Friday, September 24, 2010


I recently finished reading Jodi Picoult's book Nineteen Minutes. It is the tragic story of a high school shooting which was carried out by Peter Houghton, a boy who was bullied from kindergarten through high school. As with many of her other books, Ms. Picoult writes from several different points of view, which allows the reader to see through the eyes of a variety of characters. In Nineteen Minutes, we see the story through the eyes of Peter, as well as those who bullied him.

In this book, Jodi Picoult masterfully provides the reader with enough insight into the villain that the reader is able to also see him as a tragic victim.

About the time I finished reading Nineteen Minutes, I heard a news story about a father, James Willie Jones, who had stormed a school bus to confront and scold students for harassing his 13-year old daughter who has cerebral palsy. He later apologized:

"At that time, I was a bully. And I apologize again for that. If you see the tape, I feel like I was backed up against the wall as a parent. I just didn't know where else to go. We definitely don't want to promote that. We don't want vigilantes going on buses, threatening kids, because kids have rights too."

YouTube Clip of Mr. Jones's Apology

Bullying isn't new in our society. Though the teasing in my life has been minimal, I do remember being teased in school about silly things - what I wore, braces, being a band freak, goody-two-shoes, skinny-minny. Still, I remember the hurt I felt.

Has bullying gotten worse, or does it seem that way only because of the added exposure it receives with 24 hour news coverage? Sadly, the consequences do seem to be getting worse: school shootings, suicides.

I see varying degrees of it everywhere, not only with school-age children. It exists between adults, too, on television reality shows, in politics, on radio talk shows. It all leads us to become desensitized to it.

Bullies seem to have lost empathy for how it makes others feel. Isn't that part of what makes us human?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One Thing Left to Say

If you had only one thing left to say, what would it be?

Nine years ago as I watched the events of 9/11 unfold, the answer came as an epiphany.

Mark Bingham was a passenger on United Flight 93, a hijacked airplane apparently headed for the White House on 9/11. He and a group of passengers tried to overpower the hijackers.  His mother, Alice Hoglan recalls what he said in his phone call to her: "I want you to know I love you very much, and I'm calling you from the plane. We've been taken over. There are three men who say they've got a bomb."

Fifteen minutes later, Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, killing 40 crew members and passengers.

Moisas Rivas was a cook at Windows of the World, on the top floor of the World Trade Center. His stepdaughter, Linda, received a call from him at 9:02 a.m. on 9/11, and later gave her mother a message from Moisas: "Yes, Mommy, he said not to worry. He's OK, Mommy, not to worry. He's OK. Mommy -- he say, he love you -- no matter what happen, he love you."

What struck me about these messages--about all of the messages I heard and read--was that the one thing they wanted their loved ones to know was how much they loved them.
In what they believed would be the last minutes of their lives, what they needed to say above anything else was, "I love YOU."
How profound to consider that in those terrifying moments, when I expected a person would need to be comforted and loved, instead, they needed to express love--to have that be their lasting legacy.
Is it a primal need then, to show love? Perhaps we should live each day that way. We may not have that last chance to express it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Second Airplane

Some people say that the memory of 9/11 is exploited, and I agree, at times it is. The following is an essay I wrote shortly after 9/11. I hope anyone who reads it will accept it only as a way to remember that day, and the people who died.

The Second Airplane

I sat in my office that September morning, listening as usual to talk radio as I answered e-mails, returned phone calls and took care of the minor emergencies that always seemed to be waiting for me when I arrived each morning. In between conversations, I heard bits and pieces on the radio about an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center.

I sent an e-mail to a friend:

I just heard a news story on the radio. Something about an airplane flying into the World Trade Center. Have you heard anything? Poor pilot. I wonder what happened. Hope nobody else was hurt.

As I proceeded with the morning’s tasks, the next piece of news came over the radio. The plane was not a small single-engine aircraft, but a jetliner. At this point, a seed of suspicion was planted deep inside – that this might not be an accident. But my concern was kept at bay by some other larger emotion inside me. Even upon hearing the news of the jetliner, I still wondered if the pilot had a heart attack or a stroke.

I sent another e-mail.

They’re saying it was a jetliner! How in the world could that happen? I guess the pilot could have had a heart attack or something, but what about the co-pilot? There couldn’t have been any survivors on the plane, but maybe nobody was hurt inside the World Trade Center.

I stubbornly quelled my suspicions, too horrible to let rise to the surface.

The next news report changed everything.

The radio newscaster lost his professional tone as he said, “Oh my God….oh my God. A second airplane has crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. A second airplane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”

That single moment in time. I knew–we all knew. Things would never be the same.

Tears burned in my eyes as I realized it must be a terrorist attack. We were no longer safe within our borders. I had an urge to gather my children close to me. My mind had lost all discipline and ability to focus, and I shoved the tasks of the morning aside. I focused only on the radio, and my primary means of communicating my feelings about these events—email.

A second airplane hit the World Trade Center! I can’t believe it. It must be a terrorist attack. Who would do this? Why? Those poor passengers. Those poor people in the building. There must be hundreds of dead or injured. I can’t concentrate.

Those words…a second airplane. Innocence was gone, and in its place was a torrent of emotions: sadness, fear, anger, curiosity, sentiment, shock, regret, loss.

