Do What You Can

As Thanksgiving draws near here in the US, the joy of that holiday is dampened by continued surges of covid cases and deaths, by court cases and events that seem to elevate darkness and violence and an assault on our rights. I know I’m not alone in having to take a break from the news to focus my energies on more positive things.

photo: anncapictures, pixabay

I’m writing (not very fast) the third Little Sister Island book, tentatively titled The New Shore. I’m learning to enjoy the freedom of being retired – though my wife laughs at my tendency to make lists for myself of the things I want to get done daily. And I’m trying to take better care of my grumpy back.

Unlike last Thanksgiving when we could only zoom and FaceTime, we’ll be going to my sister’s house to share that meal with family, including my brother-in-law’s mother, who is here from Belgium.

We’ve been able to continue supporting our local food bank and Feeding Pets of the Homeless, both charities I used to donate to with spring and fall fundraisers back when the world was a friendlier, or at least a more predictable, place.

I long for that sense of what used to be predictable and normal, but I don’t know if that will ever come back. At times, it seems we’re headed for days of greater darkness, more threats to our rights and our freedoms – things we have long taken for granted. I don’t think we’ll ever take those things for granted again.

When the world feels like too much, when bad things are happening that are beyond our control, all we can do is do what we can.

Wishing you all a safe, healthy holiday with your loved ones.

Pax

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What is Normal Now?

This year is only a little over half-over, and it is already one that will go down in history. There are times when it feels as if this is just a “phase” we’ll get through, because, hey!, we can all remember when just a few months ago, we were going to restaurants and ball games and concerts and conferences. I’ve been reminiscing about GCLS conferences from past years.

Crazy friends at GCLS 2018

And then I watch the news, with the coverage of the spikes of covid cases in states where people behaved as if the coronavirus isn’t real, and it becomes clear that we won’t be doing any of those things for a very long time. At least, we shouldn’t if we’re serious about getting the viral spread under control.

Me, Danielle, and Jae in New Orleans 2015

Work life is another thing that may never return to the pre-pandemic status quo, large numbers of employees working together in office complexes. What will school look like? And how do parents work from home long-term if their kids aren’t able to be back in school?

For the last several years, I’ve done a spring fundraiser for my local food bank (The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank), donating my royalties for the month of May to help them as they try to meet the increased summer demand. Even though we think of summer a time of seasonal produce, farm markets, picking strawberries and tomatoes fresh from the garden, there are so many low-income families who depended on schools to give free or reduced breakfasts and lunches.

But this year, with so many folks out of work, with schools having been out since March, demand for food bank assistance has exploded. We’ve been donating to our food bank regularly.

We’re blessed to be in good shape financially, and we’ve stayed healthy, thank goodness.

I don’t know what life will look like a year or three or ten from now. I hope we’ll find a vaccine soon, and we’ll be able to gather with friends again – in person and not just virtually. But I am grateful for the tech that has allowed us to stay in touch with friends and family (even if they have to give us tutorials on how to use it 🙂 ).

While we adjust to whatever normal will become, I’ll hang onto the things that bring me peace of mind: my spouse and our dogs, my work, our friends, my writing and reading, my music.

I wish for each of you is peace of mind and spirit, wherever you can find it, whatever brings it.

Pax

On the Palm of My Hand

 

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“See! I will not forget you… I have carved you on the palm of my hand.” Isaiah 49:15

It’s that time of year. Time for my fall/winter fundraiser for Pets of the Homeless. We’ve already sent a check to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank for the holidays, and we’ll revisit them with the spring/summer fundraiser. But this time of year, it gets even tougher for the homeless to find warmth and shelter, especially if they have animal companions. Pets of the Homeless helps homeless people with emergency vet care and food donations throughout the year. Their monthly newsletter is filled with heartwarming (and heart-breaking) stories of injured animal companions, often the only living thing these people have in their lives.

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I am fortunate enough to have a good job and good benefits. My writing, as much as I love doing it, does not pay the bills. The upside of this truth is that I have the freedom to donate more than I realistically could if I depended on writing for my livelihood. To date, your generosity has allowed me to donate $1500 to Pets of the Homeless over the years (and we’ve donated more than that to the food bank, as we’ve been doing it longer). Some years, my donation has been matched by the generosity of friends.

