A Quilt Stitched with Teardrops

 

[This essay was published twenty years ago when my church, Pilgrim UCC in Carlsbad, displayed panels from the AIDS Quilt for the first of what would become many occasions. Much progress has been made on treatments for and prevention of HIV/AIDS, so it’s easy to forget that this battle is far from over. World AIDS Day is December 1.]

by Taffy Cannon

In the end, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is simply about love.

It is about beloved people gone too soon, and about those left behind to mourn.  It is about memory and pain and confusion and catharsis.  It is about more than 80,000 individual attempts to wrest sense out of staggering personal loss.

It is also a celebration of those commemorated, a recognition that their lives were precious and meaningful and touched others in ways that mattered.

When the first grave-sized panels were sewn in 1987, nobody dreamed that the Names Project Quilt would come to cover two dozen football fields eleven years later.  That the combined panels laid end-to-end would run more than fifty miles.  That the quilt would become a sort of touring road show because at the end of 1998, no end to the AIDS epidemic would be in sight.

Covering the sanctuary walls of a North County church on a late November Sunday morning, a hundred panels all but reverberate with joy and sorrow.  Sewn together in groups of eight, each combined section measures twelve feet square.

The panels themselves have been designed and created by those left behind, and they are as wildly varied as the folks they remember.  Some are meticulously crafted with professional flair, others cheerfully funky.  Some are subdued, others flamboyant.  Some are achingly plain, starkly listing a name in huge, defiant letters.  Others are cluttered with the detritus of lives richly lived: favorite clothing, stuffed animals, athletic jerseys, matchbooks, photographs of pets, an Illinois license plate saying SKATER.

The panel for a fashion designer features a coat he created.  Another holds an actual quilt in shades of soft brown.  There’s a bird of paradise and an eagle soaring above purple mountains.  A large heart is inscribed within: Love Is All There Is.  Many fea­ture heartfelt final messages from parents, siblings, lovers, friends.  One states simply: In memory of those who have died . . . hiding.  Another notes: I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance.

The people represented on these panels were musicians, teachers, soldiers, paramed­ics, actors, busi­nessmen, doctors, lawyers.  They were fathers, mothers, sons and daugh­ters.  They loved cars and beaches and rainbows and sports and art and music and each other.

What they mostly shared, besides the hideous disease which killed them, was brevity of life.  On panel after panel, the numbers tell the story: 1959-93, 1961-89, 1949-88, 1957-95, 1962-93.  The math is at once both simple and appallingly hard.

On Sunday, a section of the quilt was gently unfurled by young people not yet born when physi­cians and microbiolo­gists began puzzling over an inexplicable new illness in the early 1980s.  Any one of these teenagers might have received a tainted blood transfusion during those early days, might now be memorial­ized on a panel of the quilt they unfolded so carefully.

At almost any moment in America today, somebody is at work on a panel for the quilt.  The quilters gather in living rooms and church basements, faculty lounges and company conference rooms.  Often groups of people work together, in the histori­cal tradition of quilting.  Far too often these panels are sewn by mothers griev­ing children they never dreamed they would outlive.  Creation moves hand in hand with catharsis.

Every panel is, of course, as unique as the person it represents.  And yet throughout there runs a single and overpowering common thread.

Each and every panel is stitched with teardrops.

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Obama Conspiracies… and a free book

In an era where the outlandish and fantastic has permeated our media 24/7, where mind-bending conspiracy theories shape our views, THE OBAMA INHERITANCE writers riff on the numerous fictions spun about the 44th president… [C]ontributors spin deliberately outlandish and fantastic twists on many of the dozens of screwball, bizarro conspiracy theories floated about the president during his years in office and turn them on their heads. — Maureen Corrigan, NPR

9781941110591_cvr-189It’s release day for a new short story anthology edited by one of our own — Gary Phillips — who conceived of this wild gathering of tales based on conspiracy theories that were floated about Barack Obama, our 44th President. It’s had a nice reception so far, including this week’s review on National Public Radio. Maureen Corrigan highlighted the first story in the collection by our own Kate Flora, calling it a “truly fabulous story” and reading a sampling of it. (We are all thrilled!) Corrigan’s take on the anthology? She calls it  “15 stories so sly, fresh, and Bizarro World witty, they reaffirm the resiliency of the artistic imagination.”

