Why Melania Trump’s plagiarism goes beyond the need to perform well.

After days of tuning out of the Republican National Convention, (I have no plans to watch the DNC either) it was impossible to remain impervious to the sound bites and memorable moments, especially the moment when Melania Trump conjured Michelle Obama’s DNC speech and tried to make it her own.Most speechwriters would find enough in the Melania Trump historical archives to create quite a moving speech. Her life is not totally devoid of authenticity. What sunk Melania’s ship the night of her speech before millions was the plagiarism, and this speaks of a tendency to farm out arduous tasks to “service” people, which is a big reason that political candidates and their wives can never successfully convince the public that they know what it’s like to survive, paycheck to paycheck, in an ordinary world like an ordinary person.

Several articles on Melania’s young life turn up the same story. Donald Trump’s third wife started life as Melania Knavs and grew up in Communist Yugoslavia, an area divided into Bosnia and Hertzogovnia after a long war between ethnic groups. At the time, her city, Sevnica, was an industrial town, and photos of that area in the Seventies show green hills in the background with run-down, colorless buildings dotting grimy streets. Melania’s mother worked in a textile mill while Melania’s father was a car dealer. They were certainly working class people, but apparently people of some means, moving from their small town to the Slovenian capital where Melania attended high school.

It was a combination of luck and money that propelled Melania into the kind of life the ordinary envy. Melania is an immigrant but not an illegal one. According to reporter Alexander Robertson with the Daily Mail, when asked about her husband’s harsh stand on illegals, she said, “I never would have considered entering without papers.” That’s because she didn’t have to. Someone paid her way to cities across Europe where she fulfilled her dream of a career in fashion and modeling.

After her discovery in Yugoslavia when she was a high school student by photographer Stane Jerko, her path to stardom went into overdrive. Her official biography reveals that she began her modeling career at the age of sixteen. She certainly “went to work” as a pre-teen, but modeling eclipsed her desire to design and create new clothes. Her knowledge of multiple languages certainly helped her advancement, and at the age of 25, Melania, who had by now changed her name to Knauss, moved to New York. Two years later, she became Donald Trump’s wife.

In contrast, First Lady Michelle Obama grew up on the south side of Chicago. We shouldn’t make too much of the word “bungalow” used to in reference to her home in some biographies. It’s clear that multiple children slept in the living room of Michelle’s childhood home, a typical “row” or “tenant” house as one would see in Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo, and other large northern cities.

They were the Robinsons. Her dad, Fraser Robinson, a pump worker at the city waterworks, brought home the only income until Michelle’s mother, Marian, went to work at Spiegel Catalogue as a secretary after raising her own children at home until school age.

Michelle Obama was no slouch in academics, and her own effort in the classroom paved the way to her success. She skipped the second grade, qualified for the gifted program in sixth grade, and attended the first magnet school in Chicago. Before obtaining her doctorate in Juris Prudence from Harvard, she earned a degree in social work, and this interest dominated the direction of her life. She used her law degree to assist the disenfranchised, offering free legal help to minorities, schooling Blacks on their rights under the law.

The current First Lady earned her way through Princeton working at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Understanding (formerly known as the Third World Center).

Michelle Obama did not have to plagiarise her speeches for the simple reason that she did not rely on others to make her path smooth for her. While it is true to say that Melania Knavs Trump had a real life, she quickly gained membership into an elite group to whom hard work is something other people do. Michelle Obama truly, authentically struggled in life, relied solely on her wit, instinct, and compassion to get her academic degrees. Melania fell into her career through a series of lucky discoveries, from the photographer who recruited her as a child to Donald Trump, a quarter century her senior, who married her. Melania, no doubt brilliant, did not attend college, relying on her looks to propel her into the lifestyle she no doubt coveted. Michelle Obama is a distinctive, successful, actualized individual even without her husband in the picture, while Melania Trump used her body and her image to angle for a wealthy husband who wears her like a Rolex on his arm.

And this distinction is what makes the faux pas of Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech all the more disturbing. The Yugoslavian immigrant used the life of a truly authentic fighting spirit to embellish and tastefully furnish her own one-dimensional existence. A staff ghostwriter has come forward to take responsibility for the lifted lines, but Melania’s academic theft only reiterates the Trumps’ need to fill out the narrative of their empty campaign rhetoric reflecting the empty house that results when privilege is all you can give.

