Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spring has sprung early.

On Friday morning, as usual, I walked out the door of our apartment building and crossed the parking lot to the bus stop. And stopped. Because on the street right next to the stop, there's a cherry tree, and it had burst into bloom overnight.

Keep in mind that it's still February. It ought to be the dead of winter here. And yet our cherry trees are beginning to bloom. (There's photographic proof over to the left.) And a friend told me today that her daffodils are blooming.

We've had an odd sort-of-winter here in the mid-Atlantic. Despite what Punxatawny Phil predicted on Groundhog Day, spring appears to have sprung several weeks early here. We had a run of 70-degree days this past week. And while snow is not out of the question -- we've had storms in mid-March that have dumped several inches of the stuff on us -- my gut is telling me it's unlikely this year.

The problem for me isn't the outdoor temperature -- it's the indoor temperature. You see, our apartment building uses hot-water radiators for heat. Turning the central boiler on and off is a process, so the building management picks a day in late spring, typically in May, to switch off the heat and turn on the air conditioning. They do the same thing in reverse in the fall. And although we have thermostats in our apartments, they only work so well: even with the heat turned to off, the radiators still radiate. 

Invariably, we have some days during each transition period where the indoor temperature is sub-optimal; either we're baking inside because it's hot outside and the heat is on, or it's freezing inside because we've had a cold snap while the a/c is on. It happens every spring and fall. And every spring and fall, like clockwork, somebody in the building complains.

I try to be sympathetic, but please. I grew up in a house with no heat in the bedrooms. My father built the place as a summer home, so he installed wall heaters in the common areas, figuring that was all we'd need. Once we moved there permanently, we made do. If I wanted to be warm in my bedroom when I was a kid, I had three choices: a) burrow under the covers, or b) keep the door open, or c) both.

Plus I've lived in places with radiators before, so I know the drill: When it's too hot inside, you put on shorts and open the windows. When it's too cold inside, you fire up a space heater or two, and put on extra layers.

Explaining that to the complainers, however, gets me nowhere. So I guess I'll keep smiling and nodding, opening my windows and wearing shorts inside, until it gets cold again, or until the management turns on the a/c -- whichever comes first.

These moments of bloggy warmth have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remembering Japanese internment camps.

Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain
Today is the 75th anniversary of the start of a dark chapter in US history. On this day in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered everyone of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast of the United States to be rounded up and relocated to internment camps. We had been at war with Japan since just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and it was feared that people of Japanese heritage living in the US would betray our country. About 120,000 people were affected by the executive order. They lost their homes and their savings, and were uprooted for as long as four years.

I had no idea about any of this until George Takei, who played Lt. Sulu on the original Star Trek TV show, started talking about it. He and some Broadway producers and writers were developing a musical called Allegiance. Takei himself was interred in one of the camps; his family was held in a camp in Arkansas when he was a child. Allegiance opened on Broadway in September 2012 and closed last February -- but not before one of the live performances was filmed. The resulting movie was shown in a limited engagement this past December, and sold out nationwide. Today, it was shown again.

I missed the screening in December, but I'd heard good things about it, so I made it my business to go today. It was well worth it. The story follows the Kimura family, farmers in Salinas, California. Tatsuo Kimura's wife died while giving birth to their son Sam, and it was up to the widower and the couple's daughter, Kei, to raise the boy. Sam is a college kid, applying to law school to make his father happy, when the executive order goes out. All three of them, plus Tatsuo's father, are sent to the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming.

I won't say much more about the plot -- the movie will be released on DVD someday and I don't want to be accused of spoiling it (although if you want more info, there's a plot summary on Wikipedia). Suffice it to say that the experience takes its toll on the Kimuras, finally causing a rift that separates Sam from his family for decades.

The show is both wonderful and heart-wrenching; I blubbered at multiple moments. I was so wrapped up in the family's story that I was shocked when the US military dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's not that I didn't know it was coming. It's that I realized the characters in the show might well have had family and friends in those cities. How awful to find out, in such a callous way, that your relatives and friends are likely dead.

The topics dramatized in Allegiance have a special resonance in the United States today. We're seeing the same sort of mistrust of Muslims -- and Hispanics and blacks -- that caused Roosevelt to go to the extreme of ordering the incarceration of Japanese Americans without due process. It's a sad, shameful chapter in our history, and not enough people know about it.