You can read her full review HERE

Also in the anthology are mystery great Walter Mosley, our own Lise McClendon, and a diverse group of writers including Danny Gardner, Christopher Chambers, and, well, here are all the stories:

Michelle in Hot Water by Kate Flora
. . . The Continuing Mission by Adam Lance Garcia
True Skin by Eric Beetner
Evens by Nisi Shawl
A Different Frame of Reference by Walter Mosley
Brother’s Keeper by Danny Gardner
Forked Tongue by Lise McClendon
Sunburnt Country by Andrew Nette
I Know They’re in There! by Travis Richardson
The Psalm of Bo by Christopher Chambers
At the Conglomeroid Cocktail Party by Robert Silverberg
Deep State by Désirée Zamorano
I Will Haunt You by Anthony Neil Smith
Give Me Your Free, Your Brave, Your Proud Masses Yearning to Conquer by L. Scott Jose
Thus Strikes the Black Pimpernel by Gary Phillips

Other reviewers say…

“Pulp fiction for the post-Obama era . . . Readers who enjoy political satire in its many varied forms will certainly enjoy this collection.” —Booklist

“The stories are adrift with white supremacists, secret locations, strange conflicts, and subtle aliens. . . . Truly excellent.” —Publishers Weekly

“A mashup of genre fiction . . . imagines the consequences of white supremacist politics on American society.” —Kirkus Reviews

Already a bestseller on Amazon! Check it out HERE. On Barnes & Noble & iTunes!

Support your local independent bookstore by buying it there!

One last thing! The darkly comic serial killer tale, written by five of us from this group, is FREE this week. Its tone works well with the Obama Inheritance – get them both!

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge

Thalia Filbert is a pseudonym for Taffy Cannon, Kate Flora, Lise McClendon, Katy Munger, and Gary Phillips.

FREE ON AMAZON for a limited time.

This incredibly sly mystery has everything you’d want when you bite into a dish: suspense, spice, and a new take on an old classic…  Beat Slay Love is the perfect read.” — Bestselling author Charlaine Harris

A Wish List for America 🇺🇸

american-flag-clip-art-free-2There seems to be a lot going on in America. You’ve probably noticed.

Despite our 24-hour news cycle, the report from the heartland is not all bad. America continues to be a land of opportunity and promise, a place where civil rights are mostly respected, where despite too many guns, most people don’t shoot each other. Where we tolerate differences and our neighbors’ penchants for motorized vehicles. Where your religion is your own business. And who you vote for doesn’t make you enemies. There is reason for optimism.

However… This is also an election season that, whoever you’re rooting for, there seems to be something to dislike. Plus there is violence in our streets, a heat wave, forest fires, tempers flaring, emails leaking: it must be summer. This exceptional year has provoked in some of us here at the Muse a wish for an improved country, a better America. We aren’t policy wonks or futurists. Just some seasoned writers with seasoned opinions.

We love you, America

… land of the free and home of the brave. And we want you to continue to be the greatest experiment in democracy. What can we do as citizens to make our country better? At the very least we can make some constructive suggestions. Here’s our wish-list, in no particular order, for America 2016 and beyond.

Please add your own ideas. We need all the help we can get. wishlt

  • Change election day to Sunday. The lack of voter participation makes democracy even harder.
  • Make mail-in ballots the norm, like several states already do. Or at least make voting by mail simple for everyone.
  • Return to the practice of teaching civics in school, so that our citizens better understand the concept of “separation of powers” and how that is supposed to work.
  • Appoint a defense spending czar who will once and for all make defense contractors tow-the-line, no more million dollar showers stalls that electrocute our troops.
  •  National health care that covers everybody, period.
  • Or at least the public option, essentially Medicare for those under 65
  • Standardize voting throughout the country. Everyone uses the same method of counting ballots.
  • Add mandated civic responsibility and participation–and not just hours of community service that might look good on a college application.
  • Repair the nation’s antiquated and crumbling infrastructure, with a system like the WPA, which enabled our immigrant grandfathers to support their families during the Depression.
  • Strict limits on electoral spending at all levels, financial campaign reform that vaporizes the PAC system
  • End all corporate participation in elections. A corporation does not vote.
  • Restore arts and music funding to our schools through defense spending cuts
  • Repurpose military funds and personnel by closing down unnecessary bases around the globe and removing mega-corporations from the military trough. Soldiers can peel their own potatoes, for example, just like their fathers and grandfathers did.
  • Appoint a civil rights commission formed by leaders of black and other communities of color, police departments, activists in all social justice fields. Provide local outreach for dialogue, reform, and education.
  • Fix all the gun control loopholes: shows, online sales, waiting periods.
  • Fund our mental health facilities, especially at the Veterans Administration, but also in community mental health everywhere. Provide funds for in-hospital stays for the indigent.
  • Expand public housing. Provide tax breaks for redevelopment of slums. Provide incentives for low-income residents to own and maintain their homes.
  • Train physicians without tuition fees. Give every high school graduate two years of tuition-free college to train and study.