 

 

 

Dreamless in America

A good friend of mine, Candace Moonshower,  (author of the YA novel The Legend of Zoey available via Kindle/Amazon) recently recounted a vivid dream in a forum. As dreams go, it was lucid, filled with people, some she knew and strangers as well. At the center of the dream was the erratic behavior of a particular plane and its ultimate crash. Like something out of the Twilight Zone, at the dream’s end, a child’s hand appeared, picking up the plane.

I won’t mention too many particulars, not because they are not important; rather I became most interested not in the dream itself but in the comments in reaction to my friend’s account.

One person asked what she’d had to eat.

Another suggested ambien if she were “having trouble sleeping,” as if my friend were recounting a waking hallucination rather than dreams achieved in REM sleep.

I left this forum thinking that we have lost touch with past cultures and generations who not only knew how to dream but also welcomed dreams as healthy, normal, and even the seal of an important person, someone marked by the gods as special. A prophet. A seer.

According to the biocybernaut institute, creative people dream more than so-called “normal” people. We know that dreams occur during REM sleep, as alpha waves are emitted in the brain. Alphas are the second-highest frequency of brain waves measured and are present during some intriguing periods in the daily lives of creative types, including, but not limited to:

high peak athletic performance.

meditation or prayer.

dreaming.

I left the forum thinking of all the things our ancestors embraced that modern living has eradicated as annoying, irritating, or even deviant behavior, the way some laugh at people who take longs walks or collect insects or study calligraphy.

We know that animals dream, and higher animals dream lucidly and in graphic detail. For humans, dreams are a way of working out problems or filtering the events of the day through our subconscious. Yes, whether we are in touch with our unconscious mind or not, it is there, as we sleep, a portal to our thought life, maybe even a gateway to a higher plane, a bridge to a state of high performance, but apparently most of us consider this “higher calling” a nuisance to be stamped out and eradicated with whatever prescription psychotropic drug is on the nightstand.

My friend Candace interpreted her own dream as a lesson on perspective, her unconscious mind working out a problem, revealing a different way of seeing, turning the problem on its ear.

The Bible speaks of young men having visions and old men dreaming dreams. Is it true that most people don’t dream in technicolor? I always assumed others dreamed big, colorful, sometimes even loud dreams of worlds as real as the one we actually live in. Do most never visit Poe’s “Plutonian shore” where the speaker in the Raven traveled in his grief? Or is it possible we have been duped into suffocating our creative spirit which, if released in deep meditation or dreaming, might work out our deepest worries without anxiety, fear, or paranoia? Is our country’s mental illness epidemic a result of our failure to understand that we are higher creatures prone to dream, born to meditate, pray, and possibly escape our reality to a higher perspective?

I challenge anyone reading this to start a dream journal and begin to practice quietness. We have lost the value of quietness and fail to pursue it. Corporate entities have convinced us that we must stay consistently linked to others, networked, hooked up. We are talking endlessly, listening constantly, but the content of our lives has become trivialized to the point that we have lost our ability to imagine, to dream, and to recognize a part of ourselves, perhaps the best and highest part.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blackberry Thicket

I live in a place where blackberries grow wild in fence rows and picking them is as easy as walking out your back door. They grow in shady spots in the protection of locust trees and scrub cedars. Every day in the cool of twilight, this time of year with a breeze and a storm brewing out of the heat of the day, I go back to the thicket and listen to the wind rustling the leaves of the locusts, the tall grasses, the wild flowers, the cedar boughs. And I think how this is the full cache of summer, the deepest, most lush and beautiful height of it, and battling the June bugs and the bees and the myriad breeds of insects, I pull berries from vines drooping black and red with plump, sweet goodness.

It is this lush thicket and the continual coming out to meet life in its abundance, moving among the humming and rustling, that I will miss most when the cold comes. I will miss thinking my own thoughts while doing the brainless work of pulling ripe blackberries from vines, promising myself a cobbler or a parfait as reward for my labor. I will miss hiding in the cover of vines and willowy locusts, watching life go by, unobserved by people in a hurry.