Again this year, I’ll be donating 100% of my December royalties to Pets of the Homeless.

Any books you purchase (or gift!) between now and the end of the year will go toward this fundraiser.

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As always, if you already own all of my books, thank you so much! I’ve received messages from several readers over the years that they’ve made their own donations to Pets of the Homeless or to their own local food banks. Your generosity is SO awesome!

Thank you all for being in my life (even if we’ve never actually met). Thank you for reading and sharing this writing journey with me. And thank you for supporting me in helping those who don’t have as much as we do.

Pax

 

Food Deserts

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photo: livescience.com

Remember reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in school? “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” It’s a fantastic epic story in poem form. If you haven’t read it, you should. Even if you don’t like poetry (or think you don’t), this is very readable.

What does an eighteenth century epic poem have to do with anything, you might ask. Well, quite a bit. The poem is about a ship cursed for the cruel actions of one of the sailors. Caught in a becalmed sea, surrounded by undrinkable salt water, the crew becomes desperate.

Here in the U.S., we are blessed with huge swathes of our country that are agricultural, capable of tremendous food production. I’m not even going to attempt to explain (mostly because it’s inexplicable) the political calculus of paying farmers not to plant or allowing huge corporations to control and export so much of the agricultural production in this country. The point is, we should be able to feed every single person in this country, plus millions of people around the world.

Instead, we have innumerable areas – rural and urban and in between – where there are no viable sources of healthy food. Grocery stores close, leaving people with no place other than convenience stores or fast-food restaurants to purchase food. I have seen this happen in small towns in West Virginia, leaving people with hour-plus drives to my town to get to an actual grocery store. It’s well-documented how much more poor people pay for food in urban areas. If there are actual markets in poorer sections of a city, they typically stock fewer choices and have to charge more to cover increased insurance premiums and higher delivery costs. If there aren’t any markets, again, those people have to take public transport to get to a grocery store, adding time and expense to the trip.

It has even happened, on a smaller scale, here in my town.

I live in a fairly ordinary small city of about 25,000 people in a large surrounding county with a few smaller towns. In my city, there are areas of lower-income housing that were within walking distance of a local grocery store. More than once, I stopped to offer rides to people who were walking home, loaded down with heavy bags.

A couple of years ago, that chain of stores sold off most of its locations to another chain. Prices went up, but people still shopped there because they had to. Then that new chain shut the stores down for good. Those folks who depended on those stores now have to catch a bus to one of the other grocery stores further away from where they live. It’s doable, but it adds probably an hour to their shopping trip.

When you have a car and easy access to stores in any part of your town, like we do, you don’t think about how inconvenient it is for some people to perform that necessary chore.

All of this adds up to millions of people who are food-insecure – that is, they don’t know where their next meal (healthy or not) is coming from.

Ask any public school official in this country, and they will tell you how much the low-income students in their district depend on free breakfasts and lunches. Snow days, holidays, any days that students aren’t in school are days those kids may not eat at all.

Summer vacations – those days my friends and I longed for – are times of hunger for a lot of families. Instead of long days spent playing in the woods and nights catching fireflies, those kids wonder if they’re going to eat.

Food banks get hit hard during the summer. A lot of people think of donating to their local food banks at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but not so much during the summer.

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To help my local Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, I am repeating my spring fundraiser. I will donate 100% of my May royalties to the food bank. Any books you buy this month will go toward this donation. I know in years past, some readers have contacted me to tell me they already own all of my books, but they were going to donate to their own local food bank. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have connected with such kind, caring people!

If you’ve been thinking of purchasing any of my books you haven’t read, this is a great time to do it. If you have all of my books and are in a position to donate to your local food bank, I know they would appreciate your support.

Peace and full bellies to all,

Caren

 

Be Aware

I founded Corgyn Publishing in late 2012. Beginning in 2013, I’ve run two fundraisers a year: a spring/ summer fundraiser for my local food bank and a winter fundraiser for Pets of the Homeless. This organization is a wonderful boon to those homeless people sharing their lives with animal companions. They help to provide food and veterinary care, especially emergency care. Homeless people have so little, and winter is a tough season for anyone who is homeless.

