An Agreeable Man is finally published!

An Agreeable Man was several years in the research, writing, editing and publishing stages, but oh, so worth it to have the book in my hand!  I am so pleased that I finally found a publisher who cared as much about the finished product as I cared about writing the book. Xulon Press is the name of the publishing company that brought my book into being and I will be commenting on our further relationship as time goes on.  I will say this: so far, so good!  In the meantime, Google them, and look at their competitors as well. As writers, we need to share our publishing and marketing experiences so that we can influence our various outcomes.  

If you like Murder Mysteries, An Agreeable Man will take you on some amazing twists and turns and really surprise you with where the story goes!

Check out the preview of the book on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), or iBooks. Buy this book either in a paperback or digital form and please leave a review!


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Where Are the Wise Ones?

Where are the wise ones?

The Teachers? The Grandparents?

The Ones who would/could tell us

Who we are?

Where we came from?

What we stand for?

What is our family/tribal history?

Who are our people?

What is the meaning of our names?

What are our customs?

Where are our sacred places?

What is our path? Where does that path lead us?

What is our mission?

How do we forge a link to the future

for our children?

Who will become the teachers?

When I taught Journalism at the university, I used the first day to ask each person to stand up and tell us his/her name, where he/she was from, what he/she was studying, a bit about their family, something they felt strongly about, and something important about themselves. The time limit was just a little over one minute.

After the first few comments, I was distressed at how much personal information I was getting. No topic seemed too personal to comment on.  There were multiple moms and dads and siblings as their parents seemed to destroy and create families every few years. Many moves were involved, many houses were lived in and moved away from.  It was obvious that important information was gotten from friends, not parents (who were viewed with disdain). Nothing was mentioned about religion; much was made of cell phones and the beginnings of social media.

These students wanted to be someone the world would view as important – Divas, actors, musicians, sports figures, fashion experts, etc.  No one wanted to be a Mom or Dad or minister or priest or doctor or lawyer or teacher.  And no one mentioned having kids.

Except for the last student who spoke.

Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she stood up, saying “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” over and over.

What on earth could cause this reaction?  I mean, I was upset – even angry – that these students had been shortchanged on the very most important parts of life as I knew it. But crying? No.

“Oh, Mrs. Baker, I live at the bottom of a big hill in a valley in the mountains. My people are all hill folk and they get married real early and they have lots of children. My grand daddy lives at the top of the hill with my grandma and every time one of their children grew up and got married, they helped them build a house just down the road that goes  around and down the hill. And when it came time for them to have kids, the grand parents and the aunts and uncles and cousins all got together and helped build the newlyweds a house further down the hill.

My mom and dad and I live at the bottom of the hill and so far, there has been no more kids but me, so everyone’s been watching me. But when I decided to get educated instead of getting married, they held a family meeting. The minister came and we met out by the lake in back of our house, and he conducted the meeting.

“He asked me why I didn’t want to get married and I told him I hadn’t met any body I could give my whole heart to. He asked me if I wanted children when I did get married and I said I did because I wanted to give my love to my children the way my momma and daddy loved me, but that I didn’t think I could do that without first loving my husband.  Then he asked me why being educated was so important. Obviously, he said, I could do the work that women did within the framework of the home – be a helpmeet to my husband, cook, clean, give time to my family, my community, and to my church – without being formally educated. Basically, he asked me ‘Why bother with education?'”

“I told the minister – and my family members – that I felt the pull of the Future on me. I had talents that marriage could not develop, nor could I learn them on my own. I had gone to one of my land cousin’s homes during the summer and she introduced me to the world of computers. I came to see that this was the way the world was headed. I then made a plan. Anything important that I would do with my life has to help me and others. I also have to get excited just thinking about it! Therefore, I figured if I was able to learn all about computers, I would be able to help my family members in many ways. And I got excited just thinking about it!”

The minister said “Yes, I see your point and I believe you are on to something of great value to your family and many other people who will benefit from your knowledge as well.  But it bothers me that you don’t seem to view finding a husband as being equally important.”

“And I told the minister – and my family – that I had a test for that, too. And as soon as I met my life partner, and I got excited just thinking about him, I would pursue him just the way I was pursuing an education!”

The class broke out in laughter!

“But why are you so upset, crying and all,” I asked.

“Because I am apparently so different from everybody else,” she said. “No one has ever been divorced in my family. We marry for life. Everyone has the same momma and daddy that they started out with, and all the brothers and sisters belong to the same family.  I didn’t hear anybody talk about prayer or going to church and that’s a big part of my family life. Whatever job I wind up with, after I get my degree in computers, won’t nearly be as important as my family will be.

“Our whole family has always supported each family member.  In fact, my grandparents and aunts and uncles have all offered to help pay for my college expenses while I am in college so that I can graduate without any debt. They said they have faith in me. Do you know what that means to someone who has never even been away from home except to visit family members?

“I have so much to be thankful for but I didn’t hear anyone here say “Thank You,” and nobody sounded happy. Didn’t the Lord say we should be joyful? I just don’t know if I have what it takes to get along in today’s world.”

Thankfully, the class ended.

What else was there to say?

Writing to Specifications – Another One

I like stories that end with a twist. It is the kind of story I like to read as well as write.  But when your word count is limited, it’s hard to get in everything you want to say…

Money Well Spent

“Oh, no!” she moaned. “Not another overdraft notice!” The bank envelop with the distinctive etching on the outside and the perforated end tab was by now all too familiar to Sally. What would she say to Richard this time? He alternated between praising her for taking over the bill paying because he was increasingly overworked and had no time to do it, and yelling at her that she had to cut back on expenses because the money just wasn’t there to absorb “frivolities.” Once she had asked him to make a priority list of how the bills should be paid, and wasn’t really surprised that it was almost the exact opposite of her priority list. They never agreed on anything, so why should she expect agreement on this?

Richard and Sally weren’t newlyweds. In fact, their kids were grown and gone, but just barely. The kids still asked for money for things they couldn’t quite afford on their own.  Sally had resigned herself to giving them checks only on Christmas and their birthdays, just to keep the budget on an even keel. Twenty-five dollars for their birthdays and $100 for each birthday wasn’t a lot, and she was able to pay for it by joining the bank’s Christmas Club and saving all during the year.