Most memorable and important moments in life are the result of accidents. Such was the quick reaction that sent me reaching with stealth into the pocket of my cutoff jeans to retrieve my cell phone and snap the photo of this swallowtail butterfly who came to check out the blackberries, too. Another happy accident is the concoction below, recipe included, for Gluten-free blackberry parfait made with homemade whipped cream and walnuts.

   1466552782

1 to 1 1/2 cups blackberries
1/4 cup honey
1/8 cup water
1 cup crushed walnuts
1-2 cartons heavy cream
3-4 tsp white sugar
3 tsp brown sugar

Add half of honey to cream. Whip cream in a large mixing bowl until stiff peaks form. Boil blackberries in sauce pan with honey and water. Crush walnuts. Mix walnuts separately in small saucepan with brown sugar and a tablespoon of honey. Heat up for about 30 seconds on stovetop. Do not microwave. Starting with walnut mixture, spoon in layers: walnuts, blackberries, and whipped cream, repeating until filled. Top with a few walnuts.

Serve fresh

 

 

 

 

 

Get your work noticed.

 Navigate the world of promotion, publishing, writing jobs, contests/competitions, and agenting.

Here you will find manuscript wish lists compiled by agents, lists of poetry, novel, and short story contests, writer’s residencies and conferences, writing job sites, and foundations designed to support and help writers. 

http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/

http://algonkianconferences.com/AlgonkianWriterRetreat/

http://www.christopherfielden.com/short-story-tips-and-writing-advice/book-and-novel-competitions.php

http://www.shademountainpress.com/contact.php

http://www.jessicabarrow.com/

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents

https://pen.org/literary-awards

Which Writers’ Conferences are the Best to Attend?

A get-away for work, not play

https://tennesseewritingworkshop.com/

https://storify.com/jasonboog/manuscript-wish-lists-shared-on-twitter

http://bookpipeline.com/

http://www.writermag.com/contests/killer-nashville-claymore-award-2/

http://www.bustle.com/articles/67210-11-small-literary-presses-that-prove-book-publishing-isnt-just-in-new-york-city

http://www.narrativemagazine.com/node/421

Children’s Novel Competition 2016

http://www.munsterlit.ie/SOF%20Page.html

New Writer Awards: Poetry

http://longstoryshort.squarespace.com/submissions/

http://www.one-story.com/?page=submit

Novel Writing Competitions 2015

http://www.freedomwithwriting.com/

13 Publishers Open to Previously Self-Published Books and Reprints

http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/Prizes-and-Awards/tp/Mid-August-Fiction-Writing-Contests.htm

http://www.writejobs.info/search/label/free%20writing%20contests?updated-max=%22%20%22&max-results=7&start=5&by-date=false

29 Free Writing Contests: Legitimate Competitions With Cash Prizes

http://www.hedgebrook.org/

Follow submittable on twitter

List of Women-Run Presses

Happiness Rules

Having learned the secret, I pass this along to you . . . .

Happiness Rules for Valentine’s Day and every day.images1
1) Know yourself
2) Know what you want.
3) Knowing yourself, give yourself what you want.
4) Keep peace in your life by living authentically and setting good boundaries.
5) Share your experiences with others without expecting anything in return.
6) Do good to others without expecting anything in return.
7) Remember that no one is in your life to make you happy. (That would be a very poor excuse for a life purpose for anyone.)

8) Bring to the table a value equal to what you want out of any situation.

9) Don’t look to others to supply what you need.

 

Translations

If you’re a student of the Bible at all, you’re all-too-aware that you’re reading a translation. At one time, it was considered heresy to translate the Bible into English. Those who attempted it often paid with their lives, burning at the stake, which was the preferred method of the British crown during the rule of Mary Tudor. Thank goodness we’re no longer in danger of being set on fire for reading varied modern translations that run the gamut from the Amplified to the Geneva or Tyndale Bible to the King James and the New International Version.

But my favorite thing to do, because I am a word nerd, is to read the Greek and English parallel Bible. Most recently, I’ve read the Greek Interlinear Bible, available online.

It is an intriguing experience, to have the Word of God built out of different building blocks, almost like rearranging Legos or Lincoln Logs. Often, direct objects are far from the nouns they compliment. Often, there are no direct English words for the Greek. Other times, you get the impression that there were no Greek words for some of the ancient Hebrew concepts. Interesting mental images result. For example, in Luke, the disciples set out fishing. According to the Greek, they take “floaters” into the sea “to be on up-leading” which translated to the King James meant “thrust out.” The Greek phrase conveys a meandering up a coast-line while the English conjures images of oars striking out, pushing off in a certain direction.

