THINKING ABOUT WHAT’S GONE BEFORE

As we live through our present, whenever that is, we tend to forget what’s gone before. Good, bad, and neutral, our pasts influence our present. Some of our changes are bad, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the major impact it’s had on our lives, our economy, and our very lifestyles. But it didn’t appear out of nowhere, nor is it the first pandemic ever to hit humanity. The plague, various versions of the flu including the 1918 Spanish variety, typhoid fever, cholera, and others were happenings we had to live through and learn from.

So, too, with social change. The recent incidents that led to Black Lives Matter, #metoo, and other movements did not occur instantaneously, like Athena springing from the forehead of Zeus. There always have been precursors leading to the development of change. We may not know of these, but they exist nonetheless.

That’s a major reason why I value fiction. It ushers us to the emotional tangle served up with mere facts. We could read treatise after book after study concerning the Vietnam war, and those numbers wouldn’t carry one-tenth of the impact of The Things They Carried. A volume on the causes and potential cures for COVID wouldn’t ring our chimes like A Year of Wonders, set in 17th century England during a plague.

So when I picked up Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, I knew I’d get a story about the African-American experience, but the actual narrative was much more than a mere tale. Dana, the 20th century protagonist, is thrown back in time to the antebellum South where her white ancestor Rufus is drowning. She saves him but then only returns home when her own life is threatened. So the pattern is set, back and forth more than a century, as Dana learns Rufus is becoming more twisted and damaged by the economic and social system of slavery than Blacks.

Butler’s genius (and she was the first science fiction author to be awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant) was to imbue her characters with true humanity. They jump off the pages and create resonations in the reader’s mind and emotions that remain far after the last page in the book is closed.

It’s strange to me to think Butler passed away years ago, way too early in her career, and now people forget or overlook the strides people like her and other advocates for social justice made. We can’t live in any time other than our own, except through our imaginations. Butler was and remains a guide for our own confused, infuriating, and at times malevolent situations. Through her writerly gifts, we can extract not only a ripping good story but also the awareness and solace of human emotions. If you haven’t sampled Butler, now might be a good time to do so.




BILINGUAL POET LAUNCHES WEBSITE WITH RESOURCES FOR ALL

(Guest blog by Dr. Ricardo J. Bogaert-Álvarez

I am an engineer and poet with thirty years of experience writing, publishing and teaching poetry. I’d like to introduce to you my bilingual website, . In my website you’ll find several sections: 1) poems, 2) haiku, 3) lessons, 4) publications, 5) blog and 6) about (a short biography). 

In the Poems section I show several of my typical poems. Their themes range from the romantic to the political, without forgetting the erotic. Each poem shows the English and Spanish versions. In the Haiku section you’ll find several haiku and senryu I have composed with additional notes about their origins and themes. In the near future I’ll also present articles about haiku and interesting haiku from other poets.

In the Lessons section, I am presenting articles about poetic themes and forms. For example, I’m showing now the way Spanish poets count the number of syllables in their lines for their formal poems. If you ever want to properly study formal Spanish poetry, this information nugget will be very useful to you. In the future I may introduce and discuss poetic works of other poets, especially Dominicans.

In the Publications section, you’ll find the introduction to one of my four poetry books. This month I’m showing the introduction to my romantic chapbook “Not Written in the Stars.” As a matter of fact, you can obtain a free electronic copy of this book by reading this section. In the Blog you can participate with your comments.

SLOAN’S LAKE GEESE(1)
Los Gansos del Lago (2) (Traducción)
1
Lake geese, not afraid
of cars nor snow nor people
such intrepid souls
2
Intrépidos gansos del lago
ni de carros, nieve o gente
tienen miedo

Doctor Ricardo J. Bogaert-Álvarez is a Dominican-American chemical engineer and poet. He was born in Santiago, Dominican Republic and grew up in a hacienda. After he obtained his B.S. at the PCUMM in Santiago and then obtained his chemical engineering masters and PhD at the University of Delaware. He has lived in the United States since 1981 and resides in Denver with his beloved wife Laura. He has published poems in the “El Sol” newspaper, “The New Press,” the Horizons” anthology and the “American Institute of Chemical Engineers” supplement among other publications.