She shopped at outlet stores and cut-rate grocery stores. Magazine and newspaper coupons were a blessing! It had been a long time since she had bought a “dry-clean” dress. Everything she owned could be washed in the washing machine. Thank goodness for permanent press! Truth was, she loved bargains and she was good at finding them. At least that was one thing that Richard praised her for.

It wasn’t as if Richard were a big spender either, but they had been living on his salary alone now since downsizing had eliminated her job at the company last year. Where she had made two thousand dollars a month, she now made nothing. The unemployment figures in their town were “wonderful, almost approaching full employment for everyone who wants to work,” according to the local paper. Well, she wanted to work, but she couldn’t find a job.

That’s why she had answered the ad in last Sunday’s paper. Apparently there was a need for a receptionist at the new hotel, working in the Executive Suite on the Penthouse floor. She had an interview scheduled for this afternoon. The lady who had set up the appointment told her that she would need to wear something “professional,” so Sally had been at the Mall all morning, shopping for interview clothes. The cobalt blue suit she found was dressy in a tailored sort of way.  It made her blue eyes shine, and it was 50% off! She had stopped by the discount hair styling salon in the Mall, where for only $15, her hair was cut in the short bob that the stylist assured her was all the rage.  Fortunately, her Easter shoes and handbag were still in good shape.

She had rushed home to put everything on, including makeup (which she seldom wore anymore), when the mail arrived. Hoping to find her unemployment check, she found instead the overdraft notice. There was also a rather formal looking envelope, but it didn’t open easily, which only increased her frustration. Bursting into tears, she could hardly see to look through the rest of the mail. No check. Shoving the mail in her purse, she ran for the car, barely making the interview.

After the interview was over, Sally tried to make some kind of sense out of the meeting she had had with the Human Resources people. There was a woman – prim and proper – and a man, who was more casual. Sally tried to answer their questions, which were alternately warm and almost cold. It reminded her of the “good cop, bad cop” routine.

The discomfort started when she walked into the conference room. Before she could take a seat, they silently walked around her, looking her over from head to toe. Then they looked at each other for a long minute, but made no comment. At times, they would almost joke with her, and then they would retreat into formality.

Abruptly, they rose. There were at least two other people they had to interview before they would make their decision, they said, but she would be hearing from them soon. The only thing Sally was sure of was that she wouldn’t be getting that job. She had the strong sense that the next interviewee was probably the candidate they were seeking, and she was just there as a setup to fulfill the Human Resources requirement.

The interview was obviously over.

Dazed, all Sally could think of was that she hadn’t gotten the job, but she had gotten the clothes! Over $150 spent on this interview, with no return on investment! How could she tell Richard? This, on top of the overdraft? She wanted to run away somewhere and hide.

At home, in her bedroom, she began taking off the clothes. Maybe she could return them to the store, saying they didn’t fit, or that she really didn’t like the color. That was a possibility, even if they were sale items.  At least the purse and shoes were hers.  As she started taking the things out of her purse, she noticed the unopened mail. Getting a pair of scissors, she cut open the envelop and reached inside. Unfolding the letter, she saw a check spiraling down to the floor. It was for $2,500 and it was addressed to her!

Momentarily distracted by the amount of the check, she methodically examined every inch of it, front and back, looking for the dreaded words: “This is Not a Valid Check.” But it was, in fact, a valid check and it was, in fact, made out to her! Who was it from? She scanned the letter.

Of all things, it was a sweepstakes prize!

Sally entered every sweepstakes promotion that crossed her mailbox, long ago ceasing to buy anything, but meticulously following every direction “if not ordering at this time.” And now, it had paid off! This was her money, her reward for those years of patiently and loyally sending in the sweepstakes! She was so proud that she had kept at it!

But Richard wouldn’t be proud. First of all, he didn’t know that she had continued to enter the sweepstakes, after he had yelled at her for buying all those magazines and books a couple of years ago. Secondly, he would probably not view this as “her” money, especially after she told him about the overdraft and the purchases she had made today.

It was almost time for Richard to come home. Dreading the approaching  confrontation, she grabbed her purse and ran back to the car. Any place else was better than being here!

An hour later, Sally drove into the garage. There stood Richard – smiling – holding flowers! He opened the car door and helped her – gently – out of the car and into a big bear hug. “I’m so glad you are home!” he said. “Oh, Richard, you won’t be glad when you find out what I’ve done!” And, sobbing, she told him all about the day’s events.  All, that is, except about the check.

Amazingly, he didn’t get mad. Putting his arm around her shoulder, he said “Let’s go  into the house. I’ve got something to show you.” There on the kitchen table was an envelop. “Open it,” he said. The card showed two bunnies side by side in the grass.  Inside, the two bunnies were rolling in four-leaf clovers.  It was a “Thank You” card that read:

To The Love of My Life

“Thank you for loving me

In spite of my imperfections.

Thank you for loving me

When I lost my sense of direction.

Steadfastly you stood beside me

When I thought my life was over.

And now it’s your turn, darling,

To roll with me in the clover!

Richard then explained that he had been working hard on a big project at work, and that his long hours had paid off – literally! He had gotten a promotion and a raise that was more than the equivalent of Sally’s lost salary. The only thing he regretted, he told her, was that all the long hours had taken their toll on him, and he was worn out. And until he actually got his raise, money would still be tight. Too bad they had to cancel their vacation.

“I can help with that,” she said, handing him two round-trip tickets to Hawaii. “And all paid for, too!”  She put her finger across his lips, as he started to ask questions. “Just call it my project money,” she laughed. “I think it’s money well spent!”

Writing to Specifications

A few years ago, I thought I would try my hand at writing short stories and submitting them to those little magazines that you see as you stand in line at the checkout counter in grocery stores. They pay pretty good money. This story was written to the specification of 1500 words. I have added in a few more words for this publication. To my knowledge, this story was never published.

The Best of His Life

The Colonel looked up at the steps looming before him.  Damn! Why couldn’t she have her office on the first floor?  Thirteen steps.  He could have taken them three at a time in his younger days, but not now.  He had been in great shape then. Lean. Muscular.

