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Last week, on a rare day off, I went to the bar in the afternoon with my laptop to work on my blog post for the art house movie theater here in town. I was settled in with a beer and deep into my commentary and promotion of the upcoming series on the Westerns of the 50's/60's when I got interrupted TimR, who had just walked in with his wife for a quick mug.  TimR is the facilitator for a writer's group I've belonged to for about ten years now, but truth be told, I haven't been to the group for over two years because of my work schedule.  I miss the group for so many reasons, but most of all because they are such a supportive and creative group of folks. Tim asked if I was working on anything and I said, in fact, that I was just now toiling away at a project right here and now.  I secretly patted myself on the back for being caught in the act of actually writing something.  Tim updated me on the doings in the group and told me to come if ever I get the time because people miss me. He actually said they/he missed my snarkiness and constructive criticism. This surprised me as I think a few of the folks there considered me to be somewhat of an asshole for being blunt and not sparing any feelings. Just on occasion - I'm not that way too often, but when I am people tend to remember and hold on.  This is not to say I don't respect the members - I just don't think it does anyone any good to blow smoke when you're there to help people get better.

               The group is made up of mostly memoir writers and two other fiction writers besides myself. Tim owns a small press publishing company with his brother, specializing in Fantasy/SF with a big emphasis on Fantasy. Not really my cup of tea and I've suffered through many readings of epic dragon and damsel tales from Tim and his brother.  But then again, he's been a sport about hearing my own clumsy efforts. So it evens out. I wasn't a fan of memoir going into this group but I've since come around. I was worried mostly that it was going to be a group of people trying to write their life stories without the tools to do so.  I've been in groups like that before and it is tedious.

                I have since been converted though and it's because of the memoirists in the group who've stuck with it and worked to get better. Some have even been published or took the leap and self published. I have my favorites from my time with the group...
There was  a memoir of a teen aged girl growing up in the Dearborn side of Detroit in the 60's. The memoir is a reporting of her years long obsession with a boy she nicknamed "Pink Cheeks" - a true coming of age story loaded with charm and adventure written in a straight forward, no nonsense manner. Instead of  a dry recounting of events, the straightforward writing actually somehow serves to heighten the sense of place and emotions of the time.  It's a delight to hear the woman reading these accounts while realizing that the dynamic, mischievous wide eyed girl she talks about is herself in another time and place. The fact that this woman still has her heavy Michigan/Detroit accent makes the story even more compelling when she reads.

Another memoir is from a retired Army officer who worked in Intelligence during the Vietnam era. It's the story of his rising through the ranks from callow lieutenant fresh out of Officer's Candidate School to seasoned, cynical, world weary Colonel working the grey edge between active duty and civilian contractor. The memoir is a combination of Catch-22 real life fantasy and LeCarre cat and mouse adventure with a little Hunter Thompson gonzo thrown in.  I know this memoir to be accurate and true because my father and my brother both had careers in the Intelligence end of the service and a lot of what the memoirists says rings true, even though it can sometimes be hard to believe.  Indeed, my brother is still in service, but not on active duty for the government.  He's currently in England where he's doing surveillance analysis of North Korean activities via a private Pentagon contractor... Last year he was in Afghanistan for 4 months doing god-knows-what, but still able to FB message me about how filthy everything was over there and how he was having fits trying to keep his side arm and rifle clean.
The strange doings that are chronicled in the Vietnam memoir are convoluted and chaotic, but the writer does a good job of keeping things organized and moving along.  There are dozens of characters which is problematic and the last time I was at the group he was wrestling with jettisoning some of that weight to streamline the tale.

The last memoir I like from the group is the story of a woman giving up her child for adoption after having the baby at an unwed mother's home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the late  60's.  The memoir, entitled "Baby Mine" after the Disney song featured in Dumbo, is harrowing, heartbreaking and ultimately lacking in a lot of redeeming feel good moments. It is real life, not a Lifetime movie script.  The story starts with the young woman's months in the home where she spends her last couple trimesters in a dorm situation with other women in her predicament, all of them overseen by a group of nuns and one social worker. From the birth of her child and subsequent loss we skip ahead a few decades to the time in the woman's life where she attempts to re-connect with her child and does but the outcome is bittersweet. With the emphasis on the bitter.  This memoir was riveting to hear being read and the author was very brave and open about it. Many nights there were tears shed after she would read a new installment or passage.  We all eagerly helped her polish and tighten up her prose and after she was done with it she shopped it around to various agents to no avail - after all, it wasn't exactly an uplifting tale. But it was real.  Last I heard, the author had self published the book and had sold quite a few - I haven't bought it. I don't need to - I heard it straight from the horse's mouth.