d50f23c4-206c-4d26-9460-96e1ace6b47b–Wish-list contributors: Gary, Taffy, Kate, and Lise

If there seem to be a lot of free things on this list, there are. Your government should help you, that’s what it’s for. It’s not a place to make money. You pay taxes so that the government works for everybody. Nobody is going to be giving out cash soon or paying off your mortgage. But it should help you live a decent life, in relative comfort with freedom from hunger and the elements, with medical care, and if necessary, a leg-up to improving yourself. It should provide relative safety from crime and fire and dreamer1-298x300disaster, and help when tragedy strikes.

You may say we’re dreamers, but we aren’t the only ones, right?  What’s on your wish-list for the USA?

It’s going to take all of us, together, to get this done.

 

Books, workshops, and more stories

A round-up of author/member activities

Kate Flora reports that her new book (a co-written project) is now out in Good Man with a Dog Cover-2the world: A Good Man with a Dog: A Game Warden’s 25 Years in the Maine Woods by Roger Guay with Kate Clark Flora. Skyhorse Publishing, ISBN: 978-1-5107-0480-0

She also has a short story, Anonymous, in the Malice Domestic collection, Murder Most Conventional.

 

 

44FunkBBGary Phillips has several short stories coming out over the summer and into the fall including his second Decimator Smith story in Black Pulp II (an anthology he co-edited); his first Sherlock Holmes story in Echoes of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Holmesophiles Laurie King and Les Klinger; a car and crime tale in The Highway Kind from Mulholland Books; with the peripatetic Robert Randisi, has his third Silencer (a character who is a homage to 1970s paperback vigilantes) outing in 44 Caliber Funk; and a tale in the Bronze Buckaroo collection that revives the black cowboy character popularized in several 1930s films played by singer-actor Herb Jeffries — who wasn’t any parts black but that’s a story for another time!

Katy Munger is busy conducting a number of special events, workshops, readings, and appearances as part of being named North Carolina’s Piedmont Laureate for 2016. To read her blog and obtain the latest information on upcoming events as well as how to register for them, please visit the Piedmont Laureate website

sibcare-mockup-border

 

Taffy Cannon is pleased to announced that her nonfiction guide, SibCare: The Trip You Never Planned to Take will be published shortly. This guidebook for people dealing with sibling illness or disability can be previewed at SibCare.org.

 

 

The Bluejay Shaman new coverLise McClendon is finishing editing her next Bennett Sisters novel to be released in August. In the meantime she’s serializing her first mystery, The Bluejay Shaman, on Wattpad, as part of the Smashwords/Wattpad Mystery/Thriller promotion. This novel debuts Jackson Hole art dealer, Alix Thorssen, working in western Montana to clear her brother-in-law, an anthropology professor at the University of Montana, of murder of a New Age seeker. Check it out on Wattpad — it’s free!  In preparation for the new novel subscribers to her newsletter will receive a free e-book copy of Blackbird Fly, the first Bennett Sisters novel. Sign up here.

Lise will again be leading a day-long novel workshop with Deborah Turrell Atkinson at the Jackson Hole Writers Conference on June 22. Details here.

BSL AUDIO CoverThe five Thalia Authors Co-op authors who wrote a novel together as Thalia Filbert— Kate, Katy, Taffy, Gary, and Lise– would like to thank readers who have generously offered their reviews and comments on this unique project. Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge is still free for Kindle Unlimited readers and as an audiobook for new Audible subscribers. We’d love to hear what you think of it! Write a short review like Martha did:

Tasty novel
By Martha Mon May 5, 2016
As one who has followed cooking shows and loves mysteries, this gave me a wonderful taste of both. There were absolute laugh out loud moments that had my tears flowing! Thank you. Please write another.