Handsome enough to get the prettiest girl in school, too.  How he had managed to keep her all these years, he’d never know.  She said she didn’t mind those extra pounds, or that he had lost some hair. (She used to tease him that she was so short, she couldn’t see the top of his head anyway!)  But she did mind that cough. She called it “rheumy,” and said it sounded serious. Wanted him to go to the doctor.  Hell! Doctors were no good.  They just wanted to poke around, ask silly, embarrassing questions, and make pronouncements: Stop Smoking!  Lose Weight!  Slow Down!

To tell the truth, he’d been considering retirement.  So much hassle at work nowadays.  Young people half his age coming in at twice his salary, telling him what to do.  Him, with 25 years experience at this job, not to mention his military experience! How dare they!  It was enough to make him quit.  If they wanted to call it retirement, so be it.  A man shouldn’t work where he’s not respected.

That’s what brought him to this building.  It looked like an old house – no, an old home – a lot like the house he grew up in.  Two stories, gingerbread trim, lots of character. Not like the houses in the neighborhood he lived in now.  Not a lick of personality in any of them.  Brick houses with white siding front porches, not wide enough to hang a swing on to sit in at night.  Nothing interesting to watch anyway.

All his neighbors were into doing whatever worked up a sweat – running, shooting baskets, soccer moves, in-line skating – and they did all this while pushing baby strollers!  Never saw so many babies! Didn’t these people know the planet was overpopulated?  He and June had produced two children, and they had produced two children.  Theory of sustainability – two, replaced by two, replaced by two, and so on.  Two by two.  Sounded Biblical…

Biblical.  Accountability.  End-of-Life.  Meet Your Maker.  Can’t do a proper job if you’re always thinking about the end of things.  Maybe it was time to go.  Always said if you can’t produce, get out.  But he wasn’t ready to go yet, he realized.  There was the sense that something else had to be done.  Things at work might be over, but his life wasn’t yet complete.  Being forced out by “things” wasn’t fair.

Not fair to June either.  She deserved better.  How lucky he felt, having her by his side.  Not a day went by that he wasn’t reminded in some way of his good fortune.

Fortune. That’s why he was here.  June had asked him to talk to her friend Callie.  Not  his friend.  They had never met, but June and Callie were friends from childhood.  “Sisters by choice,” June once said.

“Just talk to her about work, and retirement, and the things you are thinking about…” June had said.  “This is what she does for a living, listening and advising, using her gifts to help others.”

Oh, yes.  There was the matter of her gifts. Callie was a psychic, plain and simple.  No matter what other people might call it, she claimed to be able to look into the future and advise you – for a price.  He had to admit the price was reasonable.  Because of her friendship with June, this was to be a “free consultation.”  He wondered: “if you get what you paid for,” what would he have? But then, what did he have to lose?

So here he was, trying to negotiate these blasted stairs without coughing.  He must have a touch of asthma.  Guess talking to a psychic wouldn’t matter – she wouldn’t be asking all those questions that a doctor would.  She should know!

He knocked on the door.  It opened easily.  “Won’t you come in?” said the pleasant woman who looked up at him.

Not what he expected, not at all what he expected.  Must have been thinking of a gypsy-type woman, although he knew June would never be friends with such as that.  But he felt at ease with this woman, as if he had known her for years.  June had spoken often of her, so he did know about her, yet she seemed familiar beyond that.

Of course! It came to him in a flash.  They looked enough alike to be sisters!  My God! He had never thought of there being two Junes – yet here she was, same height, same honey-colored hair, same smudgy-blue eyes.

Callie was murmuring something about his having been ‘right on time.’ Of course he was on time!  He couldn’t abide tardiness.  Show up early, work late.  That was the way to succeed! Touching his elbow, she guided him to a large overstuffed chair, and indicated that he was to put his feet up on the ottoman.  She sat in a chair nearby and leaned back, fingers of one hand crossed with fingers of the other.

“June tells me you are considering the pros and cons of retirement – ?”

He nodded.  Taking in the room, noting how ‘normal’ it all seemed, his gaze came back to Callie.

“I know you are evaluating when you might possibly leave your…position?”

He knew this technique well, making statements that were actually questions, and then pausing so long you had to fill in the silence.  Used to make him mad when his boss did it – sounded so damn know-it-all. Never knew how to handle it then.  Didn’t know now.

“Have you thought about what you and June might do, where you might go, if you did take retirement now?”

This was a real question. Demanded – deserved – an answer. He looked into her eyes and said “Yes, I have.”

He was not prepared for the effect these three words had on her.  Callie recoiled as if she had been slapped!  She put one hand up to her face, and held it there, while she righted herself in her chair with the other hand.

Leaning forward, eyes fixed intently on his, she spoke slowly. “What if you walked into your office and told them that you were leaving now because you had more important things to do with your life?  What would happen?”

Wonderful scenarios immediately came to him – travel, boats, wind, hot sunshine, sunsets on the water, sunrise on deck, insects humming, birds singing, fragrant flowers, Monet landscapes, sitting with June, talking about their lives together while sipping cool drinks, sending emails to the poor miserable chaps at work who were stuck there at their desks, having to put up with bureaucratic crap, never feeling appreciated, knowing precisely how a thing should be done with no one to listen or care…yes, YES, YES! It felt wonderful just to think about it!

Callie reached out and took his thick hairy hands in hers. (Callie’s hands were so like June’s dainty hands, not painted up claws like those women at the office had.)

“Honor. Obligation. Responsibility.” She allowed these words to sink in.  “I know these are very important to you.  But I have never had such a strong feeling as I am having at this moment that you would be very smart to quit your job today and get started realizing your dreams! If you do, I see these next six months as being the best of your life!”

