everyone said short stories were the way to break in, but my stories kept getting turned down.  If I dared admit I was a writer to anyone, their next question dashed me down—”Oh, what have you published?” I could only imagine what it would be like to be a real author, signing books for my fans, having a best seller.  I felt like a failure, but I’m pretty stubborn, and I just kept writing and submitting. I wrote five novels before one was published.

When I held that first book in my hands, I cried tears of joy.

My fourth book recently came out and it was still exciting to open that box and hold it in my hand.

Then a few days later, it made its debut at an elegant downtown Victorian mansion. I signed copies read from the book, and shared my big night with friends. A dream come true.

Hassinger Danies Mansion B&B, Birmingham, AL

While I was signing books, something else was on my mind. Earlier that day, I had taught a creative writing class (as a volunteer) at Maranathan Academy, a non-profit school that takes “critically at-risk students from a variety of challenging circumstances—bullying and abuse victims, juvenile offenders, poor academic performers, and the health challenged/chronically ill. Students enter Maranathan wounded and looking for a place to belong.” [MA website]

I started the class three months prior, nervous, afraid I’d just taken on something else to fail at, and that I had nothing to offer these kids. I’d never taught poetry, never taught youth, let alone students with the kind of challenges these faced. That first day was hell, and I almost quit. But something made me go back. The students had no idea how to express themselves or even how to sit still. Every class was a struggle, but, gradually, they  started listening and participating.

Something amazing had happened in class the day of my signing. The students had written poems that touched on their deepest pain, something I could not have imagined them doing when I started.  Nor, I believe, could they have imagined doing so, much less sharing it with the other students and faculty. Not only had they learned to write poetry, but they felt safe enough to open the door to their true selves.

It was wonderful to be at my long-planned book launch party, don’t get me wrong, but my mind kept drifting back to the classroom and those kids.  Then I looked up and saw three members of the school faculty in line with books and one of my students!  I jumped up and hugged her.  “You’re my inspiration,” she whispered in my ear.

That gave me more joy than signing my books or making a best seller list or winning writing awards. That was a dream come true that I hadn’t even known to dream.

Chinese proverb:

“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”

T.K. Thorne’s childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama.  “It was a crash course in life and what motivated and mattered to people.” In her newest novel, HOUSE OF ROSE, murder and mayhem mix with a little magic when a police officer discovers she’s a witch. 

Both her award-winning debut historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, tell the stories of unknown women in famous biblical tales—the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. Her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, the inside story of the investigation and trials of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, was featured on the New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list. 

T.K. loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. She writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap. 

 More info at TKThorne.com. Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.

 

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