Saturday, December 20, 2014

"The Perfect Storm," Ch. 10 of Axtell Memoir, BUT...AT WHAT COST

I greatly regret having poured out my fears and my craziness on my 12-year-old daughter the morning after Ash’s confession. Beth was there at the table eating her breakfast when I came in from spending most of the night in the car. In my mind, my life was crashing down. My parents were dying. My husband was leaving. A good friend had betrayed me. I had no money of my own, and feminists on television shows and in all the women’s magazines had been telling me I had low self-esteem caused by that chauvinist pig I was married to. I had no idea which way to turn. There you go, Beth! God, I can’t believe I did that to her. I don’t remember all I said, but that is definitely how I felt. I assume I edited some.

The only thing I actually remember saying is that M. (the other woman) was a very nice person and not to worry about her being her stepmother. Obviously, I had this cart way before the horse – nothing had been discussed, let alone decided, yet there I was turning this child’s world up-side-down. I’d call that crazy!

Before that last straw was added to my load, I was worn, but still in one piece. I was trying to keep too many balls in the air by myself. This was not an unusual problem at the time. Many women were working outside the home, and many men had not yet been “trained” to take up the slack. I didn’t work outside the home, but it amounted to the same thing. I was at my parents’ house or a doctor’s office or a hospital a lot of the time.

Until the mid-sixties, this wouldn’t have been a serious problem; but then, in 1979, it was perceived to be, by some. The “some” were the feminist advice-mongers inhabiting our magazines and our airwaves. Previously valued behaviors, such as taking care of one’s husband, children and parents, were no longer valued priorities. I and thousands of other women were castigated, nearly every day, for being “too nice.” We were said to be “people pleasers” – a result of having low self-esteem… caused by our evil husbands. What were once seen as positive traits in both men and women were now viewed as character flaws.

Had these self-appointed “experts” stopped at their original “equal pay for equal work” agenda, it would have been fine, but they didn’t stop there. They used their rhetoric to condemn men and the “enabling” women who were married to them.

I can remember greeting Ashley with fire in my heart after listening to Betty Friedan (or someone) on the Phil Donahue TV talk show. All Ash had done was come home from work, and I was ready to scratch his eyes out. Yes, he fit their profile, and I was buying into their conclusions about both him and me.

I was angry with him most of the time and second-guessed my every move. When my father got sick, and I was left to juggle all the duties by myself, I got even angrier. When Ash had the affair, it was the last straw. I strongly considered divorce.

Between 1960 and 1979 the divorce rates doubled. Coincidence?

There’s no doubt Ashley’s straying was a huge blow to my pride, and very difficult to get over. However, I don’t think it was a main cause of my considering a divorce. People have affairs. I think my need to leave was largely due to the subtle peer pressure I was feeling; I thought that my friends thought I should get a divorce. Being the “good girl” I was (i.e., an inveterate rule follower) I was very tempted to conform to the new ideal.

“Low self-esteem” was the end-all explanation for everything back then. Later, upon closer examination, I rejected all its presumed importance and all popular explanations of its engenderment… but that was later.

Thankfully, while all this was happening, I studied my options and chose the practical, common-sense (or maybe, the easiest) solution. I stayed with Ashley because: I loved, respected, and admired him (despite his faults and his having an affair); he worked hard and supported us; he planned to send the kids to college and had already saved enough money to do so; and I wouldn’t have the time to help my parents and grandmother if I had to work full-time to support myself.

There was a less practical reason too: A hell of a lot of my “self-esteem” was derived from Ashley’s choosing me, and my being able to put up with him. That probably sounds strange, and a little deranged, but every time someone said, “Judy, you must be a saint,” when Ash was being particularly obstinate, I reveled in it. When Ashley had confessed his affair, I’d said, “You’re out of your mind, if you think she’d put up with you for more than a week!” It was true; he knew it, and said he knew it. I think I saw my acceptance of his eccentricities as somewhat heroic… sort of like Hillary Clinton or any wife who has to put up with “special” circumstances must feel. I chose to make allowances, so I could share his spotlight. Boy, that sounds really bad, but that was part of it – that’s how much I admire his intellectual prowess, work ethic, and honesty.