He has published three poetry books: 1) “The Samurai Poet,” 2) “The Mask Behind My Face” (which is available in Amazon Kindle) and more recently “The Dance of the Phoenix.” In the latter book, each poem is in Spanish and English. He presented “The Dance of the Phoenix” in five cities of Colorado and in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2019. This was followed by a tour in Dominican Republic where he presented this book in four cities during the month of March, 2020.

He is the vice president of the Columbine Poets, a poetry club at the state level in Colorado. In poetry contests of this club, he has won a third prize (2019) and an honorable mention (2015) in the formal poetry category and an honorable mention in the category of prose poem (2019). Contact information: drbogaert@gmail.com. Website https://www.drbogaert.com/

STATION ELEVEN: ANOTHER VIEW OF A PANDEMIC AND OUR FUTURE?

Why do we, well, really me, love apocalyptic novels? Is it because they voice our fears about our so-called civilization? Or is it because we secretly wish our society and all the crazy people and things that happen would get their comeuppance?

In any case, here’s another in the series, but one that’s stunningly well written as well as an attention-grabber. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, published in 2014 and thrust into best-seller and best-book status, rings so true, every character—and there’s plenty of them, from an eight-year-old girl to a thumping good, evil, self-proclaimed prophet –could be your friends and neighbors.

Mandel’s fourth novel takes place primarily in the Great Lakes region after a fictional swine flu pandemic, known as the “Georgia Flu”, has devastated the world, killing most of the population. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015. Although critics praise the understated nature of Mandel’s writing, I think that’s a misnomer. She simply lays out the characters and plot in a realistic, matter-of-fact way, so the 300 survivors in one area who take refuge in an airport function exactly like you’d envision your friends and neighbors would.

There’s lots of action, fighting off bad guys, battling for sheer survival, but also much insightful psychological and thoughtful musings about nature and humans and the earth’s future. Mandel’s talent as a literary author is indisputable. She doesn’t consider herself a “scfi” writer, but “literary.” I hesitate to use that term because it seems to scare people. Believe me, readers will adore both the content and the style.

Perhaps I’m not panicky over our current COVID pandemic because it’s not nearly as extreme as the other dystopian novels I’ve read—Ashfall, A Journal of the Plague Year, Hunger Games, Ship Breaker, Divergent, Rule of Three. When I close the covers of a book, I return to the world in which every one I’m attached to still survives and the culture around me still has unbelievable riches and opportunities. Yet each of these volumes, and most especially Station Eleven, carries a warning not to get too comfortable. For unless we improve our ways, that world could become one I don’t want.

THE MEANING OF MEMORIES

I started thinking about my childhood recently, in a more focused and intentional way than I have previously. I wondered if my memories have had an impact on me or if they’re just a collection of miscellaneous impressions? Have they shaped what I’ve become?

After extensive study of about five minutes, I’ve decided what I’ve retained is a handful of rapid situations. They don’t seem to connect to one another or to my life’s evolution. Since my degree is in psychology, I’ve dipped my toe in the indefinable pool of dreams, the unconscious, the subconscious, and the way these intangibles may put their mark on us.

As a writer, my memories can become fodder for my creations. An incident playing cowboys gets inserted in a story. A friend’s way of tossing her head can identify a character. Perhaps if I pursue memories in an organized fashion, my work will benefit. Others assure me that once I begin plumbing my recollections, I’ll  remember more and more. But I mostly want to do it because it’s fun.

Take the thought of an immense wooden packing case. Appliances and large items like furniture used to be delivered in sturdy boxes of timber, not flimsy cardboard or Styrofoam. They also were secured with bendable wire. When one of these items showed up in my yard, it jump-started ideas. It probably was about four by four by four feet in dimension. At the time, maybe fifth grade, I was in love with horses. Not that my family had any, but after submerging myself in every horse book I could lay my hands on (think Black Beauty, the Black Stallion series, Misty of Chincoteague), I would have traded my soul for one. Since we lived in a middle-class suburb with too many little brothers and sisters, my chance of getting a horse to ride was zero.

