“Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” –Thoreau

09 December 2010

Letter to a Senator.

Dear Sen. Mark Kirk:

My mother and stepfather were in the military during my formative years. We've always been patriots, and we understand the sacrifices servicemen and -women make to keep our country and our world safe. My parents support the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and so do I.

The US Armed Services is an institution which values integrity intensely. It is counterproductive to ask our soldiers to lie about their private lives when they are supposed to serve as examples of that same integrity. It is even more counterproductive to ban qualified individuals from serving because they are homosexuals. We need the best soldiers willing to serve and it is disheartening to think that we deny those qualified individuals merely because they think individuals of the same sex are cute.

I hope you will have a change of heart and choose to take a stand on this issue. It's time the US Army got out of our soldiers' bedrooms and back onto the battlefield.

Yours Respectfully,
Jennifer Cary Diers


18 October 2010

Thinking about Audrey.


the fish survive under feet
of dark blue ice
                skimmed by anxious blades

perfect frozen roses
locked in bloom
by jealous winter
                tired of brown skeleton trees
                and muddy concrete

everything buttercream-frosted
                dusted with sugar
                melted with salt
cuffs of pants picking up the excess

beds too big
and full of cold spots
                warmed tentatively by
                four bare feet
late sun rises and sets early

long nights of mutual breath

the daylight spent in search of
coffee hand warmers

empty unstretched canvas walkways
                the pale world is too too sweet

and at home

White Rabbit and Tabby Cat touch noses
as if to say
‘I know you’re here
though we may never speak’

11 October 2010

It gets better because we make it so.

A Message From Ellen Degeneres
A lot of positive energy is being aimed at the victims of this kind of bullying, and I'm behind that 100%. But I also have something to say to the bullies...

I can't pretend that we live in a world that's easy for anyone, men or women, gay or straight. It would be unfair and untrue. The United States of America is a volatile place to live right now. Human rights advancements made over the last fifty years-- for women, for homosexuals, for African Americans-- are at risk of back-tracking thanks to an economic downturn that none of us were prepared to handle. When people are scared, they look for someone to blame. Most of the time, we lay the blame at the doorstep of anyone we perceive to be "other" than ourselves. It's a human failing we've all succumbed to, and most of us are ashamed of it. Most, but not all.

It makes me so angry to hear parents defending their bigoted children, claiming that "kids pick on other kids" and this behavior is normal. Normal does not equal moral. Do we assume that, as adults, high school bullies will somehow calm down? That they'll see the error of their ways? That they'll simply grow up and grow out of it? What incentive have we, as a society, given these children which might lead them to "grow out" of anything? People normally run stop signs. They normally steal office supplies from work. They normally cheat on exams. Good parents hold their children to a higher moral standard than that which is simply "normal."

We have laws and statutes which protect us against stalking, against slander, against harassment, against hate crimes... Why aren't these laws being followed in order to protect children and young adults in cases such as these? The schools always, always know who's being bullied and who's doing the bullying. Why aren't the schools held accountable by law enforcement to report cases where bullying slides into physical violence or hate crimes?

There is no such thing as "normal" teenaged bullying, anyway. No bullying feels "normal" to the kid being bullied, and they are the only person whose opinion matters. It is not normal for one human to beat the crap out of another human, or to publicly humiliate them, or to torture them with rumors and catty backstabbing. It is certainly not normal to videotape your roommate having sex and broadcast it over the internet, regardless of their sexual orientation. People who do these things are suffering from various degrees of sociopathy and their parents should be very, very worried. If they aren't-- well, they aren't very good parents then, are they?

Is your child a bully? Is your brother or sister a bully? Are you? It's a big, crazy world out there and I can understand if you're feeling worried, or restless, or scared. But taking it out on another person doesn't prove how wrong they are and it certainly doesn't improve the outlook for you. What employer in their right mind would hire the boy who made that hateful internet broadcast? It only makes him look twisted and hateful and sort of sad. And I just can't understand how it's worth it. Well, I guess that's because it never is.

Blessings, everyone.

