Thursday, January 31, 2008

Exploring the Trunk

My husband has few things from his grandparents who immigrated to the United States early in the last century. The most notable item is Grandma’s Trunk. If this trunk could talk, oh the stories it could tell. The old trunk isn’t pristine but it is loved.

Grandma came from the old country at 16 years old. What courage she must have had to leave her home and all familiar for a new country.

For my children, this woman is great-grandma. They love the stories of the farm and other remembrances my husband has of this courageous woman. They also love going through the trunk.

The trunk opens with a creak then comes the puff of air, the aroma of Cedar and time. The top bin has smaller items dollies, clippings, baseball cards.
In the larger section, larger or lesser used items remain: crocheted coverlets, knitted lap blankets, doilies and other items from the past, photos, childhood costumes and a our daughter’s christening dress; contributions from four generations.

I want my children to know their ancestry, it’s important to know from where you come, to find out who you are. There are traits; I believe are based in DNA and knowing about the people who came before, you have insight into how to navigate yourself through the world, using your strengths and mitigating your weaknesses. This I find to be true for myself. And if it is also true for my children, I hope to arm them with all the information they need to progress as human beings.

I pull each item from the trunk and place it around the room. Some of the textile items need regular airing, and I just like to do that for all the things in the trunk. They see the light of day between two and four times a year.

My daughter is always interested in the story about her christening day, who were the people there, how did it go. She asked virtually the same questions every time. Not because she doesn’t remember, but because she enjoys the story.

Next, my son will ask about the baseball cards, as he picks them up and looks through the now, long retired, mostly dead players on cardboard backing. He wants to know about the card collection and why his dad still has them. His collection of Pokémon cards maybe one of those things he keeps into his adult life.

Grandma knitted a blanket for our first born son. He seems to pass by each time we’re in the trunk, just in time to hold it to his face, brush it against his cheek and sniff just a bit (of love, I think) from the blanket of yellow and white.

Our trunk gives us time to talk about what America was like for an immigrant in 1910 and what kids were like in the 30s and 60s. There are bits of history in our trunk, bit of our selves, and bits of loved ones passed from this life. The gift our ancestors gave us by passing these bits to us is invaluable. There is a powerful sense of right I feel when I hear my kids remind each other of the people from which they come and the stories about those people, the things they did and the time they lived.

It’s good.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Book Review: The Diamond Shield

Book Review of The Diamond Shield by Colin Althouse NY: Vantage Press ISBN –533-12339-5 $14.95

Colin Althouse shares spiritual revelations in The Diamond Shield. With twentieth century understanding and language, he reiterates the common themes of most major religion. Using religiously cross-relevant terminology, the author prepares the reader for an induction into a budding movement which will provide for spiritual understanding by which a devotee chooses to live by the tenants of The Diamond Shield. Through a stream of thought writing style, the author promises a great many disclosures to come. He fails to deliver any original ideas. However, he does present an intermingling of intercultural belief systems and suggests that this book should be used as the basis of a religious evolution or creation of a higher religion. Ultimately, The Diamond Shield as a manual for life falls short of other similar contemporary texts.

At the beginning of the book there’s a warning to the reader, that many people just won’t understand the contents of this book. Only “chosen” people will truly comprehend the messages set out in both prose and poetry. It’s hard to believe that all readers wouldn’t understand this book, the messages are basic. Written in simple language and with such broad generalities, only people adhering to a specific religion might not "get" certain points.

The Diamond Shield is divided into four sections. The first portion explains the author’s complicated lives. Althouse has extensive memories of past lives – so much so that he is able to identify persons in present life with that same reincarnated person in a previous life and the relationships that they held with each other. Many of the lives of family and friends were similarly intertwined in pervious lives. Amazingly, many from the spiritual group around Jesus Christ at the crucifixion have reincarnated into Althouse’s group. Althouse, himself claims to be the reincarnation of John, writer of books of the Holy Bible. The third Mary at the crucifixion has reincarnated into Althouse’s wife in this life.

He documents this life’s childhood and coming of age stating that he’s an outsider to his community and has been for at least the last few lives. His outcast status provides some explanation for the lack of repercussions when he takes spiritual trips in astral body for days at a time.