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I will donate 100% of my December royalties to Pets of the Homeless. Any book purchases you make through any distributor will count toward this donation.

If you’ve read all of my books, thank you!! If you liked any of them enough to want others to read them, this is a great time to make a gift of your favorite to someone on your list. You can even gift ebooks now! All you need is an email address.

If, like me, you’re fortunate enough to have a steady job and a roof over your head and more than enough food for the human and animal members of the family, remember to give thanks. Be aware.

 

The Hungry Time

I’m a bit late in posting this announcement of my spring fundraiser for The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have done a spring fundraiser for the food bank and a fall/winter fundraiser for Pets of the Homeless.

Food banks get lots of support during the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas see a surge in donations to many of them. What many don’t realize is how much more demand there is at food banks in the summertime when school is no longer in session.

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So many kids in low-income families depend on free or discounted breakfasts and lunches at school. Even snow days, those magical days for most of us, aren’t good days for those kids. NPR did a story HERE on how devastating it is to those families when school is called for snow.

I remember clearly now astonished I was to read about how much demand there was in the summer – a time of gardens and fresh veggies and fruit and picnics with my family when I was growing up.

So, to do my bit, I’ll be donating ALL – 100% – of my May royalties to my local food bank. Sales are already off to a great start for the month, so thanks to everyone who has purchased a book of mine thus far. But we still have over half of May to go!

If you’ve been thinking about buying any of my books, this is a great time to do so! If you’ve already bought them all, bless you!

If you’re in a position to donate to your own local food bank, please do so. They can use all the help they can get at this critical time!

Peace and full bellies to all!

Caren

 

The Least of Us

“I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40

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It’s that time of year, when the holidays are staring us in the face, along with the bombardment of Christmas commercials and displays in the stores.

I do love the holidays, but not that part. I love the music (which I was listening to in July). I love seeing the lights on the houses as we walk the dogs in the dark now (and yes, some houses in our neighborhood already have their trees in their windows).

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If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that since I founded Corgyn Publishing, I’ve been doing twice a year fundraisers for two charities: the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Pets of the Homeless.

So many people support food banks at the holidays that I have chosen to dedicate my winter fundraiser to Pets of the Homeless. They have collection centers at pet stores and vet offices all around the country. They help the homeless with food and veterinary care for their furry (mostly) family. These people have so little, that it’s especially devastating to them when something happens to what may well be the only family, the only source of mutual comfort they have.

I’ll be donating 100% of all of my November and December royalties to Pets of the Homeless. Please, if you’ve thought about buying any of my books (Amazon), this is a great time to do so. (This blog also has links to Ylva Publishing and Bella where most of my books can be found) If you’ve already read my books, thank you! (Books make great gifts, just sayin’)

I hope you and your family are safe and warm and fed this holiday season. But there are some people who aren’t any of those things. Please think about helping out. A direct donation to Pets of the Homeless or your local food bank would be a fantastic way to celebrate this season’s true meaning.

Pax,

Caren

Hunger Games?

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If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I’ve done spring and fall fundraisers for a couple of charities: The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Pets of the Homeless.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t help but know that our political world here in the US has been turned upside down since November. Part of the upheaval is the appointment of Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education – a woman who has zero, absolutely zero idea of the role public schools play in the lives of ordinary people. Not only do public schools serve one of our founders’ primary goals in having a literate, educated electorate but, for a long time, they’ve provided free breakfasts and lunches to kids of low income families. She’s playing games with the lives of millions of kids, especially poor kids.

We’ve long had a large portion of our population that is “food insecure” – the term used when families don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The problem has been worse since the 2008 recession. You can learn more about that and what you can to do help HERE. And you can go HERE to learn more about hunger world-wide.

When I was a kid, summers were wondrous times of reading all day or disappearing into the woods near our house to play all day. I always had food for snacks and lunches. I’ve never known a day with real hunger. That isn’t true for lots of people.