Six months later, at the Colonel’s funeral, June held on to Callie’s arm.  “I don’t know what you told him that day he came to you, but when he got home he was like a new man!  He called the office and told them to pack up his things and mail them to him, and then he put the house up for sale!  We found a buyer in two days and bought a small yacht that afternoon.  We lived every day of the next six months to the fullest.  He was the happiest I have ever seen him!  He had quit smoking (“Don’t need ’em!”) and had lost weight.  Did you tell him to do that?  I know when he got home from your place he said there was no need to see a doctor.  Said you told him the best of his life was ahead of him…”

Callie said, “When he opened his mouth to speak, June, the cancer shot out at me like a huge black tongue!  It almost knocked me off my chair.  I knew he wouldn’t want to die in a hospital bed, lingering for the few months he had left.  And so – God help me! – I sent him on a six-month adventure!”

Poems – Private and Public


He looks at her

like my dog looks at steak.

He smiles at her,

delighted to be in her presence!

His jaw, resting on his hand, is firm.

his smile is lopsided, a little goofy.

“I only have eyes for you” is the clear message

he sends.

His eyes are riveted on

her lips,

her eyes,

her face.

He listens to every word she says,

with no distractions.

“I understand,” he says,

as he leans forward,

eager to hear more.

He’s not lecturing,

or explaining,

or teaching,

or telling her anything.

He’s just enjoying her company.

Clearly, they’re not married.

This poem (above) was written at a Cracker Barrel in Murfreesboro, TN. Somehow I am able to write in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant, whereas my very quiet office is the best place for editing and re-writing.


She glances too quickly

towards the door

as it opens –

Sitting at her table,

eating breakfast.

Then she raises her cup

 to her lips

to hide their trembling.

She knows he won’t come

Yet she hopes…

Eating together in public

is too public

and can’t be done.

Loving together

in private

is too private

And shouldn’t be done.

(Why does restaurant coffee

always taste bitter?

Or is it only this way

at the cheaper hotels?)

It seems to her

that breakfast

shouldn’t be eaten alone.

Even steak and biscuits

don’t substitute for


A waittress friend told me that everyone who comes in brings a story with them, and some are more easy to read than others…


I watch the fire go from new logs,

with flames spitting blue and yellow,

to the dull red and gold of pulsating embers.

Someone stirs the new logs,

repositioning them for maximum burn,

and the flames perform a lively dance!

I watch, mesmerized…

Later, as the fire dies down,

and burning bits of wood drop into the ashes,

I watch the constant irregularity of it,

and I am fascinated.

And now I am watching as the embers glow less brightly,

still pulsating,

still full of fire,

their impact diminished only by Time.

Long ago, someone came

and moved me

so that I

could burn properly.

Then, you came,

not so long ago,

and stirred me

so that flames leaped up, like so –

And bits of fire,

filled with the hotness of desire,

fell down into the ashes

of my first love…

And now I pulsate

and I glow,

remembering the fire

and the desire

that you both showed me.

This was written on a very cold, windy, snowy day when I ventured into a Cracker Barrel store to get warm and full. Their fireplace added a dimension of nostalgia and resulted in this poem, which I love…

Essays and Poems and Opinions, Oh My!

Being raised in the Deep South, I lived most of my life under the admonition “What Will The Neighbors Think?” Since our yards were huge and our houses were not jammed up close to one another, it never occurred to me that our neighbors might want to watch anything that I would do, or listen to anything that I might say, or even be aware that I lived next door. Now, of course, we are able to see and hear far more than we want to of what everyone in the world – or in Space, for that matter – is doing.

Last year, I entered a Vanity Fair Essay contest regarding the way we as Americans are seen in the world around us. I certainly didn’t expect to win a prize – I don’t recall what the prize was, actually – but I did want to put down on paper just what I felt like to be an American. And I wanted to do some research in order to know where we were going as a nation, which meant we had to find out where we had been, and how we got to where we are now.

To See Ourselves As Others See Us – Americans in today’s world

Americans are, economically speaking, a pear-shaped demographic. The head of the pear represents the few very wealthy Americans who either earned or inherited their money; the bottom of the pear, those who live in poverty. The rest of us comprise the vast middle class, the “haves” who do not have it all – yet. What determines part of our character as Americans is what happens when we decide which demographic we will aspire to stay in or rise out of. We are not bound by our circumstances. Ambition and initiative very much figure in the American psyche, as do laziness and boredom. The fact that we can change our situations as Americans sets us apart from most of the rest of the world.

Another key characteristic is our diversity. Ours is a land peopled by immigrants, people who came to America looking forward to that nebulous “freedom” that we consider so important even today. We are not all from the same place or from the same people. Our ancestors wanted to be free from religious tyranny, the religion of the State, and so they tolerated many different expressions of religion, even the right not to be religious. But make no mistake about it: our country was founded on religious principles. We still believe that religion is important enough to appear on our money; to give thanks before we eat; to begin and end government meetings. We do indeed “praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his “Democracy in America” that Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions…This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.

Our forefathers stressed the fact that our freedom depended on a moral, religious citizenry.

The term “American” describes no one person. To picture who and what we are, think of meeting “The Americans” – a four-generation family. Each generation’s family members  represents his or her time here in a different way, yet all are members of one family. The time frame is roughly 1930 to 2013.

Our grandparents, in general, observed the tradition of the Father as the breadwinner, and the Mother as the homemaker. Meals were home cooked from food that was home grown. If they wanted something that cost more money than they had, they saved for it. God, Country, Family, and Friends were important – in that order. Authority was not questioned: teachers and church leaders and doctors and their elders were looked up to. People earned – and gave – respect. They were grateful for the blessings of life and its goodness. The family was the support system for each family member and they took care of their own, no matter how hard it was. “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” was their mantra, if they had known what a mantra was.

Parents were the role models. We wanted to grow up to be just like our fathers and mothers. They had been through two World Wars, separated by the Great Depression – a dark time. The survivors learned to assess their wounds and count their blessings. They had their priorities in order. Our parents wanted the best for us, and while we were exposed to the basics of their generation – hard work, religion, education, family – we determined that when we became parents, we would work harder, earn more and give more opportunities to our children.

If success meant moving away from family and friends to accomplish these goals, then so be it. Our support system became the people we worked with in the new jobs in the new towns we moved to. We worked long and hard because it was “for the children” and therefore, worth it. We wore ourselves out – and worked ourselves to death – for our families. Stress became a household word and its antidotes were many, from exercise to prescriptions to meditation to diets to non-prescription panaceas.