The other fiction writer in the group besides Tim and myself is an older woman who writes what I call Ranch Romances.  She grew up on a ranch in Montana and has been a horse woman all of her life. She writes about one book every 18 months or so and self publishes them for her group of fans, friends and family.  Her stories are delightful tales of love and life in the insular, upright world of ranchers and ranching in the modern West.  These are not gritty true life depictions of the modern ranching life, but rather gauzy morality tales of ranch boy meets usually plucky, cute but old fashioned ranch girl.  Think updated version of the "Bonanza" TV show with a hefty dose of romance and life lessons for the modern world from the front porch of the bunkhouse. It all sounds very cheesy and unrealistic like Harlequin romances, but just like those novels, this woman sells them by the hundreds if not thousands.  She's a lot of fun in the group and very good with editing.  And I have to admit, her stories are addictive candy.
I'm going to resolve to attend more group meetings in the coming year just to re-connect and keep myself motivated.  My schedule is a bit more flexible now so I won't have that excuse. Hopefully this resolution will stick - it's not that drastic, like quitting smoking or losing weight, which I have a record of 1 for 1 on.  Quit smoking decades ago (minus the occasional cigar, mind) but I have not shed any pounds.  But then again - I haven't really gained any either which is a major accomplishment given what I do.

From the Trumpland News Desk:

The new regime has already affected me directly in a way that the Obama administration never did even with the advent and implementation of the ACA.  I have about 70 employees under my supervision in the kitchen area which is my ballywick.  30 of those are Latino who work in a variety of departments from prep cooks to maintenance to dishwashers. Since Trump's election, particularly now while we are on college holiday, I have had a significant amount of them take time off to deal with immigration issues within their families. All of our employees are document citizens but it's fairly common that they have one or two immediate or extended family members who are undocumented.  Right now, I have a dish room supervisor who is in Mexico  trying to take care of Green card issues with his wife. It's up in the air whether he'll return or not. He's worked for us for 13 years.  All of his three children were born in the US but the family will probably wind up living in Mexico.  I have a prep cook who's in Nogales right now with his father awaiting an appointment at the US embassy in Mexico City for Green card application review. If that doesn't work, his family will stay in Mexico.  My cook who runs our allergy-free service line is in Mexico now with both of his undocumented grandparents - his father is one of our pot washers.   And on and on to the tune of 8 employees who will likely not return to work in time for coming back from Christmas break. Our policy on leaves and absences is being tested to the limits - this sort of thing was unforeseen.  The Trump administration hasn't been sworn in yet and it is already creating havoc in my personal life and the lives of others.  Those people who say that government at the federal level really doesn't affect our day to day lives are wrong.  I will likely have to spend time hiring at least 6 new people to replace the ones who won't or can't come back to work. Not because of their own immigration status, but that of their family members - usually elderly.  Multiply this situation across the country and you're going to have an unprecedented talent drain from the food service industry. Not to mention a sudden influx of out of work individuals into Mexico.
               The immigration issue is presently ruled by fear and uncertainty. It will only get worse as Trump implements his scorched earth policy on families and workers who are truly the backbone of the service economy here in the states. We'll all be left holding that bag while Trump goes on his merry way and his supporters continue to cheer him on regardless of the chaos he creates in his wake - at least until it adversely affects their own personal lives - then we'll see what the limits of Trump loyalty truly are.


Dec. 27th, 2016 01:38 pm (UTC)
I love these memoirs, and I want to read them! In fact, I want to join your writers group!!!!

You may or may not know that one of the things I do these days is teach English as a Second Language on a volunteer basis through a nonprofit literacy organization. Starting one week before the election, attendance at my Intermediate English class plummeted by something like 60%, and it has never recovered. I suspect many of my students were undocumented aliens. The nonprofit isn't collecting those statistics (and if they do start collecting those statistics, I will stop volunteering there.) It's very sad to me. These people were not taking jobs away from anyone; they were doing jobs that no one else was interested in doing.