Summers are an overwhelming time for many food banks and soup kitchens, when families have to try and figure out how to make up for those breakfasts and lunches not being served by schools during those months.

In an effort to make a difference locally, I’m pledging 100% of my May royalties to The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Any books you purchase – from Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Bella, or Ylva – they’ll all go toward the check I’ll write.

So, if you’ve been thinking about buying any of my books you might not have read, this is a great time to do so! If you’ve already bought all of my books, THANK YOU! If you’re in a position to do something in your community, I’m sure your local food bank could use any amount you can afford to give.

Thank you for your help with this project.

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(Hermione is always hungry, but that’s just because she’s a corgi…)

Peace and full bellies to all,

Caren

Hungry All the Years

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(photo courtesy of wisegeek.org)

“I had been hungry all the years;

my noon had come to dine;

I, trembling, drew the table near,

and touched the curious wine.”

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That poem by Emily Dickinson is chock full of beautiful, poignant imagery of not belonging, of being an outsider. Obviously, I am not the only one to take a book’s title from this poem.

For the purpose of this blog, I am taking a more literal interpretation of her words.

Over the next month, the school year will be ending here in the US, and more than just academics will end. So, too, will the free breakfasts and lunches our public schools provide for children of low-income families.

It’s a sad irony that summer, a time of plenty, is actually a time of greater need for families already struggling to pay bills and put food on the table.

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I’ve been doing a spring and fall fundraiser for my local food bank, The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. To date, I have been able to donate over $1000 to them, thanks to your support!

I have a new book coming out June 1, The Beast That Never Was. So this is a great time to combine the fundraiser with a giveaway!

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Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll donate 50% of my May & June royalties. That’s been my standard spring donation.

Here’s what you do: Buy Books! Add a comment to this blog or e-mail me at the address at the end of this blog and tell me which book(s) you bought during the months of May and June.

For those why buy books in May, I’ll enter you in a giveaway for five (5) e-books of The Beast That Never Was. You’ll be among the first to read this new novel.

For those who continue to buy through June, I’ll offer three signed paperbacks of The Beast, open to anyone anywhere in the world.

This is a great opportunity for you to get some great reads and help a fantastic cause. If you already have all of my books and are in the position to do so, consider donating to your local food bank. I’m sure they could use your support.

My e-mail: cjwerlingerbooks AT yahoo DOT com

As always, thank you for reading and for supporting this fundraiser.

Pax,

Caren

Am I a Racist?

Am I a racist?

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t privately asked herself that question over the past year? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve started to write this blog and then put it away, telling myself that it’s too controversial; it has nothing to do with my writing; I’m too far removed from the places where these bad things are happening. I’m too white.

But isn’t that a form of racism – to feel as if I shouldn’t say anything because I’m white?

If you follow the dictionary definition of racism – “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races” – then, no, I am not a racist. Most of us aren’t.

But a few weeks ago, when I went for a walk and saw a black man just standing on a corner in my neighborhood, he immediately caught my attention. And as I walked on, turning to look back at him, I asked myself if I noticed him because he was black in a mostly white neighborhood, or was it because I’ve lived in this neighborhood for almost twenty-five years and I know he doesn’t live here and it’s not on the way to anywhere and nobody just hangs out on street corners here.

I’m reasonably certain I would have paid just as much attention to any guy I didn’t recognize, standing idly on a corner when he didn’t seem to have any reason to be here.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Trying to distinguish between race and all the other things. When they blend together, everyone points to race as the reason someone is profiled.

I believe police and other people sometimes make incorrect assumptions about people based on race, and I empathize with the stories of people of color who have been stopped unjustly and questioned simply because they happened to be the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time.

I can’t know what it’s like to be black just as a straight person can’t know what it’s like to be gay, or a man know what it’s like to be a woman. But I actually know a bit of how it feels to stand out because of my color.

I lived for a year in an almost all-black section of Pittsburgh. I know first-hand what it feels like to stand in a store or a bank and be the only person of your color in the entire place, to have people stop to watch as you walk down the street. When people peer at you, they’re not necessarily being hostile, but it does make you feel hyper-vigilant at standing out so in the crowd. People notice you. That’s an experience most Caucasians in the US have probably not had.