If I was a “victim” of anything, I was a victim of circumstances and my own priorities. It was our marriage that allowed me the economic freedom to raise my kids, help my family, play ball, sing and feel good about myself. This was the ordinary stuff from which I and many, many other women of my generation derived our self-worth… by thinking of our families first and ourselves last. We were not part of “the me generation” and the new rules confused the Hell out of us.

We are serializing Judy Axtell's book, But...At What Cost: A Skeptic's Memoir, available from on-line retailers, such as Amazon, and from its publisher Outskirts Press.

About Author Sharon Lane

From the back cover material of her book, The Tears From My Soul:

After suffering years of neglect, rape, abuse, pain, and betrayal from those who were entrusted to support and protect her, Sharon turns to a life of stripping and prostitution. Without an education or means to support herself and her two children, Sharon falls prey to many unscrupulous people who take advantage of her. She struggles to change her life and move out of the shadows of the underworld of stripping in Seattle, Chicago, and Milwaukee.

In the end, it is God, her incredible commitment to a better life, and the love and support she finds in the Christian community that help her turn her life around. In her memoir, The Tears from My Soul, Sharon is a true heroine of her life story – overcoming all odds to become a high school graduate, successful author and film director and producer.

From her "About The Author" portion of the book:

Sharon Lane is one of God's special daughters, and she is proud to say that she has a lot of insight that comes directly from him.

She was born with a respectable and humble spirit.

For someone with only a high school diploma, she has done many things. But it is only through God's grace that she has been able to do all that she has done.

In 2012, Sharon wrote her first article on education, and it was published in Waukesha News Stands. She was then went on to write her autobiography, with no knowledge of how to write a book.

She is the producer of the documentary, “Why We Do What We Do,” which was shown at the 2010 Langston Hughes Film Festival.

In spite of it all, she was able to turn her life around from being a stripper to becoming a responsible citizen in her church and her community. God showed her the right way.

She believes in giving a second chance in life. Sharon lives in Seattle with her two kids, grandkids, and her mother

Friday, December 19, 2014

Barely Back, A Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Dad, can we take the Ford to Bear Mountain?” Rick asked.

“Who is ‘we’?” his father asked.

“Joan and I.” Joan Black was Rick’s current girlfriend.

“What did you have in mind?”

“Picnic. It’s a beautiful day for a picnic.”

Mr. Williams gave it a minute’s thought. Did he want his old car and his son twenty miles away, alone with a seventeen-year-old girl? What could happen on a picnic? Mr. W. had been seventeen once himself…he had an idea or two about that.

“You can go, if Tess goes with you.”


“Yes, Tess…your sister.”

“I’ll ask her.”

Tess liked the idea, if Eddie Gomez could go with them. Eddie liked the idea. Joan liked the idea. The youngest Williams, Tim, did not want to go. Fortunately, he was not essential.

The picnic got organized. Rick, Joan, Tess, and Eddie drove off to Bear Mountain...beautiful, remote Bear Mountain State Park.

Having arrived, they unpacked the car and marched off on one of the trails. One of the trekkers, we won’t say who it was, forgot to close the rear passenger car door fully. The little lights inside the car stayed on, but no one noticed them, as it was a bright day.

The foursome picnicked pleasantly, returning when it was getting dark. Almost all the cars that had been parked near them had gone.

Rick and crew put their stuff back in the car, and Rick tried to start it up. “Click, click, click….” That sound meant that the battery was nearly dead.

“Now what?” Tess asked. Sharp, she knew something was wrong.

Rick replied, “We could call a garage and have them send someone out here to start our car, but that will take a long time and cost money, and Mom and Dad will not like it. Let’s try to get some help from someone here.”

A woman and her two young children were in a nearby car, just starting to go.

“Excuse me, but would you help us start our car?” Rick asked her.

“What do you want me to do?”

“We would like to use our cables and connect to your battery to jump start our car.”

“Will that hurt my car?”

“No. You’ll keep it running, so we don’t run down your battery.”

