“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

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.”