But I also have relatives who have been police officers and I empathize with the fact that they never know what they’re going to walk into when they respond to a call, or stop someone who is acting suspiciously. After all, it’s their job to notice people acting suspiciously. That shouldn’t extend to harassing someone simply because of the color of his skin, but we all know that happens.

So, am I a racist? If we change our definition to being aware of race, I would argue that we all are, unless we’re totally blind and literally cannot see differences in skin color. I notice race, just as I notice gender, hair color, eye color, scars, limps. I’ve been a physical therapist for over twenty-five years. Part of who I am is a noticer of physical characteristics.

Maybe a better, more pertinent question is, does race change how I interact with people? And the answer to that is… no, it doesn’t. But other things do. I don’t use the same language with a factory worker who has no medical background as I do with a corpsman or EMT who knows something about his anatomy. I speak with women differently than I speak with men. I speak with highly educated people differently than I speak with those who barely finished high school.

This topic was first prompted by a review I got a couple of years ago for my novel, Miserere, in which the reviewer thought I copped out for having the “white savior” come to the rescue of one of my characters, a black man named Abraham. That comment really made me think.

When I wrote the character of Abraham, I saw him only as a man in need of healing, after losing the woman he loved and nearly losing his life because of the color of his skin. He wasn’t sitting around waiting to be saved. What he did need was time and friendship.

In my story, he is saved by my main character, a young white girl, but then he nearly sacrifices himself saving her life in return. Those were acts based on their friendship, not a hierarchy of color. I guess some would argue I should have written him standing up for himself without having to wait for an enlightened white family to befriend him, but I beg to differ.

When I moved to West Virginia in 1983, the town I moved to was small, white and closed. There were people who wouldn’t rent to me because I was Catholic, and yes, they asked. At the time, a local court case was raging in which a white kindergarten teacher was fighting the loss of her job because she’d been accused of being transgendered (though they didn’t use that word back then). I never met her. I don’t know if she was trans, or just a butch dyke. What I do remember very well is the feeling of paranoia as people openly and very hostilely stared at me as I walked down the street. There was very much a witch-hunt atmosphere at the time.

What those experiences have taught me is that there comes a time when members of a minority have to stand up for their rights, but the opinion of the majority is not going to change until a few members of the majority cross the line to stand with the minority and say, “This isn’t right and we’re not going to pretend it is.” And until that happens, the mob mentality of the majority is not going to be altered by the protests of the minority. This is true no matter what the struggle: women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s and, more recently, the fight for marriage equality. The fight only gained momentum and wider acceptance once the members of the minority weren’t the only ones speaking out.

I recently served on a grand jury. As I listened to the police officers present their cases, I found myself listening and was a bit surprised that, with the exception of the cases with Latino-sounding names, I had absolutely no mental image of the suspects. Race didn’t enter into my thought process at all. What was very clear, and it reinforced what I have long believed, is that the vast majority of the crimes in question took place in poor parts of town – parts I would never want to be caught in.

My city and the surrounding county doesn’t have a huge African-American population, but it does have a lot of what would be called “white trash” and we have a large Latino population. I firmly believe that socioeconomic status – not race – is the common ingredient when talking about crime and drugs and lack of family stability. Obviously, that’s not universal. Kids from affluent families can get into trouble, but not with the same frequency.

I think the question of racism must reach beyond pretending we don’t notice those differences in color, because they influence too much of who we are. It’s a matter of pride to me that I’m Irish, just as I know that being black is a matter of pride for most African-Americans, and people of Latino ancestry are proud of their roots. Experiencing different cultures, cuisines and customs is an exciting thing. The differences can’t be washed into homogeneity without erasing that sense of pride in where we come from.

What we can do is try not to let how we treat others be determined by things like race or gender or sexual orientation or religion. And speaking of religion, please excuse this blog for not extending into the anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic aspects of bigotry, but this already felt big enough to make my head explode.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you. I sincerely hope I haven’t offended anyone, but if we don’t talk about this, we can’t fix it. If you decide to offer a comment, please be courteous. It’s my blog and I will delete any inappropriate comments.

Pax