26 August 2010

Reading list:

My soon-to-be mother-in-law works as the head of an alternative school, and she recently asked me to recommend some books for her teaching staff to use with their kids. Most of the students are in 9th-12th grade, but some are as young as 5th. Here is the short list I gave her. I starred the books which might work for younger kids. I'd recommend any of these titles to anyone, regardless of age. They're great books.

***The Hardy Boys Series by Franklin W. Dixon
"The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton
"Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger
"Ender's Game" by Orsin Scott Card
"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie
"I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov
"Looking For Alaska" by John Green
"One L" by Scott Turow
"The Lord of the Flies" by William Golding
***"Keeper" by Mal Peet

"Trickster's Choice" by Tamora Pierce
***"Wise Child" by Monica Furlong
"Jacob Have I Loved" by Katherine Patterson
"Graceling" by Kristin Cashore
"Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson
***"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle
"The Only Alien on the Planet" by Kristen D. Randle
***"The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle" by Avi
"Before We Were Free" by Julia Alvarez
***"Catherine Called Birdy" by Karen Cushman

***The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
"The Hunger Games", "Catching Fire", and "Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins
"The Dead Father's Club" by Matt Haig
"Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi
***"The Giver" by Lois Lowry
***"Leviathan" by Scott Westerfeld
"Coraline" by Neil Gaiman
"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
***"The View From Saturday" by E.L. Konigsburg
"The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman
"Wait Till Next Year" by Doris Kearns Goodwin

24 August 2010

Book two, chapter three.

     Enaya ambled down a side street, content to be alone. She had time to mull

things over, without distraction, and it seemed she needed that time more and

more lately. Life had become unbearably complicated.

      Her position on the King’s Council was a source of endless trouble. Although the nobles were forced to offer her civility in front of their monarch, she wasn’t truly welcome. She was a fake, a usurper, and she was always saying and doing exactly the wrong things. She was inappropriately attired. She spoke out of turn. She didn’t understand the rules of decorum at all, and she wasn’t quick to learn them. She was stubborn, brusque, and cantankerous, and the worst part was that she wasn’t willing to change. Enaya liked herself exactly as she was. Mostly.
      Her circuitous path took her through an alleyway and out into one of the hundreds of small courtyards tucked back inside Abriad’s city blocks. Washing flapped on lines stretched between upper-floor windows. A rangy dog chased someone’s well-fed cat across the road in front of her. Through open doorways, Enaya could hear people chatter and scold their children. She paused a moment to catch her breath.
      Enaya felt rather than saw the small hand reaching for her coin purse. She whipped around, catching the little fist in her own. The startled pickpocket tried to yank his captured hand back but Enaya gave it a twist.
      “Bad luck, mate,” she said, her eyes glinting. “I’m no soft, silly priestess with fluff for brains. You’ll have to move quicker than that to pilfer me.”
      “I weren’t tryin’ t’ do that— that— whatever it was, priestess!” He stammered out. “I’s just walkin’ here! Honest!”
      Honest is a serious word,” she said. “It’s a sort of vow, all on its own.” She conjured up just a puff of breeze, letting his hand go as it hit him. It blew him on to his backside with a thump. “Will you let a few coins, no real fortune truly, turn you into a liar?”
      The urchin was torn. He could admit to the attempted thievery, the penalty for which was a day in the stocks, or he could lie to the Goddess’s Own priestess and risk Her curses. Enaya waited him out.
      “I— I did mean t’ take the purse, milady…” His quick eyes darted to her signet ring, the constant symbol of her nobility. She curled her fist to hide it. “But just ‘cause I’m hungry an’ all. I knew it weren’t much in there.”
      “It’s good of you to tell the truth,” she told him gravely. His dirty face was anxious. “And the Goddess thanks you for it. If you will vow there’ll be no more thieving, we’ll have an end to it here.”
      The urchin boy’s mouth dropped open. Trying to pickpocket a noble, and no stocks at all? He nodded his head so fast she feared for his neck. “Yes’m, milady!” He said. “No more thievin’, I swear it!”
      “You take that vow serious,” she wagged a finger at him. “Vows aren’t for playing with.”
      “Yes, milady, dead-serious, milady!” He said. He hopped to his feet and dropped a bow so deep his forehead neared the dirt. She nodded back to him and he took off at a run the other way.
      “Didja seal it?” The question came from Enaya’s left side; the voice was unhurried and low. Enaya turned and caught sight of a long gray habit with a broad hood. The face inside it was young and striking in its austerity, with thin black brows and caramel-colored skin. Enaya had never met a priestess of the Grandmother before. She bowed low.
      “Did you?” The priestess repeated. “Seal th’ oath?”
      “No, of course not,” Enaya replied. “He was only a child.”
      “You didn’t tell ‘im you didn’t,” she stated flatly.
      “Well, no,” Enaya said. A frown settled in between her eyebrows and tugged at the corners of her mouth. “But that’s rather the point isn’t it?”
      “I s’pose…” The priestess agreed. “An’ the sealing’s kind of a fuss.”
      Her voice was still dry, but there was a glitter in the priestess’s gaze which seemed familiar to Enaya. Enaya’s eyes narrowed. “Do I know you, priestess?” She asked.
      “No.” the priestess replied shortly. “But I know you. Leastwises, I feel I do.”
      Enaya’s dimples deepened as the edges of her mouth titled upward again. “Are you, by any chance, Verity Furrow? Sister of Amity Furrow?”