Luckily my imagination was unfettered. The box became a stage coach; my siblings, passengers; and I was the driver. It seems now as if I spent the entire spring taking imaginary journeys, complete with hold-ups, runaway horses, and broken wheels. My mind galloped to other ideas. Once I threw a ragged discarded bedspread over it, the crate began to double as a cabin,. . .a school with my siblings as reluctant scholars when I lined them up in rows

To this day, if I see a box of similar dimensions, my heart speeds up and I immediately begin plotting what it could be used for. A temporary hiding place from thieves, a corral for pets or small children. This memory makes me happy, even if I don’t use it for anything productive. Research has shown that reminiscing has the capacity to reduce loneliness, boredom, stress and depression. It can also help considerably in dealing with traumatic experiences, 

If you wonder about the value of wasting time remembering, just ask someone with a friend or loved one who’s lost his reminisces through Alzheimer’s or dementia. Only a hollow shell of HIM remains. He’s able to eat, mumble, sleep; but his essence has vanished. So I’ll keep pulling out these miscellaneous snippets of memory to help me make sense of my past, present, future. They’re the building blocks of my spirit.

Beating my head against a wall: Why I continue to write

           

 

 

 

            We’re all familiar with romantic passion. The spine-tingling kiss. The intense desire. The longing to be with a special person. We’re fortunate if we find lasting and positive romantic passion. We’re even luckier if we find passion in our lives FOR our lives. I’ve finally come to realize my driving passion is writing.  

            Recently I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself, which happens to me when I don’t have pending deadlines or if I think about various problems. To pass the time instead of doing productive work, I turned to Facebook. Lo and behold there was a new entry by Nancy, my former boss. Rather than bemoaning the state of the world or herself, Nancy’s too busy traveling, running several businesses (travel, consulting), and volunteering. She doesn’t wait for someone or something to entertain her. She throws herself into every minute. I decided next time I was depressed, frustrated or hopeless, I’ll just visit Nancy’s Facebook page and sample her adventures. She has passion and it’s contagious. An excellent example for me.

            After decades pursuing my dream, I’m still not ready to throw in the towel. Somewhere inside any person who chases a dream, there’s a little voice saying, “Keep going; don’t give up yet.” That voice might be an angel’s or a demon’s, but it has a definite impact on life.

            I’ve come to believe this trait is also present in people who believe in a cause, philosophy, or mission. Politics, religion, art, music. Gardening, quilting, recycling. Call it a passion or an obsession, it can give your existence meaning, link you with others, and provide a structure many people find helpful. 

            My saga started at age ten, when I submitted a poem to the Saturday Evening Post (it was immediately rejected). I got experience on the job, doing public and community relations and marketing for non-profit organizations. I’ve been a freelance writer for news and features. Several years ago I decided to focus on fiction writing. Now I have published a number of books through small publishers. Another example of passionate person is young Greta Thunberg, the political activist on climate change, who’s inspired millions. Another is an eight-year-old friend of mine who’s passionate about Egyptology and Irish step-dancing.

            Having a passion allows me to rise above, go beyond where I am, in order to be conscious of my existence and place in the universe. Some call this transcendence. I’m able to raise and answer questions about myself and life. As author Flannery O’Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.”

            But surely a writer needs more than a passion in order to produce? What? There’s no magic process. Novelist W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

            As a writer, I’ve learned to navigate a shaky path between my desire to write, inherent laziness, and advice from everyone and anyone. The outside world always has opinions. I’ve learned to thicken my hide, take advice with a bit of salt, then apply as I feel best. For example, one inspirational line editor wanted me to make clear that the heroine wasn’t in a sexual relationship with a male friend.

            When you read my books, you can anticipate women’s fiction, ordinary people living their extraordinary lives. My characters aren’t flamboyant, rich, aggressive, shrieking foul language, or even simply annoying, to be interesting. That’s because everyday life challenges people to do and be their best, and their voyage to learning this is fascinating.