A new phenomenon emerged: Credit! No longer would we have to wait to have our heart’s desire – we could have it NOW! We could have whatever we wanted, and we wanted it all. We were consumed with consumption. The acquisition of things became the new measure of success.

America was subtly re-shaping itself in terms of its people. The heartland of America still held to the traditional values, but around the perimeter of the country, the people reflected the stresses of City Life. As the pace of constant working accelerated, it became more difficult to stay together as a married couple. While teamwork was touted in the workplace, single parenthood became a more accepted option in the home. “The Children” became “The Children of Divorce.” Balancing work and family life became the goal for the successful single parent. Women became steely in their emotions; men became more emotional in their response to Work and Life. Not having children as a choice became a controversial option. Fulfilling oneself became accepted as a lifestyle.

Television began to have a huge impact on our lives. Initially, we gathered around the tube together; then we taped programs for later viewing; then latch-key kids watched alone without parental monitoring. Soon our children began to get their information and their values from TV. Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street were positive influences, but then television programming changed. It has been estimated that by the time a child reaches school age, he or she has watched more murders, rapes, robberies, and other heinous crimes than entire police precincts in their home towns. Constant exposure to vicarious violence and the degrading of others, nudity, strong language and disrespectful acts numb children to the consequences of their actions. When sensibilities are not developed at home or in our educational systems, we slowly lose our humanity.

Many Americans saw a formal education as a way to succeed, and most Americans believed that every child deserved a public education. We were most proud of our corporate successes for they showcased our vast wealth around the globe. We didn’t learn about “corporate culture” until later. This two-edged sword provided unimaginable opportunities for its workers while luring its corporate officers with the siren song of unimaginable riches. Our news media were zealous in exposing the irresponsible acts of our corporate and elected officials.

In her excellent essay on “Character and Corporate Influence”, Vicky Davis stated: At some point in our history, there was a fork in the road…Honesty, integrity and humanity are (now) characteristics held in low esteem. Greed, dishonesty and inhumanity are rewarded. Just as the magnetism of the poles is shifting, so too is our national character. Right is Wrong. Good is Bad. War is Peace. Marketed correctly, anything can be sold to the American people.

Our children, raised in abundance and relative peace, now modeled themselves on television idols and celebrities. They emulated their dress and their causes and they aspired to their lifestyles. They are willing to attempt outrageous things for a fast buck. They are obsessed with “image” while ignoring the illnesses it spawns – anorexia, bulemia, cosmetic surgeries. They are perceived as being self-absorbed and ignorant of any agenda other than their own. The banner of shallowness is held high, and thick skins enable reality programs to dominate programming. Good manners are not only not used, they are unknown.

Many Americans don’t see the value of learning any language other than their own. The need to do so is not pushed in our school systems nor encouraged in our homes. We are quite satisfied with our own lives and can’t be bothered with learning other equally valid lifestyles. “Think globally, act locally” is not an easy concept to grasp because it involves entertaining thoughts of something other than “the American Way”. We don’t know how to react to the idea that not everyone wants to be like us Americans. After all, we are Number One, aren’t we? Aren’t we?

Recent national and international tragedies have thrust a jagged mirror in our collective faces, and we have been forced to see ourselves as the world sees us. It is not a pretty picture for some. But for others, a more hopeful image emerges. For there is a great silent majority of people in our country who do not rush to register their uneducated opinions at the end of each TV news program on topics they know nothing about. This silent majority chooses to vote their opinions in our public elections, where they do  know a great deal about the issues and the candidates who promise to uphold their voting preferences. These people practice the old-fashioned American values that made our country strong and honored in earlier times. They VOTE!

Increasingly, Americans want to travel, to meet different people in distant places. They are willing to educate themselves to get the jobs that will pay for this lifestyle, but they are traveling light. The acquisition of things is not their goal; indeed, they are into simplification. They travel to experience the Earth and her people. They want to leave a legacy of peace and friendship and understanding – of stewardship, if you will. This generation learns by doing, by actually being there, by seeking to learn about everything first-hand, including learning the language. They are perfectly willing to entertain a lifestyle other than the one they experienced growing up American. And they are open to embracing differences and finding their place among those ideas and people and places who are different. They do not think that doing so will lessen their stature as Americans. And for the first time in a long time, these Americans give me hope.

My latest poetry book is TOUCHPOINTS by Sally Shirley

If you would like to read more of my poems, my latest poetry book is called TOUCHPOINTS, written under the pen name Sally Shirley. You can find TOUCHPOINTS on iTunes.  On the back of the book you will find one of my poems that tells About The Author – that is, me.  Unfortunately, a draft version got published before I had a chance to correct it, and I recreate it here as I meant it to be.


She can write a phrase that will turn your stomach

or your head.

She can talk to a priest in church,

or talk to you in bed.

She reveals your secrets to others

As she smiles into your eyes.

She tells your deadly truths

As she exposes your deepest lies.

Poet, Wife, Mother, Daughter –

She never has done what she ought to.

Teacher, Lover, Writer, Friend –

She shares the lessons that Life sends.

Read her words and have a care,

You might just find yourself in here!

So, pick up Touchpoints, take a look –

Are you and your friends in this book?

One of the things I like to do in writing poetry is to play with the words. I especially like words that have double meanings or sound-alike pronunciations. But what I really do best is to get inside the person I am writing about and draw a word picture using first person tense so that it sounds as if that person is doing the talking.  I like getting inside the head of someone who interests me…Of course, some times my poems are straightforward and are just expressing feelings or experiences that I have had.

These next two poems will appear in my next book of poetry. They are more or less “hot off the press.” As with so much of my writing, the poem below began writing itself while I was still asleep, in the early morning hours.  I remember groggily getting up and saying, “Oh, no! Wait for me! Just let me get to a pen and some paper…!” Here is the result.


She made a home for her husband and sons,

But her husband died and left her alone.

He left her with more memories than friends.

Their two boys grew into fine men.

Raising children is expensive, you know.

Her “mite” did not cover all she owed.

Every time she saved, they needed.

Every time they asked, she heeded.

Always with love, without a fight,

She gave her boys her “widow’s mite.”

The boys grew strong and then they left.