     “Auntie of Maeve and disreputable acquaintance of th’ Duke Apparent of

Quintmeed. Aye, that’s me.”

19 June 2010

Written on the train.


i am the big sky
the flat earth
i am the discus horizon
great blue bowl
of clouds
i am the firefly under

the rosy morning
paints warehouses and
bridges rusty
as the yolk of the sun
crests my edges like
a seeping
and desperate

skipping between buildings
a fugitive
a cat
i spread my claws across
which were never mine

i steal into you
i steal it from you
as the egg-sun retreats
into my hungry, stretching
as you lay down
your dreaming at my

i am the thief you seek

i am the big sky
the black earth
i am the dream

22 May 2010

Open letter to Lincoln East High.


Dear Students, Administrators, and Alumni:

I graduated from Lincoln East High School in 2004. In the time I attended East, I was able to meet friends and acquaintances from every ethnic and socioeconomic group. I had opportunities to learn about morality, about tolerance, and-- to a certain extent-- about myself. I have always looked back on my East High experience as a positive one. It hurts me in ways you cannot imagine to have those memories sullied by an act of racism so despicable it has made front page news all over the country.

The story is even big news here, in Chicago, where I live and work. People in big cities like Chicago have a limited understanding of what life is like in a place like Lincoln. They make sweeping assumptions about Nebraskans based on what little information travels outside state lines to infiltrate the National media. This means they know we raise beef, play football, outlaw gay marriage, and vote Republican. And now they know we're racists too. How absolutely deplorable.

How dare you? How dare you speak for the population of Nebraska, of Lincoln, of East High School with voices full of ignorance and hate? And it is not enough that the instigators receive a slap on the wrist, or that educators are emailed suggestions on "better preparing" students for life in a "global society." We are talking about a hate crime, here. Make no mistake.

I also find it disgusting that the news media continue to call the incident a "prank." Would it be a "prank" if the students had rained lynching ropes down on the heads of a team of mostly black students? Would it be a "prank" if it happened to you? This wasn't about garnering a laugh. It was about telling a group of people that look marginally different from ourselves that they aren't welcome. That we want them gone. And I, for one, do NOT want them gone. I am furious that anyone would have the gall to say so on my behalf.

The Statue of Liberty has a quote by Emma Lazarus inscribed on its base. It reads: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Emma Lazarus was born in New York City, the daughter of American-born Portuguese Jews. She wrote those words in 1883, only 107 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. At the time, America's shores were flooded with Irish, Polish, Russian, Asian, and German immigrants, many of whom are probably East High School students' grandparents. Not all of them chose to enter the country legally. And those who did could have told you first-hand what a heartrending, horrific experience it can be.