 

The Broken Bus, Dead of Night, Gone to Prison Blues

by Taffy Cannon

A funny thing happened on the way to prison.

I awoke at four-thirty in the morning in Southern California’s Tejon Pass and discovered that the bus on which I was riding was no longer moving.

We seemed to be parked on the shoulder, as enormous semi-trucks whooshed by at dizzying speed, often shaking the bus as they hurtled north. The trucks passed in nearly-constant blurs of light and sound, sometimes edging left a bit but often remaining in the far-right lane. That’s the lane trucks habitually use to cross this notorious pass on Interstate 5 through the Tehachapi Mountains, known as the Grapevine. It’s the primary route between Northern and Southern California.

I sat up right away.

Eighteen-wheelers were passing what seemed like inches from my head, the head that had been sleeping peacefully on a pillow propped against the bus window. Okay, maybe not inches. They were probably passing feet away, though you wouldn’t need more than one hand to count how many. And maybe not sleeping peacefully, either. We were, after all, on a bus going to prison in the dead of night.

The other occupants of the bus were mostly the children of women incarcerated in the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, nearly 400 miles north of their San Diego homes. We were participating in the Get on the Bus annual Mother’s Day trip to briefly reunite these kids with their moms in prison. For many this would be their only visit of the year. I’ve written about Get on the Bus previously, and it’s a program dear to my heart. Started by nuns with a prison ministry, it focuses on the youngest and most forgotten victims of crime, children left behind when a lawbreaking mother winds up behind bars. At least one child on our bus had been born in prison.

Chowchilla is midway up the agricultural Central Valley and home to two major prisons, a company town where the product is Corrections. Chowchilla is also remembered as the site of a kidnaping of a busload of children in 1976 by three rich kids. A busload of children. Hmmm.

I’ve participated in Get on the Bus many times, but I’d been mildly queasy about this trip for several days, without any logical reason. Now I had a pretty good idea what had been bothering my subconscious. I could only hope that my earlier anxiety did not also include a next act in this drama, something like the bus exploding after being struck from behind by an eighteen-wheeler going 65 uphill.

What we were told by the bus drivers and what I could overhear was not reassuring. One of the alternators had gone out, they told us, and they hoped to get a push start from the tow truck they kept calling. The truck was taking its sweet time showing up and was based seven miles north, or maybe fifteen south. There might also be a bus that could come up from San Diego (or, ideally, someplace closer) if the push-start didn’t work, but there was no indication that alternate transportation was being arranged. It was all disturbingly vague and the semis just kept roaring by, shaking us over and over again.

Also, nobody seemed terribly sure where we were.

Three green-and-white highway signs stretched across the road too far ahead for any of us to read them, taunting with the prospect of civilization and help. My phone locator showed us just south of 138, the Lancaster Highway, and the general consensus seemed to be that we were somewhere around Gorman. Landmarks were no help, however, since it was pitch black except for the lights on the passing trucks.

It never occurred to me until much later that we might have stopped on the side of  a precipice, though I found it very disconcerting when we coasted downhill a bit to edge slightly farther onto the extremely narrow shoulder. But I did spend a lot of time figuring out the best and fastest way to get everybody off the bus in a hurry should we need to. Like when some trucker drifted absentmindedly and smashed a semi into the bus’s rear end.

Once the engine was going again, the drivers told us, we would get to Chowchilla with no trouble. Absolutely. Guaranteed. Furthermore, the braking system was entirely unaffected by this problem, so going down the far side of the pass—a much steeper grade than the incline where we were now stuck—would be no problem.

Time passed.

Mercifully unaware of our predicament, most of the kids on the bus slept soundly through it all. The adults accompanying them—mostly caretaker grandmothers—sat upright, wide awake and calm, with the dignified resignation of people who learned a long time ago that they have very little control over their lives.

More time passed.

The sun began to rise, briefly bathing the surrounding hills in soft rosy light. Alas, that soft rosy light revealed other issues that I hadn’t noticed when we boarded the bus at 1:30 am. The rest room, for instance. Previous travelers had crammed the toilet cavity full of tissue, so the toilet was unusable, though on the plus side it didn’t smell too bad. The rest of the bus was filthy and strewn with trash. When I pulled down my tray table, a wad of garbage fell out. And the seats themselves had basketball-like protuberances in the lumbar area.

We served the now-awakening passengers brown-bag breakfasts we had brought, and after a couple hours—yes! a couple of hours—the tow truck showed up. It was a pretty good-sized vehicle, but not remotely capable of pushing a bus full of people uphill, much less fast enough to push-start its engines. I’ve owned Volkswagens, and I know about push-starting. You want to be pointing downhill with a tail wind.

Once the mechanic began performing last rites on the engine, the official call for a replacement bus went out. Around then, we also learned that we weren’t the only Get on the Bus vehicle having engine trouble. Another one was broken down seven miles ahead of us. Or maybe fifteen behind. (You know, by the home base for the tow truck.) We plotted how to cram everybody into the replacement bus.

And where, you may be wondering, were the police during the three hours that this bus full of sleeping children teetered by the side of a mountain pass as the goods of America roared past to market?

The Highway Patrol, responsible for Interstate traffic in California, showed up just as the second bus arrived. Three hours after our abrupt stop.  It was never clear why they hadn’t come a whole lot sooner, or when they learned there was a broken-down bus filled with children and grandmothers in the Grapevine. That bus, come to think of it, had anonymous black windows and might well have been filled with cadres of terrorists.

When the replacement bus arrived, suddenly everything was all a-scurry. We emptied the dead bus down to the bottle of hand sanitizer we’d duct-taped to the wall of the nasty rest room, and transferred everything and everybody onto Bus #2. This bus turned out to be clean and comfortable, featured a working engine, and didn’t even need to be shared with the other broken-down bus passengers. I’m not sure what happened to them. Maybe they hitch-hiked.

Did I mention that it was raining on and off through the entire trip? At one point the wipers on Bus #2 shut themselves off during a torrential downpour, but Replacement Driver stopped for gas and made a mechanical adjustment to the wipers, which behaved for the rest of the trip.

*****

Our prison visit was the customary fusion of heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Our group of volunteers had originally been slated to arrive first and was assigned to take informal group portraits as mementos for both inmates and family. We actually arrived last, but slid into the second shift of the photo booth operation. I shot dozens of pictures against two backdrops that tantalized with desert and garden scenes unknown here behind the miles of razor wire, and I loved every minute of it. These pictures would be all that remained at day’s end—sometimes posed seriously, sometimes clowning, always brimming with an agonizing blend of joy and loss.

And then it was time to leave, as always too soon. We boarded the bus and headed south into our own realities while the mothers we had visited were strip-searched and locked back in their cells.

*****

We stopped for a fast-food dinner just north of the Grapevine, and I noticed that southbound traffic appeared sluggish as it began the climb. Still, it was Friday afternoon and I’d just learned that even Fresno has rush hour traffic, so I didn’t pay too much attention as I turned my phone on for the first time since sunrise.

I stopped cold at a Google News headline announcing that the Grapevine had been closed mid-day in both directions, following a flash flood and mudslide. Flash flood! Mudslide! Two more potential problems I’d never thought of in the dead of night as we waited for the tow truck and the bus and the Highway Patrol and maybe also Godot.

But by now we were back on I-5 and climbing, albeit slowly. And if we were going to be detoured off the Interstate there wasn’t much we could do about it anyway.

The northbound lanes across the median were eerily empty, with occasional maintenance vehicles pushing around rocks and debris, and stretches showing giant wet brush marks on the pavement where previous work was complete. Up ahead, we saw northbound traffic being routed off the road at Highway 138, the same Lancaster Highway exit near where we’d stopped fifteen hours earlier.

Moments after we passed the first of the stalled northbound traffic waiting to head out onto its lengthy high desert detour, the bus driver turned and pointed.

“That’s your bus over there,” he said. And by golly, it was.

It’s been almost two weeks now. I hope somebody has finally gotten around to moving it, or at least to checking it for terrorists.

Happy Halloween from “Thalia Filbert”

The five of us who co-wrote Beat Slay Love as Thalia Filbert want to wish you all a haunting Halloween, full of spooks, goblins, witches, and things that go bump in the night.

Or just a funky monster or two. 🙂 Click on the image to watch the video. Happy Halloween!