It's easy -- too easy -- to categorize people of another color or religion as "other," and it's a short step from there to treating them as less than human. But the cost of such behavior is always too high.  Allegiance is a reminder of that cost. See it if you get the chance.

These moments of bloggy remembering have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Why the words must come. | CC0

I have a confession to make. I haven't been writing much of anything for the past couple of months. I've posted a lot on Facebook, and I've written my weekly posts here, and my monthly posts at Indies Unlimited. But it's been hard to get myself to the computer to write fiction when there's a virtual fire hose two blocks from my day job, spewing streams of shocking stuff each day. And if that's not enough, I've also been distracted by some personal business related to my mother's estate.

And yet, I need to write. All of us who tell stories need to write. Because art -- which includes literature -- is one of the few things that will help us get through this crazy time with our minds intact.

Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison wrote about it in The Nation in 2005. She recounted a conversation with a friend that had occurred just after George W. Bush had been declared the winner of the 2004 presidential election. She blurted to her friend how much the election had upset her -- so much so that she couldn't write.
I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting, "No! No, no no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work -- not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That's our job!"
I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.
Despots, she goes on to say, "routinely begin their reigns" by destroying art. Imagination, as well as critical thinking, are their enemies. The dictator's subjects cannot be allowed to envision another way to live. They cannot be allowed to think any truth other than the party line -- because as soon as the despot's facade cracks, it will come tumbling down.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
The concerns of 2004 seem almost quaint, compared with what we're facing today. But Morrison is right. It's at times like these that our stories are more important than ever.

So please excuse me for this shorter-than-usual post. I've got some writing to do.

These critically important moments of blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Curmudgeon Corner: Why I hate football.

This is not my high school band. This is the US Navy's
7th Fleet Band. I guarantee they sound much better than we did.
Wikipedia | Public Domain
I heard there's a game on TV tonight. The Superb Owl or something? I gather it's been going on for several years now. Anyway, I'm not watching it.

Why? Because I don't like football.

My dislike of the sport began early. You see, I grew up in Indiana, and as I've mentioned before, basketball is the big deal in the Hoosier State. My high school, Elston Senior High, routinely won the annual sectional tournament, and we even won the state basketball championship in 1966. But football? Not so much.

Our high school consisted of three grades -- 10th, 11th, and 12th. I played clarinet from 4th grade through my first year of college (Fun Fact!), and in high school, I was required to be in the marching band. Not every kid in the band was in pep band (which played at all the home basketball games) or jazz-rock band, but everybody marched. We had wool uniforms -- red coats and black slacks, if memory serves -- and a ridiculous, furry shako hat that was at least eighteen inches tall. We marched in one or two parades each year, but our main job was to perform at all our football home games: we played between quarters and did all the halftime shows. That playing-music-while-making-pictures-on-the-field thing? Been there, done that. And at the end of the game, we played the pep song if we won, or the alma mater if we lost.

Here's the thing about fall in Indiana in the '70s: It got cold at night. Sometimes it snowed. And cold and snow are not kind to wind instruments -- brass goes sharp and woodwinds go flat. I remember doing a halftime show on a field that had started out snow-covered before the players made a mudbath out of it during the first half. It was not fun.

Plus we were required to sit in the stands for every home game. Which would have been okay if our team was any good, but it wasn't. In the three years I attended high school, our varsity football team tied one game, and lost the rest. (We played the pep song at the end of that tied game; our band director declared it close enough to a win. Good thing, too, as we never got another chance.)

So I was already lacking any warm fuzzies for football, and then I went to Indiana University -- where once again, basketball was king and football was, um, not very good. Wikipedia says the Hoosiers football team went 2-8-1 my freshman year, 1-6-1 in the Big Ten. That same year in basketball? We were 32-0 and won the NCAA championship. You do the math.

The only saving grace for me was that I turned down the opportunity to be in the IU marching band.

After that, pro football held no charm for me. By the time I got to Washington, DC, the Redskins were long past their glory days. The only time I've been even mildly interested in football was in 1999, when I was attending paralegal school in Denver, and the Broncos won some big game. The Superb Owl, I think it was called.

So y'all enjoy your big game. It's just not my thing.

These moments of sports-minded blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.