How lucky they are that no one was throwing green cards at their children, screaming at them to go "back where they came from." Or, at the very least, how lucky these spoiled, self-righteous American brats are that their own great-grandparents did not buckle under the pressure. That no one required them to carry papers to prove they belonged here. That local police officers weren't threatening them with deportation just because they're seen walking down the street.

To the students of Omaha South High School, I say: Welcome. Stay. Do not buckle. Whether you were born here or not, whether your families are legal or not, I will defend your right to "breathe free" for as long as I am able to draw breath. In one hundred years, the span of a single lifetime, your children's children will thank you. And so will mine.

Yours Respectfully,
Jennifer Cary

13 May 2010

Started a new book.

Well, sort of. I'm adapting my own series of TV screenplays into a book. Eleven pages in and I think it has potential in this format. It's a ROUGH draft, without it even my dirty edits, but I might as well get it out into the ether. Here's the first chapter, which is only five pages long:

The problem with a memory like Charlie’s is that it tends to ruin rock music. This was a nice record, low and quick and sweet, with lyrics that managed to catch her off-guard. Slightly left of center, which was where she liked it. She couldn’t remember the artist’s name but it hardly mattered. She’d never listen to this one again.

Rock musicians love an A minor chord, don’t they? They love to rhyme “heart” and “start” and “apart.” Charlie thought all those nonsense woos and grunts were clever when Little Richard was doing them in the ‘50s, but nowadays they mostly sounded lazy and flat. Nothing much surprised her anymore, anyway.

But she could still groove. She could still fall right down into a beat, at least the first go-round. Every album got one good play out of Charlie, front to back. Once the surprise— Joe would call it the “revelation”— was gone, she moved on. One hundred and twenty years of listening to folk whine about their hearts getting pulled apart right from the start will do that to a person.

So a low, quick, sweet little riff was blowing out the speakers on Charlie’s rust-bucket stereo. The mid-day sun filtered through her dusty kitchen windows and hop scotched from sticky spot to stain across cracked linoleum floors. Charlie was barefoot, which was how she knew about the sticky spots, and she was bobbing in time to a vaguely rockabilly beat. She whipped her hair back and forth like an underage groupie but there was no one to see her here. She could cut loose.

She had the bread from the cabinet and the cheese from the fridge. She pulled out butter and mayonnaise, the real stuff with all the fat. She spotted a sad package of lunchmeat shoved back behind all the takeout, and a sniff told her it wouldn’t kill her. Which was sort of a laugh anyway, all things considered. The skillet hit the stove with a clang and she dumped her findings on top of last month’s newspapers.

A peeling window casement framed Charlie’s private oasis; the back deck covered with plants of every shape and size, feasting greedily on sunlight and a city full of folk pumping out more than their share of CO2. The stove’s burner clicked once, twice, three times. She could smell the gas but nothing lit. She tried again— click, click, click, click— but no dice. Digging in the drawer directly under her window yielded two different lighters, both from bars with ugly bartenders and cheap beer. She clicked on the gas burner one more time and reached under the skillet with the lighter’s half-inch flame. And we have ignition.

Butter in the pan, piece of bread, two stuck together slices of yellow cheese, something which might have been ham, and a slathering of mayo. Throw a dented lid on the skillet and let the cheese melt down. In the meantime, Charlie held a water glass up to the noon sunlight to check for cleanliness. Debatable. She rinsed it once in the sink and filled it up with thick, frothy root beer you can’t buy locally. No ice. Ice is a sacrilege.

So the other piece of bread was on and the butter-scented sandwich had been flipped and the music moved on to something which clearly referenced “Smoke on the Water.” And Charlie was feeling pretty fine. There’s nothing wrong with a world full of root beer and parallel fourths and sunshine. The sandwich found its way onto yesterday’s plate and Charlie turned to go.


First was the rush of noise, like standing right under the tracks when all four trains rush by overhead at once. Then there was the smell, which was dank and metallic, like old blood… a pretty familiar smell, actually, if Charlie was being honest with herself. Which she generally wasn’t. And then the color, or the lack of color, which always made the world seem more tedious and less savable. The colorlessness bothered her most of all; it added insult to injury.