She grew bent over and felt bereft.

They were her sons, her only life!

On whom she spent her “widow’s mite.”

And at last when her life was done,

The Lord Jesus called her home.

He took her to a house of light.

She was amazed! It was so bright!

“Look at the house that you built, my dear!

The house that reflects your soul so clear.

Every time you gave on Earth,

Every time you cried, I heard.

Every time you hurt, I felt.

Every time you prayed, I knelt.

On Earth, you suffered many pains.

God turned your tears into life-giving rain!

Jesus said, “You and I are much alike.

We believe our God will make things right.

Come, sister, see what our Lord has for you

There’s so much healing here to do!

Your children on Earth will honor you still

Just because you did God’s will!

And look at your house! Just LOOK! Just see!

Here’s where you will spend Eternity!

Your husband, his love still pure and true,

Will live on in this house with you”

Jesus cupped her face with his rough warm hands.

“You walked the path of God’s commands.

I paid for your sins with my Earthly life,

But you paid for this house with your “widow’s mite.”

The Mighty Widow’s Mite…!”

And now, for a change of pace…


You know me – I’m the one who

Validates your guesses,

Cleans up your messes,

Reads your mind.

I’m the one who

Runs a tight ship,

Stays cool and hip

Goes out of her mind…

Inside, where I live now…

Here is another poem from TOUCHPOINTS. There are more poems from TOUCHPOINTS at this blog site in the Archives section. Scroll back through and enjoy!


In my car

A light comes on

When I need gas

Or oil or water…

Or it flashes red for

“Maintenance Required.”

“You let me know

If that red light comes on,” you say,

“Because I’ll need to

Take care of that right away.”

I wish I had that kind of setup

So that you would know

When I feel LOW or HOT or


Lucky car…

A lifetime of writing poetry

It seems that I have been writing poems all my life. I kept them in various places – notebooks, boxes, purses, books – until someone told me that I could actually have my poems published and share them with other people who might like poetry as much as I did.  Below is my first poem that I submitted to the magazine insert to the Sunday Commercial Appeal (Memphis TN). I think I was about 9.  Somewhere I have my (sort of) rejection letter, stating that they couldn’t publish it because they didn’t publish poetry. Here is New Orleans Lady.

New Orleans Lady

O, the lace! The frothy, frilly lace,

On the gown, and on the veil

that hides your lovely face.

O’er the satin and the silk

and the skin of rosy milk.

The raven blackness of your hair

that falls in tangled glory past your hips,

and the fullness and the redness

of your boldly curved lips.

The delicate arch of eyebrows

above slanting eyes of green;

The jewels resting on the breast

of one so like a queen.

I learned from that rejection letter that there were markets for poetry, and if I wanted to see my poems published, I would have to find an appropriate market. Unfortunately, my next poem was of an activist nature and I had no idea where to send it. I was 11 when I wrote this poem, entitled The Next War.

The Next War

So you hope there’s not another War?

Well, good! So do we.

But, man, you’d better kneel and pray,

For this is how it will be.

No other wars with shot and shell.

The next will be a living hell!

A scorching, searing, burning flame

that flicks its tongue at all to maim.

No bullet-quick death to still the pain,

But, far more deadly, radioactive rain

That torrents down from red-rimmed skies

And bloats and sears until all die.

Until all die? No! It can’t be!

Think not, foolish Man?

Just you wait and see.

God made Man and loved him

Though his actions proved him sin-

ful. But God intended for Man to be

The image of Him, and so you see

It hurts God to see our heads so swelled

With pride at making this Bomb so well,

While our feeble minds don’t or won’t understand

That this may well be the End of Man.

And what happens after that, O Man?

When you’ve laid waste God’s own dear Land?

Why, with the death of all men,

Then wars will cease!

And God will be satisfied,

For there will be Peace.

Life is a study in contrasts for me.  My husband and I recently went down to the Gulf Coast and tried to find Vrazel’s, one of the best seafood restaurants in the area. When we couldn’t identify it among the new eating places, we pulled into one of the parking lots to turn around and go back to our motel. We then decided to just eat at whatever restaurant we were at, because we heard so many good comments from people coming out of the restaurant. When we relayed our situation to our waiter, he told us that this was, in fact, the “old” Vrazel’s – what a coincidence! Of course, it didn’t look anything like the restaurant we were looking for, but it was new and beautiful and over looked the Coast with the waves coming in at dusk and the lights coming on towards dark.  So romantic! Ambiance was in abundance! And then I saw these two…One More Night.

One More Night

She’s on her second drink,

He’s on his second iced tea.

She stares at him,

He stares at his cell.

The only thing they do together

Is eat the house rolls.

She has a bowl of gumbo,

He has a bowl of salad.

Then their orders come…

A thick steak for him

A pile of fried shrimp for her.

Their server is tall and tan and lean and lovely…

Her customer is tall and tan and lean and hungry

The wife eats the fried shrimp, one by one,

as she stares at him.

He cuts the steak in tiny pieces and deflects her stares

by looking around.

She keeps her eyes glued to his face,

seeing no one else.

His neck swivels back and forth,

looking at everyone else

but her.

She pays the bill.

He pays the price.

One more night without a fight…

Fast-forward to yesterday when I went to one of my favorite places to write, our local Cracker Barrel.  There was a sweet couple who had come in to eat lunch. They laughed and talked as they ate, and when they were finished with their meal, he got up to get her walker. There were many little “comforts” that he had apparently made and attached to the walker – soft foam to cushion her hands, a little basket to put her things in, and a place to fold and secure her sweater. Here is what I observed and wrote about in The Right One:

The Right One

He helps her into her walker

(Still her protector),

She pokes his chest with her finger

(Still the joker!).

He gives her the sweetest look,

She gives him her biggest smile!

Briefly they hug as if getting ready to dance.

As he straightens her blouse,

She puts her hands on his shoulders.

“You two look as if you’re getting ready to dance,”

their server says.

“No, our dancin’ days are done,”

she smiles.

“But we can still prance and joke and have fun!”

he laughs.

Getting old is great, when you chose 

The Right One!