The second section is split into compact sections of information: Simplicity, Justice, Restoration, etc. The information provided asserts the tone of authority explaining unknown truths to the reader. Revelations attempt to make sense of this life by putting this experience into a large cosmic scope, which simultaneously boosts and diminishes the importance of the personal experience in the here and now. In this section, I found the writing was so general that a reader could interpret much of these sections to fit with any established belief systems.

One particular passage I read and re-read over a period of several days was the section on “Entity.” Althouse speaks of vibrational plains and the calling of Dark Forces out of their confinement because the dominants in our society seek to control others. He continues, by suggesting that a possession by such an entity result from unfulfilled desires of that person and really has nothing to do with anyone else. But then he says the entities are independent of us just waiting for the opportunity to engage us. Then he says the entities are “real and living.” They can’t be destroyed. Yet they are our creations.

Another apparent contradiction comes in Althouse's belief in Restoration of the soul. The Restoration comes from Virgin Purity and Harmony found through abstinence, which he suggests everyone practice. Immediately followed by the “One Basic Problem of Human Kind” which is the unfulfilled Father-Mother Principle, which must be lived to be fulfilled, and he suggests that we all practice this too. How can one practice the virgin purity Principle and the Mother- Father Principle at the same time?

These types of seeming contradictions, I believe, leave the text open to reader interpretations rather than providing an actual written plan of the Diamond Shield as the opening statement promises.

The third section of the book is entitled, “The Poet’s Challenge.” For me, these writings are reminiscent of Old Testament Psalms and the Song of Solomon. Here again, I feel that Althouse’s writing is so vague that nearly any religious/spiritual interpretation could be applied.

The section, “Guiding Principles” is 270 rules to live by. While I agree with his assumption that some people need specific direction perhaps more than the 10 commandments of Moses or the 1 rule of Jesus. Althouse gives so many rules that surely no one could remember let alone be sure that they are indeed following all 270!

Obviously, this book didn’t speak to me as an authority, but staying with the rules of the book, perhaps I’m not chosen. However, I sure that this book will and does speak to some just like the other religious books.

I agree with many of Althouse’s assertions that the human race is in need of direction and uplifting from its present state and perhaps, he has provided that direction.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Editors, Writers and Ethics

Ethics is one of those things, I think you’re born with them or you aren’t. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t nice, it just mean they aren’t honest or ethical.

Take an Editor for example: Writers trust Editors. We have to.

Writers send editors material in hopes that it fits with the editorial schedule and maybe make some money to, I don’t know, EAT or something frivolous like that.

The Magazine’s budget is tight. So, instead of paying freelance writers the publisher/boss tells the editor to hire someone. Eve, the editor hires her best friend or cousin, Ann, who can be in the office for 40 hours, which will save the company money. The promise is that Ann will produce material at a lower rate than the freelancers.

Okay, that’s the way it goes sometimes. We freelancers understand that you get what you pay for. Over time, the subscriptions will fall off. Eve, the editor will scramble to help the publication. Her job is on the line too.

So you’ll never guess what happens… Ann suddenly comes up with great ideas. She can write articles faster than anyone else. Her writing voice changes from day to day, article to article. She helps around the office and all the office correspondence goes through her desk too. Ann’s incredible.

Eve, the editor is happy and the Publisher is happy too. Now, the Magazine is within budget and subscriptions are on the increase. Sure, everyone wonders how Ann can do it all but not for long because everyone is just too busy and happy to think about it much.

The truth is that Ann does correspond for the office but she is also stealing.

Ann found the pile of freelance queries and suggested them at the meeting. Once the ideas were approved, she didn’t have a clue how to write them. She asked the freelancers to submit a list of resources and contacts. Even then, she was running out of time, the deadline was a month away. She asked the writer to complete the article on speculation. When the freelancer hit deadline, Ann quickly sent a reject letter.

Unknown to Ann, the freelancer was also a subscriber(in her husband’s name). Writers do often read the publications to which they submit. So the writer saw an incredibly familiar story in the publication. The title was somewhat different and a few passages were rearranged, but it was the writer’s article with staff-written byline.