Words carry weight, a concept called connotation, not unlike baggage, and when choosing English words, the translators had to be very much aware that some words carried more weight than others. In Luke Five, Jesus tells his disciples (“learners” in the Greek) to cast out their nets. They explain that they’ve fished all day and the fish aren’t biting. Jesus, who has no experience in the business, tells his learners to cast on the opposite side of the ship. Simon Peter thinks this is the height of inexperience (what side does it matter, it’s all the same sea underneath), but he does so. In this section, he calls Jesus “Master,” in the King James. But in the Greek, the term used for Jesus is a Greek word with several meanings: The word is “Adept,” meaning “Doctor,” which could be interpreted “Healer,” “Teacher,” and also, “Expert.”

By choosing to translate “Adept” as “Master,” White European Civilizations subtly reinforced the Master-Slave relationship. We can think of “Master” as a reference to “Master-Teacher,” but for peasants, the word “Master” implies a relationship with Jesus that is one of slave-to-better, thus providing a substantial framework for the role of the poor in serving the theocracies of old. I have often thought that English translations of the Bible reinforced Medieval thought, the feudalistic economic structure, the great class divide.

By the time the poets and scholars began work on the Geneva Bible, the concept of sin was well-established. The Roman Empire gave rise to Christianity across Europe and beyond. The concept of disobedience and its punishment were well documented. Every great empire perpetuated the concept of Divine Right of Kings. Pharoahs laid claim to the gods as their ancestors. White European kings retained their thrones, spreading the message of obedience through churches they controlled. The system in place was God’s will; therefore, the peasant should not seek to rise above his master.

The concept of sin, according to the Divine Right of Kings, applied to any act against the crown or perceived as dangerous to the crown. Women, minorities, the poor, the sick, the mentally ill offended by simply existing. Righteousness was equated with status, a way of living above the fray. This is how Marie Antoinette could utter the stupid comment, “Let them eat cake,” when told the poor among her citizens had no bread.

In the Greek, there is no word for sin. The word hamartia means, literally, to keep missing, as in bad shot, error, missing the mark. While I’m not belittling the salvation experience or the individual’s need for deliverance, I do think our concept of the sinful act is based on an oppressive social construct we cannot decode because we don’t know how. In this world, it is unthinkable to be in poverty, to be homeless, and we use the word “sinful” to describe the worst conditions in which humanity lives. But what if sin, in God’s eyes, means that we are off course? What if it’s the idea that we are aiming for things in life and missing, that this aiming and missing goes on until we are unable to achieve anything we want? Until we’re so off course that we can’t see our way back.

Perhaps much of what we have learned is not Biblical at all but lost in translation. Words are, to be sure, cultural mile-markers, and when we find that no word exists in a language or that a word differs greatly between cultures when it comes to usage and meaning, perhaps we should consider whether we have a grip on things or whether we have been brainwashed as to what to think instead of searching out meaning ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire Eater

 10364098_467281013411478_5851149756710457176_nI finished  Fire Eater in February. I was reflecting on teaching in a public high school, remembering a period when we had rival gangs in our school. I went from being afraid on a daily basis to finding myself drawn into their lives, getting to know them, only to discover that gang members were real people who hurt, and bled, and went hungry, and loved, and lived much the way I lived when I was young. Fire Eater is the story of a middle aged woman, her heroin-addicted daughter, and the drug lord with whom they forge an unusual bond. Something a Hispanic student said to me once sparked the idea. He would join me in my hall supervision duty every day, and one day I asked him why. “You don’t know all the ways we look out for you,” he said. I tutored that student through his writing exam. He passed and gave me a crucifix which I kept in my ’05 Mustang for years.  In May of this year, I learned that Fire Eater was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize. Three finalists were announced recently, and one will go on to publication via Cargo Publishing. Today is the last day you can download excerpts of all ten shortlisted novels free to your Kindle via Amazon. After that, I’m told there will be a charge. You can check out the first 3000 words of Fire Eater there as well as the fine work of the other finalists.

http://www.amazon.com/Shortlist-2015-Dundee-International-Finalists-ebook/dp/B00YUTSJNM

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