The truth is, I HAVE to write! No writer’s block for me!  I write at all hours of the day and night, when the spirit moves me. I never remember what I composed if I don’t write it down, so I try to be ready! People, pets, and poetry are my passions in life…and what a grand life it is!

How to Learn NOT to Crash and Burn…Part Two

Caregiver Stress – It can blindside you when your main focus is on the person you are caring for.  I had come to such a low point psychologically in dealing with mother’s myriad problems and “The System” that my health began to decline due to the heavy burden of dealing 24/7 with someone else’s personality. My doctor doubled my low-dose medications – “to prevent a stroke or heart attack,” she said. I was aware of dark changes in my own personality due to my having to be the Warrior Daughter, protector of the one who used to protect me.  I realized I was in bad shape but I didn’t know how bad until I decided to write out my feelings, since I had no one to talk to. I sat down at my computer and I spilled my guts. The only way I could control my emotions was to express my comments as a prayer to Almighty God, because when you have no one to tell your troubles to, you can always pray, right?


It is said, God, that You don’t give people more trouble than they can bear, but I think that is a lie. You gave my mother’s care to me during the prime of my life and she slowly sucked the life’s blood out of my soul, one day at a time, for 20 years. That’s how we are supposed to live according to the Bible, isn’t it? One day at a time? Well, that’s too long. I learned to count my pleasures in seconds, to take a deep breath because there was only time for one breath, to graze through the day because I had no time to sit down and eat a proper meal. I didn’t always remember when or if I had showered or brushed my teeth or taken my medications. Eventually, when I had some time, I didn’t know what to do with it because if I was not physically in her presence, she was ever-present in my mind.

Her whistle, that shrill sports whistle, which she blew so feebly (“I just don’t have enough breath to make a loud sound,” she said) was a constant in my life, the sound not too dissimilar from the cell phone beeping that I had a message, or the microwave beeping that my tea water was done. Those were sounds I could ignore. But how do you ignore your mother? Just what the world needs – sounds with obligations attached.

“I love you, darling,” she would say as I tucked her into bed at night.

“Yes, mother, I love you, too,” I would answer, not meaning a word of it. But to lie about Love! How awful is that?!

How I longed to say “Why can’t you just die and let me live the remaining years of my life without you in it?!” Mother was very goal-oriented. She would have done it. She often told me that if there was anything she could do for us, just ask and she would do it.


We don’t need your money, I would say. Truth was, she needed our money because she had none. A couple of years in the best privately owned-assisted living facility in our town saw to that. And all those bills associated with rehab and then long-term care – the last month’s bill was for $6000! – that ate into our retirement fund. No, none of this was paid for by Medicare. Every month the costs escalated, often without telling us why. Mother wasn’t rich but she got in because we had the money. (Note the past tense, God. HAD the money.)

Family is supposed to matter. But I don’t consider her my family now, just my obligation. I don’t love her, but I have a duty to her because of a blood tie that I cannot undo.

I have prayed to be released from this duty, God. Actually, I have prayed for her death to release me from this duty, but You don’t seem too big on giving people what they pray for. She’s still here. She’s still alive. And she is thriving under my care.

NO, I am not proud of that. I did not do it out of love for her, or You, or for any reason other than I am tasked with her care. And I have to do it until one of us dies.

And therein lies my problem.

I haven’t had any time to travel, no time to dream or read, uninterrupted. No time to cultivate friends who come over just to talk. No long phone conversations with whomever I want. No time to watch TV without her comments. (“Stress Fat – have you ever heard of such a thing? Your fat surely isn’t from stress. You need to get out more, go to an exercise class. Did you know that belly fat indicates heart trouble? And high blood pressure? And high cholesterol And cancer? And all that runs in our family, so you need to go to a doctor and get yourself tested and get on medication. I could call and make you an appointment, if that would help…)

Thank you, but NO, mother. (The only thing that would help is if you would just drop dead – literally.)


You have affected my husband’s health. In retirement, he tried to shield me from your insidiousness, and for a time he succeeded. But his worry about me, our declining finances and our increasing arguments because I couldn’t go or do things with him because of your care eventually got to him. And I blame you. And I hate you for that and for so many other things. In fact, I cannot find anything that I love you for. I don’t even like you.

Your care is progressive and unrelenting. You drip. You leak. You stink. You suck food off your dentures. You either have diarrhea or constipation and either way I have to clean up after you. I use more rubber gloves than an S&M convention. I have to kneel before you to put on your bedroom shoes, which hurts both my back and my pride. I do not like the symbolism of bowing before you, but you do. You are, after all a LEO, King of the Jungle!

My stomach is in knots. I am bleeding rectally. I have headaches. I have nightmares. I have cut myself off from all contact with people. All I think about or dream about or plan about or look forward to is your death. If I didn’t take anti-depressants, I would die first.

Mother, I have spent 20 years trying to spare you pain and suffering. But now, I just want you gone. I know you will go to Heaven. You have been president of your Sunday School Class for over 50 years and you have been connected with every good cause there is either through donating your time or money. You pray many times a day. I have to read your daily devotions to you because you can no longer read them yourself. You definitely are a good person, and I am sure God will welcome you into Heaven, won’t You, God?

I have heard that when people are dying, their mothers come and show them the way to God’s presence. So that is why I am choosing to go to Hell.  I don’t want to spend Eternity with my mother even if You are there, God.  Why don’t you just send the ones we loved to greet the incoming? Then my husband and I could be together, probably along with our dog Jack, if dogs do go to Heaven…

And so, God – Thank You for listening, and please forgive me, for I have sinned.  I do love You. I just couldn’t pull this off – loving her, I mean. And I am so, so sorry…

Today, my mother died, and I am glad…

When I read this, I was horrified! This wasn’t ME! This was some evil, negative, deranged person whom I did not recognize and did not want to become.

Thankfully, my mother never knew the depth of these feelings against her. I buried my feelings as best I could and continued to provide the best care I could for her. During the last two years of her life, mother’s situation continued to deteriorate. Her condition was such that she really needed access to skilled nursing care for some of her more serious ailments. The last year she was in our house, we had to take her to the emergency room 9 times in that 12-month period. Most of the things that prompted the ER visits could have been handled by a trained nurse.  At one point she suggested that it might be time for her to consider moving to a nursing facility, and she told us that she had found such a place through her hairdresser.