“Well, OK, if it doesn’t take long.”

Rick and Eddie got the jumper cables out of the back of their car, but Rick was not exactly sure how to make the connections. They discussed this quietly.

“Eddie, do you know how to do this? I’m not sure.”

“Yes. Put the black connectors on the negative terminal of her battery and yours. Put the red connector on her positive terminal, then put the other red one on your positive terminal. Next, start your car.”

Rick and Eddie made these connections, and Rick tried to get his car to start. “Click, click, click” became “urrr, urr, urr,” but the car wasn’t starting.

“”Give it more gas!” Eddie told the woman, and her car engine started to roar…and Rick’s car started.

“Enough!” Eddie told the lady. “Keep it running, Rick.”

All four of the kids thanked the woman again and again, and she drove off with a smile.

When the foursome got home, Mr. and Mrs. Williams asked if they had a good time and whether they had any trouble.

“Everything went just fine,” Rick responded.

It is said that “bad times make good stories.” The Bear Mountain picnic was not exactly a bad time, but Tess’s diary got a highly dramatic story about the picnic. Eddie starred as the hero, and surely he did deserve some credit. He would have liked to read it, but it was a secret diary.

Tess ended her write-up with, “We barely made it back from Bear Mountain.” They were not really in danger, but diaries are not always accurate, especially when special friends are being described.

One of our series of 50 somewhat instructive stories for young readers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ghostwriting Ghastliness


Douglas Winslow Cooper
I almost got paid to write some books. For nearly a day this prospect had me feeling high.

A representative from “Fake Publishing” (not its actual name) contacted me on Twitter, where I am active in writing about politics, science, and writing. He had liked what he had read of mine, went to my site,, and liked that, too. He asked whether I would be interested in getting paid to write books for his company.

I responded that, depending on the topic, this would suit me just fine, and I offered to do so for a few cents per word. He continued to be interested, and we scheduled a phone conversation for the following morning. Excited, I went through my 300-odd blog entries and my monthly articles for and my memoir, Ting and I, and came up with dozens of possible topics I could write up for them. I assumed we would be discussing his needs and my suggestions and come to a “meeting of the minds” on a topic. Money was not my paramount consideration, although it is the sincerest form of flattery.

When we spoke the next day, it became clear that what he wanted was ghostwriting. He said he was impressed with my credentials and my writing and that Fake Publishing has orders for books that professionals, like doctors, pay to have others write for them. The real author is to be a “ghost,“ not to be credited in any way, but rather the “professional” is to be the person associated with the book.

I said I would not do this for two reasons: First, some credit (even in the acknowledgments) is part of the reward for writing the book. Second, and more important to me, participating in what I see as fraud is distasteful. Claiming credit for a book you did not write is a form a plagiarism, big time, despite its being quite common---for politician’s books, for example.

Years ago I helped a very successful writer who had gotten wealthy partly through ghostwriting books. He paid me for the bulk of my contributions, which he used for part of the book he was writing for a doctor, but he stiffed me for the last 20% of what I wrote. I was helping him ghostwrite a book. Perhaps I was aiding and abetting fraud. I should not have been surprised that, to a degree, he cheated me, too. The adage goes, “You can’t cheat an honest man.”

If you are dealing with a professional who claims to have written a book, beware. Check his publishing company out, if you can. I’d give you this advice: don’t trust a plagiarist or his enablers.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Oma and Pop," Ch. 9 of Axtell Memoir BUT...AT WHAT COST

The kids were outside playing when I got the first of twenty-years’-worth of emergency phone calls from my father. At forty-nine, my mother had been diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease. This day, in the summer of 1971, Dad called to say he was taking her to the hospital. She was in heart failure. We all knew what to expect; we just didn’t know when to expect it.

I called Carolyn to see if she could baby-sit, and started calling around to find Ashley – or someone who could find Ashley and give him the message. He never told me where he was going, but this time I needed him to be a father – something that was seldom a priority in his busy life.
Until now (at thirty), I hadn’t needed him to be a father. My parents were the kids’ father… and I liked it that way. Ash had neither the temperament nor the desire to be a hands-on Dad. My fault? Could I have forced the issue? Would it have changed anything? I don’t know. I do know, however, I took the easier path.