There was someone running toward Charlie down the alleyway. A girl, maybe a very young woman, and she was booking it. She was seriously fast, even in high-heeled boots, and she was graceful in a way Charlie understood down inside her bones. The girl stopped to bang desperately on someone’s wooden gate. It was bolted with a heavy duty padlock. A motion-sensitive light over the garage came on, illuminating the tears tracking their way down bronzed cheeks.

A ripple of something like light caught Charlie’s attention as it descended rapidly on the girl. The young woman spun too fast to be quite natural, putting her back to the gate. The ripples undulated against the light and Charlie felt the familiar urge to shut her eyes, to turn away. She couldn’t. It seemed the girl couldn’t either; she just stared straight ahead at that sick distortion of light and air, opened her mouth, and screamed.


Charlie woke up on the floor of her kitchen, of course. Which sucked. Sandwich remnants and a pool of root beer coated her last pair of decent jeans. Blurry eyes cleared enough to make sense of her predicament and she checked the back of her head for blood. Her fingers came away sticky and red, but the wound had already knit itself back together. She must have been out for at least a couple minutes.

The memory of that alleyway, and the shivering ripples of light, and the frightened teenager running for her life in those stupid boots… it all came right back to her. Her eyebrows flew together like two halves of a flock of Canada geese. Charlie’s stomach rumbled impatiently and her mouth was dry. She pushed herself up to a sitting position just as her cell phone went off, tinkling its default ring at maximum volume. Charlie’s scowl deepened.

“Well, shit.”

29 April 2010

Queries and self-doubt.

I've begun mailing out query letters for my book recently, and I had to make a pretty tough decision. The book was written two separate ways, with two separate second chapters, and I had to make a decision about which to include in my mailings. Which moved the story forward most effectively? Which felt more like me, and more like my characters? For that matter, which did I like more?

I made a choice to go with my first instinct, and keep Finn and Enaya's story-lines as separate as possible throughout the book. It was not easy. I'm still not totally sure the time-line of events makes sense, and I worry that keeping the second and third chapters separate (rather than combining them into one longer second chapter) makes it feel as if the story takes longer to get off the ground. I don't really doubt the importance of the events included, or even the quality of the writing, but I'm concerned that when asked for 30 page samples I'll be sending a whole lot of expositiion and not enough action.

What do you do? Going over and over these sorts of dilemmas is akin to beating your head against a wall. I've spent- literally- months trying to come to terms with this segment of the book, and in the end I will stand by this solution. It feels right to me. And if my agent/editor/publishers hate it, well then I will fix it. Although, if they hate the second and third chapters of the book I'm not likely to have an agent/editor/publisher. Ugh.

On a positive note, I do love the first chapter. So I guess I can always hope they do too. Gods, I really hope they do.

Blessings, everyone. Enjoy the sunshine.

30 March 2010

The answer, in short, is "No!"


You have to read the above article first. Then, if you choose, you can proceed to my short rant.

Let me begin by saying that I firmly believe in all that "takes a village to raise a child" claptrap. I really do. I believe we are responsible for each other. When we see a possibly homeless man passed out on a street corner, we should check on him. When the person in line in front of us at Starbucks is a dollar short, we should hand him the cash. When a child looks lost or scared or simply lonely, we should do what we can to help.

That being said, I think the writer of this article is only looking at this issue from one side. What about the responsibility the mother had toward the librarian? Why did the mother think it would be no big deal to entrust the welfare of her child to the librarian, who was at work and likely had work-related tasks to accomplish? What if she (the librarian) had intended to step out a moment later for her break? What if she was supposed to move to another section? What if, god forbid, she had to pee?

I sincerely doubt the mother would have felt comfortable with the librarian taking the child with her to the washroom while she urinated, so she could continue to keep an eye on her. And yet that's what a babysitter would have done... and isn't the librarian a de facto babysitter in this scenario?

Parents of small children have to understand that public servants, retail employees, waiters, and other members of "service staff" simply do not have the time to unexpectedly care for someone else's child. News flash: We're busy. It's not like I'm refusing to watch your child out of spite, or because I expect to be paid. The librarian was telling the mother, in no uncertain terms, that she did not feel she could devote the necessary attention to the child if the mother stepped out. Oughtn't the mother thank her for the warning?