One of the last times she was in the ER, they had to keep her in the hospital. The Social Workers there looked into the nursing facility and found out that they were full. (The only way to get in was directly from the hospital.) A month later she was back in the hospital, and this time there was an opening and she was allowed to enter the nursing facility that she had picked out.

For the first few weeks, I was at the facility every day and sometimes twice a day. Finally the nurses told me that in order for mother to “bond” with the staff, I really should stay at home more often than coming out there.

So I stopped going every day to the Medicaid funded facility that she chose to spend her last days in. Of the 5 facilities she had been in for rehab during her last 6 years, it was the best one – but it still had room for improvement. I continued to go to see mother several times a week (never at the same time) – and I continued my downward spiral.

Some people suggested therapy, but that was not an option for me. I know it works for many people, but I did not think it was right for me. Friends and family members can be a great resource. Just talking to someone who already knows you – like you used to be – and who had faith that you could be yourself again, was helpful for many people I knew. But I had cut myself off from all friends, many family members, and other contacts at work. In fact, I was working from home in order to be available to mother.

The ME that I had become had shut down every feeling and every thought so that I could focus with laser sharpness on the crisis at hand. When mother died, that should have relieved my vigilance, but it left me just as vigilant without a crisis to focus on. I couldn’t relax, or sleep, or work, or do housework. I just WAS… The one thing I had in my favor – other than a wonderfully supportive husband – was that I had a writer’s mindset, seeing every day as a new day “on the set”, observing myself and the people around me as I “play-acted” my way through the days. Reality became negotiable.

Who did I want to be? Oddly enough, I didn’t want to end my life; I wanted to CHANGE it.  I didn’t want to go back to any period of my life.  I wanted to go forward. So I took myself on as a client and asked the telling question:  What do you want to do for the rest of your life? I had already found out that my life made no sense at all except as a writer, where all my disparate experiences and jobs and associates finally had meaning within the covers of a book. So I began to construct a new life for the ME I wanted to be, until I began to feel again, to think again, to plan again, and yes, – to write again.

The things I missed most during my self-imposed years of exile were things of beauty- the arts (music, dance, plays, painting), the seasons (celebrations), and the ability to find and express the simple Joy of Being Alive. I knew I had to construct a life for myself that let me share what Life had given me with other people. I am just now beginning to interact with other people without “assuming the position” of challenger or defender. It is still very difficult for me to relax in the presence of others. But writing out my feelings still helps.

I wrote a book in 2011 and self-published it, and that was the springboard for this blog. I have 10 more books which I have been doing the research on for years. As I finish the research for one book I put it in a bag, and it sits – along with the other ready-to-write books – in a row of overflowing bags facing my desk. An Agreeable Man is the second book in my new life, and I can hardly wait to see how it turns out!

How to Learn NOT to Crash and Burn…Part One

For the past few days I have been constructing the personalities of each of our main, secondary and tertiary characters that make up the cast of characters in An Agreeable Man. I prefer to base my characters on actual people I know, so that I have a good idea of them as full-blown individuals. And so I study their speech patterns, their idiosyncrasies, how they look, how they deal with other people, what their moral/spiritual/religious beliefs are, their outlooks on Life, what their day-to-day situations are and how they deal with them, etc. That is what I have been doing for the past week, and it is going very slowly. I have 3 more people to contact and then I should be able to “play chess” with each one of them on my story board!

We have left Merle in the aftermath of a sudden death, and a most unsatisfactory funeral, and a surreal gathering of friends – but no family – at her house. She is beginning to reflect on Death and what it means in general, and in particular, what it means for her. (Since I rarely go to funerals, I did not have much to draw on to adequately present the range of emotions that a death provides to family and friends. Here are some of my experiences which range from the notification from afar of a friend’s death to being totally present in arranging every aspect of the funeral itself.)

This past weekend, a dear friend of our family died. One of his daughters marked his passing with a thought-provoking quotation:

Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. it is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again! (Henry Scott Holland – 1847-1918 – was Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. He was also a canon of Christ Church, Oxford.)

When my husband’s mother died, he wrote a lovely eulogy and gave this heartfelt and moving tribute to her at her funeral:

“Every day, when I came home, Mom was there – dinner on the table, clothes cleaned, house spotless. My Dad was a very precise, methodical person who took care of everything not related to the house. When he died, I was really worried about Mom being able to take care of things like income tax. So I called and arranged to come down to do her taxes. When I got there, she said she had already taken care of it because she didn’t want to waste a visit with me  doing taxes! That was the first time I realized how resourceful she was. After Dad died, Mom took up art (oil painting) and ceramics. She was congenial and enjoyed being with other people. (Here my husband could only get out a word or two to describe her…)

She was Sweet…Caring…Supportive…

She always put others first. She did not brag on her accomplishments. She was a determined person. She loved her family, her church, her friends.

One by one, she outlasted her friends and family members. All the original pallbearers she had chosen had passed away and were scratched off her list, one by one.

My mother is gone. I loved her and I will miss her.

She was a gentle soul…”

It is a different situation when you are deep in caregiver stress to go through the roiling emotions of arranging a funeral while denying huge negative feelings you didn’t even know you were capable of. This was my situation. 

First of all, the last five years of my mother’s life were chaotic for us all, but particularly for me, and I have never shared these feelings before.  I prayed a lot, but I did not recognize any answers to my prayers and so my faith was shaken. The only way I could deal with Mother’s daily life was through empathy. I had read a poem someone had written and it was the only tangible guidance I had.  And on a good day, it worked!


















I do not know who composed his poem, but I used it as insight to dealing with mother after her stroke rendered her almost speechless. I had put it away after I first read it, but I couldn’t find it when she died. I wanted to read it at her funeral. The day we were to leave to go to her out-of-state funeral, it appeared on my bedside table, then on the counter in my bathroom, then in my office as I was closing my computer, and finally beside my luggage. How can you ignore something that obvious? The message was clear: read this at my funeral! And I did. This poem helped me to put myself in her place, feel what she was feeling, see what was happening through her eyes.

And it almost killed me…