My children. A part of me wanted to leave work, pick them up from school and be with them—to tell them I loved them. I wanted to tell them I was sorry the world had changed. But, another part of me didn’t want to alarm them. I wanted to keep their world normal. Unchanged. This was part of my denial.

Finally, we turned on a television in the office. Employees gathered around to watch.

With each event of that day, I remember being astonished at the sheer volume of what was occurring in such a short amount of time. One terrible event happened and before we could completely absorb it, another flashed on the screen, even more horrific than the last.

A jetliner crashes into the World Trade Center tower. The second airplane hits. A jetliner crashes into the Pentagon. Other airplanes are missing. People are jumping from the burning towers. An airplane crashes in a field in Pennsylvania, apparently on its way to Washington D.C.

Finally, the culmination of disbelief and horror: the buildings fell, one right after the other. I remember watching it happen on television and hearing the disbelief of the reporter as he attempted to maintain his composure while reporting such a horrific sight. I heard people screaming and crying in the background. I stood in front of that television and watched each building come crashing down in clouds of thunderous terror that engulfed the city, chasing citizens like a monster. I felt I should turn away from the screen – felt guilty for watching an event I knew was the death of thousands, but I was frozen there, swaying back and forth like I used to do when I rocked my babies to comfort them. I covered my eyes to hide my tears in front of my co-workers.

After the towers fell, we closed the office for the first time in its 20-year history.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Now There Are Eight - Goodbye, Jefferson Thomas

I was saddened to hear about the death of Jefferson Thomas, one of the Little Rock Nine, who passed away on September 5, at the age of 67.

As an adult, I'm fascinated by history and its impact on us today. But I'll admit, I didn't pay the attention I should have as a teenager in history class. So, I knew little, if anything, about The Little Rock Nine before I started doing research for my book, Broken Dolls.

They were nine African-American students who, in 1957, enrolled at the racially-segregated Little Rock Central High School to test the enforcement of a 1954 Supreme Court order that outlawed racial segration in the nation's public school system.

The bravery it took for them to enter that school, to stay amidst all the threats, taunting and harrassment, was captured in photographs and film clips of the era and can be seen at The Central High School Museum, located across the street from Little Rock Central High School. In my two visits to the museum, as I watched the film footage, it's hard for me to imagine what it would have been like to be one of those nine teens. I doubt I could have been so brave.

The museum spotlights how the courage of a few can change history. Here is a link with more information on the school and museum, which is now a National Historic Site.

Information on Central High School Vistors' Center

In a KATV interview, Spirit Trickey, Park Ranger and daughter of Little Rock Nine Member Minnijean Brown-Trickey said, "We were deeply saddened to hear about the loss of Jefferson Thomas, but through the Little Rock Nine foundation, through the historic site and through the young people he inspired, his legacy will definitely live on."

Excerpt from Broken Dolls:

Pelted by taunts and threats, Sachi knew exactly how those nine kids felt. She thought their hunched shoulders must ache, as they tried to make themselves smaller somehow. The yelling might stop then. And their hearts probably beat so hard and fast they could hear it in their ears—still, it was not loud enough to block out the ugly sounds of the crowd. She knew they must have knots in their stomachs, too. How could they be sure if the armed soldiers were there to protect them or shoot them?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jeepers Creepers

Last week my friend, Ruth, told our writers' group a story about something that creeped her out:

Driving to work, Ruth felt something tingle on her neck. Figuring it was the neck band for her employment badge, she continued on her way, her mind aswirl with things that took her thoughts far, far away.

Too soon, she arrived to start her day, and made a quick stop to the Ladies' Room. As she freshened up, there in the mirror she saw it--a huge spider, sitting on her shoulder.

Needless to say, she shivered and screamed as she swatted it off, but felt that ghastly spider crawling on her for the rest of the day.

It made me think about the things that give me the creeps:

1) Spiders themselves don't give me the creeps, unless, of course, they've invaded my personal space, and I can't remember a time that's happened. I have however, walked into many spiderwebs, and THAT gives me the creeps. Because like Ruth, I feel spiders crawling all over me for hours after.

2) Though it's never happened in a sinister way--only innocently or mischievously--seeing a face looking in from a window is CREEPY to me. It must be because such scenes in movies always lead to something sinister. Though it's not the worst, it approaches a "cover my eyes" moment.

Jeepers, creepers. She's got blacked out peepers!

3) Creepiest of all, the thing that for some reason IS a movie's "cover my eyes" moment (fortunately, I have not experienced it in real life) is someone with blacked out eyes. Don't ask why. Maybe it's that eyes represent the soul? Who knows. All I know is, it's CREEPY.
What creeps you out?

Friday, September 3, 2010


This week when I submitted a poem to a magazine and a personal essay to an anthology, a bit of a thrill fluttered through me as I pushed "send" to put my writing "out there."

I didn't know whether the editors would select my writing for their publications. So why the thrill, you ask? I, too, considered the question, and these are my answers:

1) I'd created something.
2) Whether my writing is accepted by the editors or not, for me, there is a thrill in possibility.
3) Anticipation is energy.
4) I'm doing something to move toward one of my greatest fantasies - to be a writer - rather than sitting around wishing.

Then, I wondered. If I ever do achieve great success as a writer, will I remain "unjaded?" Will I always feel the flutter inside that comes with simply submitting my work?

I hope so.