25 March 2010

Revisited memory.


this is my starboard destination:

front porch wreathed in
cigarette fog
and Janis Joplin on the tape deck

slender hands on
slender neck
of Bud Light bottles
or glass of wine

like slap residue

or on New Year’s,
when the illegal
fireworks scare
our cat to death,

from a valley in Douro
rounded glass of stiffer stuff

can you drink it
with the maps your head
can’t wrap around?

02 February 2010

Book two, chapter two.

              Finngall and Captain Egen made their way back through camp, assuring everyone along the way that it was safe to return to their bedrolls. As they neared the command tents, Marte appeared again out of nowhere bearing hot mulled cider and Rhetta at her heels.
                “Thank you, Marte,” Finn said, taking his mug and passing one to Egen.
                “Surely, milord,” Marte replied. They had agreed that it would be improper for her to call him by name when they were in company. She never slipped. “Will ya be wantin’ anything to eat, milord, Captain Egen?”
                “Please, Marte, something light,” Finn answered. “At my tents, and quickly.”
                “A course, milord,” she curtsied promptly and took off toward the mess. Captain Egen made a detour toward his own tent. Rhetta followed Finngall into the pavilion and flopped down near his feet, her head on her paws.
                ‘What’s going on?’ Rhetta inquired. ‘Why the commotion?’
                Finn gave her a discreet hand signal, which meant that all was well and that they’d talk later. She sighed heavily as the Captain opened the tent flap and took a seat across from Finn, a stack of papers under one arm. Marte was back instantly, carrying a tray laden with fruit and cheese. She backed out of the room, taking her place near the door in case anything else was needed.
                “That girl’s a Gods’ send,” Captain Egen remarked, mouth full of fruit. “If I weren’t married a’ready, I’d steal that kitten away from you, milord.”
                “You’d find she’s very loyal, and very happy with her work,” Finn laughed. “Although I suppose someday I’ll lose her to a handsome, young swain. But I doubt very much that he’ll be you, Egen.”
                Egen barked out a laugh and shook his head. “Fair enough, milord, fair enough.”

14 January 2010

Yes, this entry is about god.

There's a lot which can be said about god - or God or Allah or Zeus or Yahweh or Vishnu or the Lord or what ever else we've come up with in the last 400,000 years. Some of what is said might even be true. We may never come to a consensus on what god IS, but we do seem to agree on what god is NOT.

God is not without reason.

Which is not to say that god is reasonable, but rather that reason is a part of the makeup of divinity. God cannot exist without reason. What religion gives us, at its core, is really about logic. Or perhaps a belief in logic.

We believe that our bodies yawn because they need to, even though we haven't worked out what yawning actually accomplishes. We believe in Fibonacci's sequence, and in the power of its natural resonance, even though most of us can not describe it. We believe that our pets have thoughts and feelings which we have no way to personally experience or quantify.

And I think all of these beliefs are a kind of reference to god. If there is a logic behind how we think and live and function then we can believe in some higher power pulling our proverbial strings. We can trust in a god who has reason. We can live in a world we only partially understand and trust in the logic of the infinite universe. And that's a beautiful thing.

We are only peripherally aware of the unknowable, and yet we feel we are intimately attached to god. Why is that, I wonder? What is it in our make-up which demands the presence and knowledge of a god? And do animals and plants share in that knowledge? Does it frighten them the way it often does us? Do they curse god when things aren't going their way, and praise god ostentatiously at seasonally appropriate intervals? I do not know. None of us know. Why doesn't that ignorance bother us?

None of this is going anywhere, except out into that infinite vacuum of space. Or perhaps, I suppose, to the ears of god.

And I believe there is one, although I am open to a debate on what god may or may not be. It doesn't really matter to me, actually, how the rest of the world sees their god. Or even if they see one. What matters to me is that we try to understand that we are all looking at the same things, and we are drawing conclusions which are grounded in reason. We are viewing the (possibly sacred) logic of the world and trying to comprehend its beauty. That's the important part. The discovery is the important part.

And that's all I have to say about that.