So what could the writer do? Basically, working writers trust editors to be honest and pay them for their work. It would be impossible to copyright every idea and article, not to mention the legal bill to follow up on every unscrupulous editorial staff member. So we just don’t write or submit to particular publications, and we tell our writer friends.

The next month, the writer was shocked to find in her email inbox a request from Ann for ideas. Ann asked the writer to submit ideas with resource lists and if the writer wanted to go ahead and complete the articles.

The writer burned once, declined to submit.

How this particular story ends for Ann and Eve, I don’t know at this point. We’ll have to wait for it all to play out…

Writers want Editorial Staff to know that just because we work at home doesn’t mean we don’t have payments or eat (in fact, many of us have kids to feed too!). Every writer isn’t independently wealthy, most fit into the “working for the money” category.

Post-Script: Editors who pay freelance writers are encouraged to write

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Hattie Caraway: First Woman Elected Senator

To the surprise of many political observers of the early 20th century, 1931 was not only a year during the Great Depression, but it was the year in which the United States seated it’s first woman Senator. The tumultuous political climate which facilitated the circumstance for the elevation of Hattie Caraway to Senator, not only opened the doors to women in American Politics but also provided the means for populous movements to changed the face of America in the 20th century.

Hattie Caraway, the wife of Thaddeus Caraway, Senator from the state of Arkansas, took the oath of office on December 8, 1931, just one month after her husband’s untimely death. Supporters of the momentous occasion hardly expected that the widow Caraway would do more than hold the senate seat until a suitable successor could be elected the following year. As a junior member of the senate, Mrs. Caraway was assigned a seat toward the back of the Senate Chamber, right next to the controversial Senator from Louisiana, Huey P. Long. Although the two Southern Senators had met previously, it wasn’t until they found themselves sharing many similar concerns that they became friends and sometimes political allies.

After the crash of the stock market in October 1929, life in America changed drastically for most Americans. The richest men, banks and trusts got richer while the average person got poorer. Many men, the breadwinners for their families, found themselves without work and without hope of any employment. Wives and mothers went to work, if they could find jobs, to keep the family fed and clothed. Soup kitchens and charity homes tried to serve the masses of people effected by the economic depression.

Complicating matters for another segment of the population, farmers suffered declining demand since the end of World War I (1918) . In addition, Prohibition of Alcohol ceased legitimate production of spirits, which contributed to a grain glut in the market and prices fell. If that wasn’t bad enough, a sustained drought hit the central portion of the country creating a regional Dust Bowl which further devastated farmers. Equipment and land mortgaged for expansion in the 1920s, became the property of banks, as repossessions and foreclosures became common place in the early 1930s.

Social and economic reforms were the topic of the day. Many plans to jump start the economy were devised. President Herbert Hoover believed that supplying the top few percent of the population with tax breaks and incentives that the trickle down economics would soon return the American economy to its pre-crash condition.

History shows that the government programs intended to relieve the suffering of the people only served to line the pockets of the already rich and powerful. Little, if any, money ever reached the impoverished, the misery of the masses became legendary.

In this climate of utter hopelessness, Mrs. Hattie Caraway found herself in a unique position. She found that her appointment to the Senate, although originally a courtesy or gesture of sympathy, also served as a political maneuver for the Democratic Party to stall for time to groom an appropriate successor for Senator Thaddeus Caraway. This situation allowed her great freedom, because she had no political debt, she owed no allegiance and she voted her own conscience.

Senator Caraway quickly distinguished herself by voting her own conscience, often against many in her own Democratic Party as well as against the senior Arkansas Senator, Joseph Robinson. She proved herself a thoughtful and caring representative for the people of Arkansas.

Hattie Caraway kept busy with the business of representing the people of Arkansas to the best of her ability by exposing the conflicts of interest such as that by Harvey Couch, one of President Hoover’s appointees to the Board of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, who also was the founder of Arkansas Power and Light. Many utility interests were served by the federal money intended to rejuvenate the American economy. There were no off-limits interests for Senator Caraway. She distinguished herself as a champion of the people and exposed hypocrisy and corruption wherever it was found. By December 1931, she confided to close friends that she believed herself well qualified for the job of Senator.

By May 1932, Senator Hattie Caraway had paid little attention to her election campaign, and to the amazement of friends and opponents alike, Hattie Caraway decided she wanted the senate seat for herself. She announced her intention to run for the office, much to the chagrin of the very same people who arranged her appointment in the first place. But her Senate seating partner, Huey P. Long happily offered to help her campaign, not only to help the Lady Senator but to needle Senator Robinson, with whom Senator Long had a mutual and long standing animosity.

Senate campaigns usually require at least months of preparation, Senator Caraway found that by Late Spring 1932 when she began to attend to her own campaign, she was one woman without the political machinery to run a viable campaign. Her husband’s former associates had already cast their allegiances with other candidates. Her field of opponents numbered six. Six politically savvy and serious contenders vied for Party’s nomination for the coveted Senate seat. While she enjoyed the friendship of Huey Long, she was undecided as to whether to accept his help with her campaign. She wrote in her diary that she required a complete understanding with Senator Long that accepting his support with her campaign in no way would alter or oblige her to vote a particular way in any issue presented. Senator Caraway valued her vote as well as a clear conscience, she refused to “sell her soul” or vote, for the election.

As late as July 15th 1932, Hattie Caraway had no itinerary to reporters who asked about her returned to Arkansas to begin campaigning with the election just weeks away. During her first radio address, Hattie sounded stilted as she recounted her Senate voting record. In the previous week , Hattie had come to an agreement with Senator Long that his support and agreement to campaign on her behalf in no way obliged her vote in any way but there was still no set plan. She did, however, identify with the plight of the common person, having just suffered though the foreclosure of her own home just months after the death of her husband. She could talk to the crowd and they knew that she understood their desperation.

The political machinery of the Louisiana Senator set to work in late July to create an unforgettable whirlwind campaign. Commencing Monday, August 1st through Saturday the 6th, the Hattie Caraway campaign caravan featured the popular speaker Huey Long. The famous Long sound trucks , a novelty in themselves, providing amplification for the speakers as well as music to entertain the crowds. The menagerie crisscrossed Arkansas with no less than six speaking engagements daily. Hattie, originally a timid public speaker found that she had developed a strong speaking style of her own by the end of the week.

Hattie Caraway, like her friend, Huey Long, spoke to the heart of the American public. The people understood that a few very wealthy men, less than 1 % of the population owned and/or controlled 87% of the wealth of the country. These two senators believed that for the betterment of the common person, it was time to Share the Wealth. The Share the Wealth plan sought to redistribute the wealth by limiting the income of the extremely wealthy, providing jobs and equitable wages for all Americans.

By the end of the campaign week, Hattie Caraway was a contender in the Democratic Primary. Hattie had demonstrated to the public that she was competent to represent them. As a wife and mother, she had gained the experience to understand the issues of the day and the people she addressed understood that she had her own political power. She did not sit in the Senate as a mere courtesy. Hattie made friends wherever she spoke. Come the primary election, she won easily. In November 1932, Hattie shocked her opponents as she took 60 out of 75 counties in Arkansas. She had become Senator Caraway from Arkansas in her own right.

The elections in November 1932 brought an end to the succession of Republican presidents. Franklin D Roosevelt assumed the highest office in the land and made sweeping reforms in the first 100 days of his administration. During the tenure of Senator Caraway, Prohibition was repealed, the Tennessee Valley Authority Act created jobs in the then new hydroelectric industry, the Federal Housing Authority stimulated the building industry, the Social Security Act created a cushion for older adults and farmers against the boom-or-bust economic cycles and Labor Unions and popular social movements were able to require employers to pay workers living wages, and benefits such as employer paid health insurance, paid vacation and sick time and other benefits through collective bargaining and supportive representation in government by people like the first woman Senator, Hattie Caraway of Arkansas.

Garraty, John. 1,0001 Things Everyone Should Know About American History. New York: Doubleday. 1989.
Kennedy, David and Thomas Bailey. The American Pageant. Lexington: Heath and Company. 1986.
Malone, David. Hattie and Huey: An Arkansas Tour. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. 1989.