Mom and Dad, “Oma” and “Pop” to my kids, were always available to baby-sit and had looked after them, at least one day a week, since we had moved to Port Jervis. While we supplied all the necessities, they supplied all the extras – the nice clothes, the baseball gloves, the bikes and the games. It was under Pop’s tutelage they learned how to play baseball, basketball, football, and ride bikes. I was a jock too, so they had reinforcement at home, but Pop was the man!

Each time the kids went to a circus, or a game farm, or a ballgame, it was with Oma and Pop. We (I usually went too) spent a lot of time together on day trips or just hanging out being a family at their house.

On overnights (which I didn’t attend) Oma and Nanny (my Gram) spoiled them… played games with them, fed them anything they wanted, and generally answered their every whim.

I was one lucky mother and the kids were two lucky grandchildren. These extended family relationships gave Ash and, to a lesser degree, me the freedom to pursue our other interests. Again, I don’t know if I was right or wrong or if it was good or bad for my kids, but that’s the way it was. Ashley played a mostly passive role in his kids’ lives – except for what they considered the bad stuff.

That last was, by far, the worst result of the way it was. I didn’t expect Ashley to be a father, so he wasn’t. He never learned how to be. He hadn’t learned how to be a husband yet either – at least not the kind of husband the culture would soon demand.

In a sense, we were an extended family living between two homes both before and after Mom’s diagnosis. I was her daughter, but also her best friend. We did a lot together – both with and without Pop or Gram or the kids. We all had dinner together at least twice a week (once here, once there), and while the kids were in Little League and I was playing ball, saw each other at every game.

Mom’s illness threw a big wrench into the day-to-day workings of our lives, not all the time, of course, but fairly frequently during the next two decades. Between 1971 and 1981, she had three mitral valve replacements, a pacemaker installed, a stroke, numerous bleeding incidents, transfusions, and hospital stays. She was the most courageous person I’ve ever known. She was often debilitated and lived with fear, but never let on to the kids that she was anything but the strong, active lady she’d always been. She pushed her limits whenever the children were around… and my father helped her do that. He was a real “mensch.” She couldn’t have had a better caregiver in the bad times, which allowed me to keep the kids’ lives as normal as possible.

Only people who have lived with serious illness can fully appreciate how crazy it can make you. There were many times I felt crazy, anyway. Six years after my mother’s second valve surgery and that valve was beginning to fail, also, my father was diagnosed with oral cancer. I was almost completely consumed with their care and my grandmother’s care for about three months. Ashley ignored the changed circumstances, and still expected his dinner on the table, his laundry to be done, and the kids to be hauled from activity to activity on time. He seemed oblivious to my extra duties, and the emotional turmoil I was experiencing. And because this was typical of our relationship, I didn’t tell him I needed his help.

The funny thing is: he’d have helped if I’d asked, but he always had to be asked… which infuriated me to no end! I could never understand why in hell he just didn’t jump in and do what needed to be done. Once the dynamics of a couple are set, it’s hard to reset them, especially if one or the other or both gain some amount of pleasure from their own hardheadedness. But that’s how we were – at that time. He, I think, was waiting to be included, and I was waiting for him to do the right thing without being asked.

I don’t know why I was so reluctant to ask Ash for help. I asked my friends for help, so I suppose it had something to do with appearing strong and competent to him.

Ashley felt rejected, so decided to have an affair with a friend of ours… and tell me about it as soon as he came home from being in her bed. Honesty is not always the best policy! I went crazy. And Beth bore the brunt of it.


Judy Axtell's memoir is being serialized here. It is available from online book-sellers like

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Almost Kiss, A Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

The score was tied in the last half of the last inning for Eddie Gomez’s baseball team. Bases were loaded, Eddie at bat. The pitcher’s fastball came toward Eddie, who tried to get out of the way but was hit smack in the middle of his chest. Down he went.

The umpire signaled for Eddie to go to first base, because he was hit by the pitch, and the runners all advanced a base, forcing home the winning run. The fans, few in number, went wild or at least showed substantial enthusiasm. Eddie stayed on the ground, moving but silent.

Tess ran over to Eddie, asking, “Are you OK?”

No answer. Little movement. Tess looked closely at his face and saw that his lips were turning blue. She yelled, “Call 911! Call 911! He’s not breathing!”

A fireman’s daughter, at least this particular fireman’s daughter, knows CPR. Tess rolled Eddie onto his back, put one of her hands behind the other, and pumped on his chest two times per second for 30 pumps.

He was still not breathing. Tess bent over him, pinched closed his nose, covered his open mouth with hers and breathed strongly into him. His chest rose, then fell. She did this a second time, and then did another 30 chest pumps. The third time she started to breathe into Eddie’s mouth, he coughed and started breathing on this own!

Tess started crying, and Eddie took her hand. “I’m OK. I’m OK. Thank you. Thank you. You saved my life!” And so she had.

The Emergency Medical Services ambulance arrived a few minutes later, with Tess’s father and his EMT partner. When they heard what had happened, they talked with Eddie and checked Eddie’s vital signs, then congratulated Tess on her swift and skilled CPR.

That evening, Eddie’s mother and father, Sergeant and Mrs. Gomez, came to visit Tess and her family, thanking her over and over again for saving Eddie’s life. They complimented her parents on what a fine young woman Tess had shown herself to be.

Mrs. Williams replied that Eddie had proved himself worthy of their daughter’s friendship the time he walked her home when she was being bothered by some teenagers along Highland Avenue. She said that she and Mr. Williams were pleased that Tess and Eddie were good friends.

A reporter for the home-town weekly paper came to the Williams home and asked Tess about that day’s event. When the paper came out on Wednesday, there were pictures of both Tess and Eddie and a headline calling her a “local heroine.” She was not sure about that, but she was certain she was happy to have been where Eddie needed her and happy she had known what to do.

In the evening after that game, Tess wrote at length in her diary about what had happened: she told it she was glad she knew CPR and could save Eddie’s life and…she was pleased she had gotten from him, during the mouth-to-mouth part of CPR, her “almost kiss.”


One of our 50 somewhat instructive short stories for young readers.

My Review for Amazon of Sharon Lane's THE TEARS FROM MY SOUL

This inspiring memoir takes the author from near earthly hell on a path toward heaven.

Sharon Lane grew up poor, black, ill-educated, verbally and sexually and physically abused,yet she has turned her life around, primarily through her faith in God. Her book is testimony to the power of such faith, even as it shows that often those who profess to believe in Christ violate the basic tenets of Christianity.

As depressing as the story of her early life is, her success in getting an education, a high school diploma in her 40s, shedding her “career” as a stripper, and re-uniting elements of her family is encouraging.

Ms. Lane’s book is not politically correct. The tragedies she and her family members experienced in her first thirty years had little to do with racial discrimination, and were mostly caused by an underclass African-American culture that devalued women, but accepted promiscuity and infidelity and irresponsibility.

Poverty and discrimination were not the causes of such failure. At the same time in America, families in poor Jewish and Asian communities encouraged upward mobility, responsibility, respect for others, and produced subsequent generations that were above-average in their levels of accomplishment. Middle-class values help poor people attain middle-class results, at least.

It does not “take a village” to rear children well. It takes parents in an intact marriage, a work ethic, the valuing of achievement and education, and…in some cases…the guidance and solace offered by religion.

Her writing is clear, generally grammatically correct, its minor deficiencies overwhelmed by the value of her messages. This is a message memoir, written to raise our understanding of the causes of underclass failure and to inspire the readers, especially those now in trouble, to get help in pulling themselves up. In Ms. Lane’s case, that help was primarily through religion.

From rags to redemption, from stripper to memoirist, Sharon Lane has taken a journey few others have or could, and now she has illuminated the path for others needing help.

The memoir was published using Smashwords and was free for the #kindle when I obtained it. What a bargain!


Now it is available in paperback, also, from Amazon: