Toe In the Water

Writers' Block

It’s that first word, that first phrase, that is hardest to put down in print. It’s as tough to depress the initial letter on the keyboard as it is to dip your little piggy in an icy early spring puddle.  Both require courage and the ability to overcome hesitancy and objection. The law of inertia holds true for human behavior as well as for inanimate objects, doesn’t it. If that’s the axiom, does the corollary, once I get really started, mean the amount of energy I use to keep going will be minimal, and it will take waayyy more energy to make me stop? One can only hope so.

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…A Novel Approach, continued….Name Change


The little cottage stood out more than expected. It had a red clay tile roof line and sand-colored adobe finish similar to every other dwelling on the quiet, narrow street, though each house flaunted varying bright Southwestern colors on doors and window trims in an attempt to differentiate it from its neighbors. Unlike other cottages, the back yard of the one being observed contained a large swimming pool and was protected by an eight-foot-tall adobe wall.

Today’s mission was simple: provide incontrovertible proof that the target was alive and resided here in Caliente, New Mexico. Once that was established, other plans would be set in motion.

Giamonti, who considered himself a “typical” assassin, much preferred shooting with guns as opposed to sighting with the unfamiliar digital camera and smartphone he’d been instructed to use today, but no one ever questioned the bosses.

That Can’t Be Right

I’m embarrassed to admit much of my life is lived on a superficial level. Perhaps that’s not always been the case, but in recent years deep analytical thought seems replaced by a placid enervation . “Things” are “okay”. “It is what it is” rules the day.

That’s about to change. Will this new perspective change the world? Unlikely. But I’ll never look again with an unjaundiced eye at, among other things, the field of “behavioral health” hospitals. Having been exposed to that can of worms, I now wonder what other little messes I’ve been ignoring.

Let me provide a tad of background: our family watched a dear family member (henceforth known as XX) slowly slip into what we variously learned was either bipolar syndrom or chronic fatigue syndrome. The competing diagnoses were provided by two different bonafide physicians, neither of whom was particularly helpful in the long-term.

Soon XX couldn’t hold a job, exasperated significant others to the point of divorce and/or estrangement, and finally became dependent upon the state for food, health benefits, and housing. It was through the state’s hospital system that XX was sent to the psychiatric hospital, euphemistically called a “behavioral health” hospital.

Based on a single page, pre-printed checklist, a woman called a “doctor” diagnosed XX as bipolar, and then proceeded to commit XX to a 30-day hospitalization, with no possibility of discharge without the doctor’s approval. The doctor, incidentally, is actually a nurse practitioner, although a psychiatrist is listed as “on staff”. After two weeks at the facility, XX has never been evaluated or even seen the psychiatrist.

Most important to the facility, a nurse told XX, all of the beds must be kept full in order to protect their jobs. (No kidding – this is definitely a for profit facility! But can you even believe an employee was that blunt in conversation with a patient?)

The hospital itself is a large single-story metal building, very secure. Locked up tighter than a drum. Staff use keys to lock and unlock the doors from outside to inside, from waiting area to hall, from hall to offices. Very much gives a confined, imprisoned feeling both to patients and to visitors.

XX says at least the surroundings are clean and the food is adequate. The nursing staff is pleasant, but the supervisory staff mock the patients and are quite rude. Medications are strongly enforced and injections are given forcibly if pills are rejected. XX says several patients vomit every day. Who knows – that could be due to addiction withdrawal symptoms, but in XX’s case it was a reaction to the medication. Whatever the case, XX now finds it difficult to focus, is dizzy, slightly disoriented, and always sleepy.

Group therapy is on the daily schedule. However, that has only occurred twice in the past two weeks. There seems to be no real cohesive attempt at therapy, but only a “marking time” (cynically I think that will continue probably until benefits run out), hopefully to be followed by a miraculous discharge.

Only one wall phone for 20 patients, and only severely restricted times to make or receive calls. Forget about cell phones, laptops, note pads, or TV – ain’t happening. Staff members accompany all family visits, which are limited to a specific half hour dictated by the staff and at no other time. Visitors must leave wallets and phones outdoors in their vehicles. Visitors cannot enter at all unless they already know the patient’s identification number.

From the standpoint of the visitor, this place is the next thing to a benevolent prison. One thing for sure…the entire experience is designed to be avoided! My heart goes out to someone mentally challenged who lands here. If they’re not crazy when they arrive, they may well be crazy when they leave!

Fun To Watch? Disaster In the Making


Our city received a deluge of more than 20 inches of rain in the course of a day and a half. There is historic flooding throughout the neighborhoods, especially those near the river. Rescuers and their boats and vehicles drew onlookers curious and worried about their neighbors. Secretly happy the damage is not (yet) their own – but more intense rain is forecast to begin momentarily. That rain will fall on over-saturated ground, unable to drain into a swollen river whose waters already exceed flood stage.


A Novel Attempt: Name Change



The  assassin Giamonti could hear his quickened heartbeat pulse through an artery next to his left ear, another small clue that he was aging out of his profession. Here at the top of his climb, he cooled down, gulping fresh air while he looked across the sere desert early morning landscape to the distant shimmering horizon. Not a tree in sight, only yuccas and saguaros barely touched by the rising sun.

How could anyone live in this desolate place, he wondered, squinting cruel grey eyes against the sharp daylight. Brown, everything brown, everywhere. Giamonti was not the type of person to see nuances of color in the great outdoors, although his outdoor life had marked him permanently. Deep lines radiated from eyes to his salt and pepper hair, to deep furrows above thick black brows, and down along darkly weathered cheeks to merge with dual wrinkles like commas bracketing a narrow, mean mouth.

A stolen power and light utility van sat far below him at the base of the transmission pole.  Before starting his climb, Giamonti had donned the full array of protective garb stored in the van, including an insulated jumpsuit and gloves and requisite hard hat. The extra weight added more strain to his arms, back, and legs during the climb. He felt trickles of sweat begin to moisten his belt line as the sun climbed higher. The heavy image-stabilized binoculars swayed from their strap, pulling against his neck muscles, and a slight sense of urgency made him shift in the climbing harness. The bosses wanted visual proof  fast and offered a time-sensitive bonus that diminished hour by hour. Plus, he was ready to get the hell back home where dry hot air didn’t suck all your insides out. He resented that he was shooting only photos. He worried that the bosses thought he was losing his edge as a marksman. Giamonti’s worries, however, would soon be gone.



The drawn-out squeak and crisp click of first an opening and then closing door sounded faintly but clearly through the dry desert air. Show time, Giamonti thought. He peered quickly through the binoculars down into the protected back yard of an adobe cottage halfway down the block, then let the glasses fall back against his chest. It wouldn’t be wise to be seen peering into folks’ yards.

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The Mind’s Eye

It’s a struggle to provide descriptive content when writing fiction, isn’t it? At least it is for me, although that’s certainly not the case for everyone. For example, John Sandford, the author, doesn’t have that problem.  His prose flies off his fingertips, much like a gifted watercolorist shading stormy clouds and greening fields. I can see his characters. I can practically walk down to the lake at the rustic cabin he describes, and even hear the gentle waves lap softly against the hull of the boat moored at the pier.

It’s different when I write, unfortunately.  In my mind’s eye, every scene lies before me, rich in detail, opulently colored – so much so, that it seems that everyone who reads my words will see the very same things themselves. Therefore, my fingertips skip right past deep descriptions and plod along muddy sentences. The results end up more like Mondrian color-blocked canvases than the richness of a Vermeer painting. Not that I mean to compare my writing to any kind of artistic master at all.  My stuff is more like paint-by-numbers, when it comes to that!

Perhaps the only good thing to take from this is the recognition of a severe deficiency. That at least provides a goal to strive toward – and that gives hope (and change? But we know that